The Secondary Correlation — Further Thoughts on the Realism Kerfuffle

Responses to this article have been diverse and at times quite animated. It might make sense for me to respond and clarify a number of points and criticisms that have arisen.

First let’s dispense with some of the straw man arguments…

  • This article is not about capitalism or math or philosophy in general — it’s about post-fordism as a specific historical period.
  • It does not say that realism is bad or that realism should be thrown out.
  • It does not say that math or software are bad or that they should be thrown out.
  • It does not say that “OOO equals capitalism, therefore OOO is bad.”
  • It does not say that math entered philosophy under post-fordism — math has always been a part of philosophy.
  • It does not deny that math has always been a part of capitalism, prior to post-fordism.
  • It is not a defense of humanism.
  • It is not a defense of correlationism.
  • It is not a Hegelian argument, despite the tone of the final two sentences.
  • It is not an indictment of Badiou; it does not say that Badiou is complicit with capitalism.

Let’s go through a number of specific points, starting with the last one…

“Badiou is bad; Badiou is a realist; Badiou is colluding with capitalism” — A number of people seem to think I’m attacking Badiou in this piece. But if you read the article, you’ll see that Badiou is presented as an exemplar. I state very clearly that he *avoids* the kinds of problems discussed in the article. He is featured in the preamble because of his profound influence and the way in which he represents arguably the strongest deviation from poststructuralism and postmodernism.

“Are You a Correlationist?” — Some also claim that I’m simply returning to old-school correlationism, and thus am “missing the point” of speculative realism entirely by rejecting anti-correlationism, one of its essential pre-conditions. Again I should be clear: I am quite interested in anti-correlationism, as evidenced in my work on Laruelle.

“Are You a Humanist?” — Some have read the article and concluded that I’m a humanist. I admit that this might not be entirely clear, particularly with the reference to Sartre at the end. As someone trained in the critical tradition, I am quite interested in various kinds of anti-humanism. Most of my writings on new media, for example, discuss and critique the autonomous materiality of control in object networks. Yet I am not a staunch anti-humanist; attention to both the human and non-human realms is mandatory for critical thinking.

“Software is just a tool. It’s silly/wrong/false to be against software.” — Yes I agree. That’s why I never make any kind of “software is bad” claim in this article.

“Aren’t you simply arguing by analogy?” — A number of people have responded to the piece by saying that I’m essentially arguing by insinuation, that I’ve merely tried to analogize or correlate realism with the mode of production. And thus, since correlation does not imply causation my argument falls apart. The argument would only work if I proved a direct connection between the two.

But this is precisely the heart of the matter. I have no intention of proving causation, connection, or collusion. I’m simply demonstrating *correlation*. This is the so-called Secondary Correlation problem. If the new realism is against correlation, why echo a secondary correlation? This is why the Malabou quote is such an important refrain for me. You can’t be an anti-correlationist and still maintain an ontology that “looks like” today’s logistical infrastructure. (And yes, I do mean “looks like” — argument by correlation is appropriate when the topic is correlation.) In short, analogy is the *crux* of the argument: realism can’t be anti-correlationist *and* correlate to the mode of production at the same time. Take your pick. Either drop the anti-correlationist stance. Or don’t construct your ontology to look like a FedEx object network.

“Why is it ‘correlationist’ to propose an ontology that looks like the mode of production? Doesn’t correlationism mean something different?” — Let’s take Laruelle’s definition of the correlationist principle, “the communicational is real, and the real is communicational.” Now consider Harman and OOO. In the most rudimentary sense, object-oriented software is a communicational apparatus in that it specifies how data can move between different parts of software objects. So for Harman to say that the real *is* that way, he’s a correlationist. But then again that’s hardly fair, since for Laruelle all philosophers are correlationists.

So if you don’t like Laruelle’s definition, take Meillassoux’s use of correlationism. It’s precisely the “in itself” vs “for us” that’s at stake. My claim is that, after Google et al., objects and networks move definitively into the “for us” category. Consider a hypothetical: what if Harman said “I endow the capacity of photosynthesis to all objects.” He might be wrong — at least for non plants — but at least he *wouldn’t* be a correlationist. Yet that’s not what Harman does, he picks one of the most “for us” aspects of contemporary society, the post-fordist infrastructure of object-orientation, and then grants it to all real things.

