21.5.15

Organic Intellectualism among the Working Class?

McKenzie Wark on salvage philosophy from his newly published Molecular Red (2015):
In his book The Philosophy of Living Experience Bogdanov is not really trying to write philosophy so much as to hack it, to repurpose it for something other than the making of more philosophy. Philosophy is no longer an end in itself, but a kind of raw material for the design and organizing, not quite of what Foucault called discourses of power/knowledge, but more of practices of laboring/knowing. The projected audience for this writing is not philosophers so much as the organic intellectuals of the working class, exactly the kind of people Bogdanov’s activities as an educator-activist had always addressed. Having clearly read his Nietzsche, Bogdanov’s decision is that if one is to philosophize with a hammer, then this is best done, not with professional philosophers, but with professional hammerers.
To write and speak and work for those that might ignite their own passions towards revolutions in lifestyle and polity..? What a fantastic idea. But are there those willing to read, hear and work with us among the precariat classes and marginal peoples? The "hammerers" I know are more interested in getting more vacation time and keeping their lousy jobs than struggling against authorities or sparking an "organic" uprising. Capitalist realism runs deep as the masses sooth themselves in entertainment and major to minor intoxicants.

Wark thinks the "labor perspective" is a point of leverage, but I'm not so sure.
Addressing the Anthropocene is not something to leave in the hands of those in charge, given just how badly the ruling class of our time has mishandled this end of prehistory, this firstly scientific and now belatedly cultural discovery that we all live in a biosphere in a state of advanced metabolic rift. The challenge then is to construct the labor perspective on the historical tasks of our time. What would it mean to see historical tasks from the point of view of working people of all kinds? How can everyday experiences, technical hacks and even utopian speculations combine in a common cause, where each is a check on certain tendencies of the other?  
Technical knowledge checks the popular sentiment toward purely romantic visions of a world of harmony and butterflies—as if that was a viable plan for seven billion people. Folk knowledge from everyday experience checks the tendency of technical knowledge to imagine sweeping plans without thought for the particular consequences—like diverting the waters of the Aral Sea. Utopian speculations are that secret heliotropism which orients action and invention toward a sun now regarded with more caution and respect than it once was. There is no other world, but it can’t be this one

14.5.15

on clear and present morality

In “Their Morals and Ours”, Leon Trotsky laid out some sobering reflections on justification and sentiment:
A means can be justified only by its end. But the end in its turn needs to be justified. From the Marxist point of view, which expresses the historical interests of the proletariat, the end is justified if it leads to increasing the power of man [sic] over nature and to the abolition of the power of man [sic] over man [sic]…  
Morality is one of the ideological functions in this struggle. The ruling class forces its ends upon society and habituates it into considering all those means which contradict its ends as immoral. That is the chief function of official morality. It pursues the idea of the “greatest possible happiness” not for the majority but for a small and ever diminishing minority. Such a regime could not have endured for even a week through force alone. It needs the cement of morality. The mixing of this cement constitutes the profession of the petty-bourgeois theoreticians, and moralists. They dabble in all colors of the rainbow but in the final instance remain apostles of slavery and submission.
The dabbling and application of moral sentiments is the emotive’s approach to ethical deliberation and action. Without clear and present investigation - critical as well as syncretic - we humans become slaves to the dominant ideologies (as infomatic regimes) infusing current institutions of extraction and alienation.

And for what? For whom? Know your enemy, both within and beyond.

13.5.15

HENRi

Yet another fantastic speculative ontography of sentience:



HENRi is an emotionally powerful short film, which explores human existence at the most fundamental, personal level—what it means to be a conscious individual. 
Hundreds of years in the future, a derelict spacecraft, controlled and powered by a human brain, floats aimlessly in the outer reaches of space. HENRI, the name of the ship's power system, is an acronym which stands for Hybrid Electronic / Neuron Responsive Intelligence, and was the first of Earth’s Neuro-Tech space exploration research vessels. Trapped in the cold, mechanical prison of the vessel, the “brain,” which has no recollection or concept of self, gradually begins to experience disjointed images of its former life—images it cannot understand. Carrying the remains of a crew long dead, and becoming increasingly self-aware, HENRI experiences the instinctual desire to be free. Yearning for freedom and yet unable to move, the brain devises a plan to build itself a mechanical body from parts of the ship. Maybe then it will understand the images it is seeing—maybe then it will feel alive.”
Written and Directed by Eli Sasich, produced by Jefferson Richard and Dominic Fratto, and starring Keir Dullea and Margot Kidder.

