Monday thought – OOOber?

A thought experiment based upon flippant suggestion:

Object Oriented Ontology is to philosophy what Uber is to tech development.

Both ‘disruptive’, Uber and OOO have both expanded beyond their initial context, which is by several measures ‘success’. Both have become like discursive shortcuts for a particular set of ideas – ‘gig economy’ and ‘automation’ for Uber and ‘speculative realism’ and maybe even ‘metaphysics’ for OOO (and there’s possibly other associations for these terms too).

Neither OOO or Uber came up with the ideas they propound first, they ‘innovated’ from others (not necessarily a problem) and then made grand claims based on that (maybe a problem).

Neither of the groups involved in the development of Uber or OOO has acted especially ethically, although Uber is almost certainly significantly worse (this isn’t a like-for-like comparison). This is one of the other ways in which these words have become pregnant with meaning. Uber has been variously documented as having a problem with misogyny in the workplace and has also teetered on the edge of legality through ‘greyball’. Some of the proponents of OOO have been accused of bullying graduate students online and at conferences (I recognise gossip can be pernicious but I’ve heard this from several unrelated sources). It has also been suggested some of these folks are garnering a reputation for being somewhat ‘macho’ in attitude – it probably doesn’t help that the lead figures are all male, that they write lots of earnest manifestos or that they succumb to profiles in newspapers that call them “philosopher prophet“. Of course, neither OOO or Uber are unique in this, similar observations/ accusations have been made of antecedent tech firms and philosophical movements, one need only look to TV programmes like “Silicon Valley” or open up the ‘theory boy‘ can of worms.

Finally, there is also a sense that the success both Uber and OOO are easily co-opted into these (pejorative) narratives. There are grounds for this, well – certainly for Uber, but the visibility that success brings makes it easier to tell these stories. I have no doubt that such alleged behaviour is not limited to those involved in Uber or OOO. Likewise, those categories may be contested and we shouldn’t tar everyone who works for a company or does a particular branch of theory with the same brush. Goodness knows there are plenty of “tech bros” and, for want of a better term, “theory bros” outside of Uber and OOO.

Such a critique, however flippant, can come across as a bit pompous or sly. I cannot stand outside this, I am, to a degree, complicit. For example, the citational practices used by “theory bros”, cartel-like, are easy to slip into – many of us have succumbed. To recognise stupidity, as both Ronell and Stiegler point out, is to recognise my own stupidity – the lesson, perhaps the ‘ethic’, is to pass through it towards knowledge. Not the reproduction of the same knowledge (that’s patriarchy), and not always, I think, difference for it’s own sake (isn’t that what the “tech bros” call “disruption”? and doesn’t that always require being in a privileged position?) but perhaps a thoughtful defiance – not ‘laughing along’. This could mean more “no’s” (following Sara Ahmed). Maybe even something like a NO movement – “No Ontology”, at least the kinds of ontology that get used as authority in the kinds of theory top trumps that get played by some of us in the social sciences and humanities… of course this isn’t a novel suggestion either, it’s somewhat akin to feminist standpoint theory.

Perhaps I’m being unkind to OOO and those who do/use it. Success breeds contempt and all that… but the thought experiment was interesting to run through, in my own ham-fisted way…

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