Notes on Face à Gaïa (Lecture 8)

Continuing my posts on Latour’s Face à Gaïa.

face

Lecture 8: Comment gouverner des territoires (naturels) en lutte ?

Simulations

The value of simulations:

  • Embodied, practical simulations are useful because they are able to represent and re-enact the compositional processes of science, art and politics: ‘compliquer les modèles du monde et y impliquer ceux qu’ils concernent pour ensuite composer, voilà qui me semble une définition commune aux sciences, aux arts et à la politique’.
  • Within a simulation each actor represents something, but the important thing is that this has to be made explicit (in the same way as Assmann’s translation tables).

In other words, simulations enact the ‘figuration’ of as broad an array of agencies as possible.

The MakeItWork simulation

climat-MIW.jpg

  • This simulation focused and tried to represent non-conventional ways of occupying space: ‘les diverses manières d’occuper des territoires’.
  • This allowed the simulation to bring into the negotiating room (the ‘interior’) unconventional actors: ‘aux Amandiers, les organisateurs ont décidé de placer toutes les parties à l’intérieur pour qu’il n’y ait plus d’extérieur, et pour qu’on voie les parties prenantes exercer leurs pressions toutes ensemble. Que chacun se batte sous ses propres couleurs’.
  • Once in the room, all these actors were required to work together by ‘showing their hand’ and being ‘explicit’ (cf. Sloterdjik, expliciter) about how they were working: ‘s’opposer aux autres en explicitant sur quel territoire elles se trouvent’.
  • Emergence could certainly take place, but only by explicit (not en douce) operations within the room: ‘elle [une partie] n’aura pas à agir en douce, elle devra se présenter et dire quels sont ses intérêts, quels sont ses buts de guerre, qui sont ses amis et ses ennemis, bref où elle se trouve, qu’est-ce qui permet de l’espacer des autres’.
  • Thus, the negotiation had a conflictual character: ‘alors que Hobbes devait inventer une politique après des décennies d’affreuses guerres civiles, le paradoxe des négociations sur le climat, c’est qu’il faut faire comprendre aux protagonistes qu’ils sont bel et bien en guerre, alors qu’ils se croient en situation de paix’.

Rejection of totality

The delegates gathered under the banner: ‘ni Dieu, ni Nature—et donc pas de Maître’. The ‘Maîtres’ (metaphysical principles) they were rejecting included the following:

  • The nation-state.
  • A ‘world government’ that could decide for all.
  • A single, unified concept of ‘Nature’ that could decide all the debates.
  • The unifying power of capitalism in the guise of the ‘Economy’.
  • Indeed, this also meant that they had to reject ‘Gaia’ (at least, Gaia understood as an overarching actor): ‘de ne pas prendre Gaïa pour un Système unifié’.

Another way of saying this is that the simulation was premised on the redundancy of the figure of the ‘Globe’ (as demonstrated in earlier chapters): ‘nous retrouvons ici la figure du Globe dont nous avons appris, conférence après conférence, à quel point elle était non seulement impossible, mais moralement, religieusement, scientifiquement et politiquement délétère’.

Thus, the task was to find an alternative way of representing the actors of this world than that of Totality (the globe): ‘pour retrouver le monde commun—et peut-être aussi le sens (du) commun—, la solution n’est pas de faire appel à la Totalité, qui de toutes façons n’existe pas, mais d’apprendre à représenter différemment le territoire auquel on appartient’.

Politics from above/ politics from below

The simulation allowed two types of politics to come to light:

  1. To defer ‘upwards’: politics defers upwards to an operation of scale, ‘en faisant appel à un principe supérieur commun, à l’État de la Nature’; however, this serves only to ‘dépolitise toute la négociation devenue simple application de règles de distribution’.
  2. To defer ‘downwards’: this enacts the opposite movement, ‘en traitant toutes les parties prenantes à égale niveau de souveraineté’, granting to all entities the right to ‘prendre parti’; this is what alone provides a true and proper politics.

Defintions of space as ‘utopia’ and ‘topos’

In terms of the two forms of politics above:

  1. To defer ‘upwards’ is to defer to a utopia; its movement is ‘utopique, au sens étymologique de ce qui est nulle part’.
  2. To defer ‘downwards’ is to reterritorialise oneself; its movement ‘consiste à se donner un sol’.

Externalisation

The sort of politics that defers ‘upwards’ is a politics of ‘externalisation’, which refers to the bracketing out of agencies, and thus is ‘synonyme exacte’ of ‘la negligence calculée’ that has already been defined (via Serres) as the essence of irreligion.

The utopia/ achronia of the Modern understanding of the natural world

By understanding the things of the natural world according to ‘the laws of nature’, the Moderns assume that these things will work always and forever in the same way.

In doing so, they denude them of the right to act in space and time:

Le problème des questions écologiques, pour employer un terme désuet, c’est qu’elles semblent parler d’objets qui ont été téléchargés dans l’utopie aussi bien que dans l’uchronie. Ni l’eau, ni le sol, ni l’air, ni les vivants, ne sont dans le temps et dans l’espace de ceux qui en font le cadre de leur action.

And, in addition, they impose upon them an operation of scale that comes from the ‘exterior’:

Elles ne peuvent être dictées de l’extérieur simplement parce qu’elles auraient été
‘déterminées objectivement par les Lois de la Nature’.

Planetary boundaries and critical zones

These two terms indicate the sense that we should not be trying to escape to another planet as a means of understanding this one.

Geo-disciplines

The disciplines that Latour suggests instead are ‘geo’ ones, starting with the ‘géo-traçante’; these are ‘cette activité de pistage de l’espace, de parcours des lopins et de traçage de lignes’.

Mapping

By contrast, 2D maps are the opposite: they limit our ability to visualize new configurations of human and nonhuman agencies, compelling us instead to stick with old forms of representation that (in fact) are not very representative at all, and over which wars are too easily fought:

C’est aussi parce que nous sommes limités à l’imaginaire de ces cartes en deux dimensions, aux frontières délimitées, qui sont bien utiles, comme on le sait, pour ‘faire la guerre’[1] mais fort insuffisantes si l’on veut s’y retrouver dans la géopolitique des territoires en lutte.

So the way of representing the world would be via a ‘geo’-map of some sort, ‘une chose comme une carte géologique avec sa vision en trois dimensions, ses couches multiples encastrées les unes dans les autres, ses dislocations, ses ruptures, ses reptations, toute cette complexité que les géologues ont su maîtriser pour l’histoire longue des sols et des roches, mais dont l’infortunée géopolitique reste dépourvue’.

The future of the nation-state

In reorganizing the distribution of powers the simulation showed what a true politics (in the sense of a nomos) would look like vis-à-vis the nation-state:

  • The nation-state no longer has the political privilege of violence.
  • Politics must now shift to new configurations, including those incorporating Gaia: ‘comment conserver ‘le monopole de la violence physique légitime’ quand il s’agit de la violence géohistorique du climat?

Quelle avancée si l’on pouvait enfin passer des États régnant sans contre-pouvoir sur un sol délimité par des frontières, à un ordre constitutionnel enfin doté du système complexe de contre-pouvoirs exercé par les autres délégations—ces fameux ‘checks and balances’ tant célébrés par les Humains, mais que les Terrestres en sont encore à rechercher?.

Gaian politics

This new form of politics coalesces around Gaia (it is here that differences with the Schmittian politics become most apparent):

  • Gaia does not mimic the old function of the nation-state: ‘contrairement à la Nature, Gaïa ne fait pas irruption pour régner à la place de tous les États forcés de se soumettre à ses lois, mais comme ce qui exige que la souveraineté soit partagée’.
  • Gaia forces us into new political configurations that need defending and justifying: ‘comme Gaïa ne sont ni extérieures, ni indiscutables, elles ne peuvent pas rester indifférente à la politique’.

Nature as religion

The construct ‘Nature’ acted as a religion, insofar as it demanded allegiance as a ‘cult’: ‘tandis que la Nature pouvait régner sur les humains comme un pouvoir religieux auquel il fallait rendre un culte paradoxal, civique et séculier […]’.

Gaia is not religion

By contrast, the state of Gaia is not religious:

  • For example, here is a basic statement: ‘Gaïa ordonnent seulement de partager le pouvoir comme des pouvoirs profanes et non pas religieux’.
  • Thus, we are not moving (in Comptean fashion) from ‘metaphysical God’ to ‘Nature’ to ‘Gaia’: ‘Il est inutile d’espérer une nouvelle translatio imperii qui irait de Dieu à la Nature, puis de la Nature à Gaïa. Aucune ‘loi des trois états’ n’est ici à l’œuvre’.
  • Gaia is strictly limited by this earth: ‘Gaïa se contentent de rappeler les traditions plus modestes d’un corps politique qui reconnaît enfin dans la Terre ce par quoi ce corps assemblé accepte solennellement d’être définitivement borné’.
  • To reintroduce the old ‘God’ of metaphyiscs is to forestall Gaian politics: ‘si vous en faites une divinité totale, vous suranimez et vous dépolitisez tout aussi sûrement’; ‘nous réalisons que nous sommes convoqués par un pouvoir qui est pleinement politique

Whatever [REL] is, then, it must not be religious where Gaia is not.

However, Gaian politics will depend on religion

Having said that, the extent to which we might embrace Gaian politics depends very much on the way in which we inherit religion and which religion it is that we inherit: ‘l’issue de ce combat dépend forcément de la façon dont nous nous rendrons capables d’hériter de la religion’. To put it in more general terms: ‘autour de ces questions passablement obscures de la fin, des buts, de la finitude, de l’infini, du sens, de l’absurde, et ainsi de suite, il y a toujours la question religieuse’.

  1. Secularisation is counter-religious

As we’ve seen before, Latour thinks that ‘secularisation’ is actually a counter-religious function: ‘ce qu’on appelle ‘sécularisation’ n’a fait que reprendre le trait principal des contre-religions—vivre dans la fin des temps—, mais en décalant cette fin des temps dans l’utopie de la modernisation, on comprend que l’accès au terrestre sera rendu impossible’.

  • It lives in ‘the end times’.
  • Thus it functions as a utopia.

Thus it has no immanence/ earth-boundedness

2. The overthrow of the secular cannot come via politics or science alone

The overthrow of the secular cannot be a function of politics or science alone: it must tackle this issue of the counter-religious origin: ‘même si nous parvenions à redonner une place aux sciences et à dynamiser de nouveau la politique, il n’en resterait pas moins que ceux qui ont hérité du modernisme—c’est-à-dire, aujourd’hui, la planète entière dans ce qu’elle a de globalisé ou de mondialisé—se situent dans un temps impossible, celui qui les a pour toujours arraché au passé et lancé dans un futur sans avenir’.

3. Religion must be an element in the new world

This is because religion is also a key component in the progressive composition of the common world, just like politics and science. Thus, the new world will come: ‘en acceptant la finitude : celle de la politique, celle des sciences, mais aussi celle des religions’.

  • This subverts the usual sociological comment that we must ‘leave religions behind us’ in order to make progress.
  • Religion is thus a ‘poison’ (in the guise of ‘counter-religion’), but also and crucially it is the ‘counter-poison’ also.

4. Religion must engage with the other modes to engage this new world

Another way of putting this is that religion is one of the three ingredients in the new common world that must be composed: ‘autrement dit, pouvons nous enchaîner trois humiliations en cascade, celle des sciences, de la politique et de la religion, au lieu de cet amalgame mortifère qui en a mélangé les vertus, mais n’a réussi qu’à nous empoisonner’.

Thus, ‘la religion en se limitant, apprenne à conspirer avec les sciences et la politique, pour redonner un sens à la notion de limite’.

End times

The final appeal of the book is to inhabit apocalypse, not utopia, which means switching from the ‘end of time’ to the ‘time of the end’:

Pouvons-nous réapprendre à vivre dans le temps de la fin, sans pour autant basculer dans l’utopie, celle qui nous a téléchargé dans l’au-delà, aussi bien que celle qui nous a fait manquer l’ici-bas?

The new world

The new world, the common world, that Latour wishes to invoke, then, is a rupture within space-time, not a rupture in space-time (this world seized differently, not another world):

Avant d’être enflée dans de grandioses scènes cosmiques à grand budget, la rupture radicale de l’eschatologie doit être d’abord reconnue dans une tonalité plus légère, plus humble et plus économe. La fin du temps n’est pas le Globe Final qui encercle tous les autres globes, la réponse finale au sens de l’existence; c’est plutôt une nouvelle différence, une nouvelle ligne, tracée à l’intérieur de toutes les autres lignes, qui les traverse partout, et qui donne un autre sens à tous les événements, c’est-à-dire un but, une présence finale et radicale, un achèvement. Non pas un autre monde, mais ce même monde saisi d’une façon radicalement nouvelle.

The wrong way to grasp the apocalypse

What Latour is seeking to avoid, then, is an understanding of these great theological themes as a flight into transcendence and out of this world. In other words, these themes as given by the old ST:

  • Eschaton: as ‘echappée hors du temps, en saut dans l’éternité, dans ce qui ne connaît pas de temps’.
  • Incarnation: as ‘altérée en fuite loin de toute chair vers le royaume désincarné du domaine spirituel du lointain’.
  • Salvation: as ‘tout ce que pour quoi, selon leur propre récit, leur propre Dieu avait fait mourir son propre Fils, à savoir la Terre de Sa Création’.

