Category Archives: Deleuze

The Limits of Argumentative Reason: Rhetoric Advocating War with Iran

Last August my colleague Nicholas A. Russell at CSU Long Beach and I presented a paper at the 17th Biennial Conference on Argumentation held in Alta, Utah. That paper titled “Dangerous Desires: The Limits of Argumentative Reason in Public HIV/AIDS Health Campaigns,” was subsequently published in the conference proceedings Reasoned Argument and Social Change. In the essay we undertake a sustained attack on the usefulness of reason and rationality as a mechanism for judgement in contemporary argumentation. While historically reason has long been the standard of proper debate, we find ample reason to find it suspect. In our essay we draw upon a group of men who intentionally contract HIV/AIDS as a case study for the failing of rationality in typical AIDS prevention discourse aimed at this population.

Our argument suggests that reason should be subject to increased criticism for several reasons. First, drawing from Deleuze and Guattari we argue:

“Reason,” they argue, “is only a concept, and a very impoverished concept for defining the plane and the movements that pass through it” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994, p. 43). For them, reason is a problematic concept because of its association with state politics: “realized reason,” they argue, “is identified with the de jure State” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p. 375). Reason is summoned to serve the interests of State politics, which in turn erase subjectivities (and desires) that are at odds with the state.(Russell and McHendry 640)

Reason is controlled by the state and the state, almost always, comes to determine what is and is not reasonable. We offer instead an alternative concept for understanding argumentative disputes: desire. We argue:

In its place, Deleuze offers a version of ethics based in the question: What modes of living do they facilitate? As such, by centering desire, as opposed to reason, we can see that bug chasers would avoid the question of “‘What must I do?’ (which is the question of morality) but rather… How can I go to the limit of what I ‘can do’?” (Smith, 2007, p. 67). In essence, this line of thinking asks what the body is capable of but these ways of living do not “depend on an object or belong to a subject” they are ways of living (Deleuze, 2001, 26). (642)

Desire offers the ability to trace out competing ways of living in an array of conflicting ethics in a complex world. Moreover, because desires are multiple, contradictory, and can overlap it allows for more ability to clash than chasing a singular definition of reasoned argument.

It seams clear, sadly, that many in both the professional right and left are beating the drum of war with Iran. As Israel increases its posturing (and feelings of legitimized threats from Iran) the U.S. seems poised to, perhaps, enter into another conflict in the Middle East. Given our over commitment of defense resources abroad and the fragile state of our recovery another military engagement hardly seems rational, but Iran has long been a target of desire: A rogue state, part of the axis of evil, and a budding nuclear power. Iran makes the perfect target for the United States of America to desire a conflict with. Its status as a stable state makes up for all of the inadequacies over the muddled and complex conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Underscoring the difficulty of using reason as a standard for assessing the drum beat of war with Iran is this exchange between Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and Rep. Tom Price (R-GA):

The central point of contention is whether or not Iran is a rational actor. Price is “stunned” and requests that Dempsey support his assertion. Dempsey offers a few bits of argumentation: (1) “The alternative is that we attribute to them that their actions are so irrational that they have no basis of planning.” (2) “The key is to understand how they act and not trivialize their actions by attributing to them some irrationality.” (3) “I don’t understand their rationality but I’m not them.” Price interjects “You believe it to be rational on their part to seek nuclear weapons?” Dempsey responds, “Absolutely not on my terms?”

Here we have a beautiful case study in the failing of rationality and the exercising of desire. Dempsey is expressing the limits of an official statist view of rationality being applied to Iran. Stated simply, viewed from the perspective of the interests of the United States of America there is no way to call Iran’s actions rational, but to force those standards upon them as a weighing mechanism for military action runs the risk of trivializing “their actions by attributing to them some irrationality.” Price clearly wants to have a singular view of rationality, his, and is stunned that any other standard of argumentation would be applied to considering military action with Iran.

