nomadic ethics

a meditation by Alan, 2007

I sit by my mother’s bedside as she is dying. I don’t know what to do. All I can do is sit with her and hold her hand.

In that moment I experience the dilemmas that lead me to acceptance: to a new conception, for me, of ethical being. Two and a half years later, I can begin to articulate what this might be, and how it informs, or even underpins this thesis.

In that moment the past is of no help. Old hurts and old joys both take away from the now, and the future is totally unknown. There is one definite, which is that my mother is dying. I can think of fantasies to complete the future, but like the memories they take away from the now.

Our hands caress. I hold my mother’s hand. She holds mine. Mainstream western philosophy has sought answers to the momentary dilemmas of life and death. Answers in the past, wherein we can use reason to analyse, classify and develop moral codes. Answers in the future, wherein we can use our imagination to develop utopian visions of how things could be.

At times like this, neither past nor future assists us with the dilemmas of the momentary present. There are no rules for how to behave with a dying person. You just have to be with your failure and contain or move beyond the anxiety.

Similarly there are no rules for me as I approach the completion of the thesis. I just have to be and move beyond the anxiety, for I may die tomorrow.
There are no rules for how to die. We die. That is a truth. Perhaps the only one.

Braidotti (1994: , 2002: , 2006), following Deleuze and Guattari, writes of ‘nomadic ethics’ and by this I understand an approach to ethics which refuses reification and legislation. An approach which is founded on notions of movement of the subject and of the environment such that legislation, fixing and reification of the ethical is rendered impossible and yet an idea of ethical behaviour, and perhaps more accurately ethical being can be developed. An idea of ethical becoming may be even more accurate, wherein time and space are also considered, that ethics are never fixed, but always contextual.

This is an approach which I find congruent with the notions of the ethics of the caress, which Zygmunt Bauman(1993: 92) expounds as a foundation for postmodern ethics. Such an approach could be profoundly liberating for our thinking about organizing and offer an alternative to the neo-liberal, efficient, effective, economic modernist nightmare, that is killing people in and around organizations right now.

I don’t know what the hell I am going to do next, and I have to accept that.

This then, is our task once we set aside the search for the certainties of modernity. It is to find decentred, distributed, but rigorous ways of knowing and being. Ways of knowing and being appropriate to a world that wants to live at peace with the knowledge of its incompleteness. (Law, 1994: 195)

I have to accept my incompleteness, this thesis’ incompleteness and we have to accept incompleteness in organizing. I have to accept openness, exposure and weakness.

Can I really accept that weakness is not a bad thing?

It is imperative to rethink our existence, become aware of mortality, and change, impermanence and death, aware of essential uncertainty, containing our anxiety.

the proper object of ethical inquiry is not the subject’s moral intentionality, or rational consciousness, as much as the effects of truth and power that his or her actions are likely to have upon others in the world. (Braidotti, 2006: 14)
This means moving beyond morality – where we assume the world has a system of good and evil oppositions – to ethics, where we create and select those powers that expand life as a whole, beyond our limited perspectives. (Colebrook, 2002: 96)

We rethink our existence to becoming self: becoming – for men particularly – is really difficult, for becoming demands rethinking the sexuality of ‘man’.

Particularly when becoming entails erasure, and overcoming. (Colebrook, 2002: 139-145)

Varela offers another complementary perspective:
It is not that there is no need for normative rules in the relative world – clearly such rules are a necessity in any society. It is that unless rules are informed by the wisdom that enables them to be dissolved in the demands of responsivity to the particularity and immediacy of lived situations, the rules will become sterile, scholastic hindrances to compassionate action rather than conduits for its manifestation. (Varela, 1999: 73-74)

Yet I suggest Varela is wrong to call this wisdom: I would rather describe it as love.

Uncertainty is not a bad thing when one adopts wisdom to accommodate it, unfortunately we get anxious which leads to pain in our lives, as we saw in right hand.

Weakness becomes meaningless (or free of meaning) in the moment of emergence, but remains totally uncertain. It’s the moment of love. We need a reanimation of love and spirit, and a way of understanding the effects of truth and power of every single moment.

Nomadic ethics enables us to adapt to the unknown in the present. We can only know the moment and can act in the moment based on the best love and wisdom in relationship. Each present experience is new and uncertain and we proceed into the unfolding future alert to the consequences of our being and becoming.