Live-blogging reading Benjamin Bratton’s THE REVENGE OF THE REAL.
The preface begins with a concern for testability. For Bratton the Covid-19 pandemic has put to the test
(1) how our societies govern life and death (negative biogoverance) and
(2) philosophy (negative biopolitics).
According to Bratton, both have failed the test.
Note: I am in favour of the heuristic criterion of testability, and have discussed it in many places on my blog.
The pandemic test was failed by our Western neoliberal capitalist societies, which did not live up to their responsibility, but also by philosophy, which showed itself to be impervious to the real. Bratton’s critical focus is not just societal, political and cultural, but also philosophical.
This book is a cultural critique or, more accurately, a critique of Western political culture and its present philosophical shortcomings (page 6).
3) NON-STANDARD PHILOSOPHY
Standard philosophy failed the pandemia test, non-standard philosophy may pass it. Bratton’s methodology at this stage, and at this level is broadly falsificationist. One type of hypothesis having been refuted by a crucial test, Bratton proposes a replacement hypothesis.
The book THE REVENGE OF THE REAL situates itself post-test. It’s subtitle is « Politics for a Post-pandemic World ». It
« is also about how so much philosophy failed the pandemic’s test, and so provides an outline for an alternative » (1).
4) SCALAR PLANETARITY
Bratton’s diagnosis of the pathology underlying the failure is lack of « planetarity ». As Bratton wants us to think in scales, perhaps we can rename this lack in scalar terms of more or less, of high or low: standard biopolitical philosophy suffers from low planetarity. Bratton’s solution is (or intended to be) high on the planetarity scale, proposing
« model of governance based on planetary-scale technological rationalism (5).
5) PERSONAL PLANETARITY
According to his website Bratton is
« Program Director of The Terraforming program at the Strelka Institute…also a Professor of Digital Design at The European Graduate School and Visiting Professor at SCI_Arc (The Southern California Institute of Architecture) and NYU Shanghai ».
6) POSSIBLE CONFLICT OF INTERESTS (I): Benjamin Bratton
Bratton is high in planetarity, and also high in academarity and institutionality. He is proposing one of the increasing number of successor concepts to philosophy that are currently emerging: biocomputational planetarism. This successor concept is designed and engineered so as to be high in planetarity, academarity, and institutionality.
7) POSSIBLE CONFLICT OF INTERESTS (II): Terence Blake
I was born in Australia and I live in France. I maintain a bilingual philosophy blog devoted to contemporary epistemological and ontological pluralism. My planetarity is good (but not high), my academarity and institutionality are low. My heuristic meta-ontological critique is designed and engineered so as to be high in concept and low in academarity and institutionality. In this review I am willing to consider « planetarity » as a possibly useful heuristic criterion.
8) READING, (NEG)ENTROPY, AND MULTI-SCALARITY
Benjamin Bratton’s book is high on the scales of planetarity and academarity. It will be read to a large extent by readers low on these scales. Entropy will increase as one reads the book if one reads it through a perspective of low scalarity. Reading the book from the perspective of standard philosphy also dissipates its negentropy. One enemy of Bratton’s is reductionism, a high entropic thought and reading. Can his book be received and read non-reductively? Are there other scales by which a reader may read it negentropically?
Note: Bratton does not mention entropy in this book, but he does reference « thermodynamics » in relation to an intuitive picture of social compression resulting in social explosion. His plea for biological and epidemiological complexity by means of greater scientific literacy is weirdly undermined by this folk-sociology underlying much of his political analysis of contemporary unrest.
9) GENERAL IMPRESSION
The book is very readable, the style is clear without ceding to academic populism, and I agree with most of what Bratton says. However there is an undercurrent of (well merited) hostility to philosophy that may lead to a new type of philosophy or to a new reductionism.
10) BIOMATERIALISM – REDUCTIVE OR AMPLIATIVE
Bratton posits multiple criteria of demarcation between acceptable and inacceptable styles of philosophy: testability, (bio-)responsibility, realism, scalarity, planetarity. I do not think that « materialism » can be included among them.
According to Badiou’s analysis in LOGICS OF WORLDS, biomaterialism is the default position, the consensus ideology of our time. Everybody is a biomaterialist.
Bratton declares in favour of « materialism », more specifically of « biological materialism ». In this he is our contemporary, and nothing more. He further distinguishes between a positive version of materialism: scientifically informed biomaterialism, and a negative (folk) version: theologico-aesthetic or empirico-phenomenological intuitive materialism.
We shall see in this review if these all distinctions and demarcations can be maintained, and at what cost (there is always a cost) in view of the high stakes that Bratton posits for his essay of politico-scientific intervention.