Learn more: HERE

12.5.15

The Existential Imperative

Žižek is right about the formal structure of the “I am” in the intelligibility of the universe. Without situated experience there can be no formal appeal to the Other, and no logical grounds upon which we can say that we know anything at all. That is, the “transcendental subject” cannot be explained away.

From Joseph Carew:
“Although phenomenologists like Merleau-Ponty and more recently Michel Henry and Jean-Luc Marion argue for the primordial unity of consciousness and the lived body or the self's immanent auto-determination from the unfolding of givenness of the flesh (which indicates the disappearance of a radical subject-object distinction by the interpenetration of both in embodiment), Žižek makes the claim that such descriptions are intrinsically lacking insofar as they fail to take account of the experience of the monstrous and the traumatic irrevocably tied to the essence of human being. One cannot merely replace classical subjectivity with a more organic theory of experience that intertwines consciousness with a phenomenological auto-affection of the flesh…

Arguing against postmodern theorists like Derrida and Foucault, who claim that the subject itself is merely an empty, accidental construction that arises out of the flux of historical experience, Žižek contends that by forgetting the ontological schism between mind and body that enables the self to be determined according to linguistic and political forces in the first place, they lose sight of the very formal structure of the I that is required even to speak of the endless temporal variations of selfhood within the contingent upsurge of sociocultural activity. The unceasing play of cultural difference, the non-finite proliferation of identities and discourses, can only be adequately understood through the transcendental framework offered by Cartesian subjectivity because, as that which prevents human activity from being explicable through solely natural or biological grounds, it supplies the formal-universal structure through which such change is rendered possible. [source]
Yet, why must the transcendental positionality of experience be a “subject” at all? Is it not the empirical case that our locus of awareness is an embodied cognitive action of a sapient material assemblage, or objective cognizing body? Far from actualizing the Cartesian fantasy of an “ontological schism” between experience and physicality, or mind and body, knowing hominid bodies are capable of enacting a kind of transcendental individuality when experience and materiality triumph together as a mode of auto-affective existenz. The objective matrix of human existenz is an immanent achievement of positional awareness (sentience) and extended cognition (sapience) organically generated by an emergent ecology of potent things and flows.

So Žižek and others are correct: individuality must be accounted for and reckoned - as our creaturely capacity for objective-subjectivity is a 'transcendental' feature of intelligibility. However, there are many different ways this can be done, and the most credible among them do not involve Descartes and Žižek's massive errors.

Catastrophia?

To embrace change and entropy, and to know and feel the ubiquity of ontological vulnerability, is to fall in love again and again with Real – that dark, fleshy, ungrounded ground of wilderness teeming within and without, unbound. To love the Real is to acknowledge and respect the potency of things and flows which perpetually deconstruct our words and thoughts, forcing us to confront the catastrophic tendency at the core of all being. To live is to die. And only when we learn to love and embrace that pulsating darkness at the core of material existence without truly knowing it can we gain intimacy in the world.

From Arran James:
“[C]atastrophic thought… an obsession with the wound and the ruin, the collapsing and the ecstatic, the obscene figures of human and nonhuman suffering, the withdrawn core of things concieved of as the thing in itself that doesn’t simply remain hidden but which actively resists actualisation. The end of the world as it’s apotheosis.” [source]

“[O]bliterated sculpture, wastelands, abandoned and decaying spaces, deserts- an aesthetic of urban collapse; depressions, schziophrenia, epidemics of anxiety and panic being produced by the excessive demands of capitalism’s infosphere, the post-traumatic subjectivity that becomes hegemonic in these last days of capital’s reign- the neuropsychological collapse of eviscerated minds; the Inevitable, both proximate and distal in the forms of the perishing of the individual organism in human death and in considerations of entropy, heat-death of the universe, and ecological catastophe- the intimate and cosmic levels of material collapse.” [source]

