Tag Archives: species survival

On the Collective Will of the Human Species to Survive

23 Nov

The human will to survive is often uncritically taken for granted, which was of little consequence prior to the advent of the nuclear age in 1945. That the first atomic explosion was the event chosen by the scientific community agreed to signal the advent of the age of the Anthropocene is of added significance. The general understanding of the Anthropocene is that of human activity that is impactful on the basic equilibrium of the planetary ecosystem. Subsequent developments associated with the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming have confirmed the alarming extent of reckless human agency with respect to the ecological equilibrium of the planet.

The inverse effects of the Anthropocene have received less attention, that is, of the ecological backlash that imperils the survival of the human species. For the first time in world history the intentional activities of the human species endanger its own existence and future, as well as various global, regional, and local ecosystems that have collapsed or are collapsing. Of course, throughout world history species in particular locales have behaved in ways that brought about their collective destruction, and this certainly includes the human species. In the past, there have been waves of non-human extinction that have altered the biodiversity of the planet. {see Collapse; Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: The Unnatural History (2014)]. The scale of past threats to human existence were all at the sub-species level, affecting the destinies of imperiled society or civilization. [See Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2004)].

What is unique about the present historical conjunction of circumstances is that the dominant threats so far posed in this century are directed toward the species as a whole. This threat is compounded by the realities of human experience that have been organized so as to promote sub-species survival, especially, at the level of the territorial sovereign state. This fundamental organizational feature of world order in strongly reinforced by ideologies of nationalism that rely on sub-species optics of appraisal, and unreflectively solidify sub-species loyalty as the loftiest aspiration of a fragmented species. Extra-nationalist identities do exist, sometimes strongly, in the form or religious affiliation, civilizational sentiments of belonging, ethnic, ideological, and gender bonding of various sorts. What does not exist with sufficient strength to counter the tyranny of sub-species primacy are mechanisms of sufficient capability to protect the distinctly human interest in species survival or the global interest in essential forms of inter-species coexistence.  

After the major wars of the prior century, there were let loose strong bio-political impulses on the part of publics and leaders of victorious powers to regulate and even institutionalize the human interest. The Just War Doctrine had earlier tried to give a religious and quasi-legal underpinning of universal justice to recourse to and conduct of war, but its interpretation was subordinated to the interpretive manipulations and geopolitical ambitions of leaders of sovereign states especially in the West, making clear that sub-species priorities prevail over international law whenever they clash. The historical disruptions of the major 20th century wars gave rise a widespread sense of human jeopardy in the West that led to the establishment of global institutions. The carnage of World War I led to the establishment of the League of Nations and the atom bomb imparted a sense of urgency after World War II to the prevention of a feared World War III. Yet the outcomes of these institutional strivings did not seriously challenge sub-species dominance, and provided convenient venues for global communication and cooperative arrangements that served the reciprocal and mutual interests of sovereign states while leaving global hierarchies intact. Despite the rhetoric of globalism, the heavy lifting of war prevention was self-consciously attached to the nationalist mechanisms of sub-species management of statist and alliance security systems that featured deterrence and crisis management. The UN has proved to be valuable in many contexts, despite being designed to fail when it came to the protection of species well-being as distinct from promoting the interests of one category of sub-species political actors, that is, dominant sovereign states. This deliberate dynamic is signaled in the case of the UN by giving the most dangerous states a generalized veto power that indirectly confers impunity and non-accountability. UN deference to geopolitics was also expressed by leaving funding under the control of the member governments, and by curtailing the authority of the chief executive officer, the Secretary General. This shortcoming of the UN was more telling than the earlier experience with the League as the atomic bomb forewarned of an unprecedented apocalyptic menace to the entire species, a new reality in human experience, perhaps not entirely new, given earlier experiences with pandemics that created political imaginaries of the end of the world and the acknowledged possibility that a giant meteor might crash into the planet changing its orbit and habitability. 

Europe has experimented since after World War II with efforts to overcome the dangers of sub-species conflict at the level of the region, with mixed results. Its achievements include almost totally avoiding intra-regional warfare of the sort that had ravaged Europe for centuries, as well as defending Western Europe against real or imagined threats posed by feared Soviet aggression (a result achieved with the help of the American-led NATO alliance).  Europe also established a common currency that allowed European economies to flourish over a period of seven decades, and also facilitated trade and travel with Europe. At the same time, regional identity never took root, and most Europeans continued to define themselves by reference to their country, a dynamic manifested most clearly by the BREXIT withdrawal of the United Kingdom from European Union membership despite the material benefits of belonging. Even if the EU manages to fulfill most of the dreams of its supporters it would still be a sub-species actor, perhaps with a more enlightened outlook, but still subject to the priorities and worldview associated with sub-species perspectives on the formation of global policy. If there were any doubts about this, they were removed in recent years by the hostile receptions accorded to migrants from combat zones in the Middle East and African countries most victimized by global warming.

