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What’s wrong with Prometheanism? |

I’ve been away from the internet for two weeks so apologies for the late response.

Out of the Woods wrote:

For someone complaining about obfuscation, you’re spilling a huge amount of words over this.

Again, it isn’t the quantity, it’s the clarity that matters. I was complaining about the use of copious quantities of pompous, spooky language for the purpose of giving fatuous babble an aura of profundity in anarchist circles because that kind of thing has been one of hierarchy’s spectres and instruments, used to intimidate people throughout history, appearing most obviously for example in the ends/means immanence of Statism and labyrinthine legalistic gibberish.

Out of the Woods wrote:

I’m afraid this is generating far more heat than light, so I’ll leave it at that.

Your incandescence and unwillingness to enter into genuine, extended dialogue has not gone unnoticed. If a bit of criticism bothers you so much that you dig your heals in and throw a hissy fit then maybe blogging isn’t for you (plural?)? FWIW Bryant has the same tendencies from what I’ve read so you’ve chosen well, at least I can’t think of any other reason why anyone would seek him out as an authority on ontology. Perhaps instead of a blog you could take out an advert in a newspaper or do a bit of flyposting or make a sticker featuring a rousing slogan, “Smash All Koch Ontologies!” or Bryant’s own unforgettable “The site of politics is a ‘dim object’!” could ignite the whole austerity powder keg.

jolasmo wrote:
“There needs to be a rule..”

– right because more bureaucracy is never a bad thing, absolutely by all means another rule. In the other legal precedent you’ve advertised, with regard to the parallel you attempted to draw between anarchists using flaky ‘philosophical’ gibberish and Marx critiquing English political economists, for a start I rather think that Marx had thoroughly read, analysed and meditated long and hard on his sources and knew what they were talking about, partly through being Marx, partly because the political economists you mention used English for the purpose of communicating ideas. How did Marx actually make use of that revolting idiot Ricardo’s feeble notions? Did he really just cherry pick any bits he was fond of in order to give his own ideas an air of profundity (or ontology) in the way OTW seem to have done?

How far should we go with this? Should anarchists be using von Mises’ stuff if the occasional paragraph seems to back up what we say, whatever the premises, whatever its empirical status? I wouldn’t want to deny anyone the right to speculate on metaphysics or ontology to their heart’s content and this is not to say that there’s no room for a priori argument and pure conceptual construction in these areas (though I doubt that whatever it is Bryant and co. have been doing has anything to do with either) but that it is illegitimate to infer substantive conclusions about what exists from arguments about relations between concepts in the way Speculative Realists or their Object-Oriented Ontology subdisciples do. Where is their reality check? Are we just lawyers, quoting anyone and anything to build our case?

If you discover gross incompetence, lack of rigour or dishonesty in an otherwise unimportant section of someone’s work is it weirdly unnatural to want to at least examine the rest of the work with more caution, particularly if the section in question employed a piece of mathematics or physics well outside its domain of applicability with no apparent intellectual goal in mind apart from impressing a presumably scientifically uninitiated humanities audience?

There ought to be a new rule that if you are going to use a piece of mathematics or physics you have to thoroughly explain it and all its technical terms, rather than just saying things like

Bryant wrote:

In both the political and natural register being was conceived as a fully consistent system without knots, exceptions, or any form of incompleteness. For a variety of formal reasons ranging from Goedel’s incompleteness theorems to Russell’s and Cantor’s paradoxes, this framework has increasingly become untenable. However, it’s problematic nature can also be seen at the level of concrete, lived politics. Whether we’re talking about colonialist forms of brutality that simultaneously spoke of universal human rights while treating non-European native populations as lower than animals, or certain socialist movements that claimed to be pursuing universal suffrage while nonetheless treating only industrial workers as genuine subjects, thereby excluding women and minorities, or the manner in which gay theory and political struggle often excludes other queer orientations, again and again we see a “pan-logicism” (identification of thought and being in a pre-existent norm/s) that claims to count everyone, while nonetheless being based on a set of constitutive exclusions.

