Dark Ecology as the Higher Misanthropy

dark ecology2

It is a signal pleasure to announce that this week slowlorisblog is hosting an essay by Dr. Steve Fuller, Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology at the University of Warwick, UK. Dr. Fuller joins us today to discuss a fascinating intellectual movement–Dark Ecology–in terms both of its historical development and the future it promises for humanity:

One of the advantages of being a certain age – and remaining alert – is that you observe intellectual history as it unfolds in public. The relevant trace here is what ‘anti-humanism’ has come to mean. Nowadays it means misanthropy, especially if you don’t call it that. However, the revolt against humanism began as a revolt against the hypocrisy of humanists, especially their pretensions to have liberated us from God yet at the same time enslave us to science. This development began in 1960s France, where it was prosecuted as a dual attack on Existentialism and Structuralism. Thus, both Sartre and Levi-Strauss — who famously confronted each other in the pages of The Savage Mind — were the enemy. After all, the reality that made life so urgent yet absurd for existentialists was one which science had discovered to operate by principles indifferent to the human condition. The anti-humanists aimed for no less than a subversion of both sides of this modernist dialectic. (Thomas Nagel’s uncompromising dualism is perhaps the last prominent philosophical project that takes the Sartre-Levi-Strauss dialectic seriously.)

At first, anti-humanism attacked the primacy of authorial intent in cultural production, understood as the last bastion of theism in the secular world (aka creation by the Word); hence, Roland Barthes’ ‘death of the author’ thesis. But Barthes didn’t go far enough because his ‘semiology’ had scientific pretensions, not so different from Levi-Strauss’. This is the context for understanding what made Foucault and Derrida fellow travellers, despite their substantive differences. Both took their cue from a Nietzsche-fortified version of Heidegger, albeit to different effect. Foucault showed that ‘the human’ didn’t become a stable object of inquiry or concern until the late 18th century, and its prosecution over the next two centuries proved an uphill struggle, generating much risk, uncertainty, repression and violence. However, Foucault’s early adopters in the anti-psychiatry movement drew a more upbeat, libertarian conclusion from this prima facie gloomy narrative.  Simply put, we need to ‘let a thousand “humans” bloom’. In a similar vein, Derrida looked on the bright side of Heidegger’s nihilism to argue that once freed from the myth of legitimising origins, we can employ deconstruction to release us from the binaries that regularly prevent our thought from fully exploring what lies ‘interstitially’ and ‘intertextually’ between the putative opposites.

All of this could have unleashed a new super-humanism (i.e. a Nietzschean humanism) that might overcome past hypocrisies in the name of humanity’s creative inexhaustibility.  But it did not come to pass. At least in the English-speaking world, the sort of Zombie Marxism that passes for ‘critical theory’ colonised the original anti-humanist impulse.  I say ‘zombie’ because this brand of Marxism, which marked the shift in attention to the Frankfurt School from Marcuse to Adorno, implicitly acknowledged the failure of Marxism as a positive political project (i.e. the proletariat failed to deliver the goods) yet clung to the negative side of the project (i.e. the demystification of all forms of power), even though one might have thought that both were part of the same package and should be judged together. But no, instead the negative side of the project acquired a life of its own – an endless quest to demystify, deconstruct and otherwise falsify anything positive put forward by those in power, regardless of their ostensible ends.  Thus began the current fashion of identifying humanism simpliciter with a hegemonic ‘dead white male’ view of the world.  Whatever else one might wish to say about Zombie Marxism, it is not a good look for a movement that still fancies itself as ‘progressive’.

One way to understand the rise of dark ecology – and the various intellectual streams that feed into it – is as a rather perverse attempt to salvage something positive from Zombie Marxism’s exceptionally negative verdict on humanism. The silver dagger that dark ecologists drive through the zombie heart is to abandon our need to identify with the human altogether, thereby absolving ourselves of any sense of guilt or responsibility for what so-called humans have done in the past or might do in the future. Gone in one fell swoop are all the endless complaining and resentment of Zombie Marxists that are often derided as ‘political correctness’. In its place, that cluster of philosophical tics that travels under the banner of ‘object oriented ontology’ (or ‘OOO’, basically the metaphysical wing of actor-network theory) provides all the key distancing moves from the human. The modern marks of the human — subjectivity and autonomy – Sartre and Levi-Strauss – are erased in OOO-speak. Instead all objects are created equal in their inherent relationality. To be human is no more than to ‘do’ (i.e. at once to perform and to represent) networks in ways that privilege Homo sapiens as nodes. Although OOO-ists appear rather indifferent to the politics of the ecology movement, they share with Green metaphysics a rather ‘open-minded’ (i.e. not necessarily positive) attitude towards humanity’s contribution to a sustainable world (read: durable network), as determined by, say, our ‘carbon footprint’. The Anglo-American Romanticist Timothy Morton may be the most ‘out there’ of this bunch.

