Pluralism, Ontology, and Composing a Common World

In the last couple of days there have been a flurry of posts referring back to mine on “The Value of a Turn.” The response isn’t so much a response to that post, but a discussion of ontology and pluralism sparked by Levi Bryant’s posing the question here – how do we reconcile pluralism with any kind of realist perspective? It’s an important question for the recent interest in the ontological turn in anthropology, since anthropologists are interested in making space for the ontological claims of others who are generally left out of the ontological discourse (their views are seen as merely cultural representations of a unified Nature while we Westerners have the luxury of unmediated access to that Nature by way of science). However, if we grant that a reality to the ontologies of the Shuar or the Kayapó or other indigenous groups, then it seems we must also grant a reality to the ontologies of Christians, climate deniers, Capitalists, and so on. How can we reconcile these two opposing agendas?

As I said, there have been a few posts on the subject. Here, Phillip outlines Latour and Stengers’s approach to ontological pluralism, and James Stanescu has another detailing William James’s pluralism. I’m still trying to process these, so I can’t go into any kind of huge discussion here, but I do have some thoughts that might put a different spin on things. (See also, Levi’s response to these two posts)

The project, as Latour, Stengers, James, and others have described it, is to compose a common world. What pluralism recognizes is that, in this project, we all start from different places – Latour’s relativity rather than relativism. The goal, then, (and it has to be recognized that this project is always contingent and prone to failure) is to make these different positions converge, but in a way that doesn’t impose one upon the other as the Modern Nature/Culture dichotomy tends to do. Why should we avoid imposing one on the other? In part because it’s the right thing to do – by imposing we remove or reduce the agency of the other. The claim to unmediated access to reality makes us invulnerable – no other claim has that grounding, and therefore we can never be wrong. But we are wrong – the science of the Enlightenment gave us climate change, environmental destruction, imperialism in the name of rationality (indigenous peoples removed from their land and taken to reeducation facilities where they were taught “rational” economic activities such as farming), and so on. It removed us from the world and placed us above it – the God’s eye view.

But it doesn’t work that way, and here is the other reason why we need to engage in this common world-building project: because it’s not just about building a common world with other humans, but of building a common world with other kinds of beings as well. We’re not just trying to come to terms with the ontologies of the Shuar or the Kayapó, we are trying to come to terms with the realities of CO2, ocean acidification, sea level rise, arctic ice sheets, endangered species, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires, deforestation, factory farms, genetic engineering, cars, airplanes, invasive species, computer models, and an almost infinite number of other beings that inhabit our worlds and have effects on us. To position ourselves outside of Nature undermines their agency as well. It posits them as a passive background that we can manipulate and mold to our social wills. But that’s not the case – these beings push back, they resist, they impose themselves on us. Not intentionally, of course, but they do nevertheless.

So we have a project – composing a common world – (which is an unending project, thus the “forever” in the title of this blog), and we all start from different places. And we are not simply composing a common world with other humans, but with other beings as well. That’s where an ontological pluralism positions us. From here we can begin to move forward, not from a common ground, but from a mess of contingent spaces – overlapping, intertwining, etc. We move forward as beings within a world, not viewing from above.

In this effort to build a common world, certain positions will fail. The climate deniers will fail to build a common world with CO2, sea level rise, ocean acidification, and so on. Others will continue to prosper, but it’s not our place, I think, to predefine which will prosper and which will fail – this once again pulls us out of the common world and back into the God’s eye view.

This is my take on ontological pluralism – it’s more about where we start from and where we’re heading than an accurate description of the world. Maybe we don’t need “ontology” to get us here, but the ontological discourse has been effective in some ways at conveying the pluralist mentality. For that reason, I think it’s a good project, a good turn, and I’m interested to see where it will take us.

