The State can be conceived as a series of institutions, but also as a system of categories through which members are named and identified as belonging to particular social categories. In the latter case, the State functions to homogenize and minimize difference by transforming differences into mere noise that can be easily ignored. For instance, we come to talk of “Christians”, “The Enlightenment”, “Men”, “Women”, “Blacks”, “the United States”, etc., as if these groupings all had one monolithic and identical content. All we can think of here are instead tendencies that happen to be more or less dominant in a situation. The question then becomes that of a concrete praxis devoted to intensifying other tendences within a population.
Discussing the process of individuation or the movement from the virtual to the actual in the process of actualization, Deleuze writes,
A living being is not only defined genetically, by the dynamisms which determine its internal milieu, but also ecologically, by the external movements which provide over its distribution within an extensity. A kinetics of population adjoins, without resembling, the kinetics of the eg; a geographic process of isolation may be no less formative of species than internal genetic variations, and sometimes precedes the latter. Everything is even more complicated when we consider that the internal space is made up of multiple spaces which must be locally integrated and connected, and that this connection, which may be achieved in many ways, pushes the object or living being to its own limits, all in contact with the exterior; and that this relation with the exterior, and with other things and living beings, implies in turn connections and global integrations which differ in kind from the preceding. Everywhere a staging at several levels. (Difference and Repetition, 217)
Perhaps one of the central contributions of Darwinian evolution is the shift from thinking in terms of abstract species, to thinking in terms of individuals and populations, where individual difference precedes difference in the species, serving as its condition. Geography here becomes an individuating factor, where relations among different populations, environment, geographical isolation or accessibility, all figure into thinking about the emergence of molar aggregates. That is, the idea of a species functions as an abstraction that covers over all these dynamic relations, such that we must conceive species as only ever being dominant statistical aggregates that “leak around the edges” rather than as being unchanging and self-identical units.
A similar structure is at work at the level of the social. In some inspiring pages early in his A People’s History of the United States, Zinn makes some observations that resonate nicely with Deleuze’s remarks about populations and geography. There Zinn writes,
‘History is the memory of states,’ wrote Henry Kissinger in his first book, A World Restored, in which he proceeded to tell the history of nineteenth-century Europe from the viewpoint of the leaders of Austria and England, ignoring the millions who suffered from those statesmen’s policies. From his standpoint, the “peace” that Europe had before the French Revolution was “restored” by the diplomacy of a few national leaders. But for factory workers in England, farmers in France, colored people in Asia and Africa, women and children everwhere except in the upper classes, it was a world of conquest, violence, hunger, exploitation– a world not restored but disintigrated.
My viewpoint, in telling the history of the United States, is different: that we must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interests (sometimes exploding, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners. (9-10)
Zinn’s sorting here is a bit too neat and dualistic (victims and victimizers), but the interest of this passage is the way in which it undermines the legitimacy of molar unities such as “nation” and “state”, instead allowing us to see dynamic and divergent populations pulsing beneath. The problem with these molar categories is that they suggest homogeneity and unity where there are none. Quoting Deleuze once again,
There is a crucial experience of difference and a corresponding experiment: every time we find ourselves confronted or bound by a limitation or an opposition, we should ask what such a situation presupposes. It presupposes a swarm of differences, a pluralism of free, wild or untamed difference; a properly differential and original space and time; all of which persists alongside the simplification of limitation and identity. Oppositions are roughly cut from a delicate milieu of overlapping perspectives, of communicating distances, divergences and disparities, of heterogeneous potentials and intensities. Nor is it primarily a question of dissolving tensions in the identical, but rather of distributing the disparities in a multiplicity. Limitations correspond to a simple first-order power– in a space with a single dimension and a single direction, where, as in Leibniz’s example of boats borne on a current, there may be collisions, but these collisions necessarily serve to limit and to equalise, but not to neutralise or to oppose. As for opposition, it represents in turn the second-order power, where it is as though things were spread out upon a flat surface, polarised in a single plane, and the synthesis itself took place only in a false depth… In any case, what is missing is the original, intensive depth which is the matrix of the entire space and the first affirmation of difference: here, that which only afterwards appears as linear limitation and flat opposition lives and simmers in the form of free differences. Everywhere, couples and polariteis presuppose bundles and networks, organised oppositions presuppose radiations in all directions. (DR, 50-51).
What Zinn approaches without quite reaching it are these free and untamed differences, these networks, populated by antagonisms where identity is a principle become, and where the identities and institutions that we see all about us and which we experience as being eternal and unchanging– such that we can scarcely imagine a different world –are riddled with antagonisms and ripe with potentialities for both passing-away and becoming something other. Such a way of thinking suggests a very different mode of analysis, but also a different form of praxis aimed at touching upon these networks rather than playing upon the surface oppositions. Above all it is a form of praxis geared towards producing populations.