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The Possibility of an Anti-Humanist Anarchism

by Joff

The Concept of Hierarchy

Hierarchy is examined by Bookchin from a quasi-historical perspective. To repeat : the domination of nature stems from the domination of man by man. The domination of man by man precedes the domination of nature by man. The idea of dominating nature germinated historically through the implementation of rigid social hierarchies which congealed fluid social life into vertical command and obedience structures.

Of course, for Bookchin, the State is clearly the paragon nemesis of a free, sensitive and nonhierarchical ecological community. The State is an effect of authoritarian practices rather than their cause. Obedience breeds obeisance.

However, instead of thinking the State within the parameters of the base-superstructure model of economic development, Bookchin looks further into cultural forms of domination. Hierarchy on this account is not simply limited to class exploitation but incorporates also familial, gerontocratic, gendered, ethnic, political and social (organisational) forms of domination. One of Bookchin's strong theses is that nonhierarchical social formations form nonhierarchical images of relationships with nature. Bookchin gives the example of aboriginal ceremonies which express and situate humans as part of the larger cosmos in nonhierarchical terms.

The image of or relationships with nature in a future nonhierarchical anarchist society are as yet rendered negative. We can only say what they are not. An anarchist society is by definition free from structural (molar) hierarchies such as the State (police, bureaucracy). Furthermore, anarchism actively encourages noncoercive, nondominating everyday relationships which extend themselves to personal, family and workplace spheres. An ecological society works toward the dismantling of coercive relationships that exist in

"generations and genders, churches and schools, friendships and lovers, exploiters and exploited, and hierarchical sensibilities toward the entire world of life".

Hierarchy and domination thus warp humanity's development.

The difference between Deleuze's "horizontalilty" of thought and Bookchin's anarchism comes into clear light when we grasp the centrality of the notion of the human. Hierarchical structures are opposed to the construction of a humanist and ecological society. The question arises : if we jettison the question of humanity how can we think nonhierarchical becomings? How can we advocate the praxis of deterritorialisation without implicitly supporting a teleological drive in history?

Bookchin writes in very much the same spirit as the Left Hegelians who rethought Hegel in 1840s Germany. Bookchin's militant atheism is inextricably linked to his defence of Enlightenment ideals of social progress, rationality and the negation of superstition. Contemporary irrationality/anti-humanism in the form of the quasi-theologic of deep ecological thinking and the post-humanism of neo-Heideggerians are instances of reversion to pre-modern times. Such phenomena articulate, according to Bookchin, a contemporary rejection of the "cold demands of secularity and intellectual clarity".

According to Bookchin's observations, deep ecology, especially the deep ecology of Devall and Sessions, delights itself in "mythopoiesis and mystery". Bookchin again shows his determination to uncover contemporary attempts to de-align the Enlightenment project. Deep ecology, on this account, re-introduces a religious essence with its concept of self-realisation. The self here seeks self-effacement or incorporation of an isolated ego into a larger totality namely the self-in-Self. Through the desire for organic wholeness the ideal of an autonomous rational self of the Enlightenment disappears in the mystical fog of being one with nature. Deep ecology, from this reading, debases hard won intellectual skills, tool-making capabilities and the capacity for symbolic language by humans. Deep ecology introduces an egalitarian ontology which perceives no ontological divide between human and nonhuman. Bookchin is suspicious of Devall and Sessions' keenness to promote "deep ecological" thinking. For Bookchin, deep ecology is a symptom of social decay even more than it is one of its causes. Bookchin thinks that the Earth First movement is opposed to a "people first" movement. Deep ecology, Bookchin believes, has been seduced by the wild side of mysticism and as such it needs to return to a period of coldness, of "analytic sobriety". In noting Devall and Sessions two ultimate norms for "true" deep ecological thinking (self-realisation and biocentric equality), Bookchin notes the sense of intuition as unreasoned reflection, not as self-evident truths but a "sense" or feeling.

Devall and Sessions maintain that the norms are beyond the reach of critical analysis and beyond reasoned argument and it is here that Bookchin mounts his diatribe. From where are they derivable? Bookchin defends the methodology of science as essential for "experiential proof". Bookchin stands opposed to "divinations spun out by mystical gurus without or without Ph.D.s'.

Devall and Sessions retort that such intuitions cannot be challenged given that scientific methodology is too narrow. Self-realisation is a shedding of the narrow "modern Western self" which Devall and Sessions claim is isolated, hedonistic, and materially egoistic. Self-realisation is a process of self-effacement, effacement of the self in the Self (as totality). The human self (the traditional rational autonomous self) thus loses its hard won identity, its uniqueness, because it merges with the whole.