I call dark ecology ‘misanthropic’ because it implies that there is something fundamentally unreliable about being ‘human’. However, this judgement is made not out of spite or indignation, but in hope of a new dawn and a new level playing field. In the darkest corners of dark ecology –  Nick Land’s ‘Dark Enlightenment’– it is imagined that natural selection will deliver a sense of cosmic justice, reversing what the ‘racial hygiene’ movement in the early 20th century German medical community dubbed ‘counter-selection’, namely, all the apparently clever innovations – not least mass vaccinations — that have enabled unprecedented numbers of Homo sapiens to survive over the past 250 years, only to suck up more of the planet’s resources, creating new pretexts for political conflicts and international warfare. (The movement’s leader,  Alfred Ploetz, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.) The difference between today’s forces of the Dark Enlightenment and the older racial hygiene movement (which, yes, provided a scientific basis for Nazi ideology) is that the racial hygienists generally believed that counter-selectionist strategies delayed, without overturning, the final judgement that nature delivers on who is fit to live. On the contrary, Nick Land holds that such strategies accelerate the onset of the eco-apocalypse, and for that very reason, should be promoted to hasten that catastrophic moment when the Earth arrives at a genuinely ‘posthuman’ condition.

Lest Land’s prophecy be dismissed as the misbegotten product of a febrile imagination, there is an old-style ‘small is beautiful’ environmentalist version of it, delivered in folksier tones. Thus,  Paul Kingsnorth bemoans the ‘progress trap’ (or ‘technological lock-in’) whereby nature (including humanity itself, understood properly as an animal species) becomes the long term victim of the short term successes generated by each bright new human idea that gets turned into a normal routine for bending nature to its will. Kingsnorth imagines that ‘neo-environmentalist’ technology-friendly movements such as the US-based Breakthrough Institute (whose principles I have endorsed) are among the apocalypse accelerators in our midst. Once again, the plausibility of this pessimistic verdict depends on a prior belief that our tendency to treat necessity as the mother of invention will soon backfire decisively. In both its scary and cuddly forms – Land and Kingsnorth – dark ecology is betting against the post-apocalyptic ‘us’ conferring on the ‘human’ much normative value, even if ‘we’ still look more or less like Homo sapiens.

There is much more to say and think about vis-à-vis dark ecology’s challenge to the very idea of humanity. But let me close by suggesting in historical terms the radical value re-orientation proposed by this movement. In 1962 the RAND Corporation analyst Herman Kahn – often seen as an inspiration for the character of Dr Strangelove – proposed in Thinking about the Unthinkable various scenarios about how humanity might survive the Cold War nightmare of a nuclear confrontation between the US and the USSR. The interesting feature of Kahn’s prognosis is its relatively upbeat character. He very much believed that necessity is the mother of invention, and that whatever didn’t kill us would make us stronger. He appeared confident that, even in radically diminished numbers, humanity could pick up the pieces after a thermonuclear war, though it may be difficult at first and may require several years to return to pre-war conditions. Yet, in today’s world, both the threat of nuclear holocaust and the presumption that we are bound to Earth and the bodies of our birth are up for grabs, as reflected in ‘Black Sky Thinking’. From this perspective, dark ecology’s longing for the apocalypse looks like a hangover from the Cold War – but without the optimistic edge offered by the likes of Kahn.

