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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

The end of the universal

Read this piece about big data and the company that helped Trump to get elected by directing each of his messages directly to those who wanted to hear them. Dude in the company declares at some point in the text that "My children will certainly never, ever understand this concept of mass communication." That is, communication is turning local, maybe personal, but clearly not universal. It's not about what everyone thinks, it is rather about what a group believes that is a matter of information. Information ceases to be universal because the medium is the message: there is no universal information if there is no universal communication. We inform some about the beliefs of some. There is no mass information, there is no mass communication. As a consequence, there is little room for independent standards - and little room for belief-independent standards. This explains why now the right can freely talk about preferences and even prejudices: there is nothing that can rule how should one maintain one's beliefs. Prejudices are not racist or sexist, they would say, they're just ways to form one's belief that is as valid as any other. The only universality left is that of prevailing (universally). The new thing around is a new right for the post-mass media time: local like corporate America from the inside, uncommitted to universal justice in speech as in act as Moldbug's neo-cameralism and preference-based instead of truth-oriented in order never to be racist or sexist because there is no universally acceptable opinion - there is just one's side. So, no more state that defends a general interest; better to have a corporation that defends its shareholders and experience no limit in their sovereignty. Alongside with than a post-truth era, this is a post-universality era where no one responds to anything beyond one's beliefs.

The emerging image reminds me of Hitlerism as portrayed by Levinas in his prophetic and clarifying essay on it published in 1934. He holds that Hitlerism is a break with the idea that we can examine our thoughts and beliefs and rethink our acts to defend the idea that we are slave to soil and body and ought to be loyal to them. The appeal to the body and the soil - what one is - is crucial: it is not a matter of one's history, it is a matter of being bound. Levinas then goes on to talk about universality in this context and he claims that the only universality left is the one of conquering, of exercising explicit colonial power. That is, the universality of prevailing.

The left has decided to bet a lot on universality (justice, the appropriate stance, universal rights) instead of just defending a different group - for instance, being based on a Pasolinian love of the working class. The working class itself was presented as being somehow universal. The universal was the realm of debate and the arena of the political fight. Not any longer. The right has forsaken it. Next move is to go on explicitly about prevailing. Now, universality was a way to respond to the others. Maybe not the best one. However without it, one does no more than hold on to un-repented, un-enlightened self-interest. The other could be responded on a particular basis but the universal was a way to make it be heard. Without it, the battle between the sameness of me and the interruption of the other is unveiled in its crudest form and made explicit.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Interruption, diffraction

A major issue being developed in my book on interruptions and co-existence is to determine whether the other as such – as what I am not – can be fully made justice in the framework of monadologies. Levinas has critiqued the monadological way out found by Husserl in his fifth Cartesian Meditations because it commits itself to the idea of an alter-ego, of another ego. If we unpack this critique to find the inability of an alter-ego to genuinely interrupt – the inability to do no more than be part of the ordinary course of actions of an agent – we envisage a problem for monadologies that could seem to be remedied by approaches like Whitehead's but not completely. Whitehead understands his actual entities to be oriented towards self-satisfaction given their specific creative capacities and their sense of purpose.1 He can accommodate the other by means of a becoming-other, but not in terms of an interruption. I suspect this poses a general problem for monadological approaches to agency and to process in general. Monadologies seem to be short of a proper process philosophy of co-existence if the others cannot be genuine elements in the constitution of the agenda of the agent. The issue is related to that of the tension between two positions, the monadological and the one where agency floats independently of agents: there is a pressure for process to go beyond the border of a constituted agent, and the Other provides that through a personal interruption. I have been pursuing two hypotheses to accommodate genuine interruption. First, conceiving a neo-monadology that escapes from the predicament Levinas diagnosed in Husserl – I have attempted at that in both Being Up For Grabs and The diaspora of agency. It is not clear, however, whether monadologies have resources to do that – and to deal appropriately with genuine interruptions. Second, put forward an alternative process philosophy that is not affiliated with position 3 – that will be a non-monadological approach to interruption, one where agency is constitutively capable of hospitality. Such an alternative could be based on the impact demands of the other and responses from the agent shape process and therefore provide different novel inputs to the world. This alternative process philosophy, to be clear, is neither of the two positions (classical monadology and agency without agents). Arguably, it is in a different position. To determine which of the two hypotheses are more adequate is an endeavor to think metaphysically about the others – the others of all kinds – and their capacity to affect agency, alter processes and dwell in what is contingent. The project is intended therefore to provide a general framework where the other is not only something that couples with the agent while satisfying the needs present in the agent's agenda, but also capable to interrupt, diffract, alter the course or reshape that agenda. This will be a general framework for co-existence with consequences, for example, in the philosophy of perception where what is at stake is to respond to others of different kinds. In fact, the issue here impacts the various debates concerning projection of one's agenda on the one hand and imposition of something else from outside on the other. Interruption is an account of impact – an account of how something external can affect a subjectivity (and not only destroy it).