Arquivo da tag: Teoria social

Impedir barulho e vaias da torcida é imperialismo cultural, diz sociólogo americano (BBC Brasil)

18.08.2016

Mulher grita durante partida na Rio 2016

Sociólogo americano diz que vê legitimidade no comportamento da torcida brasileira na Rio 2016. GETTY IMAGES

Assim como muitos observadores internacionais acompanhando os Jogos Olímpicos do Rio, o sociólogo americano Peter Kaufman ficou espantado com o episódio das vaias ao atleta francês do salto com vara Renaud Lavillenie. No caso do acadêmico, porém, o que pareceu incomodá-lo mais foi a reação contrária ao comportamento da torcida.

Para o professor da Universidade Estadual de Nova York, que escreve sobre sociologia do esporte e estudou as reações do público ao comportamento de atletas, houve exagero na condenação das manifestações, sobretudo depois do “pito” público dado nos brasileiros pelo presidente do Comitê Olímpico Internacional (COI), o alemão Thomas Bach.

Após as vaias a Lavillenie no pódio, Bach usou a conta do COI no Twitter para dizer que o comportamento do público foi “chocante” e “inaceitável nas Olimpíadas”.

“O COI certamente tem questões bem mais importantes para lidar do que vaias de torcedores”, disse Kaufman, em conversa com a BBC Brasil, por telefone.

Veja abaixo, trechos da entrevista:

BBC Brasil – O senhor acompanhou a polêmica das vaias no Brasil?

Peter Kaufman – Sim, porque houve um repercussão considerável de alguns incidentes envolvendo o público na Olimpíada do Rio. O comportamento de torcedores é algo interessante, porque estão em jogo fatores culturais.

Cada cultura tem seus próprios valores: em algumas, é apropriado beijar em vez de apertar a mão quando se é apresentado a alguém, por exemplo. Em outras, é muito aceitável vaiar, assim como em certos países aplausos efusivos podem ser vistos como algo rude.

Torcida durante partida na Rio 2016

Sociólogo aponta que vaias podem ter diferentes motivos, inclusive descontentamento com os gastos nos Jogos. GETTY IMAGES

BBC Brasil – Por que as pessoas vaiam?

Kaufman – É uma questão de expressão, uma forma de interação social e participação. E isso varia de lugar para lugar. Se um alienígena chegasse aqui hoje e fosse assistir a uma competição esportiva, possivelmente teria outra maneira de se comportar de acordo com sua realidade. E, óbvio, sabemos que não é apenas esporte. As Olimpíadas têm um significado muito maior. O público brasileiro pode estar vaiando em desafio às autoridades, ao governo brasileiro e até mesmo ao dinheiro gasto na Olimpíada.

BBC Brasil – É injusto com os atletas?

Kaufman – Alvos de vaias podem se sentir ofendidos, tristes e até ameaçados por uma torcida mais ruidosas. Não os culpo por pensarem apenas na qualidade de seu desempenho em vez de analisar aspectos culturais ou políticos. É perfeitamente compreensível que o atleta francês tenha ficado bastante chateado com as vaias que recebeu até no pódio. Mas ele estava competindo contra um atleta brasileiro e em casa. Pelo que tenho lido sobre a torcida brasileira, era inevitável que ele fosse alvo dessas manifestações.

BBC Brasil – Renaud Lavillenie não foi a primeira “vítima” e não deverá ser a última, mas o comportamento da torcida no Estádio Olímpico, em especial durante provas em que normalmente o silêncio do público é uma questão de etiqueta, como o tênis e a esgrima, irritou até o presidente do COI, Thomas Bach. Como achar um meio termo?

Brasileiros na Rio 2016

Torcida brasileira ficou conhecida pelo excesso de vaias durante os jogos da Rio 2016. GETTY IMAGES

Kaufman – Olha, é irônico que sentimentos de nacionalismo e tribalismo surjam na Olimpíada, uma competição concebida em sua forma moderna para promover a paz e a união ente os povos. Mas o esporte é passional e excitante. As pessoas querem vaiar seu adversário para tentar afetar o resultado de uma partida. E, como costuma ser o caso por causa das rivalidades locais, os brasileiros “pegaram no pé dos argentinos”. Também vimos o público vaiando atletas russos por causa da controvérsia envolvendo o doping. As vaias, por sinal, são o menor dos problemas que o COI tem para resolver.

BBC Brasil – Mas Lavillenie não teria razão ao reclamar do barulho durante o momento de seus saltos? Não seria preciso criar uma cultura de torcida mais apropriada para o esporte olímpico?

Kaufman – Isso seria uma atitude de imperialismo cultural. Por que a maneira do brasileiro torcer é errada? A realidade que conhecemos é criada pelo ambiente em que crescemos. Você mencionou o tênis anteriormente: será que não vale a pena discutirmos a razão para o silêncio durante o saque no tênis enquanto no futebol a torcida pode urrar nos ouvidos de um atacante que vai bater um pênalti? A diferença é que o tênis é um esporte muito mais elitizado.

BBC Brasil: O senhor defende o comportamento da torcida, então?

Kaufman: De certa maneira, sim, apesar de que os esportes têm regras para lidar com isso. Acho fascinante o fato de que as normas de comportamento podem ser diferentes. Fica a impressão de que o COI foi pego de surpresa pela passionalidade do torcedor brasileiro. Mas lembremos da Copa do Mundo de 2010, em que as vuvuzelas do torcedor sul-africano criaram um problema até para quem viu os jogos pela TV. Mas ter proibido seu uso teria amputado um componente cultural.

Vaiar é uma expressão de crenças e valores. É tão “errado” quanto torcer.


Quais são os seis tipos de vaias da torcida brasileira na Rio 2016

Torcida brasileira na Rio 2016

Torcida brasileira já é reconhecida pelo excesso de vaias durante as competições na Rio 2016. GETTY IMAGES

Da esgrima à natação, do basquete ao tênis, atletas foram intensamente vaiados no Rio de Janeiro. E enquanto as vaias são comuns na maioria das Olimpíadas – apesar da ideia de que seja um momento em que o espírito esportivo deve reinar -, já está claro que a Rio 2016 é mais barulhenta que os Jogos mais recentes.

A BBC News fez uma lista com os seis tipos de vaias mais comuns durante a Olimpíada no Brasil, na tentativa de explicar ao público internacional esse fenômeno que vem sendo um dos mais discutidos pela imprensa esportiva:

1. Vaiar por diversão

O público brasileiro tem uma tendência a escolher ” um lado” – torcer por um time, ou um atleta, e vaiar os rivais. Mas eles podem trocar essa lealdade num piscar de olhos.

“Os torcedores brasileiros parecem ser bem igualitários. Eles são capazes de vaiar atletas de muitos países. É muito difícil de identificar o porquê da vaia a um outro atleta”, disse o diretor de comunicação do Comitê Olímpico Internacional, Mark Adams.

A mesma reação foi identificada pelo especialista em Jogos Olímpicos da Universidade de Salford, Andy Miah.

“Eu fiquei surpreso com o quanto eles são verbais e achei uma falta de espírito esportivo toda essa gritaria e vaia. Até eu perceber que era a forma que eles encontraram de se envolver com o drama do evento”, diz.

“Não é malicioso. Eu estava na esgrima ontem e eles estavam vaiando os jogadores e depois torcendo muito e apoiando muito quando eles ganharam. É tudo parte do teatro que é o que eles curtem”.

Ele ainda opina que há diferenças com Londres 2012: “era muito mais quieto, quase nunca tinha gritaria, só aplausos”.

2. Vaiar os favoritos

O público na Rio 2016 demonstrou uma clara preferência pelos azarões. Em uma das primeiras partidas de basquete, os torcedores apoiaram a Croácia enquanto vaiavam os favoritos – a seleção espanhola. A Espanha então começou a perder e foi derrotada por 72-70.

Esse não é um fenômeno novo.

Torcida brasileira na Rio 2016

Em uma das primeiras partidas de basquete, torcedores brasileiros apoiaram a Croácia torcendo pelo time enquanto vaiavam os favoritos, da seleção espanhola. GETTY IMAGES

Durante a Olimpíada de Atenas, em 2004, por exemplo, os torcedores apoiaram a equipe de futebol masculino do Iraque – durante uma semifinal contra o Paraguai – e vaiavam cada vez que os paraguaios ficavam com a bola.

De acordo com o professor de história da mídia da Universidade de Sussex, na Inglaterra, David Hendy, a vaia é “uma tradição nobre” e um lembrete de que o espetáculo é sobretudo para o público, mais do que para os competidores.

“E o público sempre vê tudo em termos dramáticos – um conflito entre heróis e vilões”, explica.

3. Vaiar os russos

Por causa a revelação de um esquema estatal de doping e da decisão do Comitê Olimípico de não suspender todos os atletas, os russos encontraram uma reação particularmente hostil do público no Rio de Janeiro.

As vaias começaram logo na entrada da delegação russa no Maracanã durante a cerimônia de abertura.

“Os russos sempre iriam ser vaiados porque muitos pensam que o COI não deveria ter comprometido os Jogos”, diz Andy Miah.

A nadadora russa Yulia Efimova, que foi banida por 16 meses em 2013 e conquistou o direito de competir novamente no Rio de Janeiro depois de apelar ao Tribunal Arbitral do Esporte, foi vaiada durante toda a competição dos 100 metros peito nas eliminatórias e na final, na qual levou a medalha de prata.

Ela caiu no choro depois que o ouro foi para a americana Lily King, que comentou: “isso só prova que você pode competir limpa e ainda chegar ao topo do pódio”.

Torcida do Brasil em jogo da Alemanha

Torcida brasileira costuma vaiar atletas russos desde o início dos Jogos. GETTY IMAGES

O boxeador russo Evgeny Tishchenko demonstrou frustração com a reação negativa do público aos atletas russos.

“É uma pena que o público se comporte dessa forma, apoiando quem quer que esteja contra a Rússia”, disse ele ao jornal Chicago Tribune.

“Estou bastante irritado com isso. É a primeira vez que eu enfrento esse tipo de tratamento. Para falar a verdade, estou um pouco decepcionado”.

4. Vaias políticas

Ao declarar os Jogos Olímpicos abertos na cerimônia de abertura, o presidente interino Michel Temer foi vaiado.

Temer assumiu em maio depois da suspensão de Dilma Rousseff e foi vaiado apesar dito apenas uma frase. Mas as vaias quase se dissiparam em meio aos fogos de artíficio e à música, até porque o nome de Temer não chegou a ser anunciado.

Presidente em exercício, Michel Temer

Presidente em exercício, Michel Temer, é vaiado na cerimônia de abertura da Rio 2016. GETTY IMAGES

Mas essa não é a primeira vez que uma Olimpíada é um catalisador para a insatisfação com a elite política de um país. O ex-chanceler George Osborne e a então ministra do Interior – e atual premiê – Theresa May foram vaiados na entrega de medalhas durante a Paralimpíada de Londres 2012.

“Foi uma resposta visceral e instantânea de um público indignado com as políticas para os deficientes físicos e que se sentiam sem voz”, diz Hendy.

5. Vaias patrióticas

Os fãs brasileiros foram rápidos em demonstrar apoio aos atletas nativos ao vaiarem vigorosamente seus oponentes.

O tenista alemão Dustin Brown foi vaiado até depois de cair e torcer o tornozelo durante uma partida com Thomaz Bellucci, apesar de ter recebido aplausos e apoio quando se levantou para ser levado ao hospital.

O francês Renaud Lavillenie queixou-se publicamente da vaias que ouviu no Engenhão na noite em que perdeu de Thiago Braz no salto com varas. “Dei tudo de mim e não tenho nenhum arrependimento. Uma prova inacreditável! Só estou decepcionado com a total falta de respeito do público. Isso não é digno de um estádio olímpico”, afirmou.

“As Olimpíadas sempre foram sinônimo de respeito internacional. Então as vaias podem distrair e até evitar que os atletas tenham o melhor desempenho”, diz Rhonda Cohen, psicóloga do esporte da Universidade de Middlesex, na Inglaterra.

O boxeador camaronês Hassan N’Dam N’Jijam certamente não ficou feliz ao perder a luta contra o brasileiro Michel Borges depois de muitas vaias pantomímicas. Segundo ele, o barulho pode ter influenciado os juízes.

Os atletas argentinos também foram vaiados durante a cerimônia de abertura só porque são… argentinos – nossos vizinhos e rivais, especialmente no futebol.

E há o caso da goleira da seleção feminina de futebol dos Estados Unidos, Hope Solo, que postou fotos nas redes sociais falando sobre o vírus da Zika e foi vaiada ao coro de “Zika!”durante a partida contra a Nova Zelândia.

Mas os torcedores não reservaram as vaias apenas aos estrangeiros. A performance ruim dos jogadores brasileiros da seleção de futebol também provocou vaias depois das partidas contra a África do Sul e o Iraque.

6. Vaia aos juízes

Até os juízes olímpicos caíram nas vaias do público brasileiro.

Como anfitriões, os brasileiros conquistaram uma vaga na final do salto sincronizado de 10 metros masculino, apesar de os atletas não terem chances na competição. Inevitavelmente, os juízes consistentemente deram notas baixas, gerando vaias nervosas do público.

Mas vale lembrar que nada se compara à final de ginástica masculina em Atenas 2004. O russo Alexei Nemov animou o público com uma rotina de barras arriscada, e, quando os juízes o avaliaram com notas baixas, ouviu vaias por sete minutos ininterruptos.

Anúncios

Decolonizing Anthropology (Savage Minds)

April 19, 2016

Decolonizing Anthropology is a new series on Savage Minds edited by Carole McGranahan and Uzma Z. Rizvi. Welcome.

Just about 25 years ago Faye Harrison poignantly asked if “an authentic anthropology can emerge from the critical intellectual traditions and counter-hegemonic struggles of Third World peoples? Can a genuine study of humankind arise from dialogues, debates, and reconciliation amongst various non-Western and Western intellectuals — both those with formal credentials and those with other socially meaningful and appreciated qualifications?” (1991:1). In launching this series, we acknowledge the key role that Black anthropologists have played in thinking through how and why to decolonize anthropology, from the 1987 Association of Black Anthropologists’ roundtable at the AAAs that preceded the 1991 volume on Decolonizing Anthropology edited by Faye Harrison, to the World Anthropologies Network, to Jafari Sinclaire Allen and Ryan Cecil Jobson’s essay out this very month in Current Anthropology on “The Decolonizing Generation: (Race and) Theory in Anthropology since the Eighties.”

Decolonizing Anthropology HarrisonThese questions continue to haunt anthropology and all those striving to bring some resolution to these issues. It has become increasingly important to also recognize the ways in which those questions have changed, and how the separation between Western and NonWestern is less about locality and geography, but rather an epistemic question related to the colonial histories of anthropology. Decolonization then has multiple facets to its approach: it is philosophical, methodological, and praxis-oriented, particularly within the fields of anthropology. Here at Savage Minds, we have decided to take these questions on again in a different public, and work through a series of dialogues, debates and possibly even reconciliation. 

We feel it imperative to decolonize anthropology; not doing so reiterates hierarchies of control and oppressive systems of knowledge production. But what does that really mean and what does it look like? What might it mean to decolonize anthropology? Various subfields of anthropology have been contending with this issue in different ways. For example, within archaeological literature, decolonization emerged as political necessity developed through an engagement with the postcolonial critique. Being inspired by Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s influential work on decolonizing methodologies (among others) resulted in the development of indigenous archaeology. Most archaeologists would argue that anthropological archaeology continues to exist within neocolonial, neoliberal, and late capitalist frameworks, and thus these critiques and methodologies need to be constantly revised utilizing interdisciplinary projects that locate decolonization across academia (including decolonizing epistemologies, aesthetics, pedagogy, etc).

decolonize-stickersCalls for decolonization have now emerged as mainstream politics in the academy: an era when academics across disciplines are calling for historical, financial, and intellectual accountability for not only the work we do, but also for the academic institutions in which we study, teach, and learn. We contend, therefore, that decolonizing anthropology (at a minimum) has now grown to a project beyond its initial impetus in treating non-anthropologist intellectuals as just that: intellectuals rather than local interlocutors. In its development across the discipline, in both archaeology and cultural anthropology, for example, decolonizing anthropology is a project about rethinking epistemology, methodology, community, and political commitments.

Epistemology. Decolonizing anthropology means rethinking epistemology. Anthropologists have long acknowledged the development of our field with a colonial impulse, and how the construction of knowledge reiterate systems of control. It is important to continue working through epistemic concerns to realign how our discipline might undiscipline itself and realign how it evaluates what research is considered important. Decolonizing epistemology destabilizes the canon. It is not enough to only add certain voices into our anthro-core classes; a decolonizing movement focused on epistemology provides rigor to the multiplicity and plurality of voices. Deeply linked to the ways in which knowledge is produced and constructed, is our pedagogy and the methodologies by which we practice.

Pedagogy. If we are to realign our discipline, it becomes imperative for us to reconsider how decolonization might impact our pedagogy. This is not a new concept in the academy: decolonizing pedagogy is a subfield within the field of education. As mediators/translators/facilitators of knowledge, it is our responsibility to consider how anthropological conversations about race and difference might be supported and developed in the classroom through a decolonized pedagogical practices. A decolonized pedagogy should be listed within as best practices in our guides to teaching and learning. Pedagogy also includes what one teaches as well as how. What forms the anthropological “canon” of works that one must know? Part of the decolonizing of the discipline is to reassess whose scholarship we mark as important via inclusion on course syllabi. The rediscovery of Zora Neale Hurston’s scholarship by anthropologists is the most obvious example; who else are we–or should we–be learning from and thinking with anew today?

Methodology. Decolonizing anthropology means rethinking methodology, Our history is full of taking information from communities without enough consideration of the impact of this form of anthropological research. This does not only mean filling out our IRB forms, but also thinking carefully about power. Institutionally, our bodies are disciplined to hold and claim certain statuses as anthropologists. How does tending to such manifestations of power redirect our relationships in the field, our research questions, the ways we teach, and the way we work with communities?

Community. Decolonizing anthropology means rethinking community. Rethinking who the communities are within which we do our research. Rethinking the way we stretch and build our community of conversation to open beyond the academy, and learning how to extend our deep anthropological practice of listening with our ears and with our hands, and cultivating a spirit of reciprocity for a new era. And at the heart of today’s decolonial project, rethinking who our community of anthropologists is, and rethinking strategies of recruitment and retention for an anthropology that reflects and includes the communities whose stories, beliefs, and practices have long been those which comprised our discipline.

Political Commitment. Decolonizing anthropology means rethinking our political commitments. It also means to acknowledge that we are not the first to have them. Anthropology has long been a discipline with a political edge to its scholarship for some of its practitioners. However, as decades turn into centuries, what was once politically edgy looks embarrassingly not so, conventional or racist or both. We believe that a decolonized anthropology involves research that advances our understanding of the human world in a way that moves us forward.

All of this involves communication. As editors, our goals for this series are both personal and professional. Our first collaboration was an India Review special issue on Public Anthropology (2006), edited by Carole McGranahan, with Uzma Z. Rizvi as a contributor to the issue. Carole recently revisited her introduction to that volume in a keynote lecture for the annual American University’s Public Anthropology conference in 2014. In a talk on “Tibet, Ferguson, Gaza: On Political Crisis and Anthropological Responsibility,” she reflected on political changes in the discipline over the last decade, including our need to not only address anthropology’s colonial past, but also our imperial present. This is the sort of thinking we began together in 2006. Uzma’s article entitled “Accounting for Multiple Desires: Decolonizing Methodologies, Archaeology and the Public Interest” was based on her PhD research (2000-2003) in Rajasthan, India. The project was designed as a community based-participatory action research project that was explicitly linked to decolonizing archaeology in India. Both of us have had a long standing engagement with this literature and consider this contemporary moment to be significant within the praxis of our discipline, which is why we are thrilled to launch this series!

We have invited anthropologists writing and thinking about decolonizing the discipline to contribute essays to this series. Essays will be posted roughly every two weeks, and if any readers would like to submit an essay for consideration, please send us an email at decolonizinganthropology[at]gmail.com.

Our series schedule of contributors is as follows:

April 25–Faye Harrison, in conversation with Carole McGranahan, Kaifa Roland, and Bianca Williams

May 9–Melissa Rosario

May 23–Zodwa Radebe

June 6–Lisa Uperesa

June 20–Public Anthropology Institute (Gina Athena Ulysse, with Faye Harrison, Carole McGranahan, Melissa Rosario, Paul Stoller, and Maria Vesperi)

July 4–Krysta Ryzewski

August 1–Asmeret Mehari

August 8–Nokuthula Hlabangane

August 15–Zoe Todd

August 29–Didier Sylvain and Les Sabiston

September 12–Claudia Serrato

September 26–Gina Athena Ulysse

October 10–Paige West

November 7–Kristina Lyons

November 14–Marisol de la Cadena

Feyerabend and the harmfulness of the ontological turn (Agent Swarm)

Posted on 

by Terence Blake

Feyerabend stands in opposition to the demand for a new construction that some thinkers have made after the supposed failure or historical obsolescence of deconstruction and of post-structuralism in general. On the contrary, he wholeheartedly endorses the continued necessity of deconstruction. Feyerabend also rejects the idea that we need an overarching system or a unified theoretical framework, arguing that in many cases a system or theoretical framework is just not necessary or even useful:

a theoretical framework may not be needed (do I need a theoretical framework to get along with my neighbor?) . Even a domain that uses theories may not need a theoretical framework (in periods of revolution theories are not used as frameworks but are broken into pieces which are then arranged this way and that way until something interesting seems to arise) (Philosophy and Methodology of Military Intelligence, 13).

Further, not only is a unified framework often unnecessary, it is undesirable, as it can be a hindrance to our research and to the conduct of our lives:

“frameworks always put undue constraints on any interesting activity” (ibid, 13).

Feyerabend emphasises that our ideas must be sufficiently complex to fit in and to cope with the complexity of our practices (11). More important than a new theoretical construction which only serves “to confuse people instead of helping them” we need ideas that have the complexity and the fluidity that come from close connection with concrete practice and with its “fruitful imprecision” (11).

Lacking this connection, we get only school philosophies that “deceive people but do not help them”. They deceive people by replacing the concrete world with their own abstract construction

that gives some general and very mislead[ing] outlines but never descends to details.

The result is a simplistic set of slogans and stereotypes that

“is taken seriously only by people who have no original ideas and think that [such a school philosophy] might help them getting ideas”.

Applied to the the ontological turn, this means that an ontological system is useless, a hindrance to thought and action, whereas an ontology which is not crystallised into a unified system and a closed set of fixed principles, but which limits itself to proposing an open set of rules of thumb and of free study of concrete cases is both acceptable and desirable. The detour through ontology is both useless and harmful, according to Feyerabend, because a freer, more open, and less technical approach is possible.

Is human behavior controlled by our genes? Richard Levins reviews ‘The Social Conquest of Earth’ (Climate & Capitalism)

“Failing to take class division into account is not simply a political bias. It also distorts how we look at human evolution as intrinsically bio-social and human biology as socialized biology.”

 

August 1, 2012

Edward O. Wilson. The Social Conquest of Earth. Liverwright Publishing, New York, 2012

reviewed by Richard Levins

In the 1970s, Edward O. Wilson, Richard Lewontin, Stephen Jay Gould and I were colleagues in Harvard’s new department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. In spite of our later divergences, I retain grateful memories of working in the field with Ed, turning over rocks, sharing beer, breaking open twigs, putting out bait (canned tuna fish) to attract the ants we were studying..

We were part of a group that hoped to jointly write and publish articles offering a common view of evolutionary science, but that collaboration was brief, largely because Lewontin and I strongly disagreed with Wilson’s Sociobiology.

Reductionism and Sociobiology

Although Wilson fought hard against the reduction of biology to the study of molecules, his holism stopped there. He came to promote the reduction of social and behavioral science to biology. In his view:

“Our lives are restrained by two laws of biology: all of life’s entities and processes are obedient to the laws of physics and chemistry; and all of life’s entities and processes have arisen through evolution and natural selection.” [Social Conquest, p. 287]

This is true as far as it goes but fails in two important ways.

First, it ignores the reciprocal feedback between levels. The biological creates the ensemble of molecules in the cell; the social alters the spectrum of molecules in the biosphere; biological activity creates the biosphere itself and the conditions for the maintenance of life.

Second, it doesn’t consider how the social level alters the biological: our biology is a socialized biology.

Higher (more inclusive) levels are indeed constrained by the laws at lower levels of organization, but they also have their own laws that emerge from the lower level yet are distinct and that also determine which chemical and physical entities are present in the organisms. In new contexts they operate differently.

Thus for example we, like a few other animals including bears, are omnivores. For some purposes such as comparing digestive systems that’s an adequate label. But we are omnivores of a special kind: we not only acquire food by predation, but we also producefood, turning the inedible into edible, the transitory into stored food. This has had such a profound effect on our lives that it is also legitimate to refer to us as something new, productivores.

The productivore mode of sustenance opens a whole new domain: the mode of production. Human societies have experienced different modes of production and ways to organize reproduction, each with its own dynamics, relations with the rest of nature, division into classes, and processes which restore or change it when it is disturbed.

The division of society into classes changes how natural selection works, who is exposed to what diseases, who eats and who doesn’t eat, who does the dishes, who must do physical work, how long we can expect to live. It is no longer possible to prescribe the direction of natural selection for the whole species.

So failing to take class division into account is not simply a political bias. It also distorts how we look at human evolution as intrinsically bio-social and human biology as socialized biology.

The opposite of the genetic determinism of sociobiology is not “the blank slate” view that claims that our biological natures were irrelevant to behavior and society. The question is, what about our animal heritage was relevant?

We all agree that we are animals; that as animals we need food; that we are terrestrial rather than aquatic animals; that we are mammals and therefore need a lot of food to support our high metabolic rates that maintain body temperature; that for part of our history we lived in trees and acquired characteristics adapted to that habitat, but came down from the trees with a dependence on vision, hands with padded fingers, and so on. We have big brains, with regions that have different major functions such as emotions, color vision, and language.

But beyond these general capacities, there is widespread disagreement about which behaviors or attitudes are expressions of brain structure. The amygdala is a locus of emotion, but does it tell us what to be angry or rejoice about? It is an ancient part of our brains, but has it not evolved in response to what the rest of the brain is doing? There is higher intellectual function in the cortex, but does it tell us what to think about?

Every part of an organism is the environment for the rest of the organism, setting the context for natural selection. In contrast to this fluid viewpoint, phrases such as “hard-wired” have become part of the pop vocabulary, applied promiscuously to all sorts of behaviors.

In a deeper sense, asking if something is heritable is a nonsense question. Heritability is always a comparison: how much of the difference between humans and chimps is heritable? What about the differences between ourselves and Neanderthals? Between nomads and farmers?

Social Conquest of Earth

The Social Conquest of Earth, Ed Wilson’s latest book, continues his interest in the “eusocial” animals – ants, bees and others that live in groups with overlapping generations and a division of labor that includes altruistic behavior. As the title shows. he also continues to use the terminology of conquest and domination, so that social animals “conquer” the earth, their abundance makes them “dominate.”

The problem that Wilson poses in this book is first, why did eusociality arise at all, and second, why is it so rare?

Wilson is at his best when discussing the more remote past, the origins of social behavior 220 million years ago for termites, 150 million years for ants, 70-80 million years for humble bees and honey bees.

But as he gets closer to humanity the reductionist biases that informed Sociobiology reassert themselves. Once again Wilson argues that brain architecture determines what people do socially – that war, aggression, morality, honor and hierarchy are part of “human nature.”

Rejecting kin selection

A major change, and one of the most satisfying parts of the book, is his rejection of kin selection as a motive force of social evolution, a theory he once defended strongly.

Kin selection assumed that natural selection acts on genes. A gene will be favored if it results in enhancing its own survival and reproduction, but it is not enough to look at the survival of the individual. If my brother and I each have 2 offspring, a shared gene would be doubled in the next generation. But if my brother sacrifices himself so that I might leave 5 offspring while he leaves none, our shared gene will increase 250%.

