Humankind’s belonging to the living flesh of our planet is an essential reality of our innermost nature. A profound sense of this belonging will therefore always surface, time and time again, in the hearts and minds of each new generation, whatever the obstacles placed in its way by the dominant anti-natural system under which we live.
The barriers to this metaphysical understanding have varied over the course of the centuries. Sometimes the barrier has been the hierarchical theological dogma that sets “God” apart from “His creation” and “man” apart from “nature”, over which “he” has been appointed ruler. This same dogma has also often denounced any feeling of spiritual connection to the earth and our fellow creatures as being some kind of sinister “devil-worship”. (1)
Sometimes the barrier has been the idea that there is no such thing as “nature” and that it is merely an illusion, a projection of our human subjectivity. Alternatively this barrier tells us that nature is in fact deeply unpleasant and is something to be overcome rather than respected. Either way, the result is a justification of the wholesale destruction and exploitation of a living world of which we are told we do not form a part. We are instructed to accept that our goal as humans is purely the advancement of the human species at the expense of all other life-forms.
Because the awareness of our real identity as part of nature keeps re-emerging in the human spirit, the attempts to block it can become quite convoluted. A good example comes in the form of a book published in the USA in 1990 and the UK in 1991, at a time when there was a general upsurge of interest in “green” thinking.
Dorion Sagan’s Biospheres: Metamorphosis of Planet Earth (2) is designed to appeal to those of an environmentalist persuasion. Its cover features an image of the earth, around which is draped a female figure, presumably meant to be the goddess Gaia.
Inside, Sagan sets out what may appear at first glance to be an argument based on an understanding of the natural reality of humankind. In order to reinforce this impression, he cites indigenous North American and Buddhist wisdom, Carl Jung, Henry Thoreau and Giordano Bruno and, throughout his text, he includes hooks that are clearly intended to appeal to ecologically-minded readers and persuade them that he is basically on their side.
Early on, for instance, he declares that “far from being an inert lump of matter, the Earth behaves as a giant organism”. (3) He continues in the same vein: “The presence of life anywhere in the universe is a signal that the whole of reality is, in a sense, alive. Although there is little scientific evidence to support this view of universal life, Aristotle and other Greek philosophers who laid the metaphysical foundations for Western science, held similar views. In addition, some thinkers at the forefront of quantum mechanics, such as physicist David Bohm, believe that the mechanical world view is no longer supportable and that the universe (physical reality from the level of quarks to galaxies) displays features of wholeness that make it far more like an organism, an integral entity, than any collection of essentially unrelated atoms or parts”. (4)
This tone even extends to a call for action: “The only way to avert polluting the oceanic, atmospheric, near space, electromagnetic, and other commons is for the members of human nations to realize and behave as integral parts of a single collective entity or organism. Even if we don’t recognize our planetary interrelatedness, it remains true that our destinies are fused and that we will live or die together, integrated, perhaps, into the life cycle of a single giant being”. (5)
Unfortunately, though, it quickly becomes apparent that all of this is merely window dressing, designed to trick the reader into thinking that Sagan’s argument is based on environmental sensibility – an impression that could hardly be further from the truth. The biographical information describes Sagan as a “sleight-of-hand magician and writer”, but the ideological sleight-of-hand he deploys here is clumsy and blatant. His basic line is that nature benefits, rather than suffers, from industrial capitalism. “Human technology reforms the planetary body, creating a new system for all species to use”, (6) he claims at one point. “Technology may be dangerous, but adding technology to nature makes nature stronger and more stable than nature without technology”. (7)
He even has the audacity to pretend, with pseudo-scientific authority, that pollution is something to be welcomed. Sometimes this argument comes across as simply laughable, as when he writes: “It would be difficult to wax poetic about medical waste, chlorofluorocarbons, and carbon dioxide. Yet smog can enhance the colors of a sunset”. (8)
In other passages he makes a serious attempt at more or less proving that “toxic sludge is good for you”, to reference the ironic title of John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton’s 1995 exposé of the greenwashing PR industry. “In the long run, undoubtedly organisms will evolve means of digesting technological excess”, (9) Sagan assures us. And the end result will apparently be resoundingly positive for nature: “Our technical civilization brings into circulation and combines many substances – such as pharmaceutical compounds, metals (for example, the platinum of weapons and the copper of pennies), rubberlike plastics, and other synthetics that were rarely or never used by other organisms.
