Pieter Lemmens and Yuk Hui — Apocalypse, Now! Peter Sloterdijk and Bernard Stiegler on the Anthropocene

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Scorched land created by slash-and-burn farming practices. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

by Pieter Lemmens and Yuk Hui

‘You really take no account of what happens to us. When I talk to young people of my generation, who are about two or three years older or younger than me, they all say the same: we no longer have the dream to found a family, to have children, or a profession, or ideals, like you did when you were teenagers. That’s all over, because we are sure that we will be the last generation, or one of the last, before the end’

The Shock of the Anthropocene

In the above quote from the novel L’Effondrement du temps by the anonymous writer collective L’impansable, the fifteen year-old Florian addresses the current generation of politicians and more generally of adults responsible for our world and its future (L’impansable 2006). The French philosopher Bernard Stiegler has recently quoted this statement in many of his talks and it also features prominently in his new book Dans la disruption. Comment ne pas devenir fou? (In the disruption – how not to become mad? Stiegler 2016). Florian’s remark reveals a strong sense of melancholia about the arrival of the end. For Stiegler, this is not simply rhetoric. In an interview with the French Newspaper Le Monde on 19 November 2015, shortly after the Paris attacks, Stiegler confesses that “I can no longer sleep during the night, not because of the terrorists but because of worries that my children will no longer have any future” (Stiegler 2015a). What makes Stiegler so sad, and even so pessimistic about the current situation?

As we see it, Stiegler is not exaggerating, but rather telling the truth. It is true that he has been accused of being a pessimist, because of his statements on the future of work, automation, editorialisation, etc. The general excitement about technological developments may give the impression that the world is moving towards a brighter posthumanist or transhumanist future. Many scholars working on technology tend to be easily satisfied with the phenomena emerging out of the new digital infrastructures and hence disregard a fierce critique of technology as a gesture of a Neo-Frankfurt School. Stiegler calls this attitude dénégation (denial). In his new book, Stiegler puts Florian’s accusation on a par with the shocking revelations of global “whistleblowers” like Edward Snowden, Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning and Julian Assange and he characterizes it as a parrhesia in the sense made famous by the French philosopher Michel Foucault, i.e., as a “frank and free” saying things as they are, or in other words a frank and courageous speaking of the truth. In this case, the truth of our time is a truth to which, according to Stiegler, virtually everyone prefers to close their eyes since it is too traumatic, inconceivable and appalling. It speaks not just about the possible but even the rather likely and imminent end of humanity, or at least of human civilization as we know it.

What is this truth of our time? Perhaps one can start with its causes, which are multiple: the global climate and ecological crisis, resource depletion, military development, digital industrialization and a runaway consumerism accelerating daily through the intense exploitation of people’s attention and desires – there is a whole range of phenomena that seem to inevitably lead towards an apocalyptic end. If we are not able to reverse these destructive trends, humanity may soon confront its own extinction. The principal task and first duty of philosophy today, according to Stiegler, is to give a response to the parrhesia of Florian. Let’s start by introducing the subject of the Anthropocene and the scientific debates related to it. Many climate scientists[1] talk about a large-scale shift imminent in the Earth’s biosphere whose consequences will be unpredictable but in all likelihood catastrophic, especially if nations do not get together quickly to steer the “anthropogenic impacts” on the biosphere in a more beneficial direction. This mega- or ultra-wicked problem (as it is called in policy circles) is arguably the essence as well as the urgency of what has recently become known as the “Anthropocene”. This term was introduced in 2000 by the Dutch climate scientist and atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen to identify the new geological era that in his view we have entered at least since the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century (Crutzen 2002). As his now widely accepted hypothesis stated, “the human” (anthropos in Greek) or at least a certain part of humanity has become the most important geological (f)actor, having more impact on the state of the biosphere than all natural factors together. The human has thereby become de facto and willy-nilly responsible for the biosphere and by implication for its own future fate.

The so-called “great acceleration” that started after World War II is considered to be responsible for finally bringing about what French historians Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz have called “the shock of the Anthropocene” (Bonneuil and Fressoz 2016): the world-wide dawning of humanity’s largely destructive impact on its own planetary life-support system. The predictions of the consequences of this for humanity in the short and long run vary, but even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), known to represent the rather cautious mainstream view, has been forced to continually adjust its forecasts to more gloomy outcomes. The most extreme predictions, like those of the American ecologist Guy McPherson, foresee a near-term human extinction event within three decades (McPherson 2013).

We would like to address the Anthropocene from both a philosophical and a political perspective. The former concerns the existence and responsibility of humans; the latter the political struggle that we must amplify. The term Anthropocene is ambivalent, since on the one hand, it leads to the illusion that man is back in the center, as one of the scientific researchers remarked during a recent conference entitled “How to think the Anthropocene?[2]”. The researcher proudly stated for the first time after the Copernican revolution, “man” has rediscovered her/his centrality. On the other hand, this revolution is responsible for global warming, the widespread destruction of ecosystems and the alarming loss of biodiversity that some authors (like Elizabeth Kolbert) have called the “sixth mass extinction”, caused this time by human beings themselves (Kolbert 2014). In other words, if it is responsible for putting “man” back in the center, it might also lead to her/his destruction.

