August 2010


Via Dailykos.

LA GOPer: November A Choice Between An Atheist Society And A Christian Nation

Appearing before the Republican Women of Bossier with Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) cast the November elections as a choice between godlessness and Christianity. He also called bipartisanship impossible.

“We have two competing world views here and there is no way that we can reach across the aisle — one is going to have to win,” Fleming said.

We are either going to go down the socialist road and become like western Europe and create, I guess really a godless society, an atheist society. Or we’re going to continue down the other pathway where we believe in freedom of speech, individual liberties and that we remain a Christian nation. So we’re going to have to win that battle, we’re going to have to solve that argument before we can once again reach across and work together on things.

I confess the idea of going the way of western Europe is terrifying to me. Just imagine the horror: Healthcare for everyone, shorter work weeks, six weeks of vacation, strong worker protections and rights, inexpensive education and child care, no debate over whether or not evolution is true, and so on. These are abominations that simply can’t be allowed to happen.

Scu has another post up clarifying what he’s getting at in his discussion of immunity and autoimmunity. I largely agree with him.

The T.H.E. has posted a rather unflattering review of The Ecological Thought by Timothy Morton (hat tip to Gratton). Some of the review, I think, is somewhat justified. As Laurence Coupe, the reviewer writes:

It might be said that post-structuralist thinking attempts something similar to the Buddhist exposure of illusion, but it falls far short of it when it merely results in a high-handed denial of the more-than-human world (here I use David Abrams’ phrasing). I am afraid to say that this is what seems to happen in the course of Timothy Morton’s new book, The Ecological Thought. Let me say that I do appreciate what Morton is attempting to do: that is, correct our unthinking attitudes to nature – or Nature, as he calls it – to make us think more carefully about the way we reify, consume or idealise it. But alas, the effect is far more deconstructive than reconstructive: “In the name of ecology, we must scrutinize Nature with all the suspicion a modern person can muster. Let the buyer beware.”

Morton’s case for a natureless ecology is not aided by the fact that he has such difficulty in defining it. “Ecology has to do with love, loss, despair and compassion. It has to do with depression and psychosis … It has to do with reading and writing … It has to do with sexuality.” That is from the introduction, but after nearly 80 pages we are none the wiser: “The ecological thought is about people – it is people.” Nor does it get much clearer by the final page, I’m afraid.

To be sure, Morton’s book is littered with these sorts of remarks and he doesn’t follow through in showing just how these things are about ecology (that’s not the purpose of the book), but if I say that this criticism is only somewhat justified, then this is because Morton tells us what the ecological thought is quite early in the book. It is thus surprising that a senior lecturer in English at Manchester Metropolitan University (you know, folks that are supposed to be skilled at close reading) misses what Morton says on page seven:

Ecology shows us that all beings are connected. The ecological thought [Morton’s emphasis] is the thinking of interconnectedness. The ecological thought is a thought about ecology, but it’s also a thinking that is ecological… It’s a practice and a process of becoming fully aware of how human beings are connected with other beings– animal, vegetable, or mineral.

Wow, that sounds like a pretty clear articulation of what the ecological thought is! Are we really none the wiser by the time we finish Morton’s book? Given my background in psychoanalysis, let’s take the example of depression and psychosis that Morton evokes and that the author not-so-implicitly mocks. What would it mean to think about depression and psychosis ecologically? What would it mean to think about depression and psychosis non-ecological? Well, if we follow Morton’s prescription on page 7, a non-ecological analysis of depression and psychosis would treat it as an isolated and intrinsic feature of the human brain independent of anything in the person’s environment. By contrast, an ecological analysis of depression and psychosis would treat these as real states of human brains, but would analyze the relational network in which these states occur. It would look at the genetics of the person and the upbringing of the person and the social environment of the person and the diet of the person and the regimes of production characterizing the social world of the person and etc., etc., etc.

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Scu has an interesting post up expanding on his discussion of Luhmann and vulnerability yesterday. It seems that he want to draw a distinction between immunity and autoimmunity as it works in Derrida’s thought. I’m not entirely following what he’s trying to get at here. As I understand it, the idea is that in order for any social system to constitute itself it necessarily has to practice a sort of immunity so as to maintain its organization. In Luhmann, for example, a system, in order to exist as a system, must maintain a boundary that distinguishes itself from its environment. This entails a sort of immunity or immunization.

