Sunday 16 September 2012

Politics and Ontology: More from Agent Swarm

Agent Swarm remarks on an old comment of mine on the politics/ontology question:
Harman scores points against a very silly opponent: “Once blog exchanges reach a certain point of fruitlessness, I tend to stop reading them. Hence it came as a shock to me to learn that anyone ever made the argument that if I say that corporations are real objects, I must therefore support corporations”.

If we go back to Alexander Galloway’s original post, we see that nowhere does he say this. Something like this is falsely attributed to him by a commenter called Philip, of Circling Squares: “And as for the claims that granting reality to corporations justifies their political enfranchisement … well, my mind boggles at that. That would only be the case if ontology and politics were fused. Only then would the granting of ontological thing-hood simultaneously be the granting of political personhood”.

Once his position has been caricatured in this way, the caricature can live a life of its own and be”refuted” effortlessly in both curt (Harman) and long-winded repetitious (Bryant) versions. And the original argument, containing (horror!) concepts, can be forgotten.
From Alex Galloway's "A response to Graham Harman’s 'Marginalia on Radical Thinking'":
This brings out a secondary problem with OOO in that it falls prey to a kind of “Citizens United fallacy”.. everything is an object, and thus Monsanto and Exxon Mobil are objects on equal footing just like the rest. Like other (human) objects, Monsanto is free to make unlimited campaign donations, contribute to the degradation of the environment, etc.
For what it's worth I did read the post that I commented on. I didn't just take Harman's word for it. And I agree with his interpretation of what I've quoted above. It seems to me that Alex made ontological thinghood and political personhood one and the same thing and used that supposition to critique the philosophy of Harman et al. Harman's claim, like mine, is that this doesn't follow. Whether or not a thing is a political person is a property of that thing, not a question of the thing's bare existence. Saying that an object exists tells you nothing about what kind of object it is. Therefore, nothing about saying that corporations are real necessarily means that they are or should be political persons.

Simply, the claim that ontological realism vis-a-vis corporations necessarily entails the granting of political personhood to corporations is a non sequitur. I don't know what 'concepts' of Alex's got lost in my interpretation. As I read it his post was a fairly weak caricature based upon some simple misunderstandings and/or misrepresentations. It was actually rather light on concepts.

p.s. I try to avoid engaging in the malice that these discussions seem to generate so I hope that this comment is met in the spirit of friendly discussion that it is intended, rather than the vindictive turf wars that these things seem to all too often degenerate into!