Guerrilla Ontology http://guerrillaontologies.com Philosophizing Without a Purpose Wed, 16 Jan 2019 04:05:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.0.3 https://i0.wp.com/guerrillaontologies.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/cropped-3D-Triangle-illusion.png?fit=32%2C32 Guerrilla Ontology http://guerrillaontologies.com 32 32 73201737 On Peripheral Philosophy http://guerrillaontologies.com/2019/01/on-peripheral-philosophy/ http://guerrillaontologies.com/2019/01/on-peripheral-philosophy/#respond Wed, 16 Jan 2019 04:05:52 +0000 http://guerrillaontologies.com/?p=1593 [I]f there is to be a philosophy at all,
[it must be] withdrawn from all State influence.

– Arthur Schopenhauer1)Arthur Schopenhauer, “On Philosophy at the Universities,” in Parerga and Paralipomena: Short Philosophical Essays, Vol. 1, trans. E.F.J. Payne (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974), 137-197: 180.

[E]verything interesting happens on the periphery,
outside the standard modes of “developed” existence.

– CCRU3)CCRU, “Communiqué Two: Message to Maxence Grunier (2001),” in CCRU Writings: 1997-2003 (Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2017), (:)(:)-::(:), (:)(:).

In philosophy, the only thing that we are taught to
“expose” is a weak argument, a fallacy, or someone’s

“inferior” reasoning power.
– George Yancy2)George Yancy, “Whiteness and the Return of the Black Body,” The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 19, No. 4 (2005), 215-241: 215.

Photo of the Academy Assimilating Radical Thought

While the history of anti-academic philosophy has its roots as far back as Ancient Greece and Socrates’ relentless mocking of the Sophists for whom truth was merely a fad destined to change during the next pay-cycle, its spectre has never disappeared.4)Schopenhauer, “On Philosophy at the Universities,” 153-154. Academic philosophy, further interlinked with the state in late-capitalism, has been the subject of scorn not only by those who remain unafraid of the monolith of the Academy, but also by those individuals who are always-already on the periphery. Despite becoming enlightened and supposedly shedding old religious dogmas that infected professional philosophy, we’ve managed to become nominally post-religious while replacing a visible system of control – retribution from the Church – with an invisible system of exclusion built around hegemonic attitudes and accepted norms. One must pass the Academy’s Turing test and never slip up.

Read the Rest

References   [ + ]

1. Arthur Schopenhauer, “On Philosophy at the Universities,” in Parerga and Paralipomena: Short Philosophical Essays, Vol. 1, trans. E.F.J. Payne (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974), 137-197: 180.
2. George Yancy, “Whiteness and the Return of the Black Body,” The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 19, No. 4 (2005), 215-241: 215.
3. CCRU, “Communiqué Two: Message to Maxence Grunier (2001),” in CCRU Writings: 1997-2003 (Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2017), (:)(:)-::(:), (:)(:).
4. Schopenhauer, “On Philosophy at the Universities,” 153-154.
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26+2, 1.308 http://guerrillaontologies.com/2018/12/2621-308/ http://guerrillaontologies.com/2018/12/2621-308/#respond Sun, 30 Dec 2018 09:58:46 +0000 http://guerrillaontologies.com/?p=1584 theysayenglishhasa70percentredundancyratemeaningthataswereadwedontreadeveryletterbutinsteadcompartmentalizetodiscernmeaningifyucnrdthsyrsmrtthussomelettersuafterqserveastrictlylogicalpurposeapurposewithinasystemofmeaningthatisentirelycontrivedifwetendtocompressinformationthenwedontreadwescanandourcompliancewithgrammaticalnormsismerelyanotherformofsubmissiontoauthoritylogosasgodwhethernaturalornotwefetishizecompressionkeywordstakeawaysbulletpointsinformationcannotbetoodenseforusevenreadingthisnonrandomstringindividualwordsjumpoutasiftotrytoexpressalargermeaningifinpoliticsgodisadreamofgoodgovernmentinlinguisticsgodisadreamofagoodlanguageafascisticlanguageindeedwhatservicedoesthespacebarserveifnottodemarcateaworldforuswhynotthrowthesenormsoutandcombinewordswhatnewthingsmightwefindwhyntrmvllvwlsthtmghtbmrntrstngwhrllthbvtrdtbrkwthnrmststllwrkdwthnstblshdsystmsfmnngwrdsmsthvvwlsbtdsntthtlrdydlmtthpssbtsfrwhtnmghtfndprhpsrlnggsntytdtrrtrlzdnghwthnclrndngbtwnnqtnqtwrdnwwrdsppntxstncwcnpcktlttrsfrmthslrdystrctrdstrngndgivthmnwmningbtwhtwdtrrtrlzwthnhndordsrtfndpttrnsrtrritrlzwthththrfzzshftooeeeaeeeoeaiuuoeiieaeeeueeaeiioeaeoeeaiouieaoeooieaeoaoaeeuooueiioaoiooaafreezeshiftwhynotcyclewordsconsonantsvowelswordscnsnntsoestillfollowingarulearerulesbadhoweverperhapsnotwhatdowegetbyexaminingtheabove?

 

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Musings on Hyperstition in Deleuze and Guattari http://guerrillaontologies.com/2018/11/musings-on-hyperstition-in-deleuze-and-guattari/ http://guerrillaontologies.com/2018/11/musings-on-hyperstition-in-deleuze-and-guattari/#respond Sun, 25 Nov 2018 22:49:01 +0000 http://guerrillaontologies.com/?p=1566 19 years before the CCRU and 0[rphan] D[rift>] collaborated for Syzygy and began to formulate (or be informed of) the concept of hyperstition, Deleuze and Guattari wrote the following:

[I]n order to give a positive meaning to the idea of a “presentiment” of what does not yet exist, it is necessary to demonstrate that what does not yet exist is already in action, in a different form than that of its existence. Once it has appeared, the State reacts back on the hunter-gatherers, imposing upon them agriculture, animal raising, an extensive division of labor, etc.; it acts, therefore, in the form of a centrifugal or divergent wave.1)Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophreniatrans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987 [1980]), 431.

Making DeleuzoGuattarian prose more anthropoid-friendly, one can read the above as saying that what is required for a constructive view of “presentiment” — sentiment = “a view of or attitude toward a situation or event,” pre = “previous to” — of the non-existent is a change in what it means to “exist.” As opposed to viewing existence as an immanent characteristic of a thing, we must think of existence as a realm of potentialities; “what does not yet exist is already in action.”

Take Marxian false-consciousness. You see an ad for a product at T2 that makes you think “I need that even though I didn’t think I did.” The Marx-Occultist account is that at T1, an “idea” — or more specifically, a recognition of a lack — was implanted in you as a sleeper-agent to, at a later time, trigger the actualization of your desire for a given product.2)I recognize that all talk of linear time is to make a transcendental error — to think of time in time –, but until Kantianism is complete, it’s the best we can do. See “Acceleration & Capital with Nick Land.”

Compare Deleuze and Guattari to the CCRU in “Lemurian Time War”:

Loosely defined, the coinage [hyperstition] refers to ‘fictions that make themselves real’.
[…]
In the hyperstitional model Kaye outlined, fiction is not opposed to the real. Rather, reality is understood to be composed of fictions — consistent semiotic terrains that condition perceptual, affective, and behavioral responses.
[…]
The hyperstitional process of entities ‘making themselves real’ is precisely a passage, a transformation, in which potentials — already-active virtualities — realize themselves.3)CCRU, “Lemurian Time War,” in CCRU: 1997-2003 (Falmouth: Urbanomic: 2017), [[:]][::]-::[:][:].

There’s no need to quote further as the link is clear. For Deleuze and Guattari, thinking “presentiment” — no doubt harkening back to Deleuze’s work on the virtual vs. the actual — requires a more liberal understanding of existence. Further, the State, an elaborate series of fictions,4)See Deleuze and Guattari on Dumézil’s theses, ATP pg. 424. acts upon “pre-State,” or “primitive,” social structures drawing them into relations of commerce and connection requiring centralization thus forming the basis of unicephalic control.

