2718546386_1bebbf7b87Bryan, over at the marvelous Velvet Howler, weighs in on my response to Mikhail, remarking that,

I want to give Dr. Sinthome as much credit as is due to him, but if his main point in regards to the hegemonic fallacy is that reductionism is bad, what’s the point of the hegemonic fallacy and all of the abstract talk of objects? To an extent I agree with Mikhael that LS’s metaphysics obscures the fact that what he seems to be saying isn’t, at the core, all that interesting. If I could crudely summarize, it seems that LS’s point is this: the Ontic principle (“there is no difference that does not make a difference”) does not intend to describes Kantian Things-in-themselves (which would simply be a return to traditional metaphysics), but seeks to overcome the nature/culture divide that characterizes Modernist thinking by asserting (1) the horizontal nature of difference and (2) the “deconstruction” of objects.

In the case of these two points, the first involves the destruction of structure or hierarchy. This is another way of simply restating the hegemonic fallacy: no difference can attain a metaphysical status wherein it determines other differences (Sinthome gives Latour’s example of the Bible and the “savages”). The second point involves a critique of Kant, who, despite his attempt at limiting metaphysics to the scope of the (transcendental) conditions of possibility, nevertheless describes what is outside of consciousness (or what is for-us) as “objects,” which presupposes a modicum of organization that is itself rendered “metaphysical” under Sinthome’s “speculative realist” terms (and the same, for Sinthome, seems to be true of intuitions, but ultimately what I find disappointing about Sinthome’s reading of Kant is that it is simply boring)

There are few charges more damning or upsetting than the charge that one’s thoughts are boring or uninteresting. I truly hope this isn’t the case. At the moment there are a lot of moving parts to what I’m trying to do and there’s a lot of work left to be done. The Ontic Principle is only a starting point. First, in response to Bryan, the aim of the hegemonic fallacy is not simply to overcome the nature/culture divide. In formulating the Hegemonic Fallacy, I was first responding to some remarks that I had received on my blog and in email that seemed to suggest that people were assuming that, in affirming an object-oriented philosophy, I was simply opting for nature over culture or the physical world over the cultural world. The first aim of my post on the Hegemonic Fallacy was simply to dispel that notion.

read on!

However, in my view the Hegemonic Fallacy targets a field of thought is much broader than the Modernist divide between nature and culture. For example, Plato would be guilty of the Hegemonic Fallacy not because he divides the world between nature and culture, but because the Forms enjoy the position of the marked term within his ontology and appearances contribute little or nothing beyond a deceptive veil through which the knower must break to reach Truth. Carl asks why I don’t simply refer to the Hegemonic Fallacy as “reductivism”, and wonders if I simply take pleasure in naming. In part Carl is right in pointing out that all I’m referring to is reductivism. However, it seems advisable to choose a different term for what I’m discussing under the title of the Hegemonic Fallacy because, to my thinking at least, reductivism immediately brings to mind variants of physicalism such as the reduction of mind to brain, objects to atoms, etc., whereas I’m targeting reductivisms as wide ranging as Plato’s privileging of the forms, Kant’s privileging of mind, the Lacanian school’s privileging of signifiers, Leibniz and Spinoza’s privileging of God, and so on. I worry that if I restrict myself to the term reductivism won’t obscure all of this.

167074If the Hegemonic Fallacy weren’t so ubiquitous in the current world of philosophy, I would agree with Bryan’s conclusion that it is uninteresting or boring. However, it seems to me that everywhere in philosophy we find in idols and that these idols are very damaging. In particular, I have in mind work like Zizek’s where all political change seems to be located in the domain of the symbolic and the Act, ignoring all of the differences that make up the social assemblage. Thus we spend all sorts of time analyzing cultural artifacts– a worthy task –and see change as dependent on an Act that would shift the very co-ordinates of a situation. The focus is almost entirely on the signifier and effects that follow from signifiers. While I would be the last person to ignore the importance of signifiers, I do think this form of theory is myopic and functions to cloud the other associations that make up our world. What is ignored in all of this is the role that roads play in sustaining particular social orders, networks among various individuals or among various corporations, technology, relations to “nature” in a variety of ways, political economy, and all the rest. All of these things become invisible when we adopt an approach like Zizek’s because the social world has been hegemonized by the signifier.

The Hegemonic Fallacy thus simply invites us to look at these complex networks, how they’re put together, how they’re engineered, how they’re assembled, and so on. In engaging with this sort of cartography all sorts of other relations become visible that might allow us to strategize more effective means of producing change. I have similar problems with Badiou, Ranciere, and a host of others. The target isn’t so much Kant as these trends of thought that I see as descended from Kant. I want an ontology that allows me to see how things are put together and that doesn’t dominate things with a single principle from which all of them are to flow.