“Garbage disposals, jet airplanes, and factory exhaust increase the rate of atomic migration at the Earth’s surface… Physicists have even synthesised elements that never before existed at the surface of the Earth. With world-wide commerce and computer communication, the flow of atoms intensifies. With the appearance of Homo sapiens, all the chemical elements for the first time became involved in the process of life, the biologically aided circulation of elements at our planet’s surface”. (10)
It is surely no coincidence that Sagan refers many times to James Lovelock in the course of the book. As I have written elsewhere, (11) Lovelock uses the idea of a self-regulating Gaia to suggest that we should take no action against pollution, arguing that we should perhaps instead regard industrial waste, like cow dung, not as pollution but as a “valued gift”. And Sagan approvingly quotes the celebrated former NASA scientist’s extension of his Gaia concept to suggest that environmental concerns about the effects of industrialisation are baseless: in a 1986 paper, Lovelock asks: “Could it be that our very deep concern about the state of the world is a form of global hypochondria?” (12)
Since then, the veteran Lovelock, a long-time supporter of the nuclear industry, has made it increasingly clear that his theory about Gaia is not in any way combined with a desire to defend life from the industrial capitalist system. A newspaper article about his 2014 book A Rough Ride to the Future reports: “The scientist and inventor James Lovelock claims we should stop trying to save the planet from global warming and instead retreat to climate controlled cities”. And it quotes Lovelock as concluding: “We should give up vainglorious attempts to save the world”. (13)
Sagan’s approach is very much in the same vein. Like Lovelock, he merely uses the theory of a living planet as a “sleight-of-hand” means of justifying its destruction by the capitalist system. To this end, he comes up with the ridiculous notion that the earth is “actually on the verge of reproduction” (14) and that the horrors of pollution are nothing more alarming than the birth pains of new entities. These new entities will be the “biospheres” of the book’s title, artificial pods that will set off into space and allow humanity to colonise the universe. He suggests: “Someday people may be in the position of the shrimp inside the ecosphere, the captives and crews of biospheric starships sheltered in spacecraft that double as synthetic Earths”. (15)
Why would people want to live like shrimps in synthetic earths, rather than like human beings on a real earth? Perhaps because, like Sagan, they despise this planet and look forward to its complete destruction! “It is claimed that a truly advanced civilization would be no more attached to the planet of its origin than a newly hatched chick is to the eggshell from which it emerges”, (16) he writes. And he enthuses: “Once Earth’s biosphere reproduces into biospheres, the Earth itself – our planetary parent – could be crushed like a sunflower seed with no threat of violence to life as a whole”. (17)
Sagan adopts the approach common to most cheerleaders of industrial capitalism in presenting the future he predicts as a fait accompli – “Biospheres themselves are destined to arrive; there is about them an air of evolutionary inevitability”. (18) This has always been the script for “progress”. It unfolds as a matter of course, like the passing of time. There is no way of stopping it and anyone who tries to do so is guilty of trying to “turn the clock back”. The idea of industrial or technological “progress” has been gradually merged with the idea of any kind of improvement in human life.
This assumption was unfortunately swallowed whole by most socialists and anarchists of the 19th century who felt culturally obliged to present their social utopias in the context of technological development. (19) This manipulation remains in place today, with any resistance to the “progress” of industrial capitalism often branded as a reactionary attack on the social “progress” with which it is wrongly bracketed.
There was an alarming illustration of this phenomenon in France in 2014 and 2015, following the publication of La reproduction artificielle de l’humain by Alexis Escudero. (20) The book is an anti-capitalist attack on the bio-technological engineering industry, which is busy building a Brave New World in which the rich can buy designer babies and ensure that their children are superior in every way to those of the exploited majority.
