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The Possibility of an Anti-Humanist Anarchism

by Joff

The Concept of Naturalism

Naturalism is a philosophical position which is open to a multiplicity of possible variations. From a general perspective a naturalist contends that whatever exists exists as natural phenomena. Naturalism thus rejects seeking explanation at the level of the super-natural. Yet, naturalism is not necessarily synonymous with materialism. Materialism is logically distinct from naturalism because naturalism is compatible with varying ontological positions. The chief tenets of naturalism are as follows :

  1. Knowledge of the universe is gained by analysis of "natural objects" which are conditioned by the impact of natural causes. The universe of natural objects is knowable since it is governed by a causal and spatio-temporal order.
  2. Changes in the nature of natural objects are primarily explained through the operations and impacts of natural causes.
  3. A natural cause or system of natural causes which impacts upon a natural object is explainable as a natural process.
  4. The natural order is grasped as a system of natural processes. "Nature is in principle intelligible in all its parts, but it cannot be explained as whole".
  5. A natural methodology discloses the workings of the natural world in terms of natural causes and is testable through examination of the consequences of natural causes.
  6. The natural is intelligible, if and only if, natural processes are regular. As a consequence a natural methodology seeks to disclose natural laws which govern the universe of natural objects. Human beings as natural objects are in principle governed by the same natural processes which account for the change of vegetation and animals. The natural method is thus applicable to the domain of social and mental life. Humans, on this account, are immanent, they are natural objects.
  7. Recourse to nonnatural methodology occurs only in moments of despair. For the most part, all humans naturally apply the natural method since they intrinsically possess natural properties as natural objects.
  8. The practice of reason is consistent with the applicability of the natural method and science is the paradigm of reason's application.
  9. Scientific rationality is not infallible and theories as such are subject to revisions and even abandonment if better theories (more true?) manifest themselves. Science's fallibility implies that there can be no ultimate certitude for any scientific theory. Theories are rigorously tested against rival theories and there is nothing contradictory in believing a theory to be true and recognising that it may well be false by future standards.
  10. Mathematics and geometry do not point toward a transcendent Platonic ontology in which timeless numerical essences reside as distinct from the natural order. As such, numerical entities, according to naturalism, do not necessarily imply nonnatural objects.
  11. Naturalism recognises that are other ways of experiencing the natural world but contends that the only cognitive mode of experience fitting for rigorous explanation is the scientific mode.
  12. Naturalism defends an ontological pluralism which rejects the claim that all natural objects are reducible to one form of natural object. All natural objects share a fixed level of reality. No exceptional natural object is more real than another.
  13. Naturalism recognises that humans are unique in their capacity to hold and pursue values but instead of elevating the species above the rest of nature's inhabitants, naturalism perceives the human species as a natural phenomenon subject to natural laws which can be uncovered by a natural methodology. Naturalism contends that moral disputes are resolvable through the rigorous practice of the natural method. Contra a morally irrefragable intuitionism, naturalism defends the testing of moral arguments and scientific theories alike through the examination of testable consequences. And lastly,
  14. Naturalism is adamantly this-worldly to the extent that it considers philosophical problems as natural problems. Philosophy thus enquires after the human, natural object and speculation concerning transcendent entities is rigorously avoided.

Dialectical Naturalism

Central to the project of dialectical naturalism is the transcendence of the dualism subject/object. Such a project thinks that each conjunct is not immune to the residue of the other. The philosophy of social ecology thus incorporates an ontology of nature which is at once material and subjective.

Subjectivity resides in nature in various degrees and is not exclusive to the mental processes humans possess. If we concede that subjectivity inheres within every element of nature then the hierarchically structured subject/object dualism is rendered questionable by a way of thinking that examines the relationship between entities in terms of what is held in common rather than what is radically other.

The question arises however : from a humanist viewpoint, how can we maintain the uniqueness of the human subject?