Bookchin's objection to this form of reasoning is that the inscription of the "self" onto inorganic phenomena is in fact an anthropomorphic gesture. On this account the "Self" is construed as a human imperialising self. Devall and Session desire the transformation of an isolated self into an interrelated self-in-Self. But Devall and Session imputes an anthropomorphism inadvertently into nature. The earth is endowed with "wisdom", wilderness equates with "freedom", and life forms are said to emit "moral" qualities.

The desire for a biocentric democracy is questioned by Bookchin by the following argument : if humans are nothing but "plain citizens" in the ecosphere then humans may do as they please in fulfilling their (we could say primitive, natural) anthropocentric desires and natures. He would say what else could we do. In such a scenario we should be exclusively occupied with our own brute survival, comfort and safety since nature seems to exhibit the ingrained values of self-preservation and protection of one's own. If man becomes a mere part of nature based on an egalitarian principle with every other species, then man's actions are morally neutral. But what is (morally or ecologically?) wrong with extinguishing whole species in the interests of human survival?

Heidegger and Anti-Humanism

Another significant attack upon the humanist tradition is located in Heidegger's Letter on Humanism. Heidegger responds to Sartre's Existentialism is a Humanism with a distinct anti-humanist accent.

An interesting perspective to address the reception of Sartre's Existentialism by Heidegger is from the thought of Lacoue-Labarthe. The Heidegger of the 1930s, according to Lacoue-Labarthe, still operated within a metaphysical tradition. Humanism, from this point of view, is grounded in a metaphysics which emerges with Plato and ends (prematurely) with Nietzsche. Thus, the Dasein in Being and Time cannot fully decentre the traditional subject of philosophy for it is still entrenched within an anthropocentric tradition.

Heidegger's notorious Nazi affiliation is thus a consequence of retaining a trace of metaphysical humanism. Heidegger's Nazism is ironically a humanism of sorts : hence Lacoue-Labarthe's pronouncement that "Nazism is a Humanism".

The elimination of humanism from Heidegger's thought occurs by a rethinking of thinking itself (the praxis of poetising) after 1935 witnessed in the Letter on Humanism. Humanism leads to Nazism due to an excess of metaphysical philosophy. From this perspective "reason" for a French Heideggerian like Lacoue-Labarthe, retains a residue of nihilistic onto-theology and productivist metaphysics. What is implicit is the definition of humanism as a celebration of abstract "Man" as a self-conscious autonomous, self-legislating being.

The Letter on Humanism thus makes a plea not for the construction of yet another system of anthropocentric ethics but for a new ethos, a new way of dwelling. The critique of Sartre takes a similar form to that of Heidegger's critique of Nietzsche which questions the centripetal concept of value and its relationship to the Will to Power.

What Heidegger is trying to stress is that if we centralise the concept of value we run the risk of becoming oblivious to the meaning of Being. By making the distinction between thinking which is more sensitive to Being and philosophy which is homesick (for it has lost its way toward Being), Heidegger is making the point that a more primordial relationship towards Being must be sought. For Heidegger, ek-sistence is proper to Dasein (being-there). Human reality's ek-static existence which "stands out" in the truth of Being distinguishes human reality from other living creatures. To use Heidegger's words : In any case living creatures are as they are without standing outside their Being as such and within the truth of Being, preserving in such standing the essential nature of their Being.

Heidegger thinks that humans do not think their "essence" if they see themselves as animale rationale or as a spiritually-endowed being. The humanitas of human beings baulks at the true dignity of man which is not to assume lordship over Being but to shepherd Being in a more primordial and less technologically arrogant non-dominating relationship. To drive the point home thoroughly we need to read Heidegger as questioning the role of evaluation itself. Sartre is situated within a paradigm of value-positing connected to the Will to Power as domination. Heidegger says it better : Here as elsewhere thinking in values is the greatest blasphemy imaginable against Being.

Lest we revel in the animus to irrationality and mysticism we can sympathise with the general thrust of Bookchin's reception of Heidegger's soil science if we put into brackets the element of diatribe that inheres in Bookchin's prose. While bearing in mind the need to keep in check (Nietzsche would call him a rabid "anarchist dog" full of ressentiment and loathing) Bookchin's virulent and ungenerous reading of Heidegger's thought, it must be admitted that he does locate the parts in Heidegger's oeuvre which border on the quasi-mystical and the apocalyptic.

