Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Dipesh Chakrabarty Liveblog 7


We must think in terms of ecology without nature.
Animal Planet happens in a box; but we are in that same box!
Aboriginal stories; there is a much greater acknowledgement of life and death in the stories of humans.  The Dingo that kills the bird, which makes the land ocher through its blood.
Ancient religions are interesting in that they put the human in the story of eating, killing, bloodletting.
Somewhere in human history we moved away from that.
Islamic philosophy: discussion on man in the Koran. God is compassionate as he left us with all this food. If you posit humans as facing nature then God becomes the third term who has put these two things together for us to enjoy. In the Aboriginal stories we are part of what goes on.
Not watching from outside the box, but being inside the box.
So when do we begin to think we are outside the box? That is a crucial question.
One strand goes into early modernity.
Then Islam tells us this is much older.

Q: The three-generation-forwards generation counts for me as a person. But it's hard to think as a historian.
A: Archer is trying to extend to the future that we have extended to the past. Understanding that is built into humanist history is the same one that Archer and Hansen are appealing to. How do I bring into the grasp of my understanding something that may not seem as urgent, even three generations out? I think of my retirement savings, I think business as usual. In some ways we are not outside the structure, but part of it.

Q: The self-understanding as species not available in experience. How might we theorize that? 
A: This is a very rich vein in theology. God as not available. But I came into this through Provincializing Europe. Something in me was wanting to hold on to one history of humanity, just speaking to another human being. I was reading Heidegger. Phenomenology speaks of a human being unmarked, but the core category is experience. You can see that the philosophy of experience is modeled on conceptualizing the human as individual-like. Da-sein has mortality etc.
So fundamentally the fact that individuals are finite is a building block for ontology. And species is a classificatory category. In Aristotle's Logic etc. It can be exemplified not just by humanity but by any species. So you can't write life history without species history. It's cognitively available to us. So I'm puzzled when Wilson says we must develop self-undestanding as species.
(ME: species as a strange stranger, as a kind of collective Da-sein...OOO)
When I put pressure on it in my own head, I find that you have to make it like something: simile, metaphor. You need those things.
(Species as uncanny: we contain other species etc. and there are no rigid or thin boundaries)
(Otherwise you are left with a kind of upgraded essentialism and metaphysics of presence)
This raises the question of humanism.
The notion that we are one. You can't name them: the spread of the last 4000 years is tiny.
Q: I think of Heidegger.
A: Marx begins with a distinction between tool and tech. But Heidegger thinks of tech as a mark of human alienation. But Wilson etc. sees a continuum from the chimp to us. Biologists are ignorant of Heidegger. I'm more with Lovelock that we should throw everything at it including tech. We should buy time. But philosophically I'm not as anti tech as Heidegger.

Q: Finding new metaphors. Some humanistic function that is outside of the temporal logic that is part of the problem. And how do historians think temporality?
A: I'm trying to think simultaneously on two sides of a disjunction. The figure of the human who is rights bearing and has capacities etc. who is sensitive to justice, is the figure that might make it very difficult for humanity to become a political category. But we can never escape this figure, because given our finitude we are biologically driven to this. Maybe we can separate our fascination with this figure from everything we intellectually mean by the human. Evolutionary problems: pelvis, back, etc. have something to do with that history. The crisis is of such a nature that when you read the "useless" science of it, it brings to the fore that long term history which will always come out forgotten and relegated to the background. I'm not going to force my students to become sociobiologists. But the crisis is urgently productive of literatures such as Archer and Hansen. That creates a ground, an opportunity to inform ourselves of this history, to reflect back on the disjuncture of the two fields. Awareness of the disjuncture is the humanist predicament. Here we can contribute something.
Edward Wilson, The Social Conquest of Earth: now is the time for sci and humanities to come together. He doesn't know enough humanities to know how.
I see the crisis of generative of new creative endeavors. All universities are tuning to it--c.f. Environmental Humanities in Australia.

