Object-oriented anarchism?


A fascinating post at Existence Machine, pointed out over on Graham Harman’s blog, that relates some of what OOP is doing with anarchism, by way of David Graeber.

Incidentally, there have been a lot of reactions to OOP as somehow neoliberal or completely apolitical. For the most part it is true that many advocates of OOP and speculative realism in general challenge the supposed primacy of the political over ontology. Harman has questioned the way in which “revolution” is conjured up as an uncritical tool to appear politically relevant and Ian Bogost has stated that ontology comes first. Levi Bryant has included Marx as an object-oriented philosopher who emphasises the relational aspect of objects and has written a lot on Marxological concepts in their relation to his own onticology. None of these thinkers are without their politics.

I have for a while felt that there is some kind of link between OOP and anarchism, at least insofar as each rejects any overdetermining first principle and embody, at different levels, a rejection of reductionisms and hierarchies. There is also there absolute insistence on the autonomy of their actants.

Two other, more tentative connections, also come to mind. The first is the kind of emergentism of onticology that one can also find in the writing of Kropotkin. The second comes from thinking about the way objects are always withdrawn from/excessive of their relations and how this must also hold true for human beings. In this regard I am put in mind of Stirner’s insistence that the individual is first and foremost a “creative nothing” that no set of categories of modes of actualisation can fully exhaust. The individual does not cease to exist because it is such a nothing but instead remains muted beyond it’s actualisations.

I admit this probably has more to do with my desire to see OOP and anarchism fit together and that in the case of Stirner there would be a lot of work to do to redeem him of his identification with the idealist tradition (some of which has been performed by Saul Newman, especially in From Bakunin to Lacan).

In my previous post I mentioned the term cybernetic communism, I wonder if there is any possibility of an object-oriented anarchism……?

Anyway…it is gone 1am and I am moving in the morning so I should probably go to bed.

a very quick UPDATE:

Over at Philosophy in a time of error Peter Gratton, as part of the cross-blog reading group of Bennett’s recent Vibrant Matter, quotes Bennett were she says that:

There are of course differences between the knife that impales and the man impaled, between the technician who dabs the sampler and the sampler, between the array of items in the gutter of Cold Spring Lane and me, the narrator of their vitality. But I agree with John Frow that these differences need ‘to be flattened, read horizontally as a juxtaposition rather than vertically as a hierarchy of being. It’s a feature of our world that we can and do distinguish . . . things from persons. But the sort of world we live in makes it constantly possible for these two sets of kinds to exchange properties.’ And to note this fact explicitly, which is also to begin to experience the relationship between persons and other materialities more horizontally, is to take a step toward a more ecological sensibility.

This step towards a more ecological sensibility seems to me to also go some way towards a stepping towards a more anarchist sensibility as well. Without wishing to hijack ecological thought there is nothing that prevents the two from coexisting. Indeed, I would say that any genuinely anarchist project is obliged to be ecological if it wishes to live up to its own various self-definitions. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that anarchists have been discussing environmental and ecological problems for at least since Kropotkin who was primarily trained in natural geography. There are of course other such figures in anarchism; Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Elisee Reclus, Murray Bookchin, Earth First!, John Zerzan, Derreck Jensen, Starhawk, and all manner of other ecoanarchist thinkers and activists. There is an undeniable affinity between ecology and anarchism even if it has, in most its formulations, been excessively anthropocentric or nihilistic.

Gratton seems to think that the flattening out performed by OOP does not really come off because it ends up making things richer and deeper. This seems a strange point to me. If the problem is that rich objects with depth are not flat enough then Gratton seems not to be discussing flatness in the same way as OOP itself. In his lexicography Levi Bryant defines a flat ontology along three lines. 1) The rejection of any dualism that would attempt to place some objects as ‘cultural’ and therefore artificial and others as ‘natural’ and therefore really real. 2) A flat ontology keeps all objects no matter what species they belong to on the same ‘ontological footing’. 3) an irreductionism with respect to the footing of objects.

