… what has become of the sublime lately, now that we are invited to consider another disconnect, this time between, on the one side, our gigantic actions as humans I mean as collected humans, and, on the other side, our complete lack of a grasp on what we have collectively done?
If it is true that the “anthropos” is able to shape the earth literally (and not only metaphorically through its symbols), what we are now witnessing is anthropomorphism on steroids.
How to feel the sublime when guilt is knawing at your guts? And knawing in a new unexpected way because of course I am not responsible, and neither are you, you, nor you. No one in isolation is responsible.
The real wonder today is how I could be accused of being so guilty without feeling any guilt, without having done anything bad? The human collective actor who is said to have committed the deed is not a character that can be thought, sized up or measured.
It is through our own built-in indifference that we come to deny the knowledge of our science. Think of it: it would be so nice to return to the past when nature could be sublime and us, puny little humans, simply irrelevant, delighting in the inner feeling of our moral superiority over the pure violence of nature. In a way, the disconnect is the real source of the denial itself.
Apparently, there is no solution except to explore the disconnect and expect that human consciousness will raise our sense of moral committment to the level required by this globe of all globes, the Earth.
So what do we do when we are tackling a question that is simply too big for us? If not denial, then what? One of the solutions is to become attentive to the techniques through which scale is obtained and to the instruments that make commensurability possible. After all, the very notion of anthropocine implies such a common measure. If it is true that “man is the measure of all things” it could work also at this juncture.
It is useless for the ecologically motivated activist to try shaming the ordinary citizen for not thinking globally enough, for not having a feel for the Earth as such. No one sees the Earth globally and no one sees an ecological system from Nowhere, the scientist no more than the citizen, the farmer or the ecologist – or, lest we forget, the earthworm. Nature is no longer what is embraced from a far away point of view where the observer could ideally jump to see things “as a whole”, but the assemblage of contradictory entities that have to be composed together.
Since it is now the worlds that are in question, let’s compare cosmologies with one another. Instead of trying to distinguish what can no longer be distinguished, ask these key questions: what world is it that you are assembling, with which people do you align yourselves, with what entities are you proposing to live?
… the task is to follow the threads with which climatologists have built the models needed to bring the whole Earth on stage. With this lesson in hand we begin to imagine how to do the same in our efforts to assemble a political body able to claim its part of responsibility for the Earth’s changing state.
I’d like to explore how different Gaia is from Nature of olden days. … First, Gaia is not a synonym of Nature because it is highly and terribly local [confined to THIS planet - GD] … Second, Gaia is not like Nature, indifferent to our plight … She is at once extraordinarily sensitive to our action and at the same time She follows goals which do not aim for our well being in the least. … She is too fragile to play the calming role of old nature, too unconcerned by our destiny to be a Mother, too unable to be propitiated by deals and sacrifices to be a Goddess. … Gaia is a scientific concept … assembled from bits and pieces … most of them coming from scientific disciplines. … As far as I can figure, Gaia is just a set of positive and negative cybernetic loops … It just happens that those loops have had the completely unexpected effect, one after the other, of furthering the conditions for new positive and negative loops of evermore entangled complexity. … The gerat thing about Lovelock’s Gaia is that it reacts, feels and might get rid of us, without being ontologically unified. It is not a superorganism endowed with any sort of unified agency.
Cultures used to “shape the Earth” symbolically; now they do it for good. Furthermore, the very notion of culture went away along with that of nature. Post natural, yes, but also post cultural.
Our disconnect might not reside in expecting the end and then having to reorganise our belief system to account for why its not coming … for us today the disconnect could be in believing that Doomsday is not coming once and for all. … And denial, this time, would mean that we are rearranging our belief system so as not to see the Great Coming.
I hope, … to have shown why it might be important, even urgent, to bring together all the possible resources to close the gap between the size and scale of the problems we have to face and the set of emotional and cognitive states that we associate with the tasks of answering the call to responsibility without falling into melancholia or denial.
In the 4th Lecture, Latour ends with the notion of our actions looping around to kick us in the ass with consequences, and that one of the ways in which we can confront climate and environmental crises is to magnify the number of ways in which the action(s) can loop around and kick us. I begin to suspect he is weaving in here his notion of agency as mediation — we are all mediators in the looping — because he also says that when that loop is broken, then we become “less sensitive” to the consequences of our action (less sensitive to Gaia’s irritation, as it were).