The Social of Nature

I’ve been following an interesting discussion of Facebook where Levi Bryant says that the way to eliminate essentialism is not to erase “nature” and make everything “cultural”, but rather to embrace “nature” and queer it. The discussion is largely conceptual and not worth rehashing here, but it did remind me of an issue I’ve been thinking a lot of lately. As a cultural anthropologist who works extensively with natural scientists, I walk this tight-rope a lot. We are continually trying to insert or tack on what is generally referred to as “the human dimensions” to environmental science projects. This is how it was with the invasive species project that I was working on and this is how it has been with many of the projects on which I and my cohort have been involved. “The human dimension” is secondary and often perfunctory rather than integrated and systematic. Nevertheless, we continue to try, going to great lengths to fully integrate our research with that of natural scientists.

What I’ve noticed recently, though, is that, in this process, there is often the adoption of concepts and methods from the natural sciences by social scientists – perhaps as a way to appease the natural scientists and “speak their language.” For example, we take on concepts like “resilience” and “complex adaptive systems” in order to frame our investigations of socio-cultural phenomena in a way that scientists will appreciate and understand. There’s nothing wrong with that – it facilitates communication and the concepts are not necessarily wrongly applied. And yet, it does lead to a kind of naturalization of social phenomena. We end up looking for the ways that societies function in naturalistic ways – the ways they are “resilient” or “adaptive”. These approaches, while perhaps accurate and valuable in a certain way, also tend to obscure important aspects of social relations such as power and the processes of social construction. In that sense, going too far down this path of appeasing the scientific crowd can severely limit our own approach to understanding and addressing social issues. This is perhaps why so much environmental social science seems so limited or ineffective – because we so dramatically reduce the parameters with which we are dealing that the products of our research become compromised.

That’s not to say that I want to stop incorporating ecological concepts into the social sciences, but what I would like to see more of, I think, is the socialization of the natural sciences. That is, I would like the natural sciences to accept and incorporate concepts from the social sciences and apply them to their ecologies. Ecologies are, at base, societies – collections of different materials and organisms attempting to coexist in a given space. And the ways that they attempt to coexist – the negotiations that occur between populations in a space – often look very much like the attempts of humans to coexist in a given space. Note here that this is not an attempt to say that “nature is culture”  in the sense of subverting the non-human and material world to a world of humans and signs, it’s just to say that the material processes by which ecologies are composed are very social. As a result, it might be worth looking at power dynamics between different populations or even within a population. It might be useful to view ecological processes as practices of social construction (in the material-semiotic sense and not in the exclusively conceptual sense that “social construction” is often taken).

At present, we have a largely ineffectual and poorly integrated “human dimension” tacked on to natural science projects (often as an afterthought), and I would say this is largely because of the unidirectional and uneven flow of concepts from the natural sciences to the social sciences. I think equalizing that conceptual flow is the only way to actually integrate the two approaches to create an effective science of environmental concerns. How to do this without alienating the natural scientists (who already feel themselves under constant threat of attack) is another question, which I’m still working to understand.

Ecological Ethics

This is a topic that’s come up several times in the blogosphere, and I’ve written about it many times before – in particular, when I was taking a class on environmental ethics a couple of years ago. I’m not going to hunt down those links, but you can find them by searching this blog and my old blog if you’re interested.  The most recent contributions come from Levi Bryant and Michael at Synthetic_Zero. I find their cases compelling, and only want to add a little more to what they have to say.

Before I get into the ethics issue, there is a conceptual question that both Levi and Michael raise – the question of “Nature.” Michael poses the issue perfectly:

As Levi outlines, Tim Morton has done great work to deconstruct the concept of nature in its traditional and romantic guise. If we abandon the notion of Nature, as Morton suggests, we terminate the operating binary preventing us from further ecological revelation and thus open the conceptual field to begin to think about exactly how we are embedded and forever inside of the mesh of ecological beings and relations collaborating in the shell game of appearance and relation.

