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Barbarism or Barbarism? | Public Seminar
"The guardians won’t help us. The institutional forms of technical and scientific inquiry won’t help us much either. We’re on our own. Stengers: “…we cannot impose on those who are responsible for the disasters that are looming the task of addressing them. It is up to us to create a manner of responding for ourselves.” (41)

That to which we have to respond Stengers names the intrusion of Gaia. We have to think in the manner this naming calls into being. In Hesiod’s Theogony, Gaia is the first mother who brought forth Uranus, the sky, and with him bore the Titans, including Chronos, their leader. Chronos overthrew Uranus and ruled over the Golden Age, before being defeated in turn by his own son, Zeus. For Stengers, Gaia is a blind and indifferent God, a figure for a time before Greek Gods had scruples.

Gaia is a name that conjures up ancient myths, and became something of a hippie mantra, but oddly enough was popularized by a scientific theory offered by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, in which organisms co-evolve with their environments and form ‘ecological, self-regulating systems. For Stengers, the complicated history of the deployments of the term is actually part of its appeal.

Stengers wants a name for a nature that is neither vulnerable nor threatening nor exploitable, but which asks nothing of us at all. Gaia is a “forgotten form of transcendence.” (47) Maybe a negative one, as Gaia is neither an arbiter, guarantor or resource. Gaia intrudes into human lives and perceptions, but there’s no reciprocity. There’s no channel for what elsewhere I called xeno-communication. Nobody can claim to the the high priest or priestess of Gaia. But there is no future in which we are free to ignore her. “We will have to go on answering for what we are undertaking in the face of an implacable being who is deaf to our justifications.” (47)

It’s a rhetorically risky move, perhaps especially in the United States, where talk of Gaia might naturally default to a kind of hippie romantic mysticism. But then there are only rhetorically risky moves available, so perhaps its worth a shot. Stengers insists that her invocation of Gaia is not anti-scientific, and may even encourage scientists to think. But in general, she thinks that when it comes to the present danger, the scientists have done their work of warning us about where we really are.

One’s sense of rhetorical tactics may be more a product of perceptions of local contingencies than of anything else. In the context in which I find myself, I feel obligated to tack a little harder towards shoring up respect for scientific forms of knowing the world. In the United States, the tactics being used against climate and earth scientists can only be described as a McCarthyite witch hunt.

But as Stengers makes plain, there’s a lot of different things one can mean when one says ‘science’. Some of which are not really forms or practices of knowing at all. There’s no shortage of economic ‘science’ being deployed to justify business as usual. Those who pledged their soul to the eternal forward march of commodification are incapable of panic or reflection. For them, there is no situation, not matter how God-forsaken, that is not an ‘opportunity.’

Stengers: “Those who say to us ‘Marx is history’, with an obscene, satisfied little smile, generally avoid saying to us why capitalism as Marx described it is no longer a problem. They only imply that it is invincible. Today those who talk about the vanity of struggling against capitalism are de facto saying ‘barbarism is our destiny.’” (51) Capitalism fabricates its own necessity, which for Paul Burkett is what the rule of exchange value basically amounts to. Capitalism is a mode of transcendence that is not inevitable, just radically irresponsible. “Capitalism doesn’t like noise.” (54) It is hell-bent on eliminating signals that are not market signals, which are what appear to it as noise.

And yet for all that, Stengers is reluctant to collapse everything into the figure of capital. As I have argued elsewhere, talking about the capitalocene runs the risk of ignoring certain new information, what Stengers calls the intrusion of Gaia, for which I have used the more conventional designation of the Anthropocene. Stengers: “I also dread that is might incite those who resist only to pay lip service to the idea that global warming is effectively a new problem, following it immediately with the demonstration that this problem, like all others, should be blamed on capitalism, and then by that conclusion that we must therefore maintain our heading, without allowing ourselves to be troubled by a truth that must not upset the prospects for the struggle.” (56)

It is a matter of learning to compose with Gaia instead: “Naming Gaia, she who intrudes, signifies that there is no afterwards.” (57) That means letting go of an epic materialism in which nature is there as a resource for human conquest. Where obstacles exist only as the narrative pretext for Promethean leaps – as in children’s stories. One can no longer claim a right not to pay attention to all that Gaia stands-in for. Both those who think capital can be negated and those who think it can only be accelerated are called to account for their inattention here.

This civilization, such as it is, turns out the be as blind as its predecessors. Even when there is attention to the ‘environment’, it is so often still framed as a question of a resource to be preserved rather than used. Precautions against dangerous products do not really challenge the “sacred right of the entrepreneur.” (63) Which is to not pay attention to anything much other than the aura of the brand, and tactics of competitors and maximizing shareholder value. Risk is the price of progress. The entrepreneur makes the Promethean leap, even if nobody much believes any more that anyone else is likely to benefit."



"The enemy of both humanistic thought and the open inquiry of the sciences is a kind of stupidity. This now even affects the rentiers who defend the enlightenment, who really defend privilege, and have lost all sense of adventure and risk. (Stengers gives no examples, but I can’t help thinking of the sad trajectory of Richard Dawkins.) Rather than critique which claims to see through to the root or the essence, or to ground everything else in an ontology of first things, Stengers like Deleuze prefers the world of second and third things, of thinking through the middle, or the milieu.

It is a time, then, for minor knowledge, which questions the order words of Promethean modernization. The guardians keep the floodgates – as they see them – closed to questioning. We have to learn to pose our own questions. And refuse the answers when the questions to which they answer are answers for nobody, for whoever, rather than answers for us. And all that without investing too much faith in one or other belief that we know what we’re doing: “… it is not a matter of converting us but of repopulating the devastated desert of our imaginations.” (132)

Among the traps to avoid are being captured by expertise, and avoiding confrontations that polarize the terrain and empty them of everything but the interests of opposing camps. One must try to “make the experts stutter” in a milieu poisoned by stupidity. (138) One must fabricate trust which not only respects differences but divergences. We’re not on the same path or ever going to be. There’s no way to totalize differences. There’s no way to ‘penetrate’ appearances and get to the truth in advance. “The desperate search for that which, being ‘natural’ would supposedly have no need of any artifice, refers in fact, once more and as ever, to the hatred of the pharmakon, of that whose use implies an art.” (144)

I would count Stengers (as I count myself) as a realist of the procedure rather than of the object of knowledge. We can know something of how we got the result. We can’t know much about ontology, or nature, or the real. It takes an inhuman apparatus to make the nonhuman appear to the human. Stengers: “a scientific interpretation can never impose itself without artifice, without experimental fabrications, the invention of which empassions them much more than the ‘truth.’” (146) Stengers goes elsewhere than the recent ontological turn in thought, but not back to the old obsession with epistemology, which was just as prone to want rules for proper ways of knowing as ontology wants methods for the proper way to the unveiled object."
mckenziewark  2015  donnaharaway  jasonmoore  timothymorton  paulburkett  robnixon  isabellestrengers  gaia  wendybrown  neoliberalism  marxism  capitalism  latecapitalism  gmps  science  invisiblecommittee  stuarthall  richardstallman  moulierboutang  paolovirno  mauriziolazzarato  francoberardi  antonionegri  michaelhardt  deleuze 
january 2016 by robertogreco

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