Therefore, argued the promoters of this theory, the fitness that natural selection increases has to be calculated over a whole set of kin, weighted by the closeness of their relationship. Mathematical formulations were developed to support this theory. Wilson found it attractive because it appeared to support sociobiology.

However, plausible inference is not enough to prove a theory. Empirical studies comparing different species or traits did not confirm the kin selection hypothesis, and a reexamination of its mathematical structure (such as the fuzziness of defining relatedness) showed that it could not account for the observed natural world. Wilson devotes a lot of space to refuting kin selection because of his previous support of it: it is a great example of scientific self-correction.

Does group selection explain social behaviour?

Wilson has now adopted another model in which the evolution of sociality is the result of opposing processes of ordinary individual selection acting within populations, and group selection acting between populations. He invokes this model account to for religion, morality, honor and other human behaviors.

He argues that individual selection promotes “selfishness” (that is, behavior that enhances individual survival) while group selection favors cooperative and “altruistic” behavior. The two forms of selection oppose each other, and that results in our mixed behaviors.

“We are an evolutionary chimera living on intelligence steered by the demands of animal instinct. This is the reason we are mindlessly dismantling the biosphere and with it, our own prospects for permanent existence.” [p.13]

But this simplistic reduction of environmental destruction to biology will not stand. Contrary to Wilson, the destruction of the biosphere is not “mindless.” It is the outcome of interactions in the noxious triad of greed, poverty, and ignorance, all produced by a socio-economic system that must expand to survive.

For Wilson, as for many environmentalists, the driver of ecological destruction is some generic “we,” who are all in the same boat. But since the emergence of classes after the adoption of agriculture some 8-10,000 years ago it is no longer appropriate to talk of a collective “we.”

The owners of the economy are willing to use up resources, pollute the environment, debase the quality of products, and undermine the health of the producers out of a kind of perverse economic rationality. They support their policies with theories such as climate change denial or doubting the toxicity of pesticides, and buttress it with legislation and court decisions.

Evolution and religion

The beginning and end of the book, a spirited critique of religion as possibly explaining human nature, is more straightforwardly materialist than the view supported by Stephen J. Gould, who argued that religion and science are separate magisteria that play equal roles in human wellbeing.

But Wilson’s use of evidence is selective.

For example, he argues that religion demands absolute belief from its followers – but this is true only of Christianity and Islam. Judaism lets you think what you want as long as you practice the prescribed rituals, Buddhism doesn’t care about deities or the afterlife.

Similarly he argues that creation myths are a product of evolution:

“Since paleolithic times … each tribe invented its own creation myths… No tribe could long survive without a creation myth… The creation myth is a Darwinian device for survival.” [p. 8]

But the ancient Israelites did not have an origin myth when they emerged as a people in the hills of Judea around 1250 B.C.E. Although it appears at the beginning of the Bible, the Israelites did not adapt the Book of Genesis from Babylonian mythology until four centuries after Deuteronomy was written, after they had survived 200 years as a tribal confederation, two kingdoms and the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests— by then the writing of scripture was a political act, not a “Darwinian device for survival.”

Biologizing war

In support of his biologizing of “traits,” Wilson reviews recent research that appears to a show a biological basis for the way people see and interpret color, for the incest taboo, and for the startle response – and then asserts that inherited traits include war, hierarchy, honor and such. Ignoring the role of social class, he views these as universal traits of human nature.

Consider war. Wilson claims that war reflects genes for group selection. “A soldier going into battle will benefit his country but he runs a higher risk of death than one who does not.” [p. 165]

But soldiers don’t initiate conflict. We know in our own times that those who decide to make war are not those who fight the wars – but, perhaps unfortunately, sterilizing the general staff of the Pentagon and of the CIA would not produce a more peaceful America.

The evidence against war as a biological imperative is strong. Willingness to fight is situational.

Group selection can’t explain why soldiers have to be coerced into fighting, why desertion is a major problem for generals and is severely punished, or why resistance to recruitment is a major problem of armies. In the present militarist USA, soldiers are driven to join up through unemployment and the promises of benefits such as learning skills and getting an education and self-improvement. No recruitment posters offer the opportunity to kill people as an inducement for signing up.

The high rates of surrender and desertion of Italian soldiers in World War II did not reflect any innate cowardice among Italians but a lack of fascist conviction. The very rarity of surrender by Japanese soldiers in the same war was not a testimony to greater bravery on the part of the Japanese but of the inculcated combination of nationalism and religion.

As the American people turned against the Vietnam war, increased desertions and the killing of officers by the soldiers reflected their rejection of the war.

The terrifying assaults of the Vikings during the middle ages bear no resemblance to the mellow Scandinavian culture of today, too short a time for natural selection to transform national character.

The attempt to make war an inherited trait favored by natural selection reflects the sexism that has been endemic in sociobiology. It assumes that local groups differed in their propensity for aggression and prowess in war. The victorious men carry off the women of the conquered settlements and incorporate them into their own communities. Therefore the new generation has been selected for greater military success among the men. But the women, coming from a defeated, weaker group, would bring with them their genes for lack of prowess, a selection for military weakness! Such a selection process would be self-negating.

Ethnocentrism

Wilson also considers ethnocentrism to be an inherited trait: group selection leads people to favor members of their own group and reject outsiders.

The problem is that the lines between groups vary under different circumstances. For example, in Spanish America, laws governing marriage included a large number of graded racial categories, while in North America there were usually just two. What’s more, the category definitions are far from permanent: at one time, the Irish were regarded as Black, and the whiteness of Jews was questioned.

Adoption, immigration, mergers of clans also confound any possible genetic basis for exclusion.

Hierarchy

Wilson draws on the work of Herbert Simon to argue that hierarchy is a result of human nature: there will always be rulers and ruled. His argument fails to distinguish between hierarchy and leadership.

There are other forms of organization possible besides hierarchy and chaos, including democratic control by the workers who elect the operational leadership. In some labor unions, leaders’ salaries are pegged to the median wage of the members. In University departments the chairmanship is often a rotating task that nobody really wants. When Argentine factory owners closed their plants during the recession, workers in fact seized control and ran them profitably despite police sieges.

Darwinian behavior?

Wilson argues that “social traits” evolved through Darwinian natural selection. Genes that promoted behaviors that helped the individual or group to survive were passed on; genes that weakened the individual or group were not. The tension between individual and group selection decided which traits would be part of our human nature.

But a plausible claim that a trait might be good for people is not enough to explain its origin and survival. A gene may become fixed in a population even if it is harmful, just by the random genetic changes that we know occur. Or a gene may be harmful but be dragged along by an advantageous gene close to it on the same chromosome.

Selection may act in different directions in different subpopulations, or in different habitats, or in differing environmental. Or the adaptive value of a gene may change with its prevalence or the distribution of ages in the population, itself a consequence of the environment and population heterogeneity.

For instance, Afro-Americans have a higher death rate from cancer than Euro-Americans. In part this reflects the carcinogenic environments they have been subjected to, but there is also a genetic factor. It is the combination of living conditions and genetics that causes higher mortality rates.

* * *

Obviously I am not arguing that evolution doesn’t happen. The point is that we need a much better argument than just a claim that some genotype might be beneficial. And we need a much more rigorous understanding of the differences and linkages between the biological and social components of humanity’s nature. Just calling some social behavior a “trait” does not make it heritable.

In a book that attempts such a wide-ranging panorama of human evolution, there are bound to be errors. But the errors in The Social Conquest of Earth form a pattern: they reduce social issues to biology, and they insist on our evolutionary continuity with other animals while ignoring the radical discontinuity that made us productivores and divided us into classes.

Wimps or warriors? Honey bee larvae absorb the social culture of the hive, study finds (Science Daily)

Date:
October 29, 2015
Source:
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Summary:
Even as larvae, honey bees are tuned in to the social culture of the hive, becoming more or less aggressive depending on who raises them, researchers report.

Even as larvae, honey bees are tuned in to the social culture of the hive, becoming more or less aggressive depending on who raises them. The researchers don’t yet know how the social information is being transmitted to the larvae. Credit: © gertrudda / Fotolia

Even as larvae, honey bees are tuned in to the social culture of the hive, becoming more or less aggressive depending on who raises them, researchers report in the journal Scientific Reports.

“We are interested in the general issue of how social information gets under the skin, and we decided to take a chance and ask about very young bees that are weeks away from adulthood,” said University of Illinois entomology professor and Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology director Gene Robinson, who led the research with postdoctoral researcher Clare Rittschof and Pennsylvania State University professor Christina Grozinger.

“In a previous study, we cross-fostered adult bees from gentle colonies into more aggressive colonies and vice versa, and then we measured their brain gene expression,” Robinson said. “We found that the bees had a complex pattern of gene expression, partly influenced by their own personal genetic identity and partly influenced by the environment of the colony they were living in. This led us to wonder when they become so sensitive to their social environment.”

In the new study, the researchers again cross-fostered bees, but this time as larvae in order to manipulate the bees’ early life experiences. The larvae were from a variety of queens, with sister larvae divided between high- and low-aggression colonies.

The larvae were removed from their foster hives and put into a neutral laboratory environment one day before they emerged as adults. The researchers tested their aggressiveness by exposing them to an intruder bee.

They were surprised to see that the bees retained the social information they had acquired as larvae. Those raised in aggressive colonies were 10 to 15 percent more aggressive than those raised in the gentler colonies.

“Even sisters born of the same queen but reared in different colonies differed in aggression, demonstrating the potency of this environmental effect,” Robinson said.

The finding was surprising in part because bee larvae undergo metamorphosis, which radically changes the structure of their bodies and brains.

“It’s hard to imagine what elements of the brain are influenced during the larval period that then survive the massive reorganization of the brain to bias behavior in this way,” Robinson said.

The aggressive honey bees also had more robust immune responses than their gentler counterparts, the team found.

“We challenged them with pesticides and found that the aggressive bees were more resistant to pesticide,” Grozinger said. “That’s surprising considering what we know from vertebrates, where stress in early life leads to a diminishment of resilience. With the bees, we saw an increase in resilience.”

This finding also suggests that the effects of the social environment on young bees could extend beyond brain function and behavior, Robinson said.

The researchers don’t yet know how the social information is being transmitted to the larvae. They tested whether the bees differed in size, which would suggest that they had been fed differently, but found no size differences between aggressive and gentle bees.

“Adult honey bees are well known for their sociality, their communication skills and their ability to adjust their behavior in response to the needs of the hive,” Rittschof said.

“In mammals, including humans, the effects of early life social interactions often persist throughout adulthood despite additional social experiences,” she said. “A similar pattern in honey bees has broad implications for our understanding of social behavior within the hive and in comparison with other species.”

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4amHuHnk5XM


Journal Reference:

  1. Clare C. Rittschof, Chelsey B. Coombs, Maryann Frazier, Christina M. Grozinger, Gene E. Robinson. Early-life experience affects honey bee aggression and resilience to immune challengeScientific Reports, 2015; 5: 15572 DOI: 10.1038/srep15572

Anthropologies #21: Is There Hope for an Anthropocene Anthropology? (Savage Minds)

September 5, 2015, by Ryan.

This entry is part 4 of 10 in the Anthropologies #21 series.

Up next for this issue we have Todd Sanders and Elizabeth F. Hall. Sanders is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. He has written extensively on African and Euro-American knowledge practices, and is currently collaborating with Elizabeth Hall on a project called ‘Knowing Climate Change.’ Hall is a physician-scientist and Research Associate at the Centre for Ethnography at the University of Toronto Scarborough. She trained as a specialist in public health medicine and holds a PhD in epidemiology.  –R.A.

Global climate change is driving anthropologists in opposite directions. Some are enthusiastically adopting “the Anthropocene” – a “gift” from our friends in the natural sciences (Latour 2014) that might enable us to exit, at long last, our Modern world and its Holocene thinking (Hamilton, et al. 2015). The concept potentially dovetails with old and new concerns – networks, rhizomes and relational ontologies; more-than-human socialities; hybrids, nonhumans and the posthuman; multispecies, multinaturalisms and modes of existence – and promises critical purchase over today’s troubled times. For as we enter the Anthropocene, we’ll need new conceptual tools and ways of thinking to understand our new home. The familiar dualisms that have long dogged our discipline and world – Nature and Culture; local and global; Moderns and non-moderns; and so on – are not up to the task. Discard the Modern dualisms. Dwell on the emergent processes of their production. And reimagine worlds as partial and provisional, composed through multiple, heterogeneous entanglements. For many anthropologists, the time is ripe for such an Anthropocene Anthropology.

At the same time, climate change is leading other anthropologists right back to the Holocene. For them, this is not the time to abandon dualisms nor to theorise partial, emergent, hybrid worlds. Instead, we must entrench and purify the well-known anthropological categories of nature and culture, tradition and the local, and insist on the merits of holism. These anthropologists share theoretical affinities more with Julian Steward and Robert Netting than with, say, Latour or Tsing. Their scholarship is large and growing, and asks how climate change will impact local, traditional cultures. The story ordinarily goes like this: local, traditional cultures crucially depend on nature for their cultural, material and spiritual needs. They will therefore suffer first, worst and most directly from rapid climate change. These place-based peoples are somewhat resilient and adaptive, due to their local, indigenous or traditional ecological knowledge. Yet cultural adaptation has limits. Urgent anthropological interventions are thus required to mediate and translate between local and global worlds to help these cultures adapt. The Anthropocene figures here too: not as an opportunity to reconfigure and overcome Modern dualisms but as a way to underscore and holistically integrate them. Welcome to the Holocene!

While this approach is strongly endorsed by the AAA’s Global Climate Change Task Force (Fiske, et al. 2014), other anthropologists will insist that in today’s world, old ideas about local, traditional cultures are “obsolete from the outset” (Hastrup 2009: 23). For them, entrenching ourselves in the Holocene is not the obvious way to enter the Anthropocene. Still, it’s worth noting that obsolescence is a matter of perspective and is context-dependent. This pedestrian point is crucial because, when it comes to climate change, anthropology is not the only discipline in town. And because it isn’t, anthropologists may not get the last word on which of our knowledges and knowledge practices are useful, or useless, in the wider climate change arena.

In this vast, bustling arena, considerable efforts are being devoted to putting a human face on climate change. For many in the human sciences, this means supplementing and nuancing abstract, paternalistic, quantitative climate sciences with humanistic, qualitative data and values from real people (Hulme 2011; Jasanoff 2010). As we discuss elsewhere, this is one reason growing numbers of social and natural scientists are doing ethnographic research on “the human dimensions of climate change” (Hall and Sanders 2015). From geographers to geophysicists, ecologists to ethnobotanists, scholars from every alcove of the academy are joining the human dimensions enterprise. They travel to remote places on the planet to understand how local, traditional cultures will – or will not – adapt to climate change. And they tell familiar tales: the same tales, in fact, that some anthropologists tell about local, traditional, place-based cultures being done in by a changing climate. In this broader academic arena, such local, traditional peoples are fast becoming the human face of climate change. Figure 1, reproduced from a leading interdisciplinary climate change journal, is emblematic.

Sanders-and-Hall_Figure-1-JPEG

 

Figure 1. “Theo Ikummaq in the middle of Fury and Hecla Strait, between Igloolik and Baffin Island, explaining the challenges with spring ice conditions, while waiting at a seal hole (June 22, 2005).” (With kind permission from Springer Science+Business Media: Climatic Change, Travelling and hunting in a changing Arctic: assessing Inuit vulnerability to a sea ice change in Igloolik, Nunavut, 94, 2009, p. 375, Laidler GJ, Ford JD, Gough WA, Ikummaq T, Gagnon AS, Kowal S, Qrunnut K, Irngaut C, figure 2).

This scholarship shares affinities with salvage anthropology and cultural ecology, and while not unaware of the many critiques of such projects, remains mostly unfazed by them. These are urgent, real-world problems, after all, that require serious ethnographic attention. There’s no time for wiffle-waffle. But whatever one’s views on the matter, the point is that this multi- and interdisciplinary scholarship is large, and working hard to complement and complete the climate change puzzle: to serve up culture to nature, local to the global, traditional to the modern, values to facts, indigenous knowledge to Western Science. This is Holocene thinking replayed with a vengeance.

After decades of imploring social scientists to step up to the plate, to leave our ivory towers, to add the missing human piece to the climate change puzzle, “harder” natural scientists are welcoming such “soft” climate change scholars and scholarship. Of course economists got there first. But this new wave of human dimensions scholarship provides hope that, after decades of delay, important aspects of “the human” might finally be fleshed out and “integrated” into our understandings of climate change. These hopes are understandable, given the Modern metaphysics many in this arena share.

It all began with capital-n Nature, which natural and computational scientists reanimated decades ago. Today, this Nature takes the form of coupled Ocean-Atmosphere General Circulation Models (OAGCMs) and Earth System Models (ESMs), which rely on formally-specified (i.e., mathematical) equations to model the Earth System’s natural components and the complex links among them. “The human” came later. Social scientists from many disciplines are now adding in the human, or trying to, and the calls for more such efforts continue.

One perpetual challenge in this arena has been how to combine the two, Nature and Culture, the Ecological and the Sociological. Thus funding streams like the NSF’s long-running Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) Program have been established for precisely this purpose. The research projects they support are often large, always interdisciplinary and “must include analyses of four different components: (1) the dynamics of a natural system; (2) the dynamics of a human system; (3) the processes through which the natural system affects the human system; and (4) the processes through which the human system affects the natural system.”

But however funded, efforts to “integrate” human and natural components of the system in the name of climate change are legion. Consider the tightly-coupled Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs), which aim quantitatively to bring diverse natural “scientific, economics and social science expertise together to provide analysis and advice that comprehensively addresses all or at least many aspects of the climate change issue” (Sarofim and Reilly 2011: 27). There are also many looser modelling efforts with telling titles – coupled human and natural systems (CHANS), human-environment systems (HES), social-ecological systems (SES) – that aim to couple human and natural components of the Earth System. Such holistic, Modern integrationist efforts stabilise “components” through the act of “coupling” them, and sometimes mistake models for the world. They are also widespread and flourishing.

The Stockholm Resilience Centre, for instance, funded by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (MISTRA) to the tune of 30 million US dollars, is well-known for developing complex social-ecological systems to aid decision-making around climate change. The Centre’s Science Director, Carl Folke, notes:

We want to build a unique transdisciplinary research environment where innovative ideas can flourish. By combining new forms of cooperation with a holistic perspective, we hope to generate the insights that are needed to strengthen societies’ and the ecosystems’ capacities to meet a world which spins faster and faster.

Folke is one of the Centre’s founders, and has devoted much of his distinguished career to theorising “resilience” and “social-ecological systems.” While Figure 2 is illustrative of some of his influential work on coupled systems, similar diagrams could be reproduced from countless other scholars.

Sanders-and-Hall_Figure-2-JPEG2

Figure 2. A conceptual framework developed in relation to the resilience approach. (Republished with permission of Global Environmental Change, from “Resilience: the emergence of a perspective for social-ecological systems analysis,” Folke, C., vol. 16, 2006; permission conveyed through Copyright Clearance Center, Inc.).

Note how the all-embracing social-ecological system is composed of Latour’s modern constitution: a Great Divide between Nature (left) and Culture/Society (right), with feedback loops between the system’s component parts. Note, too, how scale works, also in a Modern register: each side is composed of “nested hierarchies,” the “larger” levels encompassing the “smaller.” (There’s obvious scope here to fill local slots with local knowledges and peoples). While Folke acknowledges that these are conceptual models, many others do not, leading to statements like “[c]oupled human and natural systems (CHANS) are systems in which humans and natural components interact” (Liu, et al. 2007: 639). Coupled systems scholarship may enable us to sort messy empirical worlds into tidy, Modern boxes, and to pretend we haven’t done so. But such purifying practices are of little interest to Anthropocene Anthropology, and do not create an environment in which Anthropocene thinking might flourish. Where to find such a place?

Last year, we attended Carbon 14: Climate is Culture, an innovative ArtScience collaboration at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. The event was produced by a London-based charitable organisation whose mission is to bring together artists, scientists, journalists, media specialists and other publics “to stimulate a cultural narrative that will engage and inspire a sustainable and vibrant future society” in the face of global climate change.

The four-month-long exhibition and festival was big, Canadian-flavoured, and guided by a single question, and answer, prominently printed on the catalogue cover: “What does Culture have to do with Climate Change? Everything.” The “culture” had two senses: as in the cultural arts (music, theatre, photography, etc.), which play a crucial role innovating and communicating to the public; and in the anthropological sense (more or less). The event featured a performance by Inuit musician Tanya Tagaq and a mock trial of Canadian broadcaster, environmentalist and scientist, David Suzuki, for his Carbon Manifesto; poetry slams and a performance art piece by Dene-Inuvialuit artist, Reneltta Arluk, that examined “the impacts of climate change on Northern peoples and explore[d] the artist’s personal cultural identity;” talks by journalists, artists and others on fossil fuel dependence and the health of the oceans, biodiversity, sustainability and extinction; workshops on provocative, environmental activist arts; public discussions, including one with University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver and Sheila Watt-Cloutier, the well-known Canadian Inuit cultural and human rights activist and author (Watt-Cloutier 2015). The event also featured visual arts and artists: videos produced with Inuit filmmakers on climate change and Inuit traditional knowledge, on everyday life in the far North, and others; photographs of majestic Nature; and awe-inspiring photos that the Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield, took from outer space.

Climate is Culture was spectacular. Yet the event left us haunted by the thought that the sustainable, vibrant, dare we say “Anthropocene” future we had hoped to find looked strikingly like the present – or even the past. Nature had thoroughly bifurcated from Culture, while Culture had simultaneously split in two: planet destroyers (the global, modern, fossil-fuel-burning West) versus innocent victims (the local, traditional Rest). Modern dualisms ran amok, creating Nature and Culture, local and global, Moderns and non-moderns everywhere we turned. One prominently-displayed photo captured the mood most eloquently: a lone, Inuk elder standing on an ice flow, poised to harpoon an unsuspecting walrus poking its head out from beneath the sea (similar to Figure 1 above, add walrus). “Lukie, 70, prepares to harpoon a walrus while standing on moving ice in Foxe Basin,” read the caption. It continued: “This scene could have been from a thousand years ago, but it is today.” The photographer, a visual artist and Associate Professor of Geography at a major Canadian university, provided the perfect title: “1000 Years Ago Today.” Though the photo, caption and title said it all, a further plaque was provided, just in case:

The Arctic: A Place of Global Warming and Wisdom

Arctic climate change is a hot topic with surface air temperatures in the region warming at double the global average, and corresponding loss of sea ice, glaciers, and permafrost being observed by both scientists and local people. In Canada’s North, Inuit are on the front lines, and traditional knowledge and experience indicate that climate change already affects travel routes and safety; wildlife, vegetation and habitat; human food security and health; and communities and coastal infrastructure. These cumulative impacts challenge cultural and social identity. However, with an ancient culture, persisting over millennia, Inuit show that human ingenuity, connectedness with the land, and respect for future generations are all-important teachings for the modern world as we collectively face climate change, the paramount issue of our time.

*   *   *

So, what should we think when so many cutting-edge scientists including anthropologists, avant-garde artists, activists, journalists, charitable foundations, non-profit and government funders from across the planet are living happily in the Holocene – as if our theoretical lexicons and social imagination were firmly fixed, if not 1000 years ago today, perhaps 100? Who in this world is ready for an Anthropocene Anthropology? Are there grounds for hope? Enthusiasm? We think so, but only with certain shifts in anthropological practice.

First of all, more critical reflections, debates and theorising of anthropological knowledge practices around climate change are required. Many anthropological writings on climate change imply that holistically integrating our discipline’s disparate questions and theoretical concerns, knowledges and knowledge practices is possible and desirable – a win-win scenario, as it were. This approach is seductive: it suggests that every anthropologist can contribute her or his crucial piece of the climate change puzzle. But it is also seriously undertheorised, and does not accord with current thinking in the social sciences – including in anthropology – about what knowledge is and how it works. Partial connections and incommensurabilities render puzzle metaphors suspect. Knowledges are not puzzle pieces, nor can they simply “add up” to create “the whole.” Focus is required. Choices are always made. Power is never absent. Such commonplaces hold within as well as beyond anthropology. For these reasons, sustained engagements with social theory and the anthropology of knowledge would prove productive. How should we understand climate change anthropologically? Which of our many competing analytics provide the most theoretical purchase over the problem at hand? What are their real-world consequences? Should we dwell on culture or “culture”? Local or “local”? Or something altogether different, of which many promising candidates exist? Forging a meaningful Anthropocene Anthropology will mean prioritising certain anthropological knowledges, analytics and concerns over others. We can’t have it all ways.

Second, whatever our disciplinary response, we must recognise that anthropologists may not be the final arbiters on which of our knowledges and knowledge practices find favour in the wider world. Anthropology, after all, exists in a broader context. And as every anthropologist knows, context matters. The way forward is thus not to repeat, at higher volume, the truism that anthropology has lots to offer. It is to anthropologise the myriad Euro-American contexts in which climate change knowledge is produced and put to work. This means critically interrogating natural and social science knowledge practices surrounding climate change (e.g., interdisciplinarity, collaboration, producing “useful knowledge,” etc.), as well as the disparate policy and science policy realms through which scientific knowledges of climate change are institutionalised. Venerable traditions in political and legal anthropology, and in the anthropology of science and of policy, point the way. But whatever context we choose to study – there are many – Anthropocene Anthropology has its work cut out for it. For in today’s world, as Geertz might have said, it’s Holocene turtles all the way down.

References

Fiske, Shirley, J., Crate, Susan A., Crumley, Carole L., Galvin, Kathleen A., Lazrus, Heather, Luber, George, Lucero, Lisa, Oliver-Smith, Anthony, Orlove, Ben, Strauss, Sarah and Wilk, Richard R. 2014. Changing the atmosphere: anthropology and climate change. Final Report of the AAA Global Climate Change Task Force. Arlington, VA: American Anthropological Association.

Hall, Elizabeth F. and Sanders, Todd. 2015. Accountability and the academy: producing knowledge about the human dimensions of climate change. [link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-9655.12162/epdf] Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21(2): 438-461.

Hamilton, Clive, Bonneuil, Christophe and Gemenne, François, eds. 2015. The Anthropocene and the global environmental crisis: rethinking modernity in a new epoch. London: Routledge.

Hastrup, Kirsten. 2009. Waterworlds: framing the question of social resilience. Pp. 11-30 in The question of resilience: social responses to climate change, ed. K. Hastrup. Copenhagen: Special-Trykkeriet Viborg a-s.

Hulme, Mike. 2011. Meet the humanities. Nature Climate Change 1: 177-79.

Jasanoff, Sheila. 2010. A new climate for society. Theory, Culture & Society 27(2-3): 233-53.

Latour, Bruno. 2014. Anthropology at the time of the Anthropocene: a personal view of what is to be studied. 113th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting. Washington DC.

Liu, Jianguo, Dietz, Thomas, Carpenter, Stephen R., Folke, Carl, Alberti, Marina, Redman, Charles L., Schneider, Stephen H., Ostrom, Elinor, Pell, Alice N., Lubchenco, Jane, Taylor, William W., Ouyang, Zhiyun, Deadman, Peter, Kratz, Timothy and Provencher, William. 2007. Coupled human and natural systems. Ambio 36(8): 639-49.

Sarofim, Marcus C. and Reilly, John M. 2011. Applications of integrated assessment modeling to climate change. WIREs Climate Change 2: 27-44.

Watt-Cloutier, Sheila. 2015. The right to be cold: one woman’s story of protecting her culture, and the Arctic and the whole planet. Toronto: Allen Lane.

Climate Debate Needs More Social Science, New Book Argues (Inside Science)

Image credit: Matt Jiggins via Flickr | http://bit.ly/1M6iSlZ

Physical scientists aren’t trained for all the political and moral issues.
Oct 2 2015 – 10:00am

By: Joel N. Shurkin, Contributor

(Inside Science) — The notion that Earth’s climate is changing—and that the threat to the world is serious—goes back to the 1980s, when a consensus began to form among climate scientists as temperatures began to rise noticeably. Thirty years later, that consensus is solid, yet climate change and the disruption it may cause remain divisive political issues, and millions of people remain unconvinced.