However, both Michael and Levi are reluctant to give up the concept of Nature, preferring instead to reconfigure the concept in order to allow for new possible connotations and associations to emerge. With this sense, both Levi and Michael talk about humans and human practices as being within nature. This is certainly not a new conceptualization – philosophers and activists from the earliest days of environmental awareness have promoted such a view. However, it concerns me. I know it’s not what Levi or Michael intend, but the conception of Nature as a container, in my opinion, conveys the wrong message. Containers delimit and define boundaries. They serve as a ground for the things that occupy them. My fear – perhaps unjustified – is that defining Nature as the new container for everything (as opposed to the dualistic containers of Nature/Culture) – no matter how open and undefined that container is depicted – will lead to an interest in defining the boundaries of the container. Nature becomes the new standard by which we measure everything. Again, this is not what Michael and Levi intend, but without a great deal of conceptual work to reconfigure the notion of Nature (as well as the idea of a container), there is a very real risk of misinterpretation in talking about Nature as a container. I prefer, instead, to think of existence as a continuous process of composition where beings come together in complex ways to build relations, form new beings, and construct new ways of existing. In this conception (and I believe that Michael and Levi share it), there are no containers, no boundaries, and no grounds except those which are constructed – always historical, always contingent, and never totalizing.  In that sense, I don’t know what to do with the concept of Nature. I am also hesitant to abandon it if only because every concept has its potentials and, in certain frameworks, could prove useful or beneficial – for much the same reason, I am reluctant to abandon the concept of culture despite all of its attendant problems. Perhaps we could talk of Nature as process rather than object (container).  I put that aside for now, because it’s not the question this post is meant to address and is, I think, peripheral to the question of ecological ethics. So, with that, let’s move on.

The question is, what is an ecological ethics for the anthropocene? First of all, why an ecological ethics and not some other kind of ethics (deontological, virtue, utilitarian, etc.)? The answer is that these forms of ethics are not equipped to deal with the complexities of life in a world where human existence has become so imbricated with the existences of non-human others. Prior ethical formulations depend upon some kind of ontological grounding, and such groundings, in our world, do not exist. So how do we think of ethics without a ground? How does an ecological ethics differ from those prior ethical formulations?

First of all, an ecological ethics is profoundly relational. It’s not about “being good” or even “doing good,” but about the way we interconnect with others and the effects of our actions on others.  Secondly, it can be neither proscriptive nor prescriptive – there are no “thou shalts” or “thou shalt nots” (at least, not in specific form), because these depend on a ground to define right from wrong. Instead, an ecological ethics is about the processes of forming relations rather than about the specific kinds of relations that are formed. Furthermore, it recognizes that all actions are problematic – there is no action that is free from negative consequences, and there is no standard by which negative consequences can be weighed against one another (e.g. in utilitarianism).

All of this seems to imply a breakdown of ethics, and the potential for an “anything goes” attitude. If there is no ground for judgement, no pre- or proscriptions, and everything has some negative potential, then why should we not do whatever we like? And, in some sense, this is true – an ecological ethics would open us to experimentation and exploration. It would make possible new forms of interrelation and connection, allowing us to figure out what works. But an ecological ethics also makes demands. Living in a world of interconnection, lacking any ground except that which we compose – a world that is profoundly collaborative and constructed, in other words – demands a degree of humility. In spite of the connotation of “anthropocene”, we cannot consider ourselves the center of existence as we have before – we are beings among beings, and we share this world with myriad others. Furthermore, we depend upon these others for our own existence – nothing exists in a vacuum, and the individual is an illusion of Modernist ideology. In order to exist in such a world, we must have humility. This is an injunction, but not of the kind mentioned above. Instead of focusing on specific forms of relations, this injunction forces us to consider the way we go about engaging in relations with others. We must be always aware of and empathetic towards the others with whom we are relating. We must be open to those connections, must make ourselves vulnerable so that we might feel their reactions and responses. We must be willing to communicate – to let others know how we are experiencing our relations. It’s through this process of opening, communicating, and being sensitive to others that we can work on composing relations that are mutually beneficial. We might never avoid doing harm, but harm might be accepted willingly and voluntarily if there is a flow of communication and a sense that something better will come of it.