It’s a bit like a monkey saying “in my ontology, everything is a banana.” Absurd of course. Yet even if it were 100% true, it would still be a “for monkey” ontology. Harman, a non-monkey, seems to be doing something quite similar. We live today in a world of encapsulated, withdrawn objects existing at different scales and connected in networks. And, coincidentally, OOO describes an ontology of encapsulated, withdrawn objects existing at different scales and connected in networks. Why are they the same? Again, let me be clear: this doesn’t mean anything in particular and it doesn’t mean OOO is tainted in any way. It simply means that OOO ought to *explain* the correlation. If you’re striving for the “in itself,” why return to the “for us”?

“What alternative do you propose?” — There are a number of alternate possibilities. I for one am quite interested in the work of Laruelle, but there are other avenues too. For his part Laruelle is quite rigorously anti-correlationist, much more so than OOO or even Meillassoux. And further, as I discussed recently in an essay on Laruelle’s marxism, he has absolutely nothing in common with the infrastructure of distributed networks and objects. For this reason I find Laruelle tremendously useful for thinking about ethics and politics today. In essence what I’m pursuing is a different form of anti-correlationism that doesn’t stem from the Latourian or Deleuzian traditions. This is one of the reasons why Laruelle is so useful.

Let me add, and I think I speak for everyone involved, that this debate has gone on for too long. It’s lead to a lot of bad blood. I’m friends with some of the SR/OOO cohort, and I’d like to keep it that way. This article only appeared now due to the slow timeline of academic publishing. I’m on the record and I’m willing to defend my position. But I’m also interested in moving on to think about other things.

76 thoughts on “The Secondary Correlation — Further Thoughts on the Realism Kerfuffle

  1. Hey Alex, to me it feels like the winds of change are blowing a bit, and that they may be having a dampening effect on the intensity of the debate. From some stuff I’ve seen online lately it seems as if there’s a general weariness with the conflict, and I think that a few years from now, a few of the cleavages might start to seem like the effect of some unfortunate preliminary engagements that led to misunderstandings and bad blood. As one of your friends with a foot in in the SR/OOO world, I’d say you don’t have to worry on my account.

  2. Hi Alex,

    Yet that’s not what Harman does, he picks one of the most “for us” aspects of contemporary society, the post-fordist infrastructure of object-orientation, and then grants it to all real things.


  3. Lets take an overview. In the next month or so, Punctum Books will publish a short essay of mine called ‘Demonstration and Description’. Basically I think the future of anti-correlationism lies between the conflict of these two very valid (and aesthetic) distinctions.

    Both are heirs to Kant’s correlate but go their separate ways by virtue of whether one decides to demonstrate the literal conditions of givenness (material thought must be able think beyond thought itself) or, situate the description of givenness in non-human entities (reality is what exists beyond thought).

    The reason why this debate seem to wander around endlessly is, I think, ultimately quite simple. Since both the proponents of Demonstration and Description have rejected the human correlate, we should realise that there is no middle ground or synthesis, not least because correlationism was a pre-synthesis of these two positions. This preempts any upcoming reconciliation between Demonstration and Description.

    Hence when Alex says the following ” have no intention of proving causation, connection, or collusion. I’m simply demonstrating *correlation* – I know he means it and we must respect his decision.

    We have a built in deadlock when you reject the human correlate, the objection that one must demonstrate the description, versus the objection that one can only describe the demonstration. Lets leave it as a deadlock for now and move on a bit.

  4. Robert, I was talking about the idea that radical immanence could inhere in an ontological situation involving something like the withdrawal of objects; that Laruelle’s One and OOO’s object do not necessarily preclude each other. I do think there is grounds for that sort of argument, and that it will be made sooner or later.

  5. “You can’t be an anti-correlationist and still maintain an ontology that “looks like” today’s logistical infrastructure. (And yes, I do mean “looks like” — argument by correlation is appropriate when the topic is correlation.) In short, analogy is the *crux* of the argument: realism can’t be anti-correlationist *and* correlate to the mode of production at the same time. Take your pick. Either drop the anti-correlationist stance. Or don’t construct your ontology to look like a FedEx object network.”

