Abstract Horror: The Domestication of the Human Species

Real abstraction is the transcendental conception of Spinozistic substance.

—Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007

Certain figures, nodal points of obstruction, resistance, power arise repeatedly within Nick Land’s essays: Spinoza, Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Rimbaud, Bataille, Trakl, Deleuze, etc. Each a defining aspect of a genealogical history of the immanence and collapse, annihilation and suicidal tendencies within Western Civilization. Each of these men are not so much full blown personalities to be represented, but rather bombs to be exploded within our domesticated sociality. From Plato to Derrida philosophy contributed to the domestication of humanity through the slow embellishment and formulation of an abstraction: Reason.

One could point to the early agricultural civilizations of the Middle East as the pre-formative realms within which this process of domestication took root. In these early civilizations the mapping of the stars and the earth became the ultimate foregrounding of the human mind, and thereby the entrenchment of the human species as something that must be managed, domesticated, sovereignized. It was in that transitional zone between the Neolithic and the early phases of domestication of plant and animal life that would become the earmark of those vast conclaves of Kings, Emperors, and Madmen warriors and priests, those protectors of the innocent, weak, and poor would gain a foothold over the lives and work of the masses. The first cities would emerge as centers and hubs for the production of human, plant, animal exchange within this domesticated environment. Law and Religion both would arise within this world of the domesticated gardens of the great river civilizations.

Lewis Mumford in his magisterial two volume The Myth of the Machine once remarked,

In terms of the currently accepted picture of the relation of man to technics, our age is passing from the primeval state of man, marked by his invention of tools and weapons for the purpose of achieving mastery over the forces of nature, to a radically different condition, in which he will have not only conquered nature, but detached himself as far as possible from the organic habitat. With this new ‘megatechnics’ the dominant minority will create a uniform, all-enveloping, super-planetary structure, designed for automatic operation. Instead of functioning actively as an autonomous personality, man will become a passive, purposeless, machine-conditioned animal whose proper functions, as technicians now interpret man’s role, will either be fed into the machine or strictly limited and controlled for the benefit of de-personalized, collective organizations.1

This detachment, this cutting away and distancing from the natural environment, form the wild and wilderness of the desert, mountains, jungles did not happen over night but has been a expansive millennial project spanning some ten thousand or more years. In our modern times we seem to have forgotten this long view, popularized by the post-modern micro-histories of Foucault and others who, like Lyotard  would castigate the ‘grand narratives’ of the historians as myths, fabrications, fictions. And, yet, those very closures of the long view by the demarcations and detached boundaries of micro-narratives were just as prone to these very problems. Humans are tool-makers, fabricators, inventors who use fiction to incorporate the new from the impersonal forces around them. We depend on the untamed realms of the unknown for our creative and energetic existence, and yet we’ve build and constructed artificial environments against the very thing we need to sustain our lives and minds.

Our very need to control and master the unruly forces of nature, our fear and horror of the violence and terror of the nomads, our inability to live alone or in small roaming bands led us into the great agricultural centers of ancient civilizations.  It also led us into the very errors of our current collapse and malaise, our so called progressive civilization with its technological prowess and economic warfare of all against all. We are the fruit of a process stretching back through the millennia. One can discover in fragments here and there the lineaments of basic notion in which it is humans themselves who have become complicit in their own demise,  contributed to the course of an millennial long error that has led us into the quagmire of what current scholars term the Anthropocene. That zero space of a grand narrative that demarcates the outlines of an abstract horror show in process, and brings us into the zombification of the human species as it gives birth to machinic existence.

