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

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Professor Morton, How Do You Explain Racism and Speciesism?

Someone on Twitter asks:

“Is racism/speciesism a phenomenal/ontic equivocation or is it a hyperobject? No one seems to know what it is these days.”

I have in fact been writing about just this in Dark Ecology. How do we think a concept such as species without speciesism or racism? That is precisely the trick. That concept is deeply contaminated by Aristotelian teleology speak: ducks are for swimming, Greeks are for enslaving barbarians, etc...

Racism and speciesism have to do with closing the irreducible gap between data and things. Or, if you prefer, between the ontic and the ontological. Or, if you prefer, between what you can point to and what things actually are.

There is an irreducible gap between little me, Tim Morton, and me as a member of the human species. We can detect this gap by thinking about global warming data. My starting my car doesn't cause global warming at all: it's statistically meaningless. And of course, I never intend to harm Earth. But billions of car startings do cause global warming! There is a weird gap between me and human me.

This is odd, because we've been trained (scientism, Sesame Street) to think of ourselves as human. And we think this human as beyond or behind our race, gender, class etc. In other words, we think the human as a thing that stays constantly present underneath appearances.

The normal species concept is deeply metaphysical and onto-theological. And racism is where you color this concept a certain specific ontic color. Speciesism is where you say that yes, Tim Moton, this guy right here, is human, all the way through.

Have you ever seen Brighton rock? It's a pink minty candy tube with a word or phrase inscribed all the way through. Speciesism is where you think you are like that with "human" written all the way through.

But this is not biologically correct. Because this is not ontologically correct.

Here's the book:

There is such a thing as the human. But human need not be something that is ontically given: we can't see it or touch it or designate it as present in some way (as whiteness or not-blackness et cetera). There is no obvious, constantly present positive content to the human...Racism exists when one fills out the gap between what one can see (beings starting engines and shoveling coal) and what this human thing is: the human considered as a species, that is, as a hyperobject, a massively distributed physical entity of which I am and am not a member, simultaneously...The racist effectively erases the gap, implicitly reacting against Hume and Kant did to reality. Since their age we have thought it sensible that there is some kind of irreducible rift between what a thing is and how it appears, such that science handles data, not actual things.


The Darwinian concept of species is precisely not the Aristotelian one where you can tell teleologically what species are for: ducks are for swimming, Greeks are for enslaving barbarians… Since species in this sense fails to coincide with me, an actual human being as opposed to a pencil or a duck, the concept of species isn't speciesist. Like the racist, the speciesist fills out the gap between phenomenon and thing with a special paste: the fantasy of an easy-to-identify content. That sort of content is what one is incapable of seeing, yet there are ducks and spoonbills, which are not humans.

Racism and speciesism in their modern forms are desperate and violent attempts to fill out the irreducible void between what is given and what is...

1 comment:

Michael said...

And so here is where I go "what about the signifier" and seem like some kind of linguist. How do you explain the appearance of racism as a concept internal to racist discourse? If you look at reactionaries as they respond to movements such as BLM, the possibility of racism strikes them in a way that is different from other groups of people. By this I mean there is, from what I see, a contention not only internal to the struggle against white supremacy and racism, but also a contention over the name of the struggle itself and how it is to be understood at all (I hear "but really, aren't those calling us racist the REAL racists?"). Aren't the varied defensive responses to the signifier an example of racism "subscending" its relations to people through aesthetic difference? My home town was created to some extent as a haven for white flight. Its streets have been mapped and developed just so in order to keep out people of color living in the city nearby, the initial developers having died decades ago, the one-way streets and suburban-bubble design do the heavy lifting of the supposedly-past racism so we all get to enjoy a certain level of self-satisfaction in our tolerance of the other-over-there (insofar as they remain over there). Racism, like global warming and especially as understood in urban development studies (and to some extent as an object of discourse), I think, can be understood in a totally object-oriented way *as* an object without having to reduce it to an anthropological error of reducing appearance to real-reality. I don't have a lot of training in theory and this was possibly scattered, but I do have the conviction that more digging is to be done here especially since all the while reading various OOO texts I was reminded heavily of the seemingly-innocuous layout of my hometown and its many possible approaches.