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The Anthropocene Choice for Humanity

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[Trying a bigger pic here. Anyone into the Anthropocene? ]

Ten Propositions on the Anthropocene Choice for Humanity

1.We are now in the ANTHROPOCENE: a new evolutionary phase of the planet since about 1950 defined primarily by one species, Homo sapiens, largely determining planetary evolution

2.Like all previous evolution, the Anthropocene is proceeding blindly, UNCONSCIOUSLY, mainly  via market mechanisms and the self-serving, narrow-focus decisions of technocratic and power elites

3.The Unconscious Anthropocene, if not made conscious and transformed, will most likely  mean the emergence of the POST-HUMAN as the increasing ABOLITION of what it has meant to be a primate and human since the birth of homo sapiens and of humanism:  i.e. the diminution, or even abolition, of the evolved body and somatic senses, of uncreated nature, of the close-knit family of biological kin, of the face-to-face community, of work, and of individualism understood as individual meaning-making in the interplay of interiority-solitude and public dialogue

4.The Unconscious Anthropocene means the abolition of the human in a MERGER OF MAN AND MACHINE,  a merger of the living with the non-living, of the evolved organic-biological with artificial cyber-mechanistic systems into completely new, post-human forms of evolution

5. This merger is enabled by a dominant and repressive cognitive strategy, the latest form of scientistic REDUCTIONISM and spiritual ‘flatland’: namely by reducing biological-human organisms and their internal meaning-making systems (feelings, interiority, intelligence, imagination, inter-subjectivity) to things seen only as quantifiable external surfaces, i.e. to purely physical information systems or networks and biochemical computer algorithms;

6. Having accomplished that cyber-mechanistic and mathematical reduction, electronic algorithms are then expected to eventually fully decipher and outperform, i.e. SUPERCEDE  human biochemical algorithms

7.The outward TECHNOLOGICAL FORMS of this man-machine merger have been gradually emerging and various as they become more dominant post-modern industries of advanced capitalism: artificial intelligence that can adapt and learn from experience, biotechnology and bionics, robotics and bio-robotics, cyborgs and augmented intelligence, injected and new materials nanotechnology and atomic-level machines, self-trafficking and the objectified self movement, the Internet of Things, total private and public surveillance systems etc.

8.The (utopian) alternative would be the political choice of a CONSCIOUS, PARTICIPATORY ANTHROPOCENE in which global citizens democratically debate and decide on the direction of conscious evolution, i.e. make the key decisions on economic, technological and social directions themselves

9. The cultural, political, social and economic forms or institutions of this conscious participatory Anthropocene are, as yet unclearly and unconsciously, emerging in the diverse global movements of resistance to ecocide and capitalism and of cooperative prefiguration and in their communications within the evolving global brain that is the internet

10.The Conscious Anthropocene would neither romantically regress to earlier stages of human evolution (like primitivism, religious fundamentalism or regressive nationalism would seek to do) , nor would it abolish or REPRESS these earlier stages but both consciously INCORPORATE AND TRANSCEND them at a higher level (i.e. the body and senses, ancient/premodern mind-and-feeling, needs for kin, small group and face-to-face community, individual interiority and conscience, need for nature  etc.)

Discussion 13 Comments

  • Rod 4th Feb 2017

    Nice one, Peter! Perhaps the hardest challenge in getting from one to ten is overcoming the widespread nihilism that is so characteristic of this day and age. The decline of "individual meaning-making in the interplay of interiority-solitude and public dialogue" as you describe it may have something to do with that.

    I would add private dialogue to that equation. Social media have made what used to be private into public dialogue (even private messages aren't that private anymore because of increased risk of leaking). It has also made communications more permanent since they are stored electronically. Together they may have a chilling effect on our ability to develop our ideas about the world, which requires a safe playground (a 'walled garden' or 'paradeisos' in old Greek) where new ideas can be tested out and constructively criticized without fear of public humiliation and where wrong ideas can be overcome because we don't have to publicly retreat from them as much.

