Newslet —> Frame
Starting today, the newslet is changing colors. It’s not going to be the newslet anymore. I have collected enough conceptual guideposts (vigilance, order, alienation, correlates, event, regime) over the last month that I am ready to start framing the daily update in the appropriate conceptual context.
That way you get straight-up philosophy followed by analysis of the transition
We are about halfway through this series of T2B updates and it’s time to ask the basic question once again: is it possible to write a philosophy of the present? Google makes it possible to summarize the current moment and write a history of the present, work that’s increasingly common in the digital humanities. A history of the present is ‘a more than journalistic narrative’ of the current moment as we are experiencing it.
Can Google also make it possible to write a philosophy of the present? For that, we need philosophically rich concepts that hook into the present moment without trying to capture it. Two such concepts have emerged in the last month:
Correlation - porting over ways of thinking from the Chinese tradition to understand the present, which is always experienced as a loosely coupled network of systems than a coherent whole.
Vigilance - philosophy not as a set of analytic tools but as a way of paying attention.
We can use these two to meditate upon our life as it passes, but the T2B transition also adds an interesting philosophical dimension to our life: the philosophy of the event, a term that finds much use in contemporary continental philosophy, but can be summarized in common sense language as:
philosophy applied to a brief period of time that promises great change.
We find ourselves in one such event today - between COVID and Climate and China, and the vagaries of Trump, the US is in a period of ‘Regime Change,’ a phrase that erupts easily from the lips of American politicians when talking about other countries. Dubya used it a lot. The US was so confident of its complete and final victory at the end of the Cold War that it assumed it had the moral authority as well as military power to change other nations in its image.
That phrase has come full circle, with a fraught transition that feels like regime change at home.
Regime change is usually reserved for the violent substitution of one ruler by another, but there’s a deeper version worth exploring:
Replacing a type of political regime with another - say colonial with democratic or monarchy with republican.
Replacing one energy regime with another; for example, replacing biopower (human/animal muscles primarily) with fossil energy sources.
Replacing one economic regime - agrarian - with another - industrial.
And so on. The US (and the rest of the world) has experienced all of these over the last two hundred odd years:
Monarchy to Republicanism was the foundational regime change and universal suffrage was the icing on that cake
Transition to fossil fuels from biopower - first coal then oil - starting in the 19th century.
Same as 2, and goes hand in hand with it.
The US made a successful transition on all three dimensions though not without violence - the civil war was very much about the contradictions inherent in regime change in the sense I am using that term.
We are now at the cusp of regime change along at least two of the three factors:
From fossil fuels to renewables (energy regime)
From industrial capitalism to information capitalism (economic regime).
These two are well on the way, though both are being resisted by those who stand to lose. The question remains whether the political system can also transition without revolutionary change. Revolutionary change doesn’t have to be progressive, it can be reactionary too - the ongoing saga about the ‘stolen election’ suggests that there’s a strengthening cluster of business, political and cultural interests that wants to turn the US into an authoritarian system to keep the fossil energy -racial supremacy system in place.
Prediction: Biden’s strategy will to use organizational competence as a counter to revolutionary demands on both ends of the spectrum.
He has the perfect opportunity to make that claim - he has promised to distribute 100 million vaccines in his first hundred days of office, which will need massive coordination of civilian and military resources. From what I can tell, the administration’s Corona response will fall on Ron Klain’s shoulders. If he can pull that off, he can use that experience and the political capital earned from it and apply it to the Green New Deal.
I am willing to go out on a limb and say: Biden won’t get another chance; if the Corona response fails, we are in for regime change in the wrong direction.
The liberal order has the opportunity to expand into the vacuum created by Trump’s incompetence. The administration’s success in rolling out a solution to the COVID crisis - first vaccination then economic recovery - will determine the legitimacy of liberal democracy as a whole and its capacity to ride out the climate crisis.
For future discussion: In regime change we find the merger of two separately important themes: ‘order’ and ‘event.’ I have already discussed the ‘event.’ Order consists of the patterns of energy and information (and the institutions we have created for managing those two) that structure our lives. Merge order and event and we get a regime. Regimes and regime changes are a big reason why the current moment is philosophically interesting.
What follows is dense - feel free to ignore
I am hoping that correlative thought combined with vigilant attention will give us the right conceptual tools to understand this crucial historical moment as it unfolds. The T2B transition is an event in the way continental philosophers such as Alain Badiou use that term. We want to give this transition autonomy as an event in of itself or as the philosopher Francois Raffoul says:
He complains that we have a tendency to explain or interpret the event away as
But the thatness of an event isn’t a thing in itself - the ‘event as event’ engages more than the event itself. Why:
As any fan of Nagarjuna will tell you, the thatness of an event is empty and
adding a Chinese twist to the Buddhist tale, the method of correlations will give us many empty associations. Therefore:
An event such as the T2B transition has to be simultaneously grasped on its own terms, from the inside, and in conjunction with other networked events such as climate change.
They are the Yin and Yang of regime change.