Autonomy in the Age of Anthropocene
February 26, 2013
Instead of reacting to Latour’s lectures which still need time to organize themselves into a level where Latour’s positions can be objectively appraised, therefore we need to wait for the lectures to finish, I have gathered some thoughts about Latour’s unique place in contemporary speculation concerning the advent of anthropocene vis-à-vis his concept of Gaia, and decided to put them here. But I have also decided to skip a detailed comparison between the two terms, anthropocene and Gaia. Certainly, there are semantic similarities they share from which can take off a philosophical comparison, which is, nonetheless, not my aim here. My aim is rather modest, in fact, regressive. I wish to trace the background of what I think informs Latour’s stance on human autonomy.
Certainly, we owe it to Marx and the tradition of ideology critique–the awareness that human privilege is only formally or topologically universal or that humanity is a privileged creature. It is rather a concrete advantage of individuation especially those who have the means (social, political, cultural and economic capital) to transcend the local demands of life. In all known history those who have these means are responsible for creating a paradigm of human privilege, through apparatuses of instruction, communication and circular exchange of priority knowledge, or through “the noble lie,” the lie that there are natural differences between and among humans, such that the ordering of society for purposes of achieving balance and management of entropy has to take these differences into account.
Evolutionarily wise, there is truth in natural differences. (The ‘uninformed’ lie in the noble lie goes to the ‘lie’ that can assume for itself a level of truth not to the other-than exploitative kernel of the purpose of lying, presumably noble). But possibilities for overcoming these differences in terms of their effects on individuation across the social spectrum have become rigidified. Those who have been made to consistently belong to differentiated classes (differentiated by the mechanism of identifying natural differences replicative throughout time in which, as it is the case, the differenciator is exempted from the subjectification process) are reduced to the bareness of life, deprivation and helplessness. The anthropocentric bias therefore only serves the interest of the differenciator, plain and simple. But as this bias has to be sustained in and through an economy of differences the great differentiated has to be convinced of their privilege as humans too.
Simply put, economy depends on concrete production that only the differentiated can perform. But it is never that simple. The produce, as they are circulated, exchanged and consumed by both the great differentiated and the differenciator, become understood as the labor of humanity, including the differenciator whose privilege is symbolically extended to the great differentiated. We can therefore arrive at how a certain universality is achieved—such as the idea of humanity as one—by means of an ideological procedure mediated by the commodity. If humanity is simply an effect of this procedure, certainly we can say that humanity does not exist except in and through a forcing of the indiscernible (we take cue from Badiou), that is, by non-natural and therefore arbitrary means.
But how about humanity as the irreducible dignity of every human being? Are we to say it is also a construct? Far from it. I believe that there is a universal humanity. The universalization of humanity depends on a pre-defined essence of givenness, that which is irreducible to any formal concept or forcing of the indiscernible, namely, that the human is a triumph of the impossible—that despite innumerable conditions of non-existence (not to mention its natural end in death) it rises forth as a possibility that the process of evolution could never anticipate. The human is itself a delicate parcel of life that deserves care and respect. By whom? By the other who also deserves care and respect and whose existence, whose rising forth on the plane of creation is just as accidental as you and me and anybody else. In contrast, all processes of ascribing the human the privilege of creation or the design for which its existence makes sense, in other words, all non-evolutionary thinking that elects this human as the custodian of creation and the universe, disrespect the utter contingency from which this human draws its sustaining power as well as the possibility for novelty, individuation and transcendence. These take the place of the awareness of the horror that, as we are contingently thrown into the world without rhyme or reason, our extinction is just as fairly deducible from the premise of chance.
Still, we are of the opinion that humanity must be redefined. To redefine humanitas is a process that involves a de-universalization of humanity on the level of differentiation in favor of the universalization of contingency on the level of the true universal, among other true universals whose properties lie unexplored from the depths of representation , the underworld or the subatomic, to the great Outdoors (a position similar to Meillasoux). Taking a cue from Meillasoux, a true universal is such that it possesses a knowable property.
