In Viewpoint Magazine, Sophie Lewis writes a lengthy critical review of Donna Haraway's new book Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, which Lewis finds deeply disappointing for both intellectual and personal reasons. Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto was a formative text for Lewis, who writes that "thanks to her I came to anticapitalist thought and struggle in the first place." But in Haraway's new book, Lewis finds a strange and disturbing shift away from anticapitalist thought and towards an emphasis on population control—a scientific position with a very dubious history when it comes to race and gender. Here's an excerpt from Lewis's piece:
In Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Haraway has made a decisive turn towards a primitivism-tinged, misanthropic populationism. Though she started off championing the cyborgs of class struggle against the goddesses of technophobia (her immortal closing line: “I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess”), my suspicion is that, now, she’s gone over to the goddesses.
Despite enduring decades of denigration from some left quarters as a “po-mo” thinker, Haraway’s remarks about Marxism’s limitations in the past have not remotely amounted to anti-Marxism. The Cyborg Manifesto cared deeply about human people in all their proliferating ingloriousness and it desperately wanted post-gender communism for us – the species that reads and writes manifestos. It didn’t link laboring with healthfulness, morality, or being deserving. But in the essays constituting Staying with the Trouble she has, in fact, developed a new affinity for just that. Now, she wants a decline in human beings more than she wants to smash capitalism. In fact, it isn’t clear if she even still wants the latter. Although the lines are drawn coyly, they are unmistakable. Her cursory but emphatic and repeated antinatalist instructions – that is, enjoinders against making babies – seriously risk rehabilitating the very eugenic anti-humanism her early work on “Teddy Bear Patriarchy” (for example) inveighed against so brilliantly. Population reduction, as she now fantasizes it, is declared by fiat to be nondiscriminatory, friendly, collective, and non-coercive.
One would be justified in expecting to get some elaboration on how the removal of 8 billion heads from the total headcount over the next century or so could be non-coercive – indeed, non-genocidal. But there is really only a fable, based around a micro-community in the United States, proclaiming that this is possible. The utopia of 2-3 billion human beings is supposed to arise from a choice, simply, to not make babies. As a program, this represents a provocative break with materialism. It is also a provocation it is impossible to ignore or overlook, since it is effectively all that ties together what would otherwise be an unconvincing but inoffensive collection of vague, repetitive chapters on various eco-techno-animalian assemblages such as carrier-pigeons and pills that stop urinary leakage in mammals.
Image: Still from Fabrizio Terranova’s Donna Haraway: Storytelling for Earthly Survival (2016). Via Viewpoint Magazine.