Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Friday, January 29, 2016

No It's Not Ethical Nihilism

Two of you might have been worried yesterday at the lecture that if a bullet exists equally with a blue whale, then the bullet has some kind of right to be fired into the blue whale (just an example).

I gave a two part answer that really needed a third part, so here it is.

But first, here's a much more detailed lecture about it.


So first up I need to say, I'm not the object police so I'm not about telling you exactly what's out there. OOO is about how things exist if they do. There might be just five things in the universe. Or five trillion. I have no idea.

So an example, such as a bullet, remains hypothetical, in a certain sense.

Paragraph 1 describes accurately not OOO at all, but a certain strain of deep ecology, in which for instance HIV has just as much right to exist as an HIV victim. This is absurd.

And why it's absurd is precisely the danger of allowing ontology to come with an inevitable, snap-on ethics and politics. Peeling ethics away from ontology might give us the kind of wiggle room we'd need such that we don't end up creating absurd ideas like that.

The point is, since things exist equally and there's no inevitable ethics or politics that emerges from OOO, you are free to decide, much more free, in fact, than if you think it's only humans that “really” exist or only humans that matter or only humans or conscious beings or what have you to which ethics pertains. You have the controls! Do you want bullets to have the ability to kill all the blue whales? You have to make that decision based on something other than ontology, is all. And it's quite clear to me and anyone with a  pulse that your decision would suck.

This snap-on ethics thing is a symptom of anthropocentric correlationism. Suddenly things are a lot less clear. That's good, at least for a moment.

The other point is, if you stick around waiting for the whale to prove that she's a person, loads of people are going to shoot her. You need to make a decision to help her that doesn't require some deep stuff about the nature of reality.

It's just that for about two hundred years “reality” has coincided exactly with human social, psychic and philosophical space.

It has another side effect, this coinciding. It gives rise to that idea that we're totally shrink-wrapped in our world, imprisoned in ideology or what have you. And the subsequent self-defeating left intelligence performance of “I can show that we're so much worse off than you think, therefore I'm more intelligent than you.” How's this disempowering idea been working out so far?

The other point is that everything becomes political, which is great. You are already making unconscious implicit decisions to care or not care for all kinds of nonhumans. OOO just makes all that very very explicit. And in a world where everything is political, no political system can be perfect and absolutely right. Someone or something is always left out. My affiliation with blue whales means I'm going to exclude bullets. So what?

So, this is quite the opposite of ethical nihilism, no?

Anyway, if you truly want to get nihilism from ontology, try an extreme reductionist one, not an irreductionist one such as OOO. Something along the lines of: I don't exist, I really really don't exist, not even as a good enough illusion, because “I” is just a manifest image of some material flux beaming through neurons. So you can kinda do what you want with me, because there isn't a me.

1 comment:

Fern Hollow Folks said...

Wonderful clarity! Thank you!