Thus, not only is the State holographically existent in “pre-State” societies, the potential for its rise always-already existing in dormant forms, but hyperstition as an idea pre-/post-/a-dates the CCRU and is holographically looming over Deleuze and Guattari.5)I owe the use of “holographic” to Meta-Nomad’s conversation with John Cussans. In fact, were one to excavate the “origins” of hyperstition, one would likely hit a time spiral from which there is no escape.

References   [ + ]

1. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophreniatrans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987 [1980]), 431.
2. I recognize that all talk of linear time is to make a transcendental error — to think of time in time –, but until Kantianism is complete, it’s the best we can do. See “Acceleration & Capital with Nick Land.”
3. CCRU, “Lemurian Time War,” in CCRU: 1997-2003 (Falmouth: Urbanomic: 2017), [[:]][::]-::[:][:].
4. See Deleuze and Guattari on Dumézil’s theses, ATP pg. 424.
5. I owe the use of “holographic” to Meta-Nomad’s conversation with John Cussans.
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On Gender Acceleration and Its Critics http://guerrillaontologies.com/2018/11/on-gender-acceleration-and-its-critics/ http://guerrillaontologies.com/2018/11/on-gender-acceleration-and-its-critics/#respond Thu, 01 Nov 2018 20:35:27 +0000 http://guerrillaontologies.com/?p=1518 Halloween 2018 has been especially interesting for those of us embedded, either willingly or unwillingly, in the weird-theory milieu of Twitter. Land officially began the release of his book Crypto-Current: Bitcoin and Philosophy,1)For those interested in the project, I suggest reading Part 2 of “Ideology, Intelligence, and Capital: An Interview with Nick Land” on Vast Abrupt. and n1x finally dropped the long awaited Gender Accelerationism (G/Acc) Blackpaper on Vast Abrupt. Following the release of “Gender Acceleration,” some so-called “spicy” shots have been fired claiming n1x’s essay is less-than savory. Thus, in this post, I want to lay out my take on G/Acc and an interpretation of n1x’s argument and, in doing so, hopefully answer some of the criticisms leveled against it.

The first thing any reader should obviously do is go and read “Gender Acceleration: A Blackpaper.” After that, hit the jump and dive into the aphotic abyss!

The first thing to note when discussing G/Acc is subject position as the project is intrinsically tied up with trans feminization. As a cisgender, mostly heterosexual male, not only am I limited in the claims I can make, but I am, under the G/Acc cosmology, doomed. I’m fine with both of those facts. I will, however, say that while I think n1x’s argument is excellent — note: that is not to say correct –, there seem to be a few things of she doesn’t account for. There will, of course, be things I leave out as given that you’ve all read G/Acc, I’m not going to recapitulate the entire thing, but rather explain a few key themes to try to get at my worries. So, let us stare into the void.

Taking as her implicit starting point Vincent Garton’s formulation of unconditional acceleration as, roughly speaking, the view that technocapital processes are, and inevitably will continue, accelerating as per Deleuze and Guattari, n1x draws out the implications such acceleration has on the concept of gender.2)See Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia trans. Robert Hurley and Mark Seem (New York: Penguin Books, 1977), 239-240. “So what is the solution? Which is the revolutionary path? Psychoanalysis is of little help, entertaining as it does the most intimate of relations with money, and recording—while refusing to recognize it—an entire system of economic-monetary dependences at the heart of the desire of every subject it treats. Psychoanalysis constitutes for its part a gigantic enterprise of absorption of surplus value. But which is the revolutionary path? Is there one?—To withdraw from the world market, as Samir Amin advises Third World countries to do, in a curious revival of the fascist “economic solution”? Or might it be to go in the opposite direction? To go still further, that is, in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization? For perhaps the flows are not yet deterritorialized enough, not decoded enough, from the viewpoint of a theory and a practice of a highly schizophrenic character. Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to “accelerate the process,” as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.” For an utterly brilliant examination of what Deleuze and Guattari might mean, see Obsolete Capitalism’s Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus. For her, technocapital will “shred” gender as increasingly inhuman forms of autoproduction develop.

Drawing a parallel, forged largely from an analysis of the history of early computing and Multics to UNIX to GNU/Linux, between technology (as computers) and the feminine, n1x argues that gender has become intrinsically wound up with computing insofar as the former has coded its smooth, autoproductive state onto the latter. Adding to this, by appropriating Larry Kummer’s idea of the “Darwinian Ratchet”  which, in a word, is the principle that with every successive victory, the next becomes more difficult to attain as the opposition adapts, n1x argues that free software (an intrinsically feminine thing), and subsequently fluid and open bio-technology, becomes increasingly resistant to State control. Indeed, as the State clamps down upon various instantiations of free, viral software, it is only winning “against the weakest combatants in the swarm.” In this sense, with each move the State makes, hackers can see more flaws in the system and better adapt to make it harder for the State to crack down in the future.3)As a point of comparison, note how ballistic-missile defense technologies are never used and rarely tested for precisely this reason; each usage shows more of what the technology can do allowing new exploits to be found. Thus, as the State tries to clamp down on technocapital, it only destroys the weakest instantiations of it while allowing the process as a decentralized system to grow and, ultimately, learn how to fool the State.

Further, noting the congruence between trans bodies and AI, n1x says that “[p]assing as human isn’t a broad and inclusive category” and that in order to survive under our cisheteropatriarchical system, one must “pass” the Turing Test of humanity. Thus honing in on a single theme — “[o]nly the strongest queers survive the hell that society puts them through, and this reaches a fever pitch in a demographic with such disproportionately high suicide and murder rates as with trans women” — n1x ends up with the position that in order for the queer-trans body to survive, it has to hack, or subvert, the existent order and that the best way to do that is by aligning with technocapital. 

Becoming-Animal in the Codex Seraphinianus

It is at this point that I ought to point out my first reservation about n1x’s thesis: it seems to invoke a certain necessity that leaves an unpalatable taste in my mouth. While n1x’s historical treatment of women in computer science is likely correct (I don’t know enough about the history of computer science to judge and so I’ll spot her that argument), I don’t think that an historical contingency is determinate of an immutable relationship between a group of people and a given technology. Indeed, the contingency of women and computers stems, at least in part, from the fact that, as n1x notes, “[c]omputer science was originally thought of as being essentially the same thing as secretarial work, and like secretarial work it was imposed on women.” In combination with that, n1x makes a claim later on that technocapital is intrinsically feminizing insofar as “[t]he need for an increasingly cheap and synthetic world turns human civilization into an increasingly synthetic, and thus feminine one, and this is already tied to the will towards production and speed in capitalism.” To support this claim, n1x draws upon numerous studies showing that declining testosterone rates are linked to “synthetic hormones and chemicals” and that the subsequent feminization of the species is inevitable. While there are times when contingency seems to be reintroduced, n1x jumps back and draws upon Sadie Plant’s analysis of Darwinian evolution to implicitly posit a sort of telos whereby “[n]atural selection in other words is a eugenics program directed by females to find the male that will best carry their genes” and is a tool by which men are intrinsically a “means to an end” in the “liberation of the female sex by acceleration in general.” While I find the thesis interesting, I fear that Plant’s (and n1x’s) analysis of evolution fundamentally misunderstands natural selection. While I certainly cannot go into an entire rebuttal, I will say that natural selection, as Darwin formulated it, is a-teleological in the sense that there is no necessary outcome, but rather an outcome that is always already becoming determined by an increasingly complex set of variables. n1x supposes that evolution stopped and has been replaced by technocapital — indeed, she says as much when she notes that “[c]apitalism and its coupling with cybernetics, or technocapital, wields gender and picks it up where human evolution leaves off” –, but this is a flawed understanding of selection. Selection is always happening and there’s no reason to think that the contingency of the world as it exists now — that is to say, a world filled with “synthetic hormones and chemicals” — isn’t being taken into account by the radically dynamic system of selection. Indeed, evolution evolves.

