Thursday, 5 February 2015

Diplomacy and cosmopolitics

In response to my last post, dmf writes:
see I thought diplomacy was about the negotiating workable (extra-military) relations between competing interests. more William James than Kant...
It certainly is much more James than Kant. I didn't mean to suggest that the goal is synthesis as such. That would be unanimity rather than plurality and is emphatically not the goal of diplomacy as either Stengers or Latour articulate it.

[What follows is a thinking-out-loud. Consider yourselves warned.]

There are and must be indefinitely multiple cosmoi. And diplomacy is the "technology of belonging," to use Stengers' words, that renders these cosmoi "contrasting rather than contradictory." It turns either/or into and/and, as she puts it.

This becoming-coexistent requires an openness of all parties to change. It is a political technology and by no means the only one.

When you share an atmosphere, in the Sloterdijkian sense of the word, then you share a kosmos/kakosmos. A progressive composition of a common world means a collective air-conditioning of that atmosphere. And this requires the same diplomatic openness. The same detachment in a very precise sense: not disinterest or any kind of neutered neutrality but detachment from a fixed, permanent, absolutised self that could only ever dominate, be adopted, be enforced, be destroyed or be 'tolerated.' A diplomat's detachment is a unique and extreme case. But that doesn't mean that the rest of us can go around living out our inner perfections.

Is diplomacy just the negotiation between cosmoi or is it also the name of the political technology at work in conditioning and composing the cosmoi from within?

Well, mereologically speaking, once the notion of cosmos is radically pluralised, we are constantly within, between and butting up against the cosmoi of others. We are in a world of foam, in Sloterdijk's imagery. And yet when we find ourselves 'in the same boat' as another—whether that other is a hungry tiger or not—veritably it is not a matter as simple as maintaining border relations (although that is unavoidably part of it). When we share an infrastructure that is toxifying the very air that we breathe then we surely have no option but to negotiate the terms of our coexistence in a rather more intimate sense.

And when this 'air' is conceptual then the ground of the negotiation is a philosophical one. Calculemus!

So, the AIME project, as I understand it, was about attempting to negotiate the composition of a shared atmosphere: a conceptual, philosophical atmosphere. In its participatory stages it was about collectively writing the design specifications that would construct the problem to which the philosopher(s) will respond.

Not everyone or everything is inside this particular 'hothouse.' There are many other abodes. And yet 'the Western philosophical tradition' is not a meaningless designation. Too simple, certainly, but it passably signifies the shared atmosphere in question; an atmosphere that undoubtedly has its toxicities and yet that we cannot simply forego breathing all of a sudden—we cannot simply step out into the void. Hence 'inheritance' and the inevitable problems of translating between generations.

If we suppose that diplomacy pertains to the inter-cosmic and cosmopolitics to the intra-cosmic then that would be an elegant enough distinction. However, as far as I can see, the difference is not one of polarity but of intensity. The pressure of coexistence is relative to the pressure of the atmosphere and the pressure increases relative to the toxicity experienced by the occupants who format the existential space itself—pressure is a function of the tension experienced by those who collectively constitute the tensegretic milieu. And even hostile parties share a space formatted by that very non-indifference.

So, while there are undoubtedly other political technologies besides the diplomatic metamorphosing of contradictions into contrasts and while there are vastly more kinds of atmospheres than the merely conceptual and while diplomacy as a concept obviously suggests a concern with the interrelation of existential spaces that have some sort of mutual exteriority, the capacities, the requirements, the technical competencies required of the diplomat are only an extreme case of what is required of a negotiated coexistence in general. The 'true self' abhors coexistence.

So, pace Kant, it is not synthesis that any kind of diplomacy is working for. There is no 'perpetual peace,' only perpetually negotiated settlements. There are no shortcuts. But, equally, this is not an atomising gesture. It does not function to fracture the foam into ever smaller bubbles. Co-occupancy is not a choice and toxicity is not a mere metaphor.

The goal is not synthesis and yet if we are co-occupant then we will soon realise it. Plurality does not mean disentanglement. And so becoming-cosmic through a quasi-system, as I have described it, does not presuppose a will to synthesis—only the recognition that this is one possible tool for the negotiation of a co-occupancy that we cannot easily opt out of, nor need we.

Those of us who read and talk philosophy—or simply those of us who speak a European language—are part of a hothouse that we cannot close like a book. It is something that we share and something that we are, something that is part of us.

We speak of becoming-coexistent not becoming-unified. And yet negotiating the shape of the space we occupy necessarily means negotiating the very shape of who we are—and the 'we' is not an idle one because we are something together, 'we are in this together.' Such a statement can never be exempted from scepticism or even refusal but nor can we pretend that we are all mutually exterior and that we don't have collective projects or that we can become-cosmic without some sort of convergence—even if, and here we can inherit a modern classic, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. That is, even if convergence contains its contrary within itself, it is still a necessary motion. Convergence is still something that is built, is still something that can be built better.

Why is cosmopolitics not cosmopolitan? Cosmopolitanism, in its perpetually pacific end state, would have no need of diplomacy since all borders would be dissolved. In a cosmopolitical world—'cosmopolitics' being the recognition that there is only cosmos with politics and only politics with a cosmos, not that these are one and the same but that they are in a state of tension—there would be only varying intensities of the demand for diplomatic detachment that would be adjusted according to relative degrees of estrangement, conflict and pressure. Unity would never be the goal but nor would isolation be anything but a death sentence. Collective writing projects would be commonplace, not because we were striving for a hive-mind but because we would be capable of saying 'that is my writing' even when the words did not conform to 'my true beliefs.' We would recognise our ecstasy, our being outside ourselves. We would recognise ourselves in collective composites, in trace-lattices without a trace of purity.

Our borders would not disappear but their fortification would become ever less urgent.

[P.S. just saw Ex Machina and it left me feeling very philosophical.]


  1. "This becoming-coexistent requires an openness of all parties to change" thanks for the reply seems to me that a project/process that doesn't account for the kinds of cognitive-biases that for example don't allow the realities of climate-change to register as true for all too many people isn't going to be very useful.

  2. Not so much a reply as a half delirious tangent. But anyway. I am also interested in more empirical examples of diplomatic mediation. There's an interesting anthropology conference here next month with a session on diplomacy that I'm hoping to go to (just to listen and learn):