March 2011


A new blog has emerged that has shown a great deal of interest in OOO and which is full of energy and thought. In recent days, a debate has emerged surrounding realism with Fragilekeys arguing for an antirealist position, and Joseph Goodson arguing for a realist position (here, here, and here). In my view, OOO doesn’t fit easily with any of these positions (and here I’ll cop that I’m speaking about my version of OOO, not Graham’s, Ian’s, or Morton’s).

This whole issue is very complicated. First, there are two types of idealism: metaphysical and epistemological idealism. Metaphysical idealism is the strong thesis that ideas (whether in the form of cognitive processes, signs, power, or language) literally create reality such that there is no reality apart from these things. This would be the absolute idealism that Hegel attempted to develop (under a non-Zizekian reading), but also the subjective idealism of Berkeley. Epistemological idealism is the thesis that there is a reality independent of human categories, but we can’t know anything about it. This would be the thesis of theorists such as Kant, Derrida, and moderate versions of Lacanianism. We can contrast these positions to those of representational realism (what is often called “naive realism”). Representational realism would be the thesis that 1) what we represent is reality as it is and 2) that this reality would be the way we represent it regardless of whether or not human beings represented it.

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This morning my dear friend and second mother Linda died from a massive stroke. I will never talk to her again. I will never hear her laugh again. I will never hear her wry humor again. She will never meet my daughter Lizzie, nor will Lizzie ever meet this person who has been so important to me. She touched countless lives and genuinely made the world a better place. I miss my friend and grieve for her loss and her family’s loss. She went too young, at the age of only 63. It is suitably grey outside today.

On Friday September 16th CUNY Graduate Center will be hosting an event entitle Speculative Medievalisms: A Laboratory– Atelier II. Eileen Joy tells me that this is a follow-up to the event that King’s College hosted in London last January. That’s going to be one hell of a week.

I was pleased to find a copy of Lars Iyer’s new book Spurious (signed and with a wonderful and very generous note written in the cover, no less) in my mailbox this morning. For those of you who are not familiar with his blog Spurious, it is populated by, hands down, the most beautiful and poetic prose in the blogosphere. It is by measures hilarious, full of pathos, apocalyptic, and deeply philosophical. There’s a very real sense in which Lars has simultaneously resurrected the form of dialogue as a mode of philosophical exposition and created an entirely new genre of philosophical writing. Is it philosophy? Is it literature? Is it poetry? I don’t know, but it’s damn good. I can’t wait to read this.

I’m in really rough shape right now. This morning I found out that a very dear friend of mine has had a massive stroke and is on life support. She’s been my second mother throughout life, even though it’s been a few years since I talked to her. I was best friends with her son throughout elementary school and high school. We lived at each others houses. When my parents moved away from Toledo I lived with them for 3+ months, and all throughout college I would drive from Columbus to Toledo to have evening dinners with her and shoot the breeze. We would even read crappy fantasy and science fiction novels together. This sucks. I’m sitting here in class trying not to lose my shit. Thank God I’m giving quizzes today.

Bogost complains when I write too many posts in a single day, but I have to get thoughts down as they occur to me. Today is such a day (perhaps it has something to do with being licked by a giraffe yesterday). At any rate, Luhmann has, on occasion, been described as the most resolutely posthumanist thinker that ever existed. Why might this be? The key thesis of Luhmann’s sociology is that humans belong to the environment of social systems. What does Luhmann means when he says this? He means that social systems are not composed of humans. While humans are a necessary condition for social systems (in much the same way that certain chemicals are a necessary condition for DNA), they are nonetheless outside the social system. For Luhmann, social systems are composed not of humans, but of communications. Communications, for Luhmann, communicate with communications. They aren’t messages sent to a person from another person. Rather, communications only ever respond to communications. Humans can perturb social systems according to Luhmann, but they cannot participate in social systems. If you want to understand the dynamics of how all of this works, read The Reality of the Mass Media and Social Systems.

So why is Luhmann’s theoretical orientation posthuman? The first thing to note is that it is not antihuman. Luhmann does not deny the existence of of humans (what he calls “individual psycho-neurological systems), nor does he reduce humans to products of the social and linguistic systems or power. Individual psychic systems are every bit as real as any other system in Luhmann. It just happens that humans aren’t a part of society, that’s all. Perhaps we can get some traction on the issue by comparing humanism or anthropocentrism to posthumanism. Humanistic and anthropocentric approaches are such because they treat human systems (individual psychic systems) as an essential component of any and all relations. In an anthropocentric or humanistic approach, for example, we ask how humans relate to society, how humans relate to a particular form of technology, how humans relate to other forms of life, and so on. The equation– which Meillassoux calls “correlationism” –is always one in which we are to ask how the “human is related to x”. For example, we might ask how humans make use of various forms of military technology.

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On September 15th CUNY will be hosting an event entitled “Speculative Realism: A Conversation With Jane Bennett, Levi Bryant, and Graham Harman”. I’m looking forward to this tremendously, especially since I haven’t met Bennett in person yet. It’s likely that there will be another event on the following day (or before), but that’s still in the planning stages right now.

As a funny aside, I had no idea I was participating in this event until one of the organizers contacted me and asked whether a particular time worked for me. In Deleuzian terms, I guess you could say I’m undergoing a sort of “becoming-object” where I’m just scheduled for things without being aware of it. I confess that’s a very nice place to be!

