The term “Anthropocene” is a scientific denomination, and so belongs to the mode of scientific knowledge, or “REF” in Latour’s terminology. It’s political exploitation by Latour is a violation of the incommensurability of the modes. Used in this way the term is an operator of excessive unity, and so anti-AIME (the same is true for “Gaia”).
In principle AIME prizes alteration, metamorphosis, and multiplicity, but in practice it is full of operators of excessive, or hegemonic, unity. They are all linked to the ideological function of Latour’s instrumentalising AIME for extra-AIME purposes. I argue that we must distinguish ontological AIME from ideological AIME. Ontological AIME, the object of the book AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE, is at least ideally a Popperian metaphysical research programme, proceeding by bold speculation and open to strong criticism, to probing tests and to heuristic transformation. Ideological AIME, the object of most of Latour’s talks, articles, and of the @AIMEproject twitter feed, is a Kuhnian normal science, rigidly policing the party-line and excluding or passing over in silence any strong disagreement.
Latour’s “Anthropocene” is an ideological construct. He tries to give us the impression that his use of this term in his more political exhortations isbased on and supported by the ontological project, but refined AIME (the ontological project) forbids such composites. The ideological exploitation of the Anthropocene imposes excessive unity on a plurality of modes, blithely violating the incommensurability of their felicity conditions.
Latour is not speaking as a scientist but as a cultural commentator when he talks of the Anthropocene. He seems to presuppose that scientists are in essence spontaneously pluralist, inherently attuned to multiplicity. This is just the sort of credulity with respect to science that ANT is supposed to have defused. Althusser warned that scientists are in fact spontaneously idealist, and the Science Wars gave a very good illustration of that.
Badiou, in his recently published HEIDEGGER seminar, talks about the opposition between aggravation and pacification. Philosophy aggravates, communication and commerce pacify. AIME is torn between an intellectual ethic of aggravation and one of pacification. The tendency to pacification is an imposition of excessive unity, a hegemonic move promoting, enforcing and validating one particular perspective, the triumph of a party-line disguised as peace. The tendency to aggravate involves refusal of consensus and rupture with the reigning doxa.
If we examine the various components of the AIME project in this light we can see that Latour’s book AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE has conceptually revisionary pretentions: it aims to aggravate. However, the twitter feed functions according to a quite different set of values: it announces and validates, communicates and pacifies. The digital platform is somewhere between the two, accepting contributions but excluding polemic, a one-sided compromise: it may aggravate a little, but it pacifies too much.
This is the fundamental performative contradiction of AIME. It prizes multiplicity and metamorphosis but it produces uniformity and stasis. It talks about “experience”, but wants us to bow down before expertise and to “trust” not our own path and judgement, but the authority of experts. Refined AIME is ontological inquiry, pluralist and diachronic, demagogic AIME is ideological party-line, static and unitary: institutions, experts and diplomacy (as against exchange, citizens, and democracy). I have done all I can to encourage the pluralist diachronic strand in AIME, but it is bent on reducing itself to a handful of slogans about Gaia, the Anthropocene, and “diplomacy”.
The biggest single factor propulsing this ideological turn in AIME is the absence of dialectical exchange. Despite talking a lot about multiple points of view, AIME has no place for controversies. There is no polemical function on the digital platform: this lack of polemic constructs excessive unity. Unfortunately, the very definition of a contribution to the AIME platform actively inhibits alteration and creativity and favours repetition and consensus. The twitter feed could have compensated for the lack of dialogue and for the excessive unity of the platform, but alas it has not functioned that way.
Inquiring about the modes is different to inquiring with, and by means of, the modes (inquiry in the making). As Latour puts a lot of emphasis on prepositions, one can say: the problem with AIME is that there is too much “about” and not enough “with”. hermeneutics and diplomacy, the principal values of AIME, are demi-mesures, ultimately giving primacy to repetition over creativity. If AIME is in love with multiplicity and alteration it should metamorphose, not perennise, itself.
Note: I talk about the omnipresence of plurality and diachrony, and about the stupidity of monist synchronic metaphysics here: IS ONTOLOGY MAKING US STUPID?.