An excellent example of this kind of ethic comes from Donna Haraway’s book When Species Meet. Haraway’s approach to animal ethics is profoundly different from other approaches I’ve encountered. Rather than exploring the ontological grounds for ethics and attempting to extend human ethics to animals, Haraway argues that the basic tenet of an animal ethic is the injunction “Thou shalt not make killable.”  Now here we have a “thou shalt not”, which I said earlier was not part of an ecological ethics, but, again, this is not about a specific form of relation but about the way we go about relating in general. To make something killable is to define an arbitrary boundary and disregard the problematic nature of such decisions – “we can kill animals because their lives are not as important as our own and we need them for food and medicine.”  What Haraway is asking is not that we do not kill animals, but that we recognize the problematic nature of that action, and that we are sensitive and vulnerable to the pain and suffering of the animals we use. Clearly defined boundaries make us insensitive – they justify and absolve us of guilt. But, in some sense (and when not abused), guilt is a good thing. It makes us slow down and think about what it is we’re doing and how it affects other beings. In some sense, that is all that can be asked from an ecological ethic – an attentiveness to others and avoiding the premature closure of connection.

I think there is much more to be thought through as we approach an ecological ethic. The work that Michael, Levi and Haraway are doing is an excellent start. With time, and more discussion and contemplation, we might craft an ecological ethic that will bring us through the anthropocene and into a new world of interconnection, collaboration, and sensitivity. This is my hope, at least.

The Ongoing Labor of Existence

I’m sitting outside now.  It’s a beautiful spring day.  The air is slightly chilled, but it’s warm enough to not have a jacket.  The sun, when it shines through the scattered clouds, warms my back and neck.  I’m sitting here watching the world go on around me.  Birds fly from tree to tree to fence and back to tree.  They’re building nests and collecting food.  The squirrels do much the same only wingless.  They run along the top of my fence, jump up to the trees.  Sometimes they get a little too close to where a bird is making its nest, and the bird flies out to assert its territory.  Grass is growing, flowers are blooming, and, although I can’t see it, I know that the trees are slowly building up energy so that they can let their leaves and flowers burst forth.

What makes me smile is that all of this labor goes on without the need for humans.  It goes on largely in spite of us.  It reminds me that the environment is not simply a background upon which we impose our will, but an active, vibrant existence full of beings with whom we connect and build relationships.

Spring is a wonderful time of year!  Now back to my own labor.

The Subjectivity of Nature

I’m reading Habermas’s essay Science and Technology as Ideology.  I haven’t finished it yet, and so will come back to it at another time to discuss the overall argument, but I read this paragraph and found it intriguing.  I thought I’d share before it slips my mind, though, I should say that it’s not Habermas’s argument and I’m not sure yet if he’s critiquing or building upon Marcuse:

Marcuse has in mind an alternative attitude to nature, but it does not admit of the idea of a New Technology.  Instead of treating nature as the object of possible technical control, we can encounter her as an opposing partner in a possible interaction.  We can seek out a fraternal rather than an exploited nature.  At the level of an as yet incomplete intersubjectivity we can impute subjectivity to animals and plants, even to minerals, and try to communicate with nature instead of merely processing her under conditions of severed communication.  And the idea that a still enchained subjectivity of nature cannot be unbound until men’s communication among themselves is free from domination has retained, to say the least, a singular attraction.  Only if men could communicate without compulsion and each could recognize himself in the other, could mankind possibly recognize nature as another subject: not, as idealism would have it, as its Other, but as a subject of which mankind itself is the Other.

Knowledge as Entanglement

Last week I wrote an exam on the topic of the anthropology of environmental knowledge, broadly defined.  This included sections on both traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and scientific knowledge about  the environment, and it also involved thinking about ways of reconciling them as they often conflict with one another.  I have yet to see my grade for the exam, but I think it was a valuable paper and hopefully I’ll be able to use some of it in my dissertation work later this year.