Steve Fuller is the Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology at the University of Warwick, UK. He is the author of twenty books, the latest of which (co-authored with Veronika Lipinska) is The Practionary Imperative: A Foundation for Transhumanism, due out with Palgrave Macmillan in July 2014. His website is here, and his twitter handle is @profstevefuller

33 thoughts on “Dark Ecology as the Higher Misanthropy

  1. Wonderful essay, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! I had two questions:

    1. You seem to walk right up to it several times in the essay, so I’m wondering if you can comment on to what extent the misanthropy of Dark Ecology has had, or is having, or will have in the end on not only in the headspace of academics but on science and technology policy. Morton seems to me, despite your assertion that he’s the most out there of the OOO crowd, so have the most traction and coverage of those you mention publication – and speaking-wise. But I don’t have a great sense of who’s on the other side of the podium, and in a larger sense where the movement sits on the parabola of its own evolution.

    2. Is there an existing antithesis of Dark Ecology or the Dark Enlightenment to which we can turn? Any formulation of the posthuman that eschews their conception of the past and future, and what seems to be something of a gleeful pulling on the frayed ends of the cosmos, to envision a more positive end-game?

    rmm

    • Reply to Daedalcipher:

      1) To understand OOO and dark ecology (I take the latter as a specific extension of the former), one needs to understand the intuitive appeal of actor-network theory, which is that you’re better placed to understand the full range of agency in the world if you yourself are not an agent, but simply a mouthpiece for agency. (As Latour says: ‘Follow the actants!’) It’s a latter-day sociological version of the psychic medium from a hundred years ago. The OOO-ist channels the agency of others in their narrative accounts, the richer the better (‘speaking in tongues’). This certainly captures Morton’s rhetorical style, both in print and in person. It means that you can give the impression that lots is happening without having to take personal responsibility for any of it. OOO has mastered the art of normative outsourcing, which is great if you’re fascinated by the world’s volatility yet reluctant to intervene in the name of bringing about a some desirable order. That the most explicitly philosophical of the OOO-ists, Graham Harman, is now a senior administrator at the American University of Cairo says it all. Anyone with serious political interests or aspirations would find such a position intolerable.

      2) My own version of transhumanism was developed without considering just how ‘dark’ ecology could be, though it doesn’t surprise me. But in terms of the genealogy of ‘anti-humanism’ presented in the article, I am someone who thinks that the world would be a more progressive place had the Foucault-Derrida response to the Sartre-Levi-Strauss dialectic not been mediated by Zombie Marxism, but instead had made a beeline to the various advances in genomics, robotics, prosthetics, etc. that over the past quarter-century has made possible a rather different range of ‘humanities’ from the 19-20th century ideas of race, class, gender. I discuss this more in Preparing for Life in Humanity 2.0 (Palgrave). Donna Haraway’s ‘Cyborg Manifesto’ came close twenty-five years ago to pushing us in this direction, but she chickened out in the end (all that ‘nervous laughter’ stuff).

      • “To understand OOO and dark ecology (I take the latter as a specific extension of the former), one needs to understand the intuitive appeal of actor-network theory, which is that you’re better placed to understand the full range of agency in the world if you yourself are not an agent, but simply a mouthpiece for agency.”

        I really like this essay but the above is false. There are plenty of human actors and agents in ANT. The central tenet of ANT is that every node in a chain of translations transforms what it carries, conducts, transmits. Therefore, humans can’t be written off as mouthpieces; or, equally, even mouthpieces translate what they mouth.

        The problem with ANT is that it’s a method that got out of hand; that it got exploded into being a complete philosophy of everything. Somewhere Latour remarks that ANT is a combination of Garfinkel’s ethnomethodology and Greimas’ semiotics. OOO ignores the former and only takes up the latter. So, OOO eradicates what remnants of phenomenology there was remaining in ANT. It’s essentially a dumbing down and, simultaneously, a massive overextension that arbitrarily excludes the ethno-sociological heart of the matter (which is very much there, and beating, if you look closely).

        To understand Prof. Fuller’s take on this one needs to understand that he’s been waging war on ANT, etc. for decades and his readings are always uncharitable – sometimes productively so but, for my tastes, he’s a way off the mark.

        More constructively: I think the principle intellectual-political product of this ‘dark ecology’ would be the whole ‘accelerationism’ thing. That explicitly grows out of Land’s sophomore-entrancing shtick and is very zeitgeisty at the moment. Moreover, it explicitly sets itself up as a radical political project rather than just an intellectual one.