A new book argues that social scientists should play a greater role in helping natural scientists convince people of the reality of climate change and drive policy.

Climate Change and Society consists of 13 essays on why the debate needs the voices of social scientists, including political scientists, psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists. It is edited by Riley E. Dunlap, professor of sociology at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, and Robert J. Brulle, of Drexel University, professor of sociology and environmental science in Philadelphia.

Brulle said the physical scientists tend to frame climate change “as a technocratic and managerial problem.”

“Contrast that to the Pope,” he said.

Pope Francis sees it as a “political, moral issue that won’t be settled by a group of experts sitting in a room,” said Brulle, who emphasized that it will be settled by political process. Sociologists agree.

Sheila Jasanoff also agrees. She is the Pforzheimer professor of science and technology studies at the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and did not participate in the book.

She said that understanding how people behave differently depending on their belief system is important.

“Denial is a somewhat mystical thing in people’s heads,” Jasanoff said. “One can bring tools of sociology of knowledge and belief—or social studies—to understand how commitments to particular statements of nature are linked with understanding how you would feel compelled to behave if nature were that way.”

Parts of the world where climate change is considered a result of the colonial past may resist taking drastic action at the behest of the former colonial rulers. Jasanoff said that governments will have to convince these groups that climate change is a present danger and attention must be paid.

Some who agree there is a threat are reluctant to advocate for drastic economic changes because they believe the world will be rescued by innovation and technology, Jasanoff said. Even among industrialized countries, views about the potential of technology differ.

Understanding these attitudes is what social scientists do, the book’s authors maintain.

“One of the most pressing contributions our field can make is to legitimate big questions, especially the ability of the current global economic system to take the steps needed to avoid catastrophic climate change,” editors of the book wrote.

The issue also is deeply embedded in the social science of economics and in the problem of “have” and “have-not” societies in consumerism and the economy.

For example, Bangladesh sits at sea level, and if the seas rise enough, nearly the entire country could disappear in the waters. Hurricane Katrina brought hints of the consequences of that reality to New Orleans, a city that now sits below sea level. The heaviest burden of the storm’s effects fell on the poor neighborhoods, Brulle said.

“The people of Bangladesh will suffer more than the people on the Upper East Side of Manhattan,” Brulle said. He said they have to be treated differently, which is not something many physical scientists studying the processes behind sea level rise have to factor into their research.

“Those of us engaged in the climate fight need valuable insight from political scientists and sociologists and psychologists and economists just as surely as from physicists,” agreed Bill McKibben, an environmentalist and author who is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont. “It’s very clear carbon is warming the planet; it’s very unclear what mix of prods and preferences might nudge us to use much less.”


Joel Shurkin is a freelance writer in Baltimore. He was former science writer at the Philadelphia Inquirer and was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for covering Three Mile Island. He has nine published books and is working on a tenth. He has taught journalism at Stanford University, the University of California at Santa Cruz and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He tweets at @shurkin.

Anthropologies #21: Annual Review of Anthropology, Climate Change, Anthropocene (Savage Minds)

August 31, 2015 / 

To kick off this issue, we begin with Sean Seary’s excellent overview of recent literature about anthropology’s engagement with climate. This review originally appeared on Anthropology Report, has been reproduced here to give us a solid foundation for moving forward. Seary, a recent graduate from Hartwick College, currently lives in Brunswick, Maine. His research interests focus on the convergence of anthropology and climate change. Seary’s work has also been featured on PopAnth. –R.A.

Introduction: Anthropological Interventions

Since the 1960s, global climate and environmental change have been important topics of contemporary scientific research. Growing concerns about climate change have introduced a (relatively) new variable in climate change research: the anthropogenic causes of local-global climate and environmental change. Despite archaeologists providing some of the first research and commentary on climate change–a point that is explored in Daniel Sandweiss and Alice Kelley’s Archaeological Contributions to Climate Change Research: The Archaeological Record as a Paleoclimatic and Paleoenvironmental Archive–the field of climate and environmental change research has been predominantly studied by “natural scientists.” This is where Susan Crate’s Climate and Culture: Anthropology in the Era of Contemporary Climate Change in the 2011 Annual Review of Anthropology intervenes. Crate calls for anthropological engagement with the natural sciences (and vice versa) on global climate change discourse, with the intention of creating new multidisciplinary ethnographies that reflect all the contributors to global environmental change.

Crate’s review begins by stating that the earliest anthropological research on climate change was associated with archaeologists: most of whom studied how climate change had an impact on cultural dynamics, societal resilience and decline, and social structure. Anthropological and archaeological engagement with climate change revolved around how cultures attributed meaning and value to their interpretations of weather and climate. Archaeology has long been working on understanding the relationship between climate, environment, and culture. Historically, archaeologists have worked with “natural” scientists in the recovery of climate and environmental data pulled from archaeological strata (Sandweiss and Kelley 2012:372). Such works include Environment and Archaeology: An Introduction to Pleistocene Geography (Butzer 1964), Principles of Geoarchaeology: A North American Perspective (Waters 1992) and Environmental Archaeology: Principles and Practice(Dincauze 2000). The archaeological record incorporates not only stratigraphic data, but also proxy records. These records contributed to much larger paleoclimate and paleoenvironmental studies, including publications in general science literature like ScienceNature, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Sandweiss and Kelley 2012:372; see also the 2013 article in NatureContribution of anthropology to the study of climate change). Conversely, the work of “natural” scientists has also appeared in archaeological literature. Contemporarily, archaeologists have studied the impacts that water (or lack thereof) can have on human-environment interactions, through the study of soil and settlements drawing from case studies in Coastal Peru, Northern Mesopotamia, the Penobscot Valley in Maine, or Shetland Island.

Contemporary anthropological analysis of climate change usually focuses on adaptations towards local climate, temperature, flooding, rainfall, and drought (Crate 2011:178). Climate change impacts the cultural framework in which people perceive, understand, experience, and respond to the world in which they live. Crate believes that because of anthropologists’ ability to “be there,” anthropologists are well-suited to interpret, facilitate, translate, communicate, advocate, and act in response to the cultural implications of global (and local) climate change. Understanding the role that people and culture play in understanding land use changes is crucial to defining anthropology’s engagement with climate change. Anthropologists, as well as scientists from allied disciplines must engage in vigorous cross-scale, local-global approaches in order to understand the implications of climate change (Crate 2011:176).

Crate urges that anthropology use its experience in place-based community research and apply it to a global scale, while focusing on ethnoclimatology, resilience, disasters, displacement, and resource management. By studying people living in “climate-sensitive” areas, anthropologists can document how people observe, perceive, and respond to the local effects of global climate change, which at times can compromise not only their physical livelihood, but also undermine their cultural orientations and frameworks (Crate 2011:179). Anthropology is well positioned to understand the “second disaster,” or sociocultural displacement which follows the first disaster (physical displacement), as a result local environmental and climate change. Some of these “second disasters” include shifts in local governance, resource rights, and domestic and international politics (Crate 2011:180). These “second disasters” present yet another challenge to anthropology’s involvement with global climate change: that global climate change is a human rights issue. Therefore, anthropologists should take the initiative in being active and empowering local populations, regions, and even nation-states to seek redress for the damage done by climate change (Crate 2011:182) It is the responsibility of anthropologists working in the field of climate change to link the local and lived realities of environmental change with national and international policies.

In order to accommodate to the rapidly changing (human) ecology, anthropology is in need of new ethnographies that show how the “global” envelops the local, and the subsequent imbalance (environmental injustice/racism) that it creates during this process. Crate urgently calls for anthropologists to become actors in the policy process, utilizing a multidisciplinary, multi-sited collaboration between organizations, foundations, associations, as well as political think tanks and other scientific disciplines. Anthropology’s task at hand is to bridge what is known about climate change to those who are not aware of its impacts, in order to facilitate a global understanding of climate change and its reach (Crate 2011:184).

Crate’s “Climate and Culture” may not have been the first Annual Review article regarding climate change and anthropology, but it is certainly one of the most urgent and pressing. Crate became a member of the American Anthropological Association’s Global Climate Change Task Force. Their report released in January 2015 sets an ambitious agenda for anthropology and climate change. Crate’s article also became foundational for a thematic emphasis of the 2012 Annual Review of Anthropology, which featured seven additional articles on anthropology and climate change.

Politics of the Anthropogenic

Nathan Sayre’s Politics of the Anthropogenic continues where Crate’s Climate and Culture left off: at the advent of a new form of anthropology, one that utilizes an interdisciplinary approach towards understanding the human ecology in relation to global climate change. Sayre invokes a term which Crate did not use in her review article, but that seems to have increasing salience to anthropology: The Anthropocene. Notably, the idea of the Anthropocene and its relationship to anthropology was also the subject of Bruno Latour’s keynote lecture to the American Anthropological Association in 2014: Anthropology at the Time of the Anthropocene.

Sayre describes the Anthropocene as the moment in history when humanity began to dominate, rather than coexist with the “natural” world (Sayre 2012:58). What defines the Anthropocene as a distinct epoch or era is when human activities rapidly shifted (most often considered the Industrial Revolution) from merely influencing the environment in some ways to dominating it in many ways. This is evident in population growth, urbanization, dams, transportation, greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and the overexploitation of natural resources. The adverse effects of anthropogenic climate change can be measured on nearly every corner of the earth. As a result of local environmental change and global climate change, humans, climate, soil, and nonhuman biota have begun to collapse into one another; in this scenario, it is impossible to disentangle the “social” from the “natural” (Sayre 2012:62). Sayre states that anthropology’s role, together with other sciences, in analyzing climate change in the Anthropocene is to understand that there is no dichotomy between what is considered natural and cultural. Understanding the fluctuations in the earth’s ecosystems cannot be accounted for without dispelling the ideological separation between the natural and the cultural. By adopting conceptual models of “climate justice” and earth system science, anthropologists and biophysical scientists can further dispel the archaic dichotomy of humanity and nature.

The atmosphere, the earth, the oceans, are genuinely global commons. However, environmental climate change and the subsequent effects are profoundly and unevenly distributed throughout space and time (Sayre 2012:65). Biophysically and socioeconomically, the areas that have contributed most to global climate change are the least likely to suffer from its consequences. Those who have contributed the least suffer the most. Anthropologists can play an important role in utilizing climate-based ethnography to help explain and understand the institutions that are most responsible for anthropogenic global warming–oil, coal, electricity, automobiles–and the misinformation, lobbying, and public relations behind “climate denialism” in the Anthropocene. This is the first step in seeking redress for the atrocities of environmental injustice.

Evolution and Environmental Change in Early Human Prehistory

Understanding climate change in the Anthropocene is no easy task, but as Richard Potts argues in Evolution and Environmental Change in Early Human Prehistory, humans have been influencing their environments and their environments have been influencing them well before the era that is considered the “Anthropocene.” Throughout the last several million years the earth has experienced one of its most dramatic eras of climate change, which consequently coincided with the origin of hominins. Homo sapiens represent a turning point in the history of protohuman and human life, because of their capacity to modify habitats and transform ecosystems. Now, approximately 50% of today’s land surface is reserved for human energy flow, and a further 83% of all the viable land on the planet has either been occupied or altered to some extent (Potts 2012:152).

Vrba’s turnover-pulse hypothesis (TPH) and Potts’s variability selection hypothesis (VSH) both serve as explanations for the correlation between environmental and evolutionary change. Vrba’s TPH focused on the origination and extinction of lineages coinciding with environmental change, particularly the rate of species turnovers following major dry periods across equatorial Africa. Potts’s VSH focused on the inherited traits that arose in times of habitat variability, and the selection/favoring of traits that were more adaptively versatile to unstable environments (Potts 2012:154-5). There are three ways in which environmental change and human evolution can potentially be linked. First, evolutionary events may be concentrated in periods of directional environmental change. Second, evolution may be elicited during times of rising environmental variability and resource uncertainty. Finally, evolution may be independent of environmental trend or variability (Potts 2012:155). The aforementioned hypotheses and subsequent links between evolution and environmental change help shed light on the origins and adaptations of Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthals. The anatomical, behavioral, and environmental differences between neanderthals and modern humans suggests that their distinct fates reflect their differing abilities to adjusting to diverse and fluctuating habitats (Potts 2012:160). Potts does an excellent job of stating that before the Anthropocene, early Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthals not only impacted and manipulate their surrounding environments, but were (genetically) impacted by their environments.

Sea Change: Island Communities and Climate Change

Heather Lazrus’s Annual Review article Sea Change: Island Communities and Climate Change returns to climate change in the more recent Anthropocene. For island communities, climate change is an immediate and lived reality in already environmentally fragile areas. These island communities, despite their seeming isolation and impoverishment, are often deeply globally connected in ways that go beyond simplistic descriptions of “poverty” and “isolated” (Lazrus 2012:286). Globally, islands are home to one-tenth of the world’s population, and much of the world’s population tends to be concentrated along coasts. Therefore both are subject to very similar changes in climate and extreme weather events. Islands tend to be regarded as the planet’s “barometers of change” because of their sensitivity to climate change (Lazrus 2012:287). Not only are islands environmentally dynamic areas, consisting of a variety of plants and animal species, but they also have the potential to be areas of significant social, economic, and political interest.

Madagascar: A History of Arrivals, What Happened, and Will Happen Next

Madagascar is a fascinating example of sociopolitical and ecological convergence, and is explored by Robert Dewar and Alison Richard in their Madagascar: A History of Arrivals, What Happened, and Will Happen Next. Madagascar has an extremely diverse system of human ecology that is nearly as diverse the island’s topography, environments, and climate. As a product of its physical diversity, the human ecology of Madagascar has a dynamic social and cultural history. In the Southwest, the Mikea derive significant portions of their food from foraging in the dry forest. Outside of most urban areas, hunting and collecting wild plants is common. Along the west coast, fishing is crucial as a central focus of the economy, but also as a supplement to farming. Farmers in Madagascar have a wide range of varieties and species to choose from including maize, sweet potatoes, coffee, cacao, pepper, cloves, cattle, chickens, sheep, goats, pigs, and turkeys (Dewar and Richard 2012:505). Throughout the island, rice and cattle are the two most culturally and economically important domesticates, and are subsequently adapted to growing under the local conditions of the microclimates of Madagascar. Semi-nomadic cattle pastoralism takes place in the drier regions of Madagascar. Whatever the environmental, climatic, social, or economic surroundings may be, Madagascar (as well as other islands) serve as local microcosms for climate change on the global scale. This relates to Crate’s call for an anthropology that brings forth the global array of connections (“natural”/ sociocultural) portraying local issues of climate change to the global sphere.

Ethnoprimatology and the Anthropology of the Human-Primate Interface

Agustin Fuentes’s main arguments in Ethnoprimatology and the Anthropology of the Human-Primate Interface focus on human-induced climate change and how it affects a vast amount of species, including the other primates (Fuentes 2012:110). By getting rid of the ideology that humans are separate from natural ecosystems and the animals within them, then anthropology can better grasp inquiries relating to global climate change within the Anthropocene. Fuentes then goes on to say (similarly to Crate and Sayre) that by freeing anthropological (and other scientific discourse) from the dichotomy of nature and culture, people will fully understand their relationship in the order of primates, but also their place within the environment. Our human capacity to build vast urban areas, transportation systems, and the deforestation of woodland all impact the local environments in which we live, and consequently gives humans an aura of dominance over nature. As Fuentes states, “at the global level, humans are ecosystem engineers on the largest of scales, and these altered ecologies are inherited not only by subsequent generations of humans but by all the sympatric species residing within them. The ways in which humans and other organisms coexist (and/or conflict) within these anthropogenic ecologies shape the perceptions, interactions, histories, and futures of the inhabitants” (Fuentes 2012:110). Essentially, Fuentes points out that humans have dominated ecosystems on a global scale; however, this has impacted not only human populations but also various plant and animals species, as well as entire ecosystems. It is only within the understanding of the symbiotic relationship between human/plants/animals/ecosystems that people will realize their impact on the environment on a global scale.

Lives With Others: Climate Change and Human-Animal Relations

In Lives With Others: Climate Change and Human-Animal Relations, Rebecca Cassidy ties together Fuentes’s arguments with Crate’s by demonstrating how climate change not only impacts people’s physical livelihood, but also their sociocultural lives. Cassidy states that people with animal-centered livelihoods experience climate change on many different levels, and subsequently, climate change may see those animals (or plants) become incapable of fulfilling their existing functions. Societies that are most frequently geopolitically marginalized often are left reeling from the impacts that climate change has on their social, political, economic, and environmental lives (Cassidy 2012:24). The impacts that climate change has on marginalized societies often affects their ability to live symbiotically and sustainably with other species. Human/animal “persons” are conceived to be reciprocal and equal, living in a symbiotic world system, in which their sustenance, reproduction, life, and death are all equally important. The extinction of particular species of animals and plants can cause cosmological crises, as well as disrupt the potential for future adaptability.

Cassidy’s claim that humans, animals, plants, and their environments are reciprocal and symbiotic ties in with Crate’s plea for an anthropology that rids itself of the old dichotomy of the natural and cultural. Crate’s idea for new ethnographies that consider the human ecology of climate change begin by utilizing what Lazrus calls Traditional Environmental Knowledge, or TEK. TEK is “a cumulative body of knowledge, practice, and belief, evolving by adaptive process and handed down through generations by cultural transmission, about the relationship of living beings (including humans) with one another and with their environment” (Lazrus 2012:290). TEK utilizes the spiritual, cosmological, and moral practices that condition human relationships with their surrounding physical environments. Such ethnographies should reflect all of the potential contributors to climate change in the Anthropocene, but they should also infuse new urgency to anthropological approaches. As Crate states “anthropologists need to become more globalized agents for change by being more active as public servants and engaging more with nonanthropological approaches regarding climate change” (Crate 2011: 183).

As made evident by the work of Sandweiss and Kelley, anthropology has early roots in climate change research dating back to the 1960s. Since then, anthropology’s contribution to climate change research has been significant, and is now sparking a new generation of engaged anthropology in the Anthropocene.

‘Targeted punishments’ against countries could tackle climate change (Science Daily)

Date:
August 25, 2015
Source:
University of Warwick
Summary:
Targeted punishments could provide a path to international climate change cooperation, new research in game theory has found.

This is a diagram of two possible strategies of targeted punishment studied in the paper. Credit: Royal Society Open Science

Targeted punishments could provide a path to international climate change cooperation, new research in game theory has found.

Conducted at the University of Warwick, the research suggests that in situations such as climate change, where everyone would be better off if everyone cooperated but it may not be individually advantageous to do so, the use of a strategy called ‘targeted punishment’ could help shift society towards global cooperation.

Despite the name, the ‘targeted punishment’ mechanism can apply to positive or negative incentives. The research argues that the key factor is that these incentives are not necessarily applied to everyone who may seem to deserve them. Rather, rules should be devised according to which only a small number of players are considered responsible at any one time.

The study’s author Dr Samuel Johnson, from the University of Warwick’s Mathematics Institute, explains: “It is well known that some form of punishment, or positive incentives, can help maintain cooperation in situations where almost everyone is already cooperating, such as in a country with very little crime. But when there are only a few people cooperating and many more not doing so punishment can be too dilute to have any effect. In this regard, the international community is a bit like a failed state.”

The paper, published in Royal Society Open Science, shows that in situations of entrenched defection (non-cooperation), there exist strategies of ‘targeted punishment’ available to would-be punishers which can allow them to move a community towards global cooperation.

“The idea,” said Dr Johnson, “is not to punish everyone who is defecting, but rather to devise a rule whereby only a small number of defectors are considered at fault at any one time. For example, if you want to get a group of people to cooperate on something, you might arrange them on an imaginary line and declare that a person is liable to be punished if and only if the person to their left is cooperating while they are not. This way, those people considered at fault will find themselves under a lot more pressure than if responsibility were distributed, and cooperation can build up gradually as each person decides to fall in line when the spotlight reaches them.”

For the case of climate change, the paper suggests that countries should be divided into groups, and these groups placed in some order — ideally, according roughly to their natural tendencies to cooperate. Governments would make commitments (to reduce emissions or leave fossil fuels in the ground, for instance) conditional on the performance of the group before them. This way, any combination of sanctions and positive incentives that other countries might be willing to impose would have a much greater effect.

“In the mathematical model,” said Dr Johnson, “the mechanism works best if the players are somewhat irrational. It seems a reasonable assumption that this might apply to the international community.”


Journal Reference:

  1. Samuel Johnson. Escaping the Tragedy of the Commons through Targeted PunishmentRoyal Society Open Science, 2015 [link]

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro: ‘O que se vê no Brasil hoje é uma ofensiva feroz contra os índios’ (O Globo)

Antropólogo lança livro ‘Metafísicas canibais’ e expõe fotografias na mostra ‘Variações do corpo selvagem’

POR GUILHERME FREITAS


Índio com filmadora de Viveiros de Castro no Alto Xingu, em 1976. – Divulgação/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

RIO – Certa vez, ao dar uma palestra em Manaus, o antropólogo Eduardo Viveiros de Castro deparou-se com uma plateia dividida entre cientistas e índios. Enquanto apresentava suas teses sobre o perspectivismo ameríndio, conceito desenvolvido a partir da cosmologia dos povos com que estudou na Amazônia, notou que a metade branca da plateia ia perdendo o interesse. No fim da palestra, diante do silêncio dos cientistas, uma índia pediu a palavra para alertá-los: “Vocês precisam prestar atenção ao que o professor aí está dizendo. Ele está dizendo o que a gente sempre disse”.

A cena, relembrada por Viveiros de Castro em entrevista ao GLOBO, remete a uma das teses centrais de seu novo livro, “Metafísicas canibais” (Cosac Naify e n-1 Edições). O autor descreve-o como a “resenha” ou “sinopse” de uma obra que nunca conseguirá concluir e que se chamaria “O Anti-Narciso”. Nela, aproximaria filosofia e antropologia, Deleuze e Lévi-Strauss, para investigar a pergunta: “o que deve conceitualmente a antropologia aos povos que estuda?”. As culturas e sociedades pesquisadas pelos antropólogos, escreve, “influenciam, ou, para dizer de modo mais claro, coproduzem” as teses formuladas a partir dessas pesquisas.

Um dos mais influentes antropólogos hoje, autor de “A inconstância da alma selvagem” (Cosac Naify, 2002) e professor do Museu Nacional da UFRJ, Viveiros de Castro desenvolve em “Metafísicas canibais” suas ideias sobre o perspectivismo, formadas a partir de ideias presentes em sociedades amazônicas sobre como humanos, animais e espíritos veem-se a si mesmos e aos outros. Ele descreve a antropologia como uma forma de “tradução cultural” e pleiteia que seu ideal é ser “a teoria-prática da descolonização permanente do pensamento”. O que implica reconhecer a diferença e a autonomia do pensamento indígena: “não podemos pensar como os índios; podemos, no máximo, pensar com eles”.Os primeiros contatos de Viveiros de Castro com esse universo estão registrados nas fotografias que fez durante o trabalho de campo com os índios Araweté, Yanomami, Yawalapiti e Kulina, entre meados dos anos 1970 e início dos 1990. Parte dessas fotos será exibida pela primeira vez na exposição “Variações do corpo selvagem”, no Sesc Ipiranga, em São Paulo, a partir do dia 29 de agosto. Com curadoria da escritora e crítica de arte Veronica Stigger e do poeta e crítico literário Eduardo Sterzi, a mostra reúne ainda fotos feitas pelo antropólogo nos anos 1970, quando trabalhava com o cineasta Ivan Cardoso, mestre do gênero “terrir” e diretor de filmes como “O segredo da múmia” (1982) e “As sete vampiras” (1986).

Em entrevista por e-mail, Viveiros de Castro, de 64 anos, fala sobre o livro e a exposição e discute outros temas de sua obra e sua atuação pública, como a crise climática, abordada em “Há mundo por vir?” (Cultura e Barbárie, 2014), que escreveu com a filósofa Déborah Danowski, com quem é casado. Fala também sobre a resistência dos índios contra o “dispositivo etnocida” armado contra eles no Brasil, que mira “suas terras, seu modo de vida, os fundamentos ecológicos e morais de sua economia e sua autonomia política interna”.

Numa nota em “Metafísicas canibais”, você comenta que, sempre que expôs a ouvintes ameríndios suas teses sobre o perspectivismo, eles perceberam as implicações que elas poderiam ter para “as relações de força em vigor entre as ‘culturas’ indígenas e as ‘ciências’ ocidentais que as circunscrevem e administram”. Quais seriam essas implicações? O que interlocutores ameríndios costumam lhe dizer sobre o perspectivismo?

“Sempre que” é um pouco exagerado; dá impressão que eu faço tours de seminários sobre o pensamento indígena para ouvintes indígenas… Eu tinha em mente, naquela nota, uma ocasião em particular. Em 2006, a convite do Instituto Socioambiental, fiz uma palestra para uma plateia de cientistas do INPA, em Manaus, sobre as cosmologias amazônicas e as concepções indígenas da natureza da natureza, por assim dizer. Ao entrar na sala, descobri, com não pouca ansiedade, que apenas metade da plateia era composta de cientistas (biólogos, botânicos, pedólogos etc.) — e que a outra metade da sala estava cheia de índios do Rio Negro. Falar do que pensam os índios diante de uma plateia de índios não é exatamente uma situação confortável. Decidi então apresentar uma versão esquemática do que eu sabia a respeito do modo como o que chamei de “perspectivismo ameríndio” se manifestava nas culturas rionegrinas (povos Tukano e Aruaque, principalmente). No meio da palestra fui percebendo os cientistas cada vez menos interessados naquilo, e os índios cada vez mais agitados. Na hora das perguntas, nenhum cientista falou nada. Os índios, com sua cortesia habitual, esperaram os brancos presentes pararem de não dizer nada até que eles começassem a falar. Uma senhora então se levantou e, dirigindo-se à metade branca e científica da plateia, disse: “vocês precisam prestar atenção ao que o professor aí está dizendo. Ele está dizendo o que a gente sempre disse: que vocês não veem as coisas direito; que, por exemplo, os peixes, quando fazem a piracema (a desova) estão na verdade, lá no fundo do rio, transformados em gente como nós, fazendo um grande dabucuri (cerimônia indígena típica da região)”. E outro índio perguntou: “aquilo que o professor disse, sobre os morros da região serem habitados por espíritos protetores da caça, é verdade. Mas isso quer dizer então que destruir esses morros com garimpo e mineração é perigoso, não é mesmo? E não quereria dizer também que índio não pode ser capitalista?” Percebi, naquele confronto entre cientistas que estudam a Amazônia e os índios que vivem lá, que os primeiros estão interessados apenas no saber indígena que interessa ao que eles, cientistas, já sabem, isto é, àquilo que se encaixa na moldura do conhecimento científico normalizado. Os índios são “úteis” aos cientistas na medida em que podem servir de informantes sobre novas espécies, novas associações ecológicas etc. Mas a estrutura metafísica que sustenta esse conhecimento indígena não lhes dizia absolutamente nada, ou era apenas um ornamento pitoresco para os fenômenos reais. E os índios, ao contrário, se interessaram precisamente pelo interesse de um branco (eu) sobre isso. O que me deu muita coisa a pensar.

Mais geralmente, porém, tenho tido notícia da difusão lenta e episódica, mas real, de meus escritos (e os de meus colegas) sobre isso que chamei de “perspectivismo” junto a pensadores indígenas, ou muito próximos politicamente a eles, em outros países da América Latina (o livro foi traduzido para o espanhol, assim como diversos artigos de mesmo teor). Isso me alegra e, por que não dizer, envaidece muito. Mil vezes poder servir, com esses meus escritos aparentemente tão abstratos, à luta indígena pela autonomia política e filosófica que ser lido e comentado nos círculos acadêmicos — o que também não faz mal nenhum, bem entendido.