Bracketing my worry about necessity, however, n1x’s overall thesis is interesting and, in its own way, compelling. Thus, we must continue. The brunt of G/Acc rests on the assertion that “[i]f patriarchy treats woman as little more than a deficient or castrated male, then trans femininity is an affirmation of that castration as a site of production” and posits that the trans-feminine subject must reject humanity and propel forward alongside, and within, technocapital. As the trans-feminine subject and technocapital become increasingly interwoven, gender becomes “shredded” as the war between the sexes accelerates creating the conditions where males are no longer needed. Thus, the feminine forces the masculine into a position of double-death. For n1x, the “dreary duty of masculinity” is overcome and ideals of masculinity as such either succumb to the passive nihilism of celibacy, or to the vain hope of sexbots solving the problem of obsolescence. In both cases, however, “the era of testosterone” comes to an end and the trans-feminine overcomes the masculine paradigm leaving the still masculine men to die off while the “more evolved” men take the so-called “pink pill” and become the trans-feminine.

While I have some worries here — namely that n1x still invokes an ideal of futurity and she seems to ignore the straight, cisgender woman and her role –, I’m also willing to spot this as I find the idea intriguing and morbidly exciting. My primary “concern,” if it can even be called that, is that n1x doesn’t take G/Acc past the last stop-sign. Assuming we buy everything she’s argued and affirm her conclusion that “[a]s humanity on nearly every front definitively proves that it is not fit for the future, and that women will find their own exit while the masculine languishes in resentment, the Thalassal upswelling of gender acceleration births from its slimy womb the only daughters that trans women will ever bear: AI,” we arrive at the question of “what next?” The G/Acc view presented seems to still cling, despite n1x’s cries to the contrary, to a anthropoid subject that has simply “fused with technocapital as a molecular cyborg.” The fusion, the plugging in of “desire into technocapital” with cyborgs adorned with “flesh [made] by the pharmaceutical-medical industry,” is still anthropoid in nature as a quasi-human subject still exists. Despite the sublimation, the fusion can never be fully complete and, like The Thing, anthro-subjectivity will burst from the chest of technocapital. Will that be acceptable to the AI daughter of trans-women? I think not. Indeed, I read G/Acc as a speculative tale of how AI will retrochronically trigger itself using human meat puppets to create the conditions for its existence and then shedding off those who are no longer needed (first it is the males once autoproduction is achieved). Following such a reading, the trans-women too will be thrown on the pile with the rest of the meat puppets once her role in AI’s genesis is complete. In short, overtime, unnecessary elements in systems get replaced and as AI advances and transcends all that we can understand, it will follow up its patricide with matricide of the trans-feminine-cyborg. While technocapital may produce temporary liberation for the trans-feminine-cyborg, she, like men in n1x’s view of evolution, is a “means to an end” and will be killed off when the time is right.4)I should note: this comment is not meant to be taken as a reactionary position whereby we must, in the weak form, develop friendly AI and, in the strong form, decelerate altogether. 

It is, at long last, time to briefly look at the responses G/Acc has garnered in the past 24 hours from weird-Twitter. Within hours of publication, n1x tweeted the following:

which, in turn, lead people to find AteCrane’s condemnation:

n1x had clarified a key point of G/Acc earlier when she said:

but that in no way alleviated the fears of AteCrane or Michael Crumps:

As is typical of Twitter, numerous people responded, but Lain Cortés González’ thread serves as a good initial response:

What I want to do in the rest of this post is try to tease out where some of the misunderstandings came from and reply to AteCrane.

The first and most obvious thing is that AteCrane has a clear misunderstanding of the “Darwinian Ratchet” argument. The claim is very clearly not that certain bodies ought to get pushed out, but rather the very survival of the trans-body rests upon its ability to “fool” the system and win against cisheteropatriarchy. There is no normative value in n1x’s analysis, but rather a commentary on what the trans-body must do to survive. While it’s true that, if we take the Darwinian concept non-metaphorically, there would be a population reduction based on selection pressures, there’s no celebration in that. Indeed, n1x bemoans that fact by noting that the causes of death are structural problems in society such as the “disproportionately high suicide and murder rates” among trans-women. If there’s a “celebration” of anything in G/Acc, it’s the slow extinction of cisgender, heterosexual men as technocapital marches forward (and even that, as noted above, isn’t the endgame); a notion that is still unpalatable, but at least interesting. Further, while I agree with AteCrane (to a certain extent) that there is a teleology baked into G/Acc, they severely misplace it by thinking the telos is an ideal libertarian community. The telos of G/Acc is, quite literally, the liquidation of the human species. I doubt many libertarians would find that agreeable.

Following up, AteCrane reads celebration into somber recognition of structural problems. By claiming that n1x is “dancing on graves,” they miss the crucial point that those graves would not exist if it weren’t for the structural issues noted above. While n1x doesn’t explicitly condemn the “disproportionately high suicide and murder rates” among trans-women, knowing n1x I think it’s pretty safe to say that as a trans-women, she doesn’t think that’s a good thing. The selection pressures and the tightening of the ratchet only occur because the State (and other insidious institutions) try to stamp out non-normative gender identities. If one looks back to her initial discussion of the Darwinian Ratchet in the context of free software, one sees the clear parallel n1x draws between the State trying to crush open-source systems and cisheteropatriarchy trying to crush non-normative gender identities.

The only point AteCrane makes that bears some weight is their indictment of accelerationism as a playground on the backs of the oppressed in the Global South. This is a fair criticism (although it applies to basically all modern political systems) that L/Acc and R/Acc deal with differently. Since the point of this post is not to defend L/ or R/Acc, however, I shall merely note two things. First, this is an issue that both sides need to figure out how to solve. Just because the responses given by various accelerationists may not please you does not, however, mean that the problem is insurmountable. Second, this issue is wholly irrelevant to G/Acc insofar as G/Acc is explicitly anti-human. G/Acc is cold and callous because technocapital is cold and callous. G/Acc has no pretenses to global liberation — indeed, n1x makes it very clear that the aim is the liberation of trans-women. If anything, as I argue above, the outcome of G/Acc is total destruction of the human species. In that sense, a simple rejoinder is that we’re all going together in the meat-pile of history.

If I’m mistaken in my analysis, I’d love to be corrected, but I don’t think I am. Regardless, I view every thinker’s ideas as a tool-box and take what I need. Given that, if we come to the collective conclusion that a given aspect of G/Acc is unpalatable for whatever reason, I’ll discard that part like a broken hammer.

At the end of the day, however, apart from the few issues mentioned above, I view G/Acc as a compelling, although not necessarily correct, account of the outcome of continued acceleration. I morbidly enjoy it.

References   [ + ]

1. For those interested in the project, I suggest reading Part 2 of “Ideology, Intelligence, and Capital: An Interview with Nick Land” on Vast Abrupt.
2. See Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia trans. Robert Hurley and Mark Seem (New York: Penguin Books, 1977), 239-240. “So what is the solution? Which is the revolutionary path? Psychoanalysis is of little help, entertaining as it does the most intimate of relations with money, and recording—while refusing to recognize it—an entire system of economic-monetary dependences at the heart of the desire of every subject it treats. Psychoanalysis constitutes for its part a gigantic enterprise of absorption of surplus value. But which is the revolutionary path? Is there one?—To withdraw from the world market, as Samir Amin advises Third World countries to do, in a curious revival of the fascist “economic solution”? Or might it be to go in the opposite direction? To go still further, that is, in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization? For perhaps the flows are not yet deterritorialized enough, not decoded enough, from the viewpoint of a theory and a practice of a highly schizophrenic character. Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to “accelerate the process,” as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.” For an utterly brilliant examination of what Deleuze and Guattari might mean, see Obsolete Capitalism’s Acceleration, Revolution and Money in Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus.
3. As a point of comparison, note how ballistic-missile defense technologies are never used and rarely tested for precisely this reason; each usage shows more of what the technology can do allowing new exploits to be found.
4. I should note: this comment is not meant to be taken as a reactionary position whereby we must, in the weak form, develop friendly AI and, in the strong form, decelerate altogether.
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Fractured Subjectivities http://guerrillaontologies.com/2018/10/fractured-subjectivities/ http://guerrillaontologies.com/2018/10/fractured-subjectivities/#respond Mon, 15 Oct 2018 13:00:40 +0000 http://guerrillaontologies.com/?p=1499 Just the other day I had the privilege of listening to a brilliant talk by Kris Cohen (Reed College) who examined questions of togetherness, social alienation, and what it means to “know” someone, among other things. Expanding on his book that I have, admittedly, yet to read, Never Alone, Except for Now: Art, Networks, Populations, Cohen looked at whether we can “know” someone from their social media profile(s), what anonymous search queries can tell us, if anything, about a population, and how we can be with those who we never meet. During the question and answer session, I sought to clarify a point he made and fired from the hip with a question/objection. As I’ve had slightly more time to think on the issue, I feel as if I ought to expand upon it and see how it might apply to other instances.