Bryan favorably quotes Shaviro’s stellar post on Harman’s object-oriented philosophy, while nonetheless remarking that he doesn’t understand just what Steven is getting at.

The other interesting problematic brought up in connection with this relates to Graham Harman’s argument, described over at Shaviro’s blog, about how:

It’s not a matter of forgetting Kant’s exclusion from the in-itself. It’s a matter of questioning why he gives humans a monopoly on such exclusion. In a sense, I’m trying to let rocks, stones, armies, and Exxon join in the fun of being excluded from the in-itself. A sort of Kantianism for inanimate objects.

I think this is an interesting point, but worth bracketing since I don’t understand it. But to return to Sinthome’s original discussion on object-oriented philosophy, it still seems unclear to me how the Ontic principle avoids reducing all difference to no difference.

wasps-3I share this position with both Graham and Shaviro. Just as Graham and Shaviro both argue that the in-itself is not unique to humans, but rather to relations among all objects, I too hold that there is nothing unique or exemplary about the human-object relation and that therefore relations among objects, human or otherwise, is an ontological question rather than an epistemological question. I argued this long ago before I encountered object-oriented philosophy or critiques of correlationism in a post on Hegel. Granting this– and this is at the heart of everything I’m working towards –the question now becomes 1) what must objects be like for this to be the case (that is, what can we say of objects as such given this ontological chasm), and 2) what are the mechanisms by which objects relate or enter into assemblages. In this respect, Bryan is mistaken to suggest that I am trying to “deconstruct” objects. It might turn out that objects have a number of strange and unfamiliar problems, but I’m certainly not trying to eradicate objects. Quite the contrary, part of the target of the Hegemonic Fallacy is precisely all those orientations of thought that seem so consistently to banish the furniture of the universe.

Bryan remarks that,

Obviously there is the whole problem of reductionism, but is this really the case when, say, one argues that the structure of capitalism is responsible for global violence? Or when we say that “class,” in a sense, determines subjective modalities more than other categories (gender, race, etc.)? Is it possible, therefore, to make the case that some differences matter more than others, while at the same time avoiding the metaphysical position that elevates one difference to an exceptional status?

To this, I respond, of course! Here, perhaps, I should develop an account of self-referentiality. Assuming Bryan has been keeping up with my recent posts on these topics, he will recall that in addition to the Ontic Principle I have also formulated Latour’s Principle, the Principle of Reality, the Principle of Act-uality, and the Ontological Principle.

Of particular importance in this connection are Latour’s Principle and the Principle of Reality. The Hegemonic Fallacy doesn’t deny that some differences dominate and overdetermine other differences. Rather, it denies that all differences can be traced back to a single ground or origin that contains them “virtually” as Hegel’s category of Being already contains all the subsequent categorical determinations. The Principle of Reality states that the degree of power or reality possessed by an entity is a ratio of the extensiveness of the differences it makes. By this principle, some differences have a very low degree of power such that their existence is almost imperceptible to any other entity in the universe. Other entities vastly extend their power, producing differences in countless entities as in the case of the relationship of the sun to the planet earth and all of the creatures that populate the earth. Consequently, this principle allows us to begin developing an account of how a number of entities can be tightly bound up with some other entity or assembly of entities.

Latour’s Principle states that there is no transportation without translation. According to this principle, if we can speak of entities like capitalism or class, then we must be able to discuss how these entities are assembled or put together. How does class come to be an entity? How does capitalism come to be an entity? If this question emerges, then this is because capitalism and class must transport itself to other entities and this requires translation or labor. That is, the entities cannot simply be subsumed like so many variables in a mathematical function. Moreover, those entities that are enlisted or assembled by these “super-entities” often resist and have other ideas. Capitalism must enlist machines of all sorts, computers, humans coming from a variety of different ethnic backgrounds and biological dispositions, the body of the earth, and so on. Latour’s Principle simply dictates that we account for how these translations take place. One of the things that I love about Marx– especially the later Marx of Grundrisse and Capital –is that he is attentive to precisely these sorts of questions. Adopting Balibar’s language, we could say that Marx is deeply sensitive to the question of how masses are turned into classes or multitudes into a people. Marx does not begin with capitalism or class as a given, as a primitive notion, but painstakingly shows how certain differences or entities intervene and unfold, generating new entities.

Hopefully all of this is a little less boring.