An arcane title such as this is off-putting; it reduces the chances of anyone deciding to look into it further. Yet on this occasion, I have nothing to gain by pulling in those nomads of the internet who click mindlessly through to 'fifty things you didn't know about whatever' or 'such-and-such is dead' or any of the other rhetorical traps I have set as honeypots to drive attention towards my own thoughts. Driving attention has become part of the problem: we have consented to be distracted, to be entertained. And part of my problem is that I do not think this is wrong so much as I think it is out of hand, and I do not yet know what a reasonable response would look like. I doubt anyone does.
The title is not, however, constructed at random: it is a very precise reference to our situation, combining as it does an archaic term used in Kant's précis of his Critique of Pure Reason – the very architecture of the 'modern' mythos, as Latour and others attest – and Alain Badiou's use of 'manifesto' in his short books that summarise his major works. I recently finished Badiou's Second Manifesto for Philosophy, and it has left me wondering more than anything: can I even conceive of a manifesto? To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I couldn't commit to a manifesto that had me as its author. The thought of getting my point of view across succinctly appeals; casting down anything authoritative, well, you can understand my hesitation!
The problem with manifestos, movements, and indeed with taking action in general, is that which Hannah Arendt beautifully appreciated: you can never be sure, when you commit to a course of action, what the outcome will ultimately be. Look at that other famous Marx, and his Communist Manifesto: setting off for laudable ideals of equality released the most horrific violence our planet has ever witnessed. The worst, that is, unless we count those extinctions that have left such a permanent mark upon our planet that even sober scientists deign to call them 'events'. We are going through one right now. If I were to commit to action at this time, would it not have to be towards a direction that minimized the eventual loss of life and diversity our catastrophic mishandling of the Enlightenment has unleashed?
Yet at the same time, my 'platform' (as they say in media circles) is in games – and increasingly invested within the aesthetics of play at that! There are many more people willing to talk to me in this context than any other, and here we are back at the problem of distraction: games have succeeded beyond anyone's dreams as a commercial medium, but they are still marginal as an art form. Do I feel – can I allow myself the luxury of feeling – that a movement in art is worthy of a manifesto at this time? And even if it was, would I be the one to pursue it? Here, I seem better suited to a role as intellectual cheerleader, which perhaps is more helpful than it might first appear.
Where then, to manifest a manifesto? I should look to my influences for guidance, and my first port of call (historically, at least) must be Kant. His original 1781 critique, and the 1783 Prolegemena to Any Future Metaphysics that summarized it, set up the presumed requirements for any scientific metaphysics (or mythology, if you will) and this approach eventually dominated thought, even until now. It spread, via the sciences, to every nation plausibly reading this. Kant had the most honourable reasons for establishing this perspective, but he could not have anticipated its consequences, as Arendt warned in more general terms. Nonetheless, his split into subjective and objective has led us into making measurement the foundation of reality, and creating an era that, as Einstein warned, perfects its means while muddling its ends.
The comforting idea of severing circumstances from general patterns that Kant skillfully reasoned has gone on to become the core principle of our age – the wellspring of the asserted authority of the sciences. Someone willing to speak in that name is always available as a portable expert, provided research funds are available. But this a sad substitute for democracy, let alone some equal form of governance, were something like that to prove both possible and desirable. We have mangled what is valuable in both politics and the sciences, and this part of our mythology needs substantial re-writing if we have any hope of living together for any significant further length of time.
But what, we must ask, could replace faith in the order of nature, that unacknowledged premise of contemporary 'rationality' quietly critiqued by Alfred North Whitehead at the dawn of the twentieth century? Human experience is not to be trusted, after all, we are tainted with dreaded subjectivity (so the story goes). Mind you, this neglects to mention that we must already have elevated measurement to our sacred value before this could possibly become our credo. As Nietzsche warned, it is the strongest faith we have, far beyond that professed within any religious tradition. Doubt in God, why of course – only a fool had never entertained the scepticism of the masses, even if only briefly. But doubt in the sciences, surely not, since they alone reveals reality – provided we constrain that contested phrase to measurement alone.