The Holy Spirit

It is difficult to know exactly what this means, but the (metaphorical?) appeal is finally made to the Holy Spirit as that which can renew the world, but only if it is working in the framework of a Gaian politics, not in the old politics of Nature: ‘le Saint Esprit peut ‘renouveler la surface de la Terre’, mais Il est impuissant quand on le confronte à la Nature sans visage’.

Bad theology

Theology goes wrong not when it addresses its theological themes (God, etc), but when it addresses them according to ‘Nature’, that is, in the guise of ‘Religion One’:

Comme il est étrange que les théologiens qui combattent le matérialisme, aient mis si longtemps à comprendre que ce sont eux qui ont construit, à travers les siècles, un véritable Culte de la Nature, c’est- à-dire la recherche d’une entité extérieure, immuable, universelle et indiscutable, par contraste avec le récit changeant, local, intriqué et discutable que nous autres Terriens habitons. Pour sauver le trésor de la Foi, ils l’avaient abandonné à l’Éternité.

Laudato Si

pope

Latour was nearly in despair in seeing an understanding of religion in this way until he came across the encyclical:

  • It re-unites politics, science, religion (cf. chapter 6, where Toulmin had argued that 1610 saw their separation): ‘en rattachant enfin l’écologie avec la politique et sans mépriser pour autant les sciences’.
  • It enacts the new mode of conversion, which is not towards separation but rather towards composition: ‘serait-ce possible, me disais-je en lisant l’appel du Pape François à la conversion, que l’intrusion du Gaïa puisse nous rendre proches de tous les dieux?’.

The future

All is open, everything to play for.

New world

The new world that is to be found will not be via ‘expansion’ (Columbus, etc), but by ‘intensity’ (understanding better the earth we live on, not finding a new one): ‘il s’agit toujours de l’espace, de la terre, de découverte, mais c’est la découverte d’une Terre nouvelle considérée, si je peux dire, dans son intensité et non plus dans son extension’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1]   This is an allusion to the celebrated essay: Yves Lacoste, ‘La géographie, ça sert, d’abord, à faire la guerre’, 1982 (fn. 283).

Notes on Face à Gaïa (Lecture 7)

Continuing my posts on Latour’s Face à Gaïa.

Lecture 7: Les États (de nature) entre guerre et paix

face

Caspar David Friedrich

Das Große Gehege bei Dresden, ‘The Great Enclosure’ (1832 painting):

Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_The_Grosse_Gehege_near_Dresden_-_Google_Art_Project

  • The receding lines of convergence make it difficult for the spectator to determine the situation of the flooded river in the foreground vis-à-vis the receding horizon of the sky in the background.
  • This parodies the pictorial image of the globe as taken from space, where continents and oceans seem to merge into each other in a general situation of in-distinction.

Thus, the paining makes the point: it is as if nature herself were resisting containment within a framework, let us say the framework of a globe.

And it portrays the impossible task of ‘viewing’ our situation within a globe, as if global vision introduces a confused spatiality in which the human condition cannot be pinpointed in any meaningful way: ‘dans la nature, personne n’a de place’.

Global vision is impossible

The painting therefore reminds us that it is impossible to look down upon nature from a vantage point ‘above’, one that sees what lies below holistically, or as a globe: ‘le génie de ce tableau, c’est d’avoir ainsi marqué l’instabilité de tout point de vue, qu’il s’agisse de voir le monde d’en haut, d’en bas ou du milieu’.

In fact, not even a ‘God’s eye’ view would be assured this kind of global vision: ‘celui qui croit voir le Globe terrestre d’en haut, se prend pour Dieu—et comme Dieu lui-même, bien sûr, ne voit pas la Terre ainsi, la vision globale est à la fois mensongère et impie.

Global vision is state-like

The claim to global vision (or God’s eye vision) is now described as state-like (how ironic given the emancipation promised by the phenomenon of globalization), in that both (A) global vision and (B) the state prescribe boundaries of identity for their inhabitants (we can see that it will be a short step from here to associate global vision with the liberal, juristic state that Schmitt condemns).

Thus, conflating the two, we live in (what might be called) a globe-State, ‘à l’intérieur des frontières d’un quasi-État’.

The globe-State enables only an ‘artificial’ peace

The globe-State does grant a certain amount of stability and peace for those inhabiting it, but only in the way that the liberal, juristic state does, ‘dont les lois universelles pouvaient être invoqués par n’importe quel individu rationnel pour mettre fin aux disputes et amener ses adversaires à résipiscence’.

This is an artificial or superficial stability and peace, however, because it is based on the deferral to a non-spatially orientated metaphysical principle: we all find ourselves ‘sous l’égide d’une autorité […] qu’il faut bien appeler souveraine’. Thus, the ‘globe’ or the globe-State is always given as a negative phenomenon for reasons of spatiality (nomos): ‘le Globe offre une figuration en quelque sorte géométrique de l’arbitre souverain qui règne au dessus de tous les conflits—et qui, par conséquent, les dépolitise aussitôt’.

Latour calls the peace that the globe-State brings an ‘armistice’, in the sense that it is a peace that can never hold because it can not differentiate plural modes: ‘l’Ancien Régime Climatique n’était rien de plus qu’un armistice, en attente d’un traité de paix qui n’est jamais venu, car il aurait obligé à distinguer précisément les vérités contrastées de la religion, de la politique et de la science’.

Globe-vision is a pernicious amalgamation

Globe-vision prematurely unites things that have different regimes of truth: it is a ‘stupéfiant amalgame des pouvoirs religieux, scientifiques et politiques’.

The globe-State is revealed as non-representative

The Anthropocene reveals that the globe-State never did manage to include representation for all its beings, both human and nonhuman: ‘avant l’Anthropocène, on ne se rendait pas aussi clairement compte de l’existence de ce Dôme virtuel, car on limitait l’existence des États aux seuls assemblages humains’.

We need a Gaian politics, not a globe-State politics

The sovereign Gaia must replace the sovereign Nature (as given by the globe-State), with the consequence that it will require us to do a radical rethink of the conditions of political life: ‘c’est parce que Gaïa n’est pas la ‘nature’, ni aucun de ses succédanés, qu’elle oblige à reprendre la question de la politique et à chercher un autre principe de souveraineté’.

Thus, Gaia can be understood as the antonym of this situation of the globe-State or (to put it simply) ‘the global’: it is the *‘anti-Globe’.

Gaia reintroduces conflict

If we deconstruct the previous sovereign (the globe-State), and replace it with Gaia:

  • We move from a position of apparent harmony (albeit we have seen that this is nothing other than an ‘armistice’) to a situation of for the first time possible war and peace.
  • But at least this new situation provides the condition (albeit distant and to-be-achieved) for the possibility of peace; it is therefore a cautiously healthy situation: ‘j’hésite à le souligner, mais c’est en ce sens que la ‘reprise des hostilités’ pourrait nous apparaître comme un bon signe’.

This is summarized in the following statements: ‘à condition d’accepter de passer d’un régime de paix apparente à un régime de paix possible’; ‘dans le premier régime, la Paix est donnée d’avance ; dans le second, il faut l’inventer par la mise en place d’une diplomatie spécifique’.

The Hobbesian interlude

The new situation of Gaia is a return to a pre-Hobbesian situation, in which the war-of-all-against-all prevailed: ‘par une torsion inattendue du célèbre concept de Hobbes, nous sommes rentrés dans cet état de nature qu’il plaçait dans un passé mythique, avant le contrat social, et dont le modèle lui était donné par les mœurs (mal comprises) des Indiens de l’Amérique’. The Hobbesian Leviathan might therefore be seen as an interlude between two iterations of Cosmocolosse (first, the state of war-of-all-against-all; second, the Anthropocene).

Leviathan_by_Thomas_Hobbes

However, this observation is not advocating an ‘interlude’ model, in which it might be suggested that with the advent of Gaia we are actually merely returning to a state that previously existed.

Instead, it is more that we are brought back to an awareness of the need to construct a common world that Hobbes shared, but which was lost under the shadow of the Leviathan-solution that he proposed (which ultimately was incorrect): ‘l’armistice proposé par Hobbes n’est jamais parvenu à obtenir, par un traité en bonne et due forme, une situation de paix durable entre les exigences contradictoires des différentes formes de contre-religion’.

  • The Leviathan-solution he proposed never held; the arbitration of Nature was only a chimera: ‘la sécurité apportée par l’État de la Nature n’a jamais été obtenue en réalité’.
  • Thus, we are really in the situation of being the ‘contemporary’ of Hobbes, in the sense that we are just as much on the threshold of attempting to construct a new order as he was.
  • The only difference is that whereas Hobbes was battling a religious a priori order, the situation has now shifted for us, insofar as we are now battling a scientific a priori order: ‘dans le nouveau Léviathan, les violentes disputes sur l’exégèse de la littérature scientifiques remplacent les disputes à couteaux tirés sur l’exégèse de la littérature biblique’.

Introducing Schmitt

The situation of (potential) war that we find ourselves in facing Gaia can be explained with reference to Schmitt.

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What does Latour want to use Schmitt for?

  • Latour is not so interested in Schmitt’s concept of the ‘state of exception’. This is because he supposes that, in defining the ‘state of exception’ as that which is brought about by the periodic intervention of a head of state, Schmitt misunderstood that in fact the ‘state of exception’ applies to every banal moment in the life of politics. The ‘state of exception’ is in fact the hiatus across which [POL] always passes for its veridiction. In Latour’s opinion, Schmitt therefore has little light to shed on that.
  • Instead (and even though Schmitt himself was minimally concerned with ecological implications in his own day), Latour is more interested in his concept of ‘nomos of the earth’: this is because that concept gives us a handle on how to think about space in light of the advent of Gaia without the interruptive confusion of ideas about ‘Nature’.

The value of Schmitt to Latour can therefore be summarized as twofold:

  1. He understands his concept of ‘nomos’ as being before the bifurcation, such that it is not subservient to ‘global’ thinking: Schmitt’s quality is always to appreciate the latter as a hegemonic gesture akin to a land-grab (= ‘prise du terre’).
  2. Schmitt appreciates the need for religion, in the form of apocalypticism, in order to understand our contemporary situation: ‘derrière le fatras de sa mythologie, il a parfaitement saisi qu’on ne peut pas penser la politique si l’on cherche à s’évader du temps de la fin’.

Schmitt and space

The concept of ‘nomos’ thus gives a useful way in to thinking about Modern space: ‘Schmitt est probablement le seul penseur politique à ne pas s’être laissé prendre par le cadre spatial’.

For Schmitt, space is not the neutral backdrop in which human action (politics, religion, etc) plays out. Rather, space is what is produced by those actions:

Pour lui, comme pour les historiens des sciences les plus récents, la res extensa n’est pas ce dans quoi se situe la politique—le fond de carte de toute géopolitique—mais ce qui est engendré par l’action politique elle-même et par son instrumentation technique.

Thus, for Schmitt: *‘l’espace est fils de l’histoire’.

 

Schmitt’s work therefore searches for a pre-Modern conception of space: ‘il cherche à creuser avant l’invention du territoire conçu comme un espace transparent qu’un souverain considèrerait depuis la fenêtre de son palais’.

In doing so, he is looking not for one unified space, but for a proliferation of plural spaces defined by relation: *‘des rapports d’espacement particuliers’.

Schmitt’s proposed terms of peace

Latour considers the foreword of The Nomos of the Earth as a way-in:

nomos

  • In that foreword Schmitt reveals himself as being sceptical about a solution that is premised on accession to some other space, the idea being that we might resolve our differences simply by finding some new place to go; not least because (in a literal sense, now that the era of colonization is ended) there really is no new place to go in the world.
  • Instead, the positive solution comes through a new appropriation of the space that we have according to the principle of Sinnreich der Erde (‘le règne du sens de la terre’, in English translated as ‘the normative order of the earth’, but probably weakly) (241). Those who can achieve this will be the new ‘artisans of peace’.
  • Latour’s interpretation of this space-ordering, which is precisely the nomos in question, is that Schmitt intends it to be a pre-bifurcation sentiment: ‘avant l’invention de la distinction entre nature et politique’.
  • Nomos thus equates to Latour’s own term of ‘redistribution des puissances d’agir’ or ‘cosmograme’.

However, for Schmitt, in order for there to peace there first has to be war

Avant de nous intéresser à ce qui va permettre aux territoires d’expliciter leurs lignes de front, essayons de comprendre pourquoi l’accès aux négociations de paix exige la reconnaissance préalable d’un état de guerre’.

From Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political:

  • If the police-state rules, there is always a ‘third’ arbitrator who can prevent true politics from taking place.
  • A state of war can accede when there is no ‘third’ arbitrator, such that situations of genuine conflict can ensue: ‘la guerre commence quand il n’y a pas d’arbitre souverain, quand il n’existe pas de ‘normes générales’ qui puissent être appliquées pour rendre un jugement’.

