No Future 1: The Challenge of Strangeness and Difference, Research Time, 12/04/2014

I’ve been posting about Graham Priest, the nature of philosophy’s history, cinema, and Kraftwerk a lot over the last couple of weeks, but I’ve also been working on a review for the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective (which will be posted next week), and I’m still reading some old sociological philosophy to help synthesize ideas for the Utopias project. As well, I’m working through Lee Edelman’s No Future to expand my mind, because Phil Sandifer has never steered me wrong.

However, I remain a little hesitant to write critical thoughts, even though I do have issues in reaction to what Edelman says. If he can be taken as a reasonable representative of queer theory in general, then I’m hesitant to engage with this direction in philosophy at all. The fact is, when it comes to LBGT(etc) issues, politics, and ideas, I’ve become very hesitant to say anything at all. I’m hesitant to ask any critical questions about the methods and directions of the movement(s), especially online.

Reading Edelman, I see want to engage critically with his work, because I see it as philosophically and ethically challenging, complex, and valuable. But I still expect that if I were to go on a forum and ask the types of questions I will ask in this weekend’s posts, I would meet only hostility and aggression. Multiple sexualities exist in my immediate family and my circles of friends. And I’ve treasured those people in my life, as I treasure all my family and friends. But I’m hesitant to call myself an Ally, because I don’t know if, as a straight person, I would be allowed to ask critical philosophical questions, even though asking such questions is what philosophy does.

The popular message of modern Christian values is that the
most important human good is procreation, and the
stability of a family to produce people who will later raise
their own families of the same kind. Reproduce the past
indefinitely throughout the future.
As I discussed last Monday, Edelman creates a fascinating concept in his work, reproductive futurism. However, unlike other acts of philosophical creation, he has created this concept to identify and attack a profound opponent in thought. As I see it in No Future, reproductive futurism is how queer people experience the social pressure to conform to a common morality or social order, with regard to their sexuality and its expression. That common morality, in this context, lies in the unquestioned good of creating and raising children. Reproductive futurism is the moral principle that acting to maintain the organic continuation of humanity is a true, and obviously true, good. Any challenge to this, any life that does not include reproduction and care for children as a goal, would be an evil lifestyle. Queer sexualities are, for Edelman, in their very existence, such an evil for the reproductive futurist.

Those who would find comfort in the stability of society often associate that stability with cultural homogeneity.* It’s an ironic vocabulary, since what precisely provokes those people into hostility is how the open acceptance of queer sexualities makes our society more diverse. Associating cultural homogeneity with social and political stability and peace implies that you understand divergent moralities and lifestyles as sources of social conflict.

* A lovely coincidence that I’m reading this at the same time as I’m looking into the ideas of Karl Mannheim, who explained, confronted, and critiqued this very point in Ideology and Utopia in 1936. I’ve come to wonder how many other debates contemporary academia repeats that occurred in the past in almost the same form, simply because the key thinkers of those past debates weren’t canonized deeply enough that everyone has read them.

Indeed, they can be. But they need not be. Part of what I’ve written for Social Epistemology, which will be available open source next week, touches on how the philosophical and political developments of the modern epoch (urban cultural diversity, mass communication, the availability of media and cultural products from countries all over the world) has given us the tools to live in a heterogeneous culture peacefully. We can easily accept that there are many ways in morality and lifestyle to satisfy the general physical goods of humanity. Human nature underdetermines the moral principles and systems that can satisfy human needs and goods; that’s why humanity developed so many moralities in the first place. An attitude of curiosity and acceptance can accept these moralities peacefully, as different paths to achieve our needs and goods.

But the question of what those common human goods are may still be up for debate. And if you consider one of those goods the reproduction of the human species through creating and raising children, then the existence of people whose sexualities are queer is a rebuke to you. Even in a society as open as urban Canada (which has many problems, especially widespread ignorance of how queer people actually live, but includes not nearly the intensity and violence of oppression that queers face in many other parts of the world), Edelman maintains that queer sexualities are considered evil for their challenge to the status of creating and raising children as an obvious good.

This would rarely be explicit in our liberal society. But Edelman finds one troubling articulation of such hostility to the moral, social, and political implications of queer existence: the yearly presence of film adaptations of A Christmas Carol all over our televisions. To be continued. . .


  1. Good point re. the short memory of the canon. Did you know MUN has a leading Mannheim specialist, by the way? Volker Meja is his name.

    I have no knowledge of the queer literature to speak of, but it does seem to operate on very different norms of argumentation than traditional philosophy, particularly in regards to the role of rhetoric in argumentation. As far as I can tell, this is a period of internal debate within that broader tradition which will eventually open back up to connect to other lines of inquiry. Is this how you read it as well? The Israeli philosopher Marcelo Dascal has some good thoughts on this sort of separate field of debate: . He encourages anyone entering a long-standing debate to consider whether the participants in the debate agree on the means of assessing the facts and assessing the assessment of the facts -- I doubt there's much agreement on those points here, and so little hope for productive exchange at the present time. Your thoughts would be appreciated as always.

    Anyway, I'm chiming up now mainly to address your point about conflict. I think you make a very good point when you say that the existence of alterity is not necessarily perceived by those within a dominant group as a source of conflict: diverse communities can and do live together productively, and without conflict (of course, there is always conflict, but you get the drift). On the other hand, I think you might further undermine the position you critique here with the simple sociological observation that conflict is not bad -- conflict can be bad and it can be good. Just because there is a group of people that are perceived as different AND as a source of conflict (which you argue isn't even necessary in itself), that doesn't mean that the conflict is bad for either group. It can be good for both groups. This isn't just a dialectical (and hence mystical) process, but can happen in many different ways which many different people have explored in great depth in many different contexts. Simmel and Lewis Coser both write about the productive characteristics of conflict and from these two long traditions of research have explored productive conflict in actually existing groups.

    As for the argument that Canadians (well, which ones exactly?) view homosexual couples' lack of conformity to traditional reproduction as evil (meaning what exactly?), I can't believe that is intended as a serious and literal argument. Surely this is a rhetorical staging of some much less elevated criticism? Childless couples of any sort may or may not feel hounded by some vague notion of social norms due to their the lack of reproduction, but such subjective accounts do not go very far in making sense of a broader network of relations.

    It all reads to me as a Foulcaultian effort to shock the bourgeois reader while winking at the insiders in his debate.

    1. Wonderful idea, Tom, and thanks for the links. I'll look into those later.

      With regard to your last point, that's actually a significant part of my critique of Edelman's approach to political philosophizing that I have primed to launch on Sunday. I can tease it a little, though: essentially, it revolves around his deep, profound, and detailed methodological influence from Lacan and the psychoanalytic methods of political philosophy.