“[C]osmological time, which subsumes geological, evolutionary and historical temporalities within its manifold, is nothing but the working out of the original Catastrophe of Creation. The something that followed the nothing is only a symptom of the disturbance of nothing and its (anthropocentrically) slow return to itself.” [source]
This is just a sketch of a concept that signals the cognitive easing of traumas associated with gathering awareness of finitude. To be continued... 

26.2.15

Relative Universalism?

Who owns nature? International policies for the protection of the Environment rest on a very specific conception of nature, which appeared in Europe during the Enlightenment. This conception is far from being shared by all the peoples of the earth, who value different cosmological principles. According to Philippe Descola, the preservation of biodiversity can only become fully effective if it takes into account this plurality in the understanding of nature.
Here is a lengthy quote from Philippe Descola’s “Who owns nature?” (2008):
[M]odern universalism flows directly from naturalist ontology, based as it is on the principle that beyond the muddle of particularisms endlessly churned out by humans, there exists a field of truths reassuringly regular, knowable via tried and trusted methods, and reducible to immanent laws the exactness of which is beyond blight from their discovery process. In short, cultural relativism is only tolerable, indeed interesting to study, in that it stands against the overwhelming background of a natural universalism where truth seekers can seek refuge and solace. Mores, customs, ethos vary but the mechanisms of carbon chemistry, gravitation and DNA are identical for all. The universalism of international institutions implementing nature protection policies springs from extending these general principles, originally applied to the physical world alone, to the realm of human values. It relies in particular on the idea that the Moderns alone would have availed themselves of a privileged access to a true intelligence of nature whilst other cultures would have arrived at mere representations – crude but worthy of interest, according to those charitably inclined, false and pernicious by their contaminating capacity for the positivists. This epistemological model, which Bruno Latour has called ‘particular universalism’ [7], entails therefore inevitably that nature protection principles be imposed to all the non-moderns who were not in a position to acquire a clear grasp of their necessity for want of adopting a thinking pattern like ours, and more particularly for having failed to imagine that nature existed as a sphere independent from humanity. You lived once in symbiosis with nature, Amazonian Indians are told, but now, you have chain saws and we must teach you to leave alone your forests become world heritage on grounds of their high rate of biodiversity.  
How are we to make that universalism a bit less imperial without renouncing in the process the biodiversity which enables us to preserve the world’s dazzling splendour? One possible avenue, the twists and turns of which I have begun exploring elsewhere would be what could be called a relative universalism, with relative as in “relative pronoun”, that is making a connection. Relative universalism does not stem from nature and cultures, substances and spirits, discrimination between prime and second essences, but relationships of continuity and discontinuity, of identity and differences, of likeness and unlikeness which humans establish everywhere between existing beings by means of tools inherited from phylogenesis: one body, one intentionality, one aptitude to discern distinctive gaps, the ability to establish with any other relations of closeness or enmity, of domination or dependence, exchange or appropriation, subjectivation or objectivation. Relative universalism does not demand prior equal materiality for all, and contingent meanings, it is content to recognize the irruption of discontinuity, in things like in the mechanisms to grasp them and to admit that there are only a restricted number of formulae suited to their best use, either by endorsing a phenomenal discontinuity or by invalidating it within a continuity.  
However, if relative universalism is to lead to an ethos, that is to rules for world use to which everyone could subscribe without denying anyone the values of their upbringing, this ethos has yet to be built stone after stone, indeed connection after connection. The task is not beyond us. It supposes a grand stock taking of inter-human connections and of those between humans and non-humans and an agreement to banish those which give rise to general opprobrium. It is more than conceivable that the most extreme forms of inequality would come under this heading, such as the gratuitous taking of life, the objectification of beings endowed with sensible faculties or the standardization of lifestyles and behaviours. And as, because of the consensus needed to arrive at the selection of the connections retained, none of them could be deemed superior to another, the values attached to practices, knowledge and wisdoms or singular sites could rest on the connections they bring out in the specific context of their use, without slipping into contingent justifications or narrow interest calculations in the process. For instance, resuming the protection of nature argument: where humans consider it normal and desirable to engage in intersubjective relationships with non-humans, it would be conceivable to legitimate the preservation of a particular environment not in virtue of its inherent ecosystemic features but of the fact that animals there are treated as persons by the local populations – truth to say, usually hunted, but subject to ritual precautions. This would give a category of protected zones broadly operating on an ‘animist model’ – in the Amazon basin, Canada, Siberia or the malaysian forest. This would not preclude the adjunction of justifications based on the naturalist type of connection – e.g. biodiversity optimisation or carbon capture – in so far as the second type of connections, those favoured by remote actors did not excessively undermine the conditions in which the local actors exercise the type of connection they have set up. It is pretty clear that the connections presiding over the registration of Mont Saint Michel of the Banaue rice terraces as World heritage sites would be quite different: no longer the presence of non-humans seen as subjects, but the materialisation of a project connecting macrocosm and microcosm, the traces of which can only be found in analogic civilisations wherever they flourished. One might say that this is in the realm of Utopia: undoubtedly, if Utopia is understood in its better sense of a multiplicity of virtual futures opening the possibility for solutions not hitherto considered.
All this considered, this is exactly the kind of approach we need when navigating the problem sets established by the tensions between ontography as praxis and pluralism as politics..

