In a post this evening Tim takes Badiou to task for destroying ethics. Tim writes:
Problems with Badiouian Ethics
…the big one: he destroys ethics. There is a genuine differend here. A radical asymmetry between the “ethics” crew and the “politics versus ethics” crew.
How do you get from this:
the ethic of a truth: ‘Do all that you can to persevere in that which exceeds your perseverance. Persevere in the interruption. Seize in your being that which has seized and broken you.’ (Ethics 47)
—to an answer to this perfectly straightforward ethical question:
Do we force corporations to limit carbon emissions now?
Badiou’s “ethics” are a kind of moral atomic bomb. Even Ayn Rand would answer this question more sensibly than Badiou, who just can’t answer it, I claim. Of course, Ayn Rand wouldn’t answer it as I wish. But she would answer it, as would a host of others.
There’s a danger with trying for a one size fits all “ethics.” Nietzsche’s utter repudiation of the possibility of moral rationality is the outcome of the Enlightenment’s mistaken quest for a final and definitive argument that will settle moral disputes into perpetuity by power of a calculative reason alone…
I disagree. This is a rather dramatic characterization of Badiou’s ethics. Badiou’s ethics is not designed to formulate a set of rules that would tell us how to respond to situation x (hence the “one size fits all” critique is a bit of a red herring or straw man). What Badiou is interested in is what might keep us committed to a certain project despite all the things that stand in our way. Let’s take Tim’s environmental example. There are all sorts of things that are inconvenient about reducing the impact of various pollutants on the climate. People like their non-energy efficient cars. They like cheaply available meat. They like their air conditioning. Products have to be transported. Changes in the sorts of energy we use would negatively impact the economy and would hurt a number of industries. Industries based on fossil fuels are opposed to change as they stand to lose massively, and public officials are disinclined to call for such changes lest they lose the campaign contributions of these industries or release the dogs of war in the form of negative political adds. Governments are reluctant to make these changes out ofmfear of angering voters and industries. Etc., etc, etc.
Pitched in this framework, there are all sorts of factors that suggest that the sorts of changes required are both 1) non-pragmatic from the standpoint of current economy, public sentiment, and government, and 2) are therefore impossible to successfully enact. For Badiou the subject that concedes this impossibility is the unethical subject. That is, the political realist or pragmatic realist would argue that we have to recognize the social constraints on change and limit ourselves to doing what is possible in the reigning social framework, rather than pursuing the significant change called for. For Badiou the ethical political subject is the one that rejects this logic and remains committed to this cause hell or high water regardless of whether it appears impossible from the standpoint of reigning common sense.
So three points: First, I think that given Tim’s arguments in EwN, ET, and his talks, you’re much closer to Badiou than he thinks. Against all pragmatist cynicism he continuously insist on this sort of engagement with the “impossible” even if it makes no pragmatic sense within the deliberative social sphere of deliberation and governance. Second, the question “what would Badiou say about how reduce carbon emissions?” misses the point that ethico-politico truth-procedures are inventive They don’t begin with an answer of what is to be done, but rather invent that answer in their practice. This is precisely what politics and ethics is (cf. my article in Deleuze and Ethics). Politics and ethics begins at that precise point where the normative sphere fails, where there isn’t a pre-delineated answer in terms of an existing norm. This is why ethical philosophies that propose a pre-delineated norm or rule from which applications in particular situations miss the boat. The idea of an ethico-politico “conundrum” better captures what ethics is about tha the idea of deducing an application according to a rule. Ethics is what pertains to the real or that which is uncounted within a social order: that which requires invention. This is because genuinely ethical political engagement introduces something new into the world that isn’t already predelineated by the reigning reality of that world and that wasn’t already there. Finally, third, that inventiveness only arises with militant commitment to that “impossibility” that refuses to surrender to or bow to the exigencies of the pragmatic political realist framework of deliberative consensus. There are lots of things to disagree with Badiou about, but I don’t think this is one of those things. Far from the destruction of ethics, Badiou is contesting all those “little deaths”, those little compromises we make, that mark the demise of ethics and politics. We need more of this sort of commitment, not less.