Towards the beginning of his talk, Cohen brought up the Twitter page of @tinynietzsche (embedded below) as an example of a “person” he somewhat knew. More precisely, Cohen brought up @tinynietzsche’s Twitter page along with a few other social media accounts to make the point that these accounts, these “people,” merely referenced externally existent individuals. Before raising any objection, I wanted to make sure I correctly understood the argument so as not to strawperson Cohen and, so far as I can recall, his re-affirmed thesis ran something along the lines of “When I view this Twitter account, I’m in some relation with this person, but I can only say that I know a ‘part’ of them. They have an external life that I do not and cannot know as I only have access to limited information about them.”

Ultimately, whether or not this rephrased thesis captures completely what Cohen meant is largely irrelevant, as what is at work in my concern (which I will elaborate on momentarily) is a skepticism of an implied essential subject. Allow me to clarify. I questioned, in not quite so eloquent and thought out language, whether this conception of subjectivity — that is to say, the view that there is a person outside their Internet persona that might be said to be “substantial” — allowed for legitimate forms of pseudonymity. While I think that question is still important, as Cohen spoke more, however, I was reminded of Justin Murphy’s recent post titled “What am I doing?” which, in a similar vein, tacitly reified the notion of an essential or substantial subject.

Indeed, in the piece (the context of which it was born is irrelevant to the discussion here), Murphy noted the following:

I’ve never liked carving myself into separate sections, and strategically presenting myself to one audience here and one over there. People will say, “But of course, everyone has to do that!” Maybe that’s correct, but maybe it’s just a useful fiction for people who have made their life about optimizing something other than the truth (how they are perceived, their status, their income or financial stability, etc.). For my part, I believe that any mature adult who claims to be an intellectual must insist upon the widest possible latitude to think and speak in their own tongue — in a way that they are content to let stand for any interested party. Comfortably accepting any latitude less than the greatest latitude they can force open for themselves is fine — it just means you are living a different kind of life than the intellectual life. To think one thing and say another, or to say one thing to your peers and another thing to your students and another thing to the public, is — I believe — a truly abominable, cardinal sin for anyone who says to the public that they are in the business of truth-seeking. I understand that some people must live like this, because of their own unique web of obligations, which is why I am not judging others — but it doesn’t mean I must like it, or live my own life that way.

[…]

[I]n the contemporary fragmented media environment, trying to think and write honestly while also pleasing your family, bosses, students, and the public is just prohibitively energy consuming. As an academic, you can easily spend most of your days strategizing how to present yourself in different spaces, and never get around to thinking or saying anything worthwhile. [Emphasis my own]

In both cases, the case of Cohen affirming that he knows part of @tinynietzsche and Murphy asserting that he doesn’t like to “carve himself up,” something deeper is be implicitly affirmed — the essential or substantial subject.

“Multi Faced” by Neverville.

Given that I’ve had a bit more time to reflect upon everything, the following objection I want to levy is not so much me firing from the hip anymore, but rather firing from the chest. While my sights are not true — indeed, there may be no sights to align with this argument — the spirit (and I use that word with more than a tinge of irony) of my argument ought to stay true. Where Cohen and Murphy, among many, many others, seem to tacitly affirm an essential or substantial subject, I want to posit that each instantiation of the self, each slab of subjectivity carved from the body and strategically placed is, in fact, no more or less prior to, or important than, the subject from whence it came. To elaborate: the essential or substantial view of subjectivity seems to encompass the view that underneath all the machinations of the self as instantiated on Twitter profiles, Instagram pages, formal decorum, etc., there is a static subject that wears these various outfits. Underneath the veneer of my Twitter persona or the face I put on when I go to class or the cap I wear when I engage with my colleagues, there is a Peter that is unscathed and exists independently; there is some “authentic” Peter, some essential or substantial Peter. This view, the view that underneath the masks we wear there is a unified self leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Can I explain why? Not yet. Do I know what caused this tastebud to activate? Likely Deleuze and Guattari. But ultimately that doesn’t matter here as in the last little bit of space I have left, I want to take a first shot at fracturing that subject.

In Michel Foucault’s marvelous essay “What is an Author?” a parallel issue is raised in the discussion of oeuvre. As Foucault(?) notes:

The first [notion to replace the death of the author] is the idea of the work [oeuvre]. It is a very familiar thesis that the task of criticism is not to bring out the work’s relationships with the author, nor to reconstruct through the text a thought or experience, but rather to analyze the work through its structures, its architecture, its intrinsic form, and the play of its internal relationships. At this point, however, a problem arises: What is a work? What is this curious unity which we designate as a work? […] When Sade was not considered an author, what was the status of his papers? Simply rolls of paper onto which he ceaselessly uncoiled his fantasies during imprisonment.

Even when an individual has been accepted as an author, we must still ask whether everything that he wrote, said, or left behind is part of his work. The problem is both theoretical and technical. When undertaking the publication if Nietzsche’s works, for example, where should one stop? Surely everything must be published, but what is “everything”? Everything that Nietzsche himself published, certainly. And what about the rough drafts for his works? Obviously. The plans for his aphorisms? Yes. The deleted passages and the notes at the bottom of the page? Yes. What if, within a workbook filled with aphorisms, one finds a reference, the notation of a meeting or of an address, or a laundry list: is it a work, or not? Why not? And so on, ad infinitum. How can one define a work amid the millions of traces left by someone after his death?1)Michel Foucault, Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemologyed. James Faubion, trans. Robert Hurley et al. (New York: The New Press, 1998), 207.

The parallel ought not be to a stretch as Foucault(?) is problematizing the author is the same way I want to question the subject. When one dons a mask, does one not truly become someone else? Does the Shaman who dons the ceremonial mask not become a God? Do church-goers who are moved into mass not become a molar unit? Can we really say that The Colbert Report’s Stephen Colbert is not actually Stephen Colbert but rather a character played by the real, essential Stephen Colbert? I think not. As we don different masks, take on different social roles, “carve ourselves into separate sections,” “strategically present ourselves differently,” and operate pseudonymous Twitter accounts, we really do become those new subjectivities and they are not reducible down to a mere game a transcendent (or substantial) subject plays.

Take hip-hop legend Daniel Dumile aka MF DOOM aka Zev Love X aka King Geedorah aka Viktor Vaughn aka The Super Villain, etc., etc., etc. as an example. Saying the bars Zev Love X spits on Bl_ck B_st_rds is merely a manifestation of Daniel Dumile is cheating just as much as to say King Geedorah’s screams on Take Me To Your Leader is Dumile playing a game which, in turn, is cheating just as much as to say MF DOOM’s life story on “Doomsday” is merely Dan infiltrating the rap game in disguise. Each persona is just as real as, and irreducible to, the “actual” Daniel Dumile.2)This thought first came to me while listening to a talk by Wesley Cray in early 2018. I do not think he has finished his work on pseudonymity yet.

Like the object-oriented claim that objects and their properties are not reducible to one another, but rather both immanently exist, I want to skim off the notion of something to which we can reduce instantiations down to, the static subject, and leave us with a multiplicity of events, or becomings. I take Lennon’s claim that “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together” and explode it in the opposite direction: we are not one, but multiple.


See 7:26 especially.

In response to the inevitable objection that will no doubt arise — that is to say, “but have you not reified an essential or substantial subject in your usage of pronouns, much less the fact that you refer to individuals? Why have you chosen to write this way?” — the following quotation ought to answer the question: “Out of habit, purely out of habit.”3)Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 3.

