A good theory must ultimately draw distinctions between different kinds of beings. However, it must earn these distinctions rather than smuggling them in beforehand, as occurs frequently in the a priori modern split between human beings on one side and everything else on the other (see Latour 1993 [We Have Never Been Modern]). This answers the question of why an object-oriented approach is desirable: a good philosophical theory should begin by excluding nothing. And as for those social theories that claim to avoid philosophy altogether, they invariably offer mediocre philosophies shrouded in the alibi of neutral empirical fieldwork. (Harman, Immaterialism, p. 4)
In Immaterialism: Objects and Social Theory (Polity Press, 2016), Graham Harman applies his object-oriented philosophy to social objects. The book functions as “a compact list of the first principles of object-oriented social theory, which I have also called ‘immaterialism’” (126). This presentation of an object-oriented social theory includes a detailed analysis of one particular social object, the Dutch East India Company. Someone might think that this is just another book of object-oriented philosophy, tracing out the same principles that Harman articulates elsewhere. In some sense that’s true, but there’s much more going on than that. In what follows, I briefly sketch some key contributions that this book makes to the ongoing development of object-oriented philosophy. Continue reading
I attended the recent conference of the International Big History Association. The association is oriented toward researching and teaching “Big History,” which aims (as their website says) to “understand the integrated history of the Cosmos, Earth, Life, and Humanity,” specifically by means of “the best available empirical evidence and scholarly methods.” That opens up the field of history into a comprehensive and cross-disciplinary account of the entire 13.8 billion year history of our universe.
Big History is far from alone in its aim to articulate an integrated and evolutionary vision of matter, life, and humanity. Multiple scholarly fields and schools of thought share the integrative aims of Big History (e.g., the universe story, the field of religion and ecology, integral theory, ecofeminism, complexity theory, posthumanities, process philosophy). Big historians still have much to learn from those and other integrative and transdisciplinary sources of evolutionary knowledge. Continue reading
A recent study in the journal Biology Letters attempts to find out what the “costs” are of having sex, particularly with a view to squid sex. Here’s an article summarizing the study’s findings. There are a few interesting points here.
Dumpling squid have sex for approximately 3 hours at a time, and they have sex frequently throughout their year-long life. Basically, that means that a dumpling squid spends most of its life having it off, getting busy, etc.
The costs of this extensive sex-life are quite high. 3-hour mating rituals are exhausting, as indicated by the slow swimming of squid after sex. When you’re tired from that much lovemaking, it’s hard to do a lot of other evolutionary tasks, such as finding food, avoiding predators, and perhaps most interestingly, it makes it harder to find other mates. Furthermore, the short lifespans of these squid could be due to the fact that they exhaust themselves from such high-intensity sex. They are getting busy for so long, it’s killing them.
If it makes you too tired to find food, avoid predators, and pass on your genes to other mates, then why have sex for so long? Because it’s good!
Evolution is clearly not oriented toward survival of the fittest. The important thing is not fit survival. The important thing is survival of the sexiest. Survival is only a value insofar as it facilitates sexiness. We don’t have sex to survive, we survive so that we can have sex, exorbitant and exhausting intercourse.
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.