Here is where desire is important. We can trace Price’s desire to see Iran as irrational, Dempsey’s desire to recognize them as a rational military actor, Iran’s desire to become a military actor, and so on all coming out as this conversation begins to cycle up in the public domain. Each actor is exercising multiple sets of desires, desires that likely are driven by a savage bloodlust and could end in military conflict, but we should be clear that any outcome is unlikely to be rational-what ever that means.

Price’s failure is not his desire to see Iran as irrational or for war with Iran if that is his true desire. The mistake is to expect a single standard of rationality to be a demarkation of the proper in contemporary argumentation.

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The Becoming-Nomad of the #Occupy Movement

This post is the second in a series of three using some concepts from the work of Deleuze and Guattari to chart some lines of flight through the #Occupy movement.

I want to deal directly here with the tension between sedentary ways of living and the figure of thought of nomadic resistance. Deleuze and Guattari argue that nomadic resistance exists outside, beyond, and in excess of the State and as a result poses a threat to the stability of the State and has the ability to make social relations otherwise. In this post, I argue that there is a dangerous tension at work between the desire in the occupy movement for sedentary territories (encampments across the country) and their mobilized potential as a nomadic war machine that can escape the reach of the state by avoiding remaining sedentary.

Let’s begin by addressing the central problematic of all of culture summed up in one remarkable word: difference. Despite our claims to the contrary, culture is not homogenous and we cannot get over or ignore difference, there is no post-race, post-class, post-sexist (this list could be so much longer) society to get to. Culture is a
heterogenous play of forces that struggles to negotiate flows of power
through and over difference. The occupy movement is one of many social movements to struggle over the way power has been distributed across
nodes of difference.

The force of their visibility comes from the State’s inability to process or create strategies to deal with the #Occupy movement in any successful way. It is a movement that emerges and reproduces like a rhizome and seems to make about as many demands as a rhizome. From the perspective of the State the movement must appear altogether perplexing. Take for example Deleuze and Guattari’s stringing of
Nietzsche and Kafka together to describe the sudden appearance of
nomads in the city:

“‘They come like fate, without reason, consideration, or pretext…’ ‘In some way that is incomprehensible they have pushed right into the capital. At any rate, here they are; it seems that every morning there are more of them.'” (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 390

We can see that the bewilderment Deleuze and Guattari pick up from
Nietzsche and Kafka is likely remarkably similar to that found in the
stammering rush to justify State aggression and evictions of
protestors from their camps. The encampments in Zuccotti Park and in
Oakland, and so on, were simply not going away. At the start of the occupy movement folks smugly gave it a few days, then a week or two, then the eviction of Zuccotti would put a stop to this mess, and yet here we are and “every morning there are more of them.” However, the movement’s identity in its twitter hash tag #ows and its sense of belonging to community formed in places like Zuccotti represents its greatest liability. #OWS cannot risk becoming a sedentary movement and let the State dictate the boundaries of its cultural expression. it
cannot afford to have its identity dictated for it by geographic boundaries, instead it must reticulate the mate retrial force of those

Let’s parse out two terms. States are striated sedentary ways of living that plant roots and hierarchies, chains of command deliver official pronouncements that use centrifugal force to compel bodies to the center of structures of power. The nomad is cast out from the State, wandering beyond recognized culture, beyond recognition at times. Yet, they can traverse vast amounts of space and arrive in the
city “like fate, [seemingly] without reason.” The nomad is at war with
the State because they refuse to have their bodies subjected to inherently unequal systems of human relations.

Now to be clear, the majority of the folks who enter the #OWS movement
are not nomads, either in the traditional or in the Deleuzian sense. However, they are experiencing what Deleuze might call a becoming-nomad. That is to say that these geographically dispersed movements are sharing an intellectual, affective, and aesthetic
experience that need not be tied to any one place to make war with economic inequality and injustice despite geographic distances and to, at times, gain power and force because of those distances. The danger is that the movement cannot become a sedentary one. The last week has revealed some troubling questions about the exercise of free speech and protest in the United States. The clashes between police and protestors are doubly heartbreaking because they are avoidable and they have the potential to shift the conversation from income
inequality to protest rights. To be clear, we need both conversations, there is no doubt about that. However, if this movement, that is a kind of becoming-nomad, gets consumed with its right to this territory or that territory it ceases to make war with the economic injustice it
seeks to battle in the first place.

