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Saturday, 28 March 2015

Resources: the proletarianization of the non-human

Been discussing the latest book of Deborah Danowski and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro ("Há mundo por vir, Rio: Cultura e Barbárie, 2014) in my course on the philosophy of the anthropocene. This week we covered both the chapter on the us after the world - on accelerationism, singularity and the Breakthrough Institute - and the following one on us before the world - on the pre-cosmological era in amerinidian thought. According to such idea, animals, plants, sky, sun, moon etc - together with metereological or geological events - were people as we are the ancestors of all beings. It seems like we are the arché, both in the sense of origin and in the sense of ultimate physis of all things. Hence, while we see jaguars and wild pigs as non-humans - and we must do it in order to do some important interactions with them, including hunting and eating them - we know that at heart they are humans. There is nothing but humans around, no world. Cosmography is no more than a superficial - yet important to avoid literal cannibalism - cover to an underlying anthropography. The world is therefore an assemblage of humans eating themselves but it is organized in a way that makes a group see themselves as humans while seeing other groups as non-humans in a sort of a masquerade. Because they now that jaguars are jaguars-for-us and yet humans-in-themselves, Amerindian humans would act towards jaguars like we act towards characters while we're (say) on stage. We would have to believe that it is Romeo and not Lawrence Olivier in front of us, so that we can act our part as Juliet. Yet, if there is something challenging the health of Lawrence - say, a badly positioned dagger - we would interrupt the play altogether because it should not affect the integrity of Lawrence (although it may affect the integrity of Romeo). This animist (or perspectivist) take on things make non-humans ultimately similar to all sort of human others, even though we may play with them different economic and ecological plots - predation, trade or gift-giving, for example. It also makes clear the difference of waging a war and running a farm. Amerindian groups would treat non-humans diplomatically (and war is diplomacy) - and therefore as part of their political constitutions.

This makes me think of the (modern) idea of natural resource - in contrast. It is like depriving non-humans of anything but their labor; i.e. their service for our purpose. The modern notion of nature is a device to proletarianize non-humans, they are treated as reduced to the service they can provide and they have to leave off it. The maneuver sounds like one that strips off any diplomacy capability from them - they are useful just for a service, just for their labor. Ultimately, in their arché, non-humans are just a source of labor and their life is reduced to their service to humans. There is nothing else they can do economically and ecologically but to present their services. To be sure, sometimes they are engaged in all sorts of hybrid negotiations that could seem like being sheer diplomacy among humans. But then again, human proletarians also carry on acting beyond their labor life.

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