- Preemptive Logic and the Necessity of Animal Politics
Brian Massumi’s recent books What Animals Teach Us About Politics (2014) and Ontopower (2015) intervene in the same general field as the bipolitical theory of globalization offered by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. Both projects develop an account of the imbrications of politics and ontology through engagements with Deleuze and Guattari, in particular their claims that ontology is fundamentally productive and that state politics function through vampiristic apparatuses of capture which feed off of and redirect the productive capacities of singularities (these singularities are no longer best understood as simply “human”). But while Hardt and Negri’s project remains driven by Marxian analysis and a progressive tendency to organize the forces of the world into two blocks (“multitude” and “Empire”), blocks that function at the level of what Deleuze and Guattari would call the “molar,” Massumi’s interest is almost exclusively in the molecular. Where Hardt and Negri valorize incipient desire for refusal, for consciously being against Empire, Massumi’s focus is on the virtual possibilities, which are nonconscious, from which movements and actions emerge.
In Ontopower, Massumi’s main object of analysis is the mutation in politics following September 11, 2001 that George W. Bush called “preemption,” a mutation that produces “full spectrum warfare” and a peculiar “operative logic,” one based on the conditional. In preemption, “the nature of threat cannot be specified” (Massumi 2015, 9). We are no longer concerned with actualities, already existing threats, but with the possibility of threat. Riffing on Bush’s post facto statements on the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which purportedly justified the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Massumi locates the ontological and temporal mutation in the claim that if Saddam Hussein could have had WMDs, he would have. This shifts the focus of politics from “the level at which actions are deliberately decided” to a focus on “the level at which the very capacity for action is forming...It focuses on a [End Page 499] pre-decision process occurring in an interval of emergence antecedent to both informed knowing and deliberative action” (71). This is what Massumi calls “ontopower” (71).
Ontopower functions as an apparatus of capture in relation to what he calls, in What Animals Teach Us About Politics, “animal politics” (2014, 3). Where Hardt and Negri see a politics of refusal as the paradigmatic form of resistance to Empire, Massumi poses play—a form of action that is “animal” and not “human”—as the motor of creative, differential politics. By moving from the molar to the molecular, Massumi’s theory of political ontology distances itself from any politics based on recognition, consciousness raising, critique, and refusal. Indeed, one of the most crucial aspects of this animal politics is that is not anchored in (human) consciousness. While this conception of politics is likely to make many leftists, especially Marxists, extremely nervous, it’s worth dwelling first on Ontopower because there Massumi builds the case—through analyses of policy documents associated with the War on Terror, the Revolution in Military Affairs, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—that the U.S. military has already theorized this virtual ontopower and has committed enormous resources to the project of experimenting with how to intervene in it. That is, a Deleuzeguattarian virtual politics is not at all a post-everything fantasy of social theory cut off from the real ground of global politics as some leftists might charge, it is the real field of full spectrum warfare and its tendency toward “soft power” (2015, 56).
Much of Ontopower is given over to inventing a vocabulary up to the task of theorizing the “interval” of potentiality from which actions and movements emerge. At issue is how a particular movement relates to a plural and multiple field of possible movements that condition it. This interval is about affects, “priming,” and conditioning but not about conscious action, reflection, recognition, or resistance. It has to do less with thought as traditionally understood (as...