No, I cannot write a manifesto because I still lack faith: I cannot match the faith of the rational worshippers of technological saviours; or the servants of blood who can tell who belongs to a nation or who is unquestionably foreign; or the idolaters who place books or rules ahead of the God they claim to serve. But I can no longer rest content with furiously criticising them either. They are all my sisters and brothers, and I love them. But I cannot simply let them destroy all our cousins, those other animals neither cursed nor blessed with the 'divine madness' of mathematics, let alone our own wonderful, miserable kind.
I have to act somehow. But – for now, at least – it must be without a manifesto to guide me. Such a thing could too easily become objective – or worse, an objective! – and thus irretrievably static. What I need is isn't a manifesto, but a practice, a good practice like that found at the heart of impressionist painting, Islam, radio astronomy, tantric yoga, differential calculus - or myriad other things, many of which I haven't even heard of.
And I have one, I suppose – I still have this much faith, at least – one I call virtuous discourse, or the Republic of Bloggers, or letter writing. It is communicating with intelligence and civility, sometimes across metaphysical gulfs so vast it might seem as if we could never understand one another. Yet, nonetheless we do, at least when we make the effort to try. Many worlds trying to live as one, and many voices sharing in this very-old, very-new practice. Together, perhaps there are things we can do that we could not even conceive of alone. At the very least, it is worth the attempt. Any manifesto I might be unfortunate enough to author would have to be built first and foremost upon that.
Because my readership is partly in Europe, partly in the US, and partly scattered across the globe, I am experimenting with new posting times. I previously ran all posts on Only a Game and ihobo.com at 10:30 am GMT. For the near future, I will be posting at 5:30 pm GMT instead. This is based on trying to minimise any impact from time zones on my readership. If you are affected by this change, do let me know your thoughts!
Once upon a time, I did a snippets every week. I'd like at least to get back to doing them every month if I can. So without further ado, here are my idle thoughts:
- Reading my second Whitehead book, his 1925 lecture series Science and the Modern World - and it's phenomenal. Ideas in this book do not re-emerge until the 1970s or later, and his critique of scientific materialism is essential reading for anyone with an interest in philosophy of science. Forget Popper; Whitehead is the twentieth century master of scientific philosophy.
- While away in the States, I read two more books by Alain Badiou, who I continue to enjoy - while disagreeing with him on many points. I am particularly stirred by his explanation that what he called 'true' is what Plato calls 'good', what Deleuze calls 'sense' etc. This point makes me utterly re-evaluate Plato. Still reeling from the implications of this.
- The fallout from the terrible events in Paris recently have shown the shallow appreciation we have for our now-fragile, collective rights. It is perfectly reasonable to defend freedom of speech and yet suggest that we should not use it to defame (as Pope Francis recently did) - don't confuse legal protections with moral duties. Those who think you 'protect' freedom of speech by intentionally speaking offensively have failed to understand the moral project of the Enlightenment or the responsibilties entailed in freedom of speech.
- It is also worth stressing that the motive for the Paris attacks was not the defamation of the prophet Muhammad, per se, although this was the reason for the choice of target: terrorist groups are responding to the atrocities conducted - primarily via robotic bombings - in and around countries such as Pakistan etc. We all should be horrified by what is being done in our name: why aren't we even talking about this?
- On a lighter note, I am very excited by the new Tale of Tales project, Sunset, and am indeed in the process of conceptualising Michael and Auriea's work in terms of Badiou's truth procedure for art. I hope to write to them about this later this year, if only I can find a gap in their busy schedule!
More nonsense just around the corner!
This post is a reply to a Republic of Bloggers letter written by Chris Billows (@Doc_Surge) entitled Rooting for a Republic of Bloggers, over on his blog Journals of Doc Surge. Feel free to join in with our discourse via comment or blog post.