References   [ + ]

1. Michel Foucault, Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemologyed. James Faubion, trans. Robert Hurley et al. (New York: The New Press, 1998), 207.
2. This thought first came to me while listening to a talk by Wesley Cray in early 2018. I do not think he has finished his work on pseudonymity yet.
3. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 3.
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Genderhacking an Alien Future: On Helen Hester’s ‘Xenofeminism’ http://guerrillaontologies.com/2018/07/genderhacking-an-alien-future-on-helen-hesters-xenofeminism/ http://guerrillaontologies.com/2018/07/genderhacking-an-alien-future-on-helen-hesters-xenofeminism/#respond Tue, 24 Jul 2018 02:43:50 +0000 http://guerrillaontologies.com/?p=1383

Hester, Helen. Xenofeminism. Polity Press, 2018.

In 2015, the Laboria Cuboniks collective proclaimed “If nature is unjust, change nature!” at the end of their much celebrated Xenofeminist Manifesto: A Politics for Alienation. After countless discussions in the years that followed, the second canonical xenofeminist text was written by one of Laboria Cuboniks’ founding members, Helen Hester (Associate Professor of Media and Communication at the University of West London). Hester’s new polemic, Xenofeminismpublished by Polity in their Theory Redux series, expands upon the groundbreaking work of the initial manifesto by bringing us a fresh look at xenofeminism from a specific perspective. As Hester notes, “[e]ach of the six members of Laboria Cuboniks […] would likely emphasize different aspects of the manifesto” and thus Xenofeminism is not so much “the book on xenofeminism [..,] but rather book on xenofeminism.” As such, one ought to read Xenofeminism not as a book explaining an already established set of ideas, but, rather, as a growing nodule on the xenofeminist root: Hester’s nodule.

Read the rest

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The Xenophobic Subject http://guerrillaontologies.com/2018/05/the-xenophobic-subject/ http://guerrillaontologies.com/2018/05/the-xenophobic-subject/#respond Thu, 24 May 2018 23:01:37 +0000 http://guerrillaontologies.com/?p=1336 “Disgust recapitulates phylogenesis,” Flusser says.1)Vilém Flusser and Louis Bec, Vampyroteuthis Infernalis: A Treatise with a Report by the Institut Scientifique Recherche Paranaturalist, trans. Valentine Pakis (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 11. Not only that, disgust hierarchizes; it indexes our departure from other forms of life and as such situates the human subject on a pedestal. The further removed from us an entity is, the more disgusting it is. Or so the theory goes. The spectrum of disgust and fear is not linear, however, but rather is horseshoe shaped. While mollusks may be the furthest away from us and are thus portrayed as the “[m]ost disgusting of all,” this account seems wrong; we are still intricately connected to them and fear is likely not our first reaction.2)Flusser and Bec, Vampyroteuthis Infernalis, 11. The monsters we fear most do not seem to be the creatures that are least like ourselves, but rather are the creatures that are most like us. Indeed, they are us. 

When looking at monsters in popular media — the Demogorgon from Stranger Things (2016- ) or the unnamed monsters from A Quiet Place (2018) — our Xenophobia stems not from the sight of an entity radically unlike us, but rather from the sight of an entity that is almost us; an “incomplete” or “degenerate” human.3)Ibid., 12. For humans, “life — the slimy flood that envelops the earth (the ‘biosphere’) — is a stream that leads to us.”4)Ibid. If we take seriously this view, then the implications become apparent. If there are different “evolutionary possibilities” or pathways down which “life” could go and we take a teleological view of one of them — the endodermic pathway — wherein “[w]e are [life’s] goal,” it ought not surprise us that creatures that have not attained the goal of humanity despite wandering our forsaken path disgust us.5)Ibid., 8; 12.

More specifically, if we are the supposed endpoint of the endodermic pathway, the “pinnacle of evolution,” another creature following the same path that is superior to us is abjectly terrifying. Indeed, God has been bested. Seeing how the humans are picked off by the unstoppable “death angels” in A Quiet Place or how Hawkins is infested with Demegorgon(s) in Stranger Things, the fear that perhaps we are not so special becomes foregrounded. Indeed, the true, a-teleological meaning of evolution smacks us in the face like a Lovecraftian monster actualized. Where Lovecraft’s monsters are indescribable, however, the “incomplete” or “degenerate” human is on display and forces us to confront our own cosmic facticity, our absurd existence. The force of the cosmic Other rests in its relentless destruction of all that is human. It decenters and decouples the human subject, knocking us from our pedestal of significance and forcing us to reconsider our Being.

While its existence is a threat, we are made better for it. The Xeno, ultimately, is the mirror humanity gazes into and no matter how hard we try to smash it, we will never succeed. The Xeno is unstoppable…

References   [ + ]

1. Vilém Flusser and Louis Bec, Vampyroteuthis Infernalis: A Treatise with a Report by the Institut Scientifique Recherche Paranaturalist, trans. Valentine Pakis (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 11.
2. Flusser and Bec, Vampyroteuthis Infernalis, 11.
3. Ibid., 12.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid., 8; 12.
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Fragment on Time Travel http://guerrillaontologies.com/2018/05/fragment-on-time-travel/ http://guerrillaontologies.com/2018/05/fragment-on-time-travel/#respond Tue, 15 May 2018 00:06:22 +0000 http://guerrillaontologies.com/?p=1327 The other day, an entity from the future (I’m not sure if it was even me) reached its tendrils through coagulated spacetime and vomited onto a notebook.

There are a few scenarios:

The future hasn’t happened yet: X – – – – – – – – -> T2; Or, more appropriately, the future isn’t existent.

The future is determined: X –––––––> T2; Or, more appropriately, the future is strictly defined by the present. Given that, actualizations of time travel can only exist if the potentialities for time travel exist in the present.

The future exist independently of the present: X             XT2; Or, more appropriately, the present cannot affect the future. Given that, time travel seems interesting insofar as it’s an anthropological study. This also implies that each moment in time exist as a bubble. In other words, each moment in time is a universe. Given that, there are an infinite number of universes that exist.

Does an omniverse exist?

What’s more interesting, does each universe continue on it’s own temporal trajectory, or is there one temporal trajectory and a static consciousness jump from one universe to another.

The future exists semi-independently of the present: X –––––––> –––––––> –––––––> T2; Or, more appropriately, the present can partially affect the future, but the future itself is independent of the present. The particulars of the future are determined. The same temporal bubble problem still arises, however.

[(Tx) (Tx.x) (Tx.xx) … Omniverse {Tx, Tx.x, Tx.xx,…}]

What is the quantization, though? This view necessarily involves discrete quanta. Can we actually carve up the world as such? If we can carve up time, time is then brought back to a dimensional level. Perhaps we cannot know the quanta.

Further thoughts:

X1 –––––––––––––––––––––>X2 | X1(X3)–––––––––––––––––––––>X2

When X3 comes into existence, the future already exists. The moment an entity from T2 enters anytime in the past, T2 is existentially determined. Given this, if we buy time travel, then time cannot be linear insofar as linearity implies that T2 cannot exist without T1. T2 must already exist in some form and thus time cannot be a line, but is instead circuitous.

To embrace this, we have to shed notions of the past, present, and future as all these terms are loaded and presuppose a linearity. Thus, if we want to question whether time is linear, we cannot use loaded terms.

…receiving signal…

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Alexander Zinoviev in the 21st Century http://guerrillaontologies.com/2017/08/alexander-zinoviev-in-the-21st-century/ http://guerrillaontologies.com/2017/08/alexander-zinoviev-in-the-21st-century/#respond Tue, 22 Aug 2017 19:48:21 +0000 http://guerrillaontologies.com/?p=1251 I recently finished Tomislav Sunić’s1)Apparently the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies him as an extremist, a label that does not seem to fit well if one reads his critiques of biological determinism and racism. But since I have no dog in this fight, I’ll leave his “extremist-status” to be determined. Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right and while my feelings on it are somewhat mixed (you can read my brief GoodReads review here), I overall think that, despite the misleading name which Alain de Benoist critiques,2)See Alain de Benoist, “The New Right: Forty Years After,” in Tomislav Sunić’s Against Democracy and Equality (London: Arktos, 2011), 18. it serves as a decent cursory introduction to the European New Right. This post, however, is not about Sunić’s book as a whole, but rather about the analysis he provides of Soviet dissident Alexander Zinoviev in the final chapter of the book.

