Levi Bryant has posted some rather dogmatic and reductionistic aphorisms expressing his extrapolations of conclusions taken not from science itself but from his own rather confused hermeneutics of science. Bryant has been through a long intellectual apprenticeship, involving harrowing work on Lacan, Deleuze, Derrida, Badiou and Luhmann. He has at last come to a mature moment of synthesis where he can deploy these sophisticated resources in a concise rejection of fundamentalist Christianity. The man is amazing, he actually asserts that there is no creator God and no plan to history. And this is just the tip of the iceberg! No arguments are advanced, as none are needed – these declarations are presented as “axioms”, that is to say, according to Bryant, “the only legitimate conclusions that can be drawn from the state of knowledge today in the physical sciences, biology, neurology, psychology, etc”. This is of course a rather personal definition of “axiom”, but in fact none of these dogmatic assertions are axioms. All Bryant wants is the apodictic connotations of the word “axiom”. Not only are his rather wordy and repetitious aphorisms not axioms they are in no way conclusions “from science”.
Having been soundly trounced for his puerile version of naturalism, Bryant has decided to dress it up in aphorisms and re-name it “post-nihilism”. It’s true that just as in the case of “axiom” we need a dictionary to read his text correctly. Remembering that Bryant has styled himself a “post-mastery” Lacanian we can be pretty sure that the prefix “post” means “credulous”, so the syntagm “post-nihilist praxis” translates out as “credulous naturalist theorising”, which does seem an apt description of Bryant’s actual practice.
“There is no meaning” Bryant tells us “darkly”. This is not the conclusion of any science but a piece of hermeneutic embroidery. Physics does not tell us there is no meaning, nor does biology. They are not about meaning and so have nothing to say on the matter, either for or against. Unless you’re being reductionist and claiming that physics accounts without remainder for “existence” and “anything in the universe”. But it sounds scientific and hard-headed, and more importantly it sounds “cold”, “bleak”. Disguised as a seemingly objective statement, it functions as an expression of the type of subjectivity that Bryant is both exemplifying and proposing as a model for us all. Not secular subjectivity, which is compatible with a democratic pluralism, but “dark subjectivity” that needs to impose its sombre but “only legitimate” precepts on a world of fundamentalists, who believe in the Rapture or some other Divine plan.
What is worrying about such dogmatic proclamations is not their wilful blindness: any reference to other types of spirituality than Bryant’s model of religion as blind literal belief in institutionalised creeds (this model is based unsurprisingly on no research, it just sounds right to a blind literal objectal naturalist, it sounds “dark”) is dismissed as illegitimate. No, the main problem is that Bryant is proposing this wordy repetitious naive and credulous cartoon synthesis based on nothing as an actual heuristic for science and philosophy. Take his assertion “Life is an accident”. This would rule out reverse engineering the existence of life to come to conclusions about unknown features of physical law or about initial conditions prevailing just after the Big Bang, for example. Such an assertion is either empty windbaggery or has empirical content and consequences for the direction future research could take. A “dark” ontologist in charge of government funding would judge projects in terms of such principles. Luckily Bryant is at pains to specify that even if his axioms are not “self-evident” they are at least apodictic, the “only legitimate conclusions” from current science. Thus he avoids the dogmatism of the fundamentalists, who are not just political adversaries but major intellectual enemies requiring the development of a whole new metaphysics, “darkness” ontology, to reply to their ideological hegemony.