Ontology Apolitics

There’s a debate that keeps on coming up over ontology and politics in the blog world loosely centered around the space that object-oriented ontology has opened up. Levi Bryant and now Ian Bogost insist that ontology and politics are separate, that things really are and interact before any thing becomes political. There’s the bare materialism of objects moving and colliding hither and the politically charged objects, which exist as well, thither. One’s ontology doesn’t have anything to say about politics until a politicizing act takes place or a thing transforms into a thing of political consequences. Or else, a political entity must be created neglecting the ontological dimension. The big point is that every-thing cannot be political, it must become so.

My question on this is: if ontology is apolitical, why must it repeatedly say so? This need not be because of some fault of OOO but the level of political discourse or misconceptions. I’m beginning to think that if politics is not everywhere and composed of everything, then the notion of the political must be transformed. Politics is a word that gets thrown around far beyond its etymological origins of the business or management of a *city* – ’polis’. Invoking politics for me stirs people up to answer the question “what is to be done?” and look ahead into the future, which might be a utopian vision or just organizing in a small collective project. If politics is not personal or if all states and flows of things do not count as “politics” then a new concept is needed to get over this nagging debate. I think Ian Bogost could be hinting at this at the end of his piece when he writes “there’s something apolitical about political discourse.”

In this globalize world, where it has become easy to feel that ’everything is interconnected’ and one’s daily routines have a stabilizing effect on systemic operations, perhaps what is needed in social debates on rightness and virtue is *less* politicizing and more emphasis on material processes. I never liked the term “social justice”. This is about “Justice” which is and always has been about more than social convention or interpretation (though these socially available discourses always filter it’s discussion). Anyone should be able to hold simultaneously that Justice can (and maybe should) go farther than politics and that some things exist whether we contemplate them or not and have gigantic effects on us.

The way global warming has been turned into another chip in the culture wars and the dominating presence of money in political lobbying are examples of problems that make the term ’politics’ inadequate. The problems traditionally addressed by political representatives are not getting the proper attention they deserve. This helps explain why roughly half the people in the country do not vote for the president and congress’s approval rating is under 10%. Action meant merely on maximizing one’s effect on the field and pushing for change materially are often subsumed under the banner of “political persuasions”. Maybe the better term moving forward could be something like “ideals”, if the stigma of the materialism/idealism divide is treated as an obstacle to get over. I regularly and unflinchingly invoke concepts like “Justice” and “Right” without having anything in mind like policy, bills, and laws; its about encouraging action by any means necessary – political or not.

I think we could learn a lot from Foucault’s method of problematization: beginning with a problem, a mystery, a query to engage in rather than a polemics. Politics in America these days is practically a scripted spectacle of polemics where the voter-audience takes sides and keeps a score of the points won with rhetoric. Ideals are easily captured by politicians (need I write it? “Hope” “Change”), but this is precisely when we should be skeptical and protective of our ideals from politics and politicians. We need new subjectivities and Foucault’s genealogy of the subject has much to offer and not be content with those subjectivities presently seem “realistic”.

I don’t think I have to take sides on which is more real: material things or ideal things; just like American politics does not force me to take the side of the left-liberal or the right-conservative. This is what’s cool about flat ontology. Object-oriented ontology lets me think this way and I thank the likes of Bryant, Bogost, and Morton for creating this debate. Though they might not agree with me and I’m not sure OOO is the right direction to take, the debate is much better than the usual ones and that means A Lot. Perhaps we need to rethink this frustrating concept called politics.

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One thought on “Ontology Apolitics

  1. Pingback: Philosophy and the City « Footnotes 2 Plato

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