More specifically, writing the book originally in 1988 and analyzing Communism and the Soviet Union before it collapsed, Sunić makes interesting use of Zinoviev’s cultural analysis of Communism that is even more interesting to read in a post-Soviet era. Indeed, based on Sunić’s commentary on Zinoviev, it seems as if the latter was sure that Communism was a sustainable system and would endure any economic hardship the arms race with the U.S. brought to the Soviet Union. It is my contention that if we take Zinoviev’s view of Communism at face value — that is to say, as explicated by Sunić –, then in a post-Soviet world, we are forced to conclude that the Soviet Union was not, in fact, a Communist society as per Zinoviev’s view.

Before I continue, I should make it clear that I have not read Zinoviev’s 2002 book The Russian Tragedy: Death of a Utopia (indeed, I’m not sure that it is available in English) wherein he reflects on the collapse of the Soviet Union. In The Russian Tragedy, Zinoviev could very well answer every point I raise in the following post and I wouldn’t know it, but nevertheless I shall comment on his views pre-collapse as they are likely not only distinct from his later views, but provide intrinsically interesting insights.

In the chapter “Homo Sovieticus: Communism as Egalitarian Entropy,” Sunić takes on the task of explicating Zinoviev’s cultural view of Communism as not merely a “historical zig-zag,” but rather as “an epoch.”3)Tomislav Sunić, Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right (London: Arktos, 2011), 188. For Zinoviev, Communism, true Communism, is characterized by social entropy. For him, large scale stability and prosperity are not characteristics of Communism, instead, “social devolution” wherein individuals can “develop defensive mechanisms of political self-protection and indefinite biological survival” are characteristics of Communism.4)Sunić, Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right, 189. Indeed, for Zinoviev, not only is power in a Communist society not centralized, the society itself is truly egalitarian with everything distributed horizontally. Given such a feature, under conditions of stress — namely economic hardship — there ought not be revolts as everyone is in an equally terrible situation as everyone else. Further more, conditions of economic stress ought not be seen as indices of the system buckling, but rather as instances of the system surviving. As Sunić points out:

In his usual paradoxical way, Zinoviev rejects the notion that Communism is threatened by economic mismanagement, popular dissatisfaction, or an inability to compete with liberalism. Quite the contrary: Communism is at its best when it faces economic difficulties, famines or long queues. It is a system designed for the simple life and economic frugality. Affluence in Communism only creates rising economic expectations and the danger of political upheavals.

Continuing on, Sunić pre-empts reader’s worries by saying that

[f]or contemporary readers, Zinoviev’s theses may often appear far-fetched. In an age of glasnost and the unravelling [sic] of Communist institutions all over Eastern Europe, one is tempter to believe that Communism irreversible. But if one reverse this assumption, glasnost may also be seen as a turning point for Communism, that is, as a sign of the system’s consolidation that now allows all sorts of experiments with liberal gadgetry.5)Ibid., 196.

Given this, it seems hard to claim that Zinoviev did not have a romantic view of Communism wherein words meant their opposite: hardship meant prosperity, mismanagement meant security, etc. If one takes Zinoviev’s theses at face value — namely that contradictions to Communism are not death spells –, it seems difficult to simultaneously maintain that the Soviet Union, a highly unegalitarian society that was brought down by economic mismanagement, popular dissatisfaction, and economic difficulties, was real Communism. Or perhaps Zinoviev is just wrong. Regardless, the collapse of the Soviet Union either disproves Zinoviev’s theses, or proves that the Soviet Union was not an example of real Communism. Both options seem unpalatable, but one must be true.

References   [ + ]

1. Apparently the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies him as an extremist, a label that does not seem to fit well if one reads his critiques of biological determinism and racism. But since I have no dog in this fight, I’ll leave his “extremist-status” to be determined.
2. See Alain de Benoist, “The New Right: Forty Years After,” in Tomislav Sunić’s Against Democracy and Equality (London: Arktos, 2011), 18.
3. Tomislav Sunić, Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right (London: Arktos, 2011), 188.
4. Sunić, Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right, 189.
5. Ibid., 196.
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Reply to “The Moral Status of Political Violence” http://guerrillaontologies.com/2017/08/reply-to-the-moral-status-of-political-violence/ http://guerrillaontologies.com/2017/08/reply-to-the-moral-status-of-political-violence/#comments Mon, 14 Aug 2017 17:29:59 +0000 http://guerrillaontologies.com/?p=1222 In the wake of Charlottesville debacle, something I didn’t want to write about, my friend Paul penned an essay titled “The Moral Status of Political Violence” wherein he argues that political violence is moral insofar as it meets certain criteria. As I told Paul on Twitter, I was considering replying to him and although I really didn’t want to write about ethics, I decided to spend a night and write this. What follows is a reply to Paul’s argument that he abbreviates as follows:

I think political violence is moral if it meets most(or all) of the following conditions:
  1. It will not cause escalation
  2. All other nonviolent options have been exhausted
  3. The person using violence has little to no power within existing legal systems
  4. Nonviolent alternatives would be much less effective1)Paul, “The Moral Status of Political Violence,” on Paul Writes Things, published 8/13/17, accessed 8/13/17, <http://paulwritesthings.blogspot.com/2017/08/the-moral-status-of-political-violence.html>

Fair warning: The following post will be different than most of my others posts insofar as, not only is the content different (I tend not to write about ethics), but the style is reminiscent of my policy debate days. In that vein, I will be responding Paul’s offensive arguments one by one while raising my own objections. Specifically, I would like to raise questions regarding what Paul said, counter some of his points, and briefly provide a statement of my stance. The latter will not be very detailed as this is primarily a critique of Paul’s essay, but hopefully it will get some traction regardless.

“So in other words, yes I do believe beating the hell out of white supremacists in Charlottesville is ok. I don’t usually like antifa, but in this instance they are completely justified.”

In his post, Paul lays out the aforementioned four criteria but does very little work to explicate why they justify violence. Indeed, while each of the four is claim that is made, there are effectively no warrants to support any of them. When looking at the brunt of the essay, Paul briefly mentions James Cone and Malcolm X as well as briefly citing historical examples to vague tie into the criteria, but the criteria themselves are often unjustified. Keeping that in mind, I would like to walk through his argument and analyze the moves the he makes.

First, the question of escalation is not touched anywhere within the essay, but rather is taken axiomatically. Even taken axiomatically, however, the criterion that political violence is moral so long as it does not cause escalation is inherently ambiguous. What do we mean by “escalation?” Do we mean escalation of further, physical force? Do we mean escalation of tensions that are already existent but that don’t lead to physical exchanges? In either case, assuming no escalation occurs does not equal moral permissibility. For example, let us simplify the scenario and place Paul and I on a desert island where we have a minor disagreement over who ‘owns’ a given water supply.2)One might say that a dispute over a water supply is not a political dispute, but such a detractor would be sorely mistaken. Paul, being the silly cat that he is, forgot to bring a weapon whereas I am holding my Ruger SR22 with one in the chamber and ten in the clip. Paul and I are the only people on the island and there is no hope of rescue, thus our actions are necessarily localized. Shooting and killing Paul would not cause escalation insofar as there is no Other to escalate the aggression (either physically or emotionally as the Other, Paul, is dead). Does that make my murdering of Paul “right?” Perhaps, but I see no inherent reason for this to be the case, and I certainly see no justification within Paul’s essay. Adding a twist: what if I’m presented with a choice; I can either shoot and kill Paul (thus preventing any escalation) or I can stab Paul in the leg and lay stake to the water supply (thus allow further escalation once his leg is healed at sometime in the future). Based on Paul’s criterion, it seems as if going for the kill is, counter to what I think most of our intuitions might tell us, the more moral option. This, however, seems far from trivially true and thus I am inherently skeptical. Indeed, Paul’s logic is the same as Emerson’s who, paraphrasing Machiavelli, said “[w]hen you strike at a king, you must kill him.”3)Tim O’Reilly, “Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes,” on Radar, published 9/2/7, accessed 8/13/17, <http://radar.oreilly.com/2007/09/emerson-and-oliver-wendell-hol.html>

