Baudrillard’s Inflatable Army

The New York Times recently reported Russian buildup of unconventional weapons: inflatables. Specifically, the Times notes that following increased tensions between the United States and Russia over Syria, the Russian army has been buying and moving inflatable weapons systems — tanks, anti-aircraft guns, MiGs, etc. — to make their military seem stronger than it really is (a tactic called maskirovka).1)Andrew Kramer, “A New Weapon in Russia’s Arsenal, and It’s Inflatable,” New York Times, published 10/12/16, accessed 10/13/16, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/13/world/europe/russia-decoy-weapon.html?%5C%5C&_r=1.

This move is obviously interesting on a number of different levels; is the Russian military weakening? Are nuclear weapons less of a deterrent than they used to be? And so on. The question I want to examine, however, is a starkly different one. The tanks, MiGs, and anti-air guns are obviously ‘fake,’ but does that really matter? Further, as we live in a world filled with simulacra, is there any legitimate difference between a MiG made of aluminium and jet fuel and one made of canvas and hot air? I’m not convinced that there is.

baudrillard-copy of a copy

Continue reading

References   [ + ]

1. Andrew Kramer, “A New Weapon in Russia’s Arsenal, and It’s Inflatable,” New York Times, published 10/12/16, accessed 10/13/16, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/13/world/europe/russia-decoy-weapon.html?%5C%5C&_r=1.

Book Review: “Nihilism” by Brett Stevens

Brett Stevens’ Nihilism: A Philosophy Based In Nothingness And Eternity1)Brett Stevens, Nihilism: A Philosophy Based In Nothingness And Eternity (Australia: Manticore Press, 2016). serves as both an attempt to clarify a long misunderstood term — nihilism — while also critiquing the caricature of nihilists as fatalists. Further, Stevens attempts to reinvigorate the realism-idealism debate with novel insights into the meaning of both terms. What follows is not simply a generic Amazon.com review, but rather a critical analysis of Stevens’ arguments…so if you’re ready to take the plunge, read on.

20160925_061431

Continue reading

References   [ + ]

1. Brett Stevens, Nihilism: A Philosophy Based In Nothingness And Eternity (Australia: Manticore Press, 2016).

The Philosopher’s New Clothes: An Introductory Survey into Object-Oriented Ontology

I haven’t written much this summer because, as you know if you follow me on Twitter, I have been involved in a summer-long research project. As I mentioned at the start of my last post, Latour and the “Arche-Fossil,” “[o]ver the past many weeks I’ve been doing research into Speculative Realism and Object-Oriented Ontology (SR/OOO) by reading the works of Quentin Meillassoux, Graham Harman, Ian Bogost, Bruno Latour, and Levi Bryant.” This project has culminated in 6 chapter paper entitled The Philosopher’s New Clothes: An Introductory Survey into Object-Oriented Ontology that will be bound and published at my local university and will, of course, be available for you all to read here.

The abstract, for those interested, is:

My project for the past 10 weeks has been the study of the philosophical movements of Speculative Realism and Object-Oriented Ontology as developed by a few prominent philosophers: Graham Harman, Bruno Latour, Levi Bryant, Ian Bogost, and Quentin Meillassoux. My paper starts by analyzing the critical stance post-Kantian philosophy takes and its view (dubbed “correlationism” by Meillassoux) where subjectivity reigns supreme and knowledge of any real world external to the mind is impossible. I then examine Harman, Bryant, Bogost, and Latour’s philosophies and explicate their views as well as compare and contrast them to each other. The project concludes with a chapter where I reflect upon these individuals’ ontologies and offer my own ontology of objects. My hope is that this project will serve as the first building block in a larger project aimed to aggregate the wide ranging and disparate views of Speculative Realists and Object-Oriented Ontologists. In the end, this longer term project is intended to serve as a primer, if you will, for those interested in Speculative Realism and Object-Oriented Ontology.

Download the PDF file .

Latour and the “Arche-Fossil”

Over the past many weeks I’ve been doing research into Speculative Realism and Object-Oriented Ontology (SR/OOO) by reading the works of Quentin Meillassoux, Graham Harman, Ian Bogost, Bruno Latour, and Levi Bryant. As I’m finishing up my research and writing my paper summarizing SR/OOO which will serve as a compendium of sorts, I’ve had various new ideas cross my mind (many of which I will write about here) but there is one that I thought of very recently and want to try to solve now. The issue I’m currently thinking about is the relationship between Meillassoux’s claim about “arche-fossils” and Latour’s fabrication of fact.

