Human-centredness

The remarkable on-line book to which I linked in the previous post led me to a pretty fundamental academic article by two anthropologists entitled “Unsettling Anthropocentrism” that vividly explores the interface between the Machine World created by humans and the Natural World that it is devastating beyond its limits to support civilised life. Human hubris takes the stance that nature exists on our behalf, simply to serve our species’ need. This belief has become deeply embedded in our collective unconscious. The article opens as follows:

In an article titled ‘‘Robochop,’’ The Economist reported a practical problem and its technological solution. The problem was that swarms of jellyfish clogged up the pipes of a Swedish nuclear power plant on the Baltic Sea coast, forcing the plant’s temporary shutdown. The proposed solution involved utilizing an invention of ‘‘a fleet of killer robots that turn jellyfish into mush.’’ The devices known as JEROS (Jellyfish Elimination Robotic Swarms) are designed to follow a lead robot and work in formation: They can apparently chop up to 900 km of jellyfish an hour.1 The report raises an irrepressible question: Is there not something wrong—even deeply disturbing—about this picture?

The article concludes as follows but the whole text is very worth reading:

David Kidner’s contribution in which the face value assumption of anthropocentrism  is that it constitutes a perspective that serves human interests—is radically challenged. ‘‘Anthropocentrism,’’ Kidner contends, is not anthropocentric. He traces the roots of what is considered anthropocentric thinking—especially the belief that ‘‘all forms of life exist to serve us’’—in a reductive technological-economic order that gained ascendancy in early modernity and has culminated in the industrial system of our time. This system has colonized human consciousness just as surely as it has colonized the natural world; as Kidner puts it, within it both ‘‘humanity and nature are being dissolved.’’ Far from being beneficiaries of an order that displaces embodied forms of awareness, reduces value to money, and approaches problems through technological management, human beings are unknowing perpetrators of that order—unknowing in the sense of being unable to escape their conditioning by its symbolic and material dimensions. Echoing critical theory themes, Kidner argues that the domination of nature and the domination of human consciousness are simultaneous and deeply entangled. ‘‘Just as the nuances of human awareness are replaced by the rational calculations of the economist and the marketing executive, so the intricate interactions of tropical forests are replaced by the ecological sterility of palm oil plantations.’’

Leave a Reply