The question arises : if we become Heideggerian are we then forced to dispense with the achievements hard won in overcoming mysticism, superstition, and dogmatism during the Renaissance and the eighteenth century? Are we forced to return to a pre-conscious way of life in the vain hope of capturing a more profound and less ruthless relationship with Being or more concretely with voelkish culture? Are our choices between a postmodern nihilism or a reactionary belief in parochialism? Should we reject the concept of humanism altogether? And if we do what new concepts will be thought and what consequences will they have?

Systematising the Fragments

In order to shed light on the possibility of a PS ecopolitics, the ramifications of the May-June events of 1968 that precipitated new directions for French philosophy will now be addressed. Baudrillard, Virilio, Deleuze and Guattari, Irigaray and others are thinkers which produced and are still producing "commanding changes" in the way we think about the world.

Verena Conley points out that poststructuralism is concerned with the construction of ecological subjectivities that are machined by differential processes. Levi-Strauss is evinced as a thinker who initiated to a degree the displacement of Cartesian metaphysics and Sartrean (humanist) existentialism which both emphasised the ontological priority of consciousness. Conley maintains that the shift to a structural logic encouraged the growth of ecological awareness. In attempting to decentre the universal (masculine) subject the rigid distinction between nature and culture is itself subject to critique. What is under the microscope of analysis is the abstract essentialising of "man" and "nature". Conley elicits Guattari's concept of mental ecology to demonstrate that the ecological awareness initiated by la pensee 68 called for cultural as well as biological diversity. Poststructuralism's illumination of processes of "difference" draws upon the human and "hard' sciences in order to demonstrate that such processes inhere within organic and inorganic realms. Deleuze and Guattari and Bookchin all share an interest in the findings of Prigogine and Stengers and seek to integrate Prigogine and Stengers into their work. Prigogine and Stengers"s thesis that nature is an open (chaotic) system is employed by Conley to show that a new empathetic alliance with nature is required.

Following on from the insights of Conley, it is instructive to view a PS ecopolitics as not simply delimited to a narrow research paradigm. A PS ecopolitics is inter-disciplinary or more anarchically trans-disciplinary. The seeds of rhizomatic thought sown by Deleuze and Guattari ought to be harvested by an anarchist tradition that has always been rooted to green politics. By redeploying the concepts of horizontality, deterritorialisation, lines of flight, machinic assemblages and desiring-machines as well as the concepts borrowed from chaos and complexity theory such as bifurcation, threshold, and disequilibrium, a PS eco-anarchism can develop a fruitful philosophy of nature and society. In a sense the ecosystem itself can be perceived as an assemblage.

The ecosystem, on this account, is an assemblage which rhizomatically connects a multiplicity of organisms in terms flows of matter and energy understood within a machinic paradigm of evolution. Furthermore, the body (partial organs such as the mouth, an eating machine ), the local ecosystem (the river), and the biosphere (a machinic Gaia) are coupled and connected together into one vast ecological machine. An experimental synthesis of Nietzsche's lebensphilosophie and complex, overhuman. However, the transhuman(t) is not (necessarily) technologically optimistic (Extropian) nor necessarily Nietzschean in emphasis (uebermensch). Nietzsche's idea of the transhuman uebermensch is itself a thought-experiment which calls for a radical rethinking of the human, all-too-human.

The question is whether a rootless wandering (the transhuman(t), which lacks an a priori human essence, the suppression assumption of power and a teleology of history), can sustain sustainable development without recourse to ecological practices which are deleterious to the environment? The point is recognised by Deleuze and Guattari regarding the problematic of deterritorialisation. There is always a danger that things will turn out badly in the end when one becomes-nomadological. The line of flight that experiments secretes its own sense of "strange despair", "like an odor of death and immolation". Furthermore, it is contestable that a wholesale rejection of the concepts of history, civilisation and progress will make anything really better. Chaos-centred, nonteleological (genealogical) histories are by their very nature open ended. Therefore, one may continue to think in-between humanism and anti-humanism, social and deep ecology, the dialectic and the different in a period of convalescence which is always preparing for a time of new health. The equivocation of reason may yet be an integral part of the Enlightenment project.

Yet, our eyes ought not to look askance or be averted from the plight of the planet by a runaway machine which seems to seduce "postmodern" technophiles into sacrificing human. all-too-human values at the altar of technological utopia. We shall let Bookchin have the last words : The continuing substitution of rationalism for reason, of scientism for science, and for technics for ethics threatens to remove the very sense of the problems that exist, not to speak of our ability to resolve them. A look at technics reveals that the car is racing at an increasing pace, with nobody in the driver's seat. Accordingly, commitment and insight have never been more needed than they are today.


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