The notion of the non-human, in-human, or post-human emerges as the defining trait of nomadic ethical subjectivity.
– Rosi Braidotti, Nomadic ethics
Bruno Latour once argued that the modernist distinction between nature and culture never existed.1 He claimed we must rework our thinking about such distinctions as to conceive of a “Parliament of Things” wherein natural phenomena, social phenomena and the discourse about them are not seen as separate objects to be studied by specialists, but as hybrids made and scrutinized by the public interaction of people, things and concepts (ibid. 142-145).
Rosi Braidotti offers us a reading of Deleuze as neo-Vitalist, a neo-Spinozist whose ethics is activated by a specific subjectivity and mode of ontological life (zoe). She defends Deleuze against the post-Hedeggerians (Foucault, Derrida, Agamben, etc.) saying that he espouses the generative force of Zoê and a culture of affirmation rather than negation:
Life is not an a priori that gets individuated in single instances, but it is immanent to and thus coincides with its multiple material actualizations. … Deleuze’s immanence … locates the affirmation in the exteriority, the cruel, messy, outside-ness of Life itself.2 (172)
Braidotti argues that the Liberal Subject is no longer viable, the called for in this post-liberal era are new modes of ethical behavior. Beyond the liberal universalistic and individual core lies the realm of an ethics of forces, desires, and values that act as “empowering modes of becoming”, rather than the moralistic framework of established protocols and sets of rules and guidelines for behavior (173). That there are certain prerequisites and preconditions for such move is without doubt and Braidtotti situates her stance within a framework that entails a new understanding of subjectivity. She follows Deleuze in affirming Life as central, but this vital force is defined within the older Greek notion of zoe – Zoê (from ancient Greek ζωή, meaning spiritual life, in contrast to Bios, meaning bological life): as a vital force that is non-human, impersonal, generative, trans-individual, post-anthropocentric, and post-finitude dimension of subjectivity (173-174).
Nomadic ethics prioritizes relation, praxis, and complexity while at the same time promoting a radical ethics of transformation, a shift from epistemic concerns to an ontology of process, and shifts the focus of ethics from Hegelian dialectics of negation to a pure affirmation of difference and Otherness (194). Ethics becomes the politics of Life as the generative intensive force of Zoê. Against the conservative ethic of consumerist liberalism and its charges of relativism she that the nomadic ethic promotes sustainability, and offers a vision of ethics that cultivates the art of living intensely in the pursuit of change as a political act (195). She emphasizes ‘endurance’ as a key element in this enterprise, saying, that endurance can be seen in the “double sense of learning to last in time, but also to put up and live with pain and suffering” (195). She argues that thresholds of sustainability need to be mapped out:
…so that a rate and speed of change can be negotiated and set that will allow each subject to endure, to go on. to stop at the second-last smoke, shot, drink, and book. This implies a differential type of ethics, which clashes with dominant morality but contains criteria for the section of the ethical relation and a regard for the limits. These need to be set by experimentation with the collectively shared intensities of community that longs for the activation of affirmative forces and hence require careful negotiations. (195)
One can see this going either the way of older Utopian communities as a process of separation, struggle, and transformation; or, as an ongoing process within certain autonomous zones of liberatory experimentation within our present post-liberal state. One can imagine a form of heretical involvement, a sort of secularization of the old Catharist commune with an inner secretive cadre of militants who provide the teachers and core praxis, and an outer band of supporters active within the liberal nexus who provide both economic and political negotiations.
Such a vision is not incompatible with the core values of Braidotti’s vision. She emphasizes that the core ideals center around an ethics of freedom which focuses on self-determination and active transgression and resistance; criticality and constant questioning that provides the vigilance necessary for true governance and change. And, finally, the “issue of self-scrutiny cannot be separated from the social analysis of the conditions of domination” (196). As she states it:
A micropolitics of resistance can be seen as a web of emancipatory practices. Localized and concrete ethical gestures and political activities matter more than grand overarching projects. In this respect, nomadic theory is a form of ethical pragmatism. (196)
In some ways such an ethical pragmatism would have to entail a resurgence in the analysis of failure, failure in the sense of failed communal enactments, the study of both utopic and dystopic histories of break-away communities that have tried to enact and stabilize alternative lifestyles to the current movements of their histories. For endurance to be feasible it will need structure, form, and the stabilization of institutions that are both culturally and politically viable. We can learn what worked and what failed in older forms of emancipatory regimes, why certain communitarian societies of the past failed is just as important as the ideas that brought them about in the first place. We need a deeper analysis of these social systems that were aligned to both secular and religious modalities. A form of nomadic history that could bring to light the poltics of life through a diachronic awareness of all those past instances that were affirmatory and produced change, but were unable to bring about the enduring transformation and institutions that are necessary for lasting change. Why did they fail? What were the ethical dilemnas they faced? What did they do right, and how can we improve on their struggles to attain an affirmative vision of ethics and generative, intensive life? An ethical vision will only come about through actual enactments within the social body, and this will not come about through endless discourse but will need actual pragmatic enactments and experimentation through the formation of material institutions that can actualize these material practices as enduring modes of life. Beyond philosophical discourse is the need for all those Others who can pragmatically build such institutions, enact such changes, and live out such a nomadic ethic. Without the material enactments of these potential we will never bring about true change, but will always and forever prattle rather than live it in our own lives.
1. Latour, Bruno (1993). We have never been modern. Harvard University Press.
2. Rosi Bradotti. Nomadic ethics. The Cambridge Companion to Deleuze. (Cambridge University Press, 2012)