Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Values as objects – A quick conjectural reply to Larval Subjects.

Levi responds with an extremely well-thought out post on object-oriented philosophy and nihilism here. Whilst I am not fully signed up to the definition of objects-as-difference, it seems apparent that it is indeed the case that norms (and even fictions) exist as objects/actors etc. Levi continues by stating that norms or values must always be produced, rather than emerging from some transcendent operation (no God delivering stone tablets on mountains for example). The question then resolves to the production of these particular objects, and that as produced (by biological, linguistic, social and historical processes) the kinds of relations they enter into and the processes of change they engender (including the forms of subjectivity they might be capable of conferring). That fictions are adopted as objects (providing, for Levi at least, if they make a difference, have an effect, which appears to be a crucial distinction between his own position and that of Reid Kotlas of Planemonology’s or Graham Harman’s) can be squared with the CCRU concept of the hyperstitional narrative, and indeed Badiou’s under-theorised idea of “the powerful fiction of a completed truth” (that rests at the core of the tricky notion of forcing within the transformative truth procedure).

Not all belief-objects or norm-objects are the same in terms of their machinic effects or diagrammatical workings, but none is more fundamental than any other (no matter their relative truth values). In this category we can certainly place ideological-objects, (which as Zizek frequently jokes, work even if you don’t believe in them). However, I am uncertain that Levi has banished the threat of nihilism yet- for whilst the teeming network or assemblage universe is filled with all kinds of components or actors, amongst them norms and values, just as there are planets, nematode worms, jokes and computer operating systems, our only recourse in terms of a selection principle seems to be the contingent set of normative assemblages acting upon us, enunciating us. Descriptively this is certainly highly satisfactory, and a useful way to think sociology perhaps. But equally it dissolves everything to the level of a cold-vitalism, or an amoral machinism (or perhaps even an a-political politics) wherein even life itself or machinic efficiency cannot be preferred over inert death or stasis or sclerosis (because the very norm of life or efficiency has been reduced to the ontological status of merely another actor within the network). I would be perfectly happy to agree to this outcome, a purely descriptive naturalism bereft of prejudice. What is capable of domination predominates over that which is incapable, and it is neither good nor bad (or possibly it is either/both, dependant on the point of view invested in the judging subject as side-effect of pre-personalising norm-objects). Though effectiveness itself is not ‘good’ it will lead to predominance within a system, (though even the claim that to be is better than to not be is unsupportable) and one implication of this is that the very status of ‘fiction’ and ‘truth’ become dislodged from their usual significations- is there not also the considerable danger of a rampaging relativism here?


kvond said...

SBA: "But equally it dissolves everything to the level of a cold-vitalism, or an amoral machinism (or perhaps even an a-political politics) wherein even life itself or machinic efficiency cannot be preferred over inert death or stasis or sclerosis (because the very norm of life or efficiency has been reduced to the ontological status of merely another actor within the network)...is there not also the considerable danger of a rampaging relativism here?

Kvond: I am always amazed that the charge or implication of Relativism has so much stickum. It seems that if one cannot justify political or even descriptive claims by an appeal to some transcendent (or even transcendental) condition, matching up the shifting, historical criteria and such to some extra-real legality, everything collapses into a potential meaninglessness. This was a claim of those who thought all morality would erode if a God and his Laws was "dead". It is so curious because bacteria have no difficulty in figuring out what is important to them without an appeal to the transcendent, and wolves seem to as well. Why is it really that we are assumed to be fundamentally different kinds of creatures? A vestiage of the traditions of Soul, Church and God, no doubt. I am just puzzled why it has such analytical draw. I'm not saying that this your argument, but the assumption seems to reside in your objection. What would happen if what you suggest is true, and greater portions of the world came to believe in a philosophy of cold, mechanistic vitalism? Would this really result in some kind of amoralism, a chaos of wills, a Hobbesian all against all?

Perhaps I misread your point, or do not fully grasp what you feel to be the dangers of nihilism.

Alex said...

I'm not sure if it is necessarily a problem for me Kvond (though I suspect it might be a little problematic for Levi)... And indeed it seems an inevitable consequence of immanence- and in turn this has the following results (all of which square, roughly, with empirical evidence):

1) Principle of (non-linear) domination

2) Chauvinistic localism / normative persuasion of proximity

The abstract machine of nihilism then would here operate to radically scramble the latter in favour of a hyper-chaotic/arbitrary game within the former. Hence nihilism is not a danger in the slightest.

Or perhaps, everything is contestable and relational, rather than relativistic. So it is not that everything is meaningless per se, rather that meaning is lodged into relational networks, historically contingent but operative enough to assure the folk-political perhaps?

kvond said...

If I read your two options, they seem to be that:

a) A "Principle of (non-linear) domination" works to overturn local normativity, and this is not "nihilism" because nihilism is only a tool, a means of this overturning, (perhaps how Nietzsche recommends a Nihilistic Bath every now and then).

b). Local normatives work meaningfully enough, without universality, much as perhaps pockets of life develop in the cold reaches of the universe.

In the one case the Abstract Machine grants a cold meaning, in the other meaning escapes, however contingently, the crush of the cold Abstract Machine.

I'm not sure that these are the only two options, though one might compose them as limits. Meaningfulness is communicable from one pocket to another without this transfer or assemblage being reduced to the simple crush of an abstract machine. For instance the host of differences that made differences on the planet Earth (all of them in some sense "meaningful") were expansive of other differences that made more differences. There is a vector of change here, a veritable increase in meaningfulness (a kind of increase in the number of differences per square inch so to speak). This vectoral change doesn't seem to be caught in your binary choice, but rather seems to traverse the two of them.

In either case (or all three) I can't see the consequence of what a "rampaging Nihilism" would entail.

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