A "GPL" for Metaphysics

I recently had the chance to dialogue with the Japanese philosopher Masaya Chiba. The text, which we titled "The Problem of Authority: Departing from Speculative Realism," was first published in Japanese in the journal Gendai-Shiso 44-1 (Jan 2016). This post is the second of two parts. Read part one here.

Question 3

Masaya Chiba (MC): The nonhuman trend in theory could be interpreted ironically as a deadlock of problematizing a more distant and more hidden alterity. In the 2000s, we saw the fad of animality; Derrida’s later lectures, Agamben’s theory of zoe, or various concerns about bioethics, etc. And in Japan, there were many discussions about the Kojevian “animalization" of popular culture especially in Otaku contexts, brought about by Hiroki Azuma’s Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals. Then, as if it followed the triple thesis of Heidegger in more nonhuman direction, that is, from “The human is world-forming” to “The animal is poor in world,” and finally to “The stone is worldless,” the present trend of humanities manifests symptomatically the deadlock of alterity as extreme poverty. Such a strategy of turning an (ontologically) extreme poverty into something positive—has it come to an end?

Alexander R. Galloway (AG): We still have much to learn from this extreme poverty. I spoke earlier about the masochistic desire of speculative thinking, the desire to outsource truth to some other arbiter. Remember the War Boys in the recent Mad Max movie, when they cry “We are not to blame!” Extreme poverty seems to be a way both to fulfill and resolve this problem. I say fulfill because it's important to register and accommodate the problem, rather than simply wish it to disappear. Of course it's difficult to discuss poverty without thinking of either politics or religion, the one hinging on the plight of the disenfranchised, and the other seeking spiritual salvation through asceticism. But the poverty of thinking, or, we might say more accurately, “thinking according to impoverishment,” strikes me as absolutely crucial. The important thing is to not deny the existence of the arbiter. Yet, simultaneously, we must disencumber the arbiter of its potency (or, alternately, pre-define it as non-potent). That old slogan “the dictatorship of the proletariate” captures the meaning of extreme poverty perfectly: it's an “extreme,” or radical, condition (it's a dictatorship after all), but it's a dictatorship of generic or insufficient humanity (the proletariate).

I'm sure you are familiar with the GNU General Public License (GPL), the legal armature behind Linux and other kinds of open source software. The GPL doesn't try to overthrow copyright. It uses the very structure of copyright, but inverts it to ensure a “stay free” legal condition. The GPL exploits the existing legal infrastructure in order to escape the limitations of that structure and ensure some sort of freedom in perpetuity. The concept of the generic exploits the existing metaphysical infrastructure in order to escape the limitations of that structure.

I imagine a kind of “GPL for Metaphysics” in which we use the structure of ontology against itself. The inherent foundationalism of ontology can be used to forever abate the dangers and excesses of ontological thinking, provided, of course, that we select this “foundation” with special care. The foundation of extreme poverty is not a naïve foundation like liberalism—always more freedom—but it's also not cynical or atavistic like so many other forms of society. Extreme poverty posits the existence of an absolute, but places the absolute at the feet of generic insufficiency.

MC: Here I will take up the problem of authority again. I think it is necessary to project the nonhuman (or meaningless, formal) authority, like that of “mountains,” into the inside of each of us (read: humans). This is to admit the following double statement. We are, on the one hand, living within a seemingly constant process of rational negotiation; at the same time, however, we are forced to endure a diffusion consisting of absolute secrets and singularities of the individual. While liberals mostly put their basis on the former, if one considers the possible social meaning of SR, I think one must underline the latter, in spite of its non-liberal connotation. This is, after all, to confront with the radical “no reason” of each irreducible singularity of us and objects.

My interest is not about the world as a whole like in Meilllasoux, but about fragmental encounter and separation of worldly events. While Meillassoux posits the transfinite hyperchaos of possibilities, as the reality with no reason, outside of human finitude, my philosophical focus is on the meaninglessness of the finitude of worldly entities.

To deal with the problem of authority (castration), I put in my mind Deleuze’s Masochism: Coldness and Reality. The distinction of sadism and masochism in that book can be used to interpret Meillassoux. As you know, according to Deleuze, sadism is the way that one exposes the absence of sufficient reason of any empirical laws and then posits beyond them the “premier nature” in which pure negativity realizes itself as the true Ideal; the latter is nothing else but the liberated area of pure possibilities. On the other hand, masochism is the way that one accepts provisionally empirical laws, without destroying their authority, to invent their alternative, non-normative usefulness. Here I would like to distinguish the notions of authority and normativity. I think the “GPL for Metaphysics” you proposed is something that works with non-normative authority, or possibly you might suggest the task to think over the concept of non-normative authority itself. In my context, this means to rethink the extremely impoverished (or purified) castration.