Escudero reveals, for instance, that the Fertility Institute in Los Angeles produces 800 test tube babies a year, of which 700 have parents with no fertility problems – these wealthy Americans like to be able to pick the embryo with the “best” genetic characteristics, and also to choose the sex of their child. (21)
This is a profitable business with all the usual trappings – the first Fertility Show in London in 2009 attracted 80 exhibiting companies, ranging from specialist clinics to sperm banks, and drew in 3,000 visitors. (22) A report issued in 2015 estimated that the US fertility market was worth between $3 and $4 billion a year, (23) while in the UK it has been estimated as being worth £600 million. (24)
However, Escudero sparked controversy by criticising the way that the left had failed to respond to the growth of this sinister eugenics business, which has its origins in Nazi Germany. He complained in his book: “Debate on the subject: nothing. Zilch. Nada. As if being on the left and supporting artificial reproduction of humans necessarily went hand in hand”. (25)
The problem was that Medically Assisted Procreation (MAP) in France was being vociferously opposed by religious right-wingers, who particularly objected to the idea of babies being produced for gay and lesbian couples. Escudero made it plain that this was not his motivation at all. He was countering the liberal-left slogan “MAP for everyone!” with the anti-industrial slogan “MAP for no-one!”. It was the business he opposed, not the sexual orientation of its customers. He also stressed that he had nothing at all against the DIY insemination technique often used by lesbians and that this did not in any case come under the MAP label. Left-wingers who championed the MAP industry because they felt it was socially “progressive” were falling into a terrible trap, he warned.
He drew attention to a slogan used by French gay rights group inter-LGBT which had declared: “There is no equality without MAP!”. Commented Escudero: “For the cyber-liberal left there is no equality without recourse to biotechnology”. (26) He warned that this fascination for technology was drawing left-wingers far away from the positions they claimed to defend and into de facto support for the industrial capitalist system.
“This cyber-liberal left is misusing the fight for individual freedom as a vindication of market freedom. It is confusing political equality with the biological uniformisation of individuals. Its dream is of liberal eugenics, of abolishing the body and using artificial wombs. Its fantasy is of a posthumanity via the technological re-creation of the human species. Behind the mask of transgression and rebellion lies an enthusiastic identification with technocapitalism”. (27)
This criticism of an influential and vociferous section of the left prompted a hostile response. On October 28, 2014, there was a picket of a talk that Escudero gave at le Monte-en-l’air bookshop in Paris, in which placards accused him of lesbophobia, homophobia and transphobia. (28) Then on Saturday November 22 a group of opponents mobilised against a workshop he was due to give at the Lyons anarchist bookfair. A leaflet claimed that Escudero was joining José Bové and Pierre Rahbi in an “environmentalist drift towards essentialism, in the name of the ‘defence of the living’”. It declared: “No to LGBTphobia! Yes to the extension of the right to MAP! No to essentialism and naturalism!” (29)
An eye-witness account published afterwards by Annie Gouilleux describes how the “fascistic” pro-technology contingent blocked the entrance to the room hosting Escudero’s workshop, insulting people who were trying to get in. In the end, the organisers felt they had no choice but to cancel the meeting. There is a profoundly worrying ideological phenomenon in evidence here, which is identified by Gouilleux in her account. She writes: “It’s obvious that from the moment people consider that ‘human’ and ‘nature’ are either taboo words or that they don’t exist, then the discussion will descend into absurdity. Or fisticuffs”. (30)
In his book, Escudero describes how the aim of the new eugenics will inevitably develop from merely screening out hereditary defects towards making people more attractive, bigger, more athletic, more intelligent. They will, in short be “better than humans – who are imperfect by nature”. Leaving behind the out-dated human model, these new products of industrial capitalism will be superhumans, “posthumans”. (31)
This vision of the future, born of a mindset which regards nature as reactionary and associates technology with emancipation, leads very easily into the worst excesses of industrial-capitalist fantasy, namely the transhumanist movement. This cult, which originated in the USA in the 1950s, basically envisages that humans will soon outgrow the restrictions of their natural bodies and, thanks to technological advances, evolve into semi-robotic beings. They will have artificial bodies, with replaceable parts, and their brains will eventually be uploaded into computers, giving them unimagined mental powers.
