Following my recent post The Posthuman Future: Technopessimism and the Inhuman I take up other aspects of the posthuman. Ancient peoples understood power in ways secular civilization has transformed beyond all recognition, through a long and non-ingenious disinvestment of religious ritual and practice, without at the same time forfeiting its actual material force for command and control of vast populations and resources. From the beginning society was an artificial system of relations, a construct; a construction-kit that assembled through various forms of hierarchic or non-hierarchic modes of production the realm of human civilization. This was done by way of a mental operation, a ‘cut’ between an inside and outside: relegating the natural violence and chaos of the universe to the Outside, while incorporating the human and its security regimes in opposition to the elemental forces of an uncontrollable natural order over which it had no authority or control. By separating out what could and could not be bound to the invisible threads of authority and control the human slowly but methodically reformatted the very subjectivation of its own worlds, constructing an artificial zone of security and sacredness within which it could contain the power of the unknown and unknowable forces of the universe.
In our age Kant would take up this thematic notion underlying civilization by way of philosophical speculation making a unique ‘cut’ or decision the central dictum of modern political and philosophical speculation. He would divide phenomena from the violent and chaotic noumenon, the known from the unknown and unknowable, which would be relegated henceforth to the Outside of philosophy beyond which he would limit thought from stepping into the abyss. The great outdoors beyond being would be bound and placed within a temenos, a sacred precinct of power that know philosopher nor any other human could enter or have access too. Kant carried on an ancient tradition of binding the chaos of the unknown, but without the ancient temples of the gods and priests to intervene or mediate such power with the society.
Temples were seen as houses for the gods or kings to whom they were dedicated. Within them, the Egyptians performed a variety of rituals, the central functions of Egyptian religion: giving offerings to the gods, reenacting their mythological interactions through festivals, and warding off the forces of chaos. These rituals were seen as necessary for the gods to continue to uphold maat, the divine order of the universe. Housing and caring for the gods were the obligations of pharaohs, who therefore dedicated prodigious resources to temple construction and maintenance. Out of necessity, pharaohs delegated most of their ritual duties to a host of priests, but most of the populace was excluded from direct participation in ceremonies and forbidden to enter a temple’s most sacred areas. (Egyptian temple: wiki)
None of this has disappeared, it has just entered the façade of civilization in secularized forms. We still worship the ancient powers of Order against Chaos, yet we have constructed secular systems within which to house our gods under other masks. A-Theism is still a religious ideology that harbors within its antagonistic and secular systems the remnants of that ancient order of the sacred.
Rene Girard whose hypothesis (as he calls it) asserts that the sacred was produced by a mechanism of self-externalization, so that violence, in projecting itself beyond the domain of human control by means of ritual practices and systems of rules, prohibitions, and obligations, became self-limiting. On this view, the sacred is identified with a “good” form of institutionalized violence that holds in check “bad” anarchic violence.1 As Jean-Pierre Dupuy will say, “the desacralization of the world that modernity brought about is built upon a kind of knowledge, or suspicion perhaps, that gradually insinuated itself in human thinking— the suspicion that good and bad violence are not opposites, but actually one and the same; that, at bottom, there is no difference between them. How, then, did this suspicion make its way into our minds?” This post is too short to follow this particular history (which will come in future posts).
This fear of the unknown, of violence of the natural and sacred has been a deep seated aspect of civilization and society from the beginning. Even now we see such systems of propitiation and control in secular forms. Have we not built great colliders as modern scientific precincts to house the unknown forces of the universe, while at the same time containing them and through the modern arts of black magical mathematics begun to tap into those ancient forces that primitive humans castigated to the realm of the sacred and untouchable? Below is the ring of the Large Hadron Collider:
“…these particles are just packages of energy of some kind of field,” the 84-year-old Peter Higgs said. “And the feature [that] distinguishes this kind of theory, which leads to this kind of symmetry breaking, is the existence of what we, theoretical physicists, call the vacuum, which means nowadays something different than what it used to mean. It’s just the lowest energy state that you could possibly have in which there are no particles around but there maybe something around. And that something around can be a background field of some sort, which pervades the universe.
Secular humanism has been studied by many as both disenchantment and as the migration of ancient religious notions into new forms of theory and practice. Science itself was part of this mediation from a civilization based on the sacred unto a secular world view, and within its own conceptual relations many of the vestiges of the sacred remain. Philosophers have since the Enlightenment tried to distance themselves from the outward forms of ritual and practice, while at the same time retaining the actual conceptuality of those forms and ancient practices.
Since the Enlightenment philosophers have organized themselves either within Kant’s camp of phenomenal intuitionism or in the counter-philosophical tradition of the ‘noumenon’ (i.e., Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, Deleuze and Guattari, and Land among others). This counter tradition disavows the secular and the religious forms, taking a third path beyond both that leads into an impersonalist and inhumanist diagnostic exploration beyond the limits set by Kant and his followers, as well as those naturalist and scientific appellations that have sided with the secular and capitalist materialisms of our era. In our age we’ve seen that both the religious Right and the secular Left have failed us both intellectually and politically. Both systems of thought have suppressed this other counter-tradition which in our time is slowly seeping back into certain radical and unknown explorations beyond the limits of Reason imposed by those mainstream regimes.