But what does this “geological event” of the Anthropocene really mean? Some geologists, or authors who are aligned with the thinking of “deep time”, see the Anthropocene as an insignificant event in comparison to the hundreds of millions years of geological history. The earth is in a constant process of destruction and reconstruction, the extinction of a species is one of those contingent events that carry no significance to the life of the earth. We may want to call this attitude, exemplified for instance in the work of the Dutch geophysiologist Peter Westbroek, geo-centrism or geo-reductionism (Westbroek 1992). The problem is not that such authors are wrong concerning earth science, but rather that they are right; in fact, they are so correct about it that they don’t see the problem.

Marxist authors like Jason Moore, Maurizio Lazzarato and Christian Parenti argue that we should talk about the Capitalocene instead of the Anthropocene since it is not so much “the human” as the capitalist mode of production that is to be held responsible for the current devastation and exhaustion of the Earth’s biosphere (Moore 2016). Like Slavoj Žižek, they promote a more class-oriented view, re-interpreting the Anthropocene as the result of capitalism’s way of organizing nature in the case of Moore, who situates the Anthropocene’s  beginning not in the 18th century but in the long 16th century of primitive accumulation and the large-scale land-grabbing by budding capitalists known as the “enclosure of the commons” (Moore 2015). McKenzie Wark, another Marxist author who is nonetheless critical about the notion of the capitalocene (Wark 2015a), develops a “labor perspective” on the epic challenge of the Anthropocene, one that is inspired by the work of early Soviet authors Alexander Bogdanov and Andrey Platonov and feminist theorist Donna Haraway and Californian writer Kim Stanley Robinson (Wark 2015b).

Many authors contest the term Anthropocene also because it suggests the existence of one unitary subject, “the human” or “humanity”, which would be responsible for the current crisis. However, as the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk jokingly remarked in a recent public debate with Stiegler in Nijmegen in the Netherlands on the 27th of June (Sloterdijk and Stiegler 2016), sending an e-mail to humanity@planet.earth will inevitably yield a delivery failure message: “the human” or “humanity” does not exist. It is also obvious that some parts of humanity, like those belonging to the rich and affluent societies of the West, are much more “guilty” than, say, those fractions who live in the so-called developing world, the cruel fact being that the latter are generally much more affected by the devastating consequences of climate change than the former (in India for instance temperatures have been rising to a sweltering 51 degrees Celsius and many people are expected to die due to extreme heat and drought) (Wyke 2016).

In his 1979 book The Principle of Responsibility, the German philosopher Hans Jonas already warned for the danger of humanity’s self-destruction due to its immense technological power and ability to destroy the planet (Jonas 1985). Jonas called for a new ecological ethic of responsibility and thereby proved himself to be an Anthropocenic thinker avant la lettre. His book was published at the onset of the so-called neoliberal revolution which swept away virtually every environmental policy that had gradually gained more support in the seventies and unleashed a global economic world war in the context of which we are all forced to compete against each-other—a war that is on a fatal collision course with the earthly ecosystem. The big question is whether, and how, we can reverse this process: how we can transform our hugely destructive impact on the earth into a more constructive and responsible one in order to avert the global catastrophe of which the current global crisis is only the prelude? As geobiologist Peter Ward put it in his book The Medea Hypothesis: ‘We are in a box. Ultimately it is a lethal box, a gas chamber or fryer, depending on how things work out. If we are to survive as a species, we will have to do a Houdini act’ (Ward 2015: 141).

Two Proposals for a Reversal: Neganthropocene and Co-immunization

What could be the response to the Anthropocene besides emphasizing responsibility? Or is there a more primary question still: who is responsible for what? Let us look at the diagnoses of two already mentioned thinkers who have both thought extensively about the human-technology relationship in recent decades: Peter Sloterdijk and Bernard Stiegler. Both offer some insights not only into the technological but also the historical and political, and even anthropological problem of the “shock of the Anthropocene”, which could be fundamentally understood as the consequence of neoliberal globalization of technology and capital.

Sloterdijk, who calls himself a “leftist conservative”, is gaining increased attention in the Anglophone world yet is still a relatively marginal figure in it (unlike many of his continental colleagues of the same age and stature). His philosophical perspective is decidedly Nietzschean yet he is also very much influenced by Heidegger, Foucault, Deleuze, and Lacan, as well as the German tradition of philosophical anthropology (for example, Arnold Gehlen, Max Scheler and Helmuth Plessner). He became instantly famous in Europe in 1983 with his explosive debut Critique of Cynical Reason in which he diagnosed the current Zeitgeist as one of “enlightened unhappy consciousness” (with obvious allusions to Hegel) and a systemic hyper-cynicism that he hoped to counter with a new form of non-intellectual, bodily, popular- plebeian, humorous-grotesque, dadaesque and explicitly low-brow “critique”, inspired mainly by the brilliantly shameless performances of Diogenes of Sinope. His was a “critique beyond critique” that he called “kynicism” (with a k) (Sloterdijk 1988).