Traditionally, the subject is considered as unique precisely because of its capacity to transcend nature through its capacity for self-consciousness. If the transcendence of nature into the realm of culture is rejected as dualistic then it is difficult not to fall into the trap of creating an egalitarian biosphere in which every entity deserves equal respect. Furthermore, is not the introduction of subjectivity within nonhuman nature itself an anthropomorphic gesture?

But a more interesting question is to inquire as to whether one can ever fully extricate a perspective from an anthropomorphic position. Is an other-regarding perspective irredeemably contaminated with anthropomorphic remains? However, Bookchin is guilty more than most on this point in the sense that he is blind to his own anthropomorphizing and yet excessively critical of deep ecology's "biocentric" conception of nature. Dialectical (naturalistic) reason opposes itself to intuitionism and mysticism precisely because of the unreasoned, cloudy and arbitrary nature of visceral feelings. Bookchin is an ardent defender of Enlightenment reason (in the form of Hegel's philosophy of optimism) and thinks that deviation from a commitment to reason is one step nearer to National Socialism whose perverted "ecologism" was based upon intuition and anti-rationalism. Dialectical reason as well as opposing itself to mysticism also critically questions instrumental (conventional) reason which it perceives as one-dimensional and "coldly analytical".

The form of reason Bookchin subscribes to then is a dialectical reason which is organic, critical, developmental yet analytical and ethical. Dialectical reason conceives the interrelationships between particular entities as mediated through the "totality". Entities within the totality are forever unfolding in a perpetual process of coming into being and passing away. This process is a process of becoming which Bookchin derives from Heraclitus and later in Hegel. Nature is then in a process of continual development and each entity has boundaries which are continually being redefined. Bookchin's philosophy of nature then perceives the working of dialectics in the sphere of nature, society and consciousness.

It is at this point that we begin to see the questionable omnipresence of dialectics. It is her draws out those contradictory aspects of a thing and thus renders them explicit. In this way, implicit potentiality is given its full actuality or realisation. Bookchin is aware that one of the assumptions necessary for this perception is that there is teleological development towards greater complexity or differentiation within the universe. Dialectical naturalism celebrates the process of "natural" becoming and advances a "vision of wholeness, fullness, and richness of differentiation and subjectivity." Reason is defended here as the means through which latent potentialities are identified. Thus, the unleashing of latent potentialities by the articulation of reason, for Bookchin, is the means through which social development occurs. A "rational society" emerges out of the unfolding process of reason's development.

In a clear sense then, the abandonment of reason which Bookchin perceives in several areas of social life signals the combined obsolescence of social development and the excrescence of the irrational. A social ecology is thus considered ethical given the prescriptive ethical import in the statement that being "must ripen into the fullness of its being". The political question which arises is : who is to decide what constitutes the fullness of a being's being? Who is to decide what a being is to become? And furthermore, what are the means for disclosing the constitution of a being's being?

It is also legitimate to ask whether the warping of the development of an entity within nature by another entity constitutes an unethical act? If this were so, then animals, plant and insects, would be humorously considered to live unethically. In the human sphere, the political implications would necessarily encourage passivity in a global agreement to let all being be in order for them to fulfil their latent potentiality.

But perhaps these questions are unwarranted. Perhaps we are trying to extract a confession from Bookchin under duress. Bookchin replies to the question concerning ethical acts by maintaining a strict incommensurability between process-orientated dialectical philosophy and "analytical" philosophy which directs its attentions to "brute facts." Bookchin considers that answers to dialectical questions can only be answered by dialectics and hence dialectical reason. A logic premised on the principle of identity A equals A, can hardly be used to test the validity of a logic premised on A equals A and not-A.

It is here that the dispute with antihumanism, mysticism and "postmodernism" appears in bold relief. Bookchin is contesting the dominance of other forms of nondialectical reason. Other forms of consciousness and different ways of conceiving the workings of things are considered as a betrayal of social development, a betrayal of Enlightenment ideals and their overt quest for liberation. In more ordinary terms one could say that this is sheer intolerance (of diversity, of other voices) on Bookchin's part. Professor Kovel in examining the invective in Bookchin's prose contends : "Dialectic, instead of unfolding, becomes static, frozen in an endless series of vendettas". In less personalistic terms, we could argue that the reconstructed Hegelian logic Bookchin employs renders the existence of positive differences problematic.

