Burden of choice: from ANT through Mao to game of Go and back

Blog, I am back!

I would like to invite you to read my, Andrzej Nowak‘s, new article The Burden of Choice, the Complexity of the World and Its Reduction: The Game of Go/Weiqi as a Practice of “Empirical Metaphysics”, where actor-network theory meets with game of Go/Weqi, with little help of Mao Zedong.

What connects politics and the future? It is crucial for both of these issues to raise the question of choice. When we think of politics, choice means thinking about will and decision. Which way do we go? Who are we voting for? What system do we choose? What policies do we put into practice? When we ask about the future, the notion of choice clearly refers us to the question about the multitude of the futures, the choice each time is the implementation of one of the possible scenarios.

The most important that links politics and the future is the “burden of choice”, the need to make a decision: only one of the many possible, projected futures can be realized; out of the multitude of policies at a given moment, only one of them will become the present and the past.

However, choice should not be understood only epistemologically. Referring to the words spoken by one of the characters in the book “Secret Agent. A simple tale” by Joseph Conrad: History is made by men, but they do not make it in their heads. Both political and future depend on institutions, materiality, infrastructures and their performativity. What does it mean to understand choice ontologically? Referring to STS literature one can recall such names as Annemarie Mol or Isabelle Stengers, and concepts such as pluriversum, ontological politics or cosmopolitics.

I propose that we should  train in the ability to perceive the world in its maximum complexity, that we develop techniques that will make it clear that our phone is made using coltan, the extraction of which is responsible for the civil wars in Congo, but the same phone can be used to publicise this fact. Like C Wright Mills claimed that the cure for alienation is not the cult of individuality, but the ability to think structurally, I postulate that we can control our lives when we “tactically” suspend our narrow, human-focused point of view for a moment. Recreation of forces, networks, complex trajectories of agency is a baroque vision of the world characteristic of the actor-network theory. Such  imagination, is not afraid, does not hesitate to risk radical openness to what is Other, non-humans, divine beings, plants, rhizomes. Baroque imagination is to draw attention to t practice the ability to track many networks of agency at once and the ability to refrain from hastily closing down the “concert of experience” It is necessary to go beyond the ritual of recreating one’s location. Without this you cannot see the whole range of conditions that have made us who we are and where we are.

But the baroque refers to a dangerous set of metaphors, it carries a pre-modern or even anti-modern load. Baroque imagination, openness to the world, to the experience of multiplicity should only be a transitional moment. It is an exercise that is supposed to allow us to see the world differently than “it is currently cut”. However, one cannot remain in this experience. It is a way nowhere.  It is not to recognize the rhizome structure of reality and the infinite possibility of its reconfiguration. It is impossible to live in a world of possibilities. Posthumanism teaches us sensitivity, shows to what extent we consist of this tangle of beings and practises, that autonomous human being is an ontological fiction. But both posthumanism and baroque is dangerous axiologically and politically. Yes, human is a fiction, but at the same time human beings are stories that can write itself, free itself from systemic, social, technical and natural conditions. The fact that “human does not exist” ontologically does not mean that it is not worth fighting for the old humanistically dream – an autonomous, self-creating human being. This reflections are in total a game between Kant on the one hand and Heidegger and Adorno on the other. Posthumanism restores the dialectic role of negativity, but for the dialectic momentum to be completed, we need alsp a subjective moment, only then Aufhebung – synthesis is full. Burden of choice refers to the courage needed to fight for this subjective moment, while posthumanism means pointing out that we cannot stop “listening to beings” at the same time.

Once we see the potential multiplicity of entities and are sensitive to “hearing all voices”, we should take the next step – to enter into the ungrateful role of the reductor, the one who decides which voices are more important than others, to which entities this voice should be given, and which should be marginalized. It would be great if we could give a voice to all entities in their  spontaneous development and dynamics of self-organization, only that in the real world one has to choose between malaria and its “right to exist” and a child who dies as a result of infection with this disease.