I am also thinking of Harthsorne’s notion of moral impulse as being concerned with one’s future self. One’s present self might want to enjoy a large carbon footprint, but one’s future self will suffer from it, the same way a smoker enjoys smoking, at the expense of his future self.
However, those who do not believe in the crisis level of our current situation, will not see one’s future self as in any predicatment, vis-a-vis one’s present actions. Therefore, it is up to us to mediate those loops.
Also thinking of Bhaskar saying “of course we can move from facts to value” — science gives us the facts, and we mediate them (compose) the values from them.
Also in the question part, Latour makes the point of scale of the Anthropocene, which switches the symbolic sensitivity to literal sensitivity.
An argument in ecotheology.” pp 459-475, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 2009.
What I mean by taking religion ‘seriously’ is to take it religiously.
To be an anthroplogist of the moderns requires the ability to speak in tongues, that is, to be sensitive to each of the original ways of speaking truthfully which have been developed and nurtured: scientific, yes, to be sure; legal, political, yes, yes, but also religious.
.. it remains extremely difficult to apply to religion the same principles that has been applied to the other contrasts, that is, to treat it on its own ground so as not to speak ‘of’ religion but instead to speak ‘in’ a religious tone, or, using the adverbial form, religiously. Speaking scientifically is not a problem … Speaking legally is taught very efficiently at law schools. … But enunciating something religiously is terribly difficult because of the ease with which it is explained or accounted for by other types of explanation, especially social explanations. The precise truth conditions (or felicity conditions) that allow someone to speak religiously (and not ‘about’ religion in another tone of voice) have almost vanished (the same is true, by the way, of political enunciation).
It would be interesting and possibly quite useful to discern what those precise felicity conditions are – and to consider some examples in context, then to attempt an application …
The range of attitudes, prescriptions, warnings, restrictions, summons, sermons, and threats that go with ecology seem to be strangely out of sync with the magnitude of the changes expected from all of us, the demands that appear to impinge upon every detail of our material existence. It is as if the rather apocalyptic injunction “your entire way of life must be modified or else you will disappear as a civilisation” has overwhelmed the narrow set of passions and calculations that go under the name of “ecological consciousnes”.
In addition to this lack of fit between the implied threats and the proposed solutions, there is something deeply troubling in many ecological demands suddenly to restrict ourselves and try to leave no more footprints on a planet we have nevertheless already modified through and through. It appears totally implausible to ask the heirs of the emancipatory tradition to convert suddenly to an attitude of abstinence, caution, and asceticism – especially when billions of other people still aspire to a minimum of decent existence and comfort.
These are all good points, that I would have extreme difficulty explaining to the “deep green” activists in my circles – I wonder what further extrapolations upon this theme will be required to move it into the realm of “things to consider”, of relevance and influence to those who practice eco-activism in its many guises. The expressed memetic structure of the “ecological” consciousness is currently heavily biased by unconscious self-flagellatory justifications and cynical rhetoric, and lacks insight (imo).
Not only does religion demand a level of radical transformation compared to which the ecological gospel looks like a timid appeal to buy new garbage cans, but it also has – and this will be even more important for the future – a very assured confidence in the ‘artificial’ remaking of earthly goods.
Whereas ecologocal consciousness has been unable to move us, the religious drive to renew the face of the earth just might.
It is painfully clear that this ever-shrinking religious ethos will do nothing for ecologising our world, … Yet perhaps we can postpone this seemingly inevitable Apocalypse: religion could become a powerful alternative to modernising and a powerful help for ecologising, provided that a connection can be established (or rather re-established) between religion and Creation, instead of religion and nature.
I think what is being suggested here, is that a deeply reverent attitude toward caring for and cultivating the living planet might arise as a kind of ethical framework invested with the passionate drive of devotional service – somehow … (which would be kinda cool!)
… science, or, rather, to use my technical terms, reference chains are what allow access to the far away, while religion, or, rather, presence, to use again my terminology, is what allows access to the near … This distinction … has the advantage of quickly dissolving a lot of the nonesense that accrues as soon as one opposes ‘knowledge’ and ‘belief’.