When dealing with different kinds of knowledge, we often have to start with the question of “what is knowledge?”  This is often taken to be an epistemological question, where knowledge is treated as a reflection of a deeper reality.  From this perspective, the debate is largely about how accurate is the reflection that knowledge provides, to what degree knowledge reflects a true reality or whether it is merely a reflection of itself, or about the different ways we go about developing this reflection.  However, for me, the question “what is knowledge?” is, first and foremost, an ontological question – that is, what is the nature of knowledge, how does it exist, and what effects does it have in the world?  This becomes apparent from the ethnographic study of knowledge systems.  Knowledge cannot be easily separated from that practices that contribute to its production.  We see this in embodied theories of knowledge that have emerged from TEK research, and also from the ethnographies of science that show how scientific knowledge – supposedly objective – is, in fact, the product of situated, embodied, and social practices.  Furthermore, these practices are not only about producing knowledge as a reflection of the world, they are also involved in the production of the world itself – the composition of new entities, and new relationships between existing entities.  In other words, knowledge is entanglement with the world such that the world is co-produced through our own practices and those of other entities with whom we share it.

What does this view of knowledge mean for reconciliation between different kinds of knowledge?  As I discussed somewhat in my previous post, if knowledge is understood to be an ontological entanglement with other beings in a world constituting practice, then the reconciliation of knowledge is not an epistemological process of trying to reconcile two forms of belief, and it is certainly not a process of trying to fit other belief systems to the scientific world view.  Instead, it is an ontological process of composing a new world – a hybrid reality.  The process requires not just a rearrangement of knowledge in order to make the different ways of knowing fit, it requires a rearrangement of the very relations that compose the different realities in which the knowledge is embedded.  It’s not just a learning process, but a process of building associations.  Viewing the process this way places different forms of knowledge – such as scientific and traditional – on equal ontological footing, whereas from a purely epistemological perspective, scientific knowledge tends to have an ontological advantage as a form of knowledge that has unique access to a singular and stable reality (or we deny realism altogether).  From this equal ontological footing, different forms of knowledge and the worlds in which they are embedded are able to negotiate a new relationship that is, hopefully, well composed.

Nature, Culture, and Methods

Life on here has been pretty slow lately. This is because, for the past month or so, I’ve been preparing for my first area exam. Last week, I took it and submitted on Friday. Now I’m just waiting for the grade and prepping for the beginning of the semester, so I have a little space to get caught up on some blog posts that I’ve been meaning to write. As I was writing the exam, I had something of an inspiration. In some ways it’s not much different from what I’ve been saying for a while now, but when I wrote it out it was a bit of a shock – a new set of implications for an old way of thinking.  This post will be an attempt to articulate those implications.

I’ve written a lot about the concept of culture in the past: what is culture, how is it composed, and how do we study it as anthropologists?  What I realized recently is that, if we want to overcome the Nature/Culture dichotomy, then we have to take seriously the idea that there are, in fact, multiple natures. There’s nothing new here – it’s essentially what Latour, Law, Haraway, Stengers, and other post-constructivist have been arguing for a long time. If there is only one nature or reality, then there would be, under a condition where the Nature/Culture dichotomy has dissolved, no way to account for difference except by a reintroduction of the dichotomy. Furthermore, Western Science would have privileged access to such a nature or reality because of its ability to separate itself from “subjective” or “cultural” factors. The only other way out of this is to say that existence is a projection of human social factors, and that there is no “reality” or that, at least, we do not have access to it. Thus, the process of reconciling different “visions” of reality would be a purely epistemological process of reconciling different belief systems – e.g. reconciling a belief in God with a belief in Science. On the other hand, if we want to preserve our realism – a reference to reality outside of the purely human – which is, in my opinion a worthwhile effort for a number of reasons, then we have to accept the possibility that there are multiple natures or realities that overlap and intersect in complex ways. In other words, reality is not singular or stable, and new realities are created all the time through the practices of the beings (human, non-human, living, non-living, material, and semiotic) who compose them. Realities are different ontological articulations of beings – different ways of putting things together – and beings are always putting themselves together in different ways all the time. For example, John Law demonstrates multiple overlapping and intersecting realities for things like cirrhosis of the liver, cattle farming, fish farming, and several other practices.