25.2.15

The Metaphysics of Meaning - Part 1

In a recent post I challenged Adam Robbert to elucidate his use of the language of conceptuality, and to make explicit his understanding of the ontological status of concepts. Adam's response was, as usual, thoughtful and concise. In his response to a commenter on that exchange Adam asked a question I think gets right to the core of our discussion:
"From your view, then, are there anything like propositional statements?"
My response is as follows:

First, that human animals can make ‘propositional statements’ is uncontroversial. Humans are capable of all kinds of expressions. What is at stake here is how propositional statements come into being and whether or not they have a relatively autonomous existence beyond the interplay between neurological functioning and physical coding in texts, images and so on. The only requirements for statement-making are bodies capable of memory, recursion, articulation and mimesis, as well as the existence of socialized natural language (as learned reference and gestural flexibility) and a community of interlocutors.  Until those statements become marks on a page or sound recordings (thus coded) there is nothing about making such statements that suggests the relatively autonomous existence of an object that can be called a ‘concept’.

Interactions between perceptive-sapient bodies and ambient information affordances unfold according to the skillful difference navigation and mediation (as you say) by bodies/assemblages phylogenetically and ontogenetically oriented towards coping-with-in complex causal and information rich environments. And this embodied communicative dance between complex expressive and/or potent entities conditions, but does determine, our active and reactive coping responses within particular ecologies via the formation of information rich brain patterns/habits instantiated in relation to prior and ongoing exposures to socially instituted references and speech-acts. Sapient-bodies generate, store and recall a range of neural-semantic associations that are communicable – and thus available to be captured in codes, text, images, etc. – between sapient bodies, therein receiving feedback and varying degrees of intensive expression and reciprocal activations and reactivations, in ways that coordinate subsequent thetic brain patterns (“understandings”) and behaviors.

Again, cognizing bodies (things A) are endowed with particular capacities and acquired brain habits. These bodies communicate with each other via natural language and personal memory/recall in relation to socially circulated semiotic tokens (things B) such as writing, images, materials, etc. The communicative (gestural, verbal, symbol-deploying, material) dance between things A and B generates informational complexity, and thus “meaning’ via consequential expression, expectation and response. There is nothing about communicative encounters that requires us to posit ghostly mediating entities (things C) such as ‘ideas’ or ‘concepts’. Semiosis is something that happens between material objects (things A and things B) within niches of differential assembly and potencies – affording various time-space possibilities (cf. Heidegger’s ‘clearings’).