Rhizomatic Naturalism

The potential incommensurability between the naturalist ontologies of Deleuze and Bookchin will now be assessed. But firstly the organic metaphor or "image" of the rhizome will receive attention.

Rhizome, dualism and supersession

We shall concern ourselves here with an alternative image of thought whose alternative perspective is anarchistic (for it essentially opposes itself to an image of thought which is State-orientated). One possible objection is that the reading here is too literal.

The objection is taken on board but what is significant is the tracing of potential affinities between the perception of thought as nomadic and experimental and the traditional political philosophy of anarchism. Deleuze and Guattari are principally interested in lines of flight and moments of deterritorialisation that escape the binary coding of the State apparatus. Deleuze and Guattari think becomings, multiplicities, and proliferation as a form of counter-praxis to binary oppositions. They are interested in what escapes from social cleavages. Instead of East-West they look for the ruptures and breakthroughs that are occurring elsewhere. Thinking otherwise than molarity (the molar), they seek to disclose rebellions in the North and the South.

Molecularity is discerned as a potential site of creativity and refusal. Normal identities, binary-molar apparatuses (male/female, culture/nature) are contrasted with provisional identities of becoming. The rhizome is an image of thought which attempts to account for thought's trajectory and speed. It is contrasted to the traditional image of Occidental thought, the tree and the root. The rhizome is different from roots and radicles. Rats which swarm over each other are invoked as an instance of a rhizome. Rhizome contains both lines of segmentarity (recuperation) and lines of deterritorialisation (escape). Rhizomes are compared with arborescent structures. The rhizome contains elements which resist the sedentary structures of hierarchy and centralised organs.

Deleuze and Guattari do not merely affirm one component of the dualism in favour of the other. This point is argued by Tomlinson : "All Deleuze's "systems" can be regarded as temporary strategic constructions, as the transitory fortifications of an advancing nomadic war machine". For Deleuze and Guattari, there are knots of arborescence in rhizomes and rhizomatic offshoots in roots. In summa : rhizomes are acentred, nonhierarchical and are best defined as permitting the circulation of evasive states of intensity.

The model of the rhizome examines what flees and what is produced by fleeing. Couchgrass is a wonderful image Deleuze and Guattari provide in order to distinguish the growth of grass as distinct from the growth of trees. Couchgrass grows between paving stones, it springs up everywhere. Couchgrass is a weed, it is rhizomatic.

The production of desire, for Deleuze and Guattari, is looked upon as a rhizomatic process. The rhizome is above all a way of grasping connection and coupling, a way of understanding extra-textual relationships (the effect of a book on the reader's intensity "outside" of a book). In the case of writing, Deleuze and Guattari maintain : "Writing webs a war machine and lines of flight, abandoning the strata, segmentarities, sedantarity, the State apparatus".

The question arises : to what extent are the concepts of the rhizome and horizontality useful as tools for social ecology and anarchism? Kropotkin elaborated, contra Darwin, a conception of evolution that emphasised the role of mutual aid in social evolution. The rhizome shares similar features with Kropotkin's notion of the affinity group which is a collectivity that spontaneously emerges for specific needs or ends.

In thinking the relationship between Deleuzian PS and ecological politics, Patrick Hayden contends that Deleuze expounds a naturalistic ontology. Hayden reworks the concept of naturalism in order to account for Deleuze's critique of the "verticality" of Occidental thought.

Two troubling lacunas are present in Hayden's analysis. The first is that Hayden fails to expose Deleuze's employment of "machinic" metaphors which are the bedrock of Deleuze's rhizomatic philosophy. The second is that there is dearth of analysis concerning the impact of Nietzsche's lebensphilosophie upon Deleuze's philosophical trajectory.

