Difference is the ‘hidden abode of production’ of modern subjectivity based on othering, the dynamics underlying all the dualisms of modernity:
In the European history of philosophy, ‘difference’ is a central concept insofar as Western thought has always functioned through dualistic opposition that create subcategories of otherness or ‘difference-from’. Because, in this history, difference has been predicated on relation of domination and exclusion, to be different-from came to mean to be ‘less than’, to be worth less than. Difference has been colonised by power relations that reduce it to inferiority, as Simone de Beauvoir pertinently put it in The Second Sex. Difference consequently acquired essentialist and lethal connotations; it made entire categories of beings disposable, that is to say, just as human, but slightly more mortal. (Braidotti, 2011: 138)
Difference in the modern settlement is ultimately the distinction between the Self and the Other, perhaps the horizon of modern thought, as seen in ethics of Emmanuel Levinas who recognised that Other is “transcendent, irreducibly different, ‘forever unknowable’” (in Murphy, 2006). This recognition of boundedness of the modern epistemology is an opening for the philosophy of difference. Post-structuralists laboured to reset difference from negativity into the creative force of being, ‘differenciation’ in Deleuze, and ‘différance’ in Derrida. From this standpoint, difference is the dynamics that the logic of dualism recognises but tries to capture in its binaries. In poststructuralism, difference is not produced by the dualism, it is an ontological property of the world.
Extending this tradition, Braidotti’s philosophy/politics of difference is an attempt to “overthrow the pejorative, oppressive connotations that are built not only into the notion of difference, but also into the dialectics of Self and Other” (2011: 11). This is a very different project from difference instrumentalised by capitalism as diversity, authenticity and personality. Difference is in capitalism geared at the production of (homogeneous) value: “Differential capitalism striates the differences, hierarchises and valorises them” (Raunig, 2013). Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi describes capitalist operativity as based on “the functional interoperability of organisms previously reduced to compatible linguistic units” (2012: 123). An ecology of difference, is instead about conjunctions between bodies: “becoming-other, living, and the unpredictable concatenation of bodies” (2012: 123). Difference is closely related to another liminal concept: life. Life and non-life are very different notions in a dualist modern ontology and in an ecology of difference.
Ecology of difference is about conjunctions beyond compatibility, a freedom of possibilities of life in a posthumanist “continuum of indistinction” between bodies (Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, 2015). Indistinction means being outside the grids that sort bodies according to species, genera, sex, race, class, and other enclosures. Only in a continuum of indistinction can “each singularity live out its own strangeness to the extent of its possibilities” (Raunig, 2013). For Braidotti, feminist philosophy of difference, “[w]hat is at stake is the definition of woman as other than a nonman” (Braidotti, 2011: 154), i.e. positing the ‘other’ beyond a ‘difference-from’ (a standard). Learning from this statement, I think that the task is similar for a posthuman ecology of difference. What is at stake is the definition of earth others as other than nonhuman.
The ontology of the present, as outlined in this chapter, is an analytical exercise of localising the intersections of oppression, modes in which subjects, natures, objects, and other ‘others’, are materially and discursively bounded and materially dominated. This ontology starts from the body, itself constituted and crossed by a number of modern protocols. Modern protocols permeate a majority of the social field but they never fully capture it. Representation does not match the world one-to-one. The boundary areas of dualisms are ‘leaky’, they absorb only what they can ‘see’, a fraction of the indeterminate buzz of difference. Difference is always present but it is often appropriated or backgrounded. How to sense difference, address it, make oneself responsible to it, is a process of becoming-other than what one is. In the boundary areas where differences are apportioned, it is not an exit the eco-practitioner is looking for. The question is how to leave the enclosures staked and controlled by the modern ‘logic of dualism’. Leaving the territory does not amount to crossing a boundary from one domain to another (human → nonhuman), or inverting the boundary (nature → culture). It is about diverting or suspending the logic of the boundary mechanism.
How to perform a situated affirmation of difference in the context of modern protocols is what I will try to outline and enact in Parts II and III.