  2. As an extension of the first comment above: I was wondering in that context which you think is more dangerous—Land’s terrifying prophecy or Kingsnorth’s “cuddly” bemoaning? Certainly Land is a fringe character, and so it doesn’t seem like we’re in danger of him being handed the reins of the zeitgeist, but neither does Kingsnorth’s more popular “folksiness” seem to have too terribly much substantive appeal beyond neo-romantic scythe-mourners. Is dark ecology really just a lint trap for the type of thinkers represented by these two?

    • Reply to Ilan:

      No, I think both Kingsnorth and Land need to be taken seriously – especially Land.

      Kingsnorth basically smartens up the ‘survivalist’ ethic which when I was a kid was associated with hard-core libertarians who wanted to escape paying taxes. Now this mentality has acquired a more left-leaning tinge, especially in the US, where the seemingly irresistible force of global warming meets the seemingly immoveable object, namely the deniers calling the shots on Capitol Hill.

      The case of Land is more interesting – and also more troublesome. Just as it makes perfect sense for a guy like Graham Harman to be stuck in Cairo, it makes equal sense for a guy like Nick Land to be stuck in Shanghai. China has always had a casual attitude toward both human rights and the environment, at least by Western standards, and Land’s philosophy treats these positions not as problems that will be – or at least ought to be – remedied over time but as positive accelerators toward the eco-apocalypse. Moreover, the acceleration is seen very much in techno-economic terms, which suits the default setting of China’s rulers. Here it is worth observing one very important sense in which China has understood neo-liberalism better than the Westerners who invented it.

      Although neo-liberalism and libertarianism have shared many of the same icons (e.g. Hayek, Milton Friedman), in fact the two ideologies see the role of the state rather differently, if not oppositionally. Libertarians project what Robert Nozick called a ‘night watchman’ state, namely, an entity that securitises the nation from ‘theft’, understood broadly from seizure of property to foreign invasion. This image of the state trades on a strong ontological distinction between unruly nature and rule-governed society, with only the latter allowing for genuine liberty. However, neo-liberalism sees the issue of governance through the distinctive 18th century understanding of the ‘market’ as a social artifice that internalises and improves upon what Darwin later called ‘natural selection’. Rather than the state protecting people from the environment, it forces them to manufacture the conditions of their own survival in the environment. Historically markets were restricted to a specially designated ‘economic’ sphere of society but neo-liberalism aims to turn markets into the universal solvent of social problems. Much of the early Enlightenment rhetoric of the free society as a place for the ‘pursuit of happiness’ drops out neo-liberalism, which tends to regard living as an experiment in surviving on a limited budget, where both successes and failures may be equally informative. I see the harshness of Chinese neo-liberalism in these terms.

  3. I’ve been a fan of yours for a few years now. I’m excited to see you posting here! Paul Kingsnorth’s piece, which I saw when it came out in Orion, rubbed me the wrong way. I’m glad to see it placed in a larger intellectual-historical context. It will be interesting to follow these and other developments in the unfolding of dark ecology in the future.

    • Reply to Jonathan

      I’d start to get worried for the fate of humanity if a Chinese investor – state or private – were to set up a foundation to promote Land’s ideas, or worse, set up a school for training future political and business leaders in them.

  4. Kingsnorth on his earlier book from the piece you link to: ‘What the book turned out to be about, again, was autonomy and control: about the need for people to be in control of their tools and places rather than to remain cogs in the machine.’

    Sounds exactly like a particular kind of humanist to me, about as far from Nick Land as you’re likely to get, and equally distant from what you describe as ‘longing for the apocalypse’. And does Kingsnorth really have ‘a prior belief that our tendency to treat necessity as the mother of invention will soon backfire decisively’? Again, not based on that essay you linked to: he depicts the business-as-usual future therein rather more like a corporatist treadmill (i.e. Moldbuggian neoreactionism’s desired future), absent the possibility of achieving something which has not in human history been achieved yet – something like Bookchin’s social ecology, i suppose.

    So to sum up: he doesn’t romanticise the past, wants a different kind of future instead, and suggests that he is therefore politically distant from ‘neo-environmentalists’ who remorselessly romanticize the future, based on their own ‘proactionary’ priors.