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro na Flip 2014 – Arquivo/André Teixeira/2-8-2014

No livro, você pergunta: “O que acontece quando se leva o pensamento nativo a sério?”. E continua: “Levar a sério é, para começar, não neutralizar”. Partindo destes termos, quais são as maiores ameaças de “neutralização” do pensamento indígena no Brasil hoje?

‘O que se pretende é transformar o índio em pobre, tirando dele o que tem — suas terras, seu modo de vida, os fundamentos ecológicos e morais de sua economia, sua autonomia política interna — para obrigá-lo a desejar consumir o que não tem.’

– EDUARDO VIVEIROS DE CASTRO, Antropólogo

Neutralizar este pensamento significa reduzi-lo ao efeito de um complexo de causas ou condições cuja posse conceitual não lhes pertence. Significa, como escrevi no livro, pôr entre parênteses a questão de saber se e como tal pensamento ilustra universais cognitivos da espécie humana, explica-se por certos modos de transmissão socialmente determinada do conhecimento, exprime uma visão de mundo culturalmente particular, valida funcionalmente a distribuição do poder político, e outras tantas formas de neutralização do pensamento alheio. Trata-se de suspender tais explicações-padrão, típicas das ciências humanas, ou, pelo menos, evitar encerrar a antropologia nela. Trata-se de decidir, em suma, pensar o outro pensamento como uma atualização de virtualidades insuspeitas do pensamento em geral, o “nosso” inclusive. Tratá-lo como tratamos qualquer sistema intelectual ocidental: como algo que diz algo que deve ser tratado em seus próprios termos, se quisermos respeitá-lo e incorporá-lo como uma contribuição singular e valiosa à nossa própria e orgulhosa tradição intelectual. Só depois disso poderemos, se tal for nossa veleidade, anatomizá-lo e dissecá-lo segundo os instrumentos usuais da redução científica das práticas de sentido humano.

Mas sua pergunta acrescentava “no Brasil hoje”. No Brasil hoje o que se vê é muito mais que uma “neutralização do pensamento nativo”. O que se vê é uma ofensiva feroz para acabar com os nativos, para varrer suas formas de vida (e portanto de pensamento) da face do território nacional. O que se pretende hoje — o que sempre se pretendeu, mas hoje os métodos são ao mesmo tempo cada vez mais sutis e eficazes sem deixarem de ser brutais como sempre foram — é silenciar os índios, desindianizar todo pensamento nativo, de modo a transformar aquela caboclada atrasada toda que continua a “rexistir” (este é o modo de existência dos índios no Brasil hoje: a “rexistência”) em pobre, isto é, em “bom brasileiro”, mal assistencializado, mal alfabetizado, convertido ao cristianismo evangélico por um exército de missionários fanáticos, transformado em consumidor dócil do estoque infinito de porcarias produzidas pela economia mundial. Em suma: fazer do índio (os que não tiverem sido exterminados antes) um “cidadão”. Cidadão pobre, é claro. Índio rico seria uma ofensa praticamente teológica, uma heresia, à ideologia nacional. Para fazê-lo passar de índio a pobre, é preciso primeiro tirar dele o que ele tem — suas terras, seu modo de vida, os fundamentos ecológicos e morais de sua economia, sua autonomia política interna —‚ para obrigá-lo a desejar consumir o que ele não tem — o que é produzido na terra dos outros (no país do agronegócio, por exemplo, ou nas fábricas chinesas).

Como avalia o estado atual das mobilizações indígenas contra intervenções do Estado em seus modos de vida, como na região do Xingu, com a construção da usina de Belo Monte?

Os índios fazem o que podem. Estão lutando contra uma máquina tecnológica, econômica, politica e militar infinitamente mais poderosa do que eles. No caso de Belo Monte, já perderam. Mas não sem dar um bocado de trabalho ao “programa” que esse governo, cujo ódio estúpido aos índios só é comparável ao que se via nos sombrios tempos da ditadura, vai implantando a ferro e a fogo na Amazônia inteira, inclusive fora do Brasil. Mas a luta continua, e ainda tem muito índio disposto a resistir (a “rexistir”) ao dispositivo etnocida armado contra eles, no Mato Grosso do Sul, no Tapajós, no Xingu, no Rio Negro e por aí afora.

Você tem trabalhado com o conceito de Antropoceno (que já definiu como o momento em que “o capitalismo passa a ser um episódio da paleontologia”) para alertar sobre os efeitos destrutivos da ação humana sobre o planeta. O que precisa mudar no debate público sobre a crise climática?

Muito. Isso tudo vai descrito no livro que coautorei com a filósofa Déborah Danowski, “Há mundo por vir? Ensaio sobre os medos e os fins”, onde comparamos, de um lado, os efeitos já instalados e aqueles por vir da catástrofe ecológica desencadeada pela economia movida a combustíveis fósseis, e tudo o que vem com ela (inclusive o capitalismo financeiro e cognitivo), com os modos com que esse tema arquimilenar, o “fim do mundo”, vem sendo tematizado pela imaginação estética, política e mitológica de nossa própria civilização moderna, de outro lado. E por fim, tecemos considerações sobre como a “mudança de Era” (como dizem os camponeses nordestinos para se referir aos efeitos já palpáveis das mudanças climáticas) por que passamos hoje é pensada pelos índios, em suas mitologias e em sua prática ecopolítica concreta. Penso que as ciências humanas têm sido lentas em assumir que esta questão, que a palavra “Antropoceno” resume, é a questão mais grave e urgente da história humana desde o começo da era Neolítica, e que estamos entrando em uma situação inédita para a espécie como um todo. O debate na esfera pública tem sido laboriosamente mitigado, quando não silenciado, por uma poderosíssima máquina de propaganda financiada pelos principais interessados no status quo, a saber, as grandes corporações petroleiras e outras, como a Monsanto, a Nestlé, a Bunge, a Dow, a Vale, a Rio Tinto etc. Sem falarmos nos governos nacionais, meros instrumentos de polícia desses atores econômicos. Mas as coisas começam a mudar, devagar, mas mudando. Infelizmente, “devagar” é péssimo. Porque a aceleração dos processos de desequilíbrio termodinâmico do planeta marcha em ritmo crescente. O tempo e o espaço entraram em crise, escapam-nos por todos os lados. Hoje a luta política fundamental, a ser levada a nível mundial, é a luta pela liberação do espaço e do tempo.

Você afirma que o perspectivismo não é uma forma de relativismo cultural e, ao conceito corrente de “multiculturalismo”, contrapõe a noção de “multinaturalismo”. Quais são os problemas do relativismo cultural e como o multinaturalismo os evita?

‘O problema que se coloca não é o da “tolerância” (só os donos do poder são “tolerantes”), mas o da diplomacia’

– EDUARDO VIVEIROS DE CASTROAntropólogo

O relativismo cultural é, ao menos como costumeiramente divulgado pela vulgata ideológica dominante, meramente a ideia de que existem várias opiniões sobre o mundo, o universo ou a “realidade”, mas que esta “coisa lá fora” (o mundo etc.) é uma só. Entre essas várias opiniões, há uma certa — a nossa, ou melhor, aquela que acreditamos ser a verdade cientifica (e 99,99% dos que acreditam nela não sabem em que estão acreditando). O resto é “cultura”, superstição, visões exóticas de gente que vive “fora da realidade”. Em relação a essa gente, podemos e até devemos mostrar um pouco de tolerância (afinal, são apenas opiniões, “visões de mundo”), devemos ser “multiculturalistas”. Mas a Natureza, com N maiúsculo, é uma só, e independe de nossas opiniões (exceto da minha, isto é, a da “Ciência” que nos serve de religião laica). O que chamei de “multinaturalismo” ou de “perspectivismo multinaturalista”, para caracterizar as metafísicas indígenas, supõe a indissociabilidade radical, ou pressuposição recíproca, entre “mundo” e “visão”. Não existem “visões de mundo” (muitas visões de um só mundo), mas mundos de visão, mundos compostos de uma multiplicidade de visões eles próprios, onde cada ser, cada elemento do mundo é uma visão no mundo, do mundo — é mundo. Para este tipo de ontologia, o problema que se coloca não é o da “tolerância” (só os donos do poder são “tolerantes”), mas o da diplomacia ou negociação intermundos.

Você defende uma concepção de antropologia como “descolonização permanente do pensamento”. Como ela pode fazer isso? Quais são os maiores impasses da disciplina hoje?

Vou responder rapidamente, ou os leitores não precisarão ler o livro… Trata-se de tomar o discurso dos povos que estudamos (os “nativos”, sejam quem forem) como interlocutores horizontalmente situados em relação ao discurso dos “observadores” (os “antropólogos”). O que a antropologia estuda são sempre outras antropologias, as antropologias dos outros, que articulam conceitos radicalmente diversos dos nossos sobre o que é o anthropos, o “humano”, e sobre o que é o logos (o conhecimento). Descolonizar o pensamento é explodir a distinção entre sujeito e objeto de conhecimento, e aceitar que só existe entreconhecimento, conhecimento comparativo, e que a antropologia como “estudo do outro” é sempre uma tradução (e uma tradução sempre equívoca) para nosso vocabulário conceitual do estudo do outro. O maior desafio vivido hoje pela antropologia é o de aceitar isso e tirar daí todas as consequências, inclusive as consequências políticas.

As fotografias reunidas em “Variações do corpo selvagem” remetem ao seu trabalho de campo com os Araweté, Yanomami, Yawalapiti e Kulina. Quais foram suas maiores descobertas nos encontros com esses povos?

Tudo o que eu escrevi sobre eles.

Kuyawmá se pintando com tabatinga para o javari. Aldeia Wauja, Alto Xingu, 1977.Foto: Divulgação/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Mapukayaka pinta Sapaim que pinta Ayupu. Aldeia Yawalapíti, Alto Xingu, 1977.Foto: Divulgação/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Combatente yawalapíti pinta-se para ritual do Javari, Alto Xingu, 1977.Foto: Divulgação/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Os Araweté assistindo a fime sobre eles, no Xingu, em 1992Foto: Divulgação/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Índio com filmadora do antropólogo em aldeia yawalapíti no Alto Xingu, em 1976.Foto: Divulgação/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Yuruawï-do no jirau da casa de farinha. Aldeia do médio Ipixuna, 1982.Foto: Divulgação/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Foto inédita do filme O Segredo da Múmia, de Ivan Cardoso. Floresta da Tijuca, 1981.Foto: Divulgação/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Anselmo Vasconcelos, Ivan Cardoso, Oscar Ramos e a múmia, em O Segredo da Múmia, de Ivan Cardoso,…Foto: Divulgação/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Hélio Oiticica como adepto de Dionísio. Filmagem de O Segredo da MúmiaFoto: Divulgação/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Wilson Grey e Felipe Falcão em O Segredo da Múmia, de Ivan Cardoso, 1981.Foto: Divulgação/Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

VEJA TAMBÉM

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Theorizing Embodiment and Making Bodies ‘Matter’ (The Disorder of Things)

JULY 17, 2015, GUEST AUTHORS

Bringing to a close our symposium on Bodies of Violence is Lauren’s rejoinder to all our contributors, Kevin McSorleyAli HowellPablo and Antoine.


First, a huge thank you to the (Dis)order of Things and especially Antoine for organizing this forum and to each of the contributors. It’s been a huge honor to have my work read so carefully and responded to so thoughtfully and I welcome the opportunity to try to clarify some of my work and acknowledge where the contributors have pointed out helpful areas for future research.

As Pablo K and others noticed, Bodies of Violence it is not meant to be a general theory of embodiment in IR (I’m not sure such a project is feasible or politically desirable in any event).  It is a more specific intervention with a different ambition: both to speak to ‘mainstream’ concerns about theorizing violence, particularly forms of political violence associated with the ‘war on terror’ and to make not only a theoretical argument about how we might or should theorize embodiment and violence, but also to show that understanding these different ‘modes of violence’ necessitates such an understanding of the relationship between bodies, subjects and violence.  My rationale for using feminist theory to think about the relationship between bodies, subjects and violence in IR was not meant to be exclusive: certainly (other) people working with concepts of biopolitics as well as anti-colonial/anti-racist theorists, disability theorists, phenomenologists and more also have much to say on this topic, some insights of which have been very important in my analysis, if not as fully fleshed out (if you will) as my engagement with feminist theory is.[i] For me, it was a particular reading of feminist theories of embodiment, not solely based on Butler, but on a particular feminist problematic in which women, as a category of those constituted, as Pablo K put it, the “improperly bodied”, are politically disenfranchised and generally excluded from their status as a fully human subject that served as a starting point, but far from an ‘ending’ for thinking about the subject of embodiment.  Rather, it is, as Kevin noted, “the specific tradition of trying to think through women’s subordination in terms of the relationship between bodies, subjects and power” that feminist theory entails that I wanted to use to think about violence and embodiment in ways that I hope will speak not only to feminists in IR but also to other critical and the more pluralistically and trans-disciplinarily minded scholars in IR and beyond as well.

Ana Mendieta, Body Tracks

However, this brings us to some of the drawbacks of feminist approaches to violence and embodiment. Ali’s point about the violence of feminist theory is a particularly good one. Feminists working in IR tend to be quite aware of the uses of feminism for violent aims: the Taliban’s oppression and abuse of women in Afghanistan as a rationale for war by the US and its allies being supported by NOW and the Feminist Majority is a well-known example. Ali’s point about the violence of some feminism(s) against trans-people is also well-taken; though Butler is hardly a ‘TERF’ by any means, her work has been critiqued by trans-theorists for a number of reasons. For the purposes of this book, I don’t necessarily see a conflict between trans-theory and Butler’s theory of the materialization of bodies and the limits of intelligibility as being relevant to the ways in which security practices work to materialize only certain bodies as ‘real,’ often excluding trans- people and constituting them as threats. In general, I agree with Ali that we should welcome feminist scholarship and practice that is less defensive in regards to the ‘mainstream’ of the discipline and more willing to seek alliances and interlocutors from a broader range of scholars, both in the spaces of IR and outside doing work on violence, power and embodiment.[ii]

Forum contributors also provided some excellent provocations for thinking about aspects of embodiment or ways of addressing the thorny question of embodiment that my book did not focus on. Pablo writes, “It is a book thoroughly about bodies, but not therefore necessarily a theory of bodies and embodiment. And it is theory of em-bodies-ment that we may in need of.” On a somewhat different note, Kevin wonders what might happened if the embodied subjects of which I write “could have a more audible place in the analysis.” Of course, it (should) hardly need mentioning the great amount of work influenced by feminist and postcolonial theory that strives to bring the voices and experiences of embodied subjects, particularly of marginalized peoples, into IR as a disciplinary space. I would point, for one example, to the work of Christine Sylvester and others on experience as an embodied concept for theorizing war. However, as Kevin points out, my book has a different, and I would hope, complementary aim: to show the explanatory and critical value of theorizing bodies as both produced by, and productive of, practices of violence in international politics.  It is the last point, that bodies are productive of violence, which speaks more to Pablo’s concern about bodies ‘mattering’.

While Bodies of Violence is perhaps most influenced by Butler’s project, as Kevin, Ali and Pablo K have all noted, theories of embodiment (or at least the relationship between discourse and materiality) such as Elizabeth Grosz’s Volatile Bodiesand Barad’s ‘posthumanist performativity’ as well as Donna Haraway’s work are perhaps more of an influence than appears in the published version of the book, which takes as an overarching frame Butler’s concepts of normative violence and ontological precarity. These other works are concerned, in their own way, with the ways in which matter ‘matters’ or the ways in which embodied subjects exceed their materializations in discourse.[iii]

Marlene Dumas, Measuring Your Own Grave

It is the ‘generative’ or ‘productive’ capacities of bodies that is an engagement with ‘new materialisms’ or ‘feminist materialisms’ if you like. One of the aspects of Barad’s work, whom Pablo mentions, that is most appealing is the insistence of intra-activity, with the implication that we cannot meaningfully separate matter from the discursive, as phenomena only exist by virtue of ongoing assemblages and reassemblages of matter and discourse.  Bodies ‘matter,’ they do things, they have what Diana Coole refers to as ‘agentic capacities’ One reason that Bodies of Violence focuses on actual instances of violence perpetrated on and by bodies in international politics is precisely to take bodies seriously as something other than ‘representations’ or ‘abstractions’ in IR. An example of bodies being ‘productive’ in the book are the ways that bodies ‘speak’ which might exceed the intentions of ‘speaking subjects’. Antoine’s discussion of my work on the hunger striking body in Guantanamo Bay (which I also discussed earlier here on the blog) makes reference to this point: the body in pain as a call for recognition. This is something the body ‘does’ that is not reducible to the intentions of a fully constituted subject nor the words spoken by such subjects (this is in addition to the ways in which hunger striking prisoners such as Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel have spoken eloquently about their experiences). And yet, while this body’s actions may have certain implications, enable certain politics, etc, this cannot be understood without understanding that the body’s capacities are already subject to prior materializations and their reception will also bear the marks of prior political assemblages as well.

A key example of this from the book is the embodiment of drone operators, or perhaps more accurately, the legal/technological drone assemblage.  While this form of embodiment is what might be termed, following Haraway, a ‘material-semiotic actor’, it is a body, or form of embodiment, that is necessary for the kind of ‘death-world’ that enables the killing of suspected militants as well as those people who can only be named innocent or militant in the aftermath. Both bodies of drone operators and the people who are killed by drone strikes are intimately connected in this way: the embodiment of drone pilots is productive of the bodies of targets and the ‘uncountable’ bodies whose deaths remain outside of the epistemological framework enabled by this drone assemblage. Thus, there is less of an explicit engagement with ‘new materialisms’ per se than an acknowledgement (one that has been part of feminist theory for decades) that one cannot determine or write bodies ‘all the way down’ and that, in the words of Samantha Frost and Diana Coole,’ nature ‘pushes back’ in sometimes unexpected ways, but in ways that are nonetheless subject to human interpretation.

Insect swarm picture from wired.com, Lukas Felzmann

Antoine concludes the forum on a forward-looking note that also recalls Ali’s point of the various forms of critical literatures that have much to offer our thinking about bodies and violence beyond feminist literatures: “a growing task of critical scholars in the future may therefore also be that of attentiveness to new forms for the sorting and hierarchizing of bodies, human and otherwise, that are emerging from the production of scientific knowledges.” I agree and (some of) my current research is aimed precisely at the question of gender, queer theory and ‘the posthuman’. While I am wary of certain tendencies within some of the critical literatures of affect theory, ‘new materialisms’ and the like that suggest either explicitly or implicitly that feminist, anti-racial or other such critiques are outmoded, scholars like Rosi Braidotti and Donna Haraway have read the feminist politics the ‘posthuman’ in ways that engage the shifting materialities and discursive constructions of gendered and sexualized bodies. I’m working on a project now that pursues the question of embodiment and ‘drone warfare’ future to consider the politics of the insect and the swarm as inspirations for military technological developments, in the manner that Katherine Hayles describes as a double vision that “looks simultaneously at the power of simulation and at the materialities that produce it” in order to “better understand the implication of articulating posthuman constructions together with embodied actualities” (Hayles 1999, 47). This is to say both discursive constructions of insects/swarms in culture (particularly their association with death, abjection and the feminine) as well as the material capabilities of insects and their role in the earth’s eco-system and its own set of ‘death-worlds’ can and should be thought in tandem. The parameters of this project are yet not fixed (are they ever?) and so I’m grateful for this conversation around Bodies of Violence as I work to further the project of taking embodiment and its relationships with subjectivity and violence seriously in thinking about international political violence in its myriad forms. These contributions are evidence that work on embodiment in IR and related disciplines is becoming a robust research area in which many possibilities exist for dialogue, critique and collaboration.


[i] Also, feminist theorists such as Butler, Grosz, Haraway and Ahmed all engage in a variety of traditions as well, from psychoanalysis, Foucauldian theory, phenomenology, postcolonial theory, and more, so the divisions between ‘feminist theory’ and other kinds of critical theory is far from given, and a much longer piece could be written about this.

[ii] Although see recent work by Rose McDermott and Dan Reiter that seems determined to ignore the advances of decades of scholarship on gender, feminism, and war.

[iii] I agree with Pablo K that Butler’s work is ambiguously situated in relationship to the so-called ‘new materialisms’: I make a brief case in the book that it is not incompatible with her approach at times, but I don’t explore this at length in the final version of the text.

The Anthropocene debate: Why is such a useful concept starting to fall apart? (Entitle Blog)

July 7, 2015

by Aaron Vansintjan*

Like ‘sustainability’, ‘development’, ‘natural’, or ‘green’, the term is so vague that it can be used by anyone, whether they want to challenge the powers that be, just want to make a quick buck, or score a research grant. While the term can be used to support arguments for action on climate change, it can just as well be used to support digging more oil wells (“oh what the heck, we live in the age of human superiority anyway!”).

In order to keep the ‘bad’ Anthropocene in check, scientists have proposed using airborne particles to deflect sunlight, intentionally altering the atmosphere. Source: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/warming_aerosols.html

The word “Anthropocene” has become a rallying cry, to many signifying the urgency of action on climate change. The question now is whether we should keep using it.

‘Good’ Anthropocene or ‘Bad’ Anthropocene?

The types of opinions that cluster around the Anthropocene vary. In the book The God Species, prominent environmental writer Mark Lynas argues that, since we are entering into a new, never-seen-before era of human control of the environment, we have the responsibility, duty, and possibility to control it further. He argues that precisely because we are seeing unforeseen problems at a greater scale than anything we’ve ever seen, we will need to use all tools at our disposal. That includes nuclear power and genetic engineering.

Recently, Mark Lynas joined a cohort of other pro-tech scientists, writers, and environmentalists, and helped pen an “eco-modernist manifesto” The authors claim that “modern technologies, by using natural ecosystem flows and services more efficiently, offer a real chance of reducing the totality of human impacts on the biosphere. To embrace these technologies is to find paths to a good Anthropocene.”

The Anthropocene is often used to justify massive geo-engineering schemes, leading to an attitude that Richard Heinberg calls “we’re-in-charge-and-loving-it.”. Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-11076786

Richard Heinberg at the Post-Carbon Institute calls this the “we’re-in-charge-and-loving-it” attitude. To him, this “techno-Anthropocene” argument signifies a brand of scientist who embraces the Anthropocene simply because it gives humans full license to keep terraforming the planet. Heinberg proposes his own version: the “lean-green Anthropocene”, since any feasible techno-solution will be powered by more energy, not less.

Somewhat surprisingly, the term has been eagerly adopted by critical theorists—perhaps too uncritically. Bruno Latour often likes to use the term as a launching point to discuss the new politics that these crises require. Recently, he pushed back against the eco-modernist manifesto, complaining that “to add ‘good’ to Anthropocene was a ridiculous thing to do”. According to Latour, there is only a ‘bad’ Anthropocene. But there is no doubt that there is an Anthropocene.

Prominent political ecology scholars Laura Ogden, Paul Robbins, and Nik Heynen reference the term to support their own arguments that grassroots organisations are the key to resilience and political resistance in this new era. In another article on this blog, Robbins and Sarah A. Moore suggest that while political ecologists and eco-moderns may have differing views, they are both reactions to the reality of the Anthropocene. Slavoj Zizek suggests that the Anthropocene, and the scientists that propose it, make us ask new questions about humans’ relationship to their environment, and our culture’s obsession with the ever-present apocalypse. In another essay, Dipesh Chakrabarty partly challenges the term from a postcolonial perspective, but ends up endorsing it, since it means that everyone (the colonisers and the colonised, the rich and the poor) will be affected by the coming disasters.

I say surprisingly since these same theorists would hesitate to use the words democracy, development, or progress without “scare-quotes”—they specialise in questioning everything under the sun (and rightly so). For them to endorse this new word so uncritically is perhaps the best indication of its widespread appeal.

One geo-engineering proposal would see expensive mirrors launched into space to reflect sunlight. Source: http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/technology/article/1438078/mirrors-space-ocean-plankton-no-easy-climate-change-fix-says

The politics of climate science

Yet, in the past year—especially the past months—a flurry of critiques of the Anthropocene concept have appeared.

The first key issue is scientific.

Since Paul Crutzen first proposed the term (he suggested it started with the industrial revolution, but then changed his mind claiming that it started with the testing of atomic bombs) scientists have struggled to define what it is exactly and when it started. There is currently no consensus.

The vagueness of the term led to the inability to pin down what it would actually look like, and how it could be measured. Leading scientists have posed the question whether the Anthropocene is really just a ‘pop culture’ phenomenon, or a serious issue of concern for stratigraphers.

Consequentially, these scientific conversations are political in themselves. For many scientists involved, there is a feeling that those advancing the concept are interested more in highlighting the destructive qualities of humans to encourage action on climate change than to define a new scientific term. As such, the Anthropocene once again reveals that science—often claimed to be objective—is driven by, and subject to, personal and political agendas.

Blaming humans, erasing history

But it’s not just because the Anthropocene is politically charged and difficult to pin down that we should think again about using it. There are more troubling issues with the concept that we should be aware of.

First is the concern that the Anthropocene concept ‘naturalizes’ human’s impact on the earth. What does this mean? Essentially, that by saying that this is the ‘epoch of humans’, we are suggesting that all humans are the cause. In other words, that there is something intrinsically bad about humans, where we will always and inevitably leave an imprint on our environment.

At play here is the (very Western) idea that humans are separate from nature, and that either we get back to it or we rise above it. The alternative, as environmental theorist Jim Proctor suggests, is appreciating that the Anthropocene is not ‘because’ of humans. It requires acknowledging that these processes and events are many and they are intertwined—there is no clear separation between nature and culture, between human desires and natural forces.

But what forces should we blame? In all of the climate change research, we are told that it is definitely ‘man-made’. Arguing against this could bring us dangerously close to the denialist road.

It is at this point that we might want to select option (C): ask a historian. James W. Moore, a professor in environmental history, has asked whether we really ought to point the finger at steam engines, atomic bombs, or humanity as a whole. Instead, he argues for a different term altogether: the ‘Capitalocene’: the geological era of capitalism.

In short, it is not because of the steam engine that we saw unprecedented use of fossil fuels—it is rather a system of governance and social organisation that led to the global alterations we are seeing today.

It is strange to see the extent to which these kinds of wider social dynamics are totally obscured in the Anthropocene debate. Many have argued that the invention of fire was the first spark that would inevitably lead to the immense footprint that humans place on the earth. This idea is endorsed by, for example, Paul Crutzen, Mark Lynas, and John R. McNeill.

But to say that the control of fire was a necessary condition for humanity’s ability to burn coal is one thing, to argue that it is the reason why we are currently facing a climate crisis is another. Many Anthropocene proponents tend to reduce complex social and historical processes to simple, reductive explanations. But climate change is not just a matter of humans vs. earth.

Neither is the Anthropocene ‘the new reality’ affecting everyone. Actually, as Andreas Malm and Alf Hornborg point out, because of existing power relationships, the ‘new reality’ will be more ‘real’ for some than for others. For most people, it will mean increased hardship and a fight for survival, while for some there will be easy lifeboats.

In this way, Malm and Hornborg suggest that Dipesh Chakrabarty, the scholar embracing the concept from a postcolonial perspective, should rethink his position: climate change is not, in itself, a universal levelling force, but may instead further exacerbate inequalities between the rich and the poor.

Climate change won’t affect everyone equally. More likely, it will mean that some get lifeboats and others do not. Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-05/pacific-islanders-reject-calls-for-27climate-refugee27-status/5723078

This leads to a final issue: the problem of politics. If, as many Anthropocene enthusiasts argue, the concept helps people understand the extent of human involvement in the earth’s systems, it also could lead to a promising political conversation, finally alerting those in power that something needs to be done.

But depending on your personal beliefs, the Anthropocene concept will lead you to different conclusions and calls to action. As Ian Angus from Climate and Capitalism argues, ecomodernists have hijacked the term for their own uses. But perhaps it’s the concepts own vagueness that has allowed it to be co-opted in the first place. It’s likely that this vagueness has played at least a small part in both the struggles of scientists to define the term and its chameleon-like ability to fit anyone’s agenda.