None of this is to say give up on Zuccotti or any of the other encampments, Deleuze reminds us to always have a small plot of land,
for without it we may lose our sanity. However, the occupation of these places is a tactic of confrontation that enables a making of war against economic injustice and cannot exhaust the creativity, energy, resources, and bodies of the movement. That is the strategy of the State and is the status quo. “Invest in defending your space. Pay your legal fees, pay for goods to protect you from our riot gear. Pay your taxes to buy our riot gear.” When these movements march in the lines the State provides it has become a sedentary movements and it’s creativity has been folded back into the desires of the State. At
that point little large scale social action seems plausible. All of this assumes, of course, that the becoming-nomad of #OWS can achieve some plausible social change if it presses on through the cold winter months.

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#OWS Death Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

Things have gotten ugly; they have gotten ugly in Zuccotti Park, ugly in Oakland, ugly in Denver, and so on. The late night raid in New York led to a drastic reduction of protest abilities for members of the #Occupy movement in Zuccotti Park. Speculation began shortly after the raids, and subsequent legal defeat, that these #OWS was losing the fight. Some even speculated that this could be the end of the occupy movement altogether. Such conjecture can be found from gawker here and huffington post here.

Yet, this morning the occupy movement in New York began marching on Wall Street and attempting to reassertion dominance over Zuccotti Park. Some were even arrested while dismantling police barricades. Despite the systematic crack down against the protesters and the widespread coordinated exclusion of the press from covering police mobilization against the protests, how does the occupy movement continue to sustain itself?


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#OccupyWallStreet Capitalism’s Death Drive, & Anti-Capitalism

#OccupyWallStreet reveals a number of propositions that need to be tested, challenges, debated, and problematized. This work cannot be done just by political pundits, but must be done by our political leaders. They need to deal seriously with the following:

  • Democracy and capitalism are not the same thing, in fact, left to its own devices they can be mutually exclusive means of governance (Yes, I consider capitalism a form of governance).
  • Neither Republican or Democratic policies actually seek to implement the invisible hand, both parties seek to use government (albeit differently-barely) to creatively manage the economy.
  • Capitalism’s drive to concentrate wealth may be a death drive–a desire to realize its own destruction in the satisfaction of its ultimate desire–complete control over all capital:

“Death then is a part of the desiring-machine,a part that must itself be judged, evaluated in the functioning of the machine and the system of its energetic conversions, and not as an abstract principle.” (Deleuze & Guattari, Anti-Oedipis, p. 332).

  • Given the increasing gap between the 1% and the 99% it seems impossible that there can be enough consumers left to consume the good the economy relies own. We are distributing wealth in a way that is, day by day, shutting consumers out of even basic necessities. Certainly, the standard of living has increased to a degree that many people confuse needs and wants. However,  the long term unemployed, uninsured, under-fed, and under-education in this nation is increasing and the stability of the economy is at stake.

Each of these points are meant to be contested, I see them as grim economic realities that require some very difficult policy adjustments because the market will not resolve these issues as long as our economic-political policies provide incentives that speed on this death drive. If we weigh our needs and our desires, our work is to take this death drive and hold it up to be “judged, evaluated in the functioning of the machine and the system of its energetic conversions.” The sole unifying goal of #OWS should be to help hold this instinct to light, other political effects are icing on the cake.

A great many of the swing-and-miss takes on the #OWS have levied complaints that the movement engages in class warfare and is made up of anti-capitalists malcontents. The charge of class may actually be a fair point and one that demands emphasis:

There’s class warfare, all right,” Mr. Buffett said, “but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

If this movement accomplishes nothing other then forcing America to focus on income inequality, class mobility, and the growth of financial services beyond the scope of common sense controls then the movement will have done a service to this nation.