Last year, I made a commitment towards attempting to get back what was valuable to me about blogging, and the primary means for that was to stop complaining about the shallowness of other social media and to focus on writing to others via my blog. I did not quite manage to write a blog-letter every month, but I wrote eight over the course of the year, which seems like a satisfactory outcome. In your blog-letter – your first! – you say many flattering things about me, but on one point I must take you to task: the Republic of Bloggers is definitely not mine, for all that I may be trying to popularise the term.
As I say in that original statement of intent, there was a Republic of Bloggers the moment blogs began talking to each other – which we did all the time before Twitter, Facebook etc. because the blogosphere (as it came to be called) was the locus of new kinds of communication. My view is that the Republic of Bloggers existed the moment the first pair of blogs exchanged posts, even though they were probably not doing so in a letter format. It was more common to begin a post “So-and-so over on such-and-such says something-or-other”, with a link so others could see what was said. This method of impersonal address obfuscates the underlying discourse, but it does not eliminate it.
So although I am certainly championing the Republic, I don’t want it suggested for even a moment that I created it – it was here when I arrived! – and indeed, I came here because my good friend Matt Mower, to whom I addressed my first blog-letter as such (Taxation as Injustice – actually, as much about drone assassination as tax, per se), insisted that I should be blogging, even though he could not articulate this intuition as clear reasons. Because the Republic is distributed in a way beyond any formal method of control or organisation, I feel it is important that no-one can own it, claim it, or be anything other than a citizen of this Republic. I have chosen to declare my citizenship – now you have too: welcome to this unabashed realm of invisible virtue!
Virtue is a term I am using more and more these days as it marks that aspect of ethics that is about individual agents, their positive moral qualities (as opposed to the aspects of ethics that concern the permissibility of actions, or the value of outcomes). Indeed, if we go back to before my trumpeting of the term ‘Republic of Bloggers’, you’ll find me already doing what I desired in my open letter to Oscar Strik entitled Virtuous Discourse, to which the title of this missive refers. What I desire is discourse that builds bonds between people rather than being mere entertaining distractions – for my fear is that the internet has taken the soporific power of divertissement possessed by television and added to it the addictive compulsion of certain games. I find little to celebrate in this aspect of our current technological apogee.
All this being said, I find no need specify that the content of our discourse will be “philosophy, politics, media studies, and far more beside” – unless it is to stress the ‘far more beside!’ We should talk about what we feel compelled to talk about. I think, perhaps, there is no other option. I greet you warmly across the digital pony express of the internet and welcome you to my province, parish, district, oblast, shěng, or prefecture of the grand disorganised Republic that we bloggers all have the power to belong to.
And I welcome your discourse – or, indeed, anyone else’s! – on whatever topic you should wish to discuss with me.
With grateful thanks for your engagement,
Chris replied with How Discourse Needs a Course of Action.
No-one else has replied.
Over on the website of the incomparably wonderful Institute of Art and Ideas right now is a piece I wrote for them back in December about multiculturalism, ethics, and imagination. Here’s an extract:
The mythos of ‘multiculturalism’ is something that liberally minded individuals – such as myself – tend to take for granted. In the United States, where my wife is from, liberals can become pathological in their defence of it. But if we take up the floorboards of this idea, as Mary Midgley suggests is a philosopher’s task, we’d have fewer reasons to celebrate our ‘tolerance’, since the unacknowledged baggage of a multicultural society is an arrogant faith in our own correctness. It is only because we have faith in rational truths that everyone is obligated to accept that we graciously allow others to have their own beliefs. Beneath the warm mask of compassion that multiculturalism likes to wear is a vast and condescending gulf. We are proud to share Britain with Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists – as long as they accept the rational restraints we put upon them.
The orchestra has finished tuning up its instruments, and the overture has begun. Soon, I will start blogging again, and I'm going to be carving out some set times during my week for it so that I can give and get more out of it than last year.
There are already a few changes - social media integration has been added to the bottom of each post, for instance, and I'll be automating my Twitter integration so that I don't have to waste so much time there.
Stand by for more nonsense starting this week!