Is the term still useful?

It’s hard to say if the term is, on average, inimical to good debate or if it encourages it. But after considering the twists and turns the concept has taken since its inception until its current use, it’s worth taking the critics seriously.

Yes, ‘Anthropocene’ can be useful to tell the history of life on earth. It can also illustrate the extent to which humans have modified the earth’s systems. It also suggests that we can no longer go back to a ‘pristine’ nature that existed before humans, as cultural critics have long suggested. The term is incredibly appealing from a geological perspective, highlighting the fact that humans have made so deep an impact on the earth’s crust that future inhabitants of the earth, when digging, will come across a layer of soil that has ‘human’ written all over it. This geological fact is a useful tidbit to highlight all of the above.

But it doesn’t necessarily, as many have argued, help challenge the systems that perpetuate climate change. Because it applies to humans as a whole, it does not indicate that our problem is political, resting on the uneven distribution of power. In leaving the starting date of the Anthropocene undefined (some say 50 years ago, others say 400 years ago, yet others say 10,000, still others say 50,000), the word fails to highlight the primary actors of today’s ecological crisis.

Like ‘sustainability’, ‘development’, ‘natural’, or ‘green’, the term is so vague that it can be used by anyone, whether they want to challenge the powers that be, just want to make a quick buck, or score a research grant. While the term can be used to support arguments for action on climate change, it can just as well be used to support digging more oil wells (“oh what the heck, we live in the age of human superiority anyway!”).

You might ask, isn’t this the case with all words? Not true. There are plenty of terms that the climate movement is using that are both powerful and are not so easy to appropriate: degrowthclimate justiceecocide, ecological debt, and 350ppm are just few.

Unfortunately, the term ‘Anthropocene’ fails to adequately frame the current situation, and in-so-doing allows anyone to co-opt it for their own solutions. While it has certainly got many people talking, it is neither political nor precise, and therefore may not lead to a very good, or challenging, conversation. And right now we need to have challenging conversations.

*Aaron Vansintjan studies ecological economics, food systems, and urban change. He is co-editor at Uneven Earth and enjoys journalism, wild fermentations, decolonization, degrowth, and long bicycle rides.

A version of this article originally appeared on Uneven Earth.

Watching and wondering: What we can learn from Fredrik Barth (Savage Minds)

May 29, 2015, by Rex

(This invited post comes from Ståle Wig, a Ph.D. fellow at the University of Oslo. In the past Ståle has also run an excellent two part interview with Paul Farmer here on Savage Minds, so check that out as well. When asked about his interests, Ståle writes that he “never became a proper Africanist, and is currently preparing Ph.D. fieldwork in Cuba.” -R)

On an August afternoon in 2008, around 50 first-year students gathered in a dusty old movie-theatre that was turned into a lecture hall, near the University of Oslo. As we came in to find our seats, an elderly man observed us curiously from a wooden chair under the blackboard. I had seen him before, in our assigned textbook, with his engraved features and unmistakable, soft white moustache.

That day I had come to my first lecture in anthropology. Fredrik Barth had come to give his last.

Much like our new subject, there was a mystique to the man by the blackboard. We were told that he was an influential anthropologist. Some of us had heard that in his golden years, his ideas engaged big shots like Giddens and Bourdieu. That he was at times strongly criticized, but also hailed as a reformer of the study of social life. But as we sat there waiting, none of us knew why, and what all that really meant.

Thanks to a new book by Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Fredrik Barth – An Intellectual Biography (Pluto Press), the Norwegian veteran will appear less of a mystery – and yet ever more captivating.

An anthropologists’ anthropologist

In 1951, 22-year-old Fredrik was invited to join an archaeological expedition to present-day Iraq. When his colleagues had finished digging and went back home with hammers and brushes, he stayed behind chatting to the Kurds living in the area. Thus began a 60-year long career as an ethnographer. In his new book Hylland Eriksen follows Barth’s journey, from the deserts of the Swat valley to the plains South Persia, from coastal Norway to south Sudan. After a pit stop among his academic tribes, he’s off again, to secret initiation cults in the misty highlands of New Guinea, and onward, to Bali, Oman, China and Bhutan. Most anthropologists agree that ethnographic research is the core of our discipline. But none have hammered the point home quite like Barth. It is said that there are three types of anthropologists: Those who have done fieldwork in one place, those who have done fieldwork in two places, and Barth.

The 60s A-team

Based on source material from formerly unpublished interviews, as well as some conversations with the main character, Hylland Eriksen paints a sympathetic portrait of Fredrik Barth. The book also gives life to a cast of characters who shaped British social anthropology, and partly also the discipline as it is known today: The arrogant but razor sharp Edmund Leach, who Barth in his own words «fell in love with» at first sight. Evans-Pritchard, who was his antagonist and likely played a part in refuting his doctorate at the University of Oslo. The radical Gluckman of Manchester, the mighty Fortes of Cambridge, and the gang’s diplomatic middleman, Firth, who stayed friends with all without having to take sides.

It was Firth who ensured that Barth gave the first Nuffield lecture at The Royal Society in Britain in 1965, representing social anthropology for the first time among other sciences. In Hylland Eriksen’s words, the Norwegian stepped onto the podium as the «flag bearer» of British social anthropology. Barth has called it the highlight of his career.

«Study process, not form»

Part of what he argued for at the RSA is today taken for granted. He was skeptical of «deep structures», be they social, cultural or mental, as found in Radcliffe-Brown, Geertz or Levi-Strauss. He was one of the most vocal – but not the first – to depart with the notion of culture as a bounded entity. It was, Barth argued, the processes of social life that should be understood, not its hardened form. What meaningful strategies do people follow? What set of concrete opportunities and limitations influence their behavior? And out of this, what aggregate phenomena emerge?

These ideas lay behind his introduction to Ethnic Groups and Boundaries (1968), which was for years on the top 100 on the social science citation index. Here, Barth proposed that there is no one-to-one relationship between cultural differences and ethnic differences. It seems so obvious today: Ethnic identity does not grow naturally out some shared cultural mass. It is rather the result of a social process of inclusion and exclusion.

For better or worse, Barth didn’t have much interest in «cultural stuff», and the interpretation of symbols, which so excited Geertz. When Barth became head of the Ethnographic Museum in Oslo, a rumor has it that he suggested that they sell the whole collection of artifacts and rather spend the money on sending anthropologists to the field.

Strictly business?

For all his inductive reflexes, however, Barth seemed to assume one thing: that most human behavior is based on the same basic logic: we are goal-seeking animals, prone to act as we see best. Hylland Eriksen discusses the critiques that have been leveled at this position. When opponents charge Barth for relying on a formalistic notion of homo economicus, theyare wrong, argues Hylland Eriksen. Barth claims not that humans per definition are egoistic and strategic, but rather that «it is strategic behavior, done by persons in some capacity or another, which generates regularity and social form» (p. 202). People will everywhere try to do the best out of their situation. But what makes up «the best» varies immensely, and is for the anthropologist to figure out.

Hylland Eriksen spends little time on the personal aspects of Barth’s life. The book describes briefly the marriage to anthropologist Unni Wikan, which he claims made Barth «less macho, more ambiguous», and directed his curiosity towards knowledge and rituals rather than economy and politics. It does not offer any wholehearted account of Barth’s inner life. Which is quite all right. What makes the book a good read is not its scant psychologizing, but the way it narrates – with some of the same adventurous spirit as its protagonist – the bewildering breath of an anthropological career.

Lessons to be learnt

The biography argues implicitly that there is something important to learn from Fredrik Barth. I agree. For one, he has a refreshing distaste for academics that align themselves too closely with pre-empirical projects. In a seminar in Lund University in Sweden in the 70s, Barth is said to have exclaimed to a self-proclaimed Marxist student: «You don’t need fieldwork, you have the answers already!»

Barth’s inductive attitude is reflected not only in his texts, but also in his reference lists. In an essay collection that sums up his life’s work, there are only five pages of references, many of which are to his own texts. This of course has to do Barth writing in a different time, with different norms for publishing. Besides, he went to places where few had gone, and there were fewer texts to quote. However, it also serves as a reminder: To be theoretically ambitious is not the same as having an endless reference list. Open a monograph today and one encounters 15 to 30 pages with references to other texts. At times, it seems that empirical patterns are in danger of collapsing under the weight of the quotations of fashionable thinkers. As students we are told to «apply» theory on our materials. Barth would have it another way. He trusted his own observations more than established theory.

His attitude was apparent in more than just writing. In the early 60s Barth turned down a professorate at Columbia University in order to build up a new anthropology department in the peripheral Norwegian town of Bergen. Soon, Bergen was no longer peripheral. Hylland Eriksen observes that a much-used textbook from 1968, written by Marvin Harris, holds the two great power centers in current anthropology to be Paris, under the leadership of Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Bergen, under Barth.

Watching and wondering

86-year-old Barth is now retired from academic life. I visited him some months ago to talk about plans for fieldwork in Southern Africa. «Good luck», he replied, and added friendlily: «But don’t become a ‘proper Africanist’. Remember that it is the general questions that push our discipline forward. And those you can find anywhere».

In the end, I think this is what we can learn from an old-timer like Barth: To be more concerned with watching and wondering than with conceptual fashion walking. To rely more on our observations than the concepts of others. And to define the frontier of anthropology not only by reading new books, but by going to new places.

I can still recall how Barth ended that lecture back in 2008. He had spent two hours telling us about the characteristics of anthropological research: The power of understanding people on their own terms; of regarding every new finding as a provocation, and a call to rethink our assumptions and our models. But beyond this it was an open question as to what social anthropology should be in the future. Barth looked at us freshman students and said: «It is for all of you to find out».

Fredrik Barth – An intellectual biography is already available in Norwegian, and will be published in an English translation by Pluto Press in June 2015.

The Anthropocene as Fetishism (Mediations)

Daniel Cunha

“A society that is always sicker, but always stronger, has everywhere concretely re-created the world as the environment and decor of its illness, a sick planet.”1

The “Anthropocene” has become a fashionable concept in the natural and social sciences.2 It is defined as the “human-dominated geologic epoch,” because in this period of natural history it is Man who is in control of the biogeochemical cycles of the planet.3The result, though, is catastrophic: the disruption of the carbon cycle, for example, leads to a global warming that approaches tipping points that might be irreversible.4 The exponential growth of our freedom and power, that is, of our ability to transform nature, is now translated into a limitation to our freedom, including the destabilization of the very framework of life. It reaches its highest degree with the problem of global warming.5 In this context, it becomes clear that the Anthropocene is a contradictory concept. If the “human-dominated geologic epoch” is leading to a situation in which the existence of humans might be at stake, there is something very problematic with this sort of domination of Nature that reduces it to a “substrate of domination” that should be investigated.6 Its very basic premise, that it is human-dominated, should be challenged — after all there should be something inhuman or objectified in a sort of domination whose outcome might be human extinction.

What is claimed here is that, exactly as for freedom, the Anthropocene is an unfulfilled promise. The same way that freedom in capitalism is constrained by fetishism and class relations — capitalist dynamics are law-bound and beyond the control of individuals; the workers are “free” in the sense that they are not “owned” as slaves, but also in the sense that they are “free” from the means of production, they are deprived of their conditions of existence; the capitalists are “free” insofar as they follow the objectified rules of capital accumulation, otherwise they go bankrupt — so is the social metabolism with Nature. Therefore, I claim that the Anthropocene is the fetishized form of interchange between Man and Nature historically specific to capitalism, the same way as the “invisible hand” is the fetishized form of “freedom” of interchange between men.

Since primitive accumulation, capital caused a metabolic rift between Man and Nature. It was empirically observable at least since the impoverishment of soils caused by the separation between city and countryside in nineteenth-century Great Britain.7 In the twenty-first century, though, this rift is globalized, including critical disruptions of the carbon cycle (global warming), the nitrogen cycle, and the rate of biodiversity loss that implies that humanity is already outside of a “safe operating space” of global environmental conditions.8 The Anthropocene, appears, then, as the globalized disruption of global natural cycles — and, most importantly, not as a (for whatever reason) planned, intentional, and controlled disruption, but as an unintended side effect of social metabolism with Nature that seems to be progressively out of control. It can easily be illustrated with examples. In the case of the carbon cycle, the burning of fossil fuels is carried out as an energy source for industrial and transport systems. Massive coal extraction began in England during the Industrial Revolution so that, with this new mobile energy source, industries could move from near dams to the cities where cheap labor was.9

There was no intention to manipulate the carbon cycle or to cause global warming, or any consciousness of it. The result, though, is that, in the twenty-first century, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is already beyond the safe boundary of 350 ppm for long-term human development. As for the nitrogen cycle, it was disrupted by the industrialization of agriculture and fertilizer production, including the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen with the Haber-Bosch process. Again, there was no intention or plan to control the nitrogen cycle, to cause eutrophication of lakes, or to induce the collapse of ecosystems. Once again, the boundary of sixty-two million tons of nitrogen removed from the atmosphere per year is by far already surpassed, with 150 million tons in 2014.10 A similar story could be told about the rate of biodiversity loss, and the phosphorous cycle and ocean acidification are following the same pattern. The “human-dominated” geologic epoch, in this regard, seems much more a product of chance and unconsciousness than of a proper control of the global material cycles, in spite of Crutzen’s reference to Vernadsky’s and Chardin’s “increasing consciousness and thought” and “world of thought” (noösphere). “They do not know it, but they do it” — this is what Marx said about the fetishized social activity mediated by commodities, and this is the key to a critical understanding of the Anthropocene.11

In fact, Crutzen locates the beginning of the Anthropocene in the design of the steam engine during the Industrial Revolution.12 However, instead of seeing it as a mere empirical observation, the determinants of the “human-dominated” geologic epoch should be conceptually investigated in the capitalist form of social relations. With his analysis of fetishism, Marx showed that capitalism is a social formation in which there is a prevalence of “material relations between persons and social relations between things,” in which “the circulation of money as capital is an end in itself.”13 Capital is the inversion where exchange value directs use, abstract labor directs concrete labor: a social formation in which the process of production has mastery over man, instead of the opposite,” and its circulation as money and commodities for the sake of accumulation constitutes the “automatic subject,” “self-valorizing value.”14 Locating the Anthropocene in capitalism, therefore, implies an investigation into the relation between the Anthropocene and alienation, or, as further developed by the late Marx, fetishism.15 This is the core of the contradictions of the “human-dominated” geologic epoch. According to Marx, the labor-mediated form of social relations of capitalism acquires a life of its own, independent of the individuals that participate in its constitution, developing into a sort of objective system over and against individuals, and increasingly determines the goals and means of human activity. Alienated labor constitutes a social structure of abstract domination that alienates social ties, in which “starting out as the condottiere of use value, exchange value ended up waging a war that was entirely its own.”16 This structure, though, does not appear to be socially constituted, but natural.17 Value, whose phenomenic form of appearance is money, becomes in itself a form of social organization, a perverted community. This is the opposite of what could be called “social control.”18 A system that becomes quasi-automatic, beyond the conscious control of those involved, and is driven by the compulsion of limitless accumulation as an end-in-itself, necessarily has as a consequence the disruption of the material cycles of the Earth. Calling this “Anthropocene,” though, is clearly imprecise, on one hand, because it is the outcome of a historically specific form of metabolism with Nature, and not of a generic ontological being (antropo), and, on the other hand, because capitalism constitutes a “domination without subject,” that is, in which the subject is not Man (not even a ruling class), but capital.19

It is important to note that fetishism is not a mere illusion that should be deciphered, so that the “real” class and environmental exploitation could be grasped. As Marx himself pointed out, “to the producers…the social relations between their private labors appear as what they are, i.e., as material relations between persons and social relations between things”; “commodity fetishism…is not located in our minds, in the way we (mis)perceive reality, but in our social reality itself.”20 That is why not even all scientific evidence of the ecological disruption, always collected post festum, is able to stop the destructive dynamic of capital, showing to a caricatural degree the uselessness of knowledge without use.21The fact that now “they know very well what they are doing, yet they are doing it” does not refute, but rather confirms that the form of social relations is beyond social control, and merely changing the name of the “Anthropocene” (to “Capitolocene” or whatever) would not solve the underlying social and material contradictions.22 Value-directed social production, that is, production determined by the minimization of socially necessary labor time, results in an objectified mode of material production and social life that can be described by “objective” laws. Time, space, and technology are objectified by the law of value. Of course the agents of the “valorization of value” are human beings, but they perform their social activity as “character [masks],” “personifications of economic relations”: the capitalist is personified capital and the worker is personified labor.23 The fetishistic, self-referential valorization of value through the exploitation of labor (M-C-M’) with its characteristics of limitless expansion and abstraction of material content implies the ecologically disruptive character of capitalism, that is, that in capitalism “the development of productive forces is simultaneously the development of destructive forces.”24 Self-expanding value creates an “industrial snowball system” that is not consciously controlled, “a force independent of any human volition.”25 In this context, it is not a surprise that the disruption of global ecological cycles is presented as the “Anthropocene,” that is, as a concept allusive to a natural process. That Man is presented as a blind geologic force, such as volcanic eruptions or variations in solar radiation, is an expression of the naturalized or fetishized form of social relations that is prevalent in capitalism.

Therefore, the technical structures with which Man carries out its metabolism with Nature is logically marked by fetishism. As Marx noted, “technology reveals the active relation of man to nature, the direct process of the production of his life, and thereby it also lays bare the process of the production of the social relations of his life, and of the mental conceptions that flow from those relations.”29 In capitalism, production processes are not designed according to the desires and needs of the producers, ecological or social considerations, but according to the law of value. Taking as an example the world energy systems, it has been demonstrated that there is no technical constraint to a complete solar transition in two or three decades if we consider the use-value of fossil and renewable energies (their energy return and material requirements), that is, it is technically feasible to use fossil energy to build a solar infrastructure to provide world energy in a quantity and quality sufficient for human development.27 This transition, which from the point of view of use-value or material wealth is desirable, necessary, and urgent (due to global warming) is not being carried out, though, because fossil energy is still more prone to capital accumulation, to the valorization of value: capital went to China to exploit cheap labor and cheap coal, causing a strong spike in carbon emissions on the eve of a climate emergency, in a clear display of fetishistic irrationality.28 More generally, the American ecologist Barry Commoner showed that in the twentieth century many synthetic products were developed (such as plastics and fertilizers) that took the place of natural and biodegradable products. However, the new products were not better than the old ones; the transition was only carried out because it was more lucrative to produce them, although they were much more polluting and environmentally harmful — in fact it is shown that these new technologies were the main factor for the increase of pollution in the United States, more than the increase in population or consumption.26

Of course the law of value does not determine only the final products, but also the production processes, which must be constantly intensified both in terms of rhythms and material efficiency, if not in terms of the extension of the working day. Already, in his day, Marx highlighted the “fanaticism that the capitalist shows for economizing on means of production” as they seek the “refuse of production” for reuse and recycling.30 However, under the capitalist form of social production, productivity gains result in a smaller amount of value created per material unit, so that it fosters enlarged material consumption.31 This general tendency is empirically observable in the so-called Jevons Paradox, when efficiency gains eventually result in a rebound effect, increased material production.32 It was first shown by William Stanley Jevons, who presented data that demonstrate that the economy of coal in steam engines during the Industrial Revolution resulted in increased coal consumption.33 What in a conscious social production would be ecologically beneficial (increased efficiency in resource use), in capitalism increases relative surplus-value, and therefore reinforces the destructive limitless accumulation of capital and a technological system that is inappropriate in the first place. It is astonishing that many environmentalists still preach efficiency as an ecological fix, without noticing that the capitalist social form of wealth (value) turns productivity into a destructive force.

Even the way capitalism deals with the problem of pollution is configured by alienation: everything can be discussed, but the mode of production based on commodification and maximization of profits. As production is carried out in competing isolated private production units, socio-technical control is limited to external control, through state regulations that enforce end-of-pipe technologies and market mechanisms. The Kyoto Protocol is the best example of market mechanism. It represents the commodification of the carbon cycle, establishing the equivalence principle, the very form of commodity fetishism, in a sort of stock exchange of carbon. Therefore, it implies a whole process of abstraction of ecological, social, and material qualities to make possible the equivalence of carbon emissions, offsets, and carbon sinks located in very different ecological and social contexts. The abstraction process includes the equalization of emission reductions in different social and ecological contexts, of emissions reductions carried out with different technologies, of carbon of fossil origin and biotic origin, the equalization of different molecules through the concept of “carbon equivalent” and a definition of “forest” that does not include any requirement of biodiversity.34

However, as with any commodity in capitalism, use-value (carbon emissions reductions) is governed by exchange-value. The fetishistic inversion of use-value and exchange-value that characterizes capitalism implies that the effective goal of the whole process of emissions trading comes to be money, not emissions reduction. Empirical examples abound. The trading scheme does not present any incentive for long-term technology transition, but only for short-term financial earnings (time is money). Offsets in practice allow polluters to postpone a technological transition, while the corresponding Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project probably generates a rebound effect that will foster fossil fuel deployment in developing countries.35 Easy technological reductions, such as burning methane in landfills, allow the continuation of carbon emissions by big corporations. Some industries earned more profits mitigating emissions of HFC-23 than with the commodities they produced, while generating huge amounts of offsets that again allow polluters to keep up with their emissions.36 And the comparison of projects with baseline “would be” scenarios even tragically allows the direct increase of emissions, for example, by financing coal mines that mitigate methane emissions. And more examples could be cited. The fact that global warming is determined by cumulative emissions in any meaningful human time-scale reveals the perverse effects of this exchange-value−driven scheme: delays in emissions reductions today constrain the possibilities of the future.37Again, as could be grasped beforehand with a simple theoretical Marxian critique, exchange-value becomes dominant over use-value, as the allocation of carbon emissions is determined not by socio-ecological criteria, but according to the valorization requirements or by “the optimized allocation of resources” — when the global carbon market hit the record market value of 176 billion dollars in 2011, the World Bank said that “a considerable portion of the trades is primarily motivated by hedging, portfolio adjustments, profit taking, and arbitrage,” typical jargon of financial speculators.38 Kyoto, with its quantitative approach, does not address, and hampers, the qualitative transition that is necessary to avoid a catastrophic climate change, that is, the solar transition. Even though substantial amounts of capital are mobilized with the trading schemes, global carbon emissions continue to increase.

In this scenario, it is increasingly likely that the application of an end-of-pipe technology might be necessary. With the rise of the Welfare State and ecological regulation, a myriad of such technologies were used to mitigate industrial emissions to water, air, and soil — air filters, wastewater treatment plants, etc. The problem is that these technologies can only be applied in particular corporate units if it is feasible in the context of value-driven production, that is, only if it does not jeopardize the profitability of corporations. It happens, though, that carbon capture and storage (CCS) is still too expensive to be used in production units or transport systems. Therefore, what comes to the fore is geoengineering, the ultimate end-of-pipe technology, the technological mitigation of the effects of carbon emissions on a planetary scale, the direct manipulation of world climate itself — with the use of processes such as the emission of aerosols to the stratosphere to reflect solar radiation, or the fertilization of oceans with iron to induce the growth of carbon-sequestering algae.39 Its origins can be traced back to the Vietnam War and Stalinist projects, and one of its first proponents was Edward Teller, the father of the atomic bomb.40 There are huge risks involved in this approach, as the climate system and its subsystems are not fully understood and are subject to non-linearities, tipping points, sudden transitions, and chaos. Besides, climate system inertia implies that global warming is irreversible in the time scale of a millennium, so that such geoengineering techniques would have to be applied for an equal amount of time, what would be a burden for dozens of future generations.41 In case of technological failure of the application of geoengineering, the outcome could be catastrophic, with a sudden climate change.42

Considering its relatively low cost, though, it is likely that capitalism assumes the risk of business as usual in order to preserve its fetishistic quest for profits, keeping geoengineering as a sort of silver bullet of global warming.43 Of course there is the frightening possibility of combining geoengineering and trading schemes, so that geoengineering projects could generate carbon credits in a competitive market. That was the idea of Planktos Inc. in a controversial experiment of ocean fertilization, that alludes to a dystopian future in which world climate is manipulated according to the interests of corporate profits.44 It is clear that capitalist control of pollution, either through market mechanisms or state regulations, resembles the Hegelian Minerva’s Owl: it only (re)acts after the alienated process of production and the general process of social alienation. However, if the core of destructiveness is the fetishistic process itself that is reproduced by trading schemes, and end-of-pipe technologies are subject to failure and complex dynamics that are not rationally accessible to the time scales of human institutions (at least in their current forms), both market and state mechanisms might fail in avoiding a catastrophic climate change.

Future projections of global warming by neoclassical economists reveal the alienated core of the Anthropocene in its very essence. In integrated climate-economic models such as the ones developed by William Nordhaus and Nicholas Stern, the interest rate ultimately determines what is acceptable in terms of atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases and its related impacts (coastal inundations, biodiversity loss, agricultural disruption, epidemic outbreaks, etc.), as “cost-benefit analyses” discount future impacts and compound present earnings.45 But as shown by Marx, the interest is the part of the profit that the industrial capitalist pays to the financial capitalist that lent him money-capital in the first place, after the successful valorization process.46 Interest-bearing capital is value that possesses the use-value of creating surplus-value or profit. Therefore, “in interest-bearing capital the capital relationship reaches its most superficial and fetishized form,” “money that produces money,” “self-valorizing value.”47 Interest-bearing capital is the perfect fetishistic representation of capital, as the automatic geometric progression of surplus-value production, a “pure automaton.”48Correspondingly, the determination of future social metabolism with Nature by the interest rate is the ultimate expression of the fetishistic character of this historical form of social metabolism with Nature, that is, of the fetishistic core of the so-called Anthropocene, no matter the magnitude of the interest rate. In capitalism the interest rate is determinant of investments and allocation of resources, and overcoming this is not a matter of moralistically (and irrealistically) using a lower magnitude for the interest rate as Stern does, but of overcoming the capitalist mode of production itself.49

Future scenarios determined by the interest rate ultimately negate history, since only in capitalism the interest rate is socially determining, as it is capital in its purest form. While in capitalism interest-bearing capital becomes totally adapted to the conditions of capitalist production, and fosters it with the development of the credit system, in pre-capitalist social formations, “usury impoverishes the mode of production, cripples the productive forces.”50This is so because in capitalism credit is given in the expectation that it will function as capital, that the borrowed capital will be used to valorize value, to appropriate unpaid “free” labor, while in the Middle Ages the usurer exploited petty producers and peasants working for themselves.51 The determination of future social metabolic relation with Nature by the interest rate is thus an extrapolation of the capitalist mode of production and all of its categories (value, surplus-value, abstract labor, etc.) into the future, the fetishization of history — again, this is in line with the term Anthropocene, that makes reference to an ahistorical Man.