Not so long ago, this strange vision was regarded as little more than a sci-fi joke, but it has increasingly become the religion of the technological avant-garde and is supported by businesses such as Google. One of its key texts is Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism, written in 1985 by Donna Haraway, an American neo-Marxist and postmodernist academic who has declared war on what she calls the “knee-jerk technophobia” of part of the feminist movement.
A gushing profile in Wired magazine explains that her opposition to the “back-to-nature platitudes” of “so-called goddess feminism” is based on the insistence that “the realities of modern life happen to include a relationship between people and technology so intimate that it’s no longer possible to tell where we end and machines begin”. (32)
In 1986, Massachusetts Institute of Technology nanotechnology scientist K. Eric Drexler brought out Engines of Creation and 1999 saw the publication of The Age of Spiritual Machines by transhumanist Ray Kurzweil, an American businessman who works closely with the US Army Science Board, has been honoured by three US presidents and has been proclaimed a “genius” by the Wall Street Journal. (33)
Another important transhumanist work is I, Cyborg (2002) by Kevin Warwick of the University of Reading in the UK. Here he predicts: “Humans will be able to evolve by harnessing the super-intelligence and extra abilities offered by the machines of the future, by joining with them. All this points to the development of a new human species, known in the science-fiction world as ‘cyborgs’. It doesn’t mean that everyone has to become a cyborg.
“If you are happy with your state as a human then so be it, you can remain as you are. But be warned – just as we humans split from our chimpanzee cousins years ago, so cyborgs will split from humans. Those who remain as humans are likely to become a sub-species. They will, effectively, be the chimpanzees of the future”. (34) So this is how Warwick and his colleagues see human beings as we are now – as “chimpanzees” destined to be trampled underfoot by the rise of the new race of cybernetic overlords.
Whether or not these unhinged transhumanist visions are ever likely to become reality is almost beside the point here. The immediate danger lies in what can only be described as their morbid aversion to nature – their naturaphobia – and the way this insidious ideological meme (35) is encouraging support for industrial capitalism, even among supposed anti-capitalists.
Writes Escudero: “While pretending to support freedom and emancipation, post-feminists and transhumanists nurse a boundless hatred of nature; hatred of the innate, of that which is given to the human being at birth; of everything that isn’t produced, manufactured, standardised, regulated, rationalised; hatred of everything that doesn’t quite fit, that doesn’t work, that falls ill, of everything that isn’t efficient and productive 24/7; hatred of everything which gets away and can’t be controlled”. (36)
This attitude comes across very clearly in an interview with sociologist and queer activist Marie-Hélène Bourcier conducted by Christelle Taraud for the book Les Féminismes en questions: Eléments pour une cartographie. She declares: “We have to reinvent and rebuild a feminist theory that sets itself apart from the subject of biologically-constructed ‘woman’. Let’s not regard ‘woman’ as the subject of feminism, let alone its horizon. For me, it’s fundamentally important – and, for that matter, interesting – to do so by inventing or reappropriating figures which are abnormal, inhuman or posthuman. Haraway proposed the cyborg”. (37)
Bourcier explains that she is pushing this latter vision “so that women, and particularly feminists, stop being part of a technophobic tradition” and “to destroy the notion of nature”. (38) She says we need to celebrate the “good news” that if there is no more nature then we are all “the babies of techno-culture”. (39)
Bourcier’s undisguised transhumanist naturaphobia is only the tip of the iceberg of a certain brand of left-wing ultramodernist orthodoxy that has become so exaggerated that it was even apparently possible for a high-profile French anti-racist activist like Clémentine Autain to declare that “nature is fascist”. (40)
Despite his reputation as some kind of environmental guru, Lovelock fuels this same naturaphobia every time he announces that pollution is not a problem or that we should give up trying to save the planet. He has also explicitly supported the transhumanist approach, saying in 2014: “Our species has a limited lifespan. If we can somehow merge with our electronic creations in a larger scale endosymbiosis, it may provide a better next step in the evolution of humanity and Gaia”. (41)
Sagan, with his daydream of the earth being “crushed like a sunflower seed” as human beings float off into space in little artificial pods, shares the same twisted philosophy, based on a contempt for everything that we are, for the planet of which we form part and upon which we depend.
