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"Transhumanism for me is like a relationship with an obsessive and very neurotic lover. Knowing it is deeply flawed, I have tried several times to break off my engagement, but each time, it manages to creep in through the back door of my mind."
     - N. Katherine Hayles

"In fact, for me, the facticity, the object as a support quelconque of facticity, you can iterate it, without any meaning. And that’s why you can operate with it, you can create a world without deconstruction and hermeneutics. And this is grounded on pure facticity of things, and also of thinking. It is not correlated."
     - Quentin Meillassoux

David Roden's essay Excision Ethos, published on enemyindustry.net,  offers a flat ontological reading of the posthuman, which, he says, implies "an excision of the human". He tells us that the "the logic of excision forces us to accept that there is no rigorous or pure demarcation between theoretical and practical thinking." [2] He argues that a "flat ontology would allow emergent discontinuities between the human and non-human. Here we understand radical differences between humans and non-humans as emergent relations of continuity or discontinuity between populations, or other such particulars, rather than kinds or abstract universals."  To understand his use of flat ontology we must dig deeper into the many theories surrounding flat ontology as the central term underlying his posthumanist philosophy.  

In his own essay on flat ontology Flat Ontology II: a worry about emergence Roden tells us that the terminological justification for a flat ontology originally came from Gilles Deleuze, and was then appropriated by his ephebe Michael Delanda. Delanda in his work Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy describes ontology within the Deleuzian enterprise as a "becoming without being", or as "a universe where individual beings do exist but only as the outcome of becomings, that is, of irreversible processes of individuation" (Delanda, 84). [1] This forms the nucleus of Delanda's flat ontology in which he describes individual organisms as being "component parts of species, much as individual cells are parts of the organisms themselves, so that cells, organisms and species form a nested set of individuals at different spatial scales" (Delanda, 85).  This is a non-hierarchical position, which Delanda further explicates, saying, a "flat ontology of individuals, like the one I have tried to develop here, there is no room for reified totalities. In particular, there is no room for entities like 'society' or 'culture' in general. Institutional organizations, urban centres or nation states are, in this ontology, not abstract totalities but concrete social individuals, with the same ontological status as individual human beings but operating at larger spatio-temporal scales" (63).  Paul Ennis remarking on flat ontologies in general in a humorous aside tells us that there "is no vertical ontological totem pole." [3]  As Delanda in his book emphasizes: "...…while an ontology based on relations between general types and particular instances is hierarchical, each level representing a different ontological category (organism, species, genera), an approach in terms of interacting parts and emergent wholes leads to a flat ontology, one made exclusively of unique, singular individuals, differing in spatio-temporal scale but not in ontological status" (47).

Levi-Bryant in a pertinent essay on flat ontology tells us that for Delanda "being is composed entirely of individuals." [4]  Against a flat ontology of 'individuals' Bryant argues for one of 'objects', and that a part of that ontology "consists in the activity of regional ontology, and a big part of regional ontology consists in determining the internal ontological structure of different types of beings." Bryant tells us that he is an agnostic regarding whether or not universals exist, and therefore he opts for the "trivial thesis that all things that are are objects." He also agrees with Graham Harman that what a flat ontology does is stave off strategic attacks from what Harman terms the subtle strategies or ways of undermining and overmining that philosophers have taken to either reduce or dissolve objects either through a reduction to some ultimate underlying substrata, or by stating that all objects can be described completely through scientific description and that there is no hidden or withdrawn depth beyond which objects can escape such description (i.e., there is no excess of a object, no dormant non-relation of objects hidden in voids beyond access).  Undermining is a Lucretian operation: a reductionist ploy in which everything is reduced to a fundamental substrata: the dissolution of all objects in this cosmic stew or undifferentiated lump of stuff (atoms). Overmining on the other hand  says that all phenomena can be described completely, and that there is no hidden depth or withdrawness in objects outside such description. Against both undermining and overmining Bryant states the central intuition of flat ontology following Ian Bogost (materialism) is the formulation that objects equally exist but do not exist equally: flat ontology "endorses Latour’s thesis that “nothing is, by itself, either reducible or irreducible to anything else” (Irreductions, 1.1.1)." 