Besides, the sort of cost-benefit analysis that Nordhaus and Stern carry out tends to negate not only history, but matter itself, as the trade-off of the degradation of material resources with the abstract growth implies the absolute exchangeability between different material resources, and hence between abstract wealth (capital) and material wealth, which in practice is a false assumption. For example, the most basic natural synthetic process necessary for life as we know on Earth, photosynthesis, is not technologically substitutable, that is, no amount of exchange-value could replace it.52 Besides, synthesizing the complex interactions and material and energy fluxes that constitute ecosystems of different characteristics and scales, with their own path-dependent natural histories, is not at all a trivial task — material interactions and specificity are exactly what exchange-value abstracts from. What this sort of analysis takes for granted is commodity-form itself, with its common substance (value) that allows the exchange between different material resources in definite amounts, detached from their material and ecological contexts. But it is this very detachment or abstraction that leads to destructiveness. “The dream implied by the capital form is one of utter boundlessness, a fantasy of freedom as the complete liberation from matter, from nature. This ‘dream of capital’ is becoming the nightmare of that from which it strives to free itself — the planet and its inhabitants.”53

Last but not least, capital is also trying to increase its profits exploiting the very anxiety caused by the prospect of the ecological catastrophe, as an extension of the production of subjectivity by the culture industry.54 For example, Starbucks cafés offer their customers a coffee that is a bit more expensive, but claim that part of the money goes to the forest of Congo, poor children in Guatemala, etc. This way, political consciousness is depoliticized in what is called the “Starbucks effect.”55 It can also be seen in commercial advertisements. In one of them, after scenes depicting some kind of undefined natural catastrophe intercalated with scenes of a carpenter building an undefined wooden structure and women in what seems to be a fashion show, the real context is revealed: the models are going to a sort of Noah’s Arc built by the carpenter, so that they can survive the ecological catastrophe. The purpose of the advertisement is finally disclosed: to sell deodorant — “the final fragrance.” The slogan — “Happy end of the world!” — explicitly exploits the ecological collapse to sell commodities.56 Opposition and political will themselves are being seduced to fit into the commodity form, even pervading climate science itself. Some scientists seem to notice this pervasive pressure of economic fetishism over science when they state: “liberate the science from the economics, finance, and astrology, stand by the conclusions however uncomfortable” or “geoengineering is like a heroin addict finding a new way of cheating his children out of money.”57Decarbonization is always challenged to be “economically feasible.” What is necessary, though, is that a more radical critique come to the fore in the public debate, an explicitly anticapitalist stance that refuses the requirements of capital accumulation in the definition of socio-environmental policies — not the least because it seems it is already impossible to reconcile the limitation of global warming to two degrees Celsius and simultaneously keep “economic growth.”58

It must be highlighted that the fetishization here described and its ecological destructiveness are a historical development, specific to capitalism, and that is why it can be overcome: the social metabolism with nature is not necessarily destructive. Commodity fetishism and labor as the social-mediating category (abstract labor) are historically specific to capitalism, and began with primitive accumulation.59 The Anthropocene as the globalized disruption of Nature is the externalization of alienated labor, its logical material conclusion.60 Overcoming it requires the reappropriation of what has been constituted in alienated form, that is, the decommodification of human social activity or the overcoming of capitalism.61 Technology so reconfigured and socialized would no longer be determined by profitability, but would be the technical translation of new values, and would tend to become art.62 Instead of being determined by the unidimensional valorization of value, social production would be the outcome of a multiplicity of commonly discussed criteria, ranging from social, ecological, aesthetic, and ethical considerations, and beyond — in other words, material wealth should be freed from the value-form. Technologies such as solar energy, microelectronics, and agroecology, for example, could be used to shape a world of abundant material wealth and a conscious social metabolism with Nature — a world with abundant clean renewable energy, abundant free social time due to the highly automated productive forces, and abundant food ecologically produced, under social control.63

Then and only then Man could be in conscious control of planetary material cycles and could use this control for human ends (even if deciding to keep them in their “natural” state). In fact, this means taking the promise of the Anthropocene very seriously, that is, Man should take conscious control of planetary material cycles, extend the terrain of the political hitherto left to the blind mechanics of nature and, in capitalism, to commodity fetishism.64 And this not only because the productive forces developed by capitalism allow it — although up to now we do it without conscious social control — but also because it might be necessary. Civilization is adapted to the Holocenic conditions that prevailed in the last ten thousand years, and we should be prepared to act to preserve these conditions that allow human development, or mitigate sudden changes, because they could be challenged not only by human (fetishized) activity, but also by natural causes, what already occurred many times in natural history (such as in the case of glacial-interglacial cycles triggered by perturbations in Earth’s orbit, or the catastrophic extinction of dinosaurs due to a meteor impact).65 The (fetishized) “invisible hand” and the (fetishized) “Anthropocene” are two faces of the same coin, of the same unconscious socialization, and should both be overcome with the communalization of social activity, that is, the real control of planetary material cycles depends on conscious social control of world production.

It should be emphasized that what is here criticized as “fetishism” is not merely the imprecise naming of the “Anthropocene,” but the form of material interchange itself. And yet what emerges here is a truly utopian perspective, the promise of the realization of the Anthropocene, not as an anthropological constant or a “natural” force, but as a fully historical species-being that consciously controls and gives form to the material conditions of the planet. If, as put by the young Marx, alienated labor alienates Man’s species-being, the liberatory reorganization of social-material interchange would unleash the species potential that is embedded, though socially negated, in the “Anthropocene.”66Geoengineering and advanced technology in general freed from value-form and instrumental reason could be used not only to solve the climate problem, but also, as Adorno wrote, to “help nature to open its eyes,” to help it “on the poor earth to become what perhaps it would like to be.”67 Advanced forces of production imply that Fourier’s poetic utopian vision recalled by Walter Benjamin could be materialized:

cooperative labor would increase efficiency to such an extent that four moons would illuminate the sky at night, the polar ice caps would recede, seawater would no longer taste salty, and beasts of prey would do man’s bidding. All this illustrates a kind of labor which, far from exploiting nature, would help her give birth to the creations that lie dormant in her womb.68

Even the elimination of brutality in nature (predation) and the abolition of slaughterhouses through the production of synthetic meat nowadays seem within theoretical reach with “genetic reprogramming” and stem-cell technology. That goes beyond the wildest Marcusean utopian dreams.69 Of course, this requires a social struggle that subverts the production determined by the valorization of value and frees, first of all, human potential. On the other hand, with business as usual, we are likely to see our material future on Earth being determined by the interest rate, emergency geoengineering, and chance.

  1. Guy Debord, The Sick Planet, trans. Not Bored (2006 [1971]) http://www.notbored.org/the-sick-planet.htmlBACK
  2. I would like to thank Cláudio R. Duarte, Raphael F. Alvarenga, Salvatore Engel-Di Mauro, and the anonymous reviewers for the valuable suggestions.BACK
  3. Paul Crutzen, “Geology of Mankind,” Nature 415 (2002) 23.BACK
  4. David Archer, The Global Carbon Cycle (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2010), and James Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity (New York: Bloomsbury, 2009). BACK
  5. Slavoj Žižek, Living in the End Times (New York: Verso, 2010) 333.BACK
  6. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment: PhilosophicalFragments. Trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2002 [1947]) 6.BACK
  7. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume III, trans. David Fernbach (London: Penguin, 1991 [1894]) 949, and John Bellamy-Foster, Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature (New York: Monthly Review, 2000). BACK
  8. Johan Rockström et al., “A Safe Operating Space for Humanity,” Nature 461 (2009): 472-75, and Will Steffen et al. (2015), “Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet,” Science 347: 6223 (13 February 2015).BACK
  9. Andreas Malm, “The Origins of Fossil Capital: From Water to Steam in the British Cotton Industry,” Historical Materialism 21:1 (2013): 15-68. BACK
  10. Steffen et al., “Planetary Boundaries.”BACK
  11. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, as per first German edition, trans. Albert Dragstedt (n. d. [1867]).BACK
  12. Crutzen, “Geology.” BACK
  13. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume I. Trans. Ben Fowkes. (London: Penguin, 1990 [1867]) 166, 253. BACK
  14. Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, 175, 255.BACK
  15. For a discussion of the continuity between the Marxian concepts of alienation and fetishism, see Lucio Colletti’s introduction in Karl Marx, Marx’s Early Writings, trans. Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton (London: Penguin, 1992 [1844]).BACK
  16. Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, trans. D. Nicholson-Smith (New York: Zone, 1994 [1967]) 46. See also Moishe Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993), and Anselm Jappe, Les aventures de la marchandise: Pour une nouvelle critique de la valeur (Paris: Denoël, 2003): 25-86.BACK
  17. Postone, Time 158-60. BACK
  18. Jappe, Les aventures 25-86. BACK
  19. Robert Kurz, Subjektlose Herrschaft: zur Aufhebung einer verkürzten Gesellschaftskritik, EXIT! (1993).BACK
  20. Capital, Volume I 166 (emphasis added), and Žižek, End Times 190. BACK
  21. Debord, Sick PlanetBACK
  22. Slavoj Žižek, Mapping Ideology (New York: Verso, 1994) 8.BACK
  23. Capital, Volume I 179, 989. BACK
  24. Paul Burkett, Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective (New York: St. Martin’s, 1999) 79-98, and Robert Kurz, Schwarzbuch Kapitalismus (Frankfurt am Main: Eichborn, 2009 [1999]) 10. BACK
  25. Kurz, Schwarzbuch 218, and John Holloway, Crack Capitalism (New York: Pluto, 2010) 146.BACK
  26. Capital, Volume I 493n4. BACK
  27. Peter D. Schwartzman and David W. Schwartzman, A Solar Transition Is Possible(London: IPRD, 2011), and Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi, “A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030,” Scientific American (Nov. 2009): 58-65BACK
  28. Andreas Malm, “China as Chimney of the World: The Fossil Capital Hypothesis,” Organization and Environment 25:2 (2012): 146-77, and Daniel Cunha, “A todo vapor rumo à catástrofe?” Sinal de Menos 9 (2013): 109-33. BACK
  29. Barry Commoner, “Chapter 8: Population and Affluence” and “Chapter 9: The Technological Flaw,” The Closing Circle: Nature, Man, and Technology (New York: Knopf, 1971).  BACK
  30. Capital, Volume III 176.BACK
  31. Claus Peter Ortlieb, “A Contradiction between Matter and Form,” Marxism and the Critique of Value, ed. Neil Larsen, Mathias Nilges, Josh Robinson, and Nicholas Brown (Chicago: MCM’, 2014 [2008]) 77-121.BACK
  32. John Bellamy-Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York, The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth (New York: Monthly Review, 2010): 169-182. BACK
  33. William Stanley Jevons, The Coal Question: An Inquiry Concerning the Progress of the Nation, and the Probable Exhaustion of Our Coal Mines (n. d. [1865]) http://www.econlib.org/library/YPDBooks/Jevons/jvnCQ.htmlBACK
  34. Larry Lohmann, “The Endless Algebra of Climate Markets,” Capitalism Nature Socialism22:4 (2011): 93-116, and Maria Gutiérrez, “Making Markets Out of Thin Air: A Case of Capital Involution,” Antipode 43:3 (2011): 639-61.BACK
  35. Kevin Anderson, “The Inconvenient Truth of Carbon Offsets,” Nature 484 (2012) 7. BACK
  36. Lohmann, “Endless Algebra.”BACK
  37. Damon Matthews, Nathan Gillet, Peter Stott, and Kirsten Zickfeld, “The Proportionality of Global Warming to Cumulative Carbon Emissions,” Nature 459 (2009): 829-33.BACK
  38. Jeff Coelho, “Global Carbon Market Value Hits Record $176 Billion,” Reuters (30 May 2012).BACK
  39. ETC Group, Geopiracy: The Case Against Geoengineering (Manila: ETC Group, 2010).BACK
  40. Eli Kintisch, Hack the Planet: Science’s Best Hope—or Worst Nightmare—for Averting Climate Catastrophe (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2010): 77-102. BACK
  41. Susan Solomon, Gian-Kasper Plattner, Reto Knutti, and Pierre Friedglinstein, “Irreversible Climate Change Due to Carbon Dioxide Emissions,” PNAS 106:6 (2009): 1704-9. BACK
  42. Victor Brovkin, Vladimir Petoukhov, Martin Claussen, Eva Bauer, David Archer, and Carlo Jaeger, “Geoengineering Climate by Stratospheric Sulfur Injections: Earth System Vulnerability to Technological Failure,” Climatic Change 92 (2009): 243-59. BACK
  43. Scott Barrett, “The Incredible Economics of Geoengineering,” Environmental and Resource Economics 39:1 (2007): 45-54.BACK
  44. Martin Lukacs, “World’s Biggest Geoengineering Experiment ‘Violates’ UN Rules,” The Guardian (15 October 2012).BACK
  45. William Nordhaus, A Question of Balance: Weighing the Options on Global Warming Policies (New Haven: Yale UP, 2008), and Nicholas Stern, The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review (London: HM Treasury, 2007). BACK
  46. Capital, Volume III 459-524. BACK
  47. Capital, Volume III 515. BACK
  48. Capital, Volume III 523. BACK
  49. Stern, Economics.BACK
  50. Capital, Volume III 731-32.BACK
  51. Capital, Volume III 736.BACK
  52. Robert Ayres, “On the Practical Limits to Substitution,” Ecological Economics 61 (2007): 115-28.BACK
  53. Postone, Time 383. BACK
  54. Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic. BACK
  55. Slavoj Žižek, Catastrophic But Not Serious. Lecture video (2011).BACK
  56. Axe, “Happy End of the World!” Advertisement video (2012).BACK
  57. Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows, “A New Paradigm for Climate Change: How Climate Change Science Is Conducted, Communicated and Translated into Policy Must Be Radically Transformed If ‘Dangerous’ Climate Change Is to Be Averted,” Nature Climate Change 2 (Sept. 2012): 639-40, and Kintisch, Hack 57. BACK
  58. Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows, “Beyond ‘Dangerous’ Climate Change: Emission Scenarios for a New World,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 369 (2011): 20-44.BACK
  59. Postone, Time; Holloway, Crack Capitalism; Krisis Group, Manifesto Against Labour(1999).BACK
  60. Sick Planet.BACK
  61. Time.BACK
  62. Commoner, Closing Circle; Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (Boston: Beacon, 1964); Herbert Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation (Boston: Beacon, 1969). BACK
  63. Robert Kurz, Antiökonomie und Antipolitik. Zur Reformulierung der sozialen Emanzipation nach dem Ende des “Marxismus” (1997); Schwartzman and Schartzman, Solar Transition;Miguel Altieri, Agroecology: The Science of Sustainable Agriculture (Boulder: Westview, 1995).BACK
  64. Eric Swyngedouw, “Apocalypse now! Fear and Doomsday Pleasures,” Capitalism NatureSocialism 24:1 (2013): 9-17. BACK
  65. Hansen, Storms, and Rockström et al., “Safe Operating Space.”BACK
  66. Marx, Marx’s Early Writings. BACK
  67. Cited in Herbert Marcuse, Counterrevolution and Revolt (Boston: Beacon, 1972) 66.BACK
  68. Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History” in Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 4, 1938-1940, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Belknap, 2003) 394.BACK
  69. See David Pierce, Reprogramming Predators (2009), and BBC, World’s First Lab-Grown Burger Is Eaten in London (5 Aug. 2013). Marcuse’s skepticism about the “pacification of nature” is expressed in Counterrevolution and Revolt 68.BACK

Sociology & Its Discontents (Synthetic Zero)

 

“Does the discipline of Sociology still have a role to play in the 21st century?To examine where we are at with Sociology in 2015, Philip Dodd is joined by three leading practitioners, the LSE’s Richard Sennett, Frank Furedi from the University of Kent, and Monika Krause at Goldsmiths, as well as the journalist and author, Peter Oborne”

AUDIO

I think we can safely leave sociology to the last century without any meaningful loss to our abilities to understand and reform as needed, anyone disagree?

synthetic zerø


“Does the discipline of Sociology still have a role to play in the 21st century?To examine where we are at with Sociology in 2015, Philip Dodd is joined by three leading practitioners, the LSE’s Richard Sennett, Frank Furedi from the University of Kent, and Monika Krause at Goldsmiths, as well as the journalist and author, Peter Oborne”

I think we can safely leave sociology to the last century without any meaningful loss to our abilities to understand and reform as needed, anyone disagree?

Ver o post original

Time and Events (Knowledge Ecology)

March 24, 2015 / Adam Robbert

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[Image: Mohammad Reza Domiri Ganji]

I just came across Massimo Pigliucci’s interesting review of Mangabeira Unger and Lee Smolin’s book The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time. There are more than a few Whiteheadian themes explored throughout the review, including Unger and Smolin’s (U&S) view that time should be read as an abstraction from events and that the “laws” of the universe are better conceptualized as habits or contingent causal connections secured by the ongoingness of those events rather than as eternal, abstract formalisms. (This entangling of laws with phenomena, of events with time, is one of the ways we can think towards an ecological metaphysics.)

But what I am particularly interested in is the short discussion on Platonism and mathematical realism. I sometimes think of mathematical realism as the view that numbers, and thus the abstract formalisms they create, are real, mind-independent entities, and that, given this view, mathematical equations are discovered (i.e., they actually exist in the world) rather than created (i.e., humans made them up to fill this or that pragmatic need). The review makes it clear, though, that this definition doesn’t push things far enough for the mathematical realist. Instead, the mathematical realist argues for not just the mind-independent existence of numbers but also their nature-independence—math as independent not just of all knowers but of all natural phenomena, past, present, or future.

U&S present an alternative to mathematical realisms of this variety that I find compelling and more consistent with the view that laws are habits and that time is an abstraction from events. Here’s the reviewer’s take on U&S’s argument (the review starts with a quote from U&S and then unpacks it a bit):

“The third idea is the selective realism of mathematics. (We use realism here in the sense of relation to the one real natural world, in opposition to what is often described as mathematical Platonism: a belief in the real existence, apart from nature, of mathematical entities.) Now dominant conceptions of what the most basic natural science is and can become have been formed in the context of beliefs about mathematics and of its relation to both science and nature. The laws of nature, the discerning of which has been the supreme object of science, are supposed to be written in the language of mathematics.” (p. xii)

But they are not, because there are no “laws” and because mathematics is a human (very useful) invention, not a mysterious sixth sense capable of probing a deeper reality beyond the empirical. This needs some unpacking, of course. Let me start with mathematics, then move to the issue of natural laws.

I was myself, until recently, intrigued by mathematical Platonism [8]. It is a compelling idea, which makes sense of the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” as Eugene Wigner famously put it [9]. It is a position shared by a good number of mathematicians and philosophers of mathematics. It is based on the strong gut feeling that mathematicians have that they don’t invent mathematical formalisms, they “discover” them, in a way analogous to what empirical scientists do with features of the outside world. It is also supported by an argument analogous to the defense of realism about scientific theories and advanced by Hilary Putnam: it would be nothing short of miraculous, it is suggested, if mathematics were the arbitrary creation of the human mind, and yet time and again it turns out to be spectacularly helpful to scientists [10].

But there are, of course, equally (more?) powerful counterarguments, which are in part discussed by Unger in the first part of the book. To begin with, the whole thing smells a bit too uncomfortably of mysticism: where, exactly, is this realm of mathematical objects? What is its ontological status? Moreover, and relatedly, how is it that human beings have somehow developed the uncanny ability to access such realm? We know how we can access, however imperfectly and indirectly, the physical world: we evolved a battery of sensorial capabilities to navigate that world in order to survive and reproduce, and science has been a continuous quest for expanding the power of our senses by way of more and more sophisticated instrumentation, to gain access to more and more (and increasingly less relevant to our biological fitness!) aspects of the world.

Indeed, it is precisely this analogy with science that powerfully hints to an alternative, naturalistic interpretation of the (un)reasonable effectiveness of mathematics. Math too started out as a way to do useful things in the world, mostly to count (arithmetics) and to measure up the world and divide it into manageable chunks (geometry). Mathematicians then developed their own (conceptual, as opposed to empirical) tools to understand more and more sophisticated and less immediate aspects of the world, in the process eventually abstracting entirely from such a world in pursuit of internally generated questions (what we today call “pure” mathematics).

U&S do not by any means deny the power and effectiveness of mathematics. But they also remind us that precisely what makes it so useful and general — its abstraction from the particularities of the world, and specifically its inability to deal with temporal asymmetries (mathematical equations in fundamental physics are time-symmetric, and asymmetries have to be imported as externally imposed background conditions) — also makes it subordinate to empirical science when it comes to understanding the one real world.

This empiricist reading of mathematics offers a refreshing respite to the resurgence of a certain Idealism in some continental circles (perhaps most interestingly spearheaded by Quentin Meillassoux). I’ve heard mention a few times now that the various factions squaring off within continental philosophy’s avant garde can be roughly approximated as a renewed encounter between Kantian finitude and Hegelian absolutism. It’s probably a bit too stark of a binary, but there’s a sense in which the stakes of these arguments really do center on the ontological status of mathematics in the natural world. It’s not a direct focus of my own research interests, really, but it’s a fascinating set of questions nonetheless.

The Anthropocene Myth (Jacobin)

30.3.2015

Blaming all of humanity for climate change lets capitalism off the hook.

by Andreas Malm

A coal-cleaning plant near Pittsburgh. John Collier / Library of Congress

A coal-cleaning plant near Pittsburgh. John Collier / Library of Congress

Last year was the hottest year ever recorded. And yet, the latest figures show that in 2013 the source that provided the most new energy to the world economy wasn’t solar, wind power, or even natural gas or oil, but coal.

The growth in global emissions — from 1 percent a year in the 1990s to 3 percent so far this millennium — is striking. It’s an increase that’s paralleled our growing knowledge of the terrible consequences of fossil fuel usage.

Who’s driving us toward disaster? A radical answer would be the reliance of capitalists on the extraction and use of fossil energy. Some, however, would rather identify other culprits.

The earth has now, we are told, entered “the Anthropocene”: the epoch of humanity. Enormously popular — and accepted even by many Marxist scholars — the Anthropocene concept suggests that humankind is the new geological force transforming the planet beyond recognition, chiefly by burning prodigious amounts of coal, oil, and natural gas.

According to these scholars, such degradation is the result of humans acting out their innate predispositions, the inescapable fate for a planet subjected to humanity’s “business-as-usual.” Indeed, the proponents cannot argue otherwise, for if the dynamics were of a more contingent character, the narrative of an entire species ascending to biospheric supremacy would be difficult to defend.

Their story centers on a classic element: fire. The human species alone can manipulate fire, and therefore it is the one that destroys the climate; when our ancestors learned how to set things ablaze, they lit the fuse of business-as-usual. Here, write prominent climate scientists Michael Raupach and Josep Canadell, was “the essential evolutionary trigger for the Anthropocene,” taking humanity straight to “the discovery that energy could be derived not only from detrital biotic carbon but also from detrital fossil carbon, at first from coal.”

The “primary reason” for current combustion of fossil fuels is that “long before the industrial era, a particular primate species learned how to tap the energy reserves stored in detrital carbon.” My learning to walk at the age of one is the reason for me dancing salsa today; when humanity ignited its first dead tree, it could only lead, one million years later, to burning a barrel of oil.

Or, in the words of Will Steffen, Paul J. Crutzen, and John R. McNeill: “The mastery of fire by our ancestors provided humankind with a powerful monopolistic tool unavailable to other species, that put us firmly on the long path towards the Anthropocene.” In this narrative, the fossil economy is the creation precisely of humankind, or “the fire-ape, Homo pyrophilus,” as in Mark Lynas’s popularization of Anthropocene thinking, aptly titled The God Species.

Now, the ability to manipulate fire was surely a necessary condition for the commencement of large-scale fossil fuel combustion in Britain in the early nineteenth century. Was it also the cause of it?

The important thing to note here is the logical structure of the Anthropocene narrative: some universal trait of the species must be driving the geological epoch that is its own, or else it would be a matter of some subset of the species. But the story of human nature can come in many forms, both in the Anthropocene genre and in other parts of climate change discourse.

In an essay in the anthology Engaging with Climate Change, psychoanalyst John Keene offers an original explanation for why humans pollute the planet and refuse to stop. In infancy, the human being discharges waste matter without limits and learns that the caring mother will take away the poo and the wee and clean up the crotch.

As a result, human beings are accustomed to the practice of spoiling their surroundings: “I believe that these repeated encounters contribute to the complementary belief that the planet is an unlimited ‘toilet-mother’, capable of absorbing our toxic products to infinity.”

But where is the evidence for any sort of causal connection between fossil fuel combustion and infant defecation? What about all those generations of people who, up to the nineteenth century, mastered both arts but never voided the carbon deposits of the earth and dumped them into the atmosphere: were they shitters and burners just waiting to realize their full potentials?

It’s easy to poke fun at certain forms of psychoanalysis, but attempts to attribute business-as-usual to the properties of the human species are doomed to vacuity. That which exists always and everywhere cannot explain why a society diverges from all others and develop something new – such as the fossil economy that only emerged some two centuries ago but now has become so entrenched that we recognize it as the only ways human can produce.

As it happens, however, mainstream climate discourse is positively drenched in references to humanity as such, human nature, the human enterprise, humankind as one big villain driving the train. In The God Species, we read: “God’s power is now increasingly being exercised by us. We are the creators of life, but we are also its destroyers.” This is one of the most common tropes in the discourse: we, all of us, you and I, have created this mess together and make it worse each day.

Enter Naomi Klein, who in This Changes Everything expertly lays bare the myriad ways in which capital accumulation, in general, and its neoliberal variant, in particular, pour fuel on the fire now consuming the earth system. Giving short shrift to all the talk of a universal human evildoer, she writes, “We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe — and would benefit the vast majority — are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets.”

So how do the critics respond? “Klein describes the climate crisis as a confrontation between capitalism and the planet,” philosopher John Gray counters in the Guardian. “It would be be more accurate to describe the crisis as a clash between the expanding demands of humankind and a finite world.”

Gray isn’t alone. This schism is emerging as the great ideological divide in the climate debate, and proponents of the mainstream consensus are fighting back.

In the London Review of Books, Paul Kingsnorth, a British writer who has long argued that the environmental movement should disband and accept total collapse as our destiny, retorts: “Climate change isn’t something that a small group of baddies has foisted on us”; “in the end, we are all implicated.” This, Kingsnorth argues, “is a less palatable message than one which sees a brutal 1 per cent screwing the planet and a noble 99 per cent opposing them, but it is closer to reality.”

Is it closer to reality? Six simple facts demonstrate the opposite.

First, the steam engine is widely, and correctly, seen as the original locomotive of business-as-usual, by which the combustion of coal was first linked to the ever-expanding spiral of capitalist commodity production.

While it is admittedly banal to point out, steam engines were not adopted by some natural-born deputies of the human species. The choice of a prime mover in commodity production could not possibly have been the prerogative of that species, since it presupposed, for a start, the institution of wage labor. It was the owners of the means of production who installed the novel prime mover. A tiny minority even in Britain — all-male, all-white — this class of people comprised an infinitesimal fraction of humanity in the early nineteenth century.

Second, when British imperialists penetrated into northern India around the same time, they stumbled on coal seams that were, to their great amazement, already known to the natives — indeed, the Indians had the basic knowledge of how to dig, burn, and generate heat from coal. And yet they cared nothing for the fuel.

The British, on the other hand, desperately wanted the coal out of the ground — to propel the steamboats by which they transported the treasure and raw materials extracted from the Indian peasants towards the metropolis, and their own surplus of cotton goods towards the inland markets. The problem was, no workers volunteered to step into the mines. Hence the British had to organize a system of indentured labor, forcing farmers into the pits so as to acquire the fuel for the exploitation of India.

Third, most of the twenty-first century emissions explosion originates from the People’s Republic of China. The driver of that explosion is apparent: it is not the growth of the Chinese population, nor its household consumption, nor its public expenditures, but the tremendous expansion of manufacturing industry, implanted in China by foreign capital to extract surplus value out of local labor, perceived around the turn of the millennium as extraordinarily cheap and disciplined.

That shift was part of a global assault on wages and working conditions — workers all over the world being weighed down by the threat of capital’s relocation to their Chinese substitutes, who could only be exploited by means of fossil energy as a necessary material substratum. The ensuing emissions explosion is the atmospheric legacy of class warfare.

Fourth, there is probably no other industry that encounters so much popular opposition wherever it wants to set up shop as the oil and gas industry. As Klein chronicles so well, local communities are in revolt against fracking and pipelines and exploration from Alaska to the Niger Delta, from Greece to Ecuador. But against them stands an interest recently expressed with exemplary clarity by Rex Tillerson, president and CEO of ExxonMobil: “My philosophy is to make money. If I can drill and make money, then that’s what I want to do.” This is the spirit of fossil capital incarnate.

Fifth, advanced capitalist states continue relentlessly to enlarge and deepen their fossil infrastructures — building new highways, new airports, new coal-fired power-plants — always attuned to the interests of capital, hardly ever consulting their people on these matters. Only the truly blind intellectual, of the Paul Kingsnorth-type, can believe that “we are all implicated” in such policies.