    • Reply to Chris Groves

      Maybe there is some upbeat message hidden in Kingsnorth but I sure didn’t see it. Maybe I was misled by his empathy for the Unabomber and his scepticism about organizations like the Breakthrough Institute. And if his message is something like Murray Bookchin’s, then ‘social ecology’ (which was being touted by my ‘right-on’ friends at university thirty-five years ago) remains a political mirage, though maybe the apocalypse might change people’s minds. I think the closest we’ll get to Bookchin in this world – barring a post-apocalypse reconstruction – is Jeremy Rifkin.

  5. Strange how you took my essay on Land – a critique of Neoreactionary ideology as practiced by Land and others – out of context from my site. If you had bothered to look around, my use of the word dark ecology actually came from the band Dark Ecology, not from Tim Morton’s use of that term for ecology. I doubt that Kingsnorth had ever heard of OOO or Tim Morton and his use of that term. What did you do some kind of google search and decide to mix and match? Strange scholarship, indeed!
    As well to imply that I am neoreactionary or even anti-humanist is to muster idiocy from everything I’ve written. If you had bothered to investigate my site you would realize the stupidity of your remarks. That philosophically I’m more in tune with Quentin Meillassoux, Alain Badiou, and Slavoj Zizek is without doubt, and if you’d bothered to check the tabs on the top of my site you might have discovered my political affiliations. What’s even stranger is your views of the OOO bunch. As well as implying Zombie Marxism as if we were all still caught in the structuralist and post-structuralist pomo era. What the hell would we want to salvage out of this? Wake up buddy… if you present yourself as a scholar then do your homework instead of feeding the masses dribble that is both inaccurate and promotes your transhumanist agenda as if it were beyond the trappings of ideology.

    • Yes, Steven Craig Hickman… I’m a retired Software Architect who enjoys science fiction, philosophy, and pondering the extremes of the political spectrum to understand why our world is so f___ up. Sorry to have been so harsh, but yea I’m actually no one’s patsy, have to full affiliation in the political spectrum. Even my commitment to the communist Idea is base on a great deal of rethinking both classical Marxism and its failures in the 20th Century. Without facing the failures head on and uncovering the reasons behind those failures communism as an Idea will as many conservative and neo-reactionaries point out be just another screwed affair of leftwing ideologues full of air and steam. My biggest thing is to make people think about the various philosophical issues from a specific slant. I try to be obviously provocative in the tradition of the French Moralistes casting a wry eye and public persona of cynicism, yet underneath if one digs the meat is there and the ideas are weighed in the balance.

  6. I enjoyed this post but there’s a lot that’s question-begging here. Frankly, I always bristle when Continental philosophers try to lubricate an argument with the “As Foucault shows …” operator. Did Foucault show that the Human is an invention of the modern age? Well, maybe, but, at best, as a problem or mode of description. Even if this is historically supportable, it’s hardly of great philosophical significance unless we elide the distinction between how the world is differentiated and how we describe it – as Foucault was occasionally wont to do.

    In its most interesting forms anti-humanism does not entail misanthropy and is quite compatible with a “local” anthropological humanism. It is not anthropological humanism, but “transcendental humanism” – the assumption that our subjectivity realizes ineluctable constraints on thought and agency – that forms the proximate target of most of the interesting variants of poststructuralism and speculative realism (not to mention philosophical naturalism).

    If we junk transcendental humanism, however, we don’t get “super-humanism” but a kind of absolute naturalism for which human reason and subjectivity can no longer constrain the space of “posthuman” possibility. I’ve termed this anthropologically unbounded position “Speculative Posthumanism”. SP implies the excision of the human under some circumstances, but the charge of misanthropy only sticks if reference to the human is in a position to supply a set of ethical invariants under conditions of radical technological change. This is precisely what is in doubt.

    • First, I’m as much a continental philosopher as Richard Rorty was. All I admit is that I take continental thinkers seriously, and I think Foucault’s observation about the historicity of the human is largely correct, both in terms of its origins and its gradual loss of salience. To my mind, the challenge is to re-invent the human for our own times as a normative standard of being. This will not be easy, not least because ‘posthumanism’ (in both its misanthropic and non-misanthropic forms) is increasingly popular. (I take your point that posthumanism need not be misanthropic, but it certainly de-centres the human as the locus of value.) I happen to believe that the overriding value placed on ‘humanity’ is intimately connected with the capacity for radical self-transcendence, and so the challenge is to revive this notion without requiring that one join one of the monotheistic faiths. I see transhumanism — sometimes knowingly, sometimes not — trying to meet this challenge, which is why I align with them.