Before diving into an analysis that I hope will spark some conversation (as I am not entirely sure of my answer), a brief bit of context is required. In answering the problem of correlationism — that is “the idea [that] we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other” and thus renders impossible any attempts to view “subjectivity and objectivity independently of one another”1)Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency (London: Bloomsbury Books, 2008), 5. — Meillassoux, in After Finitude, invokes the concept of the “arche-fossil” which is an object that indicates “the existence of an ancestral reality or event; one that is anterior to terrestrial life.”2)Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency10 In other words, the arche-fossil is, as I say in my paper, “evidence that exists independently of humans.”

Latour, in We Have Never Been Modernargues that scientific facts are fabricated in the laboratory and, from my understanding (please correct me if I’m wrong), cannot be independent of humans. His argument for this resides in section 2.2 wherein he argues that the uncovering of scientific truths that are supposedly independent of humans and culture actually require humans and culture to produce. Laboratory equipment must be socially constructed, the norms of science must be universalized, a testing method — that is to say, the scientific method — must be utilized, and the truth of the findings must be shared inter-subjectively. All these features of the laboratory space lead Latour to agree with Gaston Bachelard’s claim that “facts are fabricated.”3)Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), 18.

The worry that is currently on my mind is how to reconcile the claims by these two anti-correlationists. Specifically, I want to reconcile Meillassoux’s claim that evidence (in this case it’s scientific phenomena) can exist independently of humans with Latour’s claim that scientific facts are fabricated.

Before continuing, I must take an aside (lest I get slapped in case Graham Harman is reading this) to quote Harman in an attempt to clear up any potential misunderstanding about Latour. Harman warns us, in an essay in Towards Speculative Realism, to “never believe anyone who tells you that Latour holds that ‘all reality is socially constructed’.”4)Graham Harman, “Bruno Latour, King of Networks,” in Towards Speculative Realism (Washington: Zero Books, 2010), 71. Latour recognizes the objective nature of objects, he just thinks that you can’t separate nature and culture and that explanations of one are necessarily bound together with explanations of the other; his ‘hybridization.’

It seems to me that the way to synthesize the views of Latour and Meillassoux would be to embrace potentiality. More specifically, Latour and Meillassoux are both realists insofar as they both seem to accept the existence of objects independent of, and unaffected by, the human mind. This means that both recognize the objective existence of, say, a certain amount of radioactive decay from a Uranium-238 atom over 5 billion years. Meillassoux claims this as a fact, but I believe he is incorrect in doing so. X amount of Uranium-238 that decayed over 5 billion years, under a Latourian view, is not in-and-of-itself a fact but has the potential to be one. Once in the laboratory where scientists measure the amount of decay of the atom, the objective amount becomes a fact based solely on the the scientists’ construction of it as such. The amount decay still existed anterior to givenness, but the knowledge of that decay — and subsequently the scientific fact that X amount of Uranium-238 decayed over a given time period (and thus a given amount exists still) — is a product of fabrication within the laboratory space.

In other words, it seems like factuality is necessarily correlated with thought — as facts are products of thought and experimentation — while potential factuality is independent.

References   [ + ]

1. Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency (London: Bloomsbury Books, 2008), 5.
2. Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency10
3. Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), 18.
4. Graham Harman, “Bruno Latour, King of Networks,” in Towards Speculative Realism (Washington: Zero Books, 2010), 71.

Climate Deniers as Useful Idiots

About a month ago I attended the 2016 International Žižek Studies Conference and had the privileged of meeting some fantastic people. Additionally, and of more relevance to any readers of this post, I was awash in new ideas and new things to think about; some of which I am still processing to this day. This post, however, attempts to deal with an issue that was brought up in passing during a Q and A session during a panel. For context: I was in a panel where Dr. Gregor Campbell of the University of Guelph was presenting a paper and we finished before the allotted time ended (due largely to the other participant’s absence) allowing for an extensive Q and A session and discussion. During our conversation, Campbell said, in passing, something that caught my attention and which I am indebted to him for thinking of. Campbell mentioned how people who deny climate change (climate deniers) serve to motivate climate scientists to work harder to prove their theories. While this comment lasted all of maybe 30 seconds, I would like to briefly unpack it and see what implications it has, if true.

A photo of me at the conference. My phone's camera flipped the image, but the card I'm holding says "Zizek."

A photo of me at the conference. My phone’s camera flipped the image, but the card I’m holding says “Zizek.”

Continue reading