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The Possibility of an Anti-Humanist Anarchism

by Joff


Guattari's later work unequivocally aligns itself with thinking of a green hue. Guattari's Les Trois Ecologies will receive examination here.

A triadic ecology problematises the subject/object dualism. The subject is decentralised and configured from an exteriority of components (the unconscious, the body). Guattari names these as components of subjectification. The hermetic self-certain interiority articulated by Descartes is questioned by Guattari for its one-dimensional emphasis. There are other "ways of existing" which would seem to be irreducible to the "realm of consciousness".

Guattari is principally interested in the possible emergence of new paradigms of ethico-aesthetic thinking and praxis. Such paradigms rethink the relationship between human subjectivity and the context (environment) within which it engages. Subjectivity seems to imply the role of the unconscious in relation to the human and natural environment. In comparison, Bookchin's analysis of the unconscious is conspicuously absent in his philosophy.

With emphasis upon the creative potentiality of subjectivity or new ways of existing, Guattari looks toward the future. He is in effect offering a "futurist agenda". Such a futurist agenda attempts to think the intersection of the human with cybernetics and more particularly with computer-aided subjectivity. In schizoanalysing the ecological, a cartography of subjectivity transcends predefined territorial limits (the orthodoxy of Oedipus for example) with the formation of new perspectives "without prior recourse to assured theoretical foundations or the authority of a group, school, conservatory, or academy".

New perspectives emerge from the intersection of social, mental, and environmental ecologies. The triadic intersection of the socius, the psyche, and "nature", Guattari believes, is an essential nodal point for decoding the general degradation of social relationships, the mind, and the environment. Guattari refuses to separate the elements of the triad. In schizoanalytic language, they form an assemblage. Schizoanalytical social ecology challenges the dualism between nature and culture with the perception that nature and culture are inseparable. Neither "human work" or the "natural habitat" are legitimate either/or choices. A "transversal" understanding of the interactions between ecosystems, the "mechanosphere" and social and individual universes of reference is encouraged by Guattari in order to rethink the possible detrimental effects of isolated social, psychological and environmental ecologies.

It should be noted Guattari is arguing from an anthropocentric as opposed to biocentric viewpoint. Guattari and Negri claim that communism's "call to life" celebrates the slender hope of a reconfigured human solidarity. However, this observation needs to be balanced for the argument presupposes the very dualism which is brought into question. Guattari does not wish to rehearse traditional debates. In a very important sense he is calling for a new eco-logic.

This eco-logic is a "logic of intensities" which examines "the movement and intensity of evolutive processes". What Guattari is seeking to describe are "processual lines of flight" that are secreted from entrenched totalities and identities. In other words Guattari is attempting to think of one-off events which once combined with subjective assemblages provide examples of new existential configurations in which social, psychic and natural elements function in a nondestructive milieu. The political project of triadic ecological praxes is the affirmation of new forms of subjectivity (new forms of knowledge, culture, sensibility, and sociability).

The social ecologies of Bookchin and Guattari both see capitalism as a system of economics hostile to the life of ecosystems. Yet, Guattari is innovative from the viewpoint of capitalism's tactic of "intension", that is to say, the way capitalism nestles into "unconscious levels of subjectivity". Guattari drives the point home :

It has become imperative to confront the effects of capitalist power on the mental ecology of daily life, whether individual, domestic, conjugal, neighbourly, creative, or personal-ethical".

Processes of re-singularisation and the practice of the art of dissensus rather than a "mind-numbing" or levelling consensus are defended by Guattari as tactics to de-stabilise capitalist subjectivity. It must be borne in mind that Guattari is advancing a generalised ecology which incorporates the "whole of subjectivity and capitalist power formations". A generalised ecology eschews a sole concern for the welfare of animals or trees. Yet, it also refuses to rigidly demarcate the three ecologies. The art of the eco endeavours to formulate this kind of "praxis openness".

On the subject of mental ecology and the ambivalence of desire, Guattari makes the interesting point that violence is the consequence of complex subjective assemblages and not an essential attribute of the human species. Guattari maintains that violence is not "intrinsically inscribed in the essence of the human species". This would seem to trouble Bookchin's alignment of Deleuze and Guattari with an anti-humanism.

Bookchin is eager to denounce those he sees as condemning the human species (or what he calls humanity) for its apparently disastrous effects upon the environment. If capitalism or Integrated World Capitalism (Guattari's concept) is to be challenged then new values, and new ecological praxes must be invented.

Guattari believes that an environmental ecology of the future ought to be much more than a "mere defence of nature". It is worth quoting Guattari in full here :

Increasingly in future, the maintenance of natural equilibria will be dependent upon human intervention; the time will come, for example, when massive programmes will have to be set in train to regulate the relationship between oxygen, ozone, and carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere. In this perspective, environmental ecology could equally be re-named "machinic ecology", since both cosmic and human practice are nothing if not machinic - indeed they are machines of war, in so far as "Nature" has always been at war with life!"