without so much as a “by your leave I think I’ll have to insist on beginning to chat ridiculous voodoo bullshit right in front of you in broad daylight but you’re not to notice”

Another handy rule might be that since mathematics employs very precise meanings then it should not be used in prose-poetical Continental Philosophy contexts in which (despite CP’s unbelievably ironic label ‘Theory’) metaphysics and ontology are never pursued in any properly theoretical way but tailored purely for some preconceived political end, and where, for example, just as in a good poem in which content and form are inextricably entwined, the metaphysics and ontology are inseparable from their idiosyncratic expression (“différance”, “Dasein” et cetera et cetera ad libitum ad nauseam).

I mean why do ‘Theorists’ need precision anyway? Surely the relative absence from Continental Philosophy of the traditional theoretical apparatus of elucidations, distinctions, justifications and objections and the overabundance of a-theoretical or anti-theoretical modes of writing in all their unsurveyable variety, writing which is, through and through, expressive, declamatory, allusive, hagiographic, programmatic, metaphorical and so on, means that precision is not only irrelevant but potentially lethal to this mallarky?

O fuck it let’s add a rule about not quoting ‘philosophers’ whose work you don’t understand because it’s just a load of nonsense.

sometimes explodes wrote:

…after all, slowing down isn’t actually “getting slower”, it is an acceleration in reverse

I could have said “physics reminds us that slowing down is actually negative acceleration”, but that seems a bit dull

For your second statement, which according to you is the less interesting (it is entirely banal but possesses the advantage of actually meaning something and being physically correct) you have removed the clause from your more ‘theoretically’ interesting first statement, which was concerned with claiming that slowing down has ‘actually’ no connection with “getting slower”, which was in fact what rendered it meaningless .. in that it doesn’t even qualify it as being know ..banal.

But that was only a small segment of the section of your post that I quoted. Here is all of it again:

Acclerationism returns us to a kind of Marxian hallucination of speed in which acceleration is codified as better, regardless of whether or not the physics of acceleration implies forward momentum; after all, slowing down isn’t actually a “getting slower”, it is an acceleration in reverse. At the same time it doesn’t seem to take account of the need to weaponise what is to hand, that operate according to a pragmatic logic of tactical engagement that is nonetheless conditioned by a historical strategy.

The last sentence looks like it has been written by a joke online CP sentence generator. Confining myself to the bit beginning ‘regardless of whether or not the physics of acceleration implies forward momentum’ the use of the catch-all ‘physics’ here immediately sounds the alarm. If an object is taken as having constant mass then its rate of change of momentum with respect to time can be factored separately into a mass term and a term known as the acceleration, so acceleration is a derivative quantity applicable only in this special case – the physics resides in the deeper concept, in the momentum and not as you seem to be implying in the acceleration.

It looks like all you mean is that accelerations can be negative as well as positive and that it’s possible for a speed to be very high but in a negative direction, which I am assuming means something else to you but anyway. This is true, accelerations are ‘vectors’ with both size and direction and their direction can change sign. This is in contrast to the other physics word you invoked, the speed, which is just a number with no direction, a ‘scalar’. I’m still not sure how any of this is relevant to anything in particular but since you are discussing these words in the context of their use by D ‘n’ G acolytes just to clarify: you do know that even if the acceleration is negative, a lower momentum (“slowing down” or “getting slower”) does not mean the same thing as a negative momentum, don’t you? Anyway a negative acceleration will definitely result in an ‘object’ as they say “getting slower.”

So what was the purpose of this metaphorical ramble? Aren’t analogies and metaphors supposed to help clarify matters? What’s the point of invoking scientific concepts even metaphorically that you clearly have only a shaky grasp of while addressing an audience largely made up of non-scientists if it isn’t to make the banal sound profound? And by the way, it was a little bit disingenuous of you to straightforwardly deny that Bryant is a Heideggerian when he got into ‘Speculative Realism’ through his enthusiasm for the work of Graham Harman, a thoroughgoing Heideggerian.

sometimes explodes wrote:

The crux of your argument seems to be that the language used is a obtuse. In D&G that is done on purpose, as is the hijacking of scientific terminology, and it is actually discussed a lot in their work.