Even if nuclearism as security posture and near catastrophe didn’t tip the balance in the direction of species due to its abstract character and the coherence of the sub-species regimes set up to exert allegedly rational control under geopolitical auspices, I would have supposed that climate change would do the necessary job of reconstructing in globalist directions the way we think, feel, and act. [See Martin J. Sherwin, Gambling with Armageddon: Nuclear Roulette from Hiroshima to the Cuban Missile Crisis (2020)] Unlike recourse to nuclear war, which stimulated a genre of dystopian literature and scenarios of doom, the climate change threats were confirmed as virtual certainties by a strong consensus prevailing among those climate experts, and presented to the world by a host of reliable interpreters, including the UN Panel on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) [See especially dire warnings, Sixth Assessment Report 2021: The Physical Basis (on climate system and climate change)]. In other words the knowledge paradigm that was associated with modernity, which was supposedly based on science, rationality, empirical observation, data, and experimental validation, would have led to transformative energies that gave emergency backing to a species-scale imperative to transcend national interests in favor of human and global interests.[Naomi Oreskes & Erik W. Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (2004)] Yet despite the evidence, the sub-species framework for problem-solving remains unchallenged except by civil society activists. [Robert C. Johansen, Where the Evidence Leads: A Realistic Strategy for Peace and Human Security (2021)]

There is a widespread recognition that the COP-26 Glasgow Climate Change Summit was a major disappointment. Not only was the sub-species architecture entrusted with responding to the multiple challenges, but disparities of national circumstances precluded meaningful levels of sub-species cooperative arrangements and left the commitments that were made in the aspirational language of pledges and voluntary undertakings.. Entrenched interests exerted far too much influence, as did embedded notions of ‘political realism,’ which continued to link security of people to governmental protection against military threats and geopolitical rivalry and paid far too little attention to the critical challenge of a looming bio-ecological-ethical-political-spiritual crisis that cannot be overcome without the emergence of robust collective will of the human species to survive, which implies a radical transformation of what makes life worth living for most human inhabitants of the planet.  

Living in the 21st Century

13 Aug

(Prefatory Note: The following post is more personal than is my natural mode of communicating on this website. I hope it causes no offense. It is confessional to the extent of acknowledging my own surroundings of digital devices that while liberating in some respects are repressive in others. To sustain our freedom under these ‘postmodern’ conditions requires the rechristening of meditative intelligence (as distinct from the instrumental rationality that acted as wet nurse of the ‘modern.’)

 

Living in the 21st Century

 

 

Ever since I read Claudia Rankine’s Citizen I have been haunted by the suggestive resonance of its opening line: “When you are alone and too tired even to turn on any of your devices, you let yourself linger in a past stacked among your pillows.” Of course, Rankine allows this quietness to evoke her anguishing memories of past subtle racist slights that are the hurtful daily experiences of embedded racism that has for centuries undermined the normative pretensions of ‘civilization,’ not only here in the United States, but globally. Recently, a series of police atrocities throughout America has reminded us ever so forcefully that the election of an African American as president did not mean the end of racism, but alarmingly, an ugly new beginning, an apt occasion for the emergence of Black Lives Matter.

 

It is the first part of Rankine’s sentence that speaks so simply, yet so responsively, to the circumstance of our 21st century reality, our struggles with loneliness while treasuring the self-discoveries that are uniquely dependent on reflective solitude. What Rankine is telling us is that digital modernity has diminished our capacity to be creatively alone and sufficiently sensitive to the arts of self-discovery. She is instructing us that we need to be so tired that we even refrain from turning on any of our devices, presumably a rare occasion given modern life styles. These devices, whether TV, I-Pad, smart phone, and others have often been our principal nurturing experience, fill our empty hours, usually with distractive and repetitive forms of emptiness. Accordingly, if we find ourselves alone and in bed, without electronic or human others, we should gratefully recognize the occasion as fit for self-exploration. That is, make the best possible use of this precious state of consciousness situated precariously between our devices and our need for sleep. The word ‘even’ in Rankine’s sentence is strategic here, suggesting the abnormality of this condition, yet the second part of the sentence promises rewards that follow from letting “yourself linger in a past stacked among your pillows.” Yet also because strong sleepiness is part of the scene, there is always the risk of losing wakefulness, losing oneself in sleep to avoid the often painful realizations of exploring what lies below the surface of our mindless immersion in the lifeworld of daily experience.

 

In effect, most of us, whether consciously or not, have bargained away most of our inner selves in exchange for the enjoyments, evasions, and mysteries of pervasive connectivity that brings us our favorite music, encourages our wildest phantasies through dating and social networks that merge potentialities with cravings, freely accesses information and people anywhere on the planet, lets virtual reality blur the boundaries between experience and imagination, sometime playfully, sometimes maliciously. And all the while, the drones do signature targeting and the war planners are busy beyond their wildest dreams relying on our taxes and passivity!

 

While digital connectivity simultaneously pacifies and activates, treacherous demonic forces are unwittingly devising the extinction of the species while pursuing their own deluded visions of ultimate deliverance. The restorative energies of normalcy and moderation have almost vanished, yet we go on with our work and play as if the future is not in severe jeopardy. Or if not entirely distracted by the immediacies of everyday life, we escape into one or another extremism, whether it be religious or anti-religious, new age or materialist. Lingering in our personal past may evoke memories we need to compose a better grasp on our private life, but to meet the public challenges that are threatening human destiny in pools of swirling dark waters, we need to learn quickly to master the rigors of long distance swimming against menacingly strong currents.

 

What most of us can no longer even imagine is life without our devices! I thank Claudia Rankine for this devastating insight into the perilous human condition of our time, whether private or public, individual or collective. Without it, we would be truly lost. With it, there are glimmers of hope, struggle, emancipation.