How to be human

From this beautiful, heart-rending piece in The Baffler:

The most common objection to the theory of the Anthropocene is that this era of collapse isn’t the result of humanity as such, but of the capitalist mode of production, something that emerges out of human activity but not for human ends. This age should be called something else: the Industriocene, the Economicocene, the Capitalocene. Maybe one of those names should take—but it’s still significant that humans are the ones instrumentalized by the necrotizing apparatus of capital. There is, in Marx’s terminology, an Entfremdung, an estrangement or an alienation. This term is most commonly used to discuss the more specific alienation of capitalist production, the way in which workers are ripped from their own labor-power, but it’s undergirded by a far broader form. Alienation is, at root, the alienation from our own species-being—that ability to reshape things according to our desire. Under conditions of alienation, we’re sealed off from the possibilities of what we might become by the brute fact of what we already are. This is why humanity can be so dangerous: it wouldn’t make much sense to think of a rabbit or a whale being alienated from itself; it’s hard to conceive of a way in which a pangolin or a parakeet could be somehow less than it is. Only humans can recede from the brink of themselves. But only humans have a brink to reel back from.

The problem, it turns out, is not an overabundance of humans but a dearth of humanity. Climate change and the Anthropocene are the triumph of an undead species, a mindless shuffle toward extinction, but this is only a lopsided imitation of what we really are. This is why political depression is important: zombies don’t feel sad, and they certainly don’t feel helpless; they just are. Political depression is, at root, the experience of a creature that is being prevented from being itself; for all its crushingness, for all its feebleness, it’s a cry of protest. Yes, political depressives feel as if they don’t know how to be human; buried in the despair and self-doubt is an important realization. If humanity is the capacity to act meaningfully within our surroundings, then we are not really, or not yet, human.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s