Q: problem of dualism in world religions. Eschatological resources and time frames. Is a dialog with religion a good idea?
A: Buddhism is surely one religion that could help!
I am also reminded of a lecture by Tagore in 1930. Influenced by that tradition, and also evolutionary science. Chapter on this: interesting sentence--“different peaks of the same mountain range”--we have to learn to see humanity in the perspective of the infinite. The sublime. Geological sublime for us. Archer: rhetoric of humility. We must deal with the question of scale. Historians write history on the same scale, roughly. The incommensurability issue appears.
What we do in most classrooms is just 200 years. “Prehistory,” archaeology: you then go 5000 years at a time. But there are people on this planet for whom these questions of scale are already operative. Aboriginals came to Australia 60 000 years ago. In societies that have secreted documents, we have been lucky to think that our recorded history is rich enough in itself to give a long sense of ourselves.
Charles Taylor: ancient religions, before the axial religions. These are important. You actually get a longer scale. A human capacity to see themselves as part of life and death.

Q: how recent legal changes in Bolivia, where they gave rights to mother Earth, and how that fits in, work.
A: It's an interesting experiment. It anthropocizes all these things. The moment you give them rights, you need spokesmen. You need someone to file a case. How will it play out?

Q: using ancient religions. This may also offer a way to think about the scale of society.
A: certain things might be lost, but this indeed might contribute to changing our knowledge! But at the same time, I think that--the hunch I'm working with is that, if you think climate change as a big problem, there is a challenge to you as a practitioner of history to rethink the fundamentals of your discipline. How you do it for history I have some sense of. But not for Anthropology, etc. Histories of energy consumption. I was first a labor historian. Labor history is embedded in questions of freedom. We can now build a Taj Mahal without humans because of cheap energy. This is deeply tied to the question of freedom, freedoms that we value. There is a disjuncture.

Even when we think about nuclear energy and so on, we think in terms of what is it for me? But the temporal scales are not commensurable with the problem. But unless we somehow find a way to bridge the divide, the danger of undemocratic resolution, of a Hobbesian resolution is immense. Powerful people will come along and impose solutions. What I truly fear is a more militarized future. I can't believe a new tech will not contribute to warfare. In the name of humanity!

How do my activities express how I am in the middle of this disjuncture?

Q: alliance of useless humanist and useless scientist. The scale demands a rapprochement. Faculties of understanding and reason: appealing to it and expressing the concerns. Where do you see the dialog between sciences and humanities becoming most fruitful? I was surprised you went to metaphors. I thought you wanted us to delve more deeply into the empirical. Rather than leveraging our poetic imagination.
A: The thing is, when a big crisis happens, people are going to be discovery animals. Impact of relativity on painters. Misuse of science happens, creatively. This is not happening in a disciplined manner. What is emerging is an undisciplined conversation. Archer doesn't know he's speaking like a humanist. And when DC pointed this out, this was of no consequence to him. But what DC sees is that this conversation is emerging, still very one sided.

If you want to enter the conversation, you have to read. You have to go through the footnotes. William McNeil, historian of the environment. Or Alfred Crosby. They use words that speak to human experience: invasion, conquest. They are talking about chemicals! In nature there is no drama. There can only be human drama. But all these words have to come in. (Ah, me: this is where I beg to differ...BUT--see the next point! This is pretty good!).

And then...

Heidegger seminar on Heraclitus: question of steering. Is lightning inside or outside everything? Just a few years before Heidegger's death, he raises DNA: think of DNA. In the use of the word slave to describe worker bees. Is DNA driven slavery the same that the one that is imposed from outside? Problem of ambiguity that biology can't get out of. This is a deep problem in biology. Constantly drawing on human experience to speak of something that is blind to it. They find the word to be the nearest to human behavior.

We have created a problem that is blind to our dramas.

Q: is the policy process about making the timescales commensurable?
A: Let's look at the trade off between growth and abatement of CO2 conversation. In this discussion, there is a need to find a middle: a mean during which growth happens--there is no discussion of what CO2 does to the oceans, the food chain, etc. This is completely kept out of the document.

Q: How as humanists we can understand self-destructive impulse of the species in this larger context.
A: I have not read anything in biology about this kind of thing. They would argue that tribalism is inherent to other beings--thus we create dwellings that we defend. That is wired into DNA.

Wilson assumes that cognitive rationality makes us more rational. But this is disproved in everyday life. The disjuncture is the difference between contingency and probability. You feel ambushed: you get AIDS and think why me? Probability on the other hand, is the currency of the long term scientists.

The species biologically has no personality. Any species is extremely present focused. It's possible that the sheer survival mechanisms make us short term focused. Some argue that we won't do much about climate change until it's all over us.

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