The Crisis of Thought 101: Limits and Agency


The Crisis of Thought 101 articles serve as one of the academic courses in the precise field of contemporary philosophy. The main aim of this research is to focus attention on the current crisis of thought and existence, analysing their genesis and the way in which they have taken place. The theoretical framework will be covered from a “posthumanist” stance and, essentially, the project involves the attempt to create a diagonal discourse that promotes collective entities and collaborative agency as the main tools for resistance and, more importantly, existence.

The Crisis of Thought 101 will be mainly divided into the following chapters:

Limits and Agency

It has been seen throughout this 101 series how, despite the rupture of history as a linear concept and the crisis of contemporary thought, new ways of consciousness emerge that are born of community, of living together, and of sharing. Posthumanism embodies a new kind of philosophy through which one must not only identify, but also act. Posthumanism entails being aware of one's limitations and capacities and, consequently, weaving this with those of others.

Then, one could argue, what role does this awareness of one's own limits assume in posthumanist philosophy? And will it not inevitably have a limiting counterpart that narrows and restricts the actions to be taken? Is posthumanism a lost cause in this strict sense?

No, it is not. Here, perhaps, is where Braidotti's paradigm shift takes on its greatest force, in the mutation of limit and difference into a power of change, an affirmative becoming that cannot be understood except in a relational key. Life itself is now placed under the magnifying glass of analysis and is conceived as an affective capacitation, just as Baruch Spinoza, a Dutch philosopher, did in the 17th century. The "we" of which we spoke in previous articles, and its consequent perspectivist enunciation, is therefore not a transcendental entity, but a heterogeneous assemblage of multiple fragments (Braidotti, 2019, 1). Gilles Deleuze, French philosopher, already said so when referring to Spinoza's "philosophy of «life»":

[...] consists precisely in denouncing all that separates us from life, all these transcendent values turned against life, linked to the conditions and illusions of our conscience. [...] What poisons it is hatred, including hatred turned against itself, guilt. [...] This critique of the sad passions is deeply rooted in the theory of the affections. An individual is first a singular essence, that is to say, a degree of potency. [...] to this degree of potency corresponds a power of affection. [...] Ethics is an ethology which, for men and animals, only considers in each case its power of affection. (Deleuze, 2004: 37-38)

It is to this very notion that Rosi Braidotti (1954), a philosopher and feminist theorist, and professor at the University of Utrecht, pays attention when she speaks of Ethics as a collection of immanent modes of existence. Thus, she comprehends a post-human ethics that does not treat the individual as a reference, but the very relationships they establish and, if these are negative - linked to discomfort or sadness - they will limit their own power of relationship and, thus, their freedom (Braidotti, 2009). Consequently, awareness of one's own limits is understood in an affirmative way, that is, as a displacement. Embracing posthuman ethics means making duels and difference a "potential for transformative or creative becoming" (Braidotti, 2009: 293). It is then about carrying out a "depsychologization" of pain, and understanding its presence in the processes of change, thus being able to respect its implementation as something inherent to the development of being, detaching it from suffering. It is in this way that Braidotti lays the foundations for an affirmative role of pain in the constitution of ethical relations, which will thus seek to create ways of transforming the negative through alternative social relations and the multiple.

It is in this sense that the question of the previous statement is turned upside down: "will it not inevitably have a limiting counterpart that narrows and restricts the actions to be taken?" Quite the contrary. If one is fair in the analysis, it is more than likely that the result of putting posthuman ethics into practice will only give rise to potential forces, to multiple desires of becoming, to interwoven and crossed relationships, to a common resistance that will have to face the different crises that collective existence is already facing. All this, of course, beyond the strictly human. That is to say, it will be things of species, of plants, and of spaces. In this way, we will have to recognize the relations of dependence that we establish with the environment, which is earthly.