  7. An interesting read, but a somewhat timid in the face of the pitiful crankiness of the posthumanism Steve describes, since he doesn’t seem to want to make a stronger case for a humanism or a human subject worth holding on to, or promoting.

    Notably, all the talk of catastrophes, apocalypses, prophecies, etc. should be called out for the religious fatalism it really is, no? Land, Kingsnorth, Morton, whoever – (dark) ecologism barely conceals the most banal prelapsarian theistic moralising injunction – we have offended nature, nature will punish us. Although with the earth in the place of god, and scientism in the place of Christ. It’s no surprise cranks like Land are described as prophetic, since they do no more than what old prophets have always done, which is rant about the future and the errors and hubris of human action. It’s so daft, it’s embarrassing.

    What is always remarkable, too, is how confidently anti-humanists parrot the idea that there’s nothing ontologically exceptional about human-being, when the assertion is so evidently ridiculous in the face of the evidence of what human subjectivity does to the world it inhabits. We can only conclude that this is simply a severe case of bad faith on the part of anti-humanists, about themselves. So post-humanist rhetorics seek to undermine subjectivity at every turn, and to convince us that there’s not much mileage in the idea, while always looking like the most obvious theistic fatalism, just with the God bits knocked off. It’s an indifferent universe, and human beings are not at the centre of it. Er, says who, exactly?

    Of course, humans are not at the centre of the universe, but only because they themselves have elected not to be so. This is why neo-environmentalism is on a hiding to nowhere, since the subject of the narrative remains the ecosphere, not humanity. Without a politics based on the desires of being-human, we can only piously offer humble techno-stewardship to Gaia, in the hope that we don’t tread on her toes too much.

    Posthumanism wins by default, since there is simply no discourse currently to extol the progressive value of human-centredness. The rush to post-humanism is a sort of philosophical headache pill to try to relieve the stress of being human, but not wanting to take responsibility for it.

    • I am in broad sympathy with what you say, which is why I distinguish trans- vs. post-humanism. Transhumanism is about the full realization of the human potential, whereas posthumanism believes that whatever distinguishes us from other beings is not worth projecting indefinitely. The Aeon piece, cited in the article, provides the extent of our agreement. However, you should not underestimate the power of posthumanist ideologies in many quarters, and don’t assume that some broad conception of ‘humanism’ remains the default value locus of human beings. To be honest, the only institutions in today’s world that are still trying to uphold the human are churches and states, and their capacity to determine world affairs is diminishing.

      • I certainly don’t underestimate the power of posthumanist ideologies – they’re definitely in the ascendant. Your characterisation of the split between a progressive Marxism and ‘Zombie Marxism’ I would broadly recognise. The question is why many human subjects today would expend such effort in denigrating what is interesting about being a human subject – subjectivity and autonomy. The problem, I think, is rooted in how the effects of that subjectivity are supposed to have generated all manner of negative outcomes – instead of the renaissance, the Holocaust; instead of the industrial revolution, climate crisis etc. Everywhere one has to combat the negative denigration of what human subjectivity achieves and has achieved. The vitality of humanity emerging and evolving subjectivity is not an academic issue, but a material one, since it is humanity’s socially evolved subjectivity that is capable of transforming the material world around it. That vitalism is what human critics of humanity most abhor, since its material effects and outcomes are presumed to be chaotic, unforeseeable and uncontrollable – enter Actor Network Theory etc.
        The question then leads back to why a ‘humanist’ Marxism has been so eclipsed in the last four decades. Many commentators lament the ‘end of the working class’ or seek desperately for any hint of the return of proletarian agency, but in fact many more are terrified by what such a return would mean, since they no longer conceive of human social bodies being anything other than unconscious network formations driven by the relations of production that they reproduce. Subjectivity ain’t anywhere to be seen…

