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.

Unity Versus Multiplicity in Object-Oriented Ontologies

Are objects unities?  Identities?  Or, on the other hand, are they multiplicities?  This question is answered in different ways in different kinds of object-oriented ontology.  Object-oriented philosophy (represented by Graham Harman) is more focused on unities and identities, whereas onticology (represented by Levi Bryant) prefers multiplicities.  Consider Bryant’s remarks in a recent post:

While objects there are, these objects are neither unities nor identities.  No, they are multiplicities.  The object-oriented philosopher, in a desperate gambit to preserve identity, declares that identity and unity are withdrawn. […]  Such is the phallic logic that haunts object-oriented philosophy.  [….]  The onticologist, by contrast, declares that objects have no unity or identity.  Rather, for the onticologist, objects are pure multiplicities.

Bryant brings up Leibniz and Deleuze/Guattari to elaborate on this point.  An important aspect of Bryant’s position is that objects are wholes and those wholes are parts amidst other parts.  Similarly, when the object-oriented philosopher (Harman, to be specific) affirms the identity of objects, it is not to privilege the whole as opposed to parts.  In short, object-oriented philosophy and onticology both avoid simple whole-part oppositions in their respective definitions of objects.  However, the question or unity or multiplicity nevertheless divides these two approaches to OOO.  Accordingly, Harman (mentioning Deleuze but not Bryant) recently made the following comments about the unity-multiplicity conflict in light of his own call for more attention to Aristotle (in contrast to Žižek’s call for more Hegel).

[A]s long as it remains fashionable to take easy cheap shots at unity and identity with appeals to such concepts as “difference” and “multiplicity,” then you’ll know that we’re still running on the fumes of Generation Deleuze, which was fresh and liberating from around 1995-2007 but now threatens to become last night’s vinegary red wine.

In other words, Harman appreciates Aristotle (as well as Husserl) for positing a unity and identity of objects, and he thinks that the Deleuzian distaste for unity and identity is getting stale.  Harman isn’t dismissing everyone working with Deleuze, he’s “just saying that it’s time to stop adopting all of Deleuze’s heroes and spitting on all of his villains.”  I assume that Harman wouldn’t consider Bryant’s appeal to “multiplicity” as one of the “easy cheap shots” being taken at unity and identity.  It is a shot nonetheless.

I’m not taking sides yet.  I’m just paying attention as object-oriented philosophy and onticology continue developing.  It is nourishing food for thought.  I’ve been deeply influenced by Aristotle and Deleuze, and this question of unity versus multiplicity makes me want to read, re-read, and rethink.

Speculative Philosophy and the Specter of Religion

Reflecting on an upcoming conference, Thinking the Absolute, Levi Bryant posted some thought-provoking remarks on the implications of the speculative turn in philosophy for thinking religion.  The topic reminds me of the anthology edited by Anthony Paul Smith and Daniel Whistler, After the Postsecular and the Postmodern: New Essays in Continental Philosophy of Religion (2010). 

Bryant’s concluding remarks are right on.  “[I]f the speculative project of philosophy is only complete in thinking both existence and being and their relation, this entails that there is a paradox at the heart of metaphysics. For in striving to think existence, philosophy must think that which is anterior to all thought, that which cannot be represented, and that which evades all conceptual determination. If the speculative project of philosophy is to be completed philosophy must think that which cannot be thought or the unthinkable. Such is the move beyond correlationism and the condition under which it might be possible to exorcise the endlessly returning specter of religion. How this might be done, I don’t know, but such seems to be the projecting [sic] uniting all variants of speculative realism.”

How might this be done?  I don’t know either.  It is no small task: to think the unthinkable and thereby move beyond correlationism and empower the exorcism of the endlessly returning specter of religion.  The task of exorcism is not unlike what Deleuze describes in Nietzsche and Philosophy [Columbia UP, 1986] as philosophy’s “enterprise of demystification,” which demystifies religion, morality, the State, and, of course, philosophy’s own mystifications.  Thinking the unthinkable is active and affirmative, but its demystification is also profoundly sad.  “A philosophy that saddens no one, that annoys no one, is not a philosophy” (p. 106).