    At the same time, the internet can increase our exposure to new ideas and anonymity on the net can guard against some of the pitfalls of the public sphere. Hopefully the group of people that have learned how to use the internet as a tool for self-development can grow over time and offset the negative impacts of social media.

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 4th Feb 2017

    Thanks, Rod. I think you raise some important issues re the importance of dialogue in developing our own ideas and widening our consciousness. I agree about that need for 'a safe playground' or 'paradeisos', the absence of 'fear of public humiliation' is all important. We should definitely try for such a welcoming and safe space here in our little online haven. I can't say much about social media like Facebook, Twitter etc in terms of such public dialogue because I have so far seen no personal benefit in them, only negatives, and have refused to use them.

    Just wondering what you think: If the net is humanity's new nervous system or collective brain, could our computers be something like neurons, nodes or synapses, and are our ideas expressed via these computers then perhaps something like parts of a great collective and planetary mind slowly becoming conscious of itself?

    And, one step further, this process being a result of about 14 billion years of evolution since the big bang, would this process also be an expression of the universe becoming conscious of itself?

    • Rod 5th Feb 2017

      These are interesting questions.

    • Rod 5th Feb 2017

      Sorry, accidentally clicked on submit. Let's try again.

      These are interesting questions. I'm open to ideas where the earth has an intelligence and 'mind' of its own and the same for the universe as a whole. But how that mind is constituted and what our place is in that picture I wouldn't know. I can imagine consciousness (in the broadest sense of the word) is part of the fabric of the universe and that there is some integrative process that happens within consciousness that connects seemingly separate parts in a larger whole. But I can also imagine this not to be true. In any case, I lean towards the idea that both the earth and the universe are regulated in some way to exist within certain boundaries.

      So along those lines, we as humans might help the universe and planet to become aware of itself (for whatever purpose it has or doesn't have). Computers are in a way extensions of our minds. It seems unlikely to me they have a mind of their own and are conscious in the same sense as biological organisms. I don't expect AI to make much difference in that regard. So I wouldn't see them as parts of a greater mind if they operated on their own, but they can help us expand our minds.

    • Bat Chainpuller 5th Feb 2017

      They are interesting questions. But the pressing issue really is getting from a shitty Anthropocene to a better one. The question really is, are we capable of it? Do we have the capacity to reorganise in a way that makes for a better world for all? Jt just a few better rehions here and there. if we do, then the question is what is it to be? Social relations is a complex area but there are certain spheres where institutional structures are a little easier to see and deal with in a more specific way than just guessing or hoping for the best...hoping for a better way to just emerge, or self-organise in some "organic" way.

      I tend towards the notion we are considerably limited in our capacitiy to understand things but there is some tendency to push beyond for whatever reasons...to believe there is something bigger out there or something...maybe due to some limitation with the language facility to explicate thought thoroughly and externalise it clearly. Due to some kind of discrepency between non-linear/parallel thinking being externalised in a linear way that leads people to feel that there is something wd are unable to grasp, so we try and try to shoot for it through all sorts of practices. People understanding one another correctly is difficult and the more nebulous the ideas and language the worse it is. Spiritual flatland doesn't mean much to me.

    • Rod 6th Feb 2017

      I agree that we are limited in our capacity to understand. And the world has possibly become more opaque than it once was. Talk of spirituality is of little use if it doesn't help people change their understanding of the world or change how their mind works in a way that helps them live more meaningful lives.

      I don't really know how to do this, except to try to point towards the bigger picture and to the dangers of too easily accepting ideas we don't fully understand. I usually don't use the word spirituality because it can mean different things to different people. To me it points towards the limits of our understanding and I think it's useful that at least a small minority tries to push those limits (often stumbling along the way). Someone adept at this has perhaps mastered the art of dealing with ambiguity. The understanding that may arise out of that may be a more subtle and speculative understanding that can't easily be modeled into a framework of relative certainties (scientific theories). Perhaps it points towards an understanding of the usefulness of balancing different viewpoints that may partly contradict each other.

