La comunidad de los espectros, I: Antropotecnia: Epilogue

My translation of Fabián Ludueña Romandini‘s monograph La comunidad de los espectros, I: Antropotecnia (The Community of Specters: Anthropotechnics) is in progress. I hope to have a completed draft by the end of AY 2019-2020. Here’s another excerpt.

Epilogue (pp. 217-225)

Zoopolitics: the Sixth Extinction and the spectral analytic

“A zoo is a better window from which to look out of the human world than a monastery.” J. G.

In the course of this research, we wanted to show that human history has always been co-originarily zoopolitical – not because human politics intends to artificially separate zoé from bios, bare life from the good life, but, quite simply, because there is no originary cut (in the form of an exclusionary inclusion) between animal life and human life. The human world begins essentially with the politicization of life, since what is called Homo sapiens is only an animal, self-equipped with anthropotechnologies designed to shape, to domesticate, to model, and even (preferably) to dominate its own constitutive animality, as well as that of its fellow creatures. The mystery of political science lies not so much in explaining the cleavage between vegetative life and human life, but in accounting for how and why the autopoeisis of the human animal acquires, precisely, the form of an anthropotechnology – one which, for whatever reason and by some complex alchemy, transforms itself into a technology of dominion.

In this sense, the original model of the ius exponendi is the inextricable bedrock that still forms the basis of our zoopolitical present. However, while the ancient world could maintain a separation between the technology of law and the world of life it sought to capture, Christianity produced an unprecedented revolution in “normativizing” biological life. It did this by introducing a form of messianism the result of which was the fusion or hybridization of the domain of the law and the substratum of life. From this perspective, the sovereignty of classical law was progressively, inevitably invaded and altered by an exogenous, radically alien legal form that was able to grow in the shadow of the survival of ancient forms of Roman law.

If today it is possible to point out a frenetic advance of the mechanisms of the “juridical exception,” this is because Christian messianism opened up a new political space where law and life become progressively indistinguishable. However, this legal shift took place not only in the domain of life but also, fundamentally, in the mythical domain of the supernatural and, ultimately, in the domain of death itself. In this sense, Christianity captured the world and populated it with specters. Western politics cannot be fully understood unless it is in the form of a spectrology. Only a political science able to analyze the political space opened up by this constitution of a spectral community will be up to the task of understanding of our present. Therefore, any consequent analysis of zoopolitics necessarily implies an account of the spectral dimension with which it is associated – and without which the political horizon becomes unintelligible. In this sense, the specter encounters its most adequate locus at the center of the secret clause that sealed the social contract the moderns signed with their Leviathan.

It is impossible to think about escaping from every type of technology of power. It is possible, instead, to think about alternatives to the technologies of domination. The human animal has deployed a panoply of anthropotechnologies to constitute itself, its own species and its ecosystemic and civilizational environment. As with every behavior found in the animal kingdom, no achievement of the animal Homo sapiens can be conceived outside a certain horizon provided by the technologies of power. It is useless to think that, in the past, the situation was any better – this is a form of historical deception – and it would be deeply naive to think that the future will bring about the end of the will to seize control of those anthropotechnological forms lending themselves toward domination.

Paleobiologists have shown how, approximately 42,000 years ago, Homo sapiens migrated from its place of origin in East Africa to the geographical area we now know as Asia. When they arrived, however, they discovered they were not alone. The territory was occupied by a numerically larger community of so-called Neanderthals. Today it seems an almost indisputable fact for experts that both kinds of hominid lived together for millennia, even producing a genetic hybridization of which we are still the heirs [1]. However, at some point, the Neanderthals disappeared from the face of the earth.

Specialists still debate the reason why, 30,000 or 25,000 years ago, the last Neanderthals disappeared from the earth’s ecosystem without leaving any further traces. Although there is no established agreement [2] (and many think that, perhaps, climate change was the cause of their extinction, despite the enormous resilience this human evolutionary line had to inclemencies of this type), one of the major explanations – and, perhaps, the most disturbing – proposes that Neanderthals simply were exterminated by members of the genus Homo sapiens.

