As I said in my last post, I find Badiou’s political philosophy to be among the most satisfying (Ranciere’s would be another). It recognizes the rarity of politics or that not everything is political, refuses the mastery of philosophy, proceeds from an egalitarian maxim, and bases its politics on an affirmation rather than critique. The question that must be posed, however, is what happens to our conception of the political when ecology becomes a site of the political. With ecology, however, we get a fundamental mutation in our understanding of the political. Since the beginning, politics– at least as conceived by the tradition of Western philosophy –has been an affair of humans. To be “cosmopolitical” was simply to be someone that recognized all different human cultures. We see this at work in Badiou’s thought as well:
…political sequences are singularities: they do not trace a destiny, nor do they construct a monumental history. Philosophy, however, can distinguish a common feature among them. This feature is that from the people they engage these orientations require nothing but their strict generic humanity. In their principle of action, these orientations take no account of the particularity of interests. They induce a representation of the capacity of the collective which refers its agents to the strictest equality. (Infinite Thought, 70)
What does ‘equality’ signify here? Equality means that a political actor is represented under the sole sign of his or her specifically human capacity. Interest is not a specifically human capacity. All living beings protect their interests as imperative for survival. The capacity which is specifically human is that of thought, and thought is nothing other than that by which the path of truth seizes and traverses the human animal. (71)
The political here is carefully restricted to humans, a point that can be clearly seen everywhere in Badiou’s work. This is a point that Badiou himself recognizes. As he recently remarked,
In ecology we can find a new form of the question of change. Maybe it is the idea that we must create something like a modern tradition. You must understand the point clearly: the modern tradition is a tradition by the fact that we preserve the repetition of nature in some sense. […] This is why ecology is not directly inside the classical revolutionary vision. Ecology is something different because it is a traditional revolution. It is a revolution of the tradition itself. Ecology aims to create a new tradition. It does not aim to create a new form of pure progress or of pure becoming. You know it is a very complex and interesting question, this relationship between the sort of will for a new tradition and the revolutionary tradition. So we can say that ecology is the attempt to create a revolution of the revolutionary tradition, it is the attempt to invent a new tradition. (Courtesy of Duane Rousselle, Badiou, Chapter 1– The Subject of Change).
What we see here is a faltering of Badiou’s categories or conception of the political. With ecology as a site of the political, the egalitarian declaration no longer quite works. We can, presumably, retain the categories of “subject”, “event”, and “truth-procedure” as political operators and dimensions, but the axiom of equality becomes more difficult. Please note, that the issue here is not one of criticizing Badiou, but of trying to determine how politics is to be thought today. What does ecology call for us to think in the domain of politics and philosophy? This truly is a revolutionary transformation that is entirely new from the standpoint of the history of political thought and that will require us to rethink all political categories.
If ecology proves so difficult to think politically, then this is because it requires us to take account of ozone holes, coral reefs, garbage heaps, and all the rest. We can no longer restrict ourselves to questions of just arrangements between humans. The question of just social relations remains, but now we’ve opened on to an entirely different universe of actants that must be thought as well. Such is the question of the shift from politics to, for lack of a better word, genuine “cosmopolitics”. Cosmopolitics would not be a multiculturalism, but would be a “multi-speciesism”. This is what ecology enjoins us to ask.
I do not intend to answer these questions here, but only to pose them. From Badiou I want to retain the rarity of politics, the theory of events, the notion of a subject as that being that is convoked by an event (or in Guattari’s and Sartre’s terminology, a collective), and his understanding of truth-procedures. From his politics I want to retain the egalitarian axiom. But as soon as politics shifts to cosmopolitics, the egalitarian axiom encounters limits and we require a new set of axioms for relating to the nonhuman. The question lies in determining just what those axioms might be. We might wish to retain the axiom of equality and say that all organisms should be treated equally, but as Cary Wolfe pointed out to me last week, this 1) lands us back into the worst biopolitics of eugenics, and 2) creates an entire mess once we begin raising questions of inter-species relations between nonhuman species. If, for example, a virus is bringing about the extinction of a particular type of organism, equality would seem to demand that we promote both the virus and the organism nearing extinction. How do we decide?
This is what I know: politics must become cosmpolitical, which is to say, ecological. I also know that politics must be radically egalitarian and anarchic, eschewing hierarchy, the avant-gard, exclusion, and parties. This is what I don’t know: How to pose the question of what it means for politics to become ecological or cosmopolitical, what a truth-procedure looks like for a cosmopolitics, and what sorts of axioms it might rest upon. Hopefully this is a little step along the way and others will have some interesting insights– that don’t involve talking about Stengers and Latour, as these are questions of real politics, not scholarly footnotes –to contribute to thinking these things.