Here’s a thread from Saturday that seemed to be quite popular. It explains a saying that I’ve found myself reaching for a lot recently, using some other ideas I’ve been developing in the background on the intersection between philosophy of action, philosophy of politics, and philosophy of computer science.
In reflecting on this thread, these ideas have unfolded further, straying into more fundamental territory in the philosophy of value. If you’re interested in the relations between incompetence, malice, and evil, please read on.
The topic of cognitive economics is something I haven’t explicitly revisited in writing, though I think about it quite a bit, and have discussed aspects of it in recent talks. The idea of the attention economy is quite popular in the era of social media, as we watch various strategies for attracting, keeping, and directing attention change our society in real time. However, attention is only one of the resources that (economic) agents require to make decisions, and it is often focused on purely as a limit on passive consumption of information, rather than a limit on active processing of it.
Now that I’m trying to rekindle the blog, I’ve realised that I should probably consolidate some bits of writing that I’ve done elsewhere. I started a tumblr several years ago for lighter writing about more general topics. That didn’t really work out, for various reasons, so I’m going to port the best bits back over here. Following previous convention, these posts are classified as ‘One from the Archives’ or OftA. I’m going to start with one of the most seemingly influential, and yet largely underground things I’ve ever written: ‘So, Accelerationism, what’s all that about?’
This was a piece written in response to Malcom Harris’ review of the #ACCELERATE reader in The New Inquiry. Since I’ve now written something about ‘neorationalism‘, I’ve been thinking about returning to ‘accelerationism’ and talking a little about the emergence of the term, my relation to it, and my thoughts about it. I’ll save the details for a later post, but now that there’s a renewed interest in the definition, genealogy and taxonomy of accelerationism, it seems like a good time to dredge this piece up. I wasn’t the first to name the difference between left and right strands (I heard it from Benedict Singleton in Berlin in 2014), but I think I might have been the first to write about it. I’m still the top reference on the wikipedia page, at least.
Here is the video for my talk ‘Prometheanism and Rationalism’, which was given at Goldsmiths courtesy of Simon O’Sullivan and the Visual Cultures department in May. The same talk was given the previous week at the Dutch Art Institute’s Prometheanism 2.0 event, organised by Bassam El Baroni, alongside Patricia Reed, Yuk Hui, and Inigo Wilkins. The video for the DAI version is available here. However, as is often the case, I think the second version is better.
Here is the abstract:
The aim of this talk is to articulate and defend the connection between contemporary forms of prometheanism and rationalism. It will begin by defining prometheanism through its opposition to political liberalism and normative naturalism, as developed by the projects of left-accelerationism and xenofeminism. It will then show how the success of these oppositions is premised upon philosophical rationalism, insofar as it supplies the needed accounts of positive freedom and normative autonomy, and articulate the problems faced by alternatives to liberalism and naturalism that reject these conceptual resources. The remainder of the talk will be devoted to elaborating the account of rational agency through which these concepts should be understood. Positively, it will aim to explain what reason is, giving a minimalistic picture of the capacities its exercise involves. Negatively, it will aim to explain what reason is not, addressing some common objections to rationalism based on misunderstanding its relation to affect, embodiment, collectivity, and other issues.
I’m quite pleased with the talk overall. For those who would like to read the first half, it is available in written form here. If you’re having difficult reading the slides, they’re available here. It’s also worth pointing out that this makes a good companion to my paper ‘The Reformatting of Homo Sapiens’ (video), whose analysis of myth it borrows. Furthermore, the explanation of contemporary rationalism at the end has been developed substantially in my work on Computational Kantianism, which I’ll be sharing here eventually.
Finally, it’s worth noting that my positive thoughts on what is now more properly called Left-Accelerationism (L#A) haven’t been widely available till now. This is despite the fact that I organised the second Accelerationism Workshop at Goldsmiths, was involved in putting together #ACCELERATE: The Accelerationism Reader, and, weirdly, that my tumblr response to Malcom Harris’s confused review of the reader – ‘So, Accelerationism, what’s all that about?’ – which does it’s best to diagnose the usual errors in usage and explain the left/right distinction, is the first reference on the accelerationism wikipedia page. This talk doesn’t cover everything I have to say about the matter, and there’s still some controversy about whether the term is salvageable, given the aforementioned confusions, but it’s nice to have something people can refer to.