While in this huge two-volume treatise Sloterdijk still presented himself as an heir of the tradition of critical theory of his principal teachers from the Frankfurt School, notably Adorno, Horkheimer and Bloch, he was clearly a very recalcitrant and ultimately rather unfaithful one. In his 1989 book Eurotaismus. Eine Kritik der politischen Kinetik, a thesis on the postmodern condition and its discontents, he largely exchanged the Frankfurt School for the “Freiburg School” and developed a Heidegger-inspired critique of modernity’s “total mobilization” in terms of a kinetic reinterpretation of the latter’s notion of releasement [Gelassenheit]. In the later chapters of this book he too proved himself to be an Anthropocenic thinker avant la lettre by pointing toward the fragility and finitude of the Earth as the base upon which human cultural-historical projects unfolded. He proclaimed that human culture would have to be increasingly responsible for its maintenance in the future, calling for a global ecological turn of the whole human endeavor (Sloterdijk 1989).

Yet it is only in his monumental Spheres trilogy from 1998-2004 (Sloterdijk 2004), a grand sphero-immunological reinterpretation of the evolution and history of humankind and all the religious and metaphysical systems it produced—in other words, a history that operates from the perspective of humans as self-immunizing creatures who are sphere-building, sphere-abiding and sphere-borne beings–, that Sloterdijk develops a philosophical anthropology that is able to fully account for the anthropocenic condition we are inescapably entering. In particular the post-holistic, plural spherology or polyspherology of co-isolationist co-existence that is developed in the third volume of Spheres titled Foams is eminently suited for considering the human condition in the age of the Anthropocene (Sloterdijk 2016a), as Sloterdijk’s friend Bruno Latour has justly remarked (Latour 2008).

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Bernard Stiegler started his academic career as a commentator of Martin Heidegger, more specifically on the question of technology in Heidegger’s thought. Unlike Sloterdijk, who takes the question of space and topology in Heidegger’s thought further and has suggested “Being and Space” as an alternative title for his Spheres-project, Stiegler’s work centers on the question of time and time’s relation to technology through what he calls tertiary retention, a notion that completes the circle of Husserl’s theory of retentions and protentions (Stiegler 1998). The tertiary retention is the technically captured trace as well as support of both primary retention (e.g. the melody that is retained in our mind) and secondary retention (e.g. the melody that we can recall tomorrow). For Stiegler the tertiary retention is a supplement as well as “exteriorization” of memory (in the words of French paleoanthropologist André Leroi-Gourhan) through which he attempts to re-read the history of European philosophy as a history of the suppression of the question of technics – as a response to Heidegger’s critique of the forgetting of the question of Being in Western metaphysics. The history of technology for Stiegler could be described as the history of grammatization, a term coined by the French historian and linguist Sylvain Auroux, in which the organic and inorganic organs are configured and reconfigured according to the progress of technological invention (e.g. alphabetic writing, analog writing, digital writing).

Stiegler, who became a philosopher when he was incarcerated in Toulouse for committing several armed bank robberies, is currently director of the Institute of Research and Innovation (IRI), an institute that he established in 2006 in the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and president of the lobby group ars industrialis. Best-known for his magnum opus Technics and Time, he has more recently dedicated himself to research on digital technologies as our new technical condition and he has developed what he calls a “general organology” (more on this below) to understand the effects on that condition of today’s consumerist capitalism (Stiegler 2010a). He has been a member of the national council for the digital in France. Stiegler’s politics consists in what he (following Plato and Derrida) calls the pharmacology of technology, namely the fact that technology is at the same time good and bad, remedy and poison. The politics of technology is to inhibit the toxicity in favor of the remedy. This also reveals his hope for the positive use of pharmakon as resistance against industrialization based on the exploitation of psycho-power, neuro-plastiticty and the capacity to take care of one’s self and of others (Stiegler 2010b).

Of course, the immediate decarbonization of our economies and a transformation to renewable energy sources should be our first imperative. It could also be the case, as some geologists suggest, that geo-engineering will solve some of the problems that those changes would also address (Steffen et al. 2011). Others propose so-called “third way technologies” for carbon capture to reduce the atmospheric burden of CO2 during the time that is needed for the transition to a carbon-free economy  (Flannery 2016). However, what we are now facing is much more than a geo-chemical problem; and indeed it would be naïve to believe that it is only a geological question. We are facing, rather, what Stiegler calls the “entropocene”: the becoming entropic (in the sense of a world-wide exhaustion and ruination) of the biosphere due to what he calls a generalized toxification of all the systems that make up the human habitat on this planet: economic, social, technical, psychological, financial, juridical, educational, etc. (Stiegler 2017). In his view, those systems are all conditioned by a technical milieu which has been massively annexed and exploited by the capitalist industry to promote an evermore nihilistic process of production and consumption that exclusively serves the goal of profit accumulation. Since the technical milieu also encompasses the Earth’s biosphere, this leads to a massive accumulation of entropy that has reached such a scale so as to profoundly disrupt the geochemical processes of the earth.