What Guattari means by the comment that "Nature" has always been at war with life is far from clear. Furthermore, the meaning of Guattari's demand for an ethics and politics fitting for the technological developments which are under way in respect of the "general destiny of humanity" is even less clear. Yet, Guattari's continual reference to humanity ought to repel the designation of Guattari as a vulgar anti-humanist. Moreover, Guattari's open call for a return of the practice of resingularisation and his affirmation of the art of dissensus rather than "neo-liberal consensus" does not necessarily imply that Guattari was anti-universalist. Contra Ferry's reading of differential thinking, resingularisation (process of becoming and mode of experimentation) does not necessarily imply universalism (legal rights for the whole of humanity). What Guattari points toward are the technological developments (data-processing, genetic engineering) which mean that the definitions of the human being are increasingly subject to forces of an alien and exterior nature. Such a subjection requires a rethinking of the human subject in relation to its environment and its future(s).

Postmodern Nihilism

A hindered and bleak perspective regarding postmodernism inevitably reads postmodernism as nihilistic. Such an ungenerous perspective is evident in the work of Bookchin. Hardly alien to idiosyncrasy itself, anarchism ought to find it fruitful to listen openly to the (dark) theorists of the postmodern. Instead of outlawing the apparently idiosyncratic "philosophical tendencies" of Foucault, Deleuze et al, it is better to seek common ground than to secrete a theoretical xenophobia of sorts.

Bookchin is correct in noting the post-modern question mark next to an unreflective affirmation of economic, market-driven progress. Bookchin's perspective is however myopic with respect to postmodernism's disillusionment in progress (progress for the sake of progress) for a disillusionment is also convalescence, a time for reflection, and is preparatory for an affirmation of human identity and destiny upon albeit radically renewed lines.

For the purposes of this thesis, Foucault and Deleuze will be defended against Bookchin's reading of "postmodern nihilism", though Bookchin is obviously correct in noting Deleuze and Guattari's questioning of grand narratives. Obviously if we reject all grand narratives then social ecology's grand narrative of human liberation must also be rejected.

The May-June evenements of 1968 are of utmost importance if we are to understand the impetus behind "leftist" postmodernism. At times, Bookchin seems to echo Jameson's conclusions concerning the phenomena of postmodernism. Bookchin in chartering the tendencies of postmodernism contends : Postmodern is not only a nihilistic reaction to the failures imputed to Enlightenment ideals of reason, science, and progress but more proximately a cultural reaction to the failures of various socialisms to achieve a rational society in France and elsewhere in our country.

From Bookchin's Hegelian perspective, it is consistent to view a philosophy which reads otherness and difference to be positive, as hostile to Hegel's grand narrative of the unfolding and omnivorous "Spirit". One of the chief problems of Bookchin's rejection of postmodernism is its failure to critique the very ideas which are densely articulated. Instead, a sociology of knowledge is provided which is blandly Marxist in the correlation of a fragmentary economic system and ideas which express that fragmentation. The content of postmodern ideas is not under the microscope of analysis. Bookchin instead connects the social function of philosophy with the prevailing economic system. Postmodernism from this perspective is merely an ideological support for the febrility of contemporary civilisation. But let us remember that Bookchin is writing from a political and anarchist point of view.

Basically, Bookchin's rejection of postmodernism is anchored in its questioning of the intellectual value of truth, objectivity (as opposed to relativism), rationality (as opposed to mysticism), progress (as opposed to romanticism), and universality (as opposed to the particular and irrecuperable). Such values ground anarchist philosophy in the Enlightenment tradition. Thus, from Bookchin evanescent, local and individual occurrences and thus fail to answer the wider social questions which explore the potentiality for liberation of populations and societies (free from domination and hierarchy).

This reading of desiring-machines as essentially insular and hermetic machinic assemblages is rejected by Massumi who contends that :

"Becomings are everywhere in capitalism, but they are always separated from their full potential, from the thing they need most to run their course : a population free for the mutating".

Massumi demonstrates a concern for the destruction of nature when he makes the telling point that :

"The absolute limit of capitalism must be shifted back from planetary death to becoming-other".

What is of significance for Massumi and others are the lines of flight rather than the lines of death that both equally are secreted out from the machinic workings of Capital.

To drive the point home : The equilibrium of the physical environment must be established, so that cultures may go on living and learn to live more intensely at a state far from equilibrium. Depletion must end, that we may devote ourselves to our true destiny : dissipation. The value, celebration and examination of local upsurges and ephemeral confrontations is precisely a lacuna which dilutes the impact Bookchin's analysis.

Bookchin is also inconsistent in two significant places. Firstly, in order to affirm the fertility of Deleuze's affirmative philosophy we will look at the relationship between PS and anarchism more closely. It will be argued that Bookchin's social ecology was pre-programmed to forsake a potential ally primarily because of the presuppositions derived from a Hegelian heritage. Secondly, the "nomadological politics" of Deleuze and Guattari and the "insurrectionary" politics of Foucault offer a tactical and political methodology for confronting congealed power relations and for understanding the cancerous birth of micro-fascism.

