HUGGING MONSTERS

The anthropocentrism that looks out on the world and says “we did this!” – including the more tolerable kind that looks out on the so-called Anthropocene and sadly mutters “we did this” – denies the significance of the other-than human in the world’s emergence.  The closer we look, the more we find that we never act alone: every small gesture is a generation of the collective.  Every small gesture is already cooked in a cauldron of many spoons, stirred by things whose names we can pronounce, and other things that are not quite nameable.  Every small gesture is already a compost heap of a million critters.  The “human” is a carnival of nonhuman doings; it is, to use Karen Barad’s term, a posthumanist performativity that shapes the world, allocates agency, and troubles boundaries.  Like dust.

We are fundamentally porous and promiscuous.  This is the world we live in – a carnival of the unexpected, of the irregular, the grotesque, or monstrous bodies – where the hard and cold lines that distinguish you from me, us from trees, trees from economics, and economics from whale shit are blurry, leaky and wet.  our own bodies are populated by trillions of other bacterial cells in their own becomings, but these cells do not live “on” you, or with you, or through you.  They are you: they are necessary to your body’s ongoing survival.  You couldn’t be human without these alien entanglements that breach the fences between you and your environment.  These overlapping bodies, pressed together in this strange material world characterised by a “horrifying kind of intimacy,” make it impossible to make a once-and-for-all cut between where I stop and where you begin, or where life stops and death triumphs, or where matter gallops forward and mind allegedly tugs on the reins.  It is in this sense we are monsters.  We are one and many.  You are only yourself through others.

Is this a way of easing oneself out of responsibility for, say, the impact of industrial activity on climate and environmental well-being? No, it is a way of deepening it – because to so summarily assign blame and pin an entire upholstery of multiple events to a single factor, or an essential substrate working behind the scenes, is to further distance ourselves from the world’s happenings and – intentions notwithstanding – reduce the world to separable parts where our technological mastery is its main driver.  It is to strip matter of its own desire, will, intention, and movement so that it doesn’t present an impediment to our concerns.

Bayo Akomolafe, These Wilds Beyond Our Fences.

POSTACTIVISM

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The world that the climate activist hopes to save kills him. Dismantles him. Tears him apart. Diffracts him so that what was once quintessential is now spread abroad. Things fall apart and the centre cannot hold.

Instead of an independent agent – the vaunted unit of social change whose intentions and motivations and exhaustions are the engine room of world change – surrounded by the paraphernalia of her vocation, we must now turn our attention to the whole assemblage and what this organization of bodies is doing. The climate activist is no longer the human separate from the furniture of activism, but the ‘human’ and the materials: the computer screens, the concepts, the classifications, the categories of thought, and the city in its subjectivizing effects. As such, the classical self is decentred as the focus of our attention and prayers; social change is not predicated on the unilateral moves of the human self, but on assemblages breaking through (deterritorializing and reterritorializing) other assemblages. Continue reading “POSTACTIVISM”

SPIRITUALITY AND INTELLECTUAL HONESTY

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To begin with, a general image of our intellectual history emerges. Historically, the first thing that existed was clearly religion: belief systems that were shared by ever-larger groups of people, that took away people’s fear of death and considerably strengthened these groups’ cohesion. Those belief systems not only strengthened cohesion externally, but also internally, by stabilizing the individual’s self-esteem through the systematic denial of one’s own mortality and by effectively reinforcing existing hierarchies, for example in conflicts with other groups. Historically, these fideist-dogmatic models of reality developed from burial rites, ancestor cults and shamanism. The historically most recent developments were the ideal of intellectual honesty, enlightenment and self-critical rationalism. The ideal of intellectual honesty in this sense is something completely new, something that is only now beginning to be realized in a few places on our planet, in very few societies, and only in its very first manifestations. What made intellectual honesty possible, however, were the originally religious ideals of unconditional truthfulness and sincerity towards God. These ideals led to a turning inward, a reflexive turn on ourselves, towards the individual human being itself, led to the development of the ethical ideals of unconditional truthfulness and sincerity towards ourselves, the relentless openness, the unconditional commitment to the growth of knowledge. However, one central insight, which has always been at the very foundation of the spiritual stance, is that there is more than one form of knowledge, and more than one form of epistemic progress. Continue reading “SPIRITUALITY AND INTELLECTUAL HONESTY”

EXCHANGE FOR FIRE: I WENT IN SEARCH OF MYSELF

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The ordering (kosmos), the same for all, no god or man has made, but it ever was and is and will be: fire everliving, kindled in measures and in measures going out.

…I have so far characterized the new Ionian cosmology by three fundamental features: (1) a geometric model for the heavens, (2) observation and numerical measurement of astral cycles, and (3) the interpretation of physical change as a conflict of elemental powers within a periodic order of reciprocity and symmetry recognized as just. To these must be added a fourth, less original feature: the tendency to explain the present state of affairs by deriving it from some initial situation or first beginning. In place of Hesiod’s theogony, the natural philosophers give us cosmogony. The reports on Anaximander and the quotations from Anaxagoras show that Ionian cosmology began, like Hesiod and the book of Genesis, ‘in the beginning’. It described the emergence of the world order as a gradual process of generation or development from an archē, a starting point or ‘what came first of all.’ And there is some evidence to suggest that Anaximander, like Empedocles and the atomists later, applied the principle of symmetry to foresee a reversal of the cosmic process, so that the earth which had emerged from the sea would sink into it again, and perhaps the whole world process might begin anew. Continue reading “EXCHANGE FOR FIRE: I WENT IN SEARCH OF MYSELF”