    This argument puns on ‘correlation’. Anti-correlationists are against correlation in a narrow, technical sense. (Quoting M. from the paper itself: “By ‘correlation’ we mean the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other.” For better or worse, and setting aside any differences amongst anti-correlationists, that’s a narrow-bore technical sense.) It clearly does not follow, then, that anti-correlationisms are conceptually committed to the preclusion or prevention of any and all correlations, even in the loosest (‘looks like’) sense. They don’t have to be opposed to things ‘looking like’ other things. Anti-correlation isn’t omni-anti-analogism. So, specifically, a realist anti-correlationism isn’t committed to the result that there shall be nothing analogous to realist anti-correlationism besides it itself. So the objection fails, I think.

    In short, argument by correlation (argument by analogy) is not automatically appropriate, merely because the topic is correlation.

    Also, I think there should be more “Adventure Time” jokes about OOO.

  6. @Aaron. I can see how the flatness of both could be woven into each other – although I have to say, how much Laruelle and OOO will be left afterwards is beyond me. In this regard, a good option might be to understand, or explore how a political decision would operate in an OOO schematic. Thats where my thoughts are heading at the moment.

  7. @john point taken. note however that laruelle, for his part, does indeed maintain that anti-correlation means anti-analogism in the broadest sense.

  8. “You can’t be an anti-correlationist and still maintain an ontology that “looks like” today’s logistical infrastructure”.

    It might depend somewhat on the type and degree of resemblance – the strength of the putative correlation. An anti-correlationist is not obliged to maintain an ontology that looks *nothing* like [X], where [X] is anything that is “for us”. One would have difficulty placing “us” within such an ontology, inasmuch as we both exist and exist for ourselves.

    I would like to note a divergence between object2-oriented programming and “today’s logistical infrastructure”. Objects2 are seldom imagined or intended to correlate directly to objects1 in the “business domain”; the program has its own patterns of reification and interaction, and the things it reifies are often neither directly exchangeable for, nor reified in the same manner as, “real-world” things.

    This comment from an LtU discussion captures the drift: “One of the best leaps a programmer makes during their path from newb to godhood is to realize that ‘objects’ don’t map well to real world objects. Programs work better, designs are more clean… code sucks less when an object in code represents the embodiment of a singular concept; a singular set of invariants rather than an object”. “Godhood” – mastery of the programming domain – is here imagined as a conceptual mastery, a mastery of “sets of invariants”. An object2 is not an object1. The OOP paradigm itself turns out to be fairly dispensable as far as such mastery goes; the best programmers often turn to functional and logic programming languages in order to express arrangements of concepts that come out as clumsy or ill-fitting in OOP-style.

    All this is a way of saying that, to paraphrase Ray Brassier, the OOP paradigm is not a function of our ability to use (post-fordist) hammers: like mathematics, programming is a practice that opens out onto a conceptual space that can’t be directly mapped back into haptic or instrumental terms. Alan Kay may have intended OOP to give programmers the advantages of certain embodied intuitions about the domain they were working in, but in practice a program of any reasonable complexity will become unconceptualisable in terms of those intuitions alone. So will any reasonably-sized portion of “today’s logistical infrastructure”; hence the general problem we have with cognitively mapping what’s going on in capitalism. But I would maintain that the conceptual space of programming is neither bounded by, nor convertible with, the conceptual space of capitalist infrastructure.

  9. “I am speaking, on the one hand, of computer networks in general and object-oriented computer languages (such as Java or C++) in particular”

    This threw me—computer networks are not determinables of which computer languages, object-oriented or not, are determinates. (Object-orientation of computer languages is said in many ways, too, and Java and C++ (which lately styles itself “multi-paradigm”) are only one—you’d get a rather different view of what object-orientation comes to in a programming language from Self or Common Lisp. The Treaty of Orlando (postscript link) is good on this.)

  10. I’ve not read the CI piece (can’t get to it, alas) so I don’t know what kind of evidence has been presented that post-Fordist capitalism is running on (mostly?) OOP code in its geezerhood. But a friend of mine who’s spent several decades in the software business consulting with and for Fortune 500 companies tells me that the huge databases at the heart of those organizations are legacy systems originally carved with COBOL back in computing’s Jurassic era of Big Iron. They may now have OOP front ends and web access but the guts are pre-OOPs.