For Stiegler, humanity is an originally technical phenomenon that is made up of three different organ systems: the psychosomatic organs of human individuals; social organizations; and all kinds of technical organs (Stiegler 2014). Those three organ systems are intimately intertwined and evolve on the basis of changes in the technical organs. And these technical organs must be understood as compensations for an original lack of natural properties. Stiegler has developed the latter point with reference to the story that the sophist told in Plato’s Protagoras, in which the fire stolen by Prometheus is a compensation for the fault of Epimetheus, who forgot to give the human being any skill or property. Stiegler is critical of this compensation or what he also calls supplement. By taking up the concept of the pharmakon from Plato’s Phaedrus and Jacques Derrida’s “Plato’s Pharmacy” (Derrida 1981), he developed further what he calls a “pharmacology” of technology (Stiegler 2011). Technics are understood as pharmaka, i.e., both medicine and poison. New technologies, and one can think of the internet as a digital pharmakon, are initially always toxic and that is why they are in need of “therapies” which can turn the poison into a remedy. Politics, law, education, skill-based labor and professions are for Stiegler domains where such therapies can be developed (Stiegler 2013). Since technological innovation has been delegated totally to the market by neoliberalism and turned into a permanently accelerating process of “innovation for profit”, this therapeutic adoption of technology has become almost impossible, leaving only constant, frenetic, and increasingly blind adaptation. And this is for Stiegler the principal process behind the aggravation of the Anthropocene as entropocene.

An example that may allow readers to imagine how such an entropy is produced is the use of technical organs (e.g. social networks, smart phones, automations, drones, etc.) for marketing and consumerism, which consequently destroy the psycho-somatic organs, since they produce only a drive toward perpetual consumption and no longer cultivate desire and therapeutic investment in skills and objects –– one can think of the addiction to video games or the internet and how they lead to the collapse of established social organizations. That situation systematically diverts attention away from confronting our real situation on this planet. The restructuralization of the economy as exo-somatisation oriented around the digital attention economy, big data and what is called “algorithmic governance” are taking us ever further into the abyss of nihilism. And yet, the internet is potentially also the best instrument at hand for a collective care-taking of the Earth and its inhabitants on a global scale. In Stiegler’s For a New Critique of Political Economy (Stiegler 2010), one of the alternatives put forward is an “economy of contribution”, which proposes to develop technologies which serve the initiation of a new economy of real investment of desire and the fight against the drive-based economy of consumerism. If the drive-based economy ultimately leads to addiction, then the economy of contribution hopes to turn libido into investment. That conversion is fundamentally a question of care: taking care of oneself and others.

The entropocene marks the inability to construct such an economy of care and of libido. Instead, it leads and will continue to lead to the further spread of entropy. The anthropocene presents a global symptom, which cannot and must not be ignored as if it were simply a geological or a mere economical question. In 2015, the summer school of the Pharmakon academy–the philosophy school Stiegler started in 2010 in Epineuil in France–was dedicated to the “affirmation of a neganthropocene”. The neganthropocene argues for a new form of technological development that allows a so-called “bifurcation” – a radical change of direction in the sense of thermodynamics and seeks to produce qualitative differences for individuals as well as social groups. Recently, Stiegler has started a project with the Plaine Commune of Saint-Denis next to Paris to create what he calls a “truly smart city”, the realization of his philosophy for a new economy.

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Sloterdijk already provided a perceptive and prescient sketch of the global situation of humanity in the epoch of what is now called the Anthropocene in his 1989 treatise Eurotaoismus. Until the dawning of the planetary “limits to growth”, as the famous 1972 report on the discrepancy between global economic expansion and planetary resources issued by the Club of Rome was entitled, the Earth was conceived (and accordingly treated) by a modernizing and industrializing humanity exclusively as the backdrop and unlimited resource fund for its cultural-historical projects. The metaphysical and “antisymbiotic” logic that characterizes the historical drama of mobilization that is modernity is indifferent if not blind to the stage upon which it is enacted. For a humanity that aims to become “master” and possessor of nature, as Descartes’ famous phrase had it, the Earth is reduced to a servant and supplier of material and energetic resources (and it is today still overwhelmingly considered as such by politicians and economists in terms of the “ecosystem services” it provides). It is only when the play starts to ruin the stage, Sloterdijk wrote in Eurotaoismus, that the actors are forced to take another view of both the stage and of themselves. What was once called “nature” and conceived of as an ever reliant, productive, abundant and robust backdrop has been fatally implicated in the maelstrom of human productivism and consumerism – “enframed” by it, as Heidegger would have it – with the destruction of its habitability impending if humanity does not start taking care of it and make it an integral if not central part of its cultural concerns. Referring to a phrase of the late Heidegger, Sloterdijk writes that the Earth can for us no longer be the endlessly patient “building-carrying” one that she was for all of humanity before us. The continued existence of so-called “nature, which we have now uncovered as being just a small and fragile ‘film’ covering a planetary body, can no longer be entrusted to her own autarky (since she has been scientifically exposed and technologically exploited), but will become dependent on us humans” (Sloterdijk 1989). That realization also means the definitive end of any peace of mind in the cosmos, on which all human cultures until now have rested (Davis and Turpin 2015).

