Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam – Latour (2003)

Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam – Latour

  • Military metaphor of being ‘late for every war’ — are the tools of critique no longer working? 
  • Climate change debate — Latour expresses worry that the arguments he made regarding the ‘lack of scientific certainty’ in one sense are now being ‘used by the enemy’ 
    • “Of course conspiracy theories are an absurd deformation of our own arguments, but, like weapons smuggled through a fuzzy border to the wrong party, these are our weapons nonetheless. In spite of all the defor- mations, it is easy to recognize, still burnt in the steel, our trademark: Made in Criticalland.”
  • Instant revisionism — conspiracy theories 
  • Scientia est potentia — DARPA slogan
  • “What if explanations resorting automatically to power, society, dis- course had outlived their usefulness and deteriorated to the point of now feeding the most gullible sort of critique.”
  • “Is it an another case of the famed power of capitalism for recycling everything aimed at its destruction?… the new spirit of capitalism has put to good use the artistic critique that was supposed to destroy it.”
  • The project of contructivism was never to show that the construction of truth was relative: “The question was never to get away from facts but closer to them, not fighting empiricism but, on the con- trary, renewing empiricism.” The idea was to understand how facts work in order to allow people to trust them more.
  • Critique should be a ‘new empiricism’ that looks in the world to reduce the gaps between theory and practice by analysing and reopening questions — questions of representation, questions of language: Media as first-philosophy. 
  • The enlightenment used ‘facts’ to get us out of the trap of ‘beliefs’. Now ‘beliefs’ are again being used ‘against fact’.
  • Can we design a descriptive tool that adds to reality instead of subtracting?
  • But “when we accompany them back to their gathering, we always appear to weaken them, not to strengthen their claim to reality.” 
  • Critique of critique in social science, as it exists now, is a pharmakon (a cure and a illness in Stiegler, recall) — self-satisfying: 
    • First the object of the naive society’s fetish is revealed to be something who’s power is only projected by the society itself
    • Second, the origin of the fetish is explained in terms of some external ‘fact’ – “social domination, race, class, and gender, maybe throwing in some neurobiology, evolutionary psychology”
    • Also — the ‘realism’ of the critic’s life is reserved for passionate interests
  • “We explain the objects we don’t approve of by treating them as fetishes; we account for behaviors we don’t like by disci- pline whose makeup we don’t examine; and we concentrate our passionate interest on only those things that are for us worthwhile matters of concern.”
  • “critique is also useless when it be- gins to use the results of one science uncritically, be it sociology itself, or economics, or postimperialism, to account for the behavior of people”
  • “a multifarious inquiry launched with the tools of anthropology, philosophy, metaphysics, history, sociology to detect how many participants are gathered in a thing to make it exist and to maintain its existence. Objects are simply a gathering that has failed—a fact that has not been assembled according to due process.”
  • “The critic is not the one who debunks, but the one who assembles. The critic is not the one who lifts the rugs from under the feet of the na ̈ıve believers, but the one who offers the participants arenas in which to gather. The critic is not the one who alternates haphazardly be- tween antifetishism and positivism like the drunk iconoclast drawn by Goya, but the one for whom, if something is constructed, then it means it is fragile and thus in great need of care and caution.”

“Machines take me by surprise with great frequency. This is largely because I do not do sufficient calculation to decide what to expect them to do, or rather because, although I do a calculation, I do it in a hurried, slipshod fashion, taking risks. Perhaps I say to myself, “I suppose the voltage here ought to be the same as there: anyway let’s assume it is.” Naturally I am often wrong, and the result is a surprise for me for by the time the experiment is done these assumptions have been forgotten. These admissions lay me open to lectures on the subject of my vicious ways, but do not throw any doubt on my credibility when I testify to the surprises I experience.” – Computing Machinery and IntelligenceAuthor(s): Alan Turing — Source: Mind, New Series, Vol. 59, No. 236 (Oct., 1950), pp. 433-460

Michel Serres & Bruno LaTour – Conversations on Science, Culture, and Time

“A unique style cornes from the gesture, the project, the itinerary, the risk-indeed, from the acceptance of a specific solitude. While using the same board, no surfer ever takes the wave in the same way, but each one accepts the eventuality of crashing beneath that unfurling wall of water or of drowning un- der its rolling. Repetition of content or method entails no risk, whereas style reflects in its mirror the nature of the danger. In venturing as far as possible toward nonrecognition, style runs the risk even of autism.” — M. Serres, Conversations on Science, Culture and Time, p. 94

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