By exploring habitability in the Anthropocene, we imply that a human-dominated world can still be a world that supports thriving human populations. This orientation holds a certain appeal, but it is, I contend, in need of serious interrogation. In my previous posts, I have raised the question of who the “anthropos” of the Anthropocene is, and I have explored the pitfalls of various responses to that question. Here, in dialog with other recent posts, I want to explode the anthropos in hopes that this new epoch might be one in which we define ourselves through our entanglements rather than through our exceptionality.
As I argued in my most recent post, Indigenous philosophies offer profound insights into what a more-than-human Anthropocene might entail. But Indigenous philosophies are not alone in this regard. As my co-contributors’ recent posts make clear, we can also find guidance in Western philosophy, urban planning, and in the social, natural, and physical sciences.
Ingo, Kiza, and Zev have all argued that humans are ecosystem engineers or niche constructors par excellence. Like a number of other species, we are biologically programmed to modify our environments to meet our needs. What arguably sets human engineering apart is the extent to which we rely on learned behavior and technology. Zev, therefore, proposes that future habitability may depend on a more thoughtful pairing between this biological imperative and our capacity for ethical reasoning about how to achieve a “good life.”
But defining a good life is by no means straightforward. As Asa and Lynn suggest, our interactions with our environment bring us into contact with diachronous processes that reach far into both the past and future. What we do on the land today—and what our successors will do tomorrow—is shaped, often unconsciously, by geological accretions over billions of years and by the accumulated actions of other organisms along varying timescales. Much of the knowledge and technology that we use to shape our worlds is inherited, and we are often compelled to act in particular ways by this inheritance. Ingo reminds us, moreover, that cultural change occurs much more rapidly than either geological change or biological evolution and that our technologies, therefore, can expand our ecological niches in ways that prove disastrous in the long term.
Instead of counting this as an example of our exceptionality, I prefer to see it as an example of just how deeply entangled we are with other things–animate, inanimate, human, and otherwise. If we define ourselves through our technologically mediated interactions with the world, then the criteria for habitability shift quite radically. There can be no long-term habitability and, therefore, no good life for humans that is independent of that of other beings or that is derived from a single account of what sorts of beings exist.
Once attuned to our known and unknown entanglements, we can no longer define habitability in terms of what enables humans to flourish on a human timescale. We must, instead, look beyond ourselves to consider a wider set of relationships, a longer temporal horizon, and a much less certain ontology. In this respect, I echo but extend Meghan’s call for a project of habitability that seeks some version of a good life for everyone instead of a select few. Any attempt to realize this vision will, as Antonio suggests, involve recourse to an extremely wide range of concepts and technologies—not just those of philosophy or metaphysics, but also those of the social, natural, and physical sciences.
In “A Cyborg Manifesto,” Donna Haraway argues that “the production of universal, totalizing theory is a major mistake that misses most of reality.” And yet, she continues, “taking responsibility for the social relations of science and technology means refusing an anti-science metaphysics, a demonology of technology, and so means embracing the skilful task of reconstructing the boundaries of daily life, in partial connection with others, in communication with all of our parts” (Haraway 1991, p.181).
We can, in other words, recognize that our knowledge is partial and situated without rejecting or demonizing science and technology. Doing otherwise would fail to comprehend the world in its complexity and shirk accountability for the Anthropocenic conditions under which we live.
Haraway, Donna. 1991. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, pp. 149-181.