In the apocalyptic last chapter of his 2009 book You Must Change Your Life, Sloterdijk claims that the awareness of the fact that we cannot continue our current care-less lifestyles any longer but need to “change our lives” and start “taking care of the whole” is nowadays almost universally shared, forming the quintessence even of today’s Zeitgeist. Arguing that the global crisis shares many characteristics with the ancient God of monotheism, he speculates that this crisis will inevitably initiate, and will have to initiate, nothing less than a global immunological turn, i.e., a revolutionary transformation in the way humans construct and organize their immuno-spheric residence on the planet: “a new world-forming gesture” in terms of a new global project of sphere-construction, understood first of all as a transformation from local to global immunization strategies, from local protectionisms to a “protectionism of the whole” (Sloterdijk 2014a). This will require a “social tipping point” in the awareness, willingness and ability to act collectively as Earthlings.

A viable future for humanity on this planet can therefore only be conceived for Sloterdijk on the basis of constructing a “global co-immunity structure” or a “global immune-design”, infused by a spirit of “co-immunism”, based on the awareness of a shared ecological and immunological situation and the realization that this new situation, which is actually that of the Anthropocene, cannot be dealt with on the basis of the existing local techno-cultural resources only but needs a planet-wide “logic of cooperation” (Sloterdijk 2014a). The technological reversion suggested by Sloterdijk is one that he calls a homeotechnological turn, i.e., a turn from the traditional, largely contra-natural, dominating, Earth-ignoring and Earth-ignorant allotechnological paradigm to a co-natural, non-dominating and Earth-caring homeotechnological paradigm. That also means the reconstruction of the global technosphere from a machine of exploitation and violation of the planetary oikos to an engine that co-operates and co-produces with the Earth’s bio- and atmosphere, an idea that resonates much with Stiegler negentropic turn (Sloterdijk 2015). Like Stiegler, who sometimes tends to identify the anthropocene with Heidegger’s Gestell, i.e., re-interpreted as the Ereignis of the Industrial Revolution as the deployment of the thermodynamic machine (the entropic character of which was not perceived by Heidegger, anymore than he took account of the notion of entropy in his thinking of the physis), Sloterdijk also thinks of the homeotechnological revolution as a benign turn of the Gestell towards a global-ecological “housing” project (Gehäuse) (Sloterdijk 2001).

In a lecture given at the climate conference in Kopenhagen in December 2009, Sloterdijk suggests that a homeotechnological conversion of the human noosphere and technosphere around the Earth, and thus of the institution of a co-operative and co-productive relation of both anthropospheres with the biosphere, might eventually lead to the explication or unconcealing – here meant in the quasi-Heideggerian sense of the term – of a “hybrid-Earth” that is capable of much more than we can now imagine from our still allotechnologically programmed perspective, i.e., a homeotechnologized Earth whose capacities might very well be multiplied to an unimaginable extent (Sloterdijk 2015).

Applying Spinoza’s famous dictum (from his Ethica) that “Nobody knows what a body can do” to the body of the Earth, Sloterdijk makes the wager that a homeotechnological turn of our immuno-spheropoietic being-on-the-planet forms our best and most hopeful answer to the challenge of the anthropocene, thereby referring to the bold ideas of the famous American architect Richard Buckminster Fuller, whose notion of Spaceship Earth as expounded in his 1968 book Operation Manual for Spaceship Earth has had a decisive influence on Sloterdijk’s sphero-immunological perception of the global ecological crisis and the anthropocene (Sloterdijk 2015, 108-9).

As Sloterdijk already emphasizes in the final section of his 1993 book Weltfremdheit, such a global co-immunization project could very well prove to be a challenge that is too big for the anthropos, that is to say: as it currently exists (Sloterdijk 1993). Yet if there is one over-arching insight that runs through all of Sloterdijk’s onto-anthropological reflections, it is that humans are those beings that are always confronted with problems that are far too big for them but that they nevertheless cannot avoid dealing with. This structural burdening with what the tragic Greeks called ta megala, the “big things”, which puts human beings under permanent “growth stress” and/or “format stress” – today unfolding as “planetarization stress” (Sloterdijk 1995) – is what anthropogenesis as hominization and coming-into-the-world through sphero-poietic expansion is all about. And philosophy’s inaugural task is to be the birth-helper of this process of uncanny coming-into-the world (Sloterdijk 1993).