What does this mean for culture, then? If we break down the Nature/Culture dichotomy, and recognize that there are many natures rather than just one, then this means that “nature” and “culture” become, in some sense, synonymous. Around the world we see not only many different cultures that interact with a singular, stable Nature, but many different cultures which are also many different natures. The Tsembaga Maring of Papua New Guinea have articulated a relationship with other beings – pigs, ancestor spirits, yams, other peoples, etc. – to create a particular kind of nature, which Rappaport describes in his book Pigs for the Ancestors. Similarly, Western Science has articulated a different kind of relationship with other beings – germs, labs, legal and political institutions, etc. – that creates a different kind of nature from that of the Maring (it’s important to point out, perhaps, that natures can fail – that the particular articulations of a nature or reality can be poorly constructed, to borrow Latour’s phrase, and thus fall apart or transform into a different articulation at any given time). The process of integrating different realities, then, becomes not just an epistemological process of reconciling different belief systems, but an ontological process of rearticulating two or more different realities to create one or more hybrid realities. It’s not just about reconciling a belief in God with a belief in Science, nor is it about accepting Science and “tolerating” others (as Stengers points out), it’s a process of assembling the two realities into a new hybrid reality in which both can coexist. This process, I would argue, is a long and difficult one involving a negotiation between the beings of the old realities to find a place within the associations that compose the new hybrid(s). Unfortunately, this process is too often closed off prematurely by one or the other – in this example it could be either, but in the case of traditional natures versus scientific nature, it’s usually the latter that does the closing off – such that the new articulation doesn’t form a hybrid, and many of the beings are left struggling to find a place in a system that has been closed off.

Where does this put anthropology? Anthropologists have specialized in the study of different cultures – and now we can recognize that they were always also studying different natures. Furthermore, in order to effectively study those other cultures, they had to be able to bring themselves into relation with them on a relatively equal basis. Thus we have the methods of participant observation, cultural relativism, and extreme reflexivity. Anthropologists believed they were developing these methods in order to get a better image of the cultures they were studying – a worthwhile goal in itself, but there was always more to it than that. John Law shows us that methods are not simply tools for understanding reality, rather they are practices that themselves create new realities by articulating beings in new ways. If that’s the case, then it becomes apparent that the methods of anthropology have always been practices of creating hybrid realities between that of the (usually Western) anthropologist and those of the cultures s/he studied. Without realizing it, anthropologists have been developing methods to create hybrid realities all along, and we’ve been practicing this hybrid reality creation for over a century – sometimes with bad results, sometimes with good results. In a world where different realities are increasingly coming into contact with one another and being forced to articulate – often with negotiations being closed down prematurely – the methods could prove very valuable. The trick will be generalizing the methods to work for larger groups – more than just one or a handful of anthropologists interacting with a small tribe or village. I see some possibilities in the work of Whatmore, Callon, and others – people who have been working to create spaces where different realities can negotiate openly and evenly in order to produce a hybrid. However, a great deal of work still needs to be done.

Aliens and the Construction of Nature

Today I’m reading the chapter from Helmreich’s Alien Ocean on aquatic invasive species (AIS) in Hawaii.  In the chapter, he discusses the politically charged climate in which the issue of invasive species has become entangled in Hawaii.  At stake is the definition of “native” versus “alien” in a place where to be “native” carries a strong political association.  Depending on who you talk to, things like taro or pigs could be either “native” or “alien” since they were brought to Hawaii by Polynesian settlers thousands of years ago.  These distinctions reproduce Western conceptions of nature (i.e. native) and culture (i.e. alien), which has tremendous impact on both the invasive species and the Native Hawaiian discourses.

