Ontology of Violence Before ‘Ontology of Violence’: Two Excerpts from Two 2005 Papers
It is close to the decadinal anniversary for two of my undergrad essays that contain within them early forms of some originary ideas that recur in my thinking, and occasionally reoccur in my posts here (such as Becoming Out of Line: The Misalignment of Straightness, though in general heretofore I’ve been bashful with sharing too much full on philosophy; this may change); the “ontology of violence” is also discussed in a podcast episode that I am also shy about sharing, but maybe one day soon it will be out there in the world!
As I’ve encountered many new ideas and concepts since the fall of 2005, much of the vocabulary of my thoughts has evolved, such as learning the term “ontology”. Once I learned of this term, it quickly replaced “a priori” as my adjective and “ontological” was inserted; it was combined with all the big political and philosophical concepts: “ontological democracy”, “ontological freedom”, and “ontological justice” to mean that there was no bullshitting going on, that this was the real deal, latent content, if you will. How silly I can be!
In any event, this particular ontological way of thinking that is hinted at in these papers has remained with me. It is a world view that has at it’s core a universal battle between the two forces—more precisely one force and its recoiling when it doesn’t act free—of organicity (freely developing life force) and violence (logic). By necessity, and by definition, it is easier to speak (and write) of the violent recoiling force because of language’s very own constitution as an inherently violent methodology. In 2005 and before I was not yet thinking about the intrinsic violence of language—that would take some prompting by Georg Lukacs’s History and Class Consciousness, though I did always have an intuition that language was somehow false and inadequate for the richness of reality—rather, I was (as I am) more concerned with physical restrictions of movement that I experienced daily through my encounters with the world.
The theme of ontological movement restriction comes through in the first excerpt from the one paper I titled “The Paris Commune – A Failed yet Successful Experiment in Self Governing“. Not mentioned in the paper, but the most striking to me (then and now) of these physical restrictions to our mobility was how much cars channel our movement. This same logical reduction occurs when locales known to be violent (e.g. inner cities) restrict-through-deterring people from going there, solidified by normalization. Visiting the Middle East, for an other example, is politically incorrect because it is politically incorrect (sorry for the tautological word play!). As far as the cars, I still do feel highly irritated by a swarm of traffic that keeps me from accessing the other side of a road, or the highway that interrupts a forest; there is the road that makes a protective parent have to assume a high level of anxiety to keep their child from getting killed, interrupting their hike through a woodland that allowed them to forget 21st century civilization. In the excerpt I use the term “freedom to roam” as being limited by these types of phenomena as well as the institution of property doing this. In this way, I think I was hoping to link up with Proudhon’s “property is theft” in that property is the theft of maximal movement. Today I am ambivalent on the extension of the concept into “infinite violence,” which is the violence embodied by murder. This concept assumes a standpoint of a conscious subject being robbed of consciousness, but at the time it seemed like a cool qualitatively distinct use of a quantity/spectrum driven theory. To argue that death isn’t a qualitative break but just a nadir on a spectrum one could point to how very near death people probably aren’t very conscious if at all, and are already decaying: “the smell of death”.
Turning to the second paper—A Kantian Critique of Capitalism and a Proposition for Transcendental Anarchism—it was during the fall that I encountered the concept of ecological islandization which really resonated with my feelings about the world (and still does, for sadly it is evident everywhere I go). I toyed with the islandization concept within a larger critique of capitalism using Kant, as the course was a senior year seminar focusing on him. That was my first exposure to the seminal figure Kant and listening to Drucilla Cornell’s lectures spanning all three critiques certainly gave me a plethora of new categories to play around with.
I excerpted the first two pages of the Commune paper and put in bold the relevant passage, and I excerpted the sub-section titled “Islandizaton” from the Kant paper. Hope you can get something out of all this babble, past and/or present!
People ruling over one another is an age-old social convention that exists not out of necessity but rather is just a continuation through history that has not been effectively challenged. The main reason for this lack of challenge is simple, namely, the ruler or rulers in any society have interests to stay in power and do not give the intellectual and/or physical ammo to the oppressed that could challenge their power. Rather, through various institutions (the church, the monarchy, the military and now the modern state), tradition, and legal laws that stack against the oppressed, the ruling classes maintained a stranglehold on power. However the dominance of any ruling class has been threatened time and again in history, most significantly during revolutions, when a new ruling class comes to power, but afterwards there still remains oppressed and oppressor. The mere fact that once ruled over can come to be the rulers, shows an Achilles’ heel in the enterprise of subordination in general, and that is that it has no basis, and that people are indeed capable of ruling themselves. The Paris Commune of 1871 is filled with evidence that people can rule themselves, but it also displays the antagonistic relationship between violence (internally and externally to the Commune) and freedom.
Before proceeding with an analysis of the Commune, I would like to lay out my reasoning of how violence or the threat of it is inversely proportional to self-autonomy (freedom). Infinite violence—the killing of one person by another—is taking away all freedom of one person and putting it completely and permanently in the hands of another, the murderer. To a lesser degree, violence that injures a person physically, serves to limit their mobility (freedom to roam); and similarly violence existing that could injure a person also limits where a person can go (a person generally will not walk into a space where violence is known to occur). Private property, a more subtle restriction on freedom, because it limits where people can go (and what they can access), and if not honored, private property is backed by the violent, punishing force of the state. The more violence there is, the less freedom there can be empirically, and the more an ideology is dependent on violence, the less freedom it can bring.
The Commune as a Concept: Prior to March 18th
The Paris Commune as an official alternative government for Paris, separate from that of the French Government, was proclaimed on the 18th of March and elected on the 26th, but the preceding months saw extremely important developments throughout Paris that made the Commune government possible: “without the unique circumstances created by the ‘people’s war’ against Germany, the Commune is inconceivable.”1 The ideas of socialism, anarchism, Jacobin/Blanquist-republicanism and other ideologies that ran counter to the establishment, had been gaining increasingly favorable viewing among the oppressed lower class Parisians. However, these ideas didn’t move from the backs of the minds of the oppressed until their practical application seemed possible: when Paris underwent a siege by the Prussians in the fall of 1870. This siege coupled with the ineffective responses being taken by the French provisional government, which angered many, served to galvanize the Parisians and many began creating and attending radical socio-political clubs and organizations, where practical and long-term issues were discussed en masse.
The oppressed Parisians, the ones predisposed to radical ideas, had a unique chance to bring into practice their ideas without incorporating violence as a means to push them into power. A vacuum was created in Paris when the Prussian forces fighting the French forces,
Islandization is an ecological term, also known as habitat fragmentation, in which once continuous habitats have been divided by varying degrees, because of human activities, such as: roads that cut through a habitat, land clearing, and various methods of resource extraction.1
The concept of islandization, is not only a relevant way to look at the ecological world, but also at human society, most especially human interactions. Chauvinistic “isms” such as racism, sexism, classism, ageism, and others, serve to divide human kind rather than unite us. Such divisions have grown under capitalism, aided immensely by an illusion of individualism, to the point that humans have become atomized, the more so in the advanced capitalist nations. Such divisions through society can only exist with underpinnings of similarities… there are greater things that transcend these dividing “isms”, that exist a priori. Firstly, and most generally, we are all united as being in space and time, and this is a must for concepts like racism to ever even exist. For there to be racism, we must all have a race, for their to be sexism, we must all be common in our having a sex, and so on with all the isms. This is something transcendental philosophy points to, a commonality we all have, commonalities we must have, before there can be subtle differentiation. And the postmodernists get it wrong: “by not listening to Kant, they go back before him.”2