      The 'reductionist' effect of science is to put any ideas that have not been accepted by the scientific community in a lower category of 'subjectivity' as opposed to the 'objective' knowledge that science has accumulated. This is particularly so because science has been able to create incredibly complex technology that we have come to depend on in our daily lives (and of which perhaps no-one really understands the workings). So it has proven its worth and even religious/spiritual people have to acknowledge its power (even if merely subconsciously) when they use its products to support their lifestyles.

      At the same time science has become such a complex and towering body of theory that it's probably become opaque even to most people working in the sciences. Which may be why we have so many specialists and why so little integrative, interdisciplinary work is being done. In that sense it may have become similar to religions, where high priests tell the common folk what to believe and not to believe based on an understanding that's severily limited by the opaqueness and dogmatism of the ideological structure they work within.

      To give one example: Darwinistic evolutionary theory essentially says that random genetic changes through natural selection have resulted in the complex organisms we see today. Or at least that's how it's commonly portrayed.

      The 'random' part seems to me an implicit, unproven assumption that should not have become part of the main theory. It's implications for our whole outlook on ourselves and the world is as far reaching as any religion (perhaps more so because of the elevated status of science as the bearer of 'objective' truth).

      This idea of randomness is useful of course and largely supported by our observations, as part of the process of unfolding of time. But there's no evidence to support the idea that it's the only mechanism. And there's evidence against it, like creativity/'free will' and the observation that the universe doesn't appear to be entirely random at all but exists within very narrow limits that 'just happen to' support life. In other words, it's an assumption (based on a dubious application of Occam's razor) that has implicitly become part of the theory (as commonly held).

      It's also an assumption that leads to nihilistic tendencies, i.e. 'if everything that happens is just random then there is no larger purpose and no real reason to care about the evolution of humanity or the whole of nature on earth'. Suffering becomes somewhat of a cruel joke of nature because it has no real purpose and all we can strive for is to feel happy and make other people happy. This is what I mean by nihilism. It may be useful as one possible way of looking at the world, but in my opinion not if it's seen as the only realistic viewpoint.

      Long story short, I think 'spiritual' ideas have some value but we've got a long way to go and we need more practical ideas to guide us too.

    • Bat Chainpuller 6th Feb 2017

      A long comment, Rod, most of which I tend to agree with, I think.

      I don't think I'm searching for a more meaningful life really. I want to see a world arranged in a better way, that leads or is a better Anthropocene, not a shitty one. If that ends up being something more "meaningful" then great, but really it's about being able to wake up feeling better about the day and the next one and the one after that. If there is, as a result of a better social, political, and economic arrangement, more time for me to sit on a cushion in a truly relaxed way, watching the breath and thoughts dissolve or just falling asleep, leading to some insight about myself or the universe, then great, but it may be that it just gives me more time to play video games, giving me just as much satisfaction, or any other pursuit, so long as the new Anthropocene is a fair, equitable, just, solidaritous one, and as close to participatory democracy as we can get, institutionally arranged so that such values are fostered and maintained, not undermined.

      I do not believe that the path that leads to the cessation of suffering is one that leads to the discovery of the non-self, or some belief in some imaginary being or friend, or the worshipping of a tree, but it may be the belief or knowledge or feeling that one can head into the future having a shot at whatever it is that tickles your fancy, all those desires stemming from pretty much the same place, with a smile on your face, knowing the way the world is structured and its cohabitants, is supportive, not predictable or boring, but supportive. That way the smile and feeling of happiness isn't tentative or short lived, feeling it to swiftly be replaced with anxiety and stress about the future.

      I don't like the idea of a "yearning" being satisfied or arising out of some sort of suffering, anxiety or stress, as a necessary motivating force....fuck that.

    • Rod 6th Feb 2017

      I think we largely agree. It would be nice to wake up and not have the feeling you have to climb an insurmountable wall (to paraphrase you in another comment). I'm trying hard to get rid of that feeling, because it doesn't seem helpful in the long term regardless of the problems in the world. Unsuccessfully so far, but I'm still somewhat hopeful.