In this onto-story, then, ‘ideas’ and ‘concepts’ are not autonomous entities circulating among humans and media, but words (nouns) created to describe and ultimately misrepresent enacted and consequential, and therefore “meaningful” relationships between bodies and semiotic tokens and media within situations (ecologies). And mistaking the semantic/informational aspects of the enactive realities these relations generate and maintain for relatively independent objects sets up what I believe to be a damaging onto-theology of transcendental meaning.

Herein we could enter into a discussion about the importance of a nihilistic (re)turn to primordial affection and a subsequent deflation of doxic thought, but perhaps this is not the appropriate context for that discussion. I will only suggest here that what drives the most sophisticated forms of nihilism - and thus post-nihilist thought - is realization that only relations and materials exist, and that semantically laden embodied experience is an emergent capacity and epiphenomenal expression – albeit phenomenologically rich and existentially significant.

I think the core issue I have with Adam’s model is the way he (and almost every other intellectual I know) reifies the relational patterns that obtain between brains, media, and/or social objects (i.e., texts) as things-in-themselves. As ontographers I think we need to be rigorous, precise and clear when distinguishing between assemblages, relations, processes, and flows. Our historical linguistic practices and semantic habits no longer work. We have an awkward and kludged semantic heritage that has become, in large parts, obsolete in the context we now seek to exist with-in. So we need to jettison certain aspects of existing semantic infrastructures and fashion (salvage and design) new semiotic compositions – if only because we need to adapt better to reality and design healthier niches. And thinking about and using words like ‘ideas’ and ‘concepts’ as objects is part of the rotted superstructure of reference and metaphysics I see as problematic.

19.2.15

Are concepts a substance?


Continuing his project of critically integrating ecology, media studies and the enactive paradigm in cognitive science Adam offers the following gem (by way of an abstract for an in-progress paper):
"I suggest that human experience and behavior is an ongoing and distributed activity achieved at the intersection of conceptual knowledge, physical perception, and environmental affordance. But what is knowledge? What is a concept? How do they participate in larger ecologies? To understand how knowledge participates in human action, I propose that knowledge is a skill waiting to be acquired. It is an attunement to new contrasts made possible by the coordination of multiple species, practices, and technologies. Similarly, I define conceptualization as a speculative capacity, a performance of the body that leaps the subject beyond immediacy into the spaces of possibility afforded by the present. Stated differently, knowledge represents the acquisition of a conceptual faculty, an ability to mediate difference and contrast in the environment in a meaningful way. One way to visualize this intersection is to underscore that ecology entangles perception with cognitive activity through the enaction of experience. The intersection of concept with sense, then, is the basis for the ecological understanding of knowledge" (Adam Robbert). 
[Image: Nunzio Paci]
I can dig that. Intersectionality, affordance, distributed activities, and knowledge as embodied skill and attunement. Exactly that.  What I still can't understand is what conceptuality actually is in Adam's model? Is a ‘concept’ a linguistic unit (node) attached to a set or chain of other linguistic units (in a network), or is it the internal neurological pattern instantiated in the central nervous system as it relates to those external tokens? Or both in some sort of semiotic reciprocal influence?

I think it is important for a materialist/realist ecological ontography to be able to specific how conceptuality works by locating the components of its assembly, and thus conceptualize the unit operations or individuated 'thingliness' that we call concepts or idea.

UPDATE (Feb 21, 2015):

In response Adam comments:

This is clearly the key question for me, Michael (at least in terms of the above issues). And the short answer is "all of the above"; that is, we can't think of a concept as cleanly residing in language or in linguistic tokens, which need an interpreter, nor inside a neurological pattern, since whatever such a "pattern" is must necessarily be extended outwards and entangled with the environment. So, on the one hand, concepts are relational and dynamic capacities of a body engaged in his or her environment (we should say something about affects and somatics here, too, but one thing at a time). On the other, the content of the concept can be learned through teaching, practice, and engagement with the available media ecologies and thus integrated into the action of the body (though not without transforming that body in the process and never in the same way for all bodies).  
Take for example this comment by Evan Thompson in his recent Tricycle interview (D and I have been going back and forth on these issues for several weeks, so maybe he'll chime in here too):  
"Experience and concepts are interdependent. Whether there are nonconceptual modes of experience is a complicated matter that both Buddhist and Western philosophers have argued about a lot. But in most cases of human experience you can’t have one without the other. Take science. Here you observe things, of course, but you can’t see them properly unless you have the right concepts. If you just look through a microscope with no guidance on how to look at what you see, you have no clue what you’re looking at. Even if you’re doing high school biology, you need to have concepts like “cell wall” or “organelle”—to say nothing of what’s happening at the edge of scientific discovery, where you’re using new imaging technologies and learning to see things. So observation is happening there, of course. But also a lot of conceptualizing." [source]
What I like about this quote is that it gets at the interdependence of experience and concepts, or sensation and knowledge, in a way that also implies that knowledge has to circulate and become available in a certain way for people to obtain certain skills of action and perception. So there's a sense in which there is a representational dimension to concepts, insofar as distinctions and contrasts are identified and represented in a medium, and an enactive or non-representational one, insofar as knowledge really only exists through the actions of knowers. They stand as different stages of the ecology of learning—the former as the unlearned skill obtained from the available ecology of knowledge that needs to be thought through, step-by-step in consciousness, and the latter as the internalized capacity for action in part made possible by conceptual acquisition.  
So, I don't think I'm at the point of getting to a nice, one-line definition of a concept yet—and there may not be one—but that's how I'm thinking about it at the moment.
I will have more to say on all that shortly.

6.2.15

The Anthropocentrist Loop?

One of the core motivations in peddling a postnihilist rhetorics (as praxis) is an interest in disrupting the cognitive hegemony of anthropocentric thought. Meaning and rationalizations are local human expressions, not constituent features woven into the fabric of the cosmos. Yet, all human action seems to be routed through self-referential circuits of existential concern and human-focused interest. Inflated egos everywhere – with only a hint of the kind of perspective-taking required to speculate about what it might ‘be like’ to be an otter, or an orchid.

More significantly, anthropocentrism narrows the associative cognitive-neuronal tunnel within which we can evaluate the overall necessity, function and agency of otters, orchids, or even carbon-dioxide molecules. This makes for bad ontography and therefore even worse social design. Thus deflating the aspirations of folk transcendentalisms inherent in the cultural codes of Western thinkers, viz. a perpetual negation of its doxic contents, can make room for new circuits of evaluation and habits of communication wherein humans interface and relate with nonhumans in a more authentic and ecologically tenable way.


http://hontor.deviantart.com/art/Anthropocentrism-136154462
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“There is no life without the conditions of life that variably sustain life, and those conditions are pervasively social, establishing not the discrete ontology of the person, but rather the interdependency of persons, involving reproducible and sustaining social relations, and relations to the environment and to non-human forms of life, broadly considered. This mode of social ontology (for which no absolute distinction between social and ecological exists) has concrete implications for how we re-approach the issues of reproductive freedom and anti-war politics. The question is not whether a given being is living or not, nor whether the being in question has the status of a “person”; it is, rather, whether the social conditions of persistence and flourishing are or are not possible. Only with this latter question can we avoid the anthropocentric and liberal individualist presumptions that have derailed such discussions.” ― Judith Butler, Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? 
“In the twentieth century nothing can better cure the anthropocentrism that is the author of all our ills than to cast ourselves into the physics of the infinitely large (or the infinitely small). By reading any text of popular science we quickly regain the sense of the absurd, but this time it is a sentiment that can be held in our hands, born of tangible, demonstrable, almost consoling things. We no longer believe because it is absurd: it is absurd because we must believe.” ― Julio Cortázar, Around the Day in Eighty Worlds
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Anthropocentrism is the belief that human beings are the central or most significant species on the planet (in the sense that they are considered to have a moral status or value higher than that of other animals), or the assessment of reality through an exclusively human perspective. The term can refer to the concept as human supremacy or human exceptionalism.
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