This is not just naturaphobia but vitaphobia, a fear and hatred of life itself – a Thanatos, death drive, projected from the self-hating mind of the individual out on to humanity as a whole, on to the planet. How else, in fact, could we describe industrial capitalism itself, other than as a death cult, ever-hungry for the sacrifice of millions upon millions of living beings in its machineries, its contaminations, its wars, its abattoirs, its cancerous civilization?
Because nature and life are both real, the naturaphobic and vitaphobic industrial death cult also necessarily hates reality, to the point that it develops post-philosophies which deny the very existence of objective reality. It derides and fears everything that is authentic and is obsessed by the artificial. (42)
Its complete immersion in falsity means that it is blind to the fact that the path it would lead us along is a complete dead-end. For, on the most basic level, the industrialist vision of a technological posthuman future is entirely divorced from the physical realities of industrialism. Even if post-natural posthumans managed to upload their minds (or, rather, soulless copies of their brains) into a virtual realm of their own construction, the objective reality of the world they thought they were escaping would not somehow cease to exist.
Pollution would worsen as the technological world expanded, animals would suffer from its consequences, the food chain would be imperilled, the very life-system of the earth would be at risk. Their technological bubble would still be dependent on an outside reality and infrastructure. There would still have to be mines to extract the minerals to build the computers, oil and gas wells to provide the energy, waste to be disposed of, pipelines and cables to be laid and repaired, flood defences to be built or strengthened as the climate span further into extremities, cooling systems to be installed for the huge banks of computer servers, bolts to be tightened, cogs to be lubricated, mould to be wiped off walls, and so on ad nauseam.
Even if all the hard labour was done by machines and there were further machines to repair those machines, who would repair these? Who would be doing all the dirty work, wiping the metaphorical bottoms of the immortal posthuman narcissists plugged into their ego-massaging virtual existences? A race of “chimpanzee” slaves maybe, the left-over essentialist scum who had refused to jump on the naturaphobic bandwagon to oblivion?
There is nothing very “progressive” about this vision of “progress” which is in fact, despite the “radical” or “left-wing” posturing of those promoting it, an industrial-capitalist mutation of fascism. Here is perhaps the ultimate truth that these naturaphobes cannot face – that their technological dream is nothing but a dangerous nightmare. It is dangerous because even if it never comes true, its ideological distortions serve to undermine anti-capitalism and promote enthusiastic participation in a supposedly “progressive” industrial system that is killing our planet.
I suspect that behind the outward-projected Thanatos of the post-humanists lies thanatophobia, a fear of their own personal death and a refusal to accept its natural and organic inevitability – hence the fantasies about machine-assisted immortality which lead them to embrace techno-capitalist ideology. As Theodore Roszak asked, as far back as 1972: “How many members of our own culture would not trade in their natural body tomorrow for a guaranteed deathproof counterfeit?” (43)
In this desire, these artificialists are themselves victims of the same lack of understanding that they are helping to maintain and worsen by promoting a hatred of everything real and natural. The individualism that forms a central part of their dogma is itself an illusion, albeit sometimes a necessary one on a practical level.
All of us are merely temporary manifestations of much larger living entities, the most obvious of which is the human species. As such, in some ways we cannot really be said to “die” when our time is done. The living entity itself exists in the form of constantly regenerating cells, or individuals, which are naturally replaced as part of the ongoing process. Trees do not die when their leaves fall off. Species are not “dead” as long as they keep reproducing. Immortality comes from the continuation of the species, or planetary life, the birth of new generations. The end of our individual subjectivity does not imply the end of the objective reality of which we form part.