      I'm aware hoping for a scientific/spiritual revolution is a longshot, but I'm scrambling to find any solution that is different from what we've tried in the past century. Hoping that change may come from unexpected corners. I do think it will be very hard for us to take adequate care of nature if self-preservation remains the primary goal. But it's not needed to think about the universe to be able to appreciate nature around us. It may even be unhelpful for some.

  • Bat Chainpuller 5th Feb 2017

    The problem may be just numbers really. Most seem to always talk of the need, eventually, for mass movements...and there in lies the problem...getting it. How to convince people that any alternative is actually viable for large populations in all kinds of diverse regions with diverse cultures. I wouldn't say any emerging resistance or prefigurative blossomings here and there is unconscious, but perhaps they are somewhat unclear in terms of wider connectivity...coherent vision...that vagueness or unclearness isn't helpful really. Reading a plethora of visions, a virtual wealth of pluralism on the net, or at the Next System Project doesn't help either. It kind of becomes confusing and actually just pisses you off after a while because well, you're reading them but not many others seem to be talking about them. And probably only a few are actually reading such shit, and even fewer trying to piece them all together or make sense of them all...and...these "visions" or ideas are usually all economic and vary in their progressiveness, yet somehow, in some weird arsed way, aren't really saying much different, at least to me...except for the very few well explicated ones that tend to get shorter shrift than vaguer ones. It's hard enough for social democracy of the Viking variety to even get legs politically.

    So if we want a participatory Anthropocene, we gotta get more people on board with the idea that real direct or self managed democracy over large areas with huge populations is possible AND rid ourselves, eventually (what does that even mean?) of the Capitalocene, but no-one really knows how to do either...that's the unclear bit...and most outside the choir do not believe real participatory democracy is actually possible with large/huge crowds/populations. Perhaps because we don't know where to head...and many on the progressive side of the rev fence are often, it seems to me, worried about being "too" clear in this regard, in my opinion.

    Preaching to the choir is a piece of cake, although riddled with pitfalls and argument. Preaching to those outside usually only gets glazed stares back, in silence, with maybe the odd nod to shut you up, or simple questions like, "with what are you going to replace it?" Same old same old really. How to penetrate that wall...climb that almost infinite vertical cliff...how to convince enough it can be done...I don't know about this nihilism idea either. Perhaps humans just work hard at getting through to the next day and they get used to it. Routine you know. Or perhaps I just don't understand things well enough...I don't know.

    Perhaps the present Anthropocene is a very conscious "cene"(I don't know how a "cene" can be conscious at all really). People making very conscious and sensible decisions about their futures from their perspectives because they actually don't get or have an alternative perspective, or see any on the horizon, and if they do, they ain't going to be reading books about 'em or even small 30 page pdfs, so who's telling them about any of this shit? Russell Brand didn't, couldn't, wouldn't and who would they trust anyway, and how would they know they actually saw a real possible alternative that would make the world a better place, not just some tiny pocket of it, and why the fuck would they believe in it anyway?

  • Caragh - 10th Feb 2017

    Interesting discussion, I like Peters questions but I dont have many answers to them.

    I was talking to my uncle the other day and he reminded me in his way that most people are saturated with all manner of mainstream media.Jensen talks about the assumptions of the culture being the most problematic and made me smile grimly when I saw him talk about how the environmental movement activists have been turned into unpaid lobbyists for the 'renewable' energy sector, which is quite an amazing coup.

    The really scary thing with some people I talk to is realising that honestly talk aboout artificial habitat and so on show how we have a sort of pornographic relationship with nature- we experience it the same way we experience a movie, as general consumers. I have spent the night not dancing as I should but obsessively trying to decide if I should study agroecology.But the language just makes me gag- its this talk of ecosystem services.#

    I was talking to one of my sisters friends while in SA who works with farmers and she was saying things about getting ecosystem services running again and it was so interesting realising that radical as she is , there is still the assumption that the planet exists for us.