It is the second point that seems most important here. The depth of objects is simply their footing, a footing which they all share even if in their actualisations they do not propertise themselves to equally reflect this. Thinking of an iceberg, the peak of the iceberg would be that which was actualised while what remained underwater (assuming we had no access to beneath the waves a moment) would remain its virtual excess, it proper being. What is important is not how much of the iceberg is under the water but simply the fact that, in order to exist at all, it is. Now imagine all objects are icebergs, to risk a metaphorical reductionism. Whether one iceberg soars upward like a mountain while another is small and modest, remaining mostly underwater is of no relevance from the perspective of a flat ontology. They are both icebergs, whatever that iceberg is. The point in flattening is not to suggest that objects cannot have depth and richness but to place them all on the same split level between their local manifestations and their virtuality. This is true of all objects and no object is more or less real because it is more or less manifest. This is the general thrust of Bryant’s use of the critique of actualism.

This is a way of being more horizontal with objects whilst retaining their complex inner workings. No one class of objects can stand above or stand in place of any other. This flat-ontology is, as the title of Bryant’s forthcoming Democracy of Objects suggests, an ontology of absolute equality between things irrespective of what particular things we are talking about. It is democratic in such a sense that it is precisely because of an object’s depth and richness, it own innerspace, that it is equal with all other objects.

In anarchism this has always been the case with respect to persons. In representative democracy we are all equal in regards to the law but the law takes no account, cannot take account, of the complex subjectivity of each individual which it seeks to regulate. This is why in anarchism, whether individualist or communist, there is always an assumption that whatever society we move towards it must be one which acknowledges, ensures and advances the development of each singular individuality. It seems absurd to say that because each human being is such a singularity that this means there exists no equality of being among us. Just because my inner life is, as far as I know, more complex in than that of someone with sever learning disability, dementia or who has simply never learned to read and write does not mean that by virtue of that richness I stand over and above them somehow. To perceive a verticality in the relationship of our being would be grossly unjust and would imitate all the worst forms of dominance of our histories. We are both icebergs.

Of course I’m pushing what Gratton said beyond what he said. I just have a fondness for hyperbole and don’t mean any kind of bastardliness towards Gratton, whose blog I enjoy reading on a regular basis. It may well be that in my earnestness (and rush before I move house in just about half an hour) I have misread him. This is more done as part of what I said above is my desire to see a fusion between anarchism and OOP…a fusion which I don’t feel confident enough with the latter to arrive at.

I will end with a quote in support of this hoped for tendency towards an entanglement of anarchism, ecology and OOP:

And in this world of aggregated beings the physiologist sees the autonomous cells of blood, of the tissues, of the nerve-centers; he recognizes the millions of white corpuscles who wend their way to the parts of the body infected by microbes in order to give battle to the invaders. More than that: in each microscopic cell he discovers today a world of autonomous organisms, each of which lives its own life, looks for well-being for itself and attains it by grouping and associating itself with others. In short, each individual is a cosmos of organs, each organ is a cosmos of cells, each cell is a cosmos of infinitely small ones. And in this complex world, the well-being of the whole depends entirely on the sum of well-being enjoyed by each of the least microscopic particles of organized matter. A whole revolution is thus produced in the philosophy of life.

But it is especially in psychology that this revolution leads to consequences of great importance. Quite recently the psychologist spoke of man as an entire being, one and indivisible. Remaining faithful to religious tradition, he used to class men as good and bad, intelligent and stupid, egotists and altruists. Even with materialists of the eighteenth century, the idea of a soul, of an indivisible entity, was still upheld.

But what would we think today of a psychologist who would still speak like this! The modern psychologist sees in a man a multitude of separate faculties, autonomous tendencies, equal among themselves, performing their functions independently, balancing, opposing one another continually. Taken as a whole, man is nothing but a resultant, always changeable, of all his divers faculties, of all his autonomous tendencies, of brain cells and nerve centers. All are related so closely to one another that they each react on all the others, but they lead their own life without being subordinated to a central organ – the soul.

Of course that faction of OOP that advocates the non-relational kernal of objects would have to correct Kropotkin here that while there may be no soul or central organ to which the other objects in this mereology are subordinated there is certainly no mereological nihilist outcome with result to the individuals that this multitude of autonomous tendencies serve as conditions for its emergence. The person, as much as the chair (in Peter van Inwagen favourite example of a non-organicist and therefore non-existent object) or the sign or the electron or the cloud of gas is still real.


2 Responses to “Object-oriented anarchism?”

  1. Wow, this is so good i’m going to have to read this several times, then respond. This opens up a lot of stuff.

  2. 2 dronemodule

    Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad my (been a while since I was an) undergrad musing were helpful.

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