    And, though I’m not a programmer–wrote a few programs here and there, but not production scale–I once had a consulting gig documenting COBOL code. It’s a wonder. In one piece of code I following a string of GOTO statements the ended in going to a line that had been commented out. I figured maybe this was something of a Zen loan for a mainframe computer. You know, it follows that string of GOTO’s until it reaches the last one and . . . and what? Hangs, crashes? Is that what samadhi is for a computer, GOTO nowhere?

    But COBOL is definitely not OOP.

  11. I’m very suspicious of a paper that takes Java as uncontroversial stand-in for object-orientation generally, or one that blithely asserts that it’s OO languages that allow big companies to “process millions of requests efficiently”. (Mightn’t it be Nginx, written in C, that allows them to do that? Or something written in Erlang, that rhizomatic and distributed language par excellence?)

    The paper by William Cook linked in this Guy Steele post (which is also interesting, though perhaps not as immediately interestring) is worth consulting as well, in particular for its perhaps surprising to Galloway assertions that “inheritance will not be used in this section because it is neither necessary for, nor specific to, object-oriented programming” (on p 562 of the published version), that “Java is not a pure object-oriented language” (p 567), and that “the untyped λ-calculus was the first object-oriented language” (p 568). (Its leading example, sets of integers, including sets of infinite cardinality, should also help disabuse people of the notion that object-orientation is intended in the first instance to model medium-sized dry goods. No one has ever encountered the set of all numbers divisible by seven.)

    The attempt to show (in the closing paragraphs of section one) that “object-oriented computer languages are themselves the heart and soul of the information economy” strikes me as extremely weak. All of the companies mentioned—and many more companies; any company, in fact, that involves the internet in any—rely, as well, on non-object oriented languages (in particular on C). Ruby and Java differ a great deal in how they approach extension and modification of behavior (Ruby allows one to dynamically modify all or part of a class or inheritance structure for a class or particular object at runtime); assimilating them as both “object oriented” is silly, given the amount that’s actually said about object orientation in the paper up to then. There is, anyway, a difference between “OO languages are used pervasively in the information economy” (enough to establish their being intertwined with the present mode of production, albeit in a very uninteresting way that they would share with, say, fiber-optic cables) and “OO languages are the heart and soul of …”. What, after all, are the instances in which “object-oriented computer languages not only structure business but also influence the logic of identifying, capturing, and mediating bodies and objects more generally”?* I suspect that the extent to which something like this is the case is precisely the extent to which, in order to model some domain, one deals in abstractions. But there’s nothing essentially object-oriented about doing that, though objects in Cook’s sense are excellent vehicles of abstraction. (Too excellent, in fact, for most programming done in Java to actually be object-oriented in his sense.) Such abstraction need not involve relationships of inheritance or object composition, which seem to be the prime points of interest from the paper’s perspective. I really do not see how in the world it’s supposed to be established that “the contemporary mode of production has a very special relationship with object-oriented computer languages”, unless the “very special relationship” is just “lots of organizations use OO languages”. Which does not seem very special.

    * let me also add that this seems to reflect an optimistically bottom-up view of corporate structure, in which the preferences of the engineering department have an improbably large effect on the organization’s activities as a whole.

  12. I think the supposed “pun” on correlation is at least clever — if OOO opens up radically new horizons of thought outside the thought-being correlate, if we are supposed to gain immeasurably from our refusal to make man the measure of all things, then… wouldn’t it be anti-climactic for the ontology to correspond closely with the way humanity happens to have set up its most basic systems of exchange and information in this particular historical era? Did late capitalism somehow just stumble into this coincidental homology with fundamental metaphysical truths?

    It seems to me that the stronger counterargument would be “but late capitalism isn’t really structured that way!” That doesn’t seem to be the kind of argument any of the OOO crowd is particularly inclined to make, though (except for Levi, perhaps).

  13. As a footnote I observe that while capitalism may run on COBOL (at least pre-late capitalism if not capitalism in its dotage), thereby making COBOL evil, it’s also one of the major contributions a woman has made to computing. It was conceived by Grace Hooper, who rose to the rank of Rear Admiral in the US Navy. A remarkable person:

    I mean, that article says she “conceptualized the idea of machine-independent programming languages.” Do you have any idea how major that is? I mean, it’s at least up there with Žižek! That’s an utterly ****ing fundamental idea. Without it the development of software would have been crippled, and I mean the development of software everywhere, the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea as well as the USA, Europe, Japan, and India, and Latin America (including Cuba).