It becomes clearer and clearer as anthropology moves on, spurred both by my own field (science studies) and by ecological crises and globalisation more generally, that nature has never been the unified material medium in which modernism has unfolded.
Remember that the key question is how to allow religion to encounter something other than ‘nature’. That this is possible (if not easy) becomes clearer when one begins to realise that what is called ‘nature’ – or what has been taken for the same thing, “the material world”, the world of ‘matter’ – is made of at least two entirely different layers of meaning: one consists of the ways in which reference chains need to be arrayed so as to work, by giving us knowledge of far-away entities and processes of all kinds; but the other is provided by a completely different type of mode, and that is the way in which the entities themselves manage to remain in existence.
[describing two primary modes of existence, Reference and Reproduction which when combined define Latour's notion of 'nature']
Neither neo-Darwinians nor creationists have digested the radical news that organisms themselves make up their own meanings.
… where do we get this prejudice that religion is defined by a transcendence that can save us from a world which otherwise would stifle us into immanence? (or according to its mirror image, the alternative secular narrative that the stark immanence of the natural world will save us from an escapist adherence to the transcendent world of beyond?) Here resides the root of all spite against non-humans and, by consequence, the complete implausibility of any form of ecological spirituality.
Good question, with an imperative to find it’s answer built in.
The hiatus of Reproduction, the risk taken by each individual organism in its own Umwelt to last a little longer, has to be defined on its own terms, with its own felicity conditions, without imposing upon it a narrative borrowed from somewhere else. … By asking for reproduction to stand alone as a mature mode of existence, is a plea not to “overcome the limits of a mechanistic or reductionistic view of the material world”, but, on the contrary, to stop adding to it dimensions that have always been superfluous to its pursuit of its own peculiar goals. … Let us at least secularise the world of reproduction.
If moderns are guilty of a sin, it is that of portraying one of their main achievements namely the discovery that nothing was out of reach of reference chains, by morphing it into the lazy contemplation of a “natural world” made visible to rational minds without work, without instruments, without history. They failed to do justice to their own inventive genius and thus have kidnapped science … into a rather drab and entirely mythical drama of Light overcoming Darkness. Reference deserves greater respect than the hypocritical (I take the word etymologically) adherence to a “scientific worldview”. Through its complex, cascading reference chains, science can produce an objective grasp of everything, but no “scientific worldview” of anything – and especially not by covering up evolution.
… what if religion is allowed to weave its highly specific from of transcendence into the fabric of the other two modes of existence, Reproduction and Reference? … I am well aware that such an encounter has never taken place. … Can we help prepare the occasion for an encounter that has never taken place?
‘Creation’ could be the word to designate what we get when Reproduction and Reference are seized by the religious urge radically to transform that which is given into that which has to be fully renewed. … The term ‘creativity’ also designates Reproduction quite well – and it is also a fitting way to capture the immense productivity of science.
Like many of us mere mortals (I assume) I am still having some difficulty getting to the pith of Latour’s arguments. I like many of the points he raises. He is quite abstruse at times as well as seeming to have a tendency to circumnambulate the issues he is discussing , and part of me just wants him to summarise his thinking and lay out the essence of his position in a more direct manner (which probably reveals more about me than it does about his writing style I admit).
We have all read Lord of the Flies, a story about young boys stranded
by accident on an island from which they could not escape either and
where they glide down the slippery slope to barbarity. It is not casting
aspersions on William Golding’s reputation to surmise that—when
after quite a few beers in the Wiltshire village of Bowerchalke’s little
pub, he suggested that Lovelock should call his theory ‘Gaia’ —he
certainly had not reread his Hesiod for a long time. If he had, he would
have known that he was placing on his friend an ominous curse from
which his theory might never recover. And the same is certainly true of
the many New Age rituals where people assemble to celebrate Gaia as a
benevolent, caring, maternal whole.