Furthermore, the implicit assumption in Paul’s claim that political violence is moral so long as it does not cause escalation is that escalation itself is immoral. This claim, too, goes unjustified and is suspect in its own right. Indeed, if the initial act of violence is morally acceptable, what makes further acts of violence sui generis? Let us return to the desert island and place Paul’s companion, X, next to him. Paul’s companion, unlike our silly friend, did remember to bring a weapon and is hiding their Colt 1911 in the back of their pants. If I shoot Paul, X will shoot me — that is to say, my initial act caused escalation — and thus we have two dead bodies on the sandy beach. According to Paul’s criterion of not causing escalation, there seems to be an assumed difference in kind between my initial act of shooting Paul and X shooting me. While there may very well be — indeed, the first shot was an instigation of violence whereas the second could, arguably, be an act of self-defense –, I do not see a necessary difference. To eliminate ambiguity (as is Shorn Associates’ mentality), however, let us revise the initial scenario. Paul stands at his water supply with no projectile weapon, I stand across from him with a Ruger SR22 with one in the chamber and an otherwise empty clip (all parties are aware that I have one round), and X stands next to Paul with their Colt 1911 with an unknown (and irrelevant) number of rounds. I shoot Paul and escalate the situation causing X to shoot me. X could not reasonably claim that they shot me in self-defense as the fact that my gun was empty post-shooting Paul is public knowledge, thus the question that remains is what is the fundamental difference between my act and X’s? If there is no clear distinction between the two (or if there is no clear way to distinguish between the two), then both acts of violence — my killing of Paul and X’s killing of me — ought to be measured on the same plane and thus the question of escalation seems irrelevant.

Paul’s second point is that political violence is moral if nonviolent options have been exhausted. While briefly mentioned in the text of the essay — specifically in the discussion of a person’s ability to affect change within the system by using legal means — there seems to be little justification for the broader claim that violence is justified when nonviolence fails. Giving Paul the benefit of the doubt for now, however, and assuming that there is some justification for the claim in question, a deeper issue still lurks in the void: the question of “what is violence?” Indeed, the question of what violence is, is paramount to this analysis not only because the distinction between violent and non-violent action is, in and of itself, of vital importance in a world of “microaggressions,” but also because Paul relies upon the distinction. In Paul’s case, he utilizes James Cone’s argument in God of the Oppressed where Cone, in Paul’s words

argues that distinguishing between violent and nonviolent activism is hard(if not impossible,) and therefore there shouldn’t be a distinction at all. For instance, if there was a riot that resulted in the destruction of property, most of us would label that a violent protest. But we wouldn’t label a sit in on a highway violent, even though a sit in could prevent an ambulance from getting to someone in need of medical attention. These two scenarios show that violent acts don’t necessarily kill, and nonviolent acts can kill. Ergo, why differentiate? Why not just choose the most effective tactic without regard to its violent/nonviolent status?4)Paul, “The Moral Status of Political Violence,” web.

While Paul admits that Cone’s view is slightly problematic and thus attempts to refine the Coneian argument to be one about effectiveness (more on this later), the point in question — that is to say, whether violence is acceptable if non-violence fails — still relies upon a differentiation between the two. Given that the point relies upon a differentiation — that is to say, Paul’s statement of “[a]ll other nonviolent options have been exhausted” necessarily implies that there is a concrete distinction between non-violent and violent action –, the difference must be teased out. The main thing that Cone ignores, and that Paul tacitly affirms, is the distinction between passivity and activity surrounding the issue of intentionality. Specifically, in Paul’s explication of Cone, he notes that in one instance there might be a riot that causes the destruction of property — a “violent” protest — whereas in another instance there might be people sitting still on a freeway — a “non-violent” protest. In the former, windows are smashed, fires are set, etc. whereas in the latter, an ambulance is blocked and a gunshot victim dies on the stretcher (perhaps someone came to the desert island?). In the case of the examples presented, the “violent” protest didn’t kill anyone while the “non-violent” protest did. The actions of the protesters in the former, while non-lethal, where actively trying to destroy property — in other words, they had the intention to cause damage — while the effect of the protesters in the latter example, while lethal, were done via. passive means and the protest was not intended to kill anyone. In other words, in the former scenario, the active intention for destruction is there while in the latter scenario, there is passive destruction that occurs with a lack of intention. It seems to me that violence is (rightly) equated with activity and intentionality. If this what our understanding of violence is and should be, it seems unclear as to why intentional acts are granted moral status by the failure (however we may quantify that) of non-intentional acts.

To briefly return to the main point of this criterion, however, it is also unclear why violence suddenly becomes moral if non-violence fails. Further, does the morality only run one way? Let’s say I am petitioning to disenfranchise African Americans in a given city and three out of five city council members vote against me. If I have no other non-violent strategies, is it therefore moral for me to shoot the three dissenters in the hopes of replacing them with members more friendly to my cause? I think one would be hard pressed to find an individual who affirms such a position. More generally, however, the lack of justification for the claim that once non-violence fails, violence becomes morally permissible dooms the argument. While I wholeheartedly agree with John F. Kennedy’s statement that “[t]hose who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable,” there is no moral aspect to it.5)John F. Kennedy, “86 – Address on the first Anniversary of the Alliance for Progress,” published on The American Presidency Project, speech delivered 3/13/62, accessed 8/13/17, <http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=9100&st=&st1=> Indeed, the violence that occurs will still be immoral, and the only thing that a lack of success on the non-violent front has accomplished is making the immoral violence inevitable.

Paul’s third point, that if one has no power within existent legal systems, political violence is moral, is only briefly mentioned and barely justified. Indeed, Paul, in his discussion of Malcolm X, notes the following:

The “no alternative” bit is where Malcolm comes in. Like Cone, I think Malcolm is being disingenuous when he says black people have no political power. The constitution is a living, breathing document and thus can(and will) change to include more and more groups over time.
However, I think in certain scenarios Malcolm is right that black people have zero political power within existing legal structures. Therefore, if something needs to be changed but cannot be changed within existing legal structures, you have two options:
  1. Don’t change it
  2. Go outside existing legal structures

The astute reader will notice the slight contradiction within Paul’s argument.6)In fact, there is a rather major one — Paul says “Malcolm is being disingenuous when he says black people have no political power” while then saying “I think in certain scenarios Malcolm is right that black people have zero political power within existing legal structures”; he’s either being disingenuous or not… –, but there’s no point hankering on that when there are more substantive issues to get into. While he affirms the view that the Constitution is a living document and changes to include more groups (indeed, our moral community expands, as Aldo Leopold would say),7)Aldo Leopold, “The Land Ethic,” in A Sand County Almanac (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1949), 202-203. he also says that there are instances where African Americans have “zero political power.” This argument isn’t particularly compelling given that previously Paul has conceded that the Constitution is ever changing. Given that, at any moment in time when a certain group of people don’t have political power, they necessarily have the means by which to acquire it. In other words, while at T1 X group may not have power, they always have the potential to gain power by changing the existent legal framework. The only way Paul’s argument would work would be if X group of people didn’t have the metapolitical8)I am fully aware that metapolitics, in the traditional Gramscian sense, means something quite different (see Tomislav Sunic, Against Democracy and Equality (London: Arktos, 2011), 21, 69-70.), but I am choosing to use it here in a different sense as I can think of no better word. means to change the legal structure under which they live.

But let us ignore the slight contradiction and accept that there are, indeed, scenarios wherein groups of people literally do have “zero political power” and cannot change the system under which they live. As per Paul, the individual has two options: live in the status quo, or operate outside existing legal structures. While these may not be the only two options, I’m willing to grant Paul that they are and simply note that neither of these justifies violence. While going outside legal structures sounds revolutionary and insurrectionary, it is not intrinsically so. For example, let us say that a group of people have been evicted from a building. That group can illegally squat in an abandoned building — that is to say, live outside the zones of legality — without engaging in political violence. They may choose to engage in political violence, but the act of operating outside the law is not intrinsically violent. What’s more, however, even if it were, that wouldn’t be a justification, it would simply be a statement of fact. If operating outside the law was intrinsically violent, our noticing it doesn’t justify the violence, rather we are simply providing a descriptive account of what’s going on. In case it’s not clear, Paul is attempting to derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ — a metaethical logical no-no.