On Hayden's interpretation, Deleuze's naturalism celebrates the interrelationships between human and nonhuman life without recourse to metaphysically static binary oppositions (essence/appearance). The pragmatics of Deleuzian naturalism asks for the "effects" a way of thinking have upon us. Thus, Hayden is right to note the search for different ways of living and thinking by Deleuze and Guattari which are sensitive to and in tune with the environment.

Hayden fails to note the effect of Nietzsche's philosophy of innocent becoming and this-worldly atheism upon Deleuze's own thinking. In looking for a way of thinking which escapes Platonism's positing of pure transcendent Being (the real of Ideas), Deleuze seeks to re-unite the (bio)-diversity of the natural world with the natural world's "real conditions of material difference and process of becoming".

Deleuze develops a pluralistic naturalism through a reading of Lucretius and Spinoza. In thinking through the concept of nature, Deleuze reads Lucretius as refusing to succumb to the temptation to totalise. In refusing to seek a final unification of the different elements of nature, what is celebrated is precisely the diversity and difference which inheres within nature. This refusal connects up with tenet (naturalism) 4 outlined above. The realm of Ideas is jettisoned for it supports the idea that nature is an imperfect copy of transcendent Being. Individuals, species, environments are considered as non-totalisable sums. The multiple is celebrated over the One. Deleuze reads nature distributively, that is to say, as an open ended interplay of the various plurality of elements which compose it. Nature is a continuous process of becoming, a process of formation and deformation.

Deleuze searches for a way of thinking that can align itself with the fluctuations of "reality". If nature fluctuates because it is continually becoming then a rigid dichotomy (humanity and nature) is an unsuitable tool for describing such a reality. This is precisely the point that needs to be underscored.

Deleuze and his collaborator, Guattari, call for a way of thinking that celebrates the different and the singular which counters the urge to totalise or unify. The plane of immanence is the concept employed to celebrate difference and singularities. Deleuze and Guattari's model of evolution rejects the arborescent image of thought based upon descent (genealogy) in favour of a rhizomatic conception of species development in which the "traversality" of species combined with a continuous interaction with the external environment is given greater weight.

The political dimension to Deleuze's naturalism takes the form, according to Hayden, of a creativity of concepts, practices, and values which "best promote the collective life and interests of diverse modes of existence inhabiting the planet". Deleuze's micropolitical analysis thus examines local, often temporary ecological situations. In doing so, ecological activism, as one struggle amongst many , steers clear of "universal abstractions" (the ideal of equality for all) and thus concentrates on the particular and the singular.

Furthermore, Guattari stresses micropolitical processes with respect to the workings of molecular revolutions. Thus spoke Guattari : For the last decade [1970s] battle lines widely different from those which previously characterised the traditional workers movement have not ceased to multiply (immigrant workers, skilled workers unhappy with the kind of work imposed on them, the unemployed, over exploited women, ecologists, nationalists, mental patients, homosexuals, the elderly, the young etc.).. But will their objectives become just another "demand acceptable to the system" or will vectors of molecular revolution begin to proliferate behind them.

The rejection of universal abstractions does not necessarily entail the outright refusal to examine macropolitical phenomena. As Deleuze says : "every politics is simultaneously a macropolitics and a micropolitics". Deleuze perceives ecological problems in terms of the translation between local and global ecosystems. Deleuze analyses the construction of the planetary ecosystem beginning with the combination and intersection of local phenomena which together compose the global ecosystem.

For the purposes of the central contention of this thesis, we ought to make a comparison between the rhizomatic-thinking of Deleuze and the social ecology of Bookchin. Bookchin's social ecology argues that the domination of nature stems from a deeply entrenched historical domination of human by human. Reason and domination, on this account, are mutually exclusive. Integrated World Capitalism infects "reason" with a contaminated conception of reason which desires production for the sake of production (instrumental means/end reason).

