Framing the End of the Species

The Death of the PostHuman: Essays on Extinction, Volume One (2014)
by Claire Colebrook

From the Introduction:
There are three senses of extinction: the now widely discussed sixth great extinction event (which we have begun to imagine and witness, even if in anticipation); extinction by humans of other species (with the endangered species of the ‘red list’ evidencing our destructive power); and self-extinction, or the capacity for us to destroy what makes us human. All three senses of extinction require a nuanced conception of climate. Climate is at once an enclosing notion, imagined as the bounded milieu that is unavoidably ours, and a disturbing figure, for it is with the recognition that there is climate, or that the human species is now recognizable as a being that for all its seeming diversity is nevertheless bound into a unity of destructive power. (This is so much so that geologists are arriving at consensus regarding an ‘Anthropocene epoch’ where man’s effect on the planet will supposedly be discernible as a geological strata readable well after man ceases to be, even if there are no geologists who will be present to undertake this imagined future reading (Crutzen 2000). Climate is not only, then, the surface or terrain upon which we find ourselves, but something that binds us to this time on the earth, with its own depletions and limits.)
There is, of course, the standard meteorological notion of climate which increasingly attracts our already over-taxed attention; but this concept of climate is only possible because of a broader thought-event where humans begin to imagine a deep time in which the human species emerges and withers away, and a finite space in which ‘we’ are now all joined in a tragedy of the commons. I would suggest that just as Darwinian evolution altered the very modes of scientific and imaginative thinking, such that new forms of narrative and knowledge were required to think of man as a species emerging within time (Beer 1983), so global climate change is similarly catastrophic for the human imaginary. It becomes possible to think of climate as the milieu that is necessary for our ongoing life, and as the fragile surface that holds us all together in one web of risked life, even if we cannot practically grasp or manage the dynamics of this totality (Gardiner 2006). The concept of climate is also split between knowledge and denial: on the one hand talk of climate draws all bodies (organic and otherwise) into a single complex, multiply determined and dynamic whole; on the other hand, any brief glance at climate change policy and politics evidences a near psychotic failure to acknowledge or perceive causal connections with dire consequences. In this respect we need to embark on a notion of climate change that includes the radical alteration of knowledge and affect that accompanies the very possibility of climate. It is only possible to think of climate change in the meteorological sense—with humans now bound to volatile ecologies that they are at once harming and ignoring—if some adjustment is made to the ways in which we think about the relations among time, space and species. A necessarily expansive sense of climate change encompasses a mutation of cognitive, political, disciplinary, media and social climates. The fact that we start to think about climate as a general condition that binds humans to an irreversible and destructive time means both that climate becomes an indispensable concept for thinking about the new modes of knowledge and feeling that mark the twenty-first century in terms of our growing sense of precarious attachment to a fragile planet, and that climate is an alibi. We talk about climate, ecology, globalism and even environment (as that which environs) even though the experience of climate change reveals multiple and incongruent systems for which we do not have a point of view. We are at once thrown into a situation of urgent interconnectedness, aware that the smallest events contribute to global mutations, at the same time as we come up against a complex multiplicity of diverging forces and timelines that exceed any manageable point of view.
In a recent fable that allegorized the human relation among memory, destruction and the future of life, Nick Bostrom suggests that the human species would remain complacent about its catastrophic history and future as long as it continues to forget that its situation is catastrophic. We have taken the catastrophe of human existence as natural and irredeemable: only a counter-narration in which we vanquish destruction will let us see just how death-inured we have become (Bostrom 2005). More recently, climate change scientists have started to play with new strategies for awakening public affect: perhaps the focus on hope needs to give way to mobilizations of fear, whereby we learn to ‘hug the monster,’ in order to shift from inertia and quiescence to action. [1] How is it that the human species, seemingly so hungry for life and dominance, has conveniently forgotten its own self-extinguishing tendencies? We can only pose the question of human extinction—the fact that humans will become extinct, the fact that we cause other extinctions, and also that we are extinguishing what renders us human—if we locate the problem of climate change inaction in a broader terrain of ecological destruction. The very climates—cognitive, industrial, economic, affective, technological, epistemological and meteorological—that render our life possible are also self-destructive (both destructive of the self, and destructive of climate itself).
Read the full book online or PDF: HERE

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