I’ve just gotten back from the Dundee graduate conference on The Relevance of the Human in Politics. This was my third year at the Dundee grad conference, and my second time presenting a paper. As ever, it was an immense amount of fun. Some great people, some excellent papers, and nowhere near enough sleep. I highly recommend it for anyone thinking of going next year!
My own paper was entitled ‘The Parting of the Ways: Political Agency Between Rational Subjectivity and Phenomenal Selfhood’. The principle aim of the paper was to elucidate Ray Brassier’s recent distinction between rational subjectivity and phenomenal selfhood, by showing how the Sellarsian and Metzingerian philosophies of mind that he takes as the respective models of these can be integrated with one another. The paper was then supposed to draw some consequences of this for understanding political agency. However, as is unfortunately common, in writing the paper I found myself bound up with the preliminaries, albeit it in an enormously interesting fashion. Alas, 20 minutes is a short time to cram such a thing into!
I was hoping to do a bit of work extending the paper to compensate for this, and add some further examples and diagrams while I was at it, before posting it here. However, I’m buried under other writing commitments, and haven’t had time to do anything more than tidy it up a bit and add some notes about the potential consequences for the theory of political agency. Hopefully I’ll get to expand on these ideas at some point in the future. Anyway, for those still interested in the paper, you can get it here.
Happy New Year everyone. Levi recently put up an interesting post about Spinoza’s account of the relation between causal knowledge and ethics (here). As some of you may know, I’m quite a big fan of Spinoza. Not just of his metaphysics, but also of his resistance to Aristotelian teleology and his resolve to think freedom in a way compatible with his completely deterministic metaphysics. As I’ve argued elsewhere (here), Spinoza reconciles freedom with the principle of sufficient reason in a much healthier manner than Leibniz, and a lot of contemporary debates on this issue can be interpreted as taking place between neo-Leibnizians and neo-Spinozists. I’m firmly in the neo-Spinozist camp, but this doesn’t mean that I agree with Spinoza completely. Levi’s post very clearly outlines one of the points where I have an important disagreement with him (and his heirs), so it’s useful to address it. It also gives me a good excuse to work through some of the ideas I’ve been having about ethics and politics over the past few months.
This post is another fairly long one (8,000 words or so), but it not only contains my thoughts on Spinoza, but also some thoughts on Kant, Foucault, Sellars, Hegel, and Plato, which it pulls together to provide the outline of a theory of Justice. That may sound a bit over the top, but I’m nothing if not ambitious. Anyway, on with the show…
Although I’m working on other things at the moment (though very slowly, due to this rotten cold), it occurred to me that I’ve got a bunch of material lying around in my email account from various conversations I’ve had with terribly interesting individuals. Some of this is fairly easy just to copy and paste onto the blog, so there’s no good reason not to do so. I’m going to post them pretty much as is, and any necessary corrections or revisions will appear in ‘[…]’.
To start with, here’s something I wrote in response to a really excellent question from Alex Williams on my understanding of the relation between politics and negativity. It doesn’t really talk about politics much, but rather tries to disambiguate various ways in which the concept of negativity can be deployed philosophically. Hope you enjoy.
I haven’t read Benjamin Noys book on the matter, which I suspect I should, but I’m generally very skeptical of the way ‘negativity’ and ‘positivity’ get used in much of mainstream continental philosophical discourse. It’s one of my pet peeves actually, because it often ends up running together logical and metaphysical issues with metaphorics of affectivity (‘we must be positive’ or ‘we must be negative’, etc.). That said, I’ll try and disentangle the bits I think something can be said about as best as I can.
There’s basically three different registers in which talk of negativity is relevant: philosophy of logic, philosophy of subjectivity, and metaphysics. These overlap insofar as subjects can be conceived as necessarily having the capacity for reasoning (which is made explicit using logical vocabulary) and insofar as there are questions about the subjects place within reality (and the relation between logical and metaphysical structure more broadly). To understand the relations between these different ways of talking about negativity I’d like to trace a few historical debates running through Spinoza, Hegel, Deleuze, Heidegger, Sartre and Brandom.