The message is clear : it is only by reconfiguring a radical (uprooting) revolutionary politics that reason's struggle will be victorious. Bookchin defends such an uprooting of thought, praxis and values by enunciating the value of decentralised communities which practice locally based democracy. Furthermore, Bookchin's dialectical naturalism re-situates human and nonhuman life within bioregions which are sensitive to complex evolutionary phenomena. Human and nonhuman are intertwined and function according to the ecological principle of mutualism or symbiosis. Other noteworthy precepts of social ecology include the implementation of environmentally friendly (alternative) technologies (solar power, wind power and so on) and the celebration of cultural (ethnic, local) and biophysical diversity.

Hayden claims that there are points of intersection here between social ecology and rhizomatic thinking. However, Bookchin has attacked Deleuze regarding the explicit anti-humanism which pervades his work. PS, in general, is rejected given its decentring of "Man". On the other hand, Deleuze wishes to transcend what he sees as a one-dimensional Enlightenment rationality and more particularly the unchallenged march toward a rational society by Marxist theoreticians. The presuppositions underlying the idea of progress and the teleological belief in the messianic ending of history with the arrival of heaven on earth is further attacked by Deleuze who wishes to think free from systems of closure. Deleuze's philosophy seeks to leap over the "deterministic presuppositions of traditional essentialism and humanism" which are evident in Bookchin's paean to Hegelian dialectics.

Hayden's point is that Bookchin examines only one surface of ecological phenomena namely its "inner" dialectical development without seeing phenomena as entwined with an "outside". Hayden's analysis is fundamentally weakened given the fact that one of Deleuze's main influences was Nietzsche who inaugurated a "deconstructive" practice that sought to chiefly expose the hidden motivations lurking in Occidental thought, namely philosophy's hidden desire or will-to-power. The concept of becoming is centripetal to Nietzsche's philosophy of the eternal recurrence and the Will-to-Power. Yet, a grasping of the critique of the transcendent world of essences, the beyond or Nirvana by an immanent rhizomatic naturalism is blunted without recourse to the becoming-Nietzsche of Deleuze.

Nietzsche set in train one of the most hostile critiques of Christianity and of Occidental culture and Nietzsche was one of the main spurs for Deleuze's philosophy of affirmation. To grasp the meaning of Deleuze's plane of immanence thus requires foregrounding Spinoza's and Nietzsche's philosophies of power and affectivity. Hayden fails to provide such an analysis.

In contrast to Hayden, Gare notes the impacts of Nietzsche and Bergson upon Deleuze's thinking and contends that Deleuze constructs a Nietzschean philosophy of nature out of philosophy, mathematics and scientific advances. More importantly, several of Deleuze's chief concepts are omitted from Hayden's otherwise thought-provoking essay. The machinic assemblage, the Body-without-Organs (BwO), and the mechanosphere receive no mention whatsoever. Such a selective reading cannot but give the impression that Deleuze and Guattari enunciated a soft and woolly passivity. On the contrary, Guattari calls for ever greater control and manipulation of the "mechanosphere" given the constant human abuse of fragile ecosystems.

Furthermore, it can be argued that Deleuze and Guattari's collaborative Anti-Oedipus enterprise was directed toward a rethinking and reconstruction of ontology itself. The a naturalistic ontology ought to be put into parentheses here. The traditional tools of ontology (being, object, qualities, pairs) are replaced by Deleuze and Guattari with the concepts of planes, intensities, flows, becomings, and couplings. Rigid binary oppositions (a chief example is the man/woman dualism) are avoided and in their place we find "a continuum of interacting embodied subjectivities".

Yet, it is legitimate to inquire as to whether a machinic ontology is necessarily gender neutral or nature oppressive. Grosz and others have been quick off the mark to note the potentially sexist metaphors employed by Deleuze and Guattari. The use of machinic metaphors may well express a phallic drive whose obvious desire is to plug into, couple up and oppressively connect up with everything it can dominate.


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