  14. @Adam: The argument that postfordism relates to object-oriented programming (OOP) and encapsulation is a somewhat strange one. Imo, it would be easier to argue for the exact opposite.

    The limit example of encapsulation and object orientation, Enterprise Java, is most closely associated with the monolithic Fordist old industry, the Oracles and IBMs of the world, who like towering, centralized, hierarchically managed productions. Java was specifically designed to enable that style of programming, to “scale” up to huge companies and huge, managed teams, with careful, management- or committee-decided boundaries between them. It’s the assembly line of programming languages, invented because the original assembly lines (C, COBOL, etc.) were having trouble handling the line’s length.

    The darlings of “disruptive”, postfordist Silicon Valley, on the contrary, eschew OOP: there are few things less fashionable in the startup world than Java or C++ and their byzantine rules and hierarchy, to the point where Enterprise Java is a running joke, like the old IBM that required engineers to wear suits and ties. The decentralized-capitalism proponents are positively enamored with the lack of encapsulation; anything runtime modifiable, code rewriting other code, no staid Java boundaries, is what capitalists under 40 like. In fact, “why OOP sucks” articles are a bit of a cottage industry in the Valley, always good for an audience.

  15. I second Mark’s last point. Since I grew up with Basic, went to C, C++, and Ada, I feel like a dinosaur given the apparent dominance of run-time, application-specific, and scripting languages most especially.

    I have a general remark about the phrase OO. Unless I missed it, no one distinguished between OO software paradigms, software patterns, languages meant to facilitate OO paradigms, etc. It appears that much of the conversation has reduced the various important distinctions to whether the language is “OO” and the associated paradigm, etc. The participants who know better have not pointed it out. How does this change the argument?

  16. Yet there is also a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for articles about how mutable state and side-effects are bad and should be allowed only in well-defined circumstances (preferably enforced by the type system) or not at all (in the coming declarative paradise), the majority of one’s code residing in the realm of pure functions for better compositionality and parallelism.

  17. Basic!

    Lordy Lordy, good old Basic. At least half the of the very few programs I’ve written I wrote in Basic, and on card punch machines and teletype tapes. And in one of the very first programming courses offered in an American university. Those were the days! And, for sure, capitalism was in flower and Neil Armstrong hadn’t yet landed on the Moon. Much less had Tricky Dick pulled out of Vietnam. But I do remember the National Guardsman patrolling the streets because martial law was declared in Baltimore in the wake of Dr. King’s assination.

    As for the rest of your comment, Jason, I understand that that level of detail matters with respect to how computing, and the world, actually works. But does it matter to philosophy? That, I suppose, is the burden of your last question.

  18. I confess that I had not read the article before responding on the correlation “pun” issue — and I decided to remedy that before responding. I have to say, Alex left himself wide, wide open to essentially all the “straw man” arguments he lists (with the exception of the last one).

    And aside from all the details of the programming paradigm issues, I have to say that his claim that math has “entered history” in some totally new way in post-Fordism such that it “no longer” can be ahistorical is simply baffling. As he says later in the piece, modern science itself is a process of mathematization, and I’m pretty sure that money and debt (which have existed throughout all recorded history) use, you know, math. You could argue that software is somehow more “directly” math than industrial products are, except that it’s not as though I see the math happening on my computer any more than I see the math that went into the design of the factory that made the steel girders in my apartment building (or whatever).

    Overall, I think people were right to react negatively.

  19. In fact, I don’t know what the argument boils down to other than establishing Marxism as a kind of shibboleth. Badiou gets a pass on his use of math because he’s super left-wing — but Meillassoux, who’s not so overtly political, is complicit with the deep structure of capital for doing basically the same thing.

  20. But you see, ben, a hex is a spell, no? Which means, by the OOPhilosophy = OOProgramming kind of argument that a calculation carried out in hex has a rather different cultural valence from the same calculation carried out in base 10 or binary. Now just what that valence is depends on whether you think hex = spells = work.of.the.devil or hex = spells =

  21. Adam is clearly no longer in a mood to go to the mat to defend the article or post. But let me demur from his demurral to my pun complaint, since the point is separable.