How many Americans are involved in the decisions to give coal a larger share in the electric power sector, so that the carbon intensity of the US economy rose in 2013? How many Swedes should be blamed for the ramming through of a new highway around Stockholm — the greatest infrastructure project in modern Swedish history — or their government’s assistance to coal power plants in South Africa?

The most extreme illusions about the perfect democracy of the market are required to maintain the notion of “us all” driving the train.

Sixth, and perhaps most obvious: few resources are so unequally consumed as energy. The 19 million inhabitants of New York State alone consume more energy than the 900 million inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa. The difference in energy consumption between a subsistence pastoralist in the Sahel and an average Canadian may easily be larger than 1,000-fold — and that is an average Canadian, not the owner of five houses, three SUVs, and a private airplane.

A single average US citizen emits more than 500 citizens of Ethiopia, Chad, Afghanistan, Mali, or Burundi; how much an average US millionaire emits — and how much more than an average US or Cambodian worker — remains to be counted. But a person’s imprint on the atmosphere varies tremendously depending on where she is born. Humanity, as a result, is far too slender an abstraction to carry the burden of culpability.

Ours is the geological epoch not of humanity, but of capital. Of course, a fossil economy does not necessarily have to be capitalist: the Soviet Union and its satellite states had their own growth mechanisms connected to coal, oil, and gas. They were no less dirty, sooty, or emissions-intensive — perhaps rather more — than their Cold War adversaries. So why focus on capital? What reason is there to delve into the destructiveness of capital, when the Communist states performed at least as abysmally?

In medicine, a similar question would perhaps be, why concentrate research efforts on cancer rather than smallpox? Both can be fatal! But only one still exists. History has closed the parenthesis around the Soviet system, and so we are back at the beginning, where the fossil economy is coextensive with the capitalist mode of production — only now on a global scale.

The Stalinist version deserves its own investigations, and on its own terms (the mechanisms of growth being of their own kind). But we do not live in the Vorkuta coal-mining gulag of the 1930s. Our ecological reality, encompassing us all, is the world founded by steam-powered capital, and there are alternative courses that an environmentally responsible socialism could take. Hence capital, not humanity as such.

Naomi Klein’s success and recent street mobilizations notwithstanding, this remains a fringe view. Climate science, politics, and discourse are constantly couched in the Anthropocene narrative: species-thinking, humanity-bashing, undifferentiated collective self-flagellation, appeal to the general population of consumers to mend their ways and other ideological pirouettes that only serve to conceal the driver.

To portray certain social relations as the natural properties of the species is nothing new. Dehistoricizing, universalizing, eternalizing, and naturalizing a mode of production specific to a certain time and place — these are the classic strategies of ideological legitimation.

They block off any prospect for change. If business-as-usual is the outcome of human nature, how can we even imagine something different? It is perfectly logical that advocates of the Anthropocene and associated ways of thinking either champion false solutions that steer clear of challenging fossil capital — such as geoengineering in the case of Mark Lynas and Paul Crutzen, the inventor of the Anthropocene concept — or preach defeat and despair, as in the case of Kingsnorth.

According to the latter, “it is now clear that stopping climate change is impossible” — and, by the way, building a wind farm is just as bad as opening another coal mine, for both desecrate the landscape.

Without antagonism, there can never be any change in human societies. Species-thinking on climate change only induces paralysis. If everyone is to blame, then no one is.

On Surveys (Medium)

Erika Hall

Feb 23, 2015

Surveys are the most dangerous research tool — misunderstood and misused. They frequently straddle the qualitative and quantitative, and at their worst represent the worst of both.

In tort law the attractive nuisance doctrine refers to a hazardous object likely to attract those who are unable to appreciate the risk posed by the object. In the world of design research, surveys can be just such a nuisance.

Easy Feels True

It is too easy to run a survey. That is why surveys are so dangerous. They are so easy to create and so easy to distribute, and the results are so easy to tally. And our poor human brains are such that information that is easier for us to process and comprehend feels more true. This is our cognitive bias. This ease makes survey results feel true and valid, no matter how false and misleading. And that ease is hard to argue with.

A lot of important decisions are made based on surveys. When faced with a choice, or a group of disparate opinions, running a survey can feel like the most efficient way to find a direction or to settle arguments (and to shirk responsibility for the outcome). Which feature should we build next? We can’t decide ourselves, so let’s run a survey. What should we call our product? We can’t decide ourselves, so let’s run a survey.

Easy Feels Right

The problem posed by this ease is that other ways of finding an answer that seem more difficult get shut out. Talking to real people and analyzing the results? That sounds time consuming and messy and hard. Coming up with a set of questions and blasting it out to thousands of people gets you quantifiable responses with no human contact. Easy!

In my opinion it’s much much harder to write a good survey than to conduct good qualitative user research. Given a decently representative research participant, you could sit down, shut up, turn on the recorder, and get good data just by letting them talk. (The screening process that gets you that participant is a topic for another day.) But if you write bad survey questions, you get bad data at scale with no chance of recovery. This is why I completely sidestepped surveys in writing Just Enough Research.

What makes a survey bad? If the data you get back isn’t actually useful input to the decision you need to make or if doesn’t reflect reality, that is a bad survey. This could happen if respondents didn’t give true answers, or if the questions are impossible to answer truthfully, or if the questions don’t map to the information you need, or if you ask leading or confusing questions.

Often asking a question directly is the worst way to get a true and useful answer to that question. Because humans.

Bad Surveys Don’t Smell

A bad survey won’t tell you it’s bad. It’s actually really hard to find out that a bad survey is bad — or to tell whether you have written a good or bad set of questions. Bad code will have bugs. A bad interface design will fail a usability test. It’s possible to tell whether you are having a bad user interview right away. Feedback from a bad survey can only come in the form of a second source of information contradicting your analysis of the survey results.

Most seductively, surveys yield responses that are easy to count and counting things feels so certain and objective and truthful.

Even if you are counting lies.

And once a statistic gets out — such as “75% of users surveyed said that they love videos that autoplay on page load” —that simple “fact” will burrow into the brains of decision-makers and set up shop.

From time to time, people write to me with their questions about research. Usually these questions are more about politics than methodologies. A while back this showed up in my inbox:

“Direct interaction with users is prohibited by my organization, but I have been allowed to conduct a simple survey by email to identify usability issues.”

Tears, tears of sympathy and frustration streamed down my face. This is so emblematic, so typical, so counterproductive. The rest of the question was of course, “What do I do?”

User research and usability are about observed human behavior. The way to identify usability issues is to usability test. I mean, if you need to maintain a sterile barrier between your staff and your customers, at least use usertesting.com. The allowable solution is like using surveys as a way to pass notes through a wall, between the designers and the actual users. This doesn’t increase empathy.

Too many organizations treat direct user research like a breach of protocol. I understand that there are very sensitive situations, often involving health data or financial data. But you can do user research and never interact with actual customers. If you actually care about getting real data rather than covering some corporate ass, you can recruit people who are a behavioral match for the target and never reveal your identity.

A survey is a survey. A survey shouldn’t be a fallback for when you can’t do the right type of research.

Sometimes we treat data gathering like a child in a fairy tale who has been sent out to gather mushrooms for dinner. It’s getting late and the mushrooms are far away on the other side of the river. And you don’t want to get your feet wet. But look, there are all these rocks right here. The rocks look kind of like mushrooms. So maybe no one will notice. And then you’re all sitting around the table pretending you’re eating mushroom soup and crunching on rocks.

A lot of people in a lot of conference rooms are pretending that the easiest way to gather data is the most useful. And choking down the results.

Customer Satisfaction Is A Lie

A popular topic for surveys is “satisfaction.” Customer satisfaction has become the most widely used metric in companies’ efforts to measure and manage customer loyalty.

A customer satisfaction score is an abstraction, and an inaccurate one. According to the MIT Sloan Management Review, changes in customers’ satisfaction levels explain less than 1% of the variation in changes in their share of spending in a given category. Now, 1% is statistically significant, but not huge.

And Bloomberg Businessweek wrote that “Customer-service scores have no relevance to stock market returns…the most-hated companies perform better than their beloved peers.” So much of the evidence indicates this is just not a meaningful business metric, rather a very satisfying one to measure.

And now, a new company has made a business out of helping businesses with websites quantify a fuzzy, possibly meaningless metric.

“My boss is a convert to Foresee. She was apparently very skeptical of it at first, but she’s a very analytical person and was converted by its promise of being able to quantify unquantifiable data — like ‘satisfaction’.”

This is another cry for help I received not too long ago.

The boss in question is “a very analytical person.” This means that she is a person with a bias towards quantitative data. The designer who wrote to me was concerned about the potential of pop-up surveys to wreck the very customer experience they were trying to measure.

There’s a whole industry based on customer satisfaction. And when there is an industry that makes money from the existence of a metric, that makes me skeptical of a metric. Because as a customer, I find this a fairly unsatisfying use of space.

Here is a Foresee customer satisfaction survey (NOT for my correspondent’s employer). These are the questions that sounded good to ask, and that seem to map to best practices.

But this is complete hogwash.

Rate the options available for navigating? What does that mean? What actual business success metric does that map to. Rate the number of clicks–on a ten point scale? I couldn’t do that. I suspect many people choose the number of clicks they remember rather than a rating.

And accuracy of information? How is a site user not currently operating in god mode supposed to rate how accurate the information is? What does a “7″ for information accuracy even mean? None of this speaks to what the website is actually for or how actual humans think or make decisions.

And, most importantly, the sleight of hand here is that these customer satisfaction questions are qualitative questions presented in a quantitative style. This is some customer research alchemy right here. So, you are counting on the uncountable while the folks selling these surveys are counting their money. Enjoy your phlogiston.

I am not advising anyone to run a jerk company with terrible service. I want everyone making products to make great products, and to know which things to measure in order to do that.

I want everyone to see customer loyalty for what it is — habit. And to be more successful creating loyalty, you need to measure the things that build habit.

Approach with Caution

When you are choosing research methods, and are considering surveys, there is one key question you need to answer for yourself:

Will the people I’m surveying be willing and able to provide a truthful answer to my question?

And as I say again and again, and will never tire of repeating, never ask people what they like or don’t like. Liking is a reported mental state and that doesn’t necessarily correspond to any behavior.

Avoid asking people to remember anything further back than a few days. I mean, we’ve all been listening to Serial, right? People are lazy forgetful creatures of habit. If you ask about something that happened too far back in time, you are going to get a low quality answer.

And especially, never ask people to make a prediction of future behavior. They will make that prediction based on wishful thinking or social desireability. And this is the most popular survey question of all, I think:

How likely are you to purchase the thing I am selling in the next 6 months?

No one can answer that. At best you could get 1)Possibly 2)Not at all.

So, yeah, surveys are great because you can quantify the results.

But you have to ask, what are you quantifying? Is it an actual quantity of something, e.g. how many, how often — or is it a stealth quality like appeal, ease, or appropriateness, trying to pass itself off as something measurable?

In order to make any sort of decisions, and to gather information to inform decisions, the first thing you have to do is define success. You cannot derive that definition from a bunch of numbers.

To write a good survey. You need to be very clear on what you want to know and why a survey is the right way to get that information. And then you have to write very clear questions.

If you are using a survey to ask for qualitative information be clear about that and know that you’ll be getting thin information with no context. You won’t be able to probe into the all important “why” behind a response.

If you are treating a survey like a quantitative input, you can only ask questions that the respondents can be relied on to count. You must be honest about the type of data you are able to collect, or don’t bother.

And stay away from those weird 10-point scales. They do not reflect reality.

How to put together a good survey is a topic worthy of a book, or a graduate degree. Right here, I just want to get you to swear you aren’t going to be casual about them if you are going to be basing important decisions on them.

“At its core, all business is about making bets on human behavior.”

— Ben Wiseman, Wall Street Journal

The whole reason to bother going to the trouble of gathering information to inform decisions is that ultimately you want those decisions to lead to some sort of measurable success.

Making bets based on insights from observed human behavior can be far more effective that basing bets on bad surveys. So go forth, be better, and be careful about your data gathering. The most measurable data might not be the most valuable.

Review of Thinking with Whitehead: A Free and Wild Creation of Concepts (Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews)

2012.06.21
ISABELLE STENGERS
Thinking with Whitehead: A Free and Wild Creation of Concepts
Isabelle Stengers, Thinking with Whitehead: A Free and Wild Creation of Concepts, Michael Chase (tr.), Harvard University Press, 2011, 531pp., $49.95 (hbk), ISBN 9780674048034.

Reviewed by Roland Faber, Claremont School of Theology

Isabelle Stengers’ work on Whitehead was a long time in the making — as a work on Whitehead’s work, as an outcome of her thinking with Whitehead through different instantiations of her own writing, and as a process of translation from the French original. It is an important work, unusual not only for the bold generality with which it tries to characterize Whitehead’s philosophical work in its most important manifestations, but even more importantly, for its effort to present a radical alternative mode of contemporary thinking. One is almost tempted to say that the urgency of this book’s intensity is motivated by nothing less than Stengers’ immediate feeling of the importance of Whitehead’s work for the future of (human) civilization. Since we need to make life-and-death decisions regarding the directions we might (want to) take, the explication of Whitehead’s alternatives may be vital. Hence to think with Whitehead is to think alternatives in which we “sign on in advance to an adventure that will leave none of the terms we normally use as they were.” Yet, as a rule, Stengers is “with” Whitehead not only in sorting out such alternatives, but also in his non-confrontational method of peace-making, in which nothing “will be undermined or summarily denounced as a carrier of illusion.” (24)

The two parts of the book roughly bring to light the development of Whitehead’s thought and its shifting points of gravity, circling around two of its major developments.  One of these developments could be said to be temporal, since Whitehead’s philosophical work over time can be characterized as developing from a philosophy of nature (as it was still embedded in the discussion of a philosophy of science) to a metaphysics (that included everything that a philosophy of science has excluded). The other is more spatial, since it circles around the excluded middle between the philosophy of science (excluding mind) and a general metaphysics (of all worlds), namely, a cosmology of our real universe. In an interesting twist, not so common today in any of the standard fields of discourse, we could also agree with Bruno Latour, who in his introduction suggests that both developments, the temporal — how to overcome the bifurcation of nature — and the spatial — how to understand a cosmos of creative organisms — are again (and further) de-centered by the unusual Whiteheadian reintroduction of “God.” (xiii)

The first fourteen chapters that discuss the “temporal” development of Whitehead’s thought (“From the Philosophy of Nature to Metaphysics”) begin with a hermeneutical invitation to the reader to view the Whiteheadian adventure of thought as a dislocation from all commonly held beliefs and theories about nature and the world in general because it asks “questions that will separate them from every consensus.” (7) As its major problem and point of departure, Stengers identifies Whitehead’s criticism of the “bifurcation of nature,” that is, the constitutional division of the universe into mutually exclusive sections (which are often at war with one another because of this division). One section consists of what science finds to be real, but valueless, and the other of that which constitutes mind — a setup that reduces the first section to senseless motion and the second to mere “psychic additions.” (xii) At first exploring Whitehead’s The Concept of Nature, the beginning chapters draw out the contours of Whitehead’s reformulation of the concept of nature, implying that it must not avoid “what the concept of nature designates as ultimate: knowledge.” (41) In Whitehead’s view, knowledge and conceptualization become essential to the concept of nature. While the “goal is not to define a nature that is ‘knowable’ in the philosophers’ sense,” Whitehead defines nature and knowledge “correlatively” such that “‘what’ we perceive does indeed designate nature rather than the perceiving mind.” (44) Conversely, “exactness” is no longer an ideal, but “a thickness with a plurality of experiences occurring simultaneously — like a person walking by.” (55) With Bergson, Whitehead holds that such duration — an event — is the “foothold of the mind” (67) in nature. Being a standpoint, a perspective, paying attention to the aspects of its own integration, such a characterization of an event is meant to generate Whitehead’s argument, as unfolded in Science and the Modern World, against the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness” (which excludes standpoints by introducing exactness in describing vacuous matter) and, thereby, the bifurcation of nature. (113)

On the way to the cosmology of Process and Reality — itself “a labyrinth-book, a book about which one no longer knows whether it has an author, or whether it is not rather the book that has fashioned its author” (122) — Stengers examines the two unexpected metaphysical chapters of Science and the Modern World — on Abstraction and God — as urged by the aesthetic question within a universe, which defines itself by some kind of harmony and a rationality, that is, by faith in the order of a nature, that does not exclude organisms as exhibiting “living values.” (130) As it resists bifurcation, it enables us to reconcile science and philosophy. This is the moment where, as Stengers shows, Whitehead finds himself in a place where he needs to introduce the concept of God. This move is, however, not motivated by a “preliminary affirmation of His existence,” but by a

fundamental experience of humanity . . . of which no religion can be the privileged expression, although each one develops and collapses, from epoch to epoch, according to whether its doctrines, its rites, its commands, or its definitions do or do not evoke this vision, revive it, or inhibit it, giving it or failing to give it adequate expression (133).

The second part (“Cosmology”) features mainly Process and Reality. Stengers probes the uniqueness and necessity of speculative philosophy and its “intellectual intuition” (234) by exploring its criterion of reciprocal presupposition. (237) This expresses the impossibility of any bifurcation: “the ambition of speculative coherence is to escape the norms to which experiences, isolated by the logical, moral, empiricist, religious, and other stakes that privilege them, are” at “risk of ignoring” the mutuality of “each dancer’s center of gravity” with the “dancer’s spin.” This mutuality of movement requires speculative philosophy, which, in its very production, brings to existence the possibility of a thought ‘without gravity,’ without a privileged direction. The ‘neutral’ metaphysical thought of Science and the Modern World had already risked the adventure of trusting others ‘precursively’ at the moment when one accepts that one’s “own body is put off balance.” (239)

What, in such a world, is ultimately given, then? While in The Concept of Nature the Ultimate was Mind and in Science and the Modern World it was God, in Process and Reality it becomes Creativity. (255) Creativity affirms a universe of accidents, for which God introduces a requirement of the reciprocity of these accidents (265). Creativity is, like Deleuze’s “plane of immanence”, that “which insists and demands to be thought by the philosopher, but of which the philosopher is not in any way the creator.” (268)

Stengers’ distinctive mode of thought tries to avoid common dichotomies and to always highlight Whitehead’s alternative, carved out of the always present aura of complexities that surrounds any activity of becoming, interpretation and reflection. Therefore, she introduces the meaning and function of the Whiteheadian organization of organisms — each event being a “social effort, employing the whole universe” (275) — and the organization of thought (the obligations of speculative philosophy) — correcting the initial surplus of chaotic subjectivity (277). Both these forms of organization lead to “the most risky interpretation” (277) of empiricism as that which makes things hold together, neither crushed nor torn apart. Further investigating how occasions and philosophies function together (by dealing with what has been excluded), Stengers presents us with the fundamental importance of how “feeling” (or the transformation of scars) can offer new ways for (concepts of) life that testify to that which has been eliminated or neglected: how decisions can reduce the cost and victims they require (334) and, in actual and conceptual becoming, transform the status quo. (335) Whiteheadian feeling, of course, precedes consciousness and (even prior to perception) is the unconstrained reception that creates the events of its passing.

In chapters 21 and 22, God again enters the picture, not as rule of generality (metaphysically, aesthetically, or ethically), but as “divine endowment [that] thus corresponds to an individual possibility, not to what individuals should accomplish in the name of interest that transcend them.” (390) Divine intervention responds to “what is best for this impasse” (421), a proposition whose actualization is indeterminate by definition. Here, Whitehead’s metaphysics has rejected the normal/normative in favor of the relevant/valuable. (422) This again is related to the concepts of expression and importance in chapter 23, as “the way living societies can simultaneously canalize and be infected by what lurks [from the future]: originality.” (429)

Most interestingly, Stengers describes this interstitial space as a “sacrament” — the “unique sacrament of expression” — that in its “call for a sacramental plurality” conveys Whitehead’s understanding of “the cosmic meaning he confers upon expression and importance” in order to develop “a sociology of life” (435) for which signs are not only functional, but expressive. It is in this context that “Whitehead’s metaphysical God does not recognize his own, he does not read our hearts, he does not understand us better than we do ourselves, he does not demand our recognition or our gratitude, and we shall never contemplate him in his truth.” Rather, God “celebrates my relation to my self and my belongings, to my body, to my feelings, my intentions, my possibilities and perception.” (448)

If there is, for Stengers, a divine function of salvation regarding Whitehead’s God, it is that which only opens through following Whitehead’s call for a secularization of the notion of the divine. (469, 477) Nothing (not a soul) is lost (in this new secularism), although it is only saved in “the unimaginable divine experience.” (469) This “does not make God the being to whom one may say ‘Thou,’ for he has no other value than the difference he will make in the occasional experience that will derive from him its initial aim.” (477) For Stengers, Whitehead wanted to save God from the role assigned to God by the theological propositions that make God the mere respondent to the religious vision. (479) Instead, God affirms the “full solemnity of the world” (493) for us through a neutral metaphysics in which God stands for all appetite, but impersonally so — saving what is affirmed and excluded alike. (490)

Stengers concludes with one of the most astonishing characteristics of Whitehead’s philosophy: namely, his missing ethics. Instead of viewing this as a lack, she conceives his philosophy as ethos, ethos as habit, and habit as aesthetics, (515) “celebrating the adventure of impermanent syntheses.” This ethos, for Stengers, is not “critical wakefulness,” but “the difference between dream and nightmare” — a dream, a storytelling from within the Platonic cave, together with those who live and argue within in it, but also enjoy together the living values that can be received at the interstices. (516-7) In the end, as in the beginning, the adventure of alternative thinking in Whitehead asks us to walk with him in his vectors of disarming politeness — by asking polite questions that one creature may address to another creature. (518)

If there is a weakness in Stengers’ rendering of Whitehead’s work, it is of a more generic nature, demonstrating its embeddedness in a wider cultural spirit or zeitgeist. Anyone who has some knowledge of the history and development of the reception of, and scholarship on, Whitehead will not fail to discover that Stengers is not the only one who has rediscovered this Whitehead, the Whitehead of the alternative adventure, at least within the last twenty years. Her sporadic recourse to Deleuze functions only as a fleeting spark of light that, if slowed down, would highlight the philosophic background on which current thinkers (including Stengers) have begun to view Whitehead. Although this remains almost undetected between the tectonic shifts of Stengers´ reconfiguration of Whitehead’s thought, one will find Stengers’ work to be the outcome of this same tradition. As with several other of these newer approaches, one of the (unfortunate) fault-lines of Stengers’ endeavor is that, when its sources remain hidden, it contradicts the Whiteheadian spirit of recollection, rediscovery and synthesis in ever new concrescences. Originality (creativity) must not suppress the traditions on which it stands; in particular, a hundred years of Whiteheadian scholarship in process theology that is left in silence. It is sad that a rediscovery of Whitehead should narrow the creative synthesis down by being dominated by such a negative prehension. Granted that from afar one might not see the inner diversity and rich potential of process theology’s rhizomatic development, but to think that to name “God” (anew) in (Whitehead’s) philosophy today is original when it in fact rehearses positions process theology has developed over the last century still leaves me with a question: Is freedom from the past necessarily coupled with its oblivion?

In any case, Stengers’ Thinking with Whitehead is an important contribution to the current landscape of the rediscovery of Whitehead in philosophy and adjunct disciplines. It is also a gift for addressing urgent questions of survival and the “good and better life,” the envisioning of which Whitehead sees as a function of philosophy. May Stengers’ rendering of such an alternative congregation of thought for a new future of civilization steer us toward a more peaceful, polite, and less viciously violent vision.

Anthropologists Release Statement on Humanity and Climate Change (AAA)

February 9, 2015

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) adopted a strong and clear statement on Humanity and Climate Change on January 29, 2015. The statement, based on the final report of the Association’s Global Climate Change Task Force, reveals eight ways anthropologists attack the problems of climate change from an anthropological perspective. The document recognizes climate change as a present reality and an intensifier of current underlying global problems; the markedly uneven distribution of impacts across and within societies; and the fact that humanity’s decisions, actions and cultural behaviors are now the most important causes of the dramatic environmental changes seen in the last century.

“Anthropologists focus on several aspects of climate change research that other scientists do not fully address, specifically the disproportionately adverse impacts on vulnerable populations, the extent to which our current challenges stem from culture and cultural choices on a societal level; and the value of the long record of human development and civilization that can inform our choices for the future,” said Shirley J. Fiske, Ph.D., Chair of the American Anthropological Association Global Climate Change Task Force.

The statement affirms that the global problem of climate change is rooted in social institutions and cultural habits. Solutions and social adaptations therefore require knowledge and insight from the social sciences and humanities. “Resilience and adaptation can be best addressed locally and regionally, by enabling communities to provide knowledge and social capital to construct viable solutions,” said task force member Ben Orlove, Ph.D. While climate change will have a global impact, the impact will fall unevenly; and as climate impacts intensify, public expenditures needed for emergency aid and restoration will escalate.

“It is crucial that we attend to the statement’s message that climate change is not a natural problem, it is a human problem,” said AAA President Monica Heller, Ph.D. in a recent statement. “Anthropologists play a vital role solving this human problem and the AAA is eager to continue to support the work of our members in this area.”

Task force members are Drs. Susan Crate, Carole Crumley, Shirley Fiske, Kathleen Galvin, Heather Lazrus, George Luber, Lisa Lucero, Anthony Oliver-Smith, Ben Orlove, Sarah Strauss and Richard Wilk. Read the entire statement and learn more about the AAA Global Climate Change Task Force at http://bit.ly/1At4qnn.

Clive Hamilton: Climate change signals the end of the social sciences (The Conversation)

January 24 2013, 7.24pm
Clive Hamilton

Our impact on the earth has brought on a new geographical epoch – The Age of Humans.AAP/Damien Shaw

In response to the heatwave that set a new Australia-wide record on 7 January, when the national average maximum reached 40.33°C, the Bureau of Meteorology issued a statement that, on reflection, sounds the death knell for all of the social sciences taught in our universities.

“Everything that happens in the climate system now”, the manager of climate monitoring at the Bureau said, “is taking place on a planet which is a degree hotter than it used to be.”

Eminent US climate scientist, Kevin Trenberth, made the same point more fully last year:

The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.

Trenberth’s commentary calls on us to reframe how we think about human-induced climate change. We can no longer place some events into the box marked “Nature” and some into the box marked “Human”.

The invention of these two boxes was the defining feature of modernity, an idea founded on Cartesian and Kantianphilosophies of the subject. Its emergence has also been tracked by science studies in the contradiction between purified science and the messy process of knowledge creation, leading to Bruno Latour’s troubling claim that the separation of Human and Nature was an illusion, and that “we have never been modern”.

Climate science is now telling us that such a separation can no longer be sustained, that the natural and the human are mixed up, and their influences cannot be neatly distinguished.

This human-nature hybrid is true not just of the climate system, but of the planet as a whole, although it would be enough for it to be true of the climate system. We know from the new discipline of Earth system science that changes in the atmosphere affect not just the weather but the Earth’s hydrosphere (the watery parts), the biosphere (living creatures) and even the lithosphere (the Earth’s crust). They are all linked by the great natural cycles and processes that make the planet so dynamic. In short, everything is in play.

Apart from climatic change, it is apparent that human activity has transformed the Earth in profound ways. Every cubic metre of air and water, every hectare of land now has a human imprint, from hormones in the seas, to fluorocarbons in the atmosphere and radioactivity from nuclear weapons tests in the soil.

Each year humans shift ten times more rock and soil around the Earth than the great natural processes of erosion and weathering. Half of the land surface has been modified by humans. Dam-building since the 1930s has held back enough water to keep the oceans three centimetres lower than otherwise. Extinctions are now occurring at a rate 100 times faster than the natural one.

So profound has been the influence of humans that Earth scientists such as Will Steffen have recently declared that the Earth has entered a new geological epoch, an epoch defined by the fact that the “human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of Nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system”. Known as the Anthropocene, the Age of Humans, it marks the end of the Holocene, the 10,000-year period of remarkable climatic stability and clemency that allowed civilisation to flourish.

