Below are some thoughts I had while reflecting on a new paper from Katrina Kolozova available here. This passage in particular set off an avalanche of pondering:
In order to circumvent the possibility of a conversation of the post-human to turn into a transhumanist phantasm, I propose that we radicalize the concept of the human. The procedure of radicalization, as conceived within Laruelle’s methodology of non-standard philosophy, consists in arriving at a concept whose determination in the last instance is the real. It is homologous to Marx’s notion of the determination in the last instance which is material. Both Marx and Laruelle, however, avoid the concept of “the material” as overly philosophical—or as an inverted version of idealism as Marx explains in his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy in General—and resort to the notion of the real. In addition to the real, Marx speaks of the physical and the sensuous. When speaking of the human instantiations of the real Laruelle equates the real with the concept of “the lived” (levécu), also avoiding philosophical materialism, or more speciﬁcally dialectical-materialism. He too declares materialism to be philosophically indebted and moreover inextricable from philosophy (Laruelle, 2014). Both Marx and Laruelle demand an exit from philosophy: a science of humanity that operates with “philosophical [conceptual] material.” [Kolozova 2018]
Materialism as constellation of philosophical ideas has a long and tangled history. Many philosophers have argued that this history included a kind of dependency upon idealism, it’s supposed inverse, and, more cryptically, the sort of metaphysical dualism that modern science now reveals as sham (see here).
However, if we jettison materialism as a legitimate philosophical interpretation what can we replace it with? What kinds of conceptual systems or discourses are capable of anchoring speculative thought in ways that remain consistent with scientific methodology?
Let me suggest one workable substitute for philosophical materialism: ecological realism. I join others (see here, here, here and here) in the proposal that ecological realism is the philosophical synthesis of scientific naturalism and ontographic pluralism. Ecological realism also takes up the intellectual challenge of thinking the constructed nature of semiosis and conception in direct relation to the incursion and presence of the Real – defined as the dynamic presence of non-human forces and potent assemblages – in everyday human affairs. The persistent reality of the push and pull of ecological embeddedness delimits thought-as-action while affording the very contexts in which human thought and communication is actually deployed.
Here is Gary Williams attacking these questions in his work on Heidegger and Ecological Realism and Affordance Ontology:
The best way to make entity realism consistent with being idealism is through what I call “ecological realism”. This version of realism must be decisively distinguished from classic or “philosophical realism”. Understanding the difference between these two styles of realism will help bolster my case that Heidegger understood himself to be a realist but denied the validity of “classical” realism. The key difference between ecological and classical realism is that whereas both believe that the Earth exists independently of the mind, ecological realism takes this as the starting point and philosophical realism takes it as something to be proved.
What interests me in this is how ecological realism takes as a starting point the radical embeddedness (as zero point immanence) and intimacy with-in the world (being-in-the-world), rather than as something requiring philosophical justification. Being-in-the-world as entangled in presences and context is disclosed to us in visceral ways that requires no semantic elaboration whatsoever.
“This is the fact, derived from Heidegger’s preliminary account of questioning, that, as with any question, there must be some prior understanding of the object of the question of Being, in order to ask the question. This is to say that we must possess some pre-ontological understanding of Being in order to ask the question. It is the fact that Dasein has such pre-ontological understanding which makes the existential analytic of its particular kind of Being the beginning of the inquiry into Being as Such.” (Wolfendale)
The immediacy of our experience of situatedness can be formulated, following a tongue-in-cheek aping of the traditional Cartesian axiom, as ‘I am therefore there is’. Existing as the kind of thing that perceives evinces a transcendental conditionality wherein our existence unfolds. For now I’m going to use the term generalizable ecology for this dynamic, pre-conceptual matrix of productive facticity.
It is within this milieu, then, that we begin the process of differentiation and critical review. There is much to say in this regard, but for now I will only suggest that an ecologically situated critical realism suspends (epoché) philosophical judgement on the various flows, things and relations that make up “the lived” in favor of an always already engaged openness (ontological vulnerability) towards the world. Ecological realism actively adopts constructionist insights when composing intellectual abstractions for understanding (coping) and acting (coping), while remaining attentive to relative independence of the “fanged” and “cutting” noumenal contexts in which we live. Thus the need for operationalize our creaturely openness in ways that remain keenly sensitive to issues of both methodology and epistemological limit in regards to the ever-present persistence of the Real.
Here is Heidegger on a version of realism attuned to the self-disclosing ecological world:
Along with Dasein as being-in-the-world, entities within-the-world have in each case already been disclosed. This existential-ontological assertion seems to accord with the thesis of realism that the external world is really present-at-hand. In so far as this existential assertion does not deny that entities within-the-world are present-at-hand, it agrees – doxographically, as it were – with the thesis of realism in its result. But it differs in principle from every kind of realism; for realism holds that the Reality of the ‘world’ not only needs to be proved but also is capable of proof. (Being and Time, p.251)
Ecological realism can register as both internalized cognitive orientation (coping style) with-in the world and act as an externalized discourse explicitly and methodically attuned to the potent affective character of the Real – as ‘the great outdoors’, the Outside, wilderness, etc. And the methodological and conceptual pluralism that accompanies such orientations and practices can, I want to argue, offer more sophisticated means of taking up the challenges arising from certain technomic trends and the wide-ranging capitalist restructurings of our very life-conditions. Ecological realism offers philosophical resources and intellectual opportunities to help facilitate more coherent responses to the inhuman, posthuman and transhuman possibilities.
I could go on and on about this, incorporating my take on radical empiricism and pragmatism (which are not synonymous) and how these dispersals can inform our loose definition of ecological realism, but I’ll save that for some future post. What I want to emphasize here is that any thorough-going ontographic endeavor, generally, must remain both grounded in an appreciation of the immediate contextual tangibility of existence as well as methodologically and conceptually open in order to successfully negotiate (cope and adapt with-in) a primordial ecological entanglement.
To be sure, all of this obviously requires proper argumentation and unpacking to be taken further. The coming ruptures, divergences, and ‘crash spaces’ (see Bakker) developing from accelerating techno-capitalism and a post-stable climate are hard to predict, and this will require us all to be agile in thought and action. But some version of an ecological realism, as perceptual-skill and intellectual orientation, will be necessary in order to cognitively and socially cope.
More from Katrina Kolozova to close my first attempt at describing this territory:
At this point of technological development and accelerationist euphoria, Firestone’s warning that technology does not possess immanent emancipatory tendencies, but can rather be used against women and children, seems urgent to consider… If we are to establish a socialist and feminist critique of the contemporary project of technological development, moving beyond this type of metaphysics and also beyond philosophy is to be considered its unavoidable grounding gesture. The non-humanist human or the non-human constituted of the machine-body continuity and the signifying automaton aﬃrmed in its brutal and senseless reality escapes philosophy and allows for a historical-materialist conceptualization of technology and its role in the constitution of the post-humanist self.
For those of us who are less interested in participating in the conspiracy against our species, some form of ecological realism might help us resist the tendency of capitalist technics to reduce ecosystems and their inhabitants to algorithmic control by eschewing those philosophical decisions and systems of conceptual closure that fail to account for the thick ontic complexity at play in our lives. Perpetually negating our certainties and distractions with transcendentalism, in this way, will only open the field of thought and action to more collaboration and possible adaptive recombinations. Open source ontology, anyone?
Again, these are just notes on the way to something else.