Anthropogeny is the study of human origins, of how something that was not quite human becomes human. It considers what enables and curtails us today: tool-making and prehensile grasp, the pre-frontal cortex and abstraction, figuration and war, mastering fire and culinary chemistry, plastics and metals, the philosophical paths to agricultural urbanism and more. Given that Darwinian biology and Huttonian geology are such new perspectives, we may say that Anthropogeny, in any kind of scientific sense, is only very recently possible. Before, human emergence was considered from the distorting perspective of local folklores. Creation myths, sacred and secular, have been placeholders for Anthropogeny, and still now defend their turf. When Hegel was binding the history of the world to the history of European national self-identity, it was assumed among his public that the age of the planet could be measured in a few millennia (1e3 or 1e4 years), not aeons (1e9 years). The fabrication of social memory and the intuition of planetary duration were thought to operate in closely-paired natural rhythms. While the deep time of the genomic and geologic record shows that that they do not, the illusion of their contemporaneity also brought dark consequences that, strangely enough, would actualize that exact same illusion. In the subsequent era, the meta-consequence of this short-sighted conceit is the Anthropocene itself, a period in which local economic history has in fact determined planetary circumstances in its own image. The temporal binding of social and planetary time has been, in this way, a self-fulfilling superstition.
As such, how is the anthropos of Anthropogeny similar to or different from the anthropos of the Anthropocene? Are they correspondent? Does the appearance of the human lead inevitably toward, if not this particular Anthropocene, then an Anthropocene, and some eventual strong binding of social and geologic economies? Whether the two “anthropoi” are like or unlike in origin, can they converge or diverge? Instead of becoming human, does a sharp temporal linking also speak to becoming something else? That is, in what ways is a post-Anthropocene—a geo-historical era to come, eventually— aligned with Anthropolysis—or the inverse of Anthropogeny—a becoming inhuman, posthuman, unhuman, or at least a very different sort of human?
At this thin moment, the answers to this question are pressing because: (1) the very ongoingness of our ecological substrate is in question, and mass extinction (including perhaps human extinction) looms as one possible outcome of the human project, and (2) the explosive technogenesis of both organic and inorganic non-human species proceeds apace (animal, vegetable but especially mineral). The scientific possibility of marking basic terms of Anthropogeny occurs at the same moment (geologically speaking) that at least two paths of Anthropolysis—collapse and/or dissolution—come to the fore. Finally as well, does the knowledge of the latter pre-suppose the former in some important way? In what ways is the knowledge of distant origins that makes the study of Anthropogeny possible a cause or an effect of the Thanatonic arc?
Unsurprisingly, all this may be just too much for to swallow. The trauma of anthropic disenchantment hits not just individual self-identity, but collective identities as well, perhaps even more so. Dismally symptomatic of this are the folkish festivals of fear that now occupy political forums. The consolidation of ethnonationalist authoritarianism here and there is, among other things, a recidivist anti-Modernism that finds philosophical justification from many different corners. Not that the autocrats care, but it is not only the Alexander Dugins of the world who counter technoscientific rationalism with a new mysticism, a revived indigeneity/nativism, and a suspicious anti-materialism. The “Left” has its own Heideggerians, anti-universalists, and champions of spooky tribal intuition as well. Regardless of the specific topic (artificial intelligence, astronomy, chemical mutagenesis, or what have you), they may respond to the implications of a general economy of Anthropogeny/Anthropolysis with oblivious calls for an “ethical reintroduction” of human experience and scale as a grounding measure. Just as the death of god and the attempts at political atheism displaced theological urges into authoritarian politics (in turn, inviting state religion back onstage), it is hard not to see the recent rise of Right-wing nationalist populism as spasms of denial about the passing of certain illusions: a sprawling, hastily-assembled, low-budget parade of zombie rain gods, scapegoats and virgins, towed along slowly through the streets by all-volunteer court conspiracies, meaningless feats of symbolic violence and mumbling commentary (mine included). When confronted, directly and indirectly, with the promiseless implications of ecological indifference to cultural traditions, people will vote for sovereigns who promise to rebind them together, and who claim powers to make reality obey the tribal narrative. By rituals of public voice, these arbitrary yarns are apparently made real through a magical politics of representation and identification. What Carl Schmitt called “political theology” comes into its own when the function of the state is to provide what amounts to a religious plotline. As publics and polities are drawn by regional myths and hemispherical grossraum, humans literally vote for mind over matter. Matter, however, is unconvinced.
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