To Be Free and Natural, A History Boy, 14/11/2017

I started this blog when I’d already developed quite a lot as a writer – especially in philosophy. A good chunk of that development came from reading Gilles Deleuze and using a bunch of his concepts and ideas in my own projects, particularly in Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity.

That book isn’t a book about Deleuze – the book is about what the title says. But I use Deleuze’s concepts often in how I research and explore problems in environmental ethics and activism. Even – especially – when I’m not quoting or referring directly to any of his work.

If you’re going to give me a label based on any legendary philosopher’s name turned into an adjective, you could plausibly call me only a Deleuzian.

Influence is an agony.
Of course, given how most folks in academia use adjectival names, I’d prefer that you didn’t. Because when you’re in an academic context with philosophers and you call yourself a Deleuzian, they think that all your writing is commentary on Deleuze. And that your professional communication is advocating for a single interpretation of Deleuze that you hold to be the true, right one.

Replace the name Deleuze and its adjectives with the name and adjective of any primary material philosopher and you have a significant chunk of the entire field.

This is the closest thing possible to the opposite of what Deleuze would have wanted his follower philosophers to do. The man wrote it himself. If you want to follow in the footsteps of your heroes, don’t just repeat what they said, but do what they did.

What does a philosopher do? In the broadest possible and most essential sense, a philosopher creates concepts. What is a concept? That can take a while to answer. Answering and exploring that question is the major point of Deleuze’s last big book, What Is Philosophy? So you can go into plenty of detail, and discussion too.

But you can also say it very simply, and let the details do the work that details do – get technical, intricate, profound, meaningful in a professional sense. You can understand how a computer works without being a computer scientist. In the same way, you can understand what a philosophical concept is without being a professional philosopher.

Something else that too many academic philosophers tend to forget.

You can make a strong case that we're quite a lot
dumber than some of our ancestors. They lived at
least long enough to become us, and it's become a
conceivable possibility that humanity will end up
cockroach food.
I can give you a really quick and easy-to-remember account of what a concept is. It’s the one I see when I read What Is Philosophy? A concept is a framework for us to understand the world – how we order our thoughts and perceptions from our daily lives to the cosmos.

Here’s what I think is the most important part of how Deleuze understands this – the most important lesson he has for us. It’s why I realized his ideas were so important to building a genuinely progressive environmentalist ethics.

Frameworks to order our thoughts and perceptions is more than just a human thing. All organisms have to make sense of a chaotic world of perception – moving so that they stay alive. Hundreds of millions of years of animal evolution has produced some pretty complex ways to perceive and act. We’re one of those ways.

We can build a tradition – many traditions, actually – of conceptual craftspeople. We develop new abstract frameworks of making sense out of chaos that are much more complex and have many different powers than those of an australopithecus.

Any tradition centred on developing new concepts is properly called philosophical. Plural all the way down. That’s what I love about thinking in a way you could – if you really must – call Deleuzian.

It’s a wonderful framework for environmentalist thinking – a vision of humanity as an expression of nature. No essence. No immutability. No hierarchies. Contingency, change, and diversity. Environmentalist, ecological, and democrat to the core.

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