Another quote from Latour’s Politics of Nature (pp. 208–209, emphasis in original):

If we borrow Lévi-Strauss’s powerful definition and use the term “barbarians” to designate those who believe that they are being assailed by barbarians, conversely, we can call “civilized” those whose collective is surrounded by enemies*. In one case we have contamination by barbarianism, in the other contamination by civilization: the barbarian sees barbarians everywhere, the civilized being sees civilized beings everywhere. According to these two figures of speech, the danger changes meaning: whereas (external) barbarians threaten (internal) barbarians with destruction, (external) civilized beings threaten (internal) civilized beings with new requirements. We might thus say about the power to follow up that it “defends civilization,” provided that we no longer define civilization, as modernism did, by a position on the ladder of progress (there is no more ladder, and no more progress), but instead by the civility with which a collective allows itself to be disturbed by those whom it has nevertheless explicitly rejected.

I like the linking of civilization with (externally-directed) civility there.

A note about the asterisk: Latour uses various words/phrases in unusual ways in this book, and always marks them with asterisks. Mostly I leave the asterisks out when quoting, but I decided to leave that one in here, lest you get misled by what he means by “enemy”. In the context of this book, an enemy is somebody whom you have decided that, for the time being, isn’t part of your group, but there’s no notion of either hostility or a permanent split here: enemies are respected, and your enemy today may well be your friend tomorrow. Fans of iterative development may think of enemies as customer requests that you’ve decided not to implement in this iteration: that doesn’t mean that they’re bad or unreasonable or anything, and you may well implement them next iteration, you just haven’t done so yet.

What the heck, I’ll throw in the prior paragraph, too:

Depending on the strength of the power to follow up, a given collective will thus find itself interated into two quite different regimes: it will be defined either as a fortress under assault by barbarians, or else as a collective surrounded by excluded entities that are on the path toward appeal. In the first case, the enemies will have shifted into insignificance, into inarticulateness, and will have become barbarians in the etymological sense, producing inaudible gibberish; in the second case, the enemies will be combated as future allies and will remain capable of worrying the entire collective with the mere thought of their provisional exclusion. There are no barbarians other than those who believe they have definitively found the words to define themselves The logos is not a clear and distinct speech that would be opposed to the incomprehensible babblings of the others, but the speech impediment* that is catching its breath, starting over—in other words, that is seeking its words through a trial.

And with speech impediments come speech prostheses; to go back to our agile analogy above, an acceptance test might be an example of a speech prosthesis that is a key tool in turning an “enemy” feature request into a civilized member of the collective.

Post Revisions:

This post has not been revised since publication.