In the article cited above in the title (Kisner, 2020), Kisner effectively articulates the fundamental problems with ontology (οντολογία). Ontology is derived from the ancient Greek notions of ὤν (ṓn, “on”), present participle of εἰμί (eimí, “being, existing, essence”) + λόγος (lógos, “account”). As Kisner points out early in the essay, the notion of ontology does not need to be interpreted through the history of the ancient Greek notion of being and logos but can simply have a more broad appeal as a methodological way of organizing; “a framework for defining the domain that consists of a set of concepts, characteristics and relationships”1 which could be ascribed under the rubric of sociology, computer science, and even nursing. However, in all these fields a certain Occidental orientation to knowledge (gnósis: a knowing, knowledge) which has already been designated from a particular epochē assigns an orientation to the ‘how’ of what shows itself (e.g., as being). It brings with it a pre-understanding of temporality as presence (and present-at-hand) in Heidegger’s critique of technology as standing reserve. It also takes in René Descartes’ hermetic sealing of the subject as an ‘I’ that thinks and is essentially separate from substance (active/passive voice). This orientation brings into presence knowledge as a system of ‘correct’ statements organizing and making possible any such thing as science. Kisner goes on to bring out the ‘colonialization’ which is inherent in ontology as such. His thesis is that it is almost impossible or very difficult to even separate the notion of ‘indigenous’ from this history. Furthermore, it forcefully places an essential condition on how ‘indigenous’ can let itself appear and further does violence to any possibility which might exceed the pre-canned approach to exactly what could be hidden by the notion of ‘indigenous’.
In my reading, Kisner is trying to bring out the totalization which pre-conditions even our grammatical structures of active and passive voice and has lost sight of middle voice(s) both culturally and historically. We have even seen this in the suppressed notion of the ‘other’. Many people these days have talked negatively about the ‘othering’ of people. In this case ‘othering’ means already understanding the other as the same as my idea of the other. Here the ‘other’ has been degraded into a notion of what I already think the other ‘is’. It is hard to see how this conception of the ‘other’ is true to the notion of the ‘other’. Since, this notion already contains the meaning of what the other is/means, I think it violates any originary or perhaps pre-originary intent of any possible excess to the idea of the other mistakenly taking it as the same as, for example, my idea of the other. This seems to me to be a case of failing to apprehend what the word ‘other’ could be pointing us toward. If the other is thought through the forceful, pre-apprehension Kisner warns us of in the ‘indigenous’ peoples, we have extinguished even the possibility for the ‘other’ to mean anything other. Kisner recommends an ‘ontological respect’ which he seems to think can escape the ‘re’ of ‘respect’ as reenactment, redo, remember, etc. and chooses patience over “all mouth and no ears”. It also indicates perhaps a more genuine orientation to ontology as the possibility for hearing a voice, an other, which has not been overwhelmed by the tidal history of ontology in the West.
If there is this possibility let’s think about how it might be articulated. Could it be that ontology as an organizational structure which to some extent determines, explains, makes possible orientation and significance can be thought as an economy? This notion of ontology makes possible reward and punishment. It accounts for what may be apparent but lacking any necessary connection to the particular phenomenon it claims as its own. If this is the case, it brings with it totems and taboo, punishments and rewards. One thing feminism has taught us is that such indigenous traditions as widow burning and foot binding interrupt the tendency for patience. The need to act sometimes distinct from the patience of allowing the otherness of the other to show itself may require an intervention albeit not with the same violence as the predatory act. We have also seen from Marx’s critique of capitalism a need for action, whether we agree or not with his recommendations, to counter the inherent monarchism submerged in the abstraction of capital. These issues bring up a complexity to the popular notions of cultural relativism.
Even now in the United States we are wrestling culturally with the covid-19 virus and how those who refuse to get vaccinated are detrimentally impacting others both by facilitating the spreading of the virus and its genetic derivatives. Wearing a mask has become political and, in a sense, a demand from the far-right for cultural relativism. They articulate it as their ‘rights’, as if God or country requires this of us all even if it is detrimental to society as a whole. We are faced with the individual and how society can hold the absolute ‘truth’ of the individual over such concerns as a greater good. Even the ‘facts’ of a greater good are incessantly denied in favor of alternate facts. We are being haunted by preconceptions of subjectivity and individual sanctity which long preceded any of us. It is as if cultural ghosts are finally coming back to haunt us. Is the appropriate response patience for anti-vaccers no matter what their impact is on other people?
What I am trying to bring out here is that in some senses we cannot afford patience. Perhaps sometimes patience kills. I believe women have suffered way to long from male ‘patience’. My wife tells me if men had hot flashes it would have been cured long ago. The bigger picture here is that an economy, any economy, places a demand on us. In my opinion, this demand comes from a more primal source – the need to act, to make meaning and significance of lived-circumstance. We cannot wait for exteriority and otherness to speak across the gap of multiplicity in all situations. What is more, we tend to, for lack of better words, ‘spiritualize’ our quest to live and put off the insecurity of death and mortality. Economics gives us the promise of freedom and the threat of imprisonment or poverty. It practically communicates a system of articulations which go unquestioned and simply demand the need to act under its rubric. In this context, the capitalist is the Übermensch which determines his financial freedom by sheer willing it thus. Absolute transactionalism reduces the world to a known as everyone is equally dispensable, dependent on the power of the individual to usurp his supernatural powers. We have evolved into a comic of ourselves in which the super-hero and the villain have some sort of inherent, undetermined agreement that organizes and determines all the possibilities we call reality. We have evolved into a reality show of ourselves.
The value in what Kisner tells us and I find in Levinas’ understanding of the other and in the ‘chaos’ of the earliest Greek thinkers is that we have an urgent need to allow ourselves a break in the historic monologue we, and others, have inherited and have become victims of. We need to do the work of going beyond what we ‘know’ as apparent to see if we can truly allow an other voice to interrupt our homogeneity (even marriage is a good teacher of this if we let it). At the same time, we need to act from values and serious considerations of how force and violence defaces and undermines the ‘otherness’ of the other. If we can even hear the voice of the other, it is a ‘still small voice’ which does no harm and takes responsibility for our actions and the actions of others. We need to stop, listen, and disengage to actively promote the ‘not’ of who we think we are and the ‘not’ of the ‘kn-ot’ which yet again wants to reassert our assumptions of how the other could possibly ‘be’. Those who are hell bent on beating-their-chest-individual-transactionalism may become President of the United States, but the result will only be alternate facts, the right to kill and maim as the will of a demi-god and its patriots, and the demise of any semblance of Constitution ending in sheer hatred and violence as the last fetal, destitute act of terrorism.
1 https://www.techopedia.com/definition/591/computer-ontology [accessed Dec. 4, 2019]
Kisner, W. (2020). The Indigenization of Academia and Ontological Respect. Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, 16(1), 349–391. Retrieved from https://cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal/article/view/795