Finally we are able to reenter David Roden's essay and decide just what he means by a flat ontology that would allow for "emergent discontinuities between the human and non-human." He follows Delanda in so far as accepting that this will not be a reification of totalities of kinds or abstract universals, but a distinct rupture within the "emergent relations of continuity or discontinuity between populations..."  He goes on to describe emergence as that which given a set of initial conditions can never predict the emergence of a particular entity: "emergence holds that an emergent phenomenon P cannot be predicted from from its initial conditions".  His basic thesis is that no set of determinate algorithms or probabilistic theorems could be programmed within a simulated context could establish the emergence of a posthuman entity "short of the posthuman emergence itself." The obverse of this is that any theory that could predict the posthuman emergence would also be the theory that would produce it: or, as he says,  "the epistemological distinction between a singularity and its simulacrum evaporates in perfect Baudrillardian equivalence ."

Following a detotalization within a  flat ontolgy he tells us that cyborg or asssemblage ontology exemplified in both speculative posthumanism (SP) and transhumanism (H+) can be "characterized by what I refer to as the double logic of ‘deconstruction’ and ‘excision’." What this excision implies for a cyborg/assemblage ontology is a theoretical framework within which the dynamics of how certain entities (humans) produce through excision a rupture and/or divergence/emergence of an alterity in the actualized being as it becomes an 'other'. As he states it: "Excision is not transcendence in a traditional theological or metaphysical sense. The idea of the posthuman is not the dialectical idea some entity that transcends a specifiable cognitive boundary. ... Nor, given a flat theory of difference, can we deconstruct its possibility on familiar anti-essentialist grounds We can only preclude an a priori conception of what that possibility entails." 

Ultimately he tells us that to "acquire knowledge of the posthuman we would – according to the logic of simulation – have to make ourselves, or some of our ‘wide’ descendants, posthuman." Because of this it might seem that posthumanist thought is at a impasse, for if one can neither predict through probabilistic analysis nor through the simulated algorithms of a computer program show forth the emergence of such entities then what is one left with beyond an artistic or imaginative surmise of a science fictionalization? He tells us that it is important to pursue this line of thought for the simple reason that the "human population is now part of a self-augmenting planetary technical system over which we can have little control." He tells us even if this is so there is no need to fear such self-augmenting systems because "technical self-augmentation does not imply technical autonomy." But is this true? Isn't there a truth to be discovered in recognizing  that technology itself is a third force, an all encompasing techno-environment within which we all exist and have our being; and with this recognition comes the realization that we are co-evolving in unison with our technologies, which implies the fact that we are being changed by those very technologies into  something 'other' already?  

As Roden reflects on the obvious: the "desire for technological excision is an iteration of a disruptive self-remaking, expressed in technically constituted beings or macro-assemblages." This co-evolution of technology and the human is always already a part of what he terms a "speculative engagement with technique: ontological engineering." And, if one took a Darwinian view of it: seeing that as we adapt to this techno-environment using survival and reproductive choice that has guided the human species from the beginning, we see emerging some of these strange tendencies within objects or tool-beings as they interact and engage our everyday lives shaping our views of both nature and culture in ways we have yet to fully understand. Technology as a third force between nature and culture is a disruptive power that is forcing us into patterns that we truly have no control over, and have even less knowledge of as we more and more depend upon these technological wonders as these integral companions become a part of the very infrastructure of our reality: a techno-envrionment that replaces the natural in us with the unatural technicity of this Third-Estate. 

We are already being excised within a technological engagement of which we do not as yet have any discernible posthuman theory that would give us an intelligible understanding of just 'what' it 'is' we are 'becoming' in becoming other.  As Roden says: "The only reason for the principled unintelligibility of the posthuman is its dated non-existence. Thus if we are engaged in excision we also aim or hope to understand what we are getting ourselves into one day." What Cengiz Erdem describes as our need for a speculative philosophy that is both non-normative and progressive that would provide a work in which what is necessary is for its "participants to become capable of making distinctions between their natures and cultures, their cliniques and critiques. It is a matter of realizing that theory and practice are always already reconciled and yet the only way to actualise this reconciliation passes through carrying it out and across by introducing a split between the subject of statement (the enunciated) and the subject of enunciation." (read here and here) Is not the dynamics of excision shaped in that very reconciliation through the gap between the human and its posthuman variant, carrying it "out and across" by introducing that split (excision) between the existing human and the emerging posthuman?
It is this hope that we can understand what we are getting ourselves into that such speculations as Object-Oriented Ontology and Neo-Materialist speculative realist philosophies offer us a new theoretical framework within which we might provide a fidelity to the truth-event that is the emergence of our post-human(ist) alterity as the posthuman future opens toward us in a gaze that is no longer our gaze. N. Katherine Hayles tells us that along with philosophy we should also include in our arsenal of tools the works of science fiction (SF): "Imagining the future is never a politically innocent or ethically neutral act. To arrive at the future we want, we must first be able to imagine it as fully as we can, including all the contexts in which its consequences will play out" (225). [5]