In the Anthropocene, we have an enlarged Schmittian war

In the Anthropocene:

  • The former policing has disappeared: ‘le Dôme de la Nature, sous lequel tous les anciens conflits avaient lieu, a disparu’.
  • Gaia rejects the role of being a policeman. Thus, the only possible consequence is that Schmittian war of some sort will ensue.

Tel [the Anthropocene] est le point de bascule [tipping point, pivot point] entre la ‘nature’ unifiée, indifférente, impartiale, globale, dont les lois sont déterminées à l’avance par le principe de causalité; et Gaïa qui n’est pas unifiée, dont les boucles de rétroaction doivent être découvertes une à une, et dont on ne peut plus dire qu’elle soit indifférente à nos actions, depuis que nous sommes obligés de définir l’Anthropocène comme la réaction multiforme de la Terre à nos entreprises.

But a Schmittian war expanded in scale

This ‘war’, however, as prompted by the Anthropocene, is cast in terms not of human-to-human (which naturally is the only thing that Schmitt could conceive of), but in terms of human-nonhuman.

What will this Schmittian war achieve?

The effect is not mutual destruction, but a grappling between all entities in order to define how we can live: ‘il faut se battre point à point, pour découvrir—et non plus appliquer—les réactions des puissances d’agir les unes sur les autres’. The Schmittian war in view, then, is a (potentially) positive one if it induces this reaction.

In the time of the Anthropocene, however, this does have a life-or-death zero-sum feel: ‘la ‘nature’, du moins la Terre sublunaire, a été placée dans une situation qui oblige tout un chacun à prendre des décisions au sujet des ‘extrêmes’ de la vie et de la mort face à des étrangers qui prétendent nier leur condition existentielle’. This is an important point: for what Gaia is really doing us reminding us of our existential limits, our finitude, the necessity of co-operating and knowing our place, etc: * ‘ce qui vient, Gaïa, doit apparaître comme une menace, parce que c’est le seul moyen de nous rendre sensible à la mortalité, à la finitude, à la « négation existentielle », à la simple difficulté d’être de cette Terre’.

Utopia

Schmitt was correct in foreseeing that a world in which there was no possibility of war as just defined would be a worse world, precisely because it would enable the unchecked growth of MPs, that is, aggressors who were free, essentially, to destroy (not just battle) the other: ‘un monde d’où l’éventualité de cette lutte aurait été entièrement écartée et bannie, une planète définitivement pacifiée serait un monde sans discrimination de l’ami et de l’ennemi et par conséquent un monde sans politique’ (from The Concept of the Political).

This is the position of the eco-modernists: the seek to create a ‘utopie’ and in doing so bypass entirely ‘politics’ (as defined by Schmitt). Thus, *utopia = the opposite of politics, the state induced by metaphysics.

Schmittian war vs ecomodernist utopia

The choice is difficult, but clear: ‘la périlleuse vertu de penseurs réactionnaires comme Schmitt, c’est de nous forcer à faire un choix plus radical que celui de tant d’écologistes, toujours animés par l’espoir de s’en sortir sans jamais politiser les questions de nature’

What can Schmitt teach us in practice?

In order to survive in the time of the Anthropocene, then, we will need to act in a Schmittian way, that is, to define who we are vis-à-vis a (potential) enemy.

It is as if we need a new nomos (the one that no longer pertains, according to Schmitt, in the twentieth century): ‘les Terrestres seront-ils capables d’inventer un successeur à ce jus publicum, en vue de limiter les guerres à venir pour la désappropriation du monde.

This brings us back to the three key principles of composition, that is, the cosmogramme mentioned earlier: ‘il faut qu’ils acceptent de préciser l’époque où ils se situent, le nom qu’ils donnent à leur peuple, et, surtout, qu’ils parviennent à tracer l’espace qui est le leur pour que les autres comprennent quel est le territoire qu’ils sont prêts à défendre’.

  1. Time/ history

Where are the Moderns in history?

  • The are engaged in the movement of the dancer, that is, failing to look in front of them: ‘contrairement à ce qu’ils disent souvent à leur sujet, les Modernes ne sont pas des créatures qui regardent vers l’avant, mais presque exclusivement vers l’arrière et, curieusement, en l’air’.
  • Thus, they are failing to under ‘passing time’ and the challenges that it presents to their present. Rather, they are operating in a kind of freeze-frame present that fails to respect the future that is to come: ‘le futur des Modernes n’est pas devant eux, confié à une vision réaliste, hésitante, du temps qui passe, mais il est fait de cette transcendance inaccessible qu’ils cherchent néanmoins à situer dans le temps pour remplacer le cours de celui-ci’.
  • Thus, for the Moderns, the future (l’avenir) cannot in an important sense take place (devenir): rather, it is pre-ordained. They cannot face the future as agents (250).
  • What they need to be facing is ‘apocalypse’, which is a state of affairs of flux, becoming, change, responsibility, etc. Instead, the find themselves placed in a kind of post-apocalyptic world: ‘les Modernes ne sont jamais de leur temps, mais toujours de l’autre côté de l’Apocalypse’.

Conclusion: ‘en bref, le temps des Modernes est étrangement intemporel’.

It is precisely the non-temporality of Modernity that Péguy’s Clio diagnoses and provides the antidote for: ‘rentre aux Modernes un temps’.

  1. Space

Corresponding to the attitude towards time/ the present, the Moderns also are those who are always looking to find a new space, but have no means of actually inhabiting the space that is given to them (this planet). In this way they are like astronauts with no idea how to get back to earth.

  • Whereas space used to be that which the Moderns were seeking to quit, now that same space (the Earth) is coming back at them with new demands: ‘les choses se renversent, et la terre qui était auparavant ce que l’on devait quitter pour profiter de la modernisation, devient la nouvelle Terre qui vient à vous’.
  • Whereas the Moderns think that Modernity has prepared them well to really understand and inhabit the world as it is, and thus to be the masters of realism and materialism, in fact the opposite is the case: ‘comme il est étrange qu’après avoir entendu tant d’appels en faveur du matérialisme, nous nous trouvions totalement démunis pour aborder les conditions matérielles de notre existence atmosphérique’.
  • The Religion of the Moderns was in cahoots with this attitude, in that it sent people away from this world to another: ‘la terre qui était auparavant ce que l’on devait quitter pour profiter de la modernisation’.

 

What Gaia, and in particular REL (that is, the apocalyptic element of REL), gives us then, is proper adherence to the planet Earth: *‘une conduite mondaine, terrestre, incarnée’. One of the values instituted by REL = time of the end, that is, it prepares us now to find out position in relation to what is to come. This is the purpose of apocalypse as Latour understands it: ‘les feux d’artifice de l’Apocalypse ne sont pas là pour nous préparer à une élévation extatique vers le Ciel, mais au contraire pour nous éviter d’être chassés de la Terre réagissant à nos efforts de domination’.

  1. Collective

All this prevents a premature identification of who the anthropos of the Anthropocene actually is.

Instead, it requires that a collective is named according to its agency: what is causing you to act (as a group). *Crucially this includes as a sub-element the nature of the deity that is causing you to act: ‘et, en plus, s’il vous plait, dites-nous enfin clairement par quelle déité vous vous sentez convoqués et protégés’. Thus, Latour is clearly not denying that there are metaphysical principles of collection out there: he is just asking us to be explicit about which one is causing us to act.

The Earthbound

The collective that Latour is interested in being a part of is the one that is most explicit about its cosmogram: the Earthbound (les Terrestres in French).

War of humans vs the earthbound

Je sais qu’il est périlleux d’énoncer le problème aussi brutalement, mais je suis obligé de dire qu’à l’époque de l’Anthropocène les Humains et les Terrestres devraient accepter d’entrer en guerre. Pour dire les choses dans le style d’une fiction géohistorique, les Humains qui vivent à l’époque de l’Holocène sont en conflit avec les Terrestres de l’Anthropocène’.

 

Notes on Face à Gaïa (Lecture 6)

Continuing my posts on Latour’s Face à Gaïa.

Lecture Six. Comment (ne pas) en finir avec la fin des temps

face

Objective

  1. To diagnose the religious (or ‘counter-religious’) origin of Modernity, and in particular its tendency to generate disinhibition (cf. Fressoz) in the face of climate change: ‘je vais tenter, dans cette conférence, probablement plus difficile que les autres, de continuer à explorer l’origine religieuse, où, plus exactement (contre)-religieuse de cette remarquable indifférence de nos contemporains à la mutation écologique’.
  2. This counter-religious origin of Modernity comprised a mistaken understanding of the spatio-temporal nature of immanence: ‘c’est dans un certain rapport avec la notion d’immanence, que nous allons trouver la clef de l’indifférence au terrestre. Cette indifférence est bien d’origine religieuse’.
  3. However, this is not true Christianity, which (when it is understood correctly) offers a proper understanding of the spatio-temporal nature of immanence:‘mais pas du tout pour la raison d’habitude invoquée pour faire peser sur le Christianisme la responsabilité de l’oubli du monde matériel’.

1610

This year has significance in the history of Modernity for at least three reasons:

  • Galileo and the Modern Constitution: in this year Galileo moved us out of the ‘closed world’ into the ‘infinite universe’ (Koyré); promising to take us beyond (arracher) the limits of this world alone; initiating the drive towards the movement of plus ultra; and so on.
  • The Anthropocene: this year was also offered in a recent Nature article as the beginning of the Anthropocene, caused by a spike in CO2 due to reforestation of the Americas (enabled, we might add, by the destruction of local Indians); reminding us that contrary to what Galileo suggested the earth is reactive.[1]

And the third? Interestingly, this is the same date as the regicide of Henri IV pace Toulmin.

1610 as transition between two ages

cosmo

Toulmin argues that the assassination of le bon roi in 1610, and the thirty-years war that followed, marks a transition from one age to another:

Former Age New Age
Characterized by pluralism and healthy skepticism, ‘ouverture d’esprit, de relativisme, d’expérimentation ou de tolérance’. Characterized by the requirement of certitude, even if it wasn’t necessarily clear or even important what that certitude should be in.
Represented by the humanisms of Montaigne, Erasmus, Rabelais, Palissy. Represented by Descartes, wars for the definition of ‘true religion’ (Reformation and Counter-Reformation), Hobbes, and the peace of Westphalia.
Features the mixture and compatability of different regimes of truth: ‘mélangeant les découvertes en science comme en religion ou en politique’. Rendered different regimes of truth (science, politics, art, religion, etc) incompatible with one another.
Spatio-temporal grounding: (A) the particular; (B) l’enracinement dans le temps. Spatio-temporal grounding: (A) the universal; (B) une vision intemporelle.
The ‘true’ Revolution. A pernicious ‘Counter-Revolution’.

The latter spelt the death-knell for the former: ‘une nouvelle forme de certitude absolue qui met fin au pluralisme et au scepticisme’.

1610 as foreshadowing our own time

In our own time, we have similar movements: ‘il est difficile de ne pas lire cette citation, sans la rapporter au temps présent’:

  • The hegemony of certitude.
  • The threat posed by the recalibration of agencies threatened by the Anthropocene: ‘que la Terre puisse réagir à nos actions embarrasse tout autant les intellectuels d’aujourd’hui que l’autonomie de la matière embarrassait jadis les tenants de l’ordre établi’.

Certainty

What is the nature of the ‘certainty’ that Toulmin thinks was introduced at this time?

  • Inertia of matter: a commitment to rendering matter de-animated such as to be able to produce ‘matters of fact’.
  • Reduction of autonomy: the creation of matters of fact enabled society to reduce ‘l’autonomie’ of human behavior, and thus to prevent the freedom of composition that had led to war.

Thus there was a political motif behind the transition to certainty.

Rationality

Ironically, by introducing the discourse of certainty, this transition lost rationality (as it is defined by AIME): ‘la Raison devient l’interdit de suivre les raisons’.

What does Toulmin diagnose?

Toulmin diagnoses a historical moment:

  1. This moment does succeed in securing an ‘armistice’.
  2. But it is at the cost of amalgamation of modes: ‘ce fut au prix d’une paralysie de la pensée figée pour plusieurs siècles dans une répartition malencontreuse des fonctions entre la politique, la science et la religion sous l’autorité protective de l’État’.

What does Toulmin propose?

The final part of his book proposes as it were that we go back to 1610 and before, in order to recapture science, politics and religion before they were captured by certainty: ‘il faut accepter de se replonger dans le maelstrom de la Renaissance […] c’est la seule chance de rattraper ce qui a été perdu en un tel moment par cette demande de certitude indifférenciée, seul moyen, après 1610, d’empêcher les guerres de religion’.

A second candidate for the transition

Toulmin’s reference to 1610 as the ‘Counter-Revolution’ reminds us of another thinker: the ‘counter-religion’ of Assmann. Thus, now Latour proposes to go back further than merely 1610 in order to trace the moment at which this transition occurred: ‘pour découvrir l’origine de la désinhibition, il faut donc remonter encore plus loin, longtemps avant la solution apportée par l’État’.

Religion is the original site of the transition

By going back to Assmann, Latour shows that the transition (exemplified by 1610) actually goes back to religion as an original site: ‘qu’il faille chercher dans la religion l’origine de cette forme curieuse d’indifférence aux alertes sur l’état actuel de la nature’. That is to say, religion was the original vehicle by which the concept of ‘certainty’ was carried through.

