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First aid for the last people

Nietzsche's Earth: Great Politics, Great Events / Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime
Where Nietzsche advocated for a high-spirited and prophetic geophilosophy, 150 years ago, Latour continues with a poetic and down-to-earth controversy about climate agreements and the planet's overall condition. 


In the book Nietzsche's Earth: Great Politics, Great Events based on Gary Shapiro That's how Zarathustra spoke and looking for Nietzsche's geophilosophy. Nietzsche anticipates globalization as a philosophical theme, but naturally lacks a view of climate and environmental problems. Nevertheless, the great time perspectives that connect the earth and the future of man make Nietzsche relevant to our own time. The Earth initially appears as a super-object, the only thing large enough to balance Nietzsche's megalomaniacal project. Deeper, geophilosophy, as practiced by Nietzsche, is a discipline that asks the far too great, yet inevitable, question of the meaning of the earth, "der Sinn der Erde": Where is the earth going? And where do people go? Is there a goal for humans on this planet – and thus a meaning? 

Shapiro's book project was premiered in German by Stefan Günzels Geophilosophy: Nietzsche's Philosophical Geography (2001), without Shapiro referring to this great work. Günzel, like Shapiro Nietzsche, reads against the concept anthropocene, the geological epoch of mankind, but also shows that geophilosophy – understood as a connection of geography and philosophy – has a long history. In typical German manners, Günzel follows the threads of Greek antiquity right into German idealism, where the geophilosophy is developed by Herder and Humboldt. Then Nietzsche mixes these approaches