No, she is not maternal, or else you should change entirely what
you mean by ‘Mother!’ In Theogony, far from being a figure of harmony,
Gaia, the mythological character, emerges in great effusions of blood,
steam and terror together with Chaos and Eros. In Hesiod’s admittedly
biased narrative, she is an earthly, black, brown, dark skinned and
scheming monster, a feminine power that three times in a row tricks
her progeny into murdering her loved ones… She first pushes her son
Kronos to cut with a ‘jagged teeth iron sickle’ her husband Ouranos’
sexual parts — showering blood all around, every drop begetting a
horrible monster. Then, together with Rheia, Gaia convinces Zeus to
fight against his own father and to defeat him. But then, never at rest,
she plots to mobilise her last child, Typhon — a hundred snakeheads
monster—, to destroy the empire of her son Zeus. The Olympian
fortunately wins, but the poor humans are now victims of Typhon’s
irresistible winds, tempests and cyclones. And only then did Gaia stop
scheming (according at least to Hesiod’s story). Sorry to say, but Gaia, at
least viewed from the later point of view of the Olympian gods, is a
In lecture 3 Latour moves from the narratives which are constructive (outside agency, de-animated/over-animated) to one of autopoiesis .. the notion that the earth, its atmosphere and its inhabitant co-create each other in a kind of dance.
Galileo and Lovelock
Lovelock and Pasteur
Geophysics, geochemistry, geophysiology.
the philosophy of biology has never stopped borrowing its metaphors from the social realm
It is haunted by the spectre of an ‘organism’ which is
always, in sociology as well as in politics or economics, a ‘superorganism,’
that is, an actor to which is delegated the task — or rather the
mystery — of coordination. The puzzle of composing a body raises
exactly the same difficulty whether it is made of cells, of humans, of
ants, of bees or in the case of a watch, made of cogs, springs and wheels.
If we wish not to lose sight of the problem of coordination, we should
stick to one level only and see what scientists really mean by a ‘whole
superior to the parts.’ Biology and sociology are in exactly the same
quandary. Through my work on social theory, I have learned to be very
quick at detecting when people shift from one research program —
understanding how coordination is obtained — to another one — getting
rid of the problem by jumping to another level, be it that of ‘society,’
market, Leviathan, corporate body, system, structure, or any emergent
kind of a ‘whole.’ The stakes are very high for us because, as soon as a
super-organism is taken for granted, it’s not only science but politics as
well as theology that may disappear. This is why it is so crucial to
understand whether the figure of Gaia is unified and through which
The anatomy of Gaia is forever changing…
I am under the impression that the
question cannot be answered before we understand what Lovelock
takes as its main intuition — the intuition according to which
everything that used to be in the background has been sucked in the
It is not that Gaia is
some ‘sentient being’ but that the concept of ‘Gaia’ captures the
distributed intentionality of all the agents that are modifying their
surroundings to suit themselves better.
For Lovelock and Margulis,
taking things literally, there is no environment any more. Since all living
agents follow their intentions all the way by modifying their own
neighbours as much as possible, it is quite impossible to tell apart what
is the environment to which an organism adapts and what is the point
where action starts.
If there is no frame, no goal, no direction, we have to take Gaia as
the name of the process by which varying contingent occasions have
been offered a chance to render later events more probable. Gaia is
neither a creature of chance nor of necessity. Which means that it looks
a lot like what we have come to take as history itself. Such is the last trait I
wish to emphasize.
Have we finally drawn the face of Gaia? No, obviously not. At
least, I hope I have said enough to convince you that finding the ‘place
of Man in Nature’ — to use an old expression — is not at all the same
thing as to narrate the geostory of the planet. By bringing into the
foreground everything that used to remain in the background, we don’t
expect to live at last in ‘harmony with nature.’ There is no harmony in
this contingent cascade of unforeseen events and there is no nature
either — at least not in this sublunary realm of ours. But to learn how to
situate human action into this geostory is not — such is the crucial
lesson — to ‘naturalise’ humans either. No unity, no universality, no
indisputability, no indefeasibility is to be invoked when humans are
thrown in the turmoil of geostory. You could say, of course, that this
rendering is much too anthropomorphic. I hope it is and fortunately so,
but not in the old sense of imputing human values to an inert world of
mute objects, but, on the contrary in the sense of giving humans — yes
morphing them into —a more realistic shape. Anyway, what a strange
thing it would be to complain about the pitfalls of anthropomorphism
at the time of the anthropocene!
When scientists began to explore the invisible world of the very small, they tried to apply metaphors from the macro world of sensory observable objects and events, persons and relationships to the micro world. Evidence for the micro world occur as visible “readings” on macro instruments where within is a sample of material assumed to contain systems in the micro world (atoms, elementary particles, etc.). Data tables and graphs are the real empirical content of science. All the rest is conceptual and hypothetical.