In this regard, it is pertinent to bring up the ideas stated by Judith Butler, an American philosopher and gender theorist, in her lecture The Ethics and Politics of Nonviolence at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) in 2018. Butler is an authoress with whom Braidotti acknowledges sharing certain points in common. In additon, Butler directed her speech to the concept of "vulnerability", with which she hoped to establish a clear differentiation between the characteristics that are proper to the individual and this same one, which is, however, a product of the relationships that are established between different agents. How can it be that we are not vulnerable? No need for confusion. All beings experience vulnerability but, while individualism is a lie insofar as it does not take into account the interdependent relationships that define social existence, then vulnerability is the same as being "dependent". In other words, no individual - human or not - is capable of developing his or her capacities in isolation and, given that, the relational role of life itself must be recognized. It is in this way that, from common vulnerability, a political demand for existence can be extracted (Butler, 2018). This emplacement of posthuman ethics, in Butler's words, is affirmed by the same appreciations that Braidotti carries out, in this case recalling the ideas of Hannah Arendt, who was a political philosopher in the middle of the 21st century: "the reason for our responsibility is found in our belonging" (Arendt quoted by Braidotti, 2009: 309).

Therefore, if the being itself is defined by its relational power with the environment, and by the connections it establishes with the rest of the beings that surround it, then the social and the political are spheres that intermingle and join together to give rise to the construction of the subject. Thus, social existence cannot be understood separately from political action, since both are responsible for the crossed identities that we incarnate in our bodies. Posthumanist ethics are understood, then, as an affirmative exercise of relationship, with which the mutation of difference takes place in order to transform, through affectivity, "negative events into resistance as an axis of ethical pragmatism" (Hernández Domínguez, 2017).

How does this nomadic philosophy, of the multiple and plural, through affirmative ethics, intend to build new ways of facing the great crises of the universal? The Anthropocene and advanced capitalism are just a few examples of the problems that are sweeping the globe. But how might we respond to global issues from a situated thinking and molecular actions?

The interesting thing about Braidotti's analysis is that it proposes an extended cartography across all fields of knowledge, in order to identify the points of convergence and begin to work in common from the multiple. That is to say, it is not just a matter of encouraging localized resistance from different places, but of building, through collaboration, new ways of understanding existence. In order to be able to draw the lines of encounter that guide subjects on the steps to follow, to affirm life and the multiple vital flow, it is crucial to break down the variables and factors that intervene and cross us all; everyone and everything. Posthuman philosophy, and consequently, affirmative ethics, by making negation a space of affirmative possibilities, only adds, connects and multiplies; it never subtracts or minimizes. It could be said, as already mentioned by the authoress, that, despite going against "moral universalism", affirmative ethics "achieves a universalist scope", since it demands the creation of communities, the recognition of belonging and relationships between all living beings (Braidotti, 2009). It is an exercise of shared subjectivity where non-unitary entities are connected to each other. This is where vulnerability and pain are conceived as affirmative bonds of affection that enable the very power of action. Here Braidotti poses the main question to which we must try to give a common answer:

How can we, as people who are committed to think our way through this posthuman convergence; how can we, who are in this together but we are not one and the same; develop a set of values, of attributes, of terminologies, whereby we can think differentially but together about the challenges, the contradictions, the exhilaration and exhaustion of the fourth industrial revolution and the sixth extinction, in a materially embedded way, become in and with the world? (Braidotti, 2019, 2)
Figure 3: Braidotti, R. (2017). Giving a lecture on Affirmative Ethics at Leusden, the Netherlands [photograph]

In other words, the fundamental question and basis of posthumanism is not to establish a specific line of action, but instead the very fact of discovering the multiple possibilities that already exist, at the same time as we build the itineraries that we are capable of imagining. Along these lines, the new way of understanding existence that is about to arrive must be based on collective, multiplied, critical and activist reasoning. In the end, there is no truer thing than what Masha Gessen, a Russian-American journalist and activist, already stated, "enunciating means activating” (2018). Only in this way, by means of the imagination and creativity provided by the recognition of affirmation as a modus operandi, will we be able to make sense again of the general crises that engage us in contemporaneity, which are unavoidable.

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Alicia Macías Recio

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