File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0111, message 86

Date: Sun, 18 Nov 2001 12:40:04 -0600
Subject: We have always been cyborgs

Hugh, All:

I was primarily responding to an argument you were making that implied
that for states as well as individuals, only self-interest mattered, not
ethics.  I now recognize your point that you were only referring to
states, not individuals, but isn't that the whole problem in connection
with the US?  

America can never admit to itself it is merely operating to secure its
own interests.  It must always proclaim to the world instead that merely
wishes to secure liberty and justice for all. This sums up America's
ethical bad faith. 

Therefore, I want to plunge on with this discussion of interest versus
ethics, especially since it is a major theme of the chapter in Badiou's
Ethics whose content I just summarized. 

Certainly, what Badiou says is very contrary to our current conceptions.
Beyond the false idealism I referred to above, there is also a popular
culturalargument today that proclaims all ethics is simply a matter of
self-interest.  Whether this stems from the egoist philosophy of Ayn
Rand or the enlightened individualism of contemporary capitalism, it
seems to be at the very center of our current conception of self, one
that is summarized in the slogan - Look out for number 1.

The problem with such formulations is that they tend to operate with a
very rigid conception of the self, as though nothing could be more
certain than my own self-interest.

In fact, however, as animals living in dynamic, uncertain environments,
a certain amount of trial and error is often necessary to discover where
our true interest lies.  

Part of the problem is that my self-interest today may not coincide with
my self-interest tomorrow. Here ethics may have a place insofar as it
keeps us open to a more fluid conception of my self than the popular
conception of self allows.  The heart of this contrary conception of
ethics is implied in Nietzsche's rather gnomic formulation: "Become that
which you are."

In a similar way, I believe the concept of the sublime is intertwined
with this ethics of the self, for very similar reasons.  Although Badiou
couches his argument in the language of truth, one could also say that
the supplement to the situation is the sublime.  The agitation of the
differends produce first pain and then subsequent pleasure as we come to
realize what Kant named our supersensible destiny, Badiou the Immortal,
and Lacan the Real.

What I also find interesting about this constellation of thought (and
the argument Badiou makes regarding the ethic of truth) is that is also
correlates nicely with another philosopher who is usually considered
poles apart from the likes of Kant, Badiou, Lacan, Lyotard or Deleuze.

I am referring to John Dewey, that great American philosopher whom Rorty
once named, along with Heidegger and Wittgenstein, as one of the three
great philosophers of the twentieth century. 

Against the argument that a "organism/environment is a necessary duality
for being(s) to 'be'," Dewey's great insight was to recognize that this
interaction forms a profound unity.  As early as 1896, in his seminal
essay, "The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology"  he critiqued the dualism
implicit in the stimulus-response conception of ordinary psychology.  

He argued instead that the situatedness of the 
organism-acting-within-the-environment must be taken into account.  The
interests and habits of the organism select the stimuli rather than
merely respond to it.  Dewey saw, long before the concept of the
feedback mechanism became fashionable, that the human animal is
basically a loopy organism whose transactions with an environment make
simultaneous changes upon both as a part of an ongoing process.  The
self is no longer regarded as a kind of  subjective homunculus, but
rather as a network server composed of looping branched distributions
throughout the world forming an ecology of mind. The organism is truly
placed within the world.

The mature Dewey realized that a shared, fundamental process connected
both art and science. He named this process Inquiry and he defined this
as "the controlled or directed transformation of an indeterminate
situation into one that is so determinate in its constituent
distinctions and relations as to convert the elements of the original
situation into a unified whole."  Here again, I wish to point to the
remarkable similarity between this conception and Badiou's ethics of

Dona Haraway and others who have exploited the sci-fi concept of the
cyborg tend to view the cyborg as either an emerging or future trend.
But, as Larry Hickman argues in his book "John Dewey's Pragmatic
Technology" Dewey took the view (in a way that anticipated both
Wittgenstein and Deleuze) that concepts and language, the basic
materials of Inquiry, are themselves a form of technology; tools which
are used to transform both a situation and ourselves.

This leads to a very different conception of philosophy. The
relationship between animal and machine, rather than being deplored
nostalgically in a Heideggarian fashion or autonomously festishized in a
Wired fashion can be viewed instead in an ethical/political fashion as a
situation for which we must take responsibility.  The Cyborg thereby
becomes synonymous with Badiou's Immortal. In truth, we have always been
The ethical maxim of a cyborg is that electric androids must dream of
philosophy in order to not remain as sheep.

For the history of our so-called civilization is merely a series of
footnotes to the domestication of fire. Home has been unheimlich ever
since.  This uncanny juxtaposition of intimacy with the volatile has
meant that something sublime emerged from the transformation of hominids
into cyborgs, even though it would take several milleniums for the
process to be completed.  The concept of the cyborg is simply the
conceptual personae of fire in the sense that it is a mask for
Prometheus, that primal cyborg.

Cyborgs are the true nomads.  For they understand what being a nomad
truly means. It is to be always on the move, even as you remain in
place.  A cyborg is a stationary perpetual motion machine, an electronic
sheep who dreams of becoming an Immortal. 



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