A set of anomalous findings in the late 19th century came to a head at the start of the 20th century. Physicists knew that the old order wasn’t right, but they were challenged by mystery. New patterns in data cried for theoretical forms to fit. Neils Bohr proposed the atom be like a micro solar system with a central nucleus orbited by spinning electrons. For more than two decades they played with equations for a modified solar system atom that could generate observables (on the instruments) to fit the data. Although they continued to make discoveries (new data), no theoretical model for the Bohr atom worked. Slowly they consciously realized that the solar system metaphor wouldn’t work and eventually they deliberately abandoned it. The Bohr atom was a phantom. The resulting model in Quantum Physics for the atom was nothing more than a calculating process (somewhere in the instrument). Plug initial condition data into the new equations (by Heisenberg and Schroedinger, two different models that it took a while to prove their mathematical equivalence) and out pops numbers that matched the observables from the instrument. Even though in their practice, physicists have abandoned the use of visualization to model the micro world, education still starts with the phantom of the solar system like atom.
We can transfer this same logic to our attempts to comprehend our societal worlds, patterned activity in groupings of many persons spread out in time and space where we can never actually observe them. For example, we never actually observe the city we live in. We observe only what we can observe: buildings, streets, rivers, people, etc. – but never the whole city (which would involve looking into all the rooms or spaces simultaneously). Viewing the city of Tucson from Windy Point on Mt. Lemmon is not observing the city; it is only a view of the city from a distance. The picture at the top of my blog is this scene (photo taken by Glistening Deepwater): http://nuet.us . The whole of Tucson is a conceptual hypothesis. The subsystems (energy sources, transportation, infrastructure, governance, industry, etc.) can each be observed in detail, but never as whole subsystems.
Societal entities (such as cities and governments and economies) never seem to work together as we imagine they should in our conceptual hypotheses. Different persons act according to their interpretations of what were their limited observations; but nothing ever seems to go as intended. We blame each other and our misinterpretation of societal reality (free markets vs socialism). Yet, why don’t we learn – we repeat again and again and again what has failed in the past (but we tell ourselves the failures were due to stupidity or enemies).
What if societal reality was not as our metaphorical societal systems and subsystems were imagined. What if, like in the micro world and the Bohr atom, societal reality had its own laws, maybe different from those governing persons and social systems (real groupings of persons in real interaction)? These speculations are probably beyond what Latour intends; but his exploration of phantoms (not a topic of either lectures or essays) resonates with my reasoning stated above. What follows are my speculations of what Latour implies about the “nature” of his phantoms.
One type of phantom is a “complexity of processes and things” given a label. This label takes on “life” as metaphor from our ordinary reality of perceived objects and events, becoming a higher-level entity in a mythological world we confuse with reality. What happens when we conceptualize on the phantom as a system, with components and subsystems? What happens may differ for different phantoms.
Consider the phantom called organization and more specifically THE Governmental network of the USA, from Federal to Local. We can find or construct organizational charts explicating the echelon hierarchy of subsystems and components (roles occupied by persons). Usually these also become phantoms masking the real patterns of interactions among persons; substituted by a description of the (phantom) functions of the roles.
Consider a more concrete example: the US Congress in 2013. The media shows us snapshots congress-persons and senators supposedly debating and voting on legislation. If we were to follow anyone of them for a week or two, or sit in a chamber and watch the goings on, we would begin to wonder if our phantom system had any match to the complexities observed.
Listening to pundits we will learn how the two parties are aggressively partisan, the GOP declaring all out obstructionism to anything Obama proposes for Democratic support. As phantoms following phantom rules, this is a poor showing of democratic process – but within the stable phantom of Democratic USA. An analysis of the actual activity may suggest a different interpretation: a coup in process with the procedures and rules being hacked by forces outside the system. It is said that corporations and the banks have taken over, bought the votes of elected officials and manipulated the electoral process. But, in our mythological world, corporations and banks are also phantoms and have similar breakdown into phantom system of subsystems and components. We generalize this to societies, themselves phantoms within phantoms within phantoms.
