Sunday, January 31, 2016

Against Tolerance

I seem to have written this in August 2015 and forgotten to publish: it comes as an outtake from Finite Media, which I hope will be out by the end of 2016

Toleration names the absence of dialogue. What I tolerate is beneath attention, marginal to my world. It is the kind of tolerance Jodi Dean (2009: 85-7) notes in G.W. Bush's tolerance of dissent: awareness without exchange of reasons. In a culture of complaint, we rail against the unforeseeable – tsunamis, bush fires, floods, hurricanes – and tolerate the greed, corruption and destructive acts of the oligarchy. The political event is a refusal of this kind of tolerance: even of the much praised liberal virtue of tolerance that allows the unaccounted other to live peaceably without threat of Holocaust. Any end to tolerance is portrayed, in the discourse of the current order, as descent into an atavistic Hobbesian war of each against all, but as the political thinkers cited in this chapter all argue in their different ways, it is tolerance itself that, by regarding as unchallengeable the ascendancy of those who do count and can speak, descends into monoculturalism. By excluding, it creates bitterness and revenge, or permits itself its ethnic cleansing under the hypocritical guise of immigration control and security, restrained only by the right to live a bare life. To refuse tolerance is to refuse the illusion of universality, the common claim of representative democracy. The political act contests the silence of tolerance in pointing to the meticulous exclusion of the nonhuman. In thinking the unthinkable politics of the nonhuman, we open the space for a different order, different economies and polities that we cannot reach through shopping and voting. Such a political event throws into question not just the privilege of the human but what underpins it: the identity we award ourselves as human. In the end under the regime of Universal Human Rights all identities are subsumed under the single identity of naked humanity. What is at stake in the articulation of non-human demand is the end not only of rights but of human identity. This is only possible if the demand that instigates it is strictly incommensurable with the existing order, as the demand for happiness is. But if the demand were for square circles, the principle would be the same: it is the contradiction between tolerance and communication, between the true non-communication of the tolerant order and the actual communication of the unheard and ignored, that drives the event.

To break the unity of the screen-image system through the materiality of segmented flow is the revenge of the rationalized on their rational progenitor.

Latin and Greek

"Television? The word is half Greek and half Latin. No good will come of it." This bon mot attributed to C.P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian, in 1928 applies to the word automobile as well. Marshall McLuhan more or less began media studies with his account of these technologies in The Mechanical Bride and Understanding Media. His tradition is alive and well with Paul Virilio (though he likes his Greek dromophilia and picnolepsia).

For the next generation, especially the first generation of (frequently male) internet scholars, Latin roots mattered: community, communication, commonwealth, commons. . . .

For the newer and largely female generation, Greek fights back: synaesthesia, synapses, sympathy, syncretism . . . with a much more embodied but still utopian view of the world.

Sitting down to write a preface to the 2nd edition of Jussi Parikka's Contagions, it's interesting to note how Latin, of a slightly different inflection, fights back: contact, conflict, and the horrors of the contemporary. Perhaps this means nothing at all. Or perhaps it marks the conditions for a new connective synecdoche.