To explore this alternative thought is and has been my pursuit for many years. We do need a philosophical historian who can clarify and bring to light this other tradition. We’ve seen indefatigable explorers here and there among us who have tried to instigate such radicalizations of noumenal thought, but have quickly been branded as heretics, imposters, and madmen. If we are mad so be it, for if what you presume to call the sanity of civilization is the normalized vision of reality then we will claim our madness as our own form of sanity. At the heart of this is the notion of the Self or Subject, this strange creature that seems to confront us as an enigma whether in religious, secular, or – what I’ll term, after Deleuze and Guattari, schizomantic:
The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd. Here we have made use of everything that came within range, what was closest as well as farthest away. We have assigned clever pseudonyms to prevent recognition. Why have we kept our own names? Out of habit, purely out of habit. To a make ourselves unrecognizable in turn. To render imperceptible, not ourselves, but what makes us act, feel, and think. Also because it’s nice to talk like everybody else, to say the sun rises, when everybody knows it’s only a manner of speaking. to reach, not the point where one no longer says I, but the point where it is no longer of any importance whether one says I. We are no longer ourselves. Each will know his own. We have been aided, inspired, multiplied. (A Thousand Plateaus, p. 1)
This sense of playfulness and openness that accepts the fictional status of all discursive endeavors, and the fictional status of the Subject as itself nothing more than this habitual linguistic assignation is at the core of this other counter-tradition. There has been during this period a shadow assemblage of authors, thinkers, radicals, eccentrics, and diagnosticians who have never stopped exploring that which the official culture and police of philosophical speculation long ago banished from their sacred precincts. In this sense the counter-tradition I’m describing affirmed a posthuman endeavor long before such a term surfaced among latter day techno-humanists – the so called transhumanist movement within the secular establishment that seeks to harness the very forces of the universe for egoistic immortalist projects. What this counter-tradition offers is a way forward, a breat-away from this Singulatarian religion of the Immortalists, a path out of the limited visions of religious and secular visions of humanity and society that have locked us into certain fictions and ideological power structures for over two-hundred years. Oh yes, it has a longer history than this, I only designate Kant as that figural system of discursive power that authorized the secular age and its project of enslavement and control.
In recent years the abilities to intervene into human evolution, which was once both taboo and off-limits has once again arisen in our secular midst. According to the Center for Genetics and Society research center “Human germline modification” means deliberately changing the genes passed on to children and future generations – in other words, creating genetically modified people. Human germline modification has for many years been widely considered off-limits, for both safety and social reasons. It is formally prohibited in more than 40 countries.
In recent years, a new generation of genetic engineering techniques, known as “gene editing” or “genome editing,” has prompted speculation about their use in human embryos or gametes. In 2014, rumors intensified about researchers in the US and China working on human embryos with the inexpensive, easy-to-use gene-editing tool CRISPR. In April 2015, a research team at Sun Yat-sen University in China published a report of an experiment in which they used CRISPR to edit a gene associated with the blood disease beta- thalassemia in non-viable human embryos.2
I will have more to say about this. A post is too short to fill in the blanks of this history and program: the codes lie in the nodes of certain radical thinkers who have as always kept the flame alive even in the dark ages of such an enlightened time. Beyond the probabilistic world of statistical algorithms lies the labyrinth of the great immensity that can never be tamed, domesticated, nor known but only suffered.
Over the next few posts we’ll explore aspects of this counter-tradition that is both diagnostic and critical of the religious forms that have migrated into the secular age ubiquitously and quietly under the guise of an immortalist project that seeks to empower a new hierarchical mythology of power and enhancement, while at the same time contributing to a manifest system of exclusion and inequality that will once again do away with democracy and enforce a new global form of tyranny and enslavement.
Like raptors on the edge of a digital precipice we gaze into the mirror of this planet’s trash bin seeing only the ruins of our civilization reassembling itself into strange and bewildering forms, replicators of an energetic system of impersonal production transform the earth as it reformats itself according to algorithms we barely understand much less have any control over. Rather we begin to realize in the moment of our collapsing thought that we too are being reformatted, ready-mades emerging into inhuman realms our poets only dreamed forward, while we in our pathological drift soon colonize in material metamorphosis as the substrates of molecular civilization spawn new and wondrous forms…
Surrender is the only option, all else is blind negotiation. Cartographers of uncharted gene pools we dip into the biotechnologies that enter our torn lives as the sun scorches the last trace of our humanity in oblivion’s wake. Children of a new dawn we emerge from our chrysalis with insect eyes transparent and awake no longer bound by the dark dreams of human systems…
- Dupuy, Jean-Pierre (2013-10-30). The Mark of the Sacred (Cultural Memory in the Present) (Kindle Locations 426-429). Stanford University Press. Kindle Edition.
- see About Human Germline Gene Editing