The result can be the democracy of beings, not the democracy of things. We disagree with the chief orientation of OOO that accords things pre-symbolic equilibrant character that generates a co-equal status between humans and non-humans on the level of pure ontology. We believe there is much to explore in the emancipatory possibilities of the symbolic, as Latour declares that we have never been modern, that is, never been symbolic in the sense of fulfilling its human character, such that it becomes too defeatist to consign the quest to be human to the un-willed anorganicity of creation. It just kills conatus on which necessary fictions like human existence depends. Needless to say, there has never been an honest appraisal of how we need this fiction.
But Derrida is a remarkable exception. Humanity needs this fiction to sustain the conatus for justice. Justice is the Derridean fiction that once consigned to the anorganicity of the conditions of its emergence robs humanity off of the will to live, not to mention, the will to love. It does not mean Derrida was unaware of the dynamics of evolution. It is simply for him taken for granted as the necessary condition of possibility of emergent things, beings, and events. The danger of consigning an effect, such as human life as we know it, to anorganicity which is pre-elected (by science and philosophy) to be the absent cause of creation lies in what Schopenhauer feared, namely, the consequent forcing of the death of willing. For his part, Nietzsche embraced the educative kernel of Schopenhauer by appropriating the emancipatory character of pessimism in terms of declaring that pessimism (the necessary awareness that existence conceals no reason or purpose) is also a will to live in the sense that it is a reaction to the reality that nothing is. The conatus lies in repeating the nothingness that reality reveals until repetition becomes a necessity that reality can no longer control. The difference is simple: it is in the interest of humans to repeat. As Laruelle would have it, the Real in contrast is unilaterally indifferent. In Badiou, somehow repetition is making destiny out of chance (in In Praise of Love). But we have never been modern in the sense that this destiny will always remain a construction, a compossibility. We have never been human because we must continually seek justice.
A new universalization of humanity can also result in cooperation in the name of the ‘noble’ of the noble lie, not its lie anymore which means the wanton use of noble lie for purposes of supremacy and control. This lie (the noble) exposes itself to be no less the power of the false (we take cue from Deleuze), or, in Nietzsche, false or fictional or willingly oblivious, yet life-enabling.
NB: For those interested in the summaries of Latour’s Gifford Lectures I recommend Terence Blake’s superb journalistic accounts of the lectures so far. See terenceblake.wordpress.com
Few words on Terence’s recent observations on Laruelle’s anti-vitalism:
I certainly doubt that Laruelle is exempted from the charge of vitalism, if not the whole of his project, then at least a few strands of his thoughts which leave his readers with the impression that like Agamben he is somehow privileging weakness as a catapult to transcendence. Just as Agamben silently accommodates a new theology, Laruelle embraces a non-theology by virtue of the intensive image of the suppressed. The heretic is certainly the closest image of this weakness who in Laruelle has a unique mission (not in the historical sense but as a bare reminder of the crimes of philosophy in general which we can argue works for Laruelle as the persecutor of difference that the heretic champions). The weakness of the heretic becomes a unique image of strength but a strength that is other-than, a future, understood in the sense of the last instance. It is a strength precisely because it possesses a promise. It possesses a promise for the heretic alone can provoke the crimes of the World against it. All this world’s strengths are used up in the persecution of the heretic. The heretic undermines the World, leaves it vulnerable to emancipation.
Here, I take vitalism to mean a certain privileging of weakness (of the heretic), of bare life, a life that can be killed but not sacrificed for the heretic, who represents this bareness, possesses the secret whose essence is that it sustains the lie of the church. (Benjamin Noys’s critique of Laruelle’s vitalism is worth reading on this point. Check him out at academia.edu) Its presence is just as necessary to sustain the difference against which the priestly class nominates its privilege. In India, the sutras (the children of God), the untouchables are not sacrificed by the state in the sense that they are allowed to exist. We can argue here that the untouchables are the closest representation of the heretic, those who possess the secret that sustains the lie of the privilege of the few. In other words, it is the duty of the state to sustain their poverty.
Lastly, Laruelle is bound by the historicity of the image of the heretic, an image deeply entrenched in Western Christianity, which makes Future Christ Eurocentric.