    “if OOO opens up radically new horizons of thought outside the thought-being correlate, if we are supposed to gain immeasurably from our refusal to make man the measure of all things, then… wouldn’t it be anti-climactic for the ontology to correspond closely with the way humanity happens to have set up its most basic systems of exchange and information in this particular historical era? Did late capitalism somehow just stumble into this coincidental homology with fundamental metaphysical truths?”

    I take it, OOO is supposed to be radical relative to (academic) philosophy itself – finally, heroically, shifting the cold, dead hand of Kant off the whole business. Inevitably, any philosophy of this realist sort – it’s a world of objects out there! – is going to sound rather commonsensical and analogous not just to FedEx’s networks but to the guy who kicks the stone (either to refute Berkeley or just because it’s kind of fun to kick stones). Presented ‘naively’, for the sake of getting the outlines down, any sophisticated realism is going to look like naive realism.

    So it’s not an anti-climax that humanity and the world already works the way this theory says. The theory is supposed to describe how things already work, so if things already work that way, it’s ok. (This isn’t confirmation, since the theory isn’t empirical like that, but it’s not a cause for concern.) If it were only the fruits of late capitalism that were ‘object-oriented’, that might suggest that OOO was a projection of a late capitalist ideology. But, plainly, humans have been intuitively object-oriented for millenia.

  22. Am I right to assume that more than a normative critique due to the correlation of capitalism and OOO you are pointing out the contradiction of OOO claiming to describe being apart from its relation to thinking (anti-correlationism) — and that this also should entail thinking being apart from the specificities of a historical subject — while you clearly show that there is a correlation between OOO ontologies and dominate ways of thinking of and designing our contemporary social world (just as earlier metaphysics described the world as a giant clockwork)? And I think it’s more dominant ways of *thinking* about the world rather than construction of the world since OOO also aims to have philosophy say something about things like black holes, which haven’t changed due to late capitalism, but are definitely being described in terms of network thinking.

    I would assume that the response form someone like Harman here would be that OOO is not claiming to describe the world *as it is*, ahistorically, since after all it is withdrawn. So any account made by a human philosopher must necessarily be limited and tainted by that person being an embodied being with a specific limited relation to the world, and concepts will therefor by necessity be historical. He wants to democratically extend Kant’s finitude to all relations between objects after all, not overcome it.

    The question then would be if there is a contradiction between on the one hand crafting an ontology describing being apart from its relation to thinking and on the other hand including in that ontology that the being of other objects are withdrawn from the philosopher. What authority does the ontology of the philosopher have in this case where they even claims themselves that they by definition don’t *know* what they are talking about!? Won’t any such attempt to describe the withdrawn world apart from thinking just end up reproducing ideology? The only thing left for ontology is to be guided by ethics?

    I’m guessing that this is a bit of a tricky hubris-fuse built into the ontology of Harman. He constructs an ontology of the world that by definition make that ontology a flawed one. Very second-order cybernetics!

  23. Adam’s comment about Badiou getting a pass while Meillassoux is an ontological capitalist seems to be spot on. At the theoretical level they are aiming at something ridiculously similar, yet one is a bad guy, and one is good to go. This also seems to show that Galloway hasn’t read the works in which Meillassoux explicitly endorses Marxism/Communism.

  24. “I have to say, I’m surprised to learn John is so invested in OOO debates.”

    I’m not, actually. I don’t know much about it and have, so far, elected no affinity, pro or con.

  25. I do consider myself a realist – at least an anti-anti-realist – but on Wittgensteinian grounds. ‘Speculative’ sounds too speculative for my blood, but perhaps the term doesn’t mean what I think it does.

  26. Speaking of things that are non-boring – you are missing an entire series of posts from Levi in which he is getting so carried away in his outrage against Galloway that he is not pretending to be a regular working stiff just like the rest of us fighting against these soft spoiled university professor types like “critical realist” Galloway – such fun!

  27. I take it that the underlying objection is that the way things really work is *dialectical*, and that OOO is *undialectical*. Which might or might not be true. Do objects enter into dialectical relationships? Do they change in dialectical ways, e.g. quantity into quality? Does the “one” of the object “divide into two”(on the face of it, yes, given all that “withdrawal” business…)? Or are objects undialectically static, abstracted from material processes, like fetish-objects or commodities? You can see how OOO might arouse that suspicion; but I think it’s also possible to see how it might allay it.