What’s most interesting to me – and Helmreich does a good job of illustrating this, but it could easily get lost in the emphasis on discourse – is that this issue of invasive species points to the fact that not only are our conceptions of “nature” and “culture” constructed, the very things themselves – natures and cultures – are constructed as well.  If you look historically at Hawaii, then it’s clear that all of the species on that island were “introduced” at some point.  It’s true, the rates of introduction differ between periods of pre-human settlement, “native” human settlement, and Western colonization, but this doesn’t change the fact that the “nature” of Hawaii is just as constructed as any of the cultures that have inhabited it (this is true not just of Hawaii, but of any place – Hawaii just happens to be a very good example).  Plants and animals, with or without human assistance, have made their way to the islands, they have worked to establish themselves there, they have adapted to the local conditions (or not in cases where they have failed to establish themselves), and other species have worked to adapt to them (or not, in cases where established species have been displaced or destroyed by newcomers).  The result is a complex set of relations that is always changing and being renewed through the agency of all of the beings who compose the island ecology.

The question this raises is, does this place us in a position of moral relativism with regard to invasive species?  Does it paralyze us to do anything about potential problems?  Or does it reduce the issue to one of human values – where “native” is identified with desirable species, and “alien” with undesirable species?  I think not on all three counts.  What it means is that, instead of assigning categories like “native” and “alien” arbitrarily, we need to take stock of the existing set of relations in a given place (its ecology – including both human and non-human agencies), try to understand the processes that created those relations (the history of the ecology – that is, the work that was done by both humans and non-humans to compose it), and then work with all of the actors in the ecology to recompose the relations differently (to make them “better,” recognizing that “better” is a negotiable condition, and that both humans and non-humans must be involved in that negotiation, and also that “better” is a moving target, not a stable condition towards which we can aim.  In fact, I would suggest that it is the continual process (struggle forever!) of attempting to compose “better” relations that’s most important).  In my opinion, this puts us in a much stronger position than one which is always caught up in trying to define “native” versus “alien.”  It allows us to work collaboratively to craft an ecology that works for everyone rather than arbitrarily eradicating certain species simply because we don’t like them.

Deleuze on Work and Nature

From Anti-Oedipus:

“… [W]e make no distinction between man and nature: the human essence of nature and the natural essence of man become one within nature in the form of production or industry, just as they do within the life of man as a species.  Industry is then no longer considered from the extrinsic point of view of utility, but rather from the point of view of its fundamental identity with nature as production of man and by man.  Not man as the king of creation , but rather as the being who is in intimate contact with the profound life of all forms or all types of beings, who is responsible for even the stars and animal life, and who ceaselessly plugs an organ-machine into an energy-machine, a tree into his body, a breast into his mouth, the sun into his asshole: the eternal custodian of the machines of the universe.  This is the second meaning of process as we use the term: man and nature are not like two opposite terms confronting each other – not even in the sense of bipolar opposites within a relationship of causation, ideation, or expression (cause and effect, subject and object, etc.); rather, they are one and the same essential reality, the producer-product.  Production as process overtakes all idealistic categories and constitutes a cycle whose relationship to desire is that of an immanent principle” (p. 4-5)

Crossing Planetary Boundaries

We watched this video today in a class on the anthropology of climate change.  It’s very interesting in that it defines and explains the transition from the Holocene to what has come to become called the Anthropocene.  According to the speaker (Will Stefan) the most convincing factor for declaring such a transition is the increasing rate of biodiversity loss – much higher than normal “background” levels.

What I find odd about the talk is the final part discussing the concept of “planetary boundaries.”  According to the Stefan, we have crossed into the Anthropocene, the question now is whether we want to stay there or to go back to a “safe” Holocene environment.  What I think this conception doesn’t account for is the fact that, humans are already a geological force; that the choice presented – between staying in the Anthropocene and going back to the Holocene is a choice that we make with repercussions throughout the planetary system.  In that sense, we cannot escape the Anthropocene – we can live in such a way that is more conscious of our effect upon the environment and respect the “boundaries” that the Earth seems to place upon us, but ultimately any choice we make will have massive effects.  As a result, I don’t really like the idea of “going back to the holocene” because it suggests a previous natural time when Nature ruled – a golden age (that never existed) when humans simply lived in harmony with the Earth.  I would prefer to recognize that we are in the Anthropocene (perhaps that we have been all along), and consider the ethical, and political implications for that.  We can’t go back – we must make some serious choices that will ineveitably shape the world we live in.  What kind of world do you want to live in?