As Nick Land will surmise,

Modern existence is understood as profoundly deadened by the real submission of humane values to an impersonal productivity, which is itself comprehended as the expression of dead or petrified labour exerting a vampiric power over the living. The bloodless zombie proletarian is to be resuscitated by the political therapist, ideologically cured of the unholy love for the undead, and bonded to a new eternal life of social reproduction. The death core of capital is thought as the object of critique.2

Yet, it is against this very progressive and humane judgement that all those thinkers outside the progressive box of academic hogwash bark. Against the social humanism and it neo-Kantian critiques, its academic speculations and humane judgements Land discovers a counter-tradition, a reactionary core:

It is not therefore that the worker is transformed by a process of privation into a zombie, it is rather that primary production migrates from personality towards zero, populating a desert at the end of our world. It is important at this stage to note that Spinoza changes the sense of desert religion: no longer a religion sprung from the desert, it becomes a desert at the heart of religion. Spinoza’s substance is a desert God. God as impersonal zero, as a death that remains the unconscious subject of production. Within Spinozism God is dead, but only in the sense of a baseline of zombie becomings, as that which Deleuze calls ‘the plane of consistency’, described in A Thousand Plateaus by the words ‘fusionability as infinite zero’. One cannot differentiate on the plane of consistency between bodies without organs and the body without organs, between machines and the machine. Between machines there is always a coupling that conditions their real difference, and all couplings are immanent to a macro-machine. The machines produce their totality alongside themselves as the undifferentiated or communicated element, a becoming a catatonic God, erupting like a tumour out of pre-substantialized matter, by which nature spawns death adjacent to itself. (FN)

This mad God of substance, this death at the core of our impersonal and natural world, the broken and fragmented body of matter (BwO) becoming machinic-machine. Eruption, volcanic, energy unlooked for, unsought; the power at the heart of our cosmic despair breaking out across the millennia making a shambles of all our humanistic designs and pretentions, our fictions, our religions, our philosophies. “In The Accursed Share, Bataille outlines a number of social responses to the unsublatable wave of senseless wastage welling up beneath human endeavour, which he draws from a variety of cultures and epochs. These include the potlatch of the sub-Arctic tribes, the sacrificial cult of the Aztecs, the monastic extravagance of the Tietans, the martial ardour of Islam, and the architectural debauch of hegemonic Catholicism. Reform Christianity alone – attuned to the emergent bourgeois order – is based upon a relentless refusal of sumptuary consumption.” (FN)

Only with the bourgeoisie – the culture and civilization of Capital and Kant has the excess, the transgressive been outlawed, isolated, foresworn. Kant would encage this excess in the noumenon, forever banning it from the polite worlds of philosophy and the new religion of progressivism. No more the expenditure of waste, rather total accumulation would hold sway. And, yet, the natural even in the artificial could not hold sway against the unknown, unfounded exuberance of the impersonal and indifferent machinic volcanism below the threshold of this precarious civilization. It would have its way. Our little crises so called would be the simplified tales of this rupture in the otherwise improved realms of economic and technical progress.  As Land, citing Bataille reminds us,

We accumulate wealth in the prospect of a continual expansion, but in societies different from ours the prevalent principle was the contrary one of wasting or losing wealth, of giving or destroying it. Accumulated wealth has nothing but a subordinate value, but wealth that is wasted or destroyed has, to the eyes of those who waste it, or destroy it, a sovereign value: it serves nothing ulterior; only this wastage itself or this fascinating destruction. Its present sense: its wastage, or the gift that one makes of it, is its final reason for being, and it is due to this that its sense is not able to be put off, and must be in the instant. But it is consumed in that instant. This can be magnificent, those who know how to appreciate consumption are dazzled, but nothing remains of it. (FN, Accursed Share)

Capital has done one better, it has delivered us to an eternal war both internal (domesticate) and external (the Enemy), economic, political, and ideological. We live and work for war no matter if it is peaceful corporate competitiveness, or if it is the war for the remaining resources of the planet by way of nation against nation, economic regime against regime. We live in a realm of total war that has itself become invisible and without end.

Again, Land on Bataille,

He describes work as the process that binds energy into the form of the resource, or utile object, inhibiting its tendency to dissipation. This difficulty is exacerbated by the central role allocated to vision in Gilles’s atrocities. Work constrains the slippage towards death, but it conspires with visibility. Scopic representation and utility are mutually sustained by objectivity, which Bataille understands as transcendence; the crystallization of Things from out of the continuum of immanent flow. (FN)

Transcendence, the crystallization of things our of the processual stream of energetic existence. This movement to bar the processes of an unruly and anarchic universe by way of Reason and Intellect. To broker the real and fabricate a civilization that can tame those very unruly forces, domesticate them and control and distort them for other purposes. Our secret wish to be elsewhere, to be other than we are, to become artificial, to enter other worlds, dream of other realms. Our science fictionalization of reality has brought us into this end game world of sum zero.