Bookchin fails to assess the possible productive relationship between the affinity group (classical anarchism's model of social organisation) and the local and temporal coalitions of "nomadological" revolutionaries. If anarchism cannot function in the absence of overarching and transcendent principles then anarchism runs the risk of abandoning fruitful tactical coalitions along ecological, racial, class and gender lines. Ironically, Bookchin in his celebration of 1968 endorses the very molecular revolutions Deleuze and Guattari sought to theorise concretely. Bookchin spoke thus : It is clear that a molecular process was going on in France, completely invisible to the most conscious revolutionaries, a process that the barricades precipitated into revolutionary action.

Poststructuralist Anarchism

Todd May formulates the relationship between anarchism and PS political philosophy in terms of PS thought forming a framework for thinking the concrete and particular without recourse to universal transcendent ideals. May constructs a "triadic" ethical schema which distinguishes formal, strategic and tactical political philosophies. Formal political philosophy would include the abstract formulations of Rawls or Nozick. Formal philosophy would thus defend one pole of the is-ought dichotomy. A strategic political philosophy approaches the is-ought dichotomy in terms of the tension in-between the two. The in-between neither supports one nor the other disjunct but thinks the relationship in terms of application and real political programmes. Thus, Lenin in asking "what is to be done?" is exploring the abstract formalism of political philosophy in connection with the pragmatic utilitarian sphere of politics. A strategic analysis is therefore encompassing and unitary in the sense that it tends toward single goals, for example, the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Tactical political philosophy is more akin to the uprisings of 1968. Rejecting representation in the form of a vanguard party whose goal is the articulation of worker's interests (for the "people" cannot formulate their own interests!), a tactical analysis is bound to the particular and the multiple. Concern with universal interests emanating from a particular group or class are absent from tactical PS philosophy.

In this sense, May contends, anarchism, at least in the classical anarchism of Kropotkin and Proudhon, is a precursor of French PS. Contra the coercion endemic in the coldest of all cold monsters, classical anarchism desires maximum freedom beyond the realm of domination. PS's denunciation of the domination of marginal groups (homosexuals, ethnic) clearly has principles compatible with an orthodox anarchist position.

The differences and similarities between classical anarchism and PS political philosophy are identifiable with respect to the constitution of power. Tactical thinking perceives power as dispersed throughout the socius whereas traditional conceptions of power consider power as emanating from a central source (the State). Kropotkin believes that power stifles chaotic-order and voluntary mutual aid organisations such as the lifeboat association (one could call this self-organisation or autopoiesis in modern terms). And this is precisely the point that philosophers like Deleuze and Foucault contest.

Deleuze disputes the a priori assumption that power necessarily suppresses and as such power is not necessarily the negation of humanity. There is nothing lurking primordially or existing pre-formed behind the alienated worker and no true knowledge waiting to be appear from the veil of ideological manipulation. In anarchist terms, there is a definite, albeit ahistorical and abstract, human essence waiting to emerge from the inhumanity of life under Capital. The paradox, of course, of the anarchist view of the human animal is as follows : if the human animal is naturally social then why is the State's existence such a widespread phenomena? If the State presumably acts contrary to humanity's "true" nature then why have humans implemented the most ruthless and predatory economic system human history has ever seen? Thus, anarchism from the perspective of PS philosophy is staid if it retains the assumptions of a benign human essence and the suppression assumption regarding the effects of power.

The negation of humanist naturalism affirms instead the creativity of power as a process of constitution-constituted between the subject and object of power. The subject is simultaneously a produced-producer rather than merely a producer from forces of an altogether alien nature.

It ought to be noted that classical anarchism is not a homogeneous "movement". Emma Goldman's thinking is difficult to incorporate into a humanist naturalism mould, for she adopted a Nietzschean philosophy of affirmation which in principle is prospective, that is to say, it concerns itself with the future as a possibilising of experimental (inhuman) becomings and practices.

Furthermore, a more contemporary anarchist, Colin Ward explicitly abandons humanist essentialism which perceives human consciousness as the centre of the universe and the ordering principle which orders everything around it. Ward in his discussion of the interaction of complexity, order, and harmony maintains that : Anarchy is a function, not of a society's simplicity and lack of social organisation, but of its complexity and multiplicity of social organisations.

Cybernetics, the science of control and communication throws valuable light on the anarchist conception of the complex self-organising process... The anarchist alternative is that of fragmentation, fission rather than fusion, diversity rather than unity, a mass of societies rather than a mass society. If consciousness is both product and producer then a theoretical resistance to a de-centring of consciousness is in danger of producing its own anthropocentric arrogance. A PS anarchism thus examines the positivity of power and also must search for a paradigm of thought which transcends a narrow humanist essentialism.


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