  28. Bill, I only read the first couple paragraphs of the post you link, but already Levi has badly botched Galloway’s position on Badiou — he doesn’t view Badiou as a realist and doesn’t think his use of math is as problematic as Meillassoux’s. Surely “good technical analysis” requires a certain level of “responding to what he’s actually saying.”

    Overall, I’m softening my position on the article, having slept on it. I basically agree with the point that historical materialism (Marxism) is better than realism, but it seems like he took a confusing (and partially inaccurate) path toward that conclusion.

  29. Yeah, you’re right, Adam. But then I figure using the word “technical” was perhaps a bit of a stretch. Still, I rather liked what Bryant had to say in the rest of that piece. Foucault on resemblance, the pluripotency of objects and all that.

    Meanwhile I’ve been having a chuckle over at the Wikipedia reading the article on cargo cult science, a term coined by physicist Richard Feynman:

    I’m thinking we’re staring down the barrel of cargo cult critique.

  30. Well, Adam, i did point out that much of capitalism runs on COBOL and COBOL is not an object-oriented programming language. That kind of undermines one of the basic premises of the argument, no? Or is the actual state of the world irrelevant to the argument? In cargo cult critique the world doesn’t matter. #sorry

  31. Monki,

    That is a question I’ve been asking Levi since forever, and was among the reasons we stopped corresponding. I have a concise description of the problem on my blog entitled “The Contradiction of Object-Oriented Ontology” that includes requisite quotations from Levi. I’ll share the core of the argument.


    Since Levi assumes both metaphysical and epistemic nominalism (rejection of the reality of generals/universals and rejection that human can know the real), yet employs Bhaskar’s transcendental method, his metaphysics must be incoherent on grounds similar to those you describe. That is, if there is no “way the world is,” and no possibility of us “knowing the way the world is” regardless, then as you put it, “What authority does the ontology of the philosopher have in this case where they even claims themselves that they by definition don’t *know* what they are talking about!?” The “transcendental” method, which is in truth the logic of abduction, is impotent for the purposes of metaphysics when used in a nominalist metaphysics.

  32. I’m sorry, I had forgotten that single positive contribution, Bill. I assure you it was a rounding error, not an instance of “cargo cult criticism” — a term that I am sure is destined for a bright future of shutting down arguments and helping people feel self-congratulatory.

  33. It actually does seem to be fairly central to Galloway’s argument that “object-oriented, encapsulated” software is key to postfordism, because that’s from where he then draws a correlation to “object-oriented, withdrawn” philosophy. If, on the other hand, object orientation is a feature of fordist information processing, and anti-object, “punch through encapsulation at will” programming is the paradigm of postfordism, then the homology doesn’t really get off the ground.

  34. I think that Galloway went out on a limb unnecessarily with his putting so much emphasis on object-oriented programming as opposed to other sorts of programming languages. The general argument does not rely on this, which has the status only of an interesting or amusing instantion of the general idea that software is math and that capitalism is now, to a large extent, materialised math. So the notion of “homology” is in fact too weak, we are talking about an identity of structure instantiating itself in different ways.
    Badiou accepts this identity, or “homology”, and is very worried about it. He deserves a free pass and Meillassoux doesn’t, not because of explicit pronouncements in favour of Marxism but because his whole philosophy is based on overcoming that homology by adding to his ontology of pure multiples an ontology of the Event. The Event is what is non-homologous to capitalism and it is the keystone to his political analysis.

  35. …general idea that software is math…

    That general idea seems iffy.

    What software is would seem to be symbol processing in a fairly general sense. And sets of symbols and operations on them can be devised to do a great many things. Such as ordinary arithmetic, with its tables for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, all of which have to memorized by young children, and with its simple little recipes (aka algorithms) for performing calculations. What’s being done is manipulating symbols. Those symbols are math by virtue of the conventions that link them to the world, as counts of objects or units of measures of this or tatt sort (length, temperature, weight, etc.)