Although the philosophical tradition has often pretended otherwise, the birth of language was not a romantic event taking place at the edge of a luminous Lichtung that makes the human world possible. When language happened to the human, it brought with it even more extreme and refined forms of anthropotechnical domination that improved the bio-social advantage of Homo sapiens compared to its rival, Neanderthalensis. Perhaps this produced a struggle for territory and food that ended with Homo sapiens relentlessly hunting the Neanderthals to extinction. No conclusive evidence proves that this happened, but there may never be conclusive evidence in either direction. However, even if this event were only a kind of paleontological “just-so story,” once again it shows clearly that humans think of the first foundational political act – that is, the seizure of land – as a eugenic act of eliminating weaker populations. The nomos of the earth is also zoopolitical by nature.

In any case, whether or not Homo sapiens was responsible for the elimination of the Neanderthals, the truth is, given the appearance of a new niche, the ascendent human animal completely conquered its environment. This resulted in the extinction of many species of mammals upon which humans fed previously as hunter-gatherers. This ecological catastrophe – the first confirmed zoopolitical act of extermination of other species by humans – led to the development of the first techniques of artificially intervening in natural space – that is to say, agriculture. With agriculture came human settlements, which begins a historical sequence we are still trying to understand. When humans became hunters, they began to annihilate entire species. When they became farmers, they began to change the entire planet irreversibly. Due to the exponential increase of anthropotechnologies – and technics tout court – the human today has come to the edge of the abyss with respect to its ability to destroy completely the Lichtung that once gave rise to it.

In 1955, Claude Lévi-Strauss published Tristes Tropiques, perhaps one of his most lucidly nostalgic and pessimistic books [3]. Throughout its pages, the anthropologist records his travels and delivers an authentic philosophy of both the evolution of the human species and the very task of the anthropologist. His conclusions are not exactly encouraging for those who advocate the indefinite expansion of Homo sapiens: “The world began without man and will end without him. The institutions, morals, and customs that I shall have spent my life noting down and trying to understand are the transient efflorescence of a creation in relation to which they have no meaning, except perhaps that of allowing mankind to play its part in creation [4].”

At this point, Lévi-Strauss proposes a historical theory in which ecological dynamics completely interpenetrate those spaces traditionally defined as “cultural”: “From the time when he first began to breathe and eat, up to the invention of atomic and thermonuclear devices, by way of the discovery of fire – and except when he has been engaged in self-reproduction – what else has man done except blithely break down billions of structures and reduce them to a state in which they are no longer capable of integration?” (413) Of course, this law governs the entire world of human creations: “No doubt he has built towns and cultivated the land; yet, on reflection, urbanization, and agriculture are themselves instruments intended to create inertia, at a rate and in a proportion infinitely higher than the amount of organization they involve. As for the creations of the human mind, their significance only exists in relation to it, and they will merge into the general chaos, as soon as the human mind has disappeared” (ibid.).

The universe and the human world are but a continuum bound by the same cosmic law of irreversible entropy. At such a point Lévi-Strauss’s conviction leads him to declare: “Anthropology could with advantage be changed into ‘entropology,’ as the name of the discipline concerned with the study of the highest manifestations of this process of disintegration” [5] (414).

Said in terms other than those of Lévi-Strauss, the politicization of life that gave rise to the historical evolution of the human animal – along with the complex anthropotechnologies that have extended so far as to dominate the environment completely, making it progressively more and more technical, inevitably artificial and human – leads only to a route of egress out of biosystemic saturation: the mass extinction of Homo sapiens and the consequent development of a new living ecosystem that will completely dispense with humanity [6] until, in upcoming eons, the universe itself disintegrates completely. In this sense, we can see both the gravitas and an alternative possible meaning of the mythologeme of the end of history and of man, one unforeseen by the philosophers committed to Hegelian metaphysical optimism.

In effect, the project we defend here moves away, in its fundamental premises, from the Hegelian-Kojèvian vision of the “end of history” – and the consequent “end of man” – to the extent that such a project, as one of the major philosophers of our time points out, presupposes an eschatological, teleological vision and an ontotheology of the “we” as the unit of absolute knowledge and of anthropology, of God and of man. (It is worth noting that the atheist variants of this perspective do not introduce any substantial modification to what is at issue.) On the contrary, here we depart from all these premises in the explanation of the anthropogenic process and opt, for that reason, to use the term anthropotechnologies.

Since political messianism (or, despite all its good intentions, “messianicity”) is not the solution to the problem but, on the contrary, an acceleration of the very process it seeks to reverse (what is messianism but a kind of entropy voluntarily introduced into the law that leads, not to the emancipation of the community, but to unusual, teratological mutations of its nature?), the end of zoopolitics, on this account, can only coincide with the end of the existence of the human species on earth.