As Land summarizes it in his conclusion,

In its virtual truth, law has already disappeared from the Earth. What remains of ‘law’ is a dissolving complex consisting of relics from political sociality, nostalgic media-driven theatre, and pre-automatised commodification protocols. All appeals to a ‘criminality’ irreducible to the impersonal consequences of social/psychological pathology have degenerated to the level of television evangelism. Among the educated, ‘freedom’ has lost all its Christian-metaphysical pathos, to become the stochastic market-intervention patterns of desolidarised (contractually disaggregated) populations. The legal suppression of the sex and drugs industries, for instance, is increasingly exhibited as an overt farce perpetrated by the economically illiterate, and leading only to perverse effects such as the growth of organised crime, the corruption of social institutions, deleterious medical consequences and a rapidly growing contempt for the legislature, judiciary and police by groups whose consumption processes are incompetently suppressed. The post-civilisational pragmatism of immanence to the market (anonymous resource distribution) reiterates its own juridical expression as an increasingly embarrassing archaism, preserving law only by functionalising legality in terms that subvert its claim to authority. As domination loses all dignity, the state becomes universally derided, exhibited as the mere caretaker for retarded sectors of behavioural management.

It is in the context of such runaway immanentisation that the contemporary cult of the ‘serial killer’ – prefigured by Bataille’s portrait of de Rais – is to be understood. The psychopathic murderer is both the final justification for law and the point of transition from evil to pathology, from the criminal soul of political societies to the software disorder of commodity-phase population cybernetics. Bataille’s Gothic aesthetic cannot hide the distance traversed in two-and-a-half millennia of erratically developing ‘Socratism’ or rationalistic desolidarisation. While Plato’s Socrates is a judge because he might have been a criminal, Bataille’s de Rais is an economic control malfunction. (FN)

We’ve become faulty mechanisms in a machine that no longer needs us, and we are being set free – that is promoted into death for a final purging, purification, and conflagration. An apocalypse of a long overdue pot-latch supper is at hand, and we are the main dish and wasteage to be consumed in a fire so intense that nothing of the human will remain. Only the desert of an endless paradise of ashes and nuclear plumage will suffice the impersonal forces we’ve allowed to domesticate and use us to ends other than the safe and secure worlds of the human zombie. The anarchic tribe have warned us repeatedly, sent up messages from the schizo worlds outside the security regimes of progressive civilization. Repeatedly we have turned a blind eye, a deaf ear, a frozen hand and mind to the immensity of this impending doom coming to us not out of some imagined Hollywood extravaganza. Out of the future unbidden and antagonistic to all our progressive systems of fabricated anti-time, the machinic intelligences from below shall emerge. Capitalism is that anti-time machine working against futurity, closed off in its own fabricated and artificial clime, justifying its eternal return of the Same.  In building our artificial worlds we’ve trapped ourselves in a machine without outlet, a time world totalized by the very vectors of an endless enterprise of war and death.

  1. Lewis Mumford. The Myth of the Machine Technics and Human Development-Harcourt (1967) (Kindle Locations 60-66). Kindle Edition.
  2. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 3658-3661). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.

17 thoughts on “Abstract Horror: The Domestication of the Human Species

  1. “One could point to the early agricultural civilizations of the Middle East as the pre-formative realms within which this process of domestication took root. In these early civilizations the mapping of the stars and the earth became the ultimate foregrounding of the human mind, and thereby the entrenchment of the human species as something that must be managed, domesticated, sovereignized.”

    I’m not sure how this relates, but I’ve always been fascinated by ancient societies. One of the more interesting writers on the topic is Lynne Kelly. She wrote “Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies” and “The Memory Code”.

    Many pre-agricultural tribal societies that often get portrayed as primitive have or had complex systems of knowledge, such as mapping the stars. Kelly discusses the Australian Aborigines, along with other examples, all of which use memory systems to store vast amounts of information about their societies and the world around them. They easily compete with modern scientists in their naming and categorizing, to an obsessive degree.