The modern social sciences — sociology, psychology, political science, economics, history and, we may add, philosophy — rest on the assumption that the grand and the humdrum events of human life take place against a backdrop of an inert nature. Only humans have agency. Everything worthy of analysis occurs in the sealed world of “the social”, and where nature does make itself felt – in environmental history, sociology or politics – “the environment” is the Umwelt, the natural world “over there” that surrounds us and sometimes intrudes on our plans, but always remains separate.

What was distinctive of the “social sciences” that emerged in 18th-century Europe was not so much their aspiration to science but their “social-only” domain of concern.

So the advent of the Anthropocene shatters the self-contained world of social analysis that is the terrain of modern social science, and explains why those intellectuals who remain within it find it impossible to “analyze” the politics, sociology or philosophy of climate change in a way that is true to the science. They end up floundering in the old categories, unable to see that something epochal has occurred, a rupture on the scale of the Industrial Revolution or the emergence of civilization itself.

A few are trying to peer through the fog of modernism. In an epoch-marking intervention, Chicago historian Dipesh Chakrabarty has argued that the distinction we have drawn between natural history and human history has now collapsed. With the arrival of the Anthropocene, humans have become a geological force so that the two kinds of history have converged and it is no longer true that “all history properly so called is the history of human affairs”.

E.H. Carr’s famous definition of history must now be discarded:

History begins when men begin to think of the passage of time in terms not of natural processes — the cycle of the seasons, the human life-span — but of a series of specific events in which men are consciously involved and which they can consciously influence.

From hereon our history will increasingly be dominated by “natural processes”, influenced by us but largely beyond our control. Our future has become entangled with that of the Earth’s geological evolution. As I argue in a forthcoming book, contrary to the modernist faith, it can no longer be maintained that humans make their own history, for the stage on which we make it has now entered into the play as a dynamic and capricious force.

And the actors too must be scrutinised afresh. If on the Anthropocene’s hybrid Earth it is no longer tenable to characterise humans as the rational animal, God’s chosen creatures or just another species, what kind of being are we?

The social sciences taught in our universities must now be classed as “pre-Anthropocene”. The process of reinventing them — so that what is taught in our arts faculties is true to what has emerged in our science faculties — will be a sustained and arduous intellectual enterprise. After all, it was not just the landscape that was scorched by 40.33°C, but modernism itself.

Antropologia renovada (Cult)

Jan. 2015

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro é reconhecido por ter renovado o pensamento antropológico


Juvenal Savian Filho e Wilker Sousa
Fotos: Lucas Zappa

“Viveiros de Castro é o fundador de uma nova escola na antropologia. Com ele me sinto em completa harmonia intelectual.” Essas palavras são do antropólogo e pensador francês Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) a respeito da obra do brasileiro Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. Professor de antropologia do Museu Nacional da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, ele é reconhecido nacional e internacionalmente por seus estudos em etnologia indígena – o ensaio “Os Pronomes Cosmológicos e o Perspectivismo Ameríndio”, publicado em 1996, recebeu traduções para diversas línguas e foi incluído em duas antologias britânicas de textos-chave da disciplina, a primeira centrada na antropologia da religião, a outra dedicada à teoria antropológica geral. Em 2009, publicou na França o livro Métaphysiques Cannibales, no qual resume as implicações filosóficas e políticas de suas pesquisas entre os povos indígenas brasileiros. No Brasil, seu livro mais conhecido é A Inconstância da Alma Selvagem, publicado em 2002, que reúne estudos escritos ao longo de sua carreira até então. Uma segunda coleção, trazendo seus ensaios mais recentes, está em preparação, devendo ser publicada pela editora CosacNaify em 2012, sob o título A Onça e a Diferença.

Seu currículo inclui atividades intelectuais em âmbito mundial. Foi professor-associado nas universidades de Manchester e Chicago e ocupou a cátedra Simón Bolívar de Estudos Latino-americanos da Universidade de Cambridge. Foi diretor de pesquisas no Centro Nacional de Pesquisa Científica, em Paris, tornando-se membro permanente da Equipe de Pesquisa em Etnologia Ameríndia. Ainda na França, foi agraciado em 1998 com o Prix da La Francophonie, concedido pela Academia Francesa.

Aos 59 anos de idade, construiu uma obra potente e irretocável. Viveiros de Castro recebeu a reportagem da CULT em sua sala no Museu Nacional, no Rio de Janeiro, e falou sobre seu trabalho, a atual política indigenista, a crise ambiental e a inserção do Brasil na economia mundial.

CULT – Como se dá seu trabalho de campo e com que regularidade o senhor visita as comunidades indígenas?
Eduardo Viveiros de Castro –
 O principal de minhas pesquisas de campo com os povos indígenas da Amazônia fez-se entre os anos 1975 e 1988. Estive por breves períodos entre os Yawalapiti do Parque do Xingu, em Mato Grosso (hoje o estado deveria ser chamado de Mato Ralo), os Kulina do Rio Purus, no Acre, os ianomâmis da Serra de Surucucus, em Roraima, e finalmente entre os Araweté do Igarapé Ipixuna, no Médio Xingu, Pará. Apenas entre os Araweté realizei o que se pode chamar de uma pesquisa etnográfica, que requer uma convivência demorada com o povo estudado, o aprendizado da língua nativa (no meu caso, bem incipiente) e o envolvimento emocional e cognitivo – o compromisso existencial – com as questões e preocupações da vida da comunidade que generosamente aceitou receber o antropólogo. Minha estada com os Araweté não foi tão longa quanto deveria: morei no Ipixuna por cerca de dez meses, entre 1981 e 1983, quando precisei deixar a área por motivos de saúde (malárias repetidas). Depois voltei algumas vezes, em visitas curtas, perfazendo 14 meses até 1995. Isto é, na melhor das hipóteses, a metade do que se precisa para fazer um bom trabalho de campo. Mas cada um faz o que pode. Há quem aprenda mais depressa, outros precisam de mais tempo. Além disso, há povos que demandam muitos anos de convivência até que as coisas comecem a fazer sentido para o pesquisador, e outros que são mais abertos e mais diretos. Por fim, tudo depende daquilo que se quer estudar. De qualquer maneira, não me vejo como um grande pesquisador de campo. Sou um etnógrafo apenas razoável.

Há cerca de um mês, após 15 anos de ausência, voltei ao Ipixuna para uma rápida visita. A desculpa para uma ausência tão demorada, a rigor indesculpável, foi que a vida me levou para longe da Amazônia: ensino, família, períodos de residência no exterior, o lento trabalho da escrita, o peso da idade… Isso para não mencionar algumas dificuldades que acabei tendo com a autoridade indigenista local, em Altamira (PA), por causa das empresas evangélicas que queriam se instalar entre os Araweté. Aos olhos desses missionários, eu era uma espécie de Satã que estava ali entravando a almejada conquista espiritual dos índios. Assim que parei de ir com mais frequência ao Ipixuna, esses missionários conseguiram se insinuar nas aldeias, com a complacência da administração indigenista. O estrago que causaram, até agora, ainda não parece ter sido grande demais. O mérito, naturalmente, é dos próprios Araweté.

Retornei a convite dos Araweté – não foi o primeiro que me fizeram, nesses 15 anos – e da nova administração da Funai em Altamira, com quem tenho a firme intenção de colaborar, nessa fase histórica tão difícil que se abre agora para os povos indígenas do Médio Xingu, com a construção do Complexo Hidrelétrico de Belo Monte. Está na hora também de passar o bastão e apresentar alguns de meus estudantes do Museu Nacional aos Araweté, para que possam continuar o trabalho.

O senhor concorda que, nas últimas duas ou três décadas, os “índios” têm aparecido mais no debate político e nos veículos de comunicação? Por que isso demorou tanto tempo?
Em seu livro Tristes Trópicos, Lévi-Strauss conta uma anedota reveladora. Era o começo dos anos 1930, ele estava de partida para o Brasil, onde ia ensinar sociologia na USP. Lévi-Strauss encontra o embaixador brasileiro na França, Luiz de Souza Dantas, em um jantar de cerimônia, e lhe pergunta sobre os índios brasileiros, que já então muito lhe interessavam. Ao perguntar ao embaixador como deveria proceder para visitar alguma comunidade indígena, este lhe respondeu: “Ah, meu senhor, no Brasil há muito tempo não há mais índios. Essa é uma história muito triste, mas o fato é que os índios foram exterminados pelos portugueses, pelos colonizadores, e hoje não há mais índios no Brasil. É um capítulo muito triste da história brasileira. Há muitas coisas apaixonantes a serem vistas no Brasil, mas índios, não há mais um só…” Lévi-
-Strauss conta que, naturalmente, quando chegou ao Brasil, descobriu que não era bem assim.

Isso não quer dizer que o embaixador (cuja aparência física, diz maliciosamente Lévi-Strauss, indicava uma óbvia contribuição indígena) estivesse mentindo deliberadamente, procurando negar uma realidade vergonhosa mas sabida. De fato, o embaixador não sabia que havia índios no Brasil; o Brasil que ele representava diplomaticamente não continha índios. O Brasil era um país desesperado para ser moderno, então não havia, porque não podia haver, mais selvagens aqui. Outro fato curioso: em 1970 (portanto, 40 anos depois do diálogo de Lévi-Strauss com o embaixador), o censo indígena da Funai indicava, para o estado do Acre, a notável população de “zero indivíduo”. Oficialmente, não havia mais índios no Acre. Aí começam a abrir as estradas por lá, a derrubar a mata, a botar boi, e eis que começam a aparecer índios a atravancar a expansão dos pastos e a destruição da floresta. (Junto com índios, como se sabe, começaram também a aparecer os seringueiros, que se imaginava como mais outra “raça” em extinção. E bem que se tentou extingui-los naquela época – lembrem-se de Chico Mendes.) Ora, índios sempre houve lá no Acre, todo mundo no Acre sabia que eles estavam lá, mas eles não existiam em Brasília, ou melhor, para Brasília. Agora sabe-se e aceita-se que o estado do Acre abriga, atualmente, 14 povos indígenas, alguns de significativa expressão demográfica, como os Kaxinauá e os Kulina. O Acre é um estado profundamente indígena, dos pontos de vista cultural, histórico e demográfico. Na verdade, ele é hoje o principal exportador de práticas e símbolos indígenas (mais ou menos transformados) para o Brasil urbano atual.

A que mais se deve essa redescoberta dos índios nas últimas décadas?
Tudo começou com uma iniciativa fracassada do governo militar, em 1978, que visava extinguir os índios, entenda-se, acelerar o processo de desconhecimento da população indígena, consagrar seu não reconhecimento como um componente diferenciado dentro da chamada “comunhão nacional”. Completar o processo de “assimilação”, isto é, de desindianização, que se entendia como inexorável e desejável ao mesmo tempo. O governo propôs um projeto de lei para “emancipar” os índios, isto é, extinguir a tutela oficial do Estado que os protegia. O verdadeiro objetivo da medida era liberar as terras indígenas, terras públicas, de domínio da União, inalienáveis, para que entrassem no mercado fundiário capitalista. Ao declarar que esta ou aquela população indígena não “era mais” índia, porque seus membros falavam português, ou usavam roupa etc., o que o projeto de lei pretendia era entregar as terras públicas de posse dos índios nas mãos dos interesses proprietariais particulares. Simplesmente se queria tirar os índios da frente do trator do capital: em vez de índio, que venham o gado, a soja, os madeireiros, o latifúndio, o mercado de terras, a mineração, a estrada, a poluição e tudo que vem junto. E que muitos chamam de “desenvolvimento”.

Mas, naquele momento, os idos de 1978, quando estava se consolidando a resistência organizada à ditadura, muito da insatisfação política da classe média, dos intelectuais principalmente, se cristalizou em torno da questão indígena, como se ela fosse uma espécie de emblema do destino de todos os brasileiros. É também nesse momento que tomam ímpeto o movimento negro, o movimento feminista, a politização ativa da orientação sexual, a emergência de diversas minorias, diversas diversidades por assim dizer: étnicas, locais, sexuais, ocupacionais, culturais etc. A luta de classes assumia cada vez mais o caráter de uma integração parcial de uma série de diferenciais traçados sobre outros eixos que a economia pura e simples (as relações de produção). Começam a surgir outros atores políticos. É o momento da especulação e da experimentação generalizadas: outras práticas do laço social, outras imagens da sociedade, que não se reduzem ao par Estado-classes sociais, mas que envolvem outras formas de vida, outros territórios existenciais. Os índios foram importantes por sua força exemplar, seu poder de condensação simbólica. Eles apareceram como portadores de outro projeto de sociedade, de outra solução de vida que contraprojetava uma imagem crítica da nossa.

Mas, desde o século 16, a vida indígena aparece como uma imagem crítica da vida “ocidental”.
Sim, sem dúvida. Há uma frase de um jovem filósofo que eu admiro muito, Patrice Maniglier, um grande especialista em Lévi-Strauss, aliás: “A antropologia nos devolve uma imagem de nós mesmos na qual nós não nos reconhecemos”. É por isso que ela é importante, porque nos devolve algo, ela nos “reflete”. Mas a gente vê essa imagem e não se reconhece nela. “Então nós, humanos, somos assim também? Podemos ser isso? Somos isso, em potência? Temos em nós a capacidade de viver assim? Essa é uma solução de vida ao nosso alcance, como espécie?” Em suma: “É possível ser feliz sem carro, geladeira e televisão?”. Isso nos dá um susto, um susto com valor de conhecimento. Os índios, desde o século 16, desempenharam essa função para a reflexão político-filosófica ocidental (para uma muito pequena parte dela, na verdade). E essa mesma função, mas modernizada, especificada e tornada mais evidente pelo fato de que os índios brasileiros da década 1970 – a década que inicia a ocupação destrutiva em larga escala da Amazônia – eram nossos conterrâneos e nossos contemporâneos, eles nos ensinavam algo não só sobre nós mesmos como sobre nosso projeto de país, o Brasil que queríamos, e que não era certamente o Brasil que tínhamos. Então, foi em torno das sociedades indígenas como diferença emergente que se constituiu a resistência contra o projeto de emancipação: uma resistência contra o projeto de privatização econômica, o branqueamento político e a estupidificação cultural do Brasil.

Os antropólogos, nesse contexto, começam a se organizar como categoria, aliando-se aos índios como atores políticos. Houve, é claro, antropólogos que tiveram um papel importantíssimo na história não só da causa indígena, mas da própria República, como Roquette Pinto ou Darcy Ribeiro, antes de (e durante) essa época. Mas naquele momento, no fim da década de 1970, os antropólogos se constituem como corporação para interpelar o governo e se opor ao projeto de emancipação. Essa mobilização sensibilizou a sociedade, entenda-se, outros intelectuais, militantes políticos de outras causas, advogados, juristas, artistas, e também as camadas médias urbanas, os estudantes… Ao mesmo tempo, e muito mais importante, os índios como que “acordaram” para seu poder de intervenção nos circuitos nacionais e internacionais de comunicação. Eles deixavam ali de ser um elemento do folclore nacional, de um passado vago e distante, e passavam a atores políticos do presente, signos críticos e urgentes de uma ultracontemporaneidade: signos do futuro, na verdade.

Enfim, é nesse momento, fim dos anos 1970, que ganha vulto todo o movimento de auto-organização de coletivos que não são mais redutíveis nem aos partidos nem aos sindicatos: a célebre “sociedade civil organizada”. É então também que começam a aparecer figuras indígenas individuais com destaque político. A primeira delas foi Mário Juruna, um deputado que foi tratado folcloricamente pela imprensa, mas que teve um papel estratégico para a emergência dos índios no cenário político-ideológico nacional e internacional (lembremos do Tribunal Russell). Juruna, que marcou presença por alguns gestos muitos simples, de grande “pega” midiática, ficou famoso com seu gravador – um edificante signo do poder da “tecnologia” nas mãos de um “selvagem”; melhor ainda, e agora de verdade, um dispositivo que preservava a potência e a imediatez da oralidade, o registro semiótico em que os indígenas se sentem completamente em casa – que armazenava as promessas e declarações de autoridades e políticos. Depois, promessa quebrada, declaração falseada pelos fatos, Juruna tocava seu gravador na frente da “otoridade” e dizia: “Mas não foi o contrário que o senhor falou?” “O senhor não havia prometido isso?” Depois de Mário Juruna, o protagonismo indígena, coletivo e individual, proliferou: associações, federações, líderes de grande expressão como Ailton Krenak e David Kopenawa.

Qual o papel da Constituinte de 1988 nesse processo?
Esse processo do fim da década de 1970 culminou em 1988, com a Constituinte e a Constituição, que tiveram um papel fundamental para formalizar a presença dos índios dentro da comunhão nacional. É aqui que se começa a reconhecer direitos coletivos, coisa que, salvo engano, mal existia no Brasil: direitos difusos, direitos coletivos, comunidades sujeitos de direito, índios, quilombolas. Uma vitória imensa, atestável no ódio que a Constituição de 1988 desperta na direita, sempre à espreita de uma oportunidade para “reformar” a Constituição, isto é, para desfigurá-la, e sempre eficaz na protelação da indispensável regulamentação de diversos artigos constitucionais.

O senhor vê com bons olhos as políticas de proteção dos direitos indígenas na era Lula?
Houve grandes conquistas, a mais importante, sem dúvida, o reconhecimento da terra indígena Raposa Serra do Sol. Mas manteve-se, ou mais, acentuou-se o projeto de governo baseado na equação falaciosa entre desenvolvimento e crescimento, em uma ideia de crescimento a qualquer preço e, nesse sentido (eu sublinho: apenas nesse sentido), o governo Lula manteve sua continuidade com todos os governos anteriores, pelo menos até Vargas e incluindo os governos da ditadura. Uma ideia de que é preciso conquistar o Brasil, ocupá-lo, civilizá-lo, modernizá-lo, desenvolvê-lo, implicando com isso a ideia de que os índios não são brasileiros, não estão lá, não vivem em suas terras segundo seus próprios esquemas civilizacionais, não possuem uma cultura viva e eficaz. Tudo isso se baseia em um modelo cultural falido, a ideia de modernidade.

E qual é esse modelo?
É o modelo de industrialização intensiva, poluente, de exportação maciça de matéria-prima, monocultura, agronegócio, transgênicos, agrotóxicos, petróleo… Ele bate de frente com os interesses das populações indígenas e, arrisco-me a dizer, com as perspectivas de toda a população do país e do planeta. O que precisamos é imaginar uma forma econômica com algum futuro, capaz de assegurar o suficiente para todos, uma vida que seja boa o bastante para as gerações vindouras. Então, eu tenho sérias restrições não à política indigenista do governo Lula – aliás, o atual presidente da Funai [Márcio Augusto Freitas de Meira] é um colega que admiro e respeito –, mas o problema é que essa política indigenista sempre teve de se dobrar aos imperativos de uma geopolítica nacional e internacional ambientalmente desastrosa. Toda vez que algum setor do governo ameaçou criar dificuldades para essa geopolitica desenvolvimentista, foi obrigado a entrar na linha, ou sair de cena. Veja Marina Silva. No caso da Funai, a tendência foi seguir os limites estreitos de manobra deixados pela Casa Civil e seu implacável desenvolvimentismo.

Qual seria, então, a alternativa a esse modelo?
O Brasil tem a oportunidade única de ser um dos poucos lugares da Terra onde um novo modelo de sociedade e de civilização poderia se constituir. Somos um dos poucos países do mundo que tem recursos suficientes para inventar outra ideia e outra prática de desenvolvimento. Parece que aprendeu muito pouco com a história recente do mundo. Quando se exporta soja e gado, está se exportando o quê? O solo, a água do país. Para fazer 1 quilo de carne, são necessários 15 mil litros de água; para 1 quilo de soja, são necessários 1.800 litros. O Brasil é o maior exportador de “água virtual” do mundo. Isso para não falarmos nos insumos venenosos: hormônios para o gado, fertilizantes, agrotóxicos… O Brasil é o maior consumidor de defensivos agrícolas do planeta. Imagine o risco sanitário a que estamos expostos. Todas essas maravilhas que tanto aumentam a produtividade agrícola (e ao mesmo tempo baixam a qualidade e a segurança dos alimentos) são-nos enfiadas garganta abaixo por grandes companhias transnacionais como a Monsanto, cuja ficha ambiental e política é mais que suja, é imunda.

E está em curso a polêmica sobre a construção da hidrelétrica de Belo Monte. Quando se fala em hidrelétricas, bem, de fato talvez seja melhor do que a energia nuclear – em princípio, uma vez que a questão do lixo nuclear está bem longe de ser resolvida, além dos problemas de segurança –, mas quais são as implicações do ponto de vista, por exemplo, do abastecimento de água? E, aliás, para quem vai o principal da energia elétrica que é produzida por uma grande hidrelétrica como Tucuruí, ou Belo Monte? Vai para a população ou para as fábricas de alumínio, os projetos de extração e processamento de cobre e níquel da Amazônia? O que fazem essas fábricas de alumínio? Latas de saquê e cerveja, principalmente. Por que as fábricas de alumínio estão aqui? Por que países como o Japão não querem gastar uma imensa quantidade de energia para mover as cubas eletrolíticas onde se funde o alumínio? É melhor que um país grande, periférico e perdulário detone seus rios. A usina de Tucuruí, concebida durante o regime militar, significou 2 bilhões de reais de subsídio para as indústrias de alumínio, como constatou um especialista recentemente. O destino real da energia produzida pelo Complexo Hidrelétrico de Belo Monte ainda é uma espécie de segredo de Estado. Mas parece que essa energia virá principalmente para o Sul e o Sudeste, ou servirá para alimentar novas indústrias eletrointensivas – cobre, bauxita, níquel – no Norte, algumas aliás
não nacionais (a direita vive falando no perigo de uma invasão estrangeira da Amazônia; ela já aconteceu, mas como é uma invasão do capital, parece que pode…). Os benefícios para a população, e especialmente para a população local, são muito duvidosos.

Como se deu seu contato com o pensamento de Lévi-Strauss?
Meu contato com Lévi-Strauss antecede meu contato com a antropologia. Foi enquanto eu fazia ciências sociais, em um curso de teoria literária dado por Luiz Costa Lima. Foi ele quem me aconselhou a fazer antropologia. Isso foi nos idos de 1969, 1970. Naquele momento, o estruturalismo antropológico estava penetrando em diversas áreas das ciências humanas, como a psicanálise e a crítica literária, então o Costa Lima, professor de literatura e grande teórico da área, resolveu dar um curso sobre As Mitológicas na sociologia da PUC-Rio, onde eu estudava.

O senhor poderia apresentar-nos o conceito do perspectivismo indígena?
Esse é um assunto sobre o qual hesito um pouco em falar, porque o termo “perspectivismo indígena” se tornou excessivamente popular no meio antropológico, e a ideia que ele designa começa a sofrer o que sofre toda ideia que se difunde muito e rapidamente: banalização, de um lado, despeito, de outro. Passa a servir para tudo, ou a não servir para nada. De qualquer forma, não fui eu quem inventou sozinho a teoria do perspectivismo indígena; foi um trabalho de grupo, em que se destaca a colaboração formativa que mantive com minha colega Tânia Stolze Lima. Tomamos emprestado do vocabulário filosófico esse termo de perspectivismo para qualificar um aspecto marcante de várias, senão de todas, as culturas nativas do Novo Mundo. Trata–se da noção de que o mundo é povoado por um número indefinidamente indeterminado de espécies de seres dotadas de consciência e cultura. Isso está associado à ideia de que a forma manifesta de cada espécie é uma “roupa” que oculta uma forma interna humanoide, normalmente visível apenas aos olhos da própria espécie ou de certos seres transespecíficos, como os xamãs. Até aqui, nada de muito característico: a ideia de que a espécie humana não é um caso à parte dentro da criação, e de que há mais gente, mais pessoas no céu e na terra do que sonham nossas antropologias, é muito difundida entre as culturas tradicionais de todo o planeta.

O que distingue as cosmologias ameríndias é um desenvolvimento sui generis dessa ideia, a saber, a afirmação de que cada uma dessas espécies é dotada de um ponto de vista singular, ou melhor, é constituída como um ponto de vista singular. Assim, o modo como os seres humanos veem os animais e outras gentes do universo – deuses, espíritos, mortos, plantas, objetos e artefatos – é diferente do modo como esses seres veem os humanos e veem a si mesmos. Cada espécie de ser, a começar pela nossa própria espécie, vê-se a si mesma como humana. Assim, as onças, por exemplo, se veem como gente: cada onça individual vê a si mesma e a seus semelhantes como seres humanos, organismos anatômica e funcionalmente idênticos aos nossos. Além disso, cada tipo de ser vê certos elementos-chave de seu ambiente como se fossem objetos culturalmente elaborados: o sangue dos animais que matam é visto pelas onças como cerveja de mandioca, o barreiro em que se espojam as antas é visto como uma grande casa cerimonial, os grilos que os espectros dos mortos comem são vistos por estes como peixes assados etc. Em contrapartida, os animais não veem os humanos como humanos. As onças, assim, nos veem como animais de caça: porcos selvagens, por exemplo. É por isso que as onças nos atacam e devoram, pois todo ser humano que se preza aprecia a carne de porco selvagem. Quanto aos porcos selvagens (isto é, aqueles seres que vemos como porcos selvagens), estes também se veem como humanos, vendo, por exemplo, as frutas silvestres que comem como se fossem plantas cultivadas, enquanto veem a nós humanos como se fôssemos espíritos canibais – pois os matamos e comemos.

E o que é o humano?
É essa capacidade de socialidade. Antes, tudo era transparente a tudo, os futuros animais e os futuros humanos, vamos chamar assim, se entendiam, todos se banhavam num mesmo universo de comunicabilidade recíproca. Lévi-Strauss tem uma definição muito boa, dada numa entrevista. O entrevistador pergunta: “O que é um mito?”. Lévi-Strauss responde: “Bom, se você perguntasse a um índio das Américas, é provável que ele respondesse: ‘Um mito é uma história do tempo em que os animais falavam’”. Essa definição, que parece banal, na verdade é muito profunda. O que ele está querendo dizer é que o mito é uma história do tempo em que os homens e os animais estavam em continuidade, se comunicavam entre si. Na verdade a humanidade nunca se conformou por ter perdido essa transparência com as demais formas de vida, e os mitos são uma espécie de nostalgia da comunicação perdida.

Essa é de fato uma noção universal no pensamento ameríndio, a de um estado originário de coacessibilidade entre os humanos e os animais. As narrativas míticas são povoadas de seres cuja forma, nome e comportamento misturam atributos humanos e não humanos, em um contexto de intercomunicabilidade idêntico ao que define o mundo intra-humano atual. O propósito da mitologia, com efeito, é narrar o fim desse estado: trata-se da célebre separação entre “cultura” e “natureza” analisada nas Mitológicas de Lévi-Strauss. Mas não se trata aqui de uma diferenciação do humano com base no animal, como é o caso em nossa mitologia evolucionista moderna. A condição original comum aos humanos e animais não é a animalidade, mas a humanidade. Os mitos contam como os animais perderam os atributos herdados ou mantidos pelos humanos; os animais são ex-humanos, e não os humanos ex-animais. Se nossa antropologia popular vê a humanidade como erguida sobre alicerces animais, normalmente ocultos pela cultura – tendo outrora sido “completamente” animais, permanecemos, “no fundo”, animais –, o pensamento indígena conclui ao contrário que, tendo outrora sido humanos, os animais e outros seres do cosmo continuam a ser humanos, mesmo que de modo não evidente.

Se tudo está impregnado de humanidade, quais são as consequências disso para o modo de vida indígena?
Se tudo é humano, nós não somos especiais; esse é o ponto. E, ao mesmo tempo, se tudo é humano, cuidado com o que você faz, porque, quando corta uma árvore ou mata um bicho, você não está simplesmente movendo partículas de matéria de um lado para o outro, você está tratando com gente que tem memória, se vinga, contra-ataca, e assim por diante. Como tudo é humano, tudo tem ouvidos, todas as suas ações têm consequências.