We can do exercises applying the same analysis to other organizations: educational systems, schools & universities; religions and churches; worker professions; public services such as fire and police; medical system and hospitals; agricultural systems and farms; supply chains; the military and bases; law firms and courts; retailers and consumers; intelligence & covert op agencies; transportation system and vehicles; families and children, scientific research centers & scientists, etc. Each is a phantom system with phantom subsystems and phantom components – viewed together as a vast board game, a phantom world to which we lazily ascribe reality. But, each can be scientifically studied to reveal a scope and complexity well beyond that of the phantom analysis. Many primary patterns in the scientific study would not find corresponding patterns in the phantom analysis. For example, scientific analysis would discover a major network of “conspiratorial gangs” (groups of persons acting together in ways counter to rules and in secrecy). We would discover shadow or underground economies. We could discover that every persons is far more complex that their phantom appears.
It is evident that it is “natural” that we intuit our world as a vast complex of real entities which “actually” are phantoms. It is “natural” to use metaphors from the familiar to assist in comprehending what we can’t directly observe – although we go around talking as if we can and do observe them. I wonder if those with visual imagery (which I lack) can actually visualize phantoms as real entities. Our languages evolve for discourse about phantom worlds. Viewing our Crisis-of-Crises as threatening our phantom world we cannot find solutions, and we also can’t discover the many opportunities available to us (hidden by phantoms).
I speculate that a new mix of our multi-media, digital technologies can provide platforms for our working directly with the basic reality of networked human relationships and the observable sysnet of semiotic structures (text and video) and move away from playing in phantom worlds. How to bring this about is our current challenge. We should not initially attempt to design an educating/organizing system/process for everyone, at the start. It will be enough to develop a viable program for contemporary “activists”.
While thinking of phantoms when riding in the KIA I imagined the possibility that super-heroes may be a form of phantom – and how media personalities, including politicians, may also be phantoms. A live exploration follows.
I read my comic books in my youth, but have not really followed superheroes in any depth since. I think Ironman-1 was the only video of superheroes I have viewed in a decade – along with some of the Batman videos. However, I can’t avoid news of and video previews of movies and tv programs. These I will call “Extreme” Superheroes, and their enemies, Super-villains, often associated with a Super-evil organization. Many novels also feature this theme, and some of my mystery novels are beginning to feature persons with extreme abilities. More and more narratives are populated with humans who could not really exist.
In what sense can we view these superheroes as phantoms? Above we speculated how phantom organizations are populated by phantom persons who play phantom games which are supposed to be simple representative of the real games played by real persons in real organizations. Superheroes vs Supervilains is but a fantasy fictional extension of this process. Superheroes are not new and their current Extreme form may only the result of technological amplification and not an indication of a new need for superheroes. On the other hand? Some superhero narratives can be accurate caricatures of real persons and organizations – mostly the villains.
Many persons are aware of their powerlessness in the face of oppressive systems, often with visible oppressors. Superheroes provide an imaginative narrative as how a single person can have great agency against great odds and can win. It would be interesting psychological research to explore physiological and behavior changes in persons while and shortly after reading/viewing superhero narratives. A study of authors of superhero books or films may also reveal useful info.
To what extent do some persons experience the media play of politicians, businessmen, CIA agents, generals, etc. as a variation on superehero and supervillain? Some may view everyday drama on TV as special persons playing in ways superheroes play. Suppress the “super” and we may be left with a phenomenon common to everyone’s take on activities they learn about only via the expanded media – where phantoms are known to reside.
From the essay “It’s development stupid!” for the book “Postenvironmentalism” 2008, MIT press.
… why has the question of non-humans failed to enter into politics in any energising way?
Just at the time when the promises of science, technology and demography make the necessary enlargement of politics to nonhumans at an ever expanding scale clear to all – to the point of engaging the Earth itself in the arenas of political representation – this is the moment chosen by millions of well meaning souls to flagellate themselves for their earlier aspirations to dominion, to repent for their past hubris, to look for ways of diminishing the numbers of their fellow humans and to swear to leave under their feet, from now on, the most invisible of footprints.
Excellent point, we will have to stop beating ourselves and each other up if we hope to actually take “the next steps”
The thrusting forward arrow of time (“Progress” in the traditional great narrative) and its resulting emotions (juvenile enthusiasm, indifference to the past, risk taking, frontier spirit, optimism) were associated with a very peculiar idea of modernity which may be summarised in one sentence :”Tomorrow, we will be able to separate more accurately what the world is really like from the subjective illusions we used to entertain about it.”