    On that note- the idea that computors are brains brings to mind 'fours arguments against television' and how he discusses how difficult it is to film indigenous people being themselves in a real way because of the medium. I know I am always going on about virilio, but his idea that when you create the ship you create the shipwreck , holds true for the digital world. I have a big assumption that electricity is not happy being put into wires and things and also that most things ,especially uranium, dont like being mined to be turned into products. I am reminded of asimovs planet in one of the foundation books which runs smoothly but much more simply than the rest and all the inhabitants are robots- so I think it is possible for elements to adjust to their new forms.

    While I use technology I am incresingly becoming skeptical of its effect on people. Just noticing on the tube coming back from SA how everyone was attached to their smartphones made me wonder if the speed and distraction is a drug for us to keep forgetting as Didions lovely Inez does in Democracy.

    If I think of how long it has taken me to decolonise my mind to a degree conciously, the idea of supple but resilient revolution seems further and further off as people get more and more attached to their belongings or even their chosen simplicity- on remembering that essay of yours Bat. I still think its worth aiming for though.

    On spirituality,some people think we need a new religion to get us out of this mess, though I dont really know if you can get a better civilized religion than daoism :) Arundhati Roys new book is about love changing things, and I think some kind of romantism might help. This man believes in romantism as activism and I think there is something there and I think it has something to do with awe- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2JEWKbGUps

    and on the value of pockets I started humming spoonful to myself on reading about the whole world. Maybe I have just read Huxleys Island too often :)blessings all

    oh and on not going down the primitivist route- I think its helpful not to rule it out, but at the same time not to say that is the answer.I have eventually got over my recoil reaction to anti-civ, but with our populations and the built environment and peoples reticence to move back to the rural areas I think a more gentle approach is sensible, though I still believe we should be growing vegetables on many roads much as I delight in basalt :)

    • Bat Chainpuller 11th Feb 2017

      I'm certainly no anarcho-primmie but I kind of liked reading though some of Kev "I Dig Metal" Tucker's stuff, and his notion of rewilding, even though I disagree, Caragh.


    • Caragh - 11th Feb 2017

      Wow- I find them a bit too absolutist for me- him and Zerzan. Rewilding is interesting but I like nature connection more because while I find that Daniel Vitalis guy entertaining I find his eating of antlers and stuff a bit too much like an indulgent fad.

      Yes- I wouldnt call myself an anarcho-primmie, especially cos the term itself is problematic, but I do find some of the ideas around luddites being not so bad as coherent with virilio. I am a little bit fanatical about getting ecocide declared a crime and some of the long term sideeffects are the reduction in new electricity. So I am trying to get my head around that :)

      I eventually found out that ireland is stopping subsidising fossil fuels so change is possible!

  • Lambert Meertens 5th Mar 2017

    The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.
                                                                       — Ralph Waldo Emerson, Society and Solitude

    The merger in the 20th century of Homo sapiens subsp. americanus with automotive machines kind of prefigures the upcoming global fusion between H. sapiens with artificial information processing machinery. I do not think we have the power to stop this, any more than the Luddites could call a halt to the mechanization of industrial production. And if we could, it is not clear this is the best choice. The potential dangers are great, but so are the potential gains.

    My greatest fear is the loss of autonomy, that we will give up our ability to make choices based on our own insights, beliefs and feelings, and instead let algorithms decide what is “best” for us, algorithms over which we have no control and that we do not understand. That process is already well under way; it does not need a cyborg-style physical integration that leaves us enmeshed in the feelies from Brave New World.

    Next to the issue of individual autonomy there is also collective autonomy: the autonomy of communities, and of the human family as a whole, to determine and shape its destiny. That autonomy has always been limited and compromised, and must be wrested from the shadowy forces that see themselves as the Masters of the Universe.

    Just like everybody else here, I don’t know if this can be done, and how to do it. I’m just tugging on a corner and hope enough will tug in the same direction. I think, though, that when it comes to convincing others to engage, it will be more effective to emphasize what we have to gain but will lose through inaction, than to paint the doom awaiting us without making clear what could be.