Apocalypse

Religion was originally loaded in this way by a mutation in time, which might might characterize as ‘apocalypse’. Thus, we now shift to a consideration of apocalypse.

We might define apocalypse as Latour’s trope for a form of existence that is open to change from the outside.

  • It is lived, present, historical reality that some inhabit, and others don’t: in fact it represents ‘la révélation d’un certain régime d’historicité’.
  • However, apocalypse as lived, present, historical reality has been obscured by John’s Revelation, which has transmuted it into a future event to come.

Modernity and Apocalypse

  • Moderns live ‘après l’Apocalypse’, in the sense that they are located after a cut that ensures the forward progress of everything.
  • Thus, the forward march of time, le temps qui passe, is in realization of a future that is already determined: ‘un certain nombre de peuples se disent désormais absolument certains d’avoir atteint la fin des temps, d’être parvenu dans un autre monde, et d’être séparés des temps anciens par une rupture absolue’. This is the march of plus ultra.
  • But this is paradoxical: the Moderns are living in time but not in time: ‘il est paradoxal, en effet, de vivre le temps qui passe, à la fois comme ce qui distingue radicalement du temps des fins, et, néanmoins, comme ce qui réalise ces mêmes fins’.

This attitude is highly religious, in the sense of Religion One, that is, it is undergirded by transcendence, belief and certitude: ‘rien ne peut plus leur arriver. Ils sont déjà et pour toujours dans un autre monde’.

[REL] and Apocalypse

By contrast, [REL] is able to handle the idea of living ‘in’, not ‘after’, apocalypse. Thus, [REL] when it is properly understood is a vehicle for immanence, and thus for political theology.

The key formulation is as follows: [REL] makes the discovery

*‘que l’on peut vivre, que l’on doit vivre dans le ‘temps de la fin’, en ce sens, à la fois très précis et terriblement instable, que les fins sont atteintes définitivement, au sein du temps et ne peuvent être réalisées que grâce à lui’.

In other words, [REL] is the ultimate vehicle by which the outside can be brought to the inside and made to change.

‘End of time’ or ‘time of the end’

The apocalyptic distinction is brought out between:

  • Modernity: the end of time, ‘la fin des temps qui passe’.
  • REL: the time of the end, ‘le temps de la fin dans le temps qui passe’.

 The only sense in which ‘the end of time’ can be conceived is as a provisional macro assemblage in time (and subject to change in the future): the concept of ‘fin’ can only be validated ‘toujours dans et avec le temps et surtout par son truchement’. Another way of putting this is that what endures only by dint of what is temporary: ‘ce qui dure pour toujours ne dure que par ce qui ne dure pas’ .

Voegelin and the end of time

voeg

Voegelin understood the problematic political theology of Modernity in precisely these terms: ‘ce n’était plus le temps de la fin dans le temps qui passe, c’était la fin, l’interruption finale du temps qui passe’.

  • He pointed the finger at Joachim de Fiore, who he deemed to have initiated a system ‘of the Spirit’ in which time could be understood as cause-and-effect, that is, as definitely moving forward in a fixed way to a fixed end, thus ‘la fin des temps’. This was realized eschatology, assuming the Augustinian ‘Cité Céleste’ on earth: this was the bad form of political theology.
  • For Voegelin, this is exactly the political theology of contemporary fundamentalists who wish to realize some eschatology here and now on earth and who are not prepared to live with the form of political theology that has a delicate compositional flavour: those who are ‘définitivement immunisés contre le doute, puisque qu’ils seront passés de l’autre côté de l’incertitude concernant le temps et sa direction. Les fins ne sont plus ce qu’on attend, mais ce qu’on possède’.
  • Thus, Modernity had not passed therefore from the religious to the secular, but from a tentative and hesitant grasp of the end of time to the end of time being secured in the here-and-now: ‘il nous dit que nous sommes passés d’une situation où l’immanence et la transcendance, le passage du temps et le temps de la fin, la Cité Terrestre et la Cité Céleste, étaient dans un rapport de révélation mutuelle—c’est le sens propre du mot apocalypse—à une situation toute différente, où l’on croit pouvoir saisir dans l’ici-bas la promesse certaine de la présence réalisée de l’au-delà. D’après lui, les Modernes ne sont pas sécularisés—et c’est l’objet d’une vaste dispute—mais à l’inverse immanentisés’.

Voegelin’s target was therefore a political theology defined by over-realisation of the present time, such that it would foreclose progressive composition in favour of certitude.

Immanentization

The political theology diagnosed by Voegelin has at its heart the curious process of ‘immanentization’:

[…] cette curieuse façon d’échapper à la fois à l’immanence par un appel déplacé à la transcendance, et à la transcendance par un court-circuit trop rapide avec l’immanence.

In other words, Voegelin’s observation was that immanentization actually served not to be immanent, but to lose all connection with the world, precisely because its immanent was given by a MP, not by progressive composition: ‘tout le paradoxe de la modernisation, c’est qu’elle a perdu de vue, chaque fois davantage, tout contact avec le mondain, la matérialité: elle ne voit plus dans ce bas monde que l’autre monde simplement immanentisé’.

Modernity and apocalypse

The Modern cannot handle the apocalyptic, the irruption of change in his life, because, as far as he is concerned, the future should be mapped out according to linear coordinates:

Allez dire à des Occidentaux—ou à ceux qui viennent récemment d’être occidentalisés avec plus ou moins de violence—que les temps sont finis, que leur monde est terminé, qu’il faut qu’ils changent leur façon de vivre, ne peut entrainer qu’un sentiment de totale incompréhension puisque, pour eux, l’Apocalypse a déjà eu lieu. Ils sont déjà passés de l’autre côté.

Modernity and the Earth

What kind of Earth (space), then, are the Moderns inhabiting? A no-time/ no-space Earth, because the Earth is not allowed to act: ‘cette Terre n’a rien de terrestre, puisque ce qui est nié, justement, c’est qu’elle aie une histoire, une historicité, une rétroaction, des capacités, bref des puissances d’agir’.

The religious underpinning of Modernity

The faulty relationship of the Moderns to the Earth (as shown by their disinhibited reaction to climate change warnings) is religious in origin: ‘si la modernité n’était pas si profondément religieuse, l’appel à s’ajuster à la Terre serait facilement entendu’.

Voegelin and gnosticism

In attempting to describe the religious underpinning of Modernity, Voegelin uses the concept of ‘Gnosticism’ as a trope:

  • It is a vehicle for ‘la connaissance assurée’.
  • And yet, this certain knowledge is grounded in a non-worldly transcendence that causes them to despise this world and its materiality: ‘le mépris de la matière’. A mistrust, and even hatred, of this world (a lack of ‘care’) is thus characteristic of the Moderns.

Christianity

What is the role of Christianity per se in this Gnostic disinhibition?

  • It is not that Christianity is intrinsically contra the earth, as was the criticism levelled at it by Lynn White: ‘s’il y a une origine historique à la crise écologique, ce n’est pas parce que la religion chrétienne aurait rendu méprisable le monde créé’.
  • Rather, it is more the case that Christianity has lost track of its original function in some way: ‘mais plutôt parce que la dite religion chrétienne a perdu, quelque part entre le 13ème et le 18ème siècle, sa vocation initiale en devenant gnostique, avant de passer le flambeau aux formes superficiellement irréligieuses de contre-religion’.
  • It then proceeded to a progressive reduction of its concern for the world, restricting itself to the salvation of the few, then the salvation of the soul, then only a form of morality, that is, retreat to the super-natural, and away from this world.

Thus, what is posited is a historical degradation of Christianity, rather than a intrinsic flaw.

By contrast, Christianity should be at the forefront of attempts to engage with this world:[2]défendant la matérialité injustement accusée contre la matière indûment spiritualisée’.

The third attractor

Instead of the contrast between ‘science’ and ‘religion’, or between ‘the secular’ and ‘the religious’, Latour proposes instead a third way (this is what he subsequently termed ‘the third attractor’), which he calls ‘le terrestre’:

The ‘terrestre’ is the definition of progressive composition, which Latour here defines as ‘l’immanence libérée de l’immanentisation’.

The third attractor and religion

What is the relationship between the ‘terrestre’ and religion?

  • The third attractor will mean getting rid of ‘religion’ (Religion One), but not to the point where we become ‘secular’ by contrast: ‘si l’on y parvenait, on pourrait en finir avec le religieux, mais pas au sens de séculariser l’existence’.
  • *This is because the true essence of the ‘terrestre’ is in fact ‘religion’ (Religion Two): ‘au contraire, il s’agirait plutôt de réactiver ce que peut avoir d’actif et de fécond le thème ancien de la contre-religion : l’incertitude sur les fins’.

Progress

To appreciate that third attractor, we have to do away with the Modern idea of forward movement/ progress:

Pour retrouver l’histoire, il faut pouvoir s’extirper de ce thème étrange que l’histoire serait déjà finie, qu’il existerait une rupture totale et radicale qui aurait définitivement brûlé nos vaisseaux derrière nous. C’est le cliché bien connu de l’irrésistible ‘fuite en avant’’.[3]

The ‘rupture’ in the past can take a number of forms, corresponding to whether one wants to think of oneself as Scientific, Political or Religious: ‘peu importe que ce soit la Lumière de la Révélation, les Lumières de la Science, ou l’Éblouissement de la Révolution’.

The point is, however, that the Modern concept of ‘progress’ (guaranteed by a rupture):

  1. There is no going back: ‘il n’y a pas de retour en arrière possible’.
  2. Thus, the present is lost: ‘sans un moyen de regagner le présent’.

Nonmodernity and apocalypse

The only solution, and indeed the only way in which to engage the third attractor, is therefore to become apocalyptic: ‘nous positionner comme si nous étions à la Fin du Temps’.

Nature as God/ Gaia as God

As Latour’s cosmogram has shown, every collective must have a deity (deos) that authorizes it. His final point in this lecture is that ‘Gaia’ is a legitimate deity in this regard, when compared with the deity ‘Nature’:

  • The deity ‘Nature’ convoked as a metaphysical hegemon: ‘l’hypocrisie de l’invocation d’une Nature dont on cachait le fait qu’Elle était le nom d’une divinité’.
  • The deity ‘Gaia’ convokes according to the principle of hesitation, the immanent, progressive composition, etc. Gaia is not religious (Religion One), but she is religious (Religion Two): ‘Gaïa, nous le comprenons maintenant, est bien moins une figure religieuse que la Nature’.

The apocalyptic questio

And so the question to determine whether you are Modern or nonmodern becomes: ‘et vous, est-ce que vous vous placez avant, pendant ou après l’Apocalypse?’.

  • Before the apocalypse: this equates to some kind of naivity that Latour doesn’t think anyone in the world really inhabits: ‘par une chance incroyable, vous ayez encore échappé à toute forme de modernisation et donc que vous ignoriez la morsure de la contre-religion’.
  • After the apocalypse: this equates to Modern disinhibition, where no trumpet can rouse you from your belief that the apocalypse has already happened.
  • During the apocalypse: this is what interests Latour, such that ‘vous savez que vous n’échapperez pas au temps qui passe’.

The rational apocalypse

Thus, the apocalypse serves us by calling us back to rationality: ‘apocalypse est un appel à être enfin rationnel, à avoir les pieds sur terre’.

References

[1]   Lewis and Maslin, ‘Defining the Anthropocene’, Nature, 171–180 (12 March 2015).

[2]   Texts that Latour cites here are: Heléne Bastaire & Jean Bastaire, La terre de gloire, 2010; Christophe Boureux, Dieu est aussi jardinier, 2014 ; Michael S. Northcott, A Political Theology of Climate Change, 2013.

[3]   The phrase ‘fuite en avant’ comes from the Deborah Danowski and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro article in the ‘From the Closed World’ volume, entitled: ‘L’arrêt de monde’, 2014.

Notes on Face à Gaïa (Lecture 5)

Continuing my posts on Latour’s Face à Gaïa. Remember, these are nothing but notes: they don’t contain any of my own interpretation, so it’s really the case that they’re just a record of some of the themes and content of the book.

Lecture Five: Comment convoquer les différents peuples (de la nature)?

face
Hobbes and Nature

The difference between the two images (Leviathan frontispiece, Nature cover):

Leviathan_by_Thomas_Hobbes

NatureCover120315

  1. The first proposes unity.
  2. The second proposes and enacts division; it is less clear how to act when faced by it.

Thus: ‘face au Léviathan, vous savez qui vous êtes et devant quelle autorité vous devez plier le genou; mais comment se comporter devant cet autre Cosmocolosse’.

The second image, corresponding to the Anthropocene, therefore marks a radical new situation in the world with which we must take account: ‘on peut douter que l’Anthropocène marque une époque géologique, mais pas qu’il désigne une transition qui oblige à tout reprendre’.

Religion in the Anthropocene

One of the things the Anthropocene (as represented by the Nature-image) shakes up is religion.

  • Where the Leviathan-image sought to situate religion in a clear and controlled way.
  • The Anthropocene has thrown it into doubt and unsettled it.

This is particularly the case for religions that claim some kind of global or all-encompassing authority: ‘la survenue de Gaïa oblige à douter de toutes les religions englobantes’.

