Impermanence & Re-animalization

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Such a brief foray into such large topics is hardly worth undertaking, but I must break the ice somehow. With reference to the “utopistics” of the Open Anthropology Project, I have been haunted for several years by what are actually common philosophical observations, common enough that you can pick them up in any pop cultural art form, the mass media, and so forth. My aim is to eventually link the two sides of these ways of thinking–impermanence and what I call re-animalization–into a whole.

First, impermanence. By impermanence I mean, first, the observation that we live temporally limited lifespans. Furthermore, whatever legacy we may leave as individuals these too are often very limited. Most persons who have children are probably forgotten within their own families by the third or fourth generation (this will be extended as more persons leave records of themselves on the Internet, assuming the longterm survival of humans, which is in doubt). As researchers, few of our written products will be consulted even twenty years after the first printing; by then the items will have gone out of print, and remaining printed copies become relatively sparse and may begin to decay. Any buildings we construct also decay and can be subject to both natural and human-made disasters. But let’s assume that none of these things are true. Even then, the planet exists in a solar system whose sun has already reached the midpoint of its own life. When the sun expands and eventually collapses, the planet will perish. Indeed, the planet could be vaporized, leaving only dust that then burns up when entering the atmospheres of other planets. No matter what, whatever little mark we make on this tiny speck of dust we call Earth, that will all vanish at some point. Artists who erase their works as they complete them have the right idea: no matter how beautiful, it cannot last and must go. This is what distinguishes history from eternity, and it is what limits our presence and our ultimate universal (in)significance. I say all of this without any sense of agony or despair.

What happens when you live, day by day, with such thoughts at the forefront of your mind? Many things can result in different mindsets, to be sure. For me the result is an increased sense of peace that comes from the brutal reduction of the significance of any current institution, life goal, social situation, and so on. Ultimately it does not matter, none of it, and the best one can do is to not burn up one’s life with needless and pointless complications, with being “busy,” with always trying to get “more,” and with trying to extend one’s life (or even blogging for that matter, which shows the reader what a contradictory life I live, divided against myself). If early hunters and gatherers might have lived to their mid-twenties…so what? We are not immortal: no matter the amount of medication, surgery, salad and jogging, we will all die. We have one actress currently appearing in television ads–for a pharmaceutical company, please note–who defiantly (and thus comically) asserts, “But I refuse…I absolutely refuse to die from breast cancer.” What does it matter how you die? Are we now to shop around for the preferred death?

Second, re-animalization. I am disturbed by the Judaeo-Christian bases of the concept of “dehumanization” which suggests that humans are at the apex of all life on the planet, and any violation of the human is a “step down” to the level of animals. Indeed, the radical existential disconnection between these so-called humans and the natural world which they inhabit and which created them, is especially prominent in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which paradoxically have three of the most thunderous histories of conflict and domination of other humans. The “dehumanization” concept has its obvious benefits for it also acts as a critique of turning people into mere objects, and the intent is to foster respect for humans. I cannot be against that. What I am against is the built in notion that we are better than animals, when we are animals. Re-animalization involves seeing oneself in all other living creatures, for we share common ancestry with all of them, and with some of them the lateral evolutionary distance between us is hardly that striking. I agree with a great deal that various animal rights philosophers, lawyers, and political activists have argued along these lines.

For me, one the ways forward in terms of utopistics will come from, not just significantly elaborating on the above sets of propositions (eliminating elements, adding, revising) and deepening my own knowledge of the thinking behind these, but in linking the two in a way that, I think, will result in a truly revolutionary synthesis.

Any comments, idea, observations? Please feel free to share.

2 thoughts on “Impermanence & Re-animalization

  1. Adam Weitzenfeld

    I’m right with you! Actually, I’m undergoing a major research project (read: proto-dissertation) into the discourse of animality, humanism, death, finitude, and body. My progressive thesis is that the conception of the hu(man) as a stable, transcendent for-it(self) over the immanent necessity of an entropic animal body. Contempt for the finitude of the body and association with transcendent reason led to a human:animal, nature:culture dichotomy. The fear of death and speciesism are intimately interrelated!

    Please, feel free to email me if you are at all interested in my project. Also, you may be interested in the introduction to _What is an Animal?_ by Tim Ingold and other works by him in general.

  2. Pingback: Re-Animalizing the Human / Humanizing the Animal « OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY

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