Seizing an Alternative: Cosmopolitics and the Big Journey

Schedules are getting finalized for the upcoming ecological civilization mega-conference, Seizing an Alternative. I’m delighted to be participating in a philosophy of religion track with a lot of great people. I already posted my abstract for my presentation in that track. I’m also participating in another track, which focuses on the Journey of the Universe project and related approaches to situating human history in the evolutionary epic. Again, great people are involved. In particular, I’m presenting on a panel with two dear companions, Kimberly Carfore and Adam Robbert, each of whom is involved with other tracks as well. Our panel is “Cosmopolitics and the Big Journey.” Below is the abstract. Continue reading

Panpsychism

Adam Robbert has posted a helpful overview of Steven Shaviro’s paper, “Consequences of Panpsychism,” a paper which I heard Shaviro deliver at Claremont in 2010. 

I’m somewhat sympathetic with panpsychism, but I don’t consider myself a panpsychist.  Of course, any “ism” has its problems, but I’m not just bothered by the “ism” in panpsychism.  It’s the “pan” that bothers me.  I would have similar reservations about pantheism or pan-anything. 

What’s wrong with the “pan” in panpsychism?  Everything!  It everythings things.  In contrast, attending to things themselves, I tend to resist the everythinging of things. 

No quality or thing should be panned.  It would be better if the “pan” in panpsychism meant that panpsychism would involve inquiry into the souls of dish pans, or what it’s like to be a baking pan.  Even better, in a more Latinate turn of phrase, panpsychism would describe the vibrant materiality of animate bread.

Survival of the Sexiest

The New York Times has an interesting opinion piece on social Darwinism, mainly showing that social Darwinism has far less to do with Darwinism than it does with Herbert Spencer’s idea of “survival of the fittest.”  Commenting on this piece HERE, Adam Robbert sums it up nicely: “There has never been any validity to social Darwinism and the very fact that Darwin’s name has been attached to such nonsense is a historical travesty to say the least.”

Levi Bryant makes a related point in a recent post HERE, where he likewise discounts the idea that evolutionary theory is fundamentally about survival of the fittest.  “It really ticks me off when people characterize the core idea of evolution as “survival of the fittest“. That’s not true at all.”  Is there are better phrase available than “survival of the fittest”?  Yes!  ” The core of evolutionary theory is survival of the sexiest!” 

Exorbitant sexiness is the name of the game.  Levi gives the great examples of birds of paradise, who clearly expend more energy on sexiness than on survival.  “If survival is a value at all within an evolutionary framework, then it’s because it allows critters to stick around enough and get fat enough to get it on. The important thing is getting it on.”

This reminds me of Elizabeth Grosz, especially her recent work, Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics, and Art.  Using Irigaray, Bergson, and Deleuze alongside Darwin, Grosz highlights the importance of sexual selection in evolution, according to which evolution is about becoming otherwise through the exorbitant manifestation of sexual difference, which is to say, getting it on.  I like the phrase “survival of the sexiest.”  It’s definitely been around for a little while (as a glance on any search engine will indicate).  It’s a quick and helpful slogan for evolutionary theory, and I can also see it becoming the title for a TV show, something like The Bachelor meets Survivor.

Along these lines, it could be helpful to think of ecology as the study of relationships not simply between organisms and environments, but between orgasms and environments.  Object-oriented ecology becomes orgasm-oriented ecology.  I think I remember Roland Faber writing on the orgasm-organism in terms of Whitehead, Deleuze, and apophatic theology.  I’ll try and say more about this orgasmic ecology another time, because it’s funny, true, and sexy.