Religion One

To be more precise, what is shaken up in the Anthropocene is the form of Religion One (as defined in the Gifford Lectures), that is, ‘l’étrange idée qui faisait de la Nature connue par la Science ce qui devait s’opposer à la Religion’. We might call this ‘natural religion’ in a specified sense to indicate this is religion under the aegis of the Modern Constitution (the ‘MC’), the Religion of the Moderns.

Religion One and land appropriation

Religion One, like all expressions of the MC, is always a function of a land appropriation:

C’est à toutes les cosmologies [in which religion is included as one] que la même question se pose: que veut dire, pour un peuple, de mesurer, représenter et composer la forme de la Terre à laquelle il se trouve attaché?

  • Religion One thus seeks to control, measure, represent, figure, etc that which is immanent and secular.
  • However, it does so from a position ‘above’ the immanent and secular, and thus is guilty of being transcendent and dogmatic.

An opportunity to corrode Religion One

The opportunity posed by the Anthropocene is to dissolve Religion One and to recast it instead as fully rational and veridicted: ‘c’est l’une des forces de Gaïa, cet acide si puissant, qu’elle corrode l’amalgame de toute religion naturelle’.

Religion Two and land appropriation

The recalibration of this debate will come via an act of remapping: ‘ce que je voudrais dessiner, c’est une carte grossière des territoires occupés par des peuples en lutte les uns contre les autres’. This would replace the artificial land appropriation given by Religion One above.

What is proposed, then, is a new spatial-temporal configuration of religion, which would be a land appropriation, or a *‘design’:

Pour esquisser un tel dessein, il nous faut apprendre à repérer, pour les collectifs jusque là mal assemblés par le format nature/ culture, comment ils pourraient s’entre définir, s’articuler l’un par l’autre, en procédant à des opérations que l’on pourrait dire de guerre ou de paix, autrement dit de diplomatie risqué.

Note from this quotation:

  • This procedure will entail operations of ‘war and peace’ (Schmitt).
  • This procedure will ultimately lead to ‘diplomacy’.

Five questions

If an institution (such as Religion Two) is to be mapped more appropriately, five questions will have to be posed, each of which concerns how the collective is to be composed:

  1. What is the supreme authority that collects it?
  2. What is the extent of the people gathered?
  3. What space do they occupy? (‘sur quel territoire se sentent-ils habités?’)
  4. What time do they believe they inhabit?
  5. What is the organizing principle (‘le principe d’organisation’) that distributes their agencies? = which is also called their ‘cosmogram’? This fifth question is the one that allows the value judgment (PRE) to arise.

This fivefold method will allow questions to be asked of religion that evade the Nature/ Culture schema.

Violence

To ask these questions is to arrange a collective on the ground. It is thus a land appropriation that seeks to displace the land appropriation previously in place. It is bound to entail jostling, repositioning, self-defence, etc against those who are trying to assimilate us to a different configuration:

La violence que doivent apprendre à regarder en face ceux qui prétendent assembler des peuples pour se défendre contre ceux qui prétendent détruire leur sol. Comment s’en étonner, puisque c’est bien dans une guerre des mondes que nous nous trouvons désormais engagés?

The (new) land appropriation will therefore follow the pattern: (A) violence first; (B) afterwards, a hope of diplomacy.

Neglect

At this point, Latour picks up Serres’ definition of religion as the antonym of ‘neglect’.[1]

  • Religion is understood as a broad definition of whatever it is we take care of/ build together/ assemble. In fact, religion occurs wherever there is composition: ‘en ce sens, on le comprend volontiers, il n’existe pas de collectif irréligieux’.
  • Religion will only be lacking, then, where neglect of this principle of composition exists.

Religion and diplomacy

In adapting its compositional role, religion represents something like a radar able to detect compositional processes in general (and where they may or may not be present in other collectives). Thus, to be religious is ‘devenir attentif au choc, au scandale, que peut représenter pour un collectif le manque de soin d’un autre collectif. Autrement dit, être religieux, c’est d’abord se rendre attentif à ce à quoi d’autres tiennent’.

To be religious is therefore to be the highest form of diplomat: ‘c’est donc, pour partie, apprendre à se comporter en diplomate’.

What renders religion so diplomatic? It is because it is able to be sensitive to the fivefold questions posed above.

Q1. Religion is sensitive to the fact of a supreme authority that collects

For Latour, religion is equipped to enquire and respect the Durkheimian observation that all collectives have a supreme authority of one sort or another, whether that be a God or something else, and that the most important thing is that we at least come to see what that is. Thus: ‘nous le savons depuis que l’anthropologie existe: pas de collectif sans un rituel au cours duquel on découvre que le seul moyen de se rassembler réellement comme groupe consiste à être convoqué par cette autorité et à l’invoquer en retour’.

This is what Latour means when he says there is no secular, because however ‘secular’ a collective claims to be, it is still operating under the aegis of a supreme authority of some sort. To put it another way, for Latour there has to be a ‘god’ function in any collective.[2] Cf. John Milbank in Theology and Social Theory.

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Q2. Religion is sensitive to the fact of a collective that sustains their supreme authority

The life of a collective is not secured only in a top-down way, however, but also by a reciprocal process of definition: people are assembled by a god; god is invoked by the people. This is a ‘mouvement d’aller-retour qui relie un peuple rassemblé par ses divinités à des divinités rassembleuses invoquées par leur peuple’. To put it another way: ‘pas de culte sans culture vivante; pas de culture sans culte vivant’.

Translation tables

A (religious) diplomat sensitive to Q1 and Q2 would be adapting a methodology akin to that of Assmann: it is to look underneath ‘names’ and towards ‘performances’: ‘tant que l’on s’en tient aux noms, on se bat sans cesse et en vain’.

The Mosaic division

Latour agrees with Assmann that the function of translation was systematically lost at a punctuated point of history: the Mosaic distinction.

With the MD, Latour seems to be agreeing that there was a particular moment in history (Moses) in which the possibility of being religious was lost and in which the phenomenon of Religion (using Assmann’s terms: ‘counter-religion’ or ‘secondary religion’) became a majority player on the stage.

Features of the MD include:

  • From that time on, we became non-attentive/ neglectful of that to which other collectives hold, thereby indicating that our own belief system was not being progressively composed in the common world (but rather that it was held to as a fundamental belief): ‘l’ancien sens du mot religion n’est plus compréhensible: bien au contraire, négliger ce à quoi les autres tiennent, telle est la nouvelle injonction’.
  • From that time on, the idea that we should be prepared to defend our own fundamental belief in the common world (by means of translation tables, for example) induces horror: ‘À partir de ce point de rupture dans l’histoire, on va pouvoir repérer l’irruption de la religion par les réactions d’horreur devant le relativisme modéré qu’autorisaient les tables de noms de dieux, et par la multiplication des gestes iconoclasts’.

Contemporary secularity as ‘religious’

  • The Mosaic Distinction (and the Religion of the Moderns that it sets in motion) seems to be a far cry from (what appears to be) our contemporary society, which is highly pluralistic and apparently tolerant.
  • And yet the dynamic that lies behind the Mosaic Distinction is everywhere apparent in our contemporary society, in the way it ‘invokes’ the ‘god’ Nature.
  • This is in spite of the fact that our contemporary society may well assume that it is secular, and perhaps even irreligious: ‘il ne suffisait pas pour être irréligieux de se croire irréligieux’.

True religion (which for Latour = REL, composition, secular) is rare in the contemporary world, then, because there is always a metaphysical over-determination waiting in ambush around every corner: ‘il y a toujours une déité en embuscade qui exige de n’être rendue commensurable avec aucune autre’.

Contemporary secularity, then, in spite of its pluralistic claims, refuses to enter into composition and thus acts as the worst kind of fundamentalist religion of the past. In fact, contemporary secularity has really just replaced the God of former times for the God as given by Nature: ‘du vrai Dieu fulminant contre toutes les idoles, on est passé à la vraie Nature fulminant contre tous les faux dieux’.

The Moderns are religious

Thus it can be said that the Moderns are the most religious people of all, by dint of the fact that they will have some concept of ‘truth’ that preys on the metaphysical status of a ‘supreme authority’:

Quoiqu’on pense des Modernes, aussi incroyants qu’ils s’estiment, aussi délivrés de toute divinité qu’ils s’imaginent, ils sont bien les héritiers directs de cette ‘division mosaïque’ puisqu’ils continuent à lier autorité suprême et vérité, à cette nuance près que la division passe désormais entre, d’un côté, croire en une religion quelconque et, de l’autre connaître la vérité de la nature.

Whatever one thinks of the Moderns, as unbelieving as they consider themselves to be, as free of all gods as they imagine themselves to be, they are all the same the direct inheritors of the ‘Mosaic Division’, insofar as they continue to associate truth with a supreme authority, if we nuance the division by understanding it nowadays as passing, on the one hand, between belief in some religion and, on the other hand, knowledge of the truth of nature. (my loose translation)

And this is the case however vehemently ‘secular’ the Modern in question might conceive himself as being, and indeed however anti-monotheistic he might conceive himself as being: ‘même ceux qui vomissent les religions monothéistes, leur ont emprunté cette façon si particulière de vomir l’idolâtrie’.

Nature is revealed as ‘Religion One’ by dint of translation tables

  • The cry of indignation quickly rises: Nature is not a ‘god’ that is invoked like Jesus or Buddha; it is simply how things are.
  • But be patient, and apply the category of ‘Nature’ to the translation exercise outlined above.
  • This will soon show that Nature ‘n’est pas un domaine mais un concept’.

Cenosotone as deity

Thus follows the thought-exercise around the collective: ‘ce-dont-nous-sommes-tous-nés’, the equivalent of OWWABB in the Giffords. Here, cenosotone can be taken as the ‘deity’ that convokes a people. The question is, what kind of deity is this?

Cenosotone is of course the deity: Nature One.

There follows lengthy descriptions of the contrast between theory (what the Moderns think cenosotone is) and practice (how cenosotone actually functions):

  1. Externality.
  2. Universality (in the sense that all agents obey its law).
  3. Inanimate (in the sense that individual agents don’t have their own wills).
  4. Indiscutable (in the sense that it presents itself as a closed matter of fact, not as a matter of concern).

Of course, these functions are contradicted by practice: ‘les attributs sur lesquels insistent ses adeptes révèlent également que la Nature est à l’intérieur, qu’elle est multiple, qu’elle accepte de se trouver aux prises avec des êtres animés et fortement controversés, qu’elle a une histoire confuse et que son extension est aussi limitée que variable’.

In summary, cenosotone is a ‘deity’ that should be understood as compositional (cheiropoeite), but which is all to often taken as non-compositional (acheiropoeite): ‘tout se passe comme si ces gens devaient faire tourner leur cosmologie autour de deux foyers en même temps: l’une où tout est extérieur, où rien n’est fait par l’homme; l’autre où tout est intérieur et fait par l’homme’.

It is clear why the people of cenostone are so unstable (as Latour would say in WNM, they are unstable between theory and practice): ‘on comprend pourquoi ce peuple divisé contre lui-même est tellement inquiet, tellement instable’.

Cenosotone and space-time

Importantly, when cenosotone is entered into a translation table under the ‘deity’ column, the collective that results is revealed as being spatially-temporally awry:

  • To be convoked by the deity cenostone means that one does not defend a spatial territory, that is, that one’s feet are literally not implanted in this ground (thus, that this person has become airily transcendent): *it indicates ‘la plus étrange façon d’être et de ne pas être de ce monde. Ils refusent d’être un peuple et d’être limité à un territoire. Ils sont à la fois partout et nulle part, absents et présents, envahissants et d’une négligence ahurissante’.
  • To be convoked by the deity cenostone means that one does not occupy a temporal moment, that is, that one’s feet are literally not situated in a particular historical moment (thus, that this person has become airily non-temporal): *one has become ‘universel, et l’époque où il se situe de tous les temps’.

The convocation of the deity cenosotone does not ground one in space-time, then: ‘ce peuple est décidemment inassignable, d’autant qu’il est aussi impossible à situer dans le temps que dans l’espace. À quelle époque appartient-il? À aucune, puisqu’il est indifférent à l’histoire et qu’il accède à des vérités universelles qui existeraient de toute éternité’.

  • The people of cenosotone do have an account of their own historicity, however, but it is one that is grounded in revolution and rupture: ‘en même temps, bien sûr, ce peuple a une histoire et il se reconnaît comme l’héritier d’une rupture radicale, arrivée récemment, et qui lui a permis d’échapper à un passé archaïque, obscur et confus, pour entrer dans une époque plus lumineuse qui permet de distinguer radicalement le passé du présent et du futur radieux : quelque chose comme une Révolution scientifique’.
  • When the people of cenosotone encounter how history really is, its twists and turns, they simply don’t know what to do with it: ‘ce peuple sans histoire a bel et bien une histoire dont il ne sait pas quoi faire et qu’il considère comme quelque chose d’aussi honteux que d’appartenir à un sol’.

We should not be surprised at their groundlessness, which is due to the impossibility of them understanding their own composition: ‘comment s’étonner qu’il se sente incapable d’occuper la Terre en sachant où il se trouve et ce qu’il peut y faire, alors même qu’il prétend la saisir ‘dans sa globalité’’.

