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Friday, 7 November 2014

Anthropocentric, anthropogenic, anthropocide

Yesterday I lectured on chapter 11 of Descola's Par-delà. I've been toying with the idea - suggested by his square of dispositions in chapter 11 presented as anthropocentrism (naturalism), anthropogeny (animism), cosmogony (totemism) and cosmocentrism (analogism) - of a geometry of oppositions (of the sort inaugurated by Robert Blanché and developed further by people like Alessio Moretti)
around the different ways to relate to the non-human. In particular because I wonder how to place a (presently non-instantiated) disposition I call anthropocide (see this post). Such disposition is considered by Descola in his chapter on naturalism in part 3 (chapter 8) in terms, for instance, of J-P Changeaux and the Australian materialism - it is the idea that continuity in physicality is enough to account for human behavior and interiority can be fully dropped on behalf of a unified (naturalist) nature where nothing is genuinely social. Such disposition would contrast with animism (where anything that is other is social), totemism (where there are societies of humans and non-humans) and analogism (where the cosmos appears as a society). To be sure, as Descola stresses, it contrasts also with naturalism because there is no longer room for an anthropocentrism and nothing, not even the human collectives, are genuinely social. However, in a geometry of oppositions, this anthropocide disposition would be close to naturalism, maybe somehow subaltern to it for it needs naturalist idea of a non-social nature to take off. I'm still far from coming up with a figure of opposition, I wonder the important poles would be something like whether the other is social (true of animism, totemism and somehow analogism), whether humans and non-humans get mixed (true of totemism and analogism) and the centrality of humans (true of naturalism but not of its anthropocide alternative).

In any case, naturalism (and the anthropocide pole) brings in an idea of non-social nature. The anthropocide idea is to carry this further; and, apart from Descola's examples in chapter 8, this could be found clearly in the Churchlands - and in the explicit anthropocide tendencies cherished by Brassier in his Nihil Unbound. The appeal to Brassier is indeed interesting to make clear how a return to nature cannot be a sound political aim for a humanity moved by ecological worries. In other words, a political ecology discourse cannot be unenlightened by a deconstruction of nature (see my previous post on the syllabus for a future political ecology). It seems like it all hinges on whether the non-human (or the other in general) is a socius or not.

There is, however, another possible way to understand naturalism (and reject the anthropocide pole). Naturalism inaugurated a way of thinking of the other as something I cannot befriend, with which I cannot negotiate, and I cannot wage war. It is a complete other. A moving force for this, if we believe the modern discourses, was the drive to disenchant nature. Nature is no longer like us, it becomes an other fully different (and entirely in the great outdoors). Maybe nature has to be seen as just a way to conceive the other, and therefore it is an understanding that shouldn't be applied to us. That is, maybe disenchanting the other requires that we don't see nature in us for if we do, we are in a sense making it similar to us again. But if it is so, science mingles with the other and make it familiar. If disenchantment aimed at making sure the other is not like us, we're defeating this purpose by making nature more and more at our image. Further, we depend too much on nature to make our domesticated niches work. The problem with this image of external respect is that too much trade is always going on at the doorstep of the great outdoors.

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