If the human matures by increasing his awareness and responsibility through confrontations with the “big things”, the anthropocenic challenge of creating a global, i.e., planetary co-immunity structure will probably make clear for the very first time, and to all those involved, what “growing up” in its most general sense truly means for humanity (Sloterdijk 1993). Although the anthropos charged with responsibility is still “below the age of maturity” today (Sloterdijk 2015), the challenge of the anthropocene forces him, and provides him with the chance, to assume and acquire the proper maturity.

Although he never gets very specific about the details, Sloterdijk claims that the anthropocene in this sense requires an entirely new, still to be invented mode of “big politics”, one that he designated as “hyperpolitics” in a book entitled Im selben Boot. Versuch über die Hyperpolitik (In the same boat. An Essay on Hyperpolitics) from 1995 that is, like many other books from that period, a preliminary sketch for the Spheres project (Sloterdijk 195). After the “paleopolitics” as the “miracle of the repetition of humans by humans” characteristic of pre-sedentary, pre-agricultural societies, and the “classic politics” of agriculture-based cities and nation-states as the perpetuation of that miracle in larger formats, today’s expansion of humans’ spheropoiesis toward the global, forcing them to live together in even larger formats, calls for a hyperpolitics, i.e., a global “state-athletics” for which there are no traditional examples at hand and for which the existing modes of “national-egoism” politics in fact only act as blockades. As in 1995, we can still observe a huge disproportion between the forces that are necessary and the weaknesses that are available and it seems still all too obvious that “creating jobs on the Titanic” continues to represent the pinnacle of current political intelligence (although piling up debts to continue unbridled consumption is today’s preferred policy). And Sloterdijk’s spot-on remark after the failed Copenhagen climate summit of 2009, that citizens all over the globe should safeguard themselves from their own governments, seems still all too valid after the 2015 Paris summit.

The Herculean, currently impossible task for a coming hyperpolitics is to transform today’s “monster-international of end-users” or the hypermass of “last men with no return” into a global solidarity collective that takes care again of itself and the world and understands itself as a link between its ancestors and its offspring and not egoistically as the exclusive end-user of itself and its own life chances, an important theme Sloterdijk extensively elaborated upon in his 2014 book Die schrecklichen Kinder der Neuzeit. Über das anti-genealogische Experiment der Moderne (The Terrible Children of Modernity. On the Anti-Genealogical Experiment of the Modern Age; Sloterdijk 2014b). As such, hyperpolitics is the first politics of last men and should be understood as the continuation of paleopolitics with other means and on a global scale.

Since human spheropoiesis has gone global and pretends to encompass the entire biosphere, the situation of humanity vis-à-vis the planet has reversed, as Swedish earth system scientist Johan Rockström proclaims, from a “small world, big planet” situation into a “big world, small planet” one (Rockström and Klum 2015). To preserve what he calls a “safe operating space for humanity” within the planetary boundaries, he argues that we are in need of a global governance of the earth system in order to reconnect human techno-cultural systems with the biosphere in a co-constructive fashion. There exists already a “Global Earth Observation System of Systems” (GEOSS), which tracks many key planetary boundary processes. Intelligent and democratic use of such a system might indeed usher in a “good anthropocene” beneficial to all inhabitants of the earth system. It could be one of the supports of the global immune system that is necessary for our collective survival as Sloterdijk claims. Yet it is also important to make sure that life in the anthropocene is not just about sur-vival. It should also be a “good life”, a “life worth living” in Stiegler’s expression.

But how can Sloterdijk’s polyspherology, which takes the visual image of bubbles, be prevented from becoming the soil for fascism? The current refugee problem seems to be the touchstone of the foam theory. In an interview with the German magazine Cicero early this year, Sloterdijk claims that “we haven’t learned the praise of border”, and “The Europeans will sooner or later develop an efficient common border policy. In the long run the territorial imperative prevails. Finally, there is no moral obligation to self-destruction” (Sloterdijk 2016b). For sure, borders define the interiority and exteriority of bubbles, and hence realize such polycosmology; however, they thereby also blur the line between fascism and co-existence. In what sense can we interpret further the concept of co-existence, which recently has appeared in many other works dealing with the anthropocene and ecological crisis? Co-existence implies first of all communication and coalition – a positive concept of immune system under the current pharmacological condition, which stands as the opposite of the Brexit. We will come back to the politics of co-existence later when we address the concept of the “internation” as an alternative political imaginary.