Cenosotone in the time of the Anthropocene

The significance of the Anthropocene is that it disrupts the assumptions made by those convoked by cenosotone and serves as a means of re-uniting the artificial division made between theory and practice:

Et l’on ne s’étonnera pas qu’il prenne si mal aussi bien l’irruption de Gaïa que l’hypothèse de l’Anthropocène qui l’obligeraient à s’ancrer, à se situer, à expliciter enfin ce qu’il veut, ce qu’il est, à désigner enfin quels sont ses amis et ses ennemis.

Note that Gaia (as given in the Anthropocene hypothesis) is that which challenges the Moderns to enter themselves into a translation table and to define themselves according to a Schmittian politics.

What kind of a composition does Cenosotone create?

To be convoked under the name of Cenosotone is to be torn between the list of traits given above:

  • son statut d’extraterritorialité l’empêche de définir son territoire
  • son universalité lui interdit de comprendre les relations qu’il doit établir
  • sa quête d’objectivité le paralyse devant les controverses dont il ne sait plus sortir
  • sa prétention à embrasser tout le monde le laisse déconcerté devant le petit nombre de ceux qui lui appartiennent vraiment
  • quand à son histoire, il ne sait jamais s’il doit sortir du temps présent par une nouvelle révolution ou sortir de l’idée même de révolution radicale

In other words, Cenosotone is not a collective entity at all; it is one that has been imposed undiplomatically: ‘il n’accepte jamais de se présenter comme un collectif, justement, et surtout comme un collectif au milieu des autres en précisant son mode de collecte, son cosmogramme’.

Religion One

Nature One, cenosotone, is matched by an equivalent deity: Religion One. This is the deity of ‘Dieu ordonnateur’. And the people this deity convokes are: ‘le peuple qui se déclare Enfants du Grand Dessein ou encore Peuple de la Création’.

Comparisons of Religion One and Nature One

General observations:

  • In general, Religion One is just as non-compositional as Nature One: ‘on fait appel à une autre autorité suprême qui n’est pas si différente de la première colonne du tableau ci-dessus’.
  • It shares three features in particular: its truth is given as exterior, universal and incontestable.
  • Just as the people of Nature One are rigorously selected according to what they believe and housed in a particular institution (Science), so the people convoked by this deity are ‘selected’ (‘ils sont recrutés par une procédure explicite — une forme de conversion’) and housed in a particular institution (Church).

Two more interesting comparisons:

  • Both propose a temporal ‘rupture’ in their own pasts. This is the moment in which the ‘deity’ intervenes from outside of this world: […] ces deux peuples partagent cette idée qu’une rupture radicale a eu lieu dans un passé plus ou moins proche. Rupture qui les a propulsé dans une histoire totalement nouvelle que les uns l’appellent celle de la Lumière, les autres, au pluriel, celle des Lumières. L’important, c’est qu’ils se situent tous les deux dans le temps qui succède à une rupture radicale—Révélation ou Révolution.
  • Neither therefore have a rationality that comes from this world: ‘quant à l’appartenance au sol, elle leur manque à tous deux également, le premier parce qu’il est de toutes façons hors sol, le second parce qu’il appartient à un autre monde, celui, apparemment, du sens et des buts, d’un grand Dessein, d’une Providence vers laquelle ils aspirent à se télécharger.

Difference between Religion One and Nature One

The key difference, and what causes the Science vs Religion conflict, is that Religion One results in the over-animation, rather than the de-animation (cause-and-effect), of its agents: ‘elle a en effet les mêmes caractères, à ceci près qu’elle s’obstine à suranimer ce que l’autre s’obstine à désanimer’.

This difference is exhibited in design-type arguments (eg. the intricacy of the human eye). For one, the intricacy signals nothing more than a creator God; to the other, the intricacy signals nothing more than evolutionary contingency. For one, there is a Watchmaker, for the other, a Blind Watchmaker. Both, however, are reductionist, in that in both there is ‘une perte de puissance d’agir, de narration, d’histoire, de géohistoire qui transforme Gaïa en un Système autorégulé’.

Thus, those who explain the intricacy of the eye by means of evolutionary contingency are positing a MP every bit as much as those who explain it be means of a creator God: ‘ce qu’il y a de particulièrement déconcertant pour ceux qui, comme moi, estiment ceux qui chantent la gloire de Dieu aussi bien que ceux qui célèbrent l’objectivité des sciences, c’est que le deuxième récit, en gommant toutes les surprises que l’on trouve à foison dès que l’on suit l’histoire de la structure de l’œil, s’efforce d’être aussi pauvre que le précédent’.

Both, therefore, have problems with emergence.

Emergence

Neither Nature One nor Religion One have an account of agency that will enable the Moderns to handle the temporal connotations of the phenomenon of emergence:

  • By positing a metaphysical principle of determination, and thus a model of cause-and-effect, they presuppose that the future is entirely contained in the presenting situation. There is thus a ‘net gain’ of zero in any actantial situation: ‘en termes de rôles actantiels—horribles mots pour une si belle chose—le résultat net est zéro puisque la quantité d’animation n’a pas augmenté d’un iota.
  • Thus, nothing new happens, and there is literally no history: ‘tout est dans la cause, rien dans l’effet. Autrement dit, littéralement, rien ne se passe. Le passage du temps ne fait rien au monde. Il n’y a pas d’histoire.

Emergence as Creation

Latour uses the term ‘creation’ (without connotation of the ‘Creator’ or ‘creationism’ of Religion One) in order to describe the model of agency that can handle emergence:

  • Cause-and-effect is not sufficient to explain emergence: ‘la création—qui est l’inverse du créationnisme—suppose que le rapport cause-conséquence soit modifié de telle sorte que la conséquence déborde quelque peu sur la cause’.
  • Emergence-as-creation therefore describes time as moving from the future to the present: ‘ce qui revient à dire que le temps coule de l’avenir vers le présent, et non pas du passé vers le présent. Ou, pour le dire encore autrement, que les conséquences, d’une certaine façon, ‘choisissent’ toujours quelles seront leurs causes’.

Science vs Religion

The debate between ‘materialists’ and ‘spiritualists’ is thereby revealed to be in error:

Et pourtant que de salive on a dépensé pour distinguer
’spiritualistes’ et ‘matérialistes’! Au bout de quelque temps, on ne comprend plus où est la dispute : un dessin et un Ingénieur contre un dessein et un Créateur, quel beau combat en effet, bien digne qu’on s’étripe.

There is no need to continue to fight, nor to reconcile them in their current forms, because neither of them have a correct understanding of the nature of the agency that determines them: ‘on comprend pourquoi il ne sert à rien d’accuser la Science d’être un substitut de religion, ni de chercher dans une religion naturelle ce qui pourrait convaincre les incroyants de l’existence de la Providence. On ne peut ni opposer, ni réconcilier les visions scientifiques et religieuses du monde’.

Instead, it would be better to redefine both nature and religion from scratch: ‘il vaut mieux tenter de faire tout le contraire et de dissoudre l’amalgame entre les deux’.

Natural religions

Religion One should not be known as ‘natural religion’, then. Both Religion One and Nature One are ‘natural religions’:

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Radical Rupture

The diagramme above shows the Moderns (Nature One, Religion One) living in a particular époque: this is given by a rupture radicale:

  • This rupture radicale in the past determines the cause-and-effect progress of the future. Another way of saying this is: the Moderns believe ‘le monde a une fin’, but only in the sense that this fin will be the inevitable outcome of their own progress: ‘les buts qu’il poursuit seraient définitivement atteints’.
  • For Religion One, this rupture radicale might be understood in a variety of ways, for example: ‘être ‘sauvés’, être ‘enfants d’un Dieu qui prend soin de nous’, être ‘le peuple choisi par Dieu’,
’avoir été créé’, ‘se trouver dans la Présence’’ .

Religion One thus exhibits an eschatological tension: ‘les temps sont accomplis, mais qu’ils durent’.

References

[1]   Serres, (1992), Le Contrat Naturel, p.81.

[2]   Cf. Latour’s comments in the sixth Gifford, where he attempts to define what diplomatic value his diagnosis has brought about: he has sought to provide ‘a diplomatic reach wide enough to engage in parleys with potential allies; and, who are summoned by an entity—a divinity, a God, a set of gods, a god function—through specific rituals that would make such a people conscious of their existence’ (Gifford Lectures, p.124).

Notes on Face à Gaïa (Lecture 4)

I must continue with my posts on Face à Gaïa. Remember, these are nothing but notes: they don’t contain any of my own interpretation, so it’s really the case that they’re just a record of some of the themes and content of the book.

This chapter, lecture 4, is wonderful.

face

Lecture Four: L’anthropocène et la destruction (de l’image) du Globe

The sub-commission 

The sub-commission on Quarternary Stratigraphy (SCQS) represents an expression of the NRC and its proposed redistribution of agency: ‘les travaux du groupe de travail animé par Zalasiewicz offrent à qui veut bien les lire un passionnant exemple de cette redistribution des puissances d’agir que nous suivons de conférence en conférence’.

The Anthropocene as avatar for the NRC

Being more concrete, the concept of the Anthropocene that the SCQS is uncovering has a number of implications for Modernity:

  • The Anthropocene merges the old epistemologies of Nature and Society (cf. Arcimboldo effect paintings: do we see in them primarily natural objects or a human face?).
  • Thus, the Anthropocene represents a heuristically powerful avatar of the NRC and disrupter of Modernity: ‘le concept philosophique, religieux, anthropologique et, comme nous allons le voir bientôt, politique le plus pertinent pour commencer à se détourner pour de bon des notions de ‘Moderne’ et de modernité’; it provides a ‘désagrégation progressive de tous les ingrédients qui participaient, dans l’Ancien Régime Climatique, à la figuration conjointe des humains et des choses’.

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The Anthropocene redefines both Nature and Society

What is the nature of the ‘désagrégation progressive’ that it enacts upon the bifurcation of Modernity?

  • Nature: this no longer accepts to be called mute and deanimated.
  • Human: there is no single actor called ‘human’ who bears singular responsibility for the Anthropocene, in such a way as this human could ‘act’ to rectify the situation: ‘parce qu’il n’y a aucun moyen d’unifier l’Anthropos en tant qu’acteur doté d’une quelconque consistance morale ou politique, au point de le charger d’être le personnage capable de jouer sur cette nouvelle scène globale’.[1] Thus, if humans have a part to play, which they certainly do, then it will not be ‘l’humain comme agent unifié’ . Instead, there will have to be a new (political) configuration of humans into different people grounds composed in a new way: ‘qui doit être décomposé en plusieurs peuples distincts, dotés d’intérêts contradictoires, de territoires en lutte, et convoqués sous les auspices d’entités en guerre—pour ne pas dire de divinités en guerre’.

Thus there is an inversion, whereby when we find ‘human’ we encounter what was hitherto known as ‘nature’, and vice versa: ‘partout où l’on avait affaire à un phénomène ‘naturel’, on rencontre ‘l’Anthropos’—au moins dans la région sublunaire qui est la nôtre—et partout où l’on s’attache aux pas de l’humain, on découvre des modes de relation aux choses qui avaient été auparavant situés dans le champ de la nature’.

In summary: avec le concept d’Anthropocène, les deux grands principes unificateurs—la Nature et l’Humain—deviennent de plus en plus invraisemblables.

The Anthropocene dissolves the image of the sphere

What is the significance of the image of a sphere in the light of the Anthropocene?

C’est une image de la pensée qui était restée intacte dans toute l’histoire de la philosophie, l’idée d’une Sphère qui pouvait permettre à n’importe qui de ‘penser global’ et de porter sur ses épaules le poids total du Globe—cette étrange obsession occidentale […] En d’autres termes, nous devons mettre fin à ce qui pourrait s’appeler ‘la malédiction d’Atlas’.[2]

Latour cites various recent articles on the ‘implausibility’ of the globe as an item of knowledge:

  • Olwig, Kenneth, ‘The Earth is Not a Globe’, 2011.
  • Diederichsen, Diedrich, and Franke, Anselm, The Whole Earth Catalogue, 2013.
  • Grevsmühl, Sebastian-Vincent, La Terre vue d’en haut: l’invention de l’environnement global,

But most of all, in 2015, on account of the Anthropocene, it ought to be finally possible to sever ourselves from the fascination with the figure of the sphere that has held us in thrall since the time of Plato (146).

Sloterdijk

For Latour, Sloterdijkian immunology (or, we might say, spherology) represents nothing less than the first fully and properly anthropocenic discipline: ‘la première discipline anthropocénique’ (131).

In summary, this is because Sloterdijk is the first philosopher to provide a properly ‘material’ or ‘re-materialised’ understanding of what it means to live on this earth:

Ainsi de page en page, Sloterdijk rematérialise d’une façon nouvelle ce que c’est que d’être dans l’espace, sur cette Terre, nous offrant la première philosophie qui réponde directement aux contraintes de l’Anthropocène de nous ramener sur Terre.