1. Delanda, M. (2009), Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy. London: Continuum.
2. Roden, David, Journal of Evolution and Technology  -  Vol. 21  Issue 1 – June 2010 - pgs 27 - 36  (2010), Deconstruction and Excision in Philosophical Posthumanism
3. Gratton, Peter, Interview with Paul Ennis, Interviews 
4. Bryant, Levi, Flat Ontology (2010)
5. H±  Transhumanism  and Its Critics, Edited by Gregory R. Hansell and William Grassie (2011 Metanexus Institute)


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 7th, 2011 04:43 am (UTC)
I Am Not Human Yet
I have this worry about posthumanism (I speak only for myself): I am not yet even human. In particular, it's the "trans" kind that scares me: "bravely" extending our mortality etc. (a la Nick Bostrom). Which is why I prefer Haraway, who gave up using "posthuman" in 2006.
Feb. 7th, 2011 08:27 am (UTC)
Re: I Am Not Human Yet

Yeah, obviously the transhuman is more of a religious ideology that is seeking a positive Utopian vision of enhancement of our present human proclivities through the use of technology, biochemical, genetic, etc.

Whereas post-human is an unknown, something other than the symbolic Other: or, Zizek's Other as the symbolic order of humanism as it come down to us. And, yes, these ideas tend toward the strange limits of our human capacity and imaginaries. One needs to take a more critical dystopic stance in regards to many of these ideas, especially since many of them were all spawned during the early eugenics movement; and, of course, we all know how that fiasco was taken over by the Nazi and the Rockefeller foundation, and finally transformed into our present genetics and genome pretensions. That in a nutshell is why one needs to study it: for the simple reason that both the Military-Industrial Complex and the larger Multiconglomerates of the our late-Capitalism are putting so much money into just these fringe sciences of the transhumanist agenda. Sad but true... One does not need to be a conspiracy theorist to see the obviousness in this: one can see how genetic transformation of the world's seed crops has already taken a devastating turn in the malformations of food supplies in third-world countries through the use of transgenic seeds(i.e., terminator seeds, etc. ). Bad stuff... but that is only the beginning of a terrible use of science as a part of the globalist agendas...

David Roden
Feb. 9th, 2011 11:46 am (UTC)
Re: I Am Not Human Yet
My conception of an ethic of posthumanism (as opposed to a posthuman ethic) is still in the 'larval stage'. Unlike Tim and, perhaps you, DC, I'm not worried by transhumanist ethics. I find it congenial in many respects. I just don't think it is alert to the ontological derangements that could follow from developments in NCIB technologies at some point.

At the same time, I think we need a language to describe these derangements that doesn't fall back on essentialist conceptions of the human since the preconditions of Darwinian natural selection (variation from mutation, recombination and other sources) + the possibility of technically induced change in human mentation, body plans, etc. makes the posit of de re necessary conditions for 'humanness' difficult to sustain. For example, Samir Okasha points out in his paper 'Darwinian Metaphysics' that while most humans have 23 Chromosome pairs, Downs' syndrome people have an additional copy of the 21'st chromosome - but this doesn't make them less human. Not all humans can use language or reason to anything like the same degree, etc. So being human is probably not a matter of realizing a common essence. However, the fact that there is no human essence doesn't entail that there are no distinctions between human and non-human species, and where there are such differences, they may also be ethically significant.

