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.

Becoming Worthy

Climate Change Activists Demonstrate On Wall Street

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari once wrote, “Philosophy’s sole aim is to become worthy of the event.” For the pair of French thinkers, the difference between philosophy and science is that the former deals with concepts, while the latter explores functions. If that’s the case, what concepts must be (re)created in the 21st Century to understand the assemblage of functions that comprises our “civil” society? How can we rethink how we think to better imagine a more emancipatory future?

Becoming A Lyrebird

Lyrebirds are among Australia’s most famous native species, owing largely to an ability to mimic the natural and synthetic sounds of their habitat. Equipped with the most complexly muscled syrinx of any passerine, or songbird, the lyrebird’s call commonly includes the individual songs of other birds, along with less familiar sounds, like chainsaws, car alarms, camera shutters, barking dogs, and the human voice. What awes us about the bird is not simply mimicry, however, but the process by which it sheds its metaphorical plumage to become something foreign, concurrently rendering and recasting the surrounding soundscape with such fidelity that most animals sharing space with it are fooled. In this way, the lyrebird points toward the potential of rhizometry–the capacity the conceive our world(s) horizontally, rather than hierarchically–to undermine the essentialized origins and destinations of identity, unveiling becoming as a universal processual flow through which supposedly fixed and pre-given assemblages may be changed.

Consider, then, the implications of the lyrebird for an ecopolitics reduced to a struggle against ecclesiasticized capitalist modernity, as was evinced by Donald Trump’s assertion  about the Environmental Protection Agency during the 2016 presidential elected that, once elected, he was “going to get rid of it in almost every form. We’re going to have little tidbits left but we’re going to take a tremendous amount out.” (He’s well on his way to achieving that goal.) Rather than extol secular deconstruction over political ontotheology, the lyrebird croons about the relational expansion of potential into power when one becomes the other. As Deleuze and Guattari instruct:

A becoming is neither one nor two, nor the relation of the two; it is the in-between…a zone of proximity and indiscernability, a no-man’s land, a nonlocalizable relation sweeping up the two distant or contiguous points, carrying one into the proximity of the other–and border-proximity is indifferent to both contiguity and distance (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 1987).

For the example cited above, a politics of becoming would carry environmental debates–from global climate change to the entrapment of nature-cultures within systems of biopolitical exploitation–into interstitial domains, where an intersubjective negotiation of identity can, like the fluid acoustic narrative of the lyrebird, enable coeval, but dissonant identities within pluralistic communities to carve space for a new political identities to be articulated. One thinks of the competing claims of protestors at Standing Rock, where privileged white entertainers mixed with abjected Native Americans–themselves a protestor population representing hundreds of tribes–to turn back the Dakota Access Pipeline under the appellation of “water protector.”

If all politics is identity politics–an idea we must take seriously in the Age of Trump–then we must also recall that subject positions, like borders, are nominal, not natural. Exploring our own capacity to become-other than the positions we currently occupy will be mandatory in confronting the challenges long, hard Trump years to come.