Sloterdijk’s contribution can be broken down in more detail as follows:

  • Latour takes him as following the same model of agency/ composition as himself, focused on how an entity ‘se protège de la destruction en construisant une sorte de milieu intérieur bien contrôlé qui lui permette de créer autour d’elle une membrane de protection’.
  • Contra this enveloping, the sphere (which Latour tends to call the ‘Globe’) represents a premature unification: ‘d’après Sloterdijk, la singularité complète de la philosophie, de la science, de la théologie et de la politique occidentales est d’avoir insufflé toutes les vertus à la figure d’un Globe—avec un grand G—sans accorder la moindre attention à la façon dont il pouvait être construit, entretenu, maintenu et habité’. And again: ‘la figure du Globe autorise à sauter prématurément à un niveau supérieur en confondant les figures de la connexion avec celle de la totalité’.
  • When the Moderns attempt to assert global thinking, then, they are asserting something highly destructive: they will end up acting so as to sever their own livelihoods, that is, ‘rompre toutes les enveloppes protectrices nécessaires à la fonction immunologique de la vie’.
  • The premature unification embodied in Globe-evangelism and its advocates throughout history represents nothing less than a ‘utopie’ .
  • Sloterdijk therefore enacts a reversal of the position-from-nowhere of a MP: ‘il devient très improbable qu’on puisse voir quoi que ce soit depuis Sirius’ .

Deus sive Sphaere

Latour deems this sub-chapter of Globes II to be absolutely vital.

globes

In fact, by means of the concept of Deus sive Sphaere, Latour credits Sloterdijk for addressing the primary problem that has afflicted the entire humanities and sciences: ‘de lever la principale difficulté commune aux sciences et aux humanités quand elles abordent la question du super-organisme’. *Note: the religious metaphysic that underlies this, there is a theological underpinning to global thinking!

  • Sloterdijk identifies a ‘bifocalisme non résolu’ in all imagery of the classical metaphysics .
  • This arises from the difficulty of representing both God and the earth in one view: either one or the other had to attain to the centre, but not both .
  • Sloterdijk argues that the philosophia perennis has in fact denied the fact that there can’t be at the same time an all-ordaining God at the centre and a fully animated earth.

At the end of the chapter, Latour picks up Sloterdijk’s distinction between monotheism and monogeism :

  • Monotheism: obsessed with building a Globe; but one that has a contradiction at its heart (cf. Deus sive Sphaera).
  • Monogeism: conscious of only having one earth; but able to progressively compose from that point.

The Globe forestalls space-time

In Deus sive Sphaere, Latour thinks Sloterdijk has demonstrated nothing less than the impossibility of space-time (or we might say the bastardisation of space-time) under the Modern Constitution:

*Voilà pourquoi il n’y a pas d’histoire—et encore moins de géohistoire: dès que la philosophie croit penser globalement, elle devient incapable de concevoir aussi bien le temps que l’espace.

*Une sphère n’a pas d’histoire, pas de commencement, pas de fin, pas de trou, pas de discontinuité d’aucune sorte.

What the chapter is moving towards, of course, is the conclusion that only when this Globe is destroyed can real history (or progress) pick up again. Thus, the final words of the chapter are: ‘le Globe une fois détruit, l’histoire se remet en marche’.

The theological Globe leads to the scientific (rational) Globe

Although (via Sloterdijk) the Globe can be shown to have theological roots, Latour now argues that the same default has carried through to science, and from that to rationality in general: ‘c’est que la même incohérence s’applique exactement à l’architecture par laquelle la rationalité a été construite’. So, it follows that science just as much as theology has sought to determine reality by metaphysics, whilst denying the way it is progressively composed on earth: ‘le même déni d’une telle impossibilité, se retrouve parmi les scientifiques et les philosophes exactement au même endroit que chez les théologiens et les mystiques’.

The question is, which came first?

  • *Latour is explicit that it doesn’t really matter. This is because it is the same error (the translatio imperii) that is at play in both cases: ‘c’est le même problème répété deux fois—la première dans l’histoire de la religion, la seconde dans l’histoire de la Science, grâce à cette translatio imperii dont il existe tant d’exemples’.
  • However, this is the point that can be challenged in Chapter Four of the thesis. And at various points in FG, Latour seems to suggest the (Christian) theological motive is primordial: *‘construire un globe c’est toujours réactiver un thème théologique’.

When scientists think according to the Globe they are acting like God

  • First, because it situates the scientist outside the very networks in which his rationality is defined and given: his work ‘prend inévitablement la forme d’une sphère transparente qui pourrait être inspectée par un corps désincarné à partir d’un lieu de nulle part’.
  • Second, because it prevents the scientists from looking at the networks by which his rationality is defined and given: ‘la forme sphérique arrondit la connaissance en un volume continu, complet, transparent, omniprésent qui masque la tâche extraordinairement difficile d’assembler les points de données venant de tous les instruments et de toutes les disciplines.

Thus it is plainly stated: ‘ceux qui regardent la Terre comme un Globe, se prennent toujours pour un Dieu’ .

Global thinking is thus impossible in any discipline

The point was made in relation to science, but can be extended to any discipline. This is because global thinking always presupposes a fixed composition that can be seen from the outside: it can never represent ‘le monde lui-même dans lequel tout est censé être inclus’.

Global thinking indicates a non-history

To think in terms of a globe is done when one is ‘tired’ of history (geo-history): ‘[…] la Sphère c’est ce qu’on souhaite passivement contempler quand on est fatigué de l’histoire […]’.

By contrast, Gaia is what returns us to history by recalling us to the immanent space and time: ‘Gaïa est une puissance d’historicisation. Encore plus simplement, comme son nom l’indique, Gaïa est le signal du retour sur Terre’.

However, when science operates according to Nature Two, it takes on again a history

In Gifford Lecture 4, this is given as: *‘data flows again in its original form of historical narratives’ (GL4, p.92); in FG this is given as ‘les données affluent à nouveau dans leur forme originale de fragments, en l’attente d’une mise en récit’.

Loops

By contrast with global thinking, Latour now introduces the concept of a movement ‘en forme de boucle’.[3]

  • The virtue of thinking in loops is to avoid over-animating or de-animating agencies, with the necessary corollary of a MP: ‘c’est le seul moyen de tracer un chemin entre les puissances d’agir, sans passer par les notions de parties et de Tout que seule la présence d’un Ingénieur tout puissant—Providence, Évolution ou Thermostat—aurait agencé’.
  • Thus, thinking loops introduces the disciplines of a ‘profane’ science, a ‘profane’ politics and even a ‘profane’ theology: ‘c’est le seul moyen de devenir profane en science aussi bien qu’en théologie’. This is a corollary of Latour’s use of the word ‘secular’.

Loops are the primary principle by which nonmodernity must function: ‘faites en sorte qu’une boucle soit traçable et publiquement visible’.

Loops should not be conceived cybernetically

  • There is something about cybernetics that defers to a MP: ‘comme on le sait, dans l’étymologie même de cybernétique, il y a tout un gouvernement qui prétend tenir la barre’ .
  • To conceive of the loops as a fixed cybernetic system would be to take them as ‘un modèle avec gouvernail, gouverneur et gouvernement mondial’.
  • If the term can be redeemed, the objective would be to shift from a ‘technical’ definition of cybernetics (MP) to a ‘political’ one in which response and re-adjustment becomes the norm: ‘la question est de savoir si la métaphore glisse du côté de la technique—on multiplie les servocommandes et les centres de contrôle—, ou du côté de la politique—on multiplie les occasions d’entendre protester ceux qui exigent de rétroagir aux commandes’.

Loops of agency in environmental awareness

  • Building on recent work proposing different start dates for the Anthropocene,[4] Latour points out that there have been numerous dates since the eighteenth century when the alarm has been sounded on escalated environmental change.
  • That these have not been heeded is determined by the fact that we have used the ‘vocabulaire du sempiternel Globe’, whose eternity militates against the sense of urgency that the conditions really demand. In fact, this shape will always resist radical behavior on the behalf of humans: ‘par définition, la géohistoire ne se laisse jamais penser sous la forme d’une Sphère dont on aurait découvert une fois pour toutes la forme englobante’.
  • However, if these dates are understood as progressive (bike spokes) in the composition of human awareness about the environment, then all of a sudden perhaps they can be justified as different start dates for the Anthropocene: ‘si les boucles de réflexivité se ressemblent par la forme, le contenu, l’échelle, le rythme, chaque fois diffèrent’ .
  • To think this way will avoid the idea of zero-sum ruptures of knowledge: ‘il ne sert à rien de prétendre qu’on le savait déjà et que d’autres avant nous l’ont dit’ .

Reprise, not repetition, vis-à-vis the environment

*Repetition vs reprise:

  • Repetition: global thinking predetermines this space-time phenomenon of repetition, by dint of the fact that it entails radiating lines of the same from a centre, and a corresponding lack of understanding of that which is novel: ‘l’impression de répétition du même vient de la forme du Globe avec lequel chacun cherche à figurer ce qui lui arrive de nouveau’ .
  • Reprise: thinking in terms of loops, by contrast, would entail a historical thinking in terms of loops: ‘l’histoire, elle, surprend et oblige à tout reprendre chaque fois’ (147). The rhythm of this phenomenon is progressive, emergent and elongated: it constitutes something like: ‘la découverte, chaque fois bouleversante, d’une connexion nouvelle et dramatique entre des puissances d’agir inconnues jusqu’ici, et à des échelles chaque fois plus éloignées, selon un rythme chaque fois plus frénétique, cela, oui, est vraiment nouveau’.

Definition of a loop

The loop speaks for itself in the practices that are required before a globe can be thought

  • Material: bringing your pencil back to the start point .
  • Empirical: required the navigation of ships around the globe, cf. Magellan .
  • Moral: feeling the impact of your action, such that one accepts ‘responsibility’.

Definition of progressive composition by loops

This leads to a definition (or perhaps, a series of images) of how living-by-loops is necessary:

  • faufiler, de fil en fil.
  • envelopper.
  • être ressentis .
  • sentir.
  • entremêlement.

Gaia is not a sphere

  • Latour introduces the idea of Gaia representing a thin membrane of habitable earth, a critical zone: ‘Gaïa n’occupe qu’une petite membrane, de guère plus que quelques kilomètres d’épaisseur, l’enveloppe délicate des zones critiques’.
  • This militates against the idea that Gaia could be a sphere, with corresponding ‘centre’ and ‘control room’: ‘elle n’est pas globale au sens où elle fonctionnerait comme un système à partir d’une chambre de contrôle occupée par quelque Distributeur Suprême surplombant et dominant’.

Thus, Gaia is not a Globe: ‘si vous m’avez suivi jusqu’ici, vous aurez compris que Gaïa n’est pas le Globe, ni une figure globale, mais l’impossibilité de s’en tenir à une figure du Globe’.

Rather, Gaia functions according to loops

Just as there were loops of retrospection, and therefore history, in the dating of the Anthropocene, so there are in Gaia: ‘elle est une suite d’évènements historiques dont chacun se répand un peu plus loin—ou pas’.

The detection of Gaia will only come be rendering ourselves more and more sensitive to complex, and yet provisional, groupings of loops: ‘on ne peut que faire s’entrecroiser leurs chemins potentiels avec autant d’instruments que possible pour avoir une chance de détecter de quelles façons ces puissances d’agir sont connectés entre elles’.

Our responsibility is to become sensitive to these loops

  • This will take the form of those who ‘suivre les boucles pour éviter la totalité’.
  • Or, by contrast, those who refuse to foreclose them, those who do not ‘interrompent, effacent, négligent, diminuent, affaiblissent, nient, obscurcissent, défavorisent ou déconnectent ces boucles’.

This sensitive responsibility is the definition of politics

Definition: ‘suivre les boucles pour éviter la totalité, c’est évidemment aussi se rapprocher de la politique’.

But Gaia will not provide a soothing form of politics

Although Gaia is shifting us towards a new form of politics, we should not expect this politics to be an easy unification of fractured humanity

Rather, Gaia will require the taking of sides, and thus clear friend/ enemy distinctions among humans: ‘inutile d’espérer que l’urgence de la menace soit si grande, et son expansion si ‘globale’, que la Terre agirait mystérieusement comme un aimant unificateur pour faire de tous les peuples éparpillés un seul acteur politique occupé à reconstruire la Tour de Babel de la Nature’ .

This undermines the dream of a utopia provided by ‘Nature’

À l’époque de l’Anthropocène, tous les rêves, entretenus par les écologistes profonds, de voir les humains guéris de leurs querelles politiques par la seule conversion de leur soin pour la Nature, se sont envolés.

This dream is usually centred on the unifier ‘Science’, of course.

A new politics

Such a utopia is not possible, then.

But this is not to say that there can be no politics in which we don’t make progress towards a greater whole, even a ‘universality’.

However, if this is to come to pass, it will come to pass via a politics of progressive composition,[5] and nothing else:

*l’universalité que nous cherchons doit être de toute façon tissée boucle après boucle, réflexivité après réflexivité, instrument après instrument.

This is the form of universality that clearly states its own principles of composition via a mechanism like the ‘cosmogramme’.

This universality, perhaps even it is a utopia, will arrive via a form of politics that is careful to distance itself from both of the following:

  • A politics of nature: where unity is found, but it is a unity secured by a MP.
  • A politics of cultures: where multiplicity is found, but it is secured according to arbitrary cultural markers, rather than compositional principles.