There is an essential collective nature to our existence that does not limit or oppress us, as the anti-essentialists imagine, but which in fact sets us free to experience a broader reality. This reality extends beyond the human species to nature as a whole, to all that is living, to all that makes up the universe.
Behind the transhumanist loathing for life lurks an almost spiritual yearning for transcendence. But this yearning is tragically misdirected. It has lost sight of the fact that universal connection already exists and does not have to be artificially created by means of industrial technology. The connection is there waiting for us, in nature and the cosmos beyond, if we would only seek it out. It is not by cutting ourselves off from our innate and organic essence that we will find individual fulfilment and true immortality, but by embracing it.
(From Paul Cudenec’s book Nature, Essence and Anarchy)
1. The figure of the Devil as imagined by Christians bears an uncanny resemblance to the Greek nature god Pan and other horned pagan gods such as Cernunnos and Herne.
2. Dorion Sagan, Biospheres: Metamorphosis of Planet Earth (London: Arkana, 1991).
3. Sagan, p. 3.
4. Sagan, p. 4.
5. Sagan, p. 8.
6. Sagan, p. 125.
7. Sagan, p. 145.
8. Sagan, p. 18.
9. Sagan, p. 108.
10. Sagan, p. 41.
11. Paul Cudenec, Antibodies, Anarchangels and Other Essays (Sussex: Winter Oak, 2013), p. 42
12. James Lovelock, ‘Geophysiology: A New Look at Earth Science’, in Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (April 1986) 67 (4) pp. 392-97, cit. Sagan p. 144.
13. The Daily Telegraph, April 8, 2014.
14. Sagan, p. 4.
15. Sagan, p. 36.
16. Sagan, p. 159.
17. Sagan, pp. 16-17.
18. Sagan, p. 6.
19. See José Ardillo, Les illusions renouvelables (Paris: L’Échappée, 2015) and François Jarrige, Gravelle, Zisly et les anarchistes naturiens contre la civilisation industrielle (Neuvy-en-Champagne: Éditions le passager clandestin, Les Précurseurs de la Décroissance collection, 2016).
20. Alexis Escudero, La reproduction artificielle de l’humain (Grenoble: Le monde à l’envers, 2014).
21. Escudero, p. 62.
22. Escudero, pp. 69-70.
23. Fertility Market Overview, May 2015, www.harriswilliams.com.
24. Maxine Frith, You’re big business now, baby, in The Daily Telegraph, October 19, 2014.
25. Escudero, p. 10.
26. Escudero, p. 174.
27. Escudero, p. 12.
31. Escudero, p. 118.
32. Hari Kunzru, ‘You Are Cyborg’, in Wired, February 1, 1997.
34. Kevin Warwick, I, Cyborg (London: Century, 2002), p. 4.
35. Theodore Roszak writes of “the anti-organic fanaticism of western culture”. He explains: “Organism is spontaneous self-regulation, the mystery of formed growth, the inarticulate wisdom of the instincts. Single vision cannot understand such a state of being, let alone trust it to look after itself”. The extension of naturaphobic anti-organism into the political realm, specifically in terms of a fear and hatred of the instinctive self-regulatory wisdom implied by authentic anarchism, is clearly conveyed here. Theodore Roszak, Where the Wasteland Ends: Politics and Transcendence in Postindustrial Society (New York: Doubleday, 1972), pp. 95-96.
36. Escudero, p. 186.
37. Marie-Hélène Bourcier in Christelle Taraud, Les Féminismes en questions: Eléments pour une cartographie (Paris: Éditions Amsterdam, 2005), p. 53.
39. Bourcier in Taraud, p. 54.
41. The Daily Telegraph, April 8, 2014.
42. Roszak notes that “the whole process of urban-industrialism upon our tastes is to convince us that artificiality is not only inevitable, but better – perhaps finally to shut the real and original out of our awareness entirely”. Roszak, p. 23.
43. Roszak, p. 97.