I recently finished reading Mark Fisher‘s Capitalist Realism. I’m very sorry it took me so long. Now I’m at the end of my thesis I’m starting to finally do things I’ve been putting off for a long time. Mark really must be praised for writing such an accessible and yet eminently perceptive and persuasive book. It touches on a number of issues I’ve been thinking about myself for a long time, and gives names to several phenomena that have been on the edge of my intellectual awareness for even longer. I don’t agree with all of it, and I can see numerous points where the discussion needs to be taken further, but these are merely signs of how thought provoking and well-written the book is.
As I’ve said, now I’m at the end of the thesis, I’m starting to pick up things I’ve put off, and start new projects again. Politics is what originally got me into philosophy. Specifically, I was motivated to take up theoretical philosophy by precisely what demotivated me to engage in practical political action: the problem of how it is possible to change anything in the current environment (an environment Mark so perspicuously circumscribes). I remember attending the big anti-war march just before the beginning of the Iraq war in London, the biggest peace protest in history at the time (I think), and seeing how easily it was assimilated and dissipated by the media-democratic complex. It struck me that a smaller number of people (with a smaller amount of public support behind them) brought down the Vietnam war, and yet this did precisely nothing. I was 17 at the time, and hoping to go into politics. That event disrupted my perspective and made me want to understand why it did nothing, and how it would be possible to do something. I’ve spent the last 7 years or so on a journey into high theory, acquiring a number of abstract theoretical tools along the way, and I think I’m finally ready to make my descent back toward concrete political issues. Capitalist Realism has only reinforced my resolve on this front.
To this end, I’m in the early stages of starting a new blog to discuss more concrete political issues. Deontologistics has always been very much a blog about abstract issues, and although I’ve touched on the odd bit of political and ethical theory here and there, that’s never been its purpose. The arrangements for the new blog are still coming together though (it doesn’t even have a name yet), so watch this space. The one thing I can tell you is that if there is one phrase that sums up its modus operandi, it’s this: political rationalism. Given all this, I feel that it’s a good idea for me to write up my thoughts on Capitalist Realism (or CR), as a preliminary to the work I’m hoping to undertake. This will be less of a summary of the book’s core ideas than an exploration of the terrain it covers from within my own theoretical perspective. This means adding some theoretical supplements and using these to sketch the ways in which I think some of Mark’s ideas can be developed. The other qualification to add here is that I’m not as well versed in political theory as I’d like, and so it’s quite possible that I’ll reinvent some theoretical wheels as I’m going here (especially with regard to Marx and Habermas). I’m very happy to have this pointed out to me.
As should be no surprise to regular readers, this will be a long post (this part is 16,000, which I believe is a new record). It started out life as an email to Mark and became somewhat excessive. It’s gotten so long that I’ve actually had to split it up into parts (the second has yet to be completed). Here is the first part, which involves more theoretical supplementation than political musing. The second part should get more concrete, or at least, as concrete as I am known to get.
Anyway, here we go…
Reid of Planomenology has just started up a new blog called The Luxemburgist that focuses on political theory. Luckily for us all, Reid will keep posting metaphysics related stuff at Planomenology, but his aim appears to be to use the new blog to work out an explicitly non-metaphysical interpretation of Marxism. To this end, he’s drawing on some of the ideas I’ve been developing here over the last year (that’s right, Deontologistics is now over a year old!). Needless to say, I think he’s doing some very interesting work, and can’t wait to see where it leads. Maybe he’ll even coax me into posting some more stuff on social theory at some point. Till then, go read his last two posts on Marx at Planomenology (here and here), and the inaugural post at new blog (here).
Levi has a post up riffing on Dominic’s response to my piece for the Speculative Heresy/Inhumanities crossover event. It revisits a line of thought he’s touched on before, namely, that neo-liberalism is somehow founded upon the formal conception of the subject that emerged out of Kant, a conception which I endorse to some extent.
Dominic’s very insightful point was that neo-liberalism is more than just a false antropology. Although it has at times deployed an egoistic conception of the essence of man, it is no longer dependent upon this conception, which is evident in the fact that neo-liberalism is still dominant, despite the widespread rejection of this egoisitc image. I wholeheartedly agree with this. His other point, which Levi has tried to take up and expand, is that neo-liberalism “also goes to considerable lengths to modify the “soul” of society (its basic normative commitments and symbolic co-ordinates) so that individuals will perceive this to be their true nature and act accordingly.” I start to have reservations here, specifically in relation to the way Levi develops the point.