“GAIA” IS A CATEGORY MISTAKE: on a misleading operator of re-intensification

If we accept Lyotard’s idea that the breaking up of any Grand Narrative is the anti-platonic lesson of our post-modern world then we are left with the problem that the proliferation of singularities and multiplicities, of fluxes and events, which was first conceived and experienced as a liberation, became fairly rapidly the depressingly banal state of affairs in the neo-liberal way of life. The democratisation and quantification of intensity led to the lowering of intensity. The underlying ontology is flat, and has flattened our everyday lives.

Resisting this depressive nihilistic state, diagnosed by Mehdi Belhaj Kacem in his book L’ALGÈBRE DE LA TRAGÉDIE, implies a process of intensification that is both faithful to the heritage of the philosophies of difference in some form of ontology of singularities and that combines it with an ethical seriousness. In Bruno Latour’s work we see such a flat ontology of singularities resulting in a universal homogeneity of actors and networks. To break up this homogeneity Latour resorts to heterogeneous modes of existence that add a supplementary dimension of singularity to what transits on the networks, yet this merely duplicates the problem. To overcome this impasse Latour adds a concern with “Gaia” as operator of ethical urgency and intensity.

The problem is that Gaia is not just one entity, and its intensive use is based on a set of category mistakes. Gaia is a hypothetical object posited by a particular science, the object of some New Age pagan religions,  and the concern of a new unifying meta-narrative proposed by Latour to give ethical sense and intensity to his modes of existence project. Yet such a mixing of modes is precisely what is forbidden by his ontological system. Gaia the techno-scientific object does not generate  the same sort of problems as Gaia the ethical alterity demanding the utmost respect. For example, the solutions envisaged in one framing of the problem of climate change are not the same as those inspired by another framing in terms of another mode of existence.

Latour’s Gaia-activism is thus both very timely and ethically engaging and yet irrelevant to his ontological system. It is required as an intensive supplement to the flatness of his ontology but is not conceptually integrated into the system. Just as one can easily imagine someone with a completely different perspective, including a scientistic outlook, being concerned with Gaia, one can also imagine someone who adheres to pluralist perspective place their ethical emphasis elsewhere, such as in the struggle against capitalism.

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One Response to “GAIA” IS A CATEGORY MISTAKE: on a misleading operator of re-intensification

  1. dmfant says:

    Reblogged this on synthetic_zero and commented:
    this may be the last word on Latour for my curating here as I think he has unfortunately become a real dead-end in terms of my interests.


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