Well, you can’t tell the game without gameplay, so let play:

And editor introduction: http://avant.edu.pl/wp-content/uploads/Ontological-Imagination-Introduction.pdf

Or: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/330509941_The_Burden_of_Choice_the_Complexity_of_the_World_and_Its_Reduction_The_Game_of_GoWeiqi_as_a_Practice_of_Empirical_Metaphysics

6 thoughts on “Burden of choice: from ANT through Mao to game of Go and back

  1. Thank You, let me comment with some details tomorow. But shortly, I am somewhow thinking about myself as “born again modernist”, and when I adresing to Latour/Mol etc. I am treating this a a half of the story, just a friendly reminder how it happend that we stabilized word, black-boxed sets of networks etc. So this reflexive moment of modernity. But I dont see why we should stay there. So stressing this complexity moment I am trying to show, that should this be kind of ontological version of “epoche”. Everyday world is a result of work of reduction, interplay of froces and so on. Than we can do kond of exercise to see thing irreducted (yes I like Irreducions), but just as a phase, to go back to reducted world (maybe with some a liitle different angle.


  2. Mol (like Andy Pickering and Ian Hacking) doesn’t to my knowledge actually map out ontologies only creates assemblages (even rhizomes after Deleuze which make the unfortunate leap into waxing ontological is anti-Hegelian) and like Stengers attends to foregrounding the human interests (there is no way out of human-being) at hand, (I purposely never mentioned Latour who also went waxing theo-logical) all of these folks are post-structuralists (post-modern) because they refuse to fall into the trap of reification. Sublation doesn’t actually happen in the world there is no such social/intellectual process of synthesis only invention/proto-typing, assembling and reassembling.
    We do fly planes but that happens without the sort of analysis you call for here but we also have all sorts of problems with supply chains, pollution, workforce issues, governance etc that at least here in the States means that air travel is getting worse not better the point in general was that without some means of testing (and not just free-associating) there is way of knowing what to attend to or not,(what is actually at play or not and to what effect) and to the degree that “ontology” means a difference in values about what to include and how to decide what to include than all one has done is to add to the complexity and gum up the works by adding more factors. You can see some version of this at work in our now failing democracies as they have gotten more diverse they have gotten more divided and less effective.


  3. Thank you for your comments.
    First – why imagination? What am I a debtor of C. Wright Mills and his ontological imagination. Mill taught us the necessity of moving between different orders, from the experience of the individual to the system level and back.
    Second – Annemarie Mol – yes I know her works, and partially love it, but I would like to claim she is better in mapping those different ontologies, than in proposition why we shoudl enact only one of it. Yes I agree – Mol is a definetly step in good direction, but to small in my opinion.
    Third – why Hegel? Is not alchemy but old, good need for modernity. Ok thanks to ANT/STS, posthumanizm we can be more sensitive, but really we should trust Latoura in his a-modern stance?
    Fourth – well, I do not agree that we are not able to organize entities. Millions of planes fly every year. Each of these planes is a folded black box. It is kept in the air thanks to the coordination of humans and non-humans. Yes, modernity has often forgotten what complex relationships have been packaged in black boxes, and I agree that looking at them can be intimidating. But let’s agree even as intimidating and overwhelmed by the physical, engineering, cognitive knowledge that is needed to understand the flight of a passenger plane will fly anyway.
    Fifth – the note is just an introduction to the linked text, let’s come back to the discussion on both of them.


  4. What exactly is baroque imagination (and why imagination instead of attention?) or the like and how does one supposedly do it or any other god-like overview?
    Annemarie Mol’s multi-ontology is tongue in cheek and if you look at her work she digs into the very localized details of who is doing what to whom with what and to what effect , what she doesn’t (to my knowledge) offer is a way to decide how far out from the immediate scene of action does one have to trace influences/factors/actors nor what on the scene needs to be accounted for.
    As for Hegelian alchemy like Aufhebung or “the rhizome structure of reality and the infinite possibility of its reconfiguration” what physics are you applying here?
    Given how bad we are at currently managing a relatively narrow number of interests/factors I don’t see how adding more does anything but complicate matters.


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