Thus: ‘ces collectifs, c’est là toute la différence, ne sont pas des cultures—comme avec l’anthropologie traditionnelle; ils ne sont pas unifiés par le fait d’être, après tout, des ‘enfants de la Nature’—comme c’était le cas avec les sciences naturelles de naguère […]’.

There is an opportunity to enact this new form of politics with the advent of the Anthropocene: ‘vivre à l’époque de l’Anthropocène, c’est se forcer à redéfinir la tâche politique par excellence: quel peuple formez-vous, avec quelle cosmologie et sur quel territoire’ .

Political Theology

Earlier in the chapter, we’d noted Sloterdijk’s the distinction between monotheism (build a Globe from a position away from the earth) and monogeism (conscious of one earth, and determined to build from it). At the end of the chapter, there is the following interesting comment:

Les monogéistes sont ceux qui n’ont pas de planète de rechange, qui n’ont qu’une seule Terre, mais qui ne connaissent pas plus Sa forme qu’ils ne connaissaient la face de leur Dieu d’antan—et qui sont ainsi confrontés à ce qu’on pourrait appeler un genre entièrement nouveau de théologie géopolitique.

The politics of composition, then, has an echo in the old forms of theology, but only where that old form of theology was determined not to know the agency it was handling in advance, that is, ‘qu’ils ne connaissaient la face de leur Dieu d’antan’ (154). This is the form of [REL] in history.

References

[1]   Cf. Hache, Tremblez (2015).

[2]   Latour also calls ‘Atlas’ malediction’: ‘la fatalité du Globe’ .

[3]   Latour confirms that ‘loops’ are precisely what he called ‘ondes d’action’ in Chapter Three .

[4]   Cf. in particular Fressoz (2012), L’Apocalypse joyeuse and the article by Hamilton and Grinevald, (2015), ‘Was the Anthropocene anticipated?’.

[5]   It is interesting to note that Latour here equates the politics of the Anthropocene with both a ‘metaphysics’ and a ‘cosmology’: ‘c’est ce que j’ai appelé une métaphysique ou une cosmologie’.

Why embracing an apocalyptic future is the only way to be committed to the present (1 of 2)

I’ve recently exchanged some communication with long-term friend and reader of Latour, Professor Michael Flower, in regard to this wonderful lecture delivered by Latour last year, and in particular a series of diagrams that Latour employs right at the end of the lecture.

What is the lecture about? A rough sketch might help to situate us.

  • First of all, Latour acknowledges that his recent work is situated in the realm of the ‘apocalyptic’.
  • Enter: righteous indignation from all and sundry. Is it not the case that to import apocalyptic discourse is to resort to scaremongering? Or perhaps to sensationalism? Or perhaps (what is worse still) to non-verifiable religious metaphysics? At any rate, is it not the case that to dwell in apocalyptic is to remove oneself from the here-and-now?
  • Latour is not surprised by such accusations. But see how he turns the tables. As far as he is concerned, those who dismiss the category of the ‘apocalyptic’, attempting to live as if the in-breaking of an eschaton was not upon them, are in fact the least equipped to face the here and now.[1] This is the crux of his lecture. It is the in-breaking of the end-of-time into time that generates a capacity for action. And that is what apocalyptic discourse resources.

So the Moderns need a good dose of apocalypticism. And not least in the time of the Anthropocene, when the earth itself is threatening our existence in the most apocalyptic of tones! As Latour said in his 2013 Gifford Lectures: ‘the fireworks of the Apocalypse are not there to prepare you for a rapturous upload to Heaven, but on the contrary, to make you ready to avoid being chased off the Earth by Earth’s own reaction to your presence’.

With this context, we can now turn to the diagrams themselves.

1. How the Moderns inhabit time

Voegelin 3

First reaction: *$!*£$*!

Well, what’s being represented here, let’s try to unpack it.

This diagram represents the situation of Modernity: the Moderns’ own account of themselves and why that account is insufficient to face the anthropocenic future that is baring down upon them..

Let’s explain it as follows:

  • The blue horizontal line represents the flow of time. History, if you like.
  • The first yellow vertical line represents an historical event, a ‘cut’ in time, something that has already taken place in this history of the Moderns. Thus, we can suppose that the Modern subject is somewhere to the right of this ‘cut’ (but not yet in the bundles of yellow verticals that is further to the right still: we’ll see what they are in a moment).
  • What was this ‘cut’? It was a transcendent event that has come to define the entire flow of history that follows. To use Latour’s own nomenclature, it was the advent of the ‘bifucation’ of Modernity. So let’s say it was the beginning of the scientific revolution in the seventeenth-century (as described by Toulmin). Or let’s say, if you are religious, it was the incarnation of God in the person of Christ. It doesn’t matter which it is, really: remember, for Latour, you can be either a scientific or a religious Modern (these two positions are represented by the constructs Nature One and Religion One in the second Gifford Lecture). The historical precision of this moment is not necessarily uniform. The point is that a Modern is always situated after a moment of transcendent clarification.
  • Now, because the Modern is situated after that ‘cut’, it follows that he will see himself on an inevitable journey of ‘progress’ (this is a highly loaded word for Latour). The Modern is always moving forward, intrepidly, into new lands, plus ultra. Why? Because of the ‘cut’, the vertical yellow line! Modern progress is always guaranteed by a metaphysics that is already given, rather than one that is progressively composed.

OK, so far so good. But let’s now introduce something disruptive.

2. The (impossible) threat of a second apocalypse

All of a sudden, the smooth horizontal progress of the blue line is interrupted. It is threatened. By what? By the advent of the Anthropocene.

Now, we have a warning to the Moderns (issued by scientists, no less). They are being told that their forward  progress must be tempered. That it cannot proceed as it used to. Tht the former world is going to end. Why? Because now the earth is fighting back, challenging the concept of ‘inert matter’ that had underpinning the first ‘cut’. Progress now (if there is to be any) will result in patient indwelling of a much more immanent space than their own transcendent back-story will allow: the critical zone of Gaia.

This is an existential threat to the Moderns: the progress guaranteed by the yellow vertical cut and moving forward in the blue line is now impossible.

And yet, Latour’s point is that the Moderns cannot grasp this message. They cannot heed this warning. The idea that ‘the former world is going to end’ is incoherent with their own epistemological undergirding, which is given by the yellow vertical ‘cut’. How can something be about to supervene upon a history that has already been determined by a supervenient power? Or, to put it another way, how can our progress by checked when we are beyond the point of no return? As Latour himself puts it in the lecture ‘nowhere is it written that there will be two apocalypses’.

But look at the diagram again. There, to the right of the blue line are a jumble of yellow vertical cuts, falling over, tumbling, higgledy-piggledy. These represent the disruptive transcendences of the Anthropocene. And in the midst of these, the blue arrow of time has begun to swing down. The Moderns’ commitment to inevitable progress is bound to lead to their losing of the very conditions in which progress actually takes place. Catastrophe.

For Latour, pace Voegelin, this is Gnosticism par excellence: if the eschaton has already been immanentised, one ends up floating in an ethereal domain that has lost all mooring from the need for action here and now, in this earth. Hence, catastrophe.

voeg

So this first diagram helps us diagnose the situation of Modernity. In the next post, I’ll continue with more diagrams, this time showing the positive situation of nonmodernity, the one the Latour shows us in AIME. With that, we will be able to see how the apocalypse can and must intervene into the present in order to guarantee a future that we can all inhabit.

Reference

[1] In Face à Gaïa, Latour uses Jean-Baptiste Fressoz’s concept of ‘dis-inhibition’ to explain this: ‘la modernité fut un processus de désinhibition réflexive’ (chapter 1).

A New Political Triangle

An important new text from Bruno Latour on a ‘third way’ (or should it be: a ‘third point’) to advance a political theology in the contemporary moment:

Terroir, Globe, Earth – A New Political Triangle

Formerly, we used to enjoy ‘splendid weather’ or put up with a ‘lousy climate’. But in recent months we’ve found ourselves on the receiving end of some ‘awfully splendid’ weather. What is true of the weather is also true of politics. The present moment is both awful and tremendous: thanks to the concurrence of terrorist actions, the rise of the so-called ‘national’ Front, and the conclusion of COP21, it is possible that we might finally be coming to appreciate where we are and what kind of politics we have to pursue.

Up to now, most of the points of reference for assessing whether one’s position was ‘progressive’ or ‘reactionary’ have been situated along the length of a single, unique vector—either you were lamenting the old terroir or you were committed to globalisation. Between those two extremes there was a continuous line incorporating us all: the only thing that could vary was the position of the cursor. At the forefront of this modernisation front were those advocating ‘progress’—behind them, all those who were backward.

This entailed a contradiction, one that was well-known, depending on whether the vector concerned morality or markets. One could care about the emancipation of morality to the exclusion of economic globalisation (approximately the position of the traditional left); or one could desire the liberalisation of markets and oppose the emancipation of morality (let’s say the position of the moderate right). Alternatively, one could also wish for the joint emancipation of both morality and markets (the frenetic ideal of modernisation espoused by the ‘advanced’ sectors of left and right). Or, finally, one could fight against both.

For all that to function as a frame of reference, the elites themselves also had to believe in the existence of a world, of a globe, that had the potential to become a universally modernised planet, if only they were able to bring it about.

It’s at this point that we have to combine commonplace analysis of the political sphere with that of another sphere entirely: the planet that has made its entrance into politics. The historic importance of COP21 was that it enabled us to become cognisant of an entirely different way of proceeding: this planet Earth does not in any way resemble the globe of globalisation. To put it bluntly: there is no planet corresponding to the Promised Land of globalisation. There has been a signalling error! And so those positions no longer need to take their bearings solely by means of the classical polarisation that ranges from local to global, from national to universal, from identity to the ‘wide open spaces’ of the global market.

This classical politics was able to function only as long as the elites led us to believe that the world towards which we were modernising really existed. However, for thirty years now they have ceased to believe this. Those who recognised this first were not only the ecologists, but also those we call climate-sceptics. Contrary to what we often suppose, their denialism has nothing to do with archaism or with a lack of understanding. In fact, what they’d seen only too well was that if there was no planet corresponding to the world towards which we were supposedly modernising, then we’d have to defend ourselves by shutting ourselves away in a fortress of inequalities. The enormous shift that has seen the richest 10% become the richest 1%, and then 0.1%, cannot be understood until we appreciate that the elites have abandoned all hope of ever sharing their territory with those they had asked to modernise—or perish.

To understand quite how the times have changed, all we have to do is compare the scowl of Donald Trump (‘you’re fired!’) with the Hollywood smile of Ronald Reagan. It is no longer possible to allow ourselves to be hoodwinked as it was in the 1980s: previously optimists, the elites have now become sinister; where previously they led the way, now they have become defensive. If America is to continue to map out our future, the one proposed by the Republican Party, among others, sends chills down the spine.

All the more so as the masses have most certainly understood that, if the elites themselves no longer believe in modernisation, they will have to fall back in double quick time on the crumbs of identity that are still available to them. From Hungary to France, from Italy to England, from Russia to the United States, large numbers of people are acting as if to say: ‘if not the globe, at least let us have our terroirs!’ The white race, pork meat, nation, flag, caliphate, family, it really doesn’t matter what—as long as we’re not left with nothing. Everyone to the lifeboats! Of course, these communities are imaginary; not a patch remains of those former lands, now obliterated by globalisation. But one utopia for another: it is understandable that we should cling to the one that seems the least up-in-the-air.

Here is the turning-point at which we find ourselves, a fatal and decisive moment: is there an alternative definition of what it means to be attached to a ground, other than those provided by the ‘territory-terroir’ or the ‘territory-globe’? Could we postulate a third point that would allow us to redistribute all those positions and avoid the contemporary tragedy of a battle between the utopia provided by modernisation and that provided by national identities?

Such a triangle has not yet been mapped out, I know very well, but to the line that joins the ‘territory-terroir’ to the ‘territory-globe’ it now seems legitimate to add two lines linking those two traditional attractors to a third point, the apex of a triangle: this would be the ‘territory-Earth’ (we might call it the planet, or Gè, or Gaïa—the name matters very little). This is what I’ve called the ‘New Climactic Regime’. It is clear that the planet that was assembled at the astonishing climate conference in Paris has very few traits in common with the space towards which globalisation was supposed to be leading us, which was as undifferentiated as it was boundless. That planet possesses a climate, a ground, boundaries, front-lines, an entire geopolitics, with as little resemblance to the old maps of national identity as it does to the globe of the former world known as ‘natural’.

This third attractor is not opening a ‘third way’ between identity and universality (nor between ‘socialism’ and ‘capitalism’ of course, which are two projects without a ground). But its presence, its weight, its novelty are capable of radically transforming the political spectrum. It requires us to redefine the very soil to which we belong, and to reconfigure who is to be deemed reactionary and who progressive. In any case, if we don’t manage to re-territorialise ourselves on this earth very quickly, unfortunately it’s a war of the terroirs that will soon confront us.

I can’t recall a New Year’s Eve where the weather [temps] has been so ‘awfully fine’, nor a new year that leaves us with as little time [temps] between a decisive presidential election and the urgent requirement to claim back the climate in such a political manner.

triangleofpolitics