To the charge that the protestors are anti-capitalist; again sure there are probably a number of people drawn to the movement in part out of a politics of anti-capitialism. It is a mistake to either discount them or the movement because of their presence. What should frighten the 1% is that the 99% inevitably represents a heterogenous movement that lacks the kind of charismatic leadership that can make it so easy to discredit a movement. Thus, the movement has anti-capitalists, socialists, democrats (no these terms do not all mean the same thing), some republicans, and a great many other parts of the American political spectrum. Moreover, even calling someone anti-capitalist does not really tell us all that much about their politics (See Jeremy Gilbert’s critique of Naomi Klein’s No Logo in his book AntiCapitalism).

Social movements in the digital age are more heterogeneous that we could ever imagine, or it may be fair to say the heterogeneity that was always already present may be more visible today. When we read the group as a homogenous group of angry dissidents who defecate on symbols of authority (see, given the content of this post, the ironically named The Blaze‘s post on #OWS), we allow our selves to ignore the serious and pressing political problems that #OWS is trying to bring to light. #OWS is not a homogenous movement and it is  political miscalculation to read it as such–this is true of both is critics and supporters.

As the movement marks its one month anniversary, many have called for them to outline more concrete political goals. Yet, the nature of #OWS defies such demands. If #OWS is to remain a creative force that opens space for new creativity and movement in striated spaces of America’s unequal income distribution. Our best hopes for this movement is that it does not simply become another set of party slogans, instead it becomes a source for creatively undermining the systems that it opposes, not at a molar level to undo all of capitalism but at the micro level where shifts in flows of capital can be politically efficacious.

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Postmodernism, Ethics, and Sex Trafficking

Progressive news blog Think Progress reported on the Family Research Council including postmodernism in its list of causes for sex-trafficking. The core of their claim is that:

the post-modern view of morality that essentially says there is not right or wrong

This claim is dubious, both because of the lack of specificity of how postmodernism becomes an active subject capable of enabling sex trafficking and because it ignores postmodern and poststructural views of ethics. We could cite here Bauman’s Postmodern Ethics. However, for my own research I am interested in Deleuze’s ethics. Much of Deleuze’s later work focuses around the question of how one might live. Daniel W. Smith, a Deleuzian scholar I admire, argues in “DELEUZE AND THE QUESTION OF DESIRE: TOWARD AN IMMANENT THEORY OF ETHICS,” that :

What is an immanent ethics? Throughout his writings, Deleuze has often drawn a distinction between “ethics” and “morality”—a distinction that has traditionally been drawn to distinguish modes of reflection that place greater emphasis, respectively, on the good life (such as Stoicism) or on the moral law (such as Kantianism). Deleuze, however, uses the term “morality” to define, in very general terms, any set of “constraining” rules, such as a moral code, that consists in judging actions and intentions by relating them to transcendent or universal values

What he calls “ethics” is, on the contrary, a set of “facilitative” [faculta- tive] rules that evaluates what we do, say, and think according to the immanent mode of existence that it implies. One says or does this, thinks or feels that: what mode of existence does it imply? “We always have the beliefs, feelings, and thoughts we deserve,” writes Deleuze, “given our way of being or our style of life.”

The implication of Deleuze’s ethics is that there are ways of life and codes of conduct that are immanent and intimate with regard to the affective states they induce. One is accountable for one’s actions. Not for the purpose of pleasing a transcendent philosophy, but out of careful consideration of the type of life one lives and its impact on those you come in contact with.

For my part, it is when we think at each moment, and in each moment, about the material impact we have on all things around us that we discover a revolutionary form of living.

How might we think through the dangerous and shameful practice of sex trafficking from the perceptive of Deleuze’s ethics?


Update: I want to emphasize that I intentionally made the move from postmodern to poststructural thinking. Not because the two are indistinct, but because the FRC is using the term vaguely to assault thought in our contemporary moment.

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