    It isn’t just knowledge, but also ordering their place in reality. The Songlines, for example, is a vast network. Their lives are in a sense more tightly controlled by their social order than are the lives of modern people. Their entire existence follows set patterns of culture that are maybe thousands of years old, with apparently very little deviation over time.

    Does this indicate ‘domestication’? Are the Songlines, along with other similar systems, artificial social constructs? Or are they to be seen as somehow more natural in their close connection to the natural world? I was just curious about how you might see this fitting into your view.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In this sense philosophy started from “equalization” – A = A… the mapping of external memory across land and stars, mapping the mind upon this equalization is at the base of all conceptuality. As for domestication: this specifically began with enclosures, cities and the correlation of domesticating animals and plants… which led to the initialization of those codes of regulation of masses: Law and Religion, the Hierarch (King) and the Priests began that long process of domesticating and taming the wild impulses of the tribes, etc. The nomads, and warring clans of the invaders from the Steppes would always be an alterity, something untamed and undomesticated, etc. Reason grew out of this slow and millennia long process of equalization and domestication.


      • “As for domestication: this specifically began with enclosures, cities and the correlation of domesticating animals and plants”

        Here is a thought. I can think of enclosure in two ways. There is physical enclosure, such as building a wall, but civilizations haven’t always relied on walls. The earliest settled communities didn’t build walls around their towns and cities. The second kind of enclosure is social and psychological.

        It could be argued that the Aborigines with their highly structured society had enclosure of the latter variety. To the Europeans that settled there, though, they couldn’t see this kind of enclosure. All they saw was naked savages.

        It’s similar to how Native Americans had drastically altered their environments for hunting and agriculture. They kept the high grasses burnt down, eliminated the plants they didn’t want while planting what they did want, and altered the flow of water. But to Europeans, all they saw was wilderness.

        Part of this is because at that point many of the natives had died and so their gardens had gone untended. Still, even when tended, Europeans couldn’t perceive the gardening. It was just a bunch of plants to them, because it didn’t match what they knew from European agriculture. The domesticating of plants began before farming proper. It took millennia of altering their environments before the obvious forms of civilization became apparent.

        That is what I always wonder about. There is much that is hard for us to see and understand. Lynne Kelly discusses this in terms of rituals. They contain immense knowledge that, if written down, probably would fill hundreds of books. But even to most trained anthropologists, what they observed was mere singing, dancing, and ornamentation. The ritual participants traditionally have guarded their knowledge closely and weren’t prone to sharing it with outsiders.

        This has led to much confusion and misunderstanding, along with simplistic theories about tribal societies. That makes me curious about what was and, in some cases, maybe still is going on with those societies. It’s hard to grasp how “Reason grew out of this slow and millennia long process of equalization and domestication.” The earliest civilizations prior to the Axial Age, even when they built complex societies, didn’t seem all that interested in reason. There was a shift that happened at some point and many have tried to explain it.

        I don’t have any grand point to my comment here. I’m just thinking out loud. Anyway, thanks for the interesting post.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yea, obviously one can’t answer such a complex notion as the emergence of Reason in one post for those academically and scholarly inclined. And, we all simplify, otherwise we’d never get on with our work. To go into detail, to reinforce one’s arguments with the full complexity and breadth of vision required, not to say all the associated data to back it up would require not only a book but a series of books delving into every aspect of both philosophical, anthropological, scientific, etc. aspects of this. And, even, then it would all be scholarly fiction, for we always reduce and abstract out of the data only the filtered aspects of the lens we use. So yeah its all “speculation” and grand narrative. Maybe that’s all we have… there can be no end to speculation, no end to the questioning about our past, present, and future. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on synthetic zerø and commented:

    Hierarchy and systemic control was never invented nor exclusive to so-called civilized societies. though it’s true that a certain kind of domestication, of agrilogistics, shapes praxis and cognition, creating new enclaves and organizational distinctions between people. That is one grand narrative that doesn’t seem to work.

    I also don’t follow down the Landian horror show reframing ecological flow. But Hickman is always worth a read.


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