And do they discuss it in their routine special private language like deranged identical twins (in which, for example, ‘difference’ is neither numerical nor qualitative (?)) and thereby render what they are pretending to say utterly meaningless? If they were going to pretend that the ‘texts’ they vomited up were supposed to belong to some sort of identifiable theoretical enterprise then why did they disguise their shimmering profundities so completely as fucked-up pseudo-scientific blather worthy of a drunken maniac and then refuse to defend what they appeared to be saying? They were fairly soixanthuitard weren’t they, maybe they just took too much of the good acid?

sometimes explodes wrote:

I know the question of the “average punter” wasn’t directed at me, but seeings as I’m used as some kind of symptom I think I have a right to reply. Who is this “average punter”? I mean really? Because the implication here is that neither myself nor any of the members of the OTW Collective could be considered “average”. What are we then? Is average code for working class? Right, so we have to assume that workers are incapable of engaging with philosophy and theory? Wasn’t this Lenin’s assumption to..? Isn’t it pretty much the justification for the existence of a vanguard?

You’re right I should have been more precise. Nothing shows less respect for the reader than the disruption of clarity, apart from the deliberate destruction of clarity in the cause of simple-minded charlatanism and chicanery.

You seem to be simultaneously having your cake ‘..the implication here is that neither myself nor any of the members of OTW could be considered “average”’ and eating it ‘Is everything anarchists ever write supposed to be exclusively for a non-anarchist audience?’ So are OTW and yourself just (“average”?) workers enjoying a bit of a natter about onto-cartography, or not? It’s probably totally irrelevant but what are the annual incomes of the parents of most philosophy grad students as compared to the rest of the population? Are there philosophy departments in the U.S, England, France, Germany, and Australia with tenured professors from low income backgrounds proportionately representing the world’s many gender and ethnic populations? Not that they don’t deserve their jobs but there really are class issues here just like there are everywhere.

And I don’t know about you – and I don’t think I’m alone here – but I’ve met quite a few anarchists who would neither understand a word of ‘Theory’ (and why would they when in the case of ‘Object-Oriented Ontology’ it’s mostly just lame juxtapositions of different parts of the culture plus a few neologisms wanked obliquely together at microwave frequencies into electromagnetic ripples?) or give a shit, since object-oriented textual criticism/poetry isn’t a central issue in class struggle any more than subject-disoriented lobster sniffing/ballet is and that’s because neither is a particularly revolutionary pastime, so witnessing anarchists wasting their energy on either tends to make them look a wee bit demented to those of us objects whose orientation lies outside CP bubbles.

Bryant wrote:

For example, despite his avoid atheism (I’m not sure of this is neologism or misprint and couldn’t be bothered to check but it makes little difference in CP), I take it that Laplace’s thought is a variant of theistic structure due to the position he grants to the observer in his imaginary thought experiment designed to defend determinism. In imagining a completely deterministic universe, Laplace invites us to imagine an ideal observer that is above and outside of all being and that knows the trajectory, velocity, and position of every particle that composes existence.

Leaving aside the fact that the position and velocity are the trajectory, it is difficult to believe that this is truly able to pass itself off as any form of thinking, let alone philosophy. Bryant alleges that Pierre-Simon de Laplace’s device of imagining a being able to keep track of the momenta and positions of every particle in the universe means he’s a secular god-botherer i.e. Laplace’s method of carrying out a thought experiment in which these two conjugate variables (did you see the bit where I came?) position and momentum, which are necessary for the complete description of the motion of a classical particle and in principle known simultaneously and with infinite accuracy within Newtonian physics, actually do become available to some imaginary entity (hello! thought experiment) for all particles everywhere at some instant of time and then reasoning rather straightforwardly that the laws of Newtonian physics would in such a case in principle allow all future motions to be predicted, laying bare the nature of Newtonian physics itself as he saw it, that this was ‘isomorphic’ (yawn) with…theism. Without knowing it – and without knowing any science – Bryant is in fact alleging that classical mechanics has the same formal structure as a religion (whatever that means)….yyyeah ok.