This being the result of our assumptions that what we can observe is more real than the faculties of observation bought to bear upon it. A relatively long term human dilemma.
Science, technology, markets etc. have amplified, for at least the last two centuries, not only the scale at which humans and nonhumans are connecting with one another in larger and larger assemblies, but also the intimicy with which such connections are made.
This statement started a landslide of images in my mind, of all the large assemblies of animals that we march to their deaths through inhumane processes so that we can feed each other, and our intimates (pets) on their flesh (not to be self flagellant of course) , and the innumerable species of nondomestic nonhumans that are displaced, disaffected and even rendered extinct due to our NOT getting intimate with them in “constructive” ways. I wonder how our relationship to the nonhuman sentient entities can ever be bought in to an ethical balance.
… we constantly move from a superficial to a deeper interpretation of what it is to be entangled.
But what are our deeper interpretations revealing about the way we are thinking? Latour is referring to the phenomena of ever increasing interconnectivity of humans and ‘things’ – and the greater human influence upon and penetration into the “nature of things” that seems to be a hallmark of our trajectory thus far.
Emancipation or attachment, two great narratives for the same history.
Depending on which great narrative you follow, the same development of science, technology and markets may be seen as the proof of the modernist emancipation or as the source of larger and more intimate connections between humans, laws, organisations, finance, architecture, ways of life.
We have produced what we cannot describe. Modern? Not anymore. Postmodern? Hmmm, almost as bad. “Postenvironmentalist” then? Horrible, and even more depressing.
See the paradox? Just when the human and nonhuman associations are finally coming to the center of our consciousness, are beginning to be shaped in our political arenas, are triggering our most personal and deepest emotions, this is when a new apartheid is declared: leave nonhumans alone and let the humans retreat …
Is this a reactionary effect being brought to our attention here? Which could be a stage in a process that has the potential to move the situation in a direction more mutually beneficial to humans and nonhumans that is currently the case …
… the environment is what appears when unwanted consequences come back to haunt the originator of the action. … the return of the consequences will be taken by him as a contradiction, or even a monstrosity. … unintended consequences are the most expected things on earth.
When action is supposed to be the nothing but the logical consequences of reason and facts … it is quite normal to wait for the certainty of science before administrators and politicians spring into action. The problem begins when experts fail to agree on the reasons and the facts that have been taken as the necessary premise of any action. Then the machinery of decision is stuck until experts come to an agreement.
Seems a fair description of where planetary humans are currently at.
… change your ideas of science and you change all the ideas about the past, the future and what you have to do about the world.
Latour is advocating for a return to pragmatism as a more effective approach to climate change issues than are the methods generating the current impasse.
… this difficulty in following through with the unexpected consequences of action is not a new thing since it is the whole topic of the novel Frankenstein. … The novel is very explicit about the double crime of Frankenstein: he feigns to repent from one sin (“I should not have created a minster”) when it is another sin that he should have confessed: “I should not have abandoned what I had begun to create and then it might have coma along fine.
… at the onset of the nineteenth century … the gigantic sins that were to be committed would be hiding a much greater sin that it has been upon our generation to finally atone for: not technology itself, but the absence of love for the technology we have created, as if we decided that we were unable to follow through with the education of our own children.
This point touched me deeply, the realisation that lack of love for that which we have created is fundamental to the nature of the situation brings it into perspective for me. Collectively, and as individuals, can we find the kind of love, or reverence even, required to be “Adequate to our aspirations”? This begs the question, are we actually even conscious of our aspirations? and – What, explicitly, are they? How does my personal aspiration effect or contribute to collective aspiration? ???
The link between technology and theology .. hinges on the notion of mastery. … where have you ever seen a master freed from any dependence on his dependents? … the sin is not to wish to have dominion over nature but to believe that this dominion means emancipation and not attachment.
The dream of emancipation has not turned into a nightmare. It was simply too limited, it excluded nonhumans, it did not care about unexpected consequences, it was unable to follow through with its responsibilities, it entertained a totally unrealistic notion of what science and technology had to offer, it relied on a rather impious definition of God and a totally absurd notion of what creation, innovation and mastery could provide.
We want to develop, not withdraw.
What a though provoking thinker!