Dealing With the Apocalypse. A New Kind of Politics for the Anthropocene

Let us try to conclude by restating the classic question “what is to be done”? Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about the question of scale and the Anthropocene is a scale problem of the highest order. The well-known American writer Evgeny Morozov has stated in almost all of his recent speeches that there is in fact NO alternative to the current neoliberal model of Silicon Valley – you are “free to use and free to give your data”, because the “Silicon Valley ideology” is so powerful that no individual effort will ever be able to challenge it–only the intervention of a body like the European Union could have a substantial effect. However, he does not see this will happen. On the other hand, British accelerationists like Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams have argued that after Occupy Wallstreet, the resistances or “micropolitics” that continue to spring up everywhere (such as urban gardening or dumpster diving) are not able to “scale up” to really challenge capitalism (Srnicek and Williams 2013). They criticize the individualist moral of the anarchist as a self-limitation as revolutionary force, and therefore fall prey to the appropriation of capitalism (Srnicek and Williams 2016: 29-37). This leaves us in a situation of helplessness, and micropolitics becomes self-consolation par excellence. The authors proposed what they call accelerationist politics inspired by the cybersyn project in the socialist Chili of the early Seventies, namely a socialist appropriation of technology in order to construct what they called a “post-work” economy, which includes 1) full automation, 2) reduction of working week, 3) universal basic income and 4) diminishment of the work ethic (2016: 127). Except for the last point, which is very close to the anarchists, their vision can be superimposed on the agenda of the Chinese Communist Party, which is unfortunately built upon a rather simple if not naïve understanding of technology.

First of all, it still remains to be debated if previous forms of resistance are futile, especially when such claims are no more than pure intellectual activities. Indeed such claims seem like a revival of cynicism for intellectuals to stay in front of the computer and renounce direct actions on the street; and sometimes it seems even grotesque when some respond to such “impasse” by “fully appropriating” Facebook or Google, as if “high technology” has necessarily led to the illusionary “post-capitalism” in the sense of Paul Mason (Mason 2016). A more critical attitude towards the technological acceleration should be taken, which goes beyond the opposition between optimism and pessimism. Both proposals for the neguentropocene and co-immunization should be taken further as concrete political acts. There, realization can only be achieved by going back to the question of the local. Locality is central for both Stiegler and Sloterdijk in terms of resistance against global capitalism, and locality can only be archived through personal contacts and concrete projects, that seem further and further from the grand intellectual revolutionary plots. We don’t pretend to know what is to be done. However, for effectively confronting the Anthropocene, and responding to it in a systematic and scalable way, we would like to propose two points concerning the role of the state and the form of resistance.

If states want to avoid being liquidated by the neoliberal economy, they will have to assume responsibility. We all know that nation-states had no problem whatsoever with intervening after the financial crisis of 2008 when the European banks ran into trouble. It was a moment when European governments undeniably showed that they are still capable of doing things on a global scale – though in the wrong way – in stark contrast to Hardt and Negri’s thesis of the power of Empire and the withering-away of nation-states (Hardt and Negri 2000). It seems that the nation-state should be obliged to take the problem of Anthropocene seriously and act upon it – not just by “going green”, but also by seriously addressing what Stiegler diagnoses as the entropic becoming of our world. However, it is also undeniably true that national governments have become pawns in the hands of global oligarchies and that national sovereignty is de facto eliminated and replaced by the dictates of the financial markets, with the recent fate of Greece being the most pitiable example. How much hope can we still bestow to our governments? And indeed one should be skeptical about them; however at the moment, they are the only institutions besides of transnational enterprises, which can effectively mobilize resources for large-scale projects.

The anti-globalization movement in the late 20th century and first decade of the new millennium has made popular the multitude, yet the silence of the anti-globalization movement in recent years means that the form of micropolitics or artistic gesture proposed by it is no longer effective for dealing with the Anthropocene. By the same token, we already know about the failure of the “third sector” of NGOs, which since the anti-globalization movement haven’t cast any new light on the future. We also know that the post-World War II institution of the United Nations, despite its innumerable programs, doesn’t have any real executive power. Surely one can imagine, as many have done, that in order to form a federal body more powerful than the United Nations, a third world war would have to break out – and if the Anthropocenic situation worsens, such a scenario is not at all unrealistic.

By way of conclusion, we want to gesture toward the possibility of establishing an “internation”, a concept developed by Marcel Mauss in 1920 and recently taken up by Stiegler to propose the constitution of a new form of public power that might be able to defy the forces of capital and guide humanity into another future than the barbaric and intolerable “no future” prescribed by neoliberalism’s TINA (“There is no alternative”) mantra (Stiegler 2015b). Mauss pronounced the article “Nation et internationalisme” in the colloquium “The Problem of Nationality” organized by the Aristotelian Society in London, in which he expressed the urgency that philosophers take an avant-garde approach to the question of nation and internation (Mauss 1920). The increasing economic interdependence after the first world war becomes a “défaut”, based on which Mauss proposed also a “moral interdependence” of mutual-aid as well as the reduction in sovereignty to reduce war. Stiegler took up Mauss’s notion of the internation recently in States of shock (2015b) and interpreted it through the lens of Simondon’s concept of individuation.