The aforementioned meaning of sadism applies well to the case of Meillassoux. Because his hyperchaos is exactly the “premier nature” where countless possibilities are liberated. But at such a time another side is important; that is, that he absolutizes the facticity of this world with no ultimate reasoning and tries to ensure the effectivity of natural science on this merely factual world; this side means the masochistic acceptance of non-normative authority (absoluteness) of the facticity. Nevertheless, his core desire seems to be the sadistic postulation of the absolute exteriority. In contrast to this, the point of our discussion is how to think of the masochistic transformation of the mere given, without resorting to an ideal affirmation of hyperchaos.

AG: That puts Meillassoux and Laruelle in nice relief: Meillassoux's “premier nature” is hyper chaos, but Laruelle's is hyper determination.

Authority is one of the great modern themes. Where does authority come from? Is it guaranteed? Is it legitimate? During the decades after World War II authority suffered through another one of its many crises. In those years two distinct discourses were legible, the first dealt with authority as a moral crisis of the subject, and the second dealt with authority as a structural, or we might say architectonic, problem. For instance, critiques of patriarchy dealt with authority as a form of personal and political repression, while Deleuzians (and others) reimagined radical spaces without territory or authority. As you suggest, the first maps onto a normative concept of authority, while the second maps onto a more general concept of authority.

I recognize and validate both projects. But today I find that the anti-moral posture fueling the first project often slips over onto the second project, lending the second a level of righteous validation that it might not deserve. In short, we've confused authority as injustice with authority as structure. Authority per se is nothing to be frightened of, and in fact is quite necessary and beneficial. How else can we say that “Black lives matter,” or that Monsanto is evil? Those calling for radical critiques of authority often become indistinguishable from libertarians, who, as I tried to show in my book on protocol, simply promulgate a new form of organization. Some strains of psychoanalysis are quite dubious in this regard, claiming, in essence, that all authority is necessarily unjust or repressive. These are the “Wet-Diaper Deleuzians” who view the world as a series of Fathers waiting to stifle their desires, and start to fuss and cry whenever such desires are impeded. I can see the appeal of wanting to destroy authority. But the “post-authority” condition is simply another architecture of authority with different advantages and different shortcomings. Regardless, authority is necessary and valuable in so many ways—the authority of the self (I am, I think, I speak), the authority of the political activist (the integrity of subjective action), the authority of the lover or parent (authority as responsibility and care).

I can imagine a world without injustice, without patriarchy, without state oppression. But a world without authority? We already live in that world, and we're losing. Thus the key is not to continue to erode authority, but to uncouple authority from injustice. This might be, as you say, a non-normative form of authority. And it's a way of conceiving authority without lapsing back to the transcendental, back to some kind of transcendental humanity.

Question 4

MC: Your reading of Laruelle’s non-philosophy in the contemporary social context gives me much to think about. I think Laruelle’s idea of the absolute immanence of reality, the existence of the true secret, can be regarded as sharply against the basic efforts of an essentially hermeneutic humanities in the sense of Dilthey’s definition of the human sciences (Geisteswissenschaften). Then, the affirmation of such an instance of secrecy in the midst of the humanities seems to urge us to think not only the possibility of non-philosophy but also of “non-humanities,” which must not be confused with what one calls post-humanities. Do you have any thoughts on this?

AG: Hermeneutics is unfortunately rather incompatible with Laruelle's non-standard method, as you suggest. I am somewhat mournful of this, given my own keen interest in hermeneutics. (The reason is that hermeneutics is still quite useful for understanding things like ideology or fetishism.) Still, Laruelle is consistent in his rendering of philosophy as the hermeneutic undertaking, par excellence. Philosophy is the thing that forever orients itself toward a world, so that it may interpret it.

Post-humanities is a complicated if not vague term, encompassing everything from utopian calls for cybernetic singularity to spiteful attacks on qualitative research methods. Sometimes it's difficult to discern the good in post-humanities, but if it exists the virtue can be found in the continued debasing of transcendental truth and the transcendental subject (which is quite different from the “author” or “authority”), and all the damage, both symbolic and otherwise, wrought by them.

Let us not continue to inflate and engorge that juggernaut called the transcendental human. Instead, let us subtract from it, axiomatically and radically, in favor of the finite real. Here is the key to what we might call a non-standard humanities, or, again to use your phrase, a non-normative form of authority.