From this perspective, the task of philosophy is not to direct an attack on theology but, on the contrary, to constitute itself as an autonomous discourse able to explain the world objectively. In a certain sense, modern and contemporary philosophy never stopped being, to no small extent, the “handmaiden of theology,” which always protests against the Name of the Father. Indeed, it is absolutely ineffectual to dedicate oneself to the various projects of “atheology” currently afield given that Christianity is precisely the religion that postulates “the death of God” as its central mythologeme and as the form of its implementation as the predominant anthropotechnology.

The more the death of God gets declared, the more the world becomes Christianized to its very last corners. Of course, this does not mean that there was a transition from a Jewish religion of transcendence to a religion of immanence (thanks to the gnostic contribution that Christianity absorbed, thereby negating it). In fact, the very distinction between transcendence and immanence as separable, though interconnected, fields is the result of a theologico-juridical operation performed upon the discourse of ancient philosophy – a far more complex operation than it appears at first glance. Therefore, if a critique of the absolutism of transcendence does not, on its own, serve as the royal road to philosophy, then neither is the critique of immanence, especially given that both instances play a particular but complementary role in the Christian mythology. At this point, the philosophy to come must completely rethink the forms of these categories of transcendence, immanence and the absolute.

The radical transhumanists we have studied in this book, as well as many biotechnologists and specialists in AI, have a more optimistic view of the future of the human given that, ultimately, they think technologies will develop exponentially with sufficient speed before we reach the critical point of our extinction and, consequently, that the process can be reversed, that anthropotechnologies will be refined to unforeseeable degrees, and, ultimately, that the ante will be raised and the universe will be colonized in its entirety.

However, as noted, the whole project of many of the posthumanists rests, paradoxically, on strictly humanistic assumptions. Given that when the moment comes – always just around the corner – and machines develop self-awareness, this self-awareness will be modeled entirely according to the human predecessor giving rise to it. The philosophical background of this position is still endorsed by thinkers like Peter Sloterdijk, who can announce the death of “classical humanism” [7] while simultaneously holding that “one has to become a cybernetician to remain a humanist.” Here, then, we do not pursue Sloterdijk’s stake any further in his search for a “technohumanistic” culture, given that, even admitting the eventual possibility of a world of intelligent machines, there is no reason to think that, after they develop some kind of consciousness, it should be “human” in its forms.

If any machinic consciousness ever awakens (and this presumptuous observation already implies that there is a clear philosophical understanding of what is called consciousness – although we are far from such a thing), what this consciousness will be like is completely unknown. One can perhaps speak of a new species completely detached from its predecessor, the human animal. At that point, another version of the end of zoopolitics would have appeared, as will the start of a technopolitical world – in the strict sense implied by this phrase – in which, probably, there will be little room for human beings, who could quickly join the list of candidates for extinction. Indeed, in this second scenario, there is no reason to suppose some kind of necessary continuity between life that develops from the compounds of biochemistry and life deriving entirely from a synthetic origin. It is not even certain the words “life” or “politics” could be retained as the common denotative forms of the ontological condition of beings of language, who would thereby have to expand their ranks to include cyber-intelligences.

Developments in the anthropotechnologies coincide with the very process of hominization and with the history of the species up to its most complex contemporary formations. Zoopolitics has existed at least since the human animal was confronted with the Lichtung. If an anthropotechnology can be conceived that does not become a technology of domination – and which, at the same time, abandons the illusion of transcending the animal that we are at the end of surrendering to the project of manufacturing what is called “the human” – we would encounter mutations in the technics of autopoeisis of our species. Anthropotechnologies would no longer be anthropotechnologies precisely, but, rather, technologies modeling a nonhuman type of being, capable of authentically exploring the possibilities of a world that exists outside of human consciousness, a world filled with external sensibilia and pure “objects.” In this sense, epistemology should be completely redefined so that, as with ethical life, it is capable of accounting both for the principle of internal non-identity that governs both the world of the spirit and the absolute objectivity of the nonhuman world.

