Constitutional Contingency

We The People

Buried in Levi Bryant’s brilliant posts at Larval Subjects is this gem from a discussion of Whiteheadian flaws:

It starts from the premise that everything is related, and thereby undermines the most interesting ontological insight and questions. That insight is the insight that how things are related is contingent (other assemblages are always possible). That question is how the relations that do exist, the de facto relations, come to be built (Bryant, Process Philosophy and OOO, 2011).

What Bryant implicitly critiques is, I think, one of the most common mistakes committed in post-Kantian philosophy writ large: namely, the confusion of relation with contingency. According to Bryant, one of the primary problems of Whiteheadian thought is its insistence on universal interrelationship, whereby the ability of objects to exist independent of relations is impossibilized. Indeed, any substantial movement, or movement of substances, is arrested by such a view–be it the rhizometric allowance of exit points in theoretical investigations or literal object-oriented motility–because ubiquitous relation precipitates arborescence, to complete the Deleuzean turn of phrase. Put bluntly, if an object cannot extricate itself nor be extricated from its relations, its motion becomes unidirectional in the sense of being vertical and orthogonal, with relations stacked hierarchically on top of one another like floors in a skyscraper, all leading to teleological climax.

One could argue that an overwhelming interconnectedness of this sort implies that movement in one part of the network shifts the entire sphere, amounting to a waltz of objects. If the dance is made endless, however, then the positionality of an object is not only relative to all others, but its beingness is predicated upon the continuance of relations within the network, itself. An object-oriented correlationism, if you will, through which the identity of objects is exhausted by the totality of their relations, if not specific interactions. If, on the other hand, the loci of relation for an object is contingent upon a severable assemblage, then objects, even when trapped by the spatiotemporal excess of hyperobjects, cannot be exhausted by any relation or system of relations, are ontologically free to roam from one assemblage to the next, and, consequently, retain agency.

So-called “constitutional conservatives,” i.e. strict constructionists who happen to be running for office, epitomize the difference between the totalizing logic of hyperrelationaiity and the democratic drive behind contingency. For a constitutional conservative, like Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, interpretation of the United States Constitution, ratified in 1788, is monolithic and inelastic, as is the document itself. Governmental norms and structures are hyperrelational consequences of the original text, a vertical manifestation of other objects–predominantly people–coming into contact with words and meanings that predate and ground their being, and any form of being, as they are modulated by the hyperobjects of American nationalism and jurisprudence.

Consequently, for strict constructionists, admission of non-originalist applications of Constitutional theory would undermine American being, national and individual alike, by collapsing purportedly eternal constitutional norms into the inherent finitude of the text as both object and ideational apparatus, ultimately giving lie to the subsumption of all experience, object-oriented or anthropocentric, within an imagined founders’ intent. Any wonder, then, that House Speaker Paul Ryan, master of austerity, is hostile to contingent affirmation of the political breath of minorities suffering foreclosure because of econophysical credit schemes, whose nomadic traversal of class barriers shows that constitutional first principles can, and perhaps must, be amended to encompass mutating temporal assemblages and the constant shuffling of objects between one network and the next?

No, no. Conservatives aren’t having any of that. They have to keep people things in their rightful, Right-leaning places.