As I understand it– and here my understanding is based entirely on Hägglund’s Radical Atheism –the concept of autoimmunity in Derrida is designed to unpack how the manner in which a system deploys immunity simultaneously allows the system to maintain itself and harbors the possibility of the system’s own destruction. For example, with the Patriot Act the United States enacted a set of laws to protect itself against terrorist threats. This was an act of immunity. However, paradoxically, this very act destroys the United States from within. Immunity functions to protect a system from others that would destroy it. Yet in this case, immunity recoils on the system itself, carrying the possibility of destroying that system. Here it is not an other that is a threat, but the systems own defense against the other that can prove to be its undoing. As Hägglund describes it, immunity is a logic of purification. It seeks the pure and self-identical (there are great passages in Augustine about this). Yet this very pursuit of purity– not attacks from others –carries with it the possibility of undoing the thing that strives to remain pure. As such, every community is necessarily threatened from within by autoimmunity by virtue of the manner in which its own attempt to constitute itself can destroy it.

Am I missing something? I’m not quite clear as to why Scu sees the necessity of distinguishing between immunity and autoimmunity and why he thinks Derrida is insufficient here. If anything, I think Luhmann comes up short here in not sufficiently exploring the possibility of systems auto-destructing or devouring themselves from within (which isn’t to say that a Luhmannian account of this couldn’t be developed, only that he doesn’t seem to explore this phenomenon very closely).

Recently I’ve picked up DeLanda’s New Philosophy of Society once again. I’m struck by how close his own account of society as assemblages is to my own conception of society as an object. The book has been out for a while, but it wouldn’t hurt to take another look. It’s short, so a series of blog posts across a handful of blogs wouldn’t be too difficult. Anyone up for it?

Over at Critical Animal Scu has an interesting post up on risk, trust, and systems. As Scu writes:

Systems still have to interact, but they do so without being able to fully grasp another system. Luhmann doesn’t use the term vulnerability particularly, but does employ the concepts of risk and trust in order to explain many of these interactions between systems. Trust is about the ways that systems interact with each other in ways that open the system up to risk. Risk isn’t just calculated danger, but risk involves taking chances that exceed calculation, and therefore trust exceeds a system’s calculation as well. Luhmann posits that systems that are more likely to trust tend to be ones that are more likely to thrive. Or, to put it another way, trust is “an attitude that allows for risk-taking decisions”.

The concept of risk is everywhere in Luhmann’s thought and is, I believe, one of the most attractive features of his thought. I can’t recall coming across any discussions of trust, but I might be forgetting his discussions of trust. I wouldn’t be surprised if such a discussion appears in his analysis of “double contingency” in Social Systems, where roughly he investigates who two systems that don’t have direct access to one another come to coordinate their action.

read on!
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Over at Being’s Poem, Daniel has some follow up questions regarding my post from yesterday. I’m extremely tired (my three year old girl woke me up around three this morning and I never got to sleep) and between classes starting and all the writing/editorial work I’m doing right now, I’m very pressed for time. As a consequence, I’ll try to keep my response brief.

1. Withdrawal– Some Preliminaries: For me there are three ways in which withdrawal takes place. First, objects or substances are withdrawn from themselves. Regardless of whether or not a substance relates to another substance, that substance would still be withdrawn. In my previous post I outlined this in terms of the relationship between local manifestation and virtual proper being. This point is crucial because those who have been following the development of OOO might have the impression that OOO merely argues that no entity can be present to another entity. From this one might conclude that while no entity can be present to another entity, entities are nonetheless present in themselves. While OOO does indeed argue that no entity is present to another entity, it does not argue that entities are present in themselves. All entities, OOO argues, are internally split or fissured, regardless of whether or not they relate to other entities. Put differently, no entity is fully present.

In addition to this sense of withdrawal, second, both Graham and I argue that entities are withdrawn from each other. Here no entity directly encounters another entity. Within Graham’s framework, entities only relate to one another or encounter one another in terms of what he calls “sensuous objects”. Sensuous objects are objects that only exist on the interior of a real object. These sensuous objects are never identical to the real object that provokes them (when it is a real object that provokes them). This, in very simplified terms, is Graham’s vicarious causation. Within my framework, objects only ever encounter one another in terms of local manifestations. Virtual proper being is never directly encountered but can only be inferred. In my view, there is a great deal of cross-over between Graham’s sensuous objects and my local manifestations. After reading The Democracy of Objects Graham seemed to think that vicarious causation is at work all over the place in my onticology.

read on!
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