OOP between Politics and Ethics
Yesterday and today, the online discussion around politics and SR peaked, due to some blogposts (mainly Reid’s and Levi’s reply) on the topic and some comments (1, 2, 3, 4) to Nick’s paper (now online for all to download) on ‘framing militancy’ presented the other day at the Goldsmiths mini-conference (which, by the way, was quite a pleasant event).
The question is the usual: can a flat ontology which is openly against anthropocentrism be compatible with politics? In fact, the accusation is often that OOP is apolitical, or worse in some sort of secret connivance with capitalism (or neo-liberalism).
To very roughly summarize in one sentence the general mood of those who replied to this accusation, let me quote Levi:
the claim that questions of ontology are distinct from questions of politics is not equivalent to a rejection of politics
The argument goes on and Levi ultimately arrives to the claim that actually OOP can be politically propositive, since
Only where objects can be detached from their relations, only where objects can separate from their relations, is it possible to envision the emergence of new forms of order or organization that depart from established regimes.
Now, I personally agree with the rejection of the accusation political acedia, and I do believe that the focus on networked objects (and their autonomy) can be successfully applied to political discussions about the chain of production and around the checks and balances within social structures. Still, this is not my territory, so I will not even attempt to forumlate any sort of constructive proposal here.
What I would like to highlight, however, is that when we talk politics we cannot avoid talking ethics. Given its critique of human-centered ontology and given the common misunderstandings that this position produces (Harman recently wrote: ‘But of all the objections to OOO so far, the one I am least able to grasp is this: “if you’re saying that humans aren’t the center of ontology, then you must be saying humans are worthless.”’) OOP must first engage with the problem and thematize its relation to ethics and then give its support or ontological insight to politics. We cannot just take for granted the system of ethics which underlies the project of anti-capitalist political renovation and invokes the emergence of a new (more just) form of social order.
I am not saying ‘OOP is an-ethical’ (or worse, un-ethical) therefore it cannot be compatible with any form of political action. What I am saying is: before engaging with politics OOP must clarify its relation with ethics. I don’t expect this to be an easy nor a straightforward task, for the suspicion of what I would call ‘intellectual genocide’ will keep arising in the minds of those who will come in contact with OOP’s aversion towards correlationsim and the ontological priority of human thought on objects.
Still, I believe that this can be done, and successfully, and I also believe that an OOO-based ethics could be quite promising. Personally, I think that the main pole of discussion about ethics should be the concept of Otherness in general and Levinas’ work in particular (with the problems arising from his ‘ethics as first philosophy’ motto), possibly with some critical awareness of the modifications which cybernetics imposes on social interaction, and I am planning to look in that direction in a contribution for the forthcoming cross-blog event organized by the Speculative Heresy and the Inhumanities guys, which, if what I have argued so far is true, will be a really momentous step for the development of SR as a whole.