Bryant wrote:

Structurally this is identical to the position of God in traditional theisms, such that we can assert an isomorphism between Laplace’s thought and these theisms. In short, Laplace presents us with a secular theology.

QED! Laplace published Traite de mecanique celeste, his work removing god from Newton’s system, in the years between 1799 and 1825. Newton had admitted that some seeming irregularities in the movements of the planets had defied all his attempts to explain them. For example the orbit of Saturn was continually, however leisurely, expanding so that if unchecked, it must in the course of a few billion years leave the solar system. And the orbits of Jupiter and the moon were slowly shrinking, so that in the fullness of time Jupiter must be absorbed into the sun and our moon catastrophically swallowed up by the earth. Newton had concluded that god himself must intervene, now and then, to correct such cascading causalities but many astronomers had rejected this desperate hypothesis as outlawed by the nature and principles of science. Laplace showed that these irregularities were due to influences that corrected themselves periodically and that a little patience – in Jupiter’s case 929 years – would see everything automatically returning to order. He concluded that there was no reason why the solar and all stellar systems should not continue to operate on the laws of Newton and Laplace ‘til the end of time.

It was a majestic and dismal conception – the world as a machine, doomed to go on tracing the same diagrams in the sky forever. It had immense influence in promoting a mechanistic view of mind as well as matter, and along with Darwin it undermined Christian theology; God, as Laplace told Napoleon, wasn’t necessary after all. Modern dynamical systems theory has modified these many-body results but then Laplace of course was no dogmatist. “That which we know is a little thing; that which we do not know is immense,” he once said. How evocative of Mr Bryant’s grasp of science that is.

The radioactive count rate after Chernobyl was a hundred times that produced by all nuclear testing from 1945 ‘til 1998. Chernobyl has caused a million deaths worldwide. Fukushima produced ten thousand times the Cernobyl count rate. It’s as if there’s just been a nuclear war in the Pacific. I don’t think you need any of Bryant’s ghoulish ‘theoretical’ body parts to justify a growing awareness of the dangers of a scientific world religion which can propose a reactor on Anglesey after something like that.

With respect to that bit of word-golf in which you proposed that asking for clearly expressed arguments relevant to class struggle on a libertarian communist website implies that I’ve betrayed an underlying vanguardist attitude to (average?) ‘workers’, if you were serious about this and not just retaliating then you need to put away the CP books for a little while comrade ‘cause that’s phantasmagorical, delirious and agonising sophistry. On the other hand, do what you like with your time, it isn’t harming anybody after all, so who am I to say? Everyone needs a hobby. I just don’t feel that it furthers the destruction of capitalism, hierarchy, gets us any nearer to regaining the means of existence etc. but if you like it then go for it. Sure why not? On the other hand, according to philosopher of science James Ladyman,

‘One of the biggest problems facing the arts and humanities is the prevalence of people who think they are engaging with philosophical ideas when in fact they wouldn’t get through the first year of a philosophy degree because of their inability to make themselves clear, to formulate an argument, to separate an epistemological from an ontological issue, and so on. The same narcissism that makes Sokal’s targets think that they are saying deep things about topology, non-linear dynamics, relativity, quantum mechanics and mathematical logic, makes their acolytes believe that if the philosophers they encounter are unimpressed by crude and ill-informed forays into philosophy, this is symptomatic of the narrowness of analytic philosophy as it clings to an outdated modernist/enlightenment paradigm. It is particularly galling that the flaky end of academia regards itself as the vanguard of political progressiveness, and that it is so ready to accuse its critics of defending some imagined hegemony. As Sokal points out repeatedly, without a culture that defends the importance of rigour, reason and evidence, there is little to stand in the way of the naked exercise of power.’

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