    Because software is symbol processing, it can be written to perform arithmetic calculations. Those arithmetic calculations can be used in financial matters. But they can also be used in simulating the behavior of light in 3D graphics programs so as to render animated images for cartoons and special effects for live-action movies. There math is a means, but not the end. Software can also be written to do, e.g. word-processing, which isn’t math, and photo-type setting. Both of those will do calculations in the process of some operations (e.g. counting the number of characters in this or that string).

    And what’s math? Is Euclidean geometry math? Of course. Is it numerical? Fundamentally, no. But then Descartes came along and created conventions by which geometric operations can be achieved through arithmetic means.

    And…well, I’m not a mathematician, nor a philosopher of math, nor an expert in the theory of computing and no doubt I’m not a few other things relevant to the question of software being math. At this moment that matter is looking a lot like one of those things that’s turtles all the way down.

    So, on the computer aspect of this argument, I simply don’t know what it is that’s being introduced into the homology. There’s no there there. Or rather, there too many of them.

  36. It’s instantiations all the way down. For Badiou, ontology is math and capitalism is math. For Homer and for Melville ontology is not math. They are expressing themselves inside totally different understandings of Being.

  37. I can’t answer your second question until you tell me in what respect a computer program is (for the most part) ideal, but a recipe is not.

    It is not unreasonable to think of a computer program as an encoding of a sequence of instructions or transformations. In that sense, many elements of a computer program can be carried out by hand. For instance, a computer program that reads in a file specified on the command line and outputs the lines of that file in sorted order will, though it will have many steps that lack real-world analogues (the relevant notion of “opening” a “file”, for instance), have very many components, including, notably, the sorting algorithm itself, that can straightforwardly be done by a person. An analogy might be, in fact, my telling you to open a certain drawer of a filing cabinet and sort the papers therein according to the first word on the first page.

    I may not tell you just “sort the files”; I may in fact have to do something like this:

    1. Take all the papers and arrange them into stacks of one paper each.
    2. Take each pair of adjacent stacks and create a new stack like this:
    2a. If there is a paper in both stacks, pick up the paper whose first word is alphabetically prior to the first word of the other paper. Put that paper behind any papers you are already holding. If there are papers in exactly one stack, pick up all the papers and put them behind any papers you are already holding. If there are papers in zero stacks, put down the papers you’re holding: you’re done.
    2b. Repeat 2a until you’re done.
    3. Repeat 2 for the pairs of stacks until there’s only one stack.
    4. Put the papers back in the filing cabinet.

    You have now sorted the papers.

    Of course, I am likely to have to engage in some lower-level stuff when I write the program. But not necessarily. The following does what I described (though it has no error checking):

    import Control.Monad
    import System.Environment
    import Data.List
    main = getArgs >>= readFile . (!! 0) >>= return.sort.lines >>= mapM_ putStrLn

    Of course, in that case, someone’s already written the sorting algorithm for me.

    You can call that a computation, if you like, though I think that in 99% of cases what we’re interested in, in using a computer, is not a computation but a side-effect (some kind of output we can use). If you do call it a computation, I’d like to know why it’s not a computation when I sort things by hand. And if it’s still a computation when I sort things by hand, I want to know why it’s not a computation when I follow an algorithm whose output is edible.

    Certainly, lots of mathematics-like stuff happens on the metal of the computer when it’s running—things we can reasonably give the title of addition and whatnot. Why that makes the software itself mathematics is something that escapes me.

  38. …those trying to historicize math…

    What’s the big deal about historizing math?

    It has a history. It’s not eternally given, or if it is, our access to it is not immediate, but rather has evolved through a painful process that had gone from one end to the other of the Old
    World by the time Columbus had set sail across the Atlantic in search of India. European merchantilism would have been impossible without long distance nautical voyages. And they would have been impossible without accurate navigation on the open sea. That required math, math developed in India and China and transmitted to Europe through the work of an Arab mathematician, Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, from whose name we have the word “algorithm.”

    So, merchantilism was built on Eastern mathematics. Capitalism was built on merchantilism. And without capitalism modern Western culture would have been impossible. Therefore modern Western culture is built on a foundation of Eastern math.

    It’s rude and crude, but thoroughly historical.

  39. I don’t think anyone would be surprised to learn that mathematical study has a history.

    And I don’t think that. But it’s one thing to know that math has a history because, like, everything has a history. It’s something else to know something about that history and to have thought about it and what that might entail.

Comments are closed.