A double intensification is possible to explore the inhumanity of the once-human animal: on the one hand, the philosophical knowledge of the physical world (in both the Aristotelian and the modern sense [8]) and, on the other hand, the understanding of the extra-human processes that underlie the dimension of thinking and that should not be confused with any pre-individual instance as a deficient form of subjectivity. At this point, a spectral analytics will be a first possible way to begin to enter that pathway in a future investigation. Within a similar project, the notion of survival must play a role of first order, although here we are giving a very different sense than that acquired in the Derridean tradition, although, on the other hand, it will preserve an agonistic relationship with it [9].

This does not imply, of course, any access to a messianic paradise of “use,” or to an ethics that guarantees the impossibility of all domination over the zoe. Perspectives of this kind imply an optimism to which there is no reason to adhere. The technologies applied to life have been, and will continue to be, the path that Homo will travel. In this sense, zootechnics, understood here as the various forms of intervention on the bio-ethical and political evolution of Homo‘s own animal life, will be impossible to stop and define, in this sense, an ineluctable path. Similarly, nothing guarantees that the natural world in its organic unity reserves any safe haven for Homo (can the assumption of the efficacy of a naturalistic ethics be taken for granted?). Likewise, the fact that this zootechnical dimension originating from Homo is not resolved in a possible future entirely in an anthropo-technology, as has been the case up to the present, does not imply any reinsurance against the technologies of domination. One can easily conceive of an “impersonal” world that is a nightmare, as well as a nonhuman world that awakens nostalgia for the ancient world of Homo sapiens.

No anomic ethic of the wandering life will ever be sufficient to prevent the technologies of power inherent in the zootechnical evolution of Homo from becoming an instrument of subjection. No affirmative biopolitics will suffice either, whether it is conceived as a step back towards an animality that we otherwise never cease to be, or if it is thought of as a flight forward, focusing hopes on the fusion of biological life with various technological forms. In all cases, the hazards will multiply, and the risks will increase.

The technico-biological, economic, and sociopolitical changes that humanity may undergo in a future that considers as possible everything from changing the species of individuals to exogenous or endogenous extinction (whether caused by nature, or self-inflicted) will always imply a multiplication or, at least, a substantial mutation of the technologies of power. Therefore, the need to philosophize is the only tool available, albeit a temporary and fragmentary one, to access some kind of outside to power.

Even if it is possible to think that philosophy is not only an activity proper to humans, but a special form of directionality of the living that has the potential to transcend its own substrate of origin and take place wherever there is thought, it is an authentic philosophical task (with all the risks that this implies) to explore on a completely new basis the space of the living as well as the inert, the organic as well as the inorganic. Is it, perhaps, necessary to abandon also the last prejudice in favor of the living? Are the living, perhaps, the last living refuge of traditional ontotheology?

This book, which began as a philosophical exploration of the historical pathways of some of the archetypes constituting the human world, must end by abandoning history in order to emerge, at last and in all its uncertainty, into a non-anthropic space.

[1] Duron, R., “Neanderthals may have interbred with humans,” in Nature, 20 April 2010.
[2] Cf. Stringer, C., Davies, W. “Those elusive Neanderthals,” in Nature, 413, October 2001, pp. 791-792.
[3] Cf. a beautiful and important commentary to this effect in Hartog, F., Anciens, Modernes, Sauvages, Paris, 2005, pp. 11-22.
[4] Lévi-Strauss, C., Tristes Tropiques, Paris, 1955 (Castilian Spanish edition: Tristes Trópicos, Barcelona, 1988, pp. 466-467). [NOTE: After consulting the original French text, I reproduce quotations unaltered from Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques, trans. John Weightman (New York: Penguin, 2012), 413.] [5] Lévi-Strauss, C., Tristes Tropiques…, op. cit., p. 467.
[6] Boulter, M., Extinction: Evolution and the End of Man, New York, 2002.
[7] For the foundations of this project, cf. Sloterdijk, P., Nicht gerettet. Versuche nach Heidegger, Frankfurt a. M., 2001. [In English, see Peter Sloterdijk, Not Saved: Essays after Heidegger (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2017).] [8] In this sense, cf. Coccia, E., La vida sensible, Buenos Aires, 2010. [In English, see Emanuele Coccia, Sensible Life: A Micro-Ontology of the Image, trans. Scott Stuart (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016).] [9] Cf. an initial sketch of the project in Ludueña Romandini, F., “Eternidad, espectralidad, ontologia: hacia una estética trans-objetual”, in Badiou, A., Pequeño Manual de Inestética, Buenos Aires, 2009, pp. 9-39.