Three of the central claims of my onticology are 1) that objects are always composed of other objects, 2) that objects exist at all levels of scale, and 3) that objects are negentropic in that they both resist dissolution and perpetually face the problem of dissolution or entropy. I draw the first two claims from Graham’s thought. The second claim is the thesis that corporations such as the Coca Cola corporation, for example, are no less objects than quarks, acorns, or stars, and that electrons are no less objects than rocks. These claims commit me to the thesis that objects are emergent or self-organizing. If it is true that objects are always composed of other objects, then it follows that I need some account of self-organization or emergence that allows us to think the transition from a mere aggregate, to a genuine object. This boundary, of course, will be fuzzy (all of the paradoxes that the Greeks encountered surrounding questions of when a pile becomes a hill will arise because there will be, drawing on Husserl’s concept, fuzzy essences).

Questions of self-organization, in their turn, will be deeply related to questions of entropy because the formation of an object will refer to the emergence of order in the world. It will be recalled that entropy is a measure of probability. The more probable it is that a particle (or other object) is located in any particular place in, for example, a chamber, the higher the degree of entropy a system possesses. The less probable it is that particles will be found in a particular place in the chamber, the lower the entropy of the system. The video below provides a nice visual illustration of entropy:

As time passes the entropy of the system increases because it become equally probable that particles of the system will be located at any particular place in the chamber. In other words, there’s a high probability that the particles will be located at any particular place in the chamber.

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The other day my friend Carl– a very talented rhetorician –drew my attention to an article on NPR describing “gamification” as a new social technology. As Gabe Zichermann, one of the pioneers of gamification describes this social technology,

Gamification “is the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to engage users and solve problems”

One of these techniques is currently being experimented with in Sweden with respect to speeding. Using cameras to monitor drivers, this technique places people who drive at or under the speed limit in a lottery. If their name is chosen, they then win the money that drivers who speed have had to pay into the system. Gamification thus strives to regulate human behavior by turning it into a game. Rather than merely disciplining people or regulating their behavior through the threat of negative sanctions, people are here motivated to engage in certain sorts of behavior through the transformation of this behavior into a type of competition.

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Someone just tried to link to my blog from a post that asked the following (I won’t link back):

Why is big business considered evil by the left but big government is considered wonderful?

Big business produces a product, creates job and creates wealth. Big government creates large inefficient agencies, gobbles up wealth, creates waste and is corrupt. Big business needs to be watched and when found corrupt the corrupt need to go to jail. Small business is just as corrupt as big business. It just doesn’t make the national news.

So why is big business demonized by the left but big government loved? Our founding fathers didn’t trust government at all so why does the left love it?

I’m often amazed by the things that grown adults believe, finding myself exclaiming “really? you believe that?”, and this would be a perfect example of such an instance. First, the argument is clearly a straw man. No one, as far as I can tell, likes inefficient, wasteful, and corrupt government; so I’ll set this false dilemma aside. Second, government doesn’t “gobble up wealth”, but devours concentrations of wealth in the hands of a few, preventing the formation of oligarchies, plutocracies, and the rise of fascisms (did any of you guys notice that fascism arose in times of tremendous economic turmoil produced as a result of unregulated markets like we witness today?). The real jaw dropper is this person’s proposals about the benefits of big business: Big business creates products, jobs, and wealth. How can anyone who has watched the last fifty plus years of deregulation believe this? What fantasy world are they living in? Under deregulation we’ve seen the massive disappearance of jobs as they’re shipped elsewhere where production is far cheaper (meaning that it is of little help to either the people who take over those jobs nor, obviously, to those that lose them). In the United States we have seen massive wage stagnation for decades. We have also seen a significant growth in unemployment. We have also seen a massive concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. Finally, we have witnessed recurrent unstable markets that endlessly go through boom and bust cycles. All of these phenomena are a direct consequence of “pro-business” policies premised on the idea of trickle down economics where it is assumed that deregulation, lower taxes, etc., will produce jobs and wealth for all. The exact opposite is true. How anyone can continue to believe this nonsense is beyond me. I can only conclude that people who believe such things are either a) monumentally stupid and uninformed, b) evil and lying about the truth to promote their own self-interest, or c) possessed of a head so far up their ass as a result of being filled by ideology that they can’t see the true national and international result of these policies (hey guys, have you noticed these austerity measures across the world lately? did you wonder if that had something to do with tax cuts and failing markets?). I guess there’s a fourth possibility: The people who believe such things are actually doing well and thereby say, as Joseph Goodson might put it, “I got mine suckas, the rest of you can go to hell!” We don’t “hate” big business but merely want justice and equity. A good place to start, for example, would be to enact an international law where workers have 50% voting power in hiring and firing decisions decisions for management and CEO’s and where all raises for management and CEO’s also involve worker votes. Such voting rights would similarly include votes over whether to outsource, close down factories, etc., etc., etc. A new “Rights of Man” needs to be written that includes such capital rights and also ecological rights. Oh, and for all you Americans that believe you’re going to be million or billionaires one of these days, your chances of breaking out of the income bracket you were born into are probably about 2% (I can hear folks saying right now “I like those odds!” *Forehead slap*). Maybe you should start making political decisions that enhance your possibilities of mobility, opportunity, and that benefit you within your economic bracket: Yanno, support good education that creates opportunity for your kids, support policies that enhance your bargaining rights with your employers and increase your security, support better services, and support higher taxes for the wealthiest segment of the population (that disproportionately benefits from government welfare and which is a greater drain on the environment) so as to fund these things. Stop thinking in terms of your future, fictional, billionaire self.

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