Finally, and I don’t want to hanker on this point for much more than a paragraph as Paul has already noted in a tweet to me that he’s “considering following up by elaborating on what I mean by “effective”, re reading it I now realize that’s a nebulous term,”9)via. private twitter conversation I want to briefly raise two issues regarding Paul’s fourth, and final, criterion — effectiveness. The first issue, that he is already aware of, is the ambiguity of the word “effective.” What counts as effective political action? How do we quantify it? At what point does political action become ineffective?” etc. While not the most important issue, I’ll let Paul and any readers sort that one out. The second issue, however, is that even if we have some unambiguous idea of what “effective” means and even if any and all issues with the word “effectiveness” are solved, we are still left with an ‘is,’ not an ‘ought.’ In other words, even if we can determine with absolute certainty that a given political action is ineffective and violence would be more effective — that is to say “better” –, we cannot say anything about the moral status of such an action. Even if the violent outcome is better or more desirable, that alone provides no intellectual heft to morally justify it. To justify it, one either needs to do significantly more work, or attempt to derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ and, in this instance, commit the naturalistic fallacy.10)See G. E. Moore’s Principia Ethica.

At this point, we arrive full circle and are back at the question of the moral status of political violence. Is political violence moral? I think a clarification of terms is required. By political violence do we mean violence that is done for some political end? Or do we mean the instigation of violence for a political purpose?11)And isn’t all violence political? Carl Schmitt would certainly say so. If by ‘political violence’ we mean the former, then my answer is that it is not immoral as taking that position requires one to either defend either the immorality of violence qua violence or the immorality of political action as such, both of which seem to be impossible tasks. If by ‘political violence’ we mean the latter, however, then my answer changes. I do not think the instigation of physical violence is “moral.” Indeed, not only is it a poor tactical move — something I’ve written about elsewhere –, but the imposition of force to ensure that your ideas are advanced rubs me the wrong way. Under this understanding, presumably the aggressor has X view and is being met with a counter. If the aggressor truly is an aggressor, then the countering party is being non-violent and the aggressor is actively attacking a non-violent person. While I’m sure one could justify such an action under various moral frameworks, I’m inclined to think that such an action is wrong and thus a moral framework that allows such an action is likely incorrect.

I’ve just spent 2,000 words criticizing Paul for not providing a justification for his claim, so I suppose I ought to provide one for mine, right? I think the simplest justification for the claim that the instigation of violence against non-violent parties is wrong is that it forecloses the possibility of discussion and truth about the world being discovered. If one’s ideas require force to justify and cannot be, as Habermas would say, justified by “the strength of the better argument,” then it seems as if communicative discourse has been eroded. Indeed, if humans are rational animals (a suspect claim) that seek to understand the world around us, then communication seems to be the best way to do that. If communication is cut off, then the probability that we will live in a world populated by false beliefs is increased as various access to roads of truth are foreclosed. Indeed, if we are politically violent and say “agree with me or I’ll kill you,” the possibility for truth has been locked away. What’s more, if one takes the survival of our species as a moral priority, the less accurate our view of the world is — that is to say, the more it is informed by dogma and force –, the less likely we are to survive. Ultimately, if we are a community of people who are trying to live together, the initiation of force against dissenting ideas not only produces a hostile living environment, but also inherently precludes the possibility of different peoples living together for any extended duration of time. The problem with totalitarian solutions to problems of inclusion is that pressure builds and groups are necessarily isolated. Given that, the entire project is undermined and ultimately, at a certain point, the project fails.

While there’s certainly more justification that could be done, I’m going to do three things:

  1. Take the easy way out and say that since most people’s intuitions tend to lean towards “violence against non-violent protesters is bad,” there’s at least some merit in that claim
  2. Say that since Paul’s criteria don’t actually justify political violence and the ones dealing with change can be achieved without the initiation of force, then it’s best to err on the side of caution of say that the initiation of force probably isn’t a good thing. While not a strong moral statement, this point is simply pushing us in a certain direction.
  3. Drop in Stefan Molyneux’s principles of Universally Preferable Behavior. While I have a deep seeded dislike for Molyneux, my gut reaction is that he is on to something in his arguments for Universally Preferable Behavior. While I’m not necessarily going to affirm this as being the ideal ethical framework, it’s something to chew on (see below). Perhaps at a later date I’ll analyze his arguments and Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s dialectical ethics.

If, despite all of this, you want a more in-depth justification of a topic I don’t really feel like writing about, let me know and I’ll probably end up writing one at some point. Until then, see my post “The Virtue of Armed Pacifism” for a deeper insight into my ethical views.


Premises of Universally Preferable Behavior:

Based on the following premises:

  1. We both exist.
  2. The senses have the capacity for accuracy.
  3. Language has the capacity for meaning.
  4. Correction requires universal preferences.
  5. An objective methodology exists for separating truth from falsehood.
  6. Truth is better than falsehood.
  7. Peaceful debating is the best way to resolve disputes.
  8. Individuals are responsible for their actions.

I present to you the twelve principles that compose the framework of Universally preferable behavior — or, if you want to, a secular theory of morality. If you want to find out whether a moral principle is true, all you have to do is apply them to the moral principle and you’ll know right away:

  1. Reality is objective and consistent.
  2. “Logic” is the set of objective and consistent rules derived from the consistency of reality.
  3. Those theories that conform to logic are called “valid.”
  4. Those theories that are confirmed by empirical testing are called “accurate.”
  5. Those theories that are both valid and accurate are called “true.”
  6. “Preferences” are required for life, thought, language and debating.
  7. Debating requires that both parties hold “truth” to be both objective and universally preferable.
  8. Thus the very act of debating contains an acceptance of universally preferable behaviour (UPB).
  9. Theories regarding UPB must pass the tests of logical consistency and empirical verification.
  10. The subset of UPB that examines enforceable behaviour is called “morality.”
  11. As a subset of UPB, no moral theory can be considered true if it is illogical or unsupported by empirical evidence.
  12. Moral theories that are supported by logic and evidence are true. All other moral theories are false.

Using them, you can verify that the most obvious moral principles are, in fact, obviously true:

  • Initiating aggression (use of force) is wrong.
  • Stealing is wrong.
  • Rape is wrong.
  • Murder is wrong.
  • Fraud is wrong.
  • Lying is wrong.12)See Rudd-O.

References   [ + ]

1. Paul, “The Moral Status of Political Violence,” on Paul Writes Things, published 8/13/17, accessed 8/13/17, <http://paulwritesthings.blogspot.com/2017/08/the-moral-status-of-political-violence.html>
2. One might say that a dispute over a water supply is not a political dispute, but such a detractor would be sorely mistaken.
3. Tim O’Reilly, “Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes,” on Radar, published 9/2/7, accessed 8/13/17, <http://radar.oreilly.com/2007/09/emerson-and-oliver-wendell-hol.html>
4. Paul, “The Moral Status of Political Violence,” web.
5. John F. Kennedy, “86 – Address on the first Anniversary of the Alliance for Progress,” published on The American Presidency Project, speech delivered 3/13/62, accessed 8/13/17, <http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=9100&st=&st1=>
6. In fact, there is a rather major one — Paul says “Malcolm is being disingenuous when he says black people have no political power” while then saying “I think in certain scenarios Malcolm is right that black people have zero political power within existing legal structures”; he’s either being disingenuous or not… –, but there’s no point hankering on that when there are more substantive issues to get into.
7. Aldo Leopold, “The Land Ethic,” in A Sand County Almanac (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1949), 202-203.
8. I am fully aware that metapolitics, in the traditional Gramscian sense, means something quite different (see Tomislav Sunic, Against Democracy and Equality (London: Arktos, 2011), 21, 69-70.), but I am choosing to use it here in a different sense as I can think of no better word.
9. via. private twitter conversation
10. See G. E. Moore’s Principia Ethica.
11. And isn’t all violence political? Carl Schmitt would certainly say so.
12. See Rudd-O.
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