Sunday, 13 June 2010

Another attempt to ape Latour's rhetorical style

‘Man is rational! States choose! They act according to their interests!’, exclaim the rationalists. ‘Have you not read Machiavelli? Do you not know who Hobbes is? It is human nature, you irrationalists’, they fume.

‘Well’, interrupt the rational choice theorists, ‘you are right up to a point, although you are terrible positivists; we can only say that men act as if they are rational – your theories cannot grasp the fullness of reality; what hubris! We only assume individual rationality because this allows us the most explanatory and predictive power.’

‘Pah!’, smirk the poststructuralists, ‘power! And power is all you’re after; you say you only ‘theorise’ but you’re as bad as the rationalists; rational subjects are simply the produce of discourse – the washed up detritus of socio-linguistic fields. Or they’re just a product of the rationalising gaze of the researcher. We don’t know which it is. We refuse to impose our interpretations!’

Having just returned from failing to smash capitalism, the critical realists are in a bad mood: ‘Bourgeois rationalists and irrationalists the lot of you! Emancipatory social action can only be taken on the basis of counter-ideological, properly scientific knowledge but to presume a rational, transhistorical subjectivity is Whiggish at best; and as for you po-mos: go back to France! We all need to focus our energies on uncovering the intransitive dimension of social structures; that is the only way to bring about the rapt… we mean revolution.’

Observing this scene, the Latourian (ever the observer) scratches her head and appears puzzled: ‘These people seem to be missing the point’, she thinks to herself. She clears her throat and ventures to interject: ‘Of course presidents and generals act like rational, self-interested actors. Of course governments are structured so as to foreground this sort of thinking. So yeah, states are rational actors, sort of; insofar as they can be black-boxed, anyway. But we don’t need to read Hobbes or Machiavelli to know this. And what has human nature got to do with it? (Really, you should read up on ‘nature’ some time, all of you; I can recommend you some good books if you want.) But anyway, you’re all grossly overcomplicating the issue. We don’t know that these people act rationally because Machiavelli and Hobbes somehow worked out what ‘really’ drives humans; these people act like this because they’ve all read Machiavelli and Hobbes!! Have you ever seen a five-star General’s bookshelf? Ever thought to ask? Of course not. You’re all too busy trying to tell people what they think.’

Met with a flurry of expletives from all sides – ‘relativist!’, ‘obscurantist!’, ‘objectivist!’, ‘apologist!’ –, the Latourian exits the scene. A more hostile and pig-headed tribe this ‘anthropologist of modernity’ has never encountered. Even natural scientists are more calm and reasonable than this lot! ‘At the very least’, she reflects with a chuckle, ‘I got them to agree about something!’

And so it was that nought was solved. A sad tale, but one that bears telling.

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