  8. Is Graham Harman’s OOO misanthropic? The quick answer is “No!”, and the justification is given by Fuller himself in his notion of OOO’s “normative outsourcing”. OOO itself is devoid of wholesale normative judgements, including that of misanthropy, having consigned such valuation to vicarious interfacing with the sensual realm. But this very explanation gives us the means to reverse this answer. Harman’s OOO is misanthropic because humans, instances of the only concept of humanity that we know, belong, according to this system, to the sensual (or unreal) realm, as does our concept of humanity. “Anthropic” is always sensual (although the converse does not hold) i.e. unreal, simulacrum, utter sham. Real objects “withdraw” from the human, and Harman explicitly accuses the “humanities” of reductionism. For the same reason, Harman’s OOO is dark. Real objects withdraw, and we cannot know them, only allude to them darkly, after a dark ascesis.

    Fuller’s critique of object-oriented ontology, of dark ecology, and of Harman the administrator are all convergent. The “dark” ontologist with administrative powers at the university or academic publishing level, able to make or break careers, is no laughing matter. At the governmental level it would be catastrophic, implementing anti-science, anti-anthropic principles in the name of a dark realism where our “sensual all to sensual” thoughts, feelings, and values would be treated as the illusions that they are for OOO.

    • But isn’t there a simple hypocrisy in pretending that humans are not exceptional, faced with any account of how exceptionally humans – understood precisely as matter, thing, object – behave compared to all other matter, things or objects? Isn’t this unchallenged insistence based on a kind of prejudice about human subjectivity which is ‘misanthropic’ in its denigration of the special (exceptional) quality of human subjectivity?

  9. I think these are loaded and ambiguous words: exceptional, special. In one sense humans are not exceptional, being made of matter like everything else. In another, they are exceptional, bearers of a subjectivity that is sui generis as far as we know. Sliding surrepttiously from one sense to another generates the sort of mind-numbing seeming paradoxes that constitute the armature of OOO and its “dark” doctrines.

    • If ‘in once sense’, humans are matter and are therefore not exceptional, then that one sense isn’t important, since everything is matter – or energy – and noone was ever claiming that humans weren’t matter or energy. So they are exceptional – exceptional as matter – and there’s nothing loaded or ambiguous about that term, since it designates the exception in matter. The exception being that humans don’t behave as all other matter does, and the source of that exception to behaviour is subjectivity, which isn’t merely sense perception or sentience in the animal form… This is what’s so timid about those who try to defend against ‘misanthropism’, since you’ve got to really point out even in ‘realist’ terms, humans are exceptional, and to argue otherwise is bad faith.

      • Yes, that humans are matter is a banality, and the real anthropodecentric shock came with Darwin. The subjective exception is no mere emergence to be accomodated within a unified scientific worldview, but that which generates the worldview that may attempt to explain it. As Belhaj Kacem points out ants may have something like a worldview, one can always argue in favour of such an idea, why not? But ants do not have paradigm change, they do not undergo the sort of shift that humanity goes through in transitions for example from a Newtonian to an Einsteinian perspective. “Subjectivity” is itself a loaded word, leading to the sort of ambiguity that OOO likes to exploit. Extending the meaning of subjectivity to cover ants and even rocks may or may not make sense, but even if it did it would amount to giving universal extension to a banalised sense of subjectivity. Once one understands the meaning of the terms involved OOO’s air of great stride forward disappears in a puff of smoke.

  10. I doubt I’d want to allow the idea of ants having a ‘worldview’, nor that they might have perspective. there’s no evidence of it, strictly. And it’s not something to concede, as if this was an act of speculative generosity without consequences. I’d argue that subjectivity is uniquely human, since it consists of the process of recognising oneself as subject, and projecting this – re-presenting this – in some material form, be it the making of images, remodelling of matter, or language. There is simply no way in which such processes of representation and return are commensurate with other forms. As you say, to ‘extend’ subjectivity is a way of denigrating it.
    What seems much missing from discussions (though point me in the right direction if its not), is much theorising of the dynamic between experience, conscious modelling (imagination producing a model of the world) and material action, as a characteristic of human subjectivity. That human action is integrally part of human subjectivity seems to pass much philosophically-inclined debate by. That consciousness isn’t a passive state, to which things happen, but an active state which happens to things also…

  11. ‘The Proactionary Imperative’ (book) with all its talk of “hedgenetic funds” sounds like a perfect recipie for ‘Right Accelerationism’

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