I think a flat ontology of individuals (combined with population thinking) helps formalize this idea. Maybe we can express this idea counterfactually: An entity is human if its capacities and powers would allow it to be integrated within a geographically and temporally extended individual: population of humans. Cat's and dog's do not satisfy this requirement and feral children may constitute marginal cases here. Some might want to claim that this formulation describes a human essence - even though it is conceptually derived from the idea of a distinctive human population and no specific capacities or properties are mentioned in its formulation. I'm pretty relaxed about this. I don't regard essentialism as an insult. I just don't think it is particularly helpful at this ontic scale (whether electrons have genuinely essential properties like charge and mass, I'm relaxed about).

So with a working flat-ontological conception of humaness we can speculate about the possibility of a technological divarication from the human mass, the preconditions of which may be in some iteration of our technical practice. Should we regard this prospect with antipathy - like Francis Fukuyama? I don't think the flat ontological conception gives us grounds for celebrating or rejecting this possibility since there it supplies no positive ethical idea of the human. We just don't know, yet, what this departure would look like. We can speculate, construct models - as I've attempted to do with the eliminativist scenerio, or try to explore posthuman becomings in more concrete ways. I'm not not sure if we can choose whether or not there will be a posthuman-making event. But (here's the ethics bit) we might be able to explore and choose the forms in which it occurs. In doing this, though, we are already committed to becoming posthuman in our technical praxis however.

Feb. 9th, 2011 07:59 pm (UTC)
Re: I Am Not Human Yet
You say: An entity is human if its capacities and powers would allow it to be integrated within a geographically and temporally extended individual: population of humans.

Your use of the terms 'capacities' and 'powers' seems very Latourian. And, as you say, you are "relaxed" about essentialism. And, yes, for Latour there are as Harman states it "no cryptic essences lying behind whatever lies inscribed in reality here and now" (PON 47). This idea of capacities and powers is more or a retroactive concept showing how objects appear to us unfolding through a succession of events. And, of course, for Latour actors are 'events', and events are always fully deployed (PON 47).

I agree that speculation is possible and we should not confuse what is possible with any valuation of such a possibility (i.e., we should not implode it into a ethics ). And, yes, models are all we have, whether of the OOO kind or the eliminativist-subtractive kind.

I see how you might formulate an ethical stance, since you favor the transhumanist model with reservations. And, yes, this is where we might question this central divide: Do we, scientists, governments, etc. have the right to dhoose to experiment with the forms in which a posthuman excision might take place? Obviously, from a cynical postmodern perspective, let's say a Ballardian one, following a Baudrillardian line of flight into that very realm, we are already seeing the economic system hooked into such a NBIC scenario. So in that sense one group (Military Industrial Complex, etc.) is already always ready to exploit such extravagance and channel money and resources in its eventuality: let's call it our Terminator Syndrome.

And since flat ontology allows for many masters in the political realm, such technologies could be prey to fascist or communist tendencies, or any of the many spectrums between (i.e., flat ontology is value free).

What my concerns (not fears) reach after are the implications that once we cross the rubicon of this post/human divide will we emerge from it as its victims. Such writers as Stanislaw Lem have pondered such things and have drawn pessimistic conclusions. I'm not quite sure if our investment in this technological praxis is good or bad. I only ask that we ponder the implications.


You say: "But (here's the ethics bit) we might be able to explore and choose the forms in which it occurs. In doing this, though, we are already committed to becoming posthuman in our technical praxis however."

Yes... yes, exactly! In most ways our concept of the human has always already been just that a concept, an idea, and mode of being we have received from Petrarch down through the Enlightenment etc... And, now, something new is emerging, something that we as yet have been unable to 'name' to give a 'name'... so we use these post... human to designate a recognition of something that has already occured but which we only know negatively as a resistance against which we posit it as against human(ism) etc.

The dilema of ethics comes into play in asking just that: What exactly do we want from this change that we are in the midst of becoming? More, or less the Joycean between-the-acts sort of play in which we know the old tale of humanism is over, and something else has already begun to run its ghostly demarcations across the stage, but has yet to unveil itself in solid form; yet, it is there, now, already. We must name it. Why? For it is our ourselves becoming other, that's why... but what is it we want to become: that is the question with only more questions beyond which we are both the answer and the project.

thanks for the interesting clarification of your thoughts, David!

Edited at 2011-02-10 04:36 am (UTC)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


S.C. Hickman
S.C. Hickman

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