Bernard Stiegler. Courtesy of Alchetron

A nation for Stiegler is a project of “collective individuation” through the establishment of a res publica. Internation is a project that takes this process further in order to re-institutionalize the production and dissemination of knowledge in order to re-create the circuits of transindividuation in the sciences that are now dominated by the marketisation and commercialization of knowledge. Stiegler imagines this internation first of all as a project for academics and scholars more generally all over the world (what he calls “interscience”) to unite in resolutely refusing their recruitment in the global economic world war unleashed by neoliberalism and instead sign a global peace treaty, backed up by a new legislative body (Stiegler 2015b).

This should start the re-forging of the digital networks into tools for cooperation and care, and for the elevation of collective intelligence. De facto, this internation already exists (and has existed for a long time) in the form of collaborations among research institutes, schools and universities worldwide. However, the research funding strategies in the past decades in Europe (if not worldwide) have rigidified these collaborations and turned them into zombie-like dogmas. Political visions of researchers are always submitted to the hidden agenda of the market and commercial value (what is called the “valorization agenda”). There is no lack of awareness of this among academics but at the moment there is no effective strategy to act against the market hegemony. The formation of an internation could foster such a strategy. Yet it will have to become explicitly politicized in order to function as a catalyst for the construction of new forms of global socialization and cooperation that could usher in the neganthropocene and bring about a large-scale homeotechnological revolution in the sense of Sloterdijk. The only alternative would be to surrender to the brutal dictates of a consumerist capitalist innovation that will only produce more entropy, impotence and stupidity. In the words of Stiegler, we need to mobilize internation against disindividuation.

The creation of an internation has a meaning for our epoch, and indeed there is an urgency to do so, in view of the destructive nature of the anthropocene and the entropic becoming of the technological world. It is for sure not only the responsibility of intellectuals and universities, and it is for sure that a larger scale of association with sectors and groups outside of university is necessary, but it is also important to reflect on these at the level of locality and localization, according to different orders of magnitude. To pass into act is only a question of perception and action but also, and probably even more profoundly, a process of psychic and collective individuation, which doesn’t come naturally. It takes courage to create such a condition and such a quantum leap. Retrospectively, Mauss’ remark on intellectual courage can therefore still serve as a Mahnruf to contemporary intellectuals:

Why didn’t the philosophers take an avant-garde position on this? They understood it well as it is about founding the doctrine of democracy and nationalities. British and French were ahead of their time, and one shouldn’t forget Kant, Fichte. Why did they choose to stay at the back, and serve the vested interest? (Mauss 1920)

We would finally like to ask here, most likely in deviation from Stiegler’s own intentions, whether it would be possible to conceive of such an internation as an enabling strategy for what Antonio Negri and Judith Revel have called “the invention of the common” (Negri and Revel 2008), i.e. as an intermediate step toward the establishment of a “global commons” of knowledge and capabilities and ultimately a common global authority not only beyond the private but also beyond the public. This return to Negri does not mean that we are proposing to undermine the role of the state, which we have invoked earlier. On the contrary, if the global economy in the past decades has been running on the principle of privatization and marketization, as Slavoj Žižek has rightly argued (Žižek 2009), and if the recent triumph of Donald Trump as well as the Brexit signal a return to a conservative revolution founded on the strengthening of sovereignty and border control, “communization” will be a counter process against the struggling self-preservation of capitalism. In that case, the economy of the commons inscribed in the project of internation could become a vehicle for the creation of a truly global co-immunity structure, and a truly global engine of neguanthropy. But for this to be possible, there should first be a re-orientation of strategies in teaching, research and funding within universities.

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[1] See Barnosky et al. 2012.

[2] The event took place in Paris just before the COP 21 in November 2015 and was organized by Philippe Descola and Catherine Larrère.

3 COMMENTS

  1. […] “We would finally like to ask here, most likely in deviation from Stiegler’s own intentions, whether it would be possible to conceive of such an internation as an enabling strategy for what Antonio Negri and Judith Revel have called “the invention of the common” (Negri and Revel 2008), i.e. as an intermediate step toward the establishment of a “global commons” of knowledge and capabilities and ultimately a common global authority not only beyond the private but also beyond the public. This return to Negri does not mean that we are proposing to undermine the role of the state, which we have invoked earlier. On the contrary, if the global economy in the past decades has been running on the principle of privatization and marketization, as Slavoj Žižek has rightly argued (Žižek 2009), and if the recent triumph of Donald Trump as well as the Brexit signal a return to a conservative revolution founded on the strengthening of sovereignty and border control, “communization” will be a counter process against the struggling self-preservation of capitalism. In that case, the economy of the commons inscribed in the project of internation could become a vehicle for the creation of a truly global co-immunity structure, and a truly global engine of neguanthropy. But for this to be possible, there should first be a re-orientation of strategies in teaching, research and funding within universities.” http://www.boundary2.org/2017/01/pieter-lemmens-and-yuk-hui-apocalypse-now-peter-sloterdijk-and-bern… […]

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