“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Friday, February 15, 2013

Biosynthesis: Same as It Ever Was

Just wrote this for Volume. Here is the basic argument:
This essay is a caution against the notion that we are indeed about to enter a “brave new world”—a thought that has defined the human as such for about five hundred years. The concept of “next nature” precisely (though unconsciously) states the paradox: what is being thought here is simply a “new and improved” version of the same old thing, a repetition. How well has that been working out for the last two hundred years, namely the inception of the Anthropocene? The Anthropocene, in case we need reminding, is the radical intersection of human and geological time that began with the inception of the steam engine in the later eighteenth century. Since then, humans have deposited a layer of carbon in Earth's crust that is now found in deep lakes and within Arctic ice. The term Anthropocene was recently ratified by an international consortium of geologists.

Before I suture gizmos to my flesh, I think a re-examination of what being human—qua this actual entity, called homo sapiens—is, is in order. Especially in light of the fact that knowledge now operates on a 100 000 year time scale (the amortization rate of global warming), well beyond the efficacy of a fluorescent tree. On the other hand, the knee-jerk reaction against the biosynthetic is just as problematic, though one can surely understand the impulse. It is the impulse of the Luddite, who quite realistically decides that the best first response to a machine that can take over her livelihood is to attempt to destroy it. The reaction is problematic, because I do not want to go down the rabbit hole we have already gone down—the rabbit hole called modernity, which is marked by industry on the one hand, and philosophies that swim in the wake of Hume and Kant on the other. This essay will all too briefly work out a map for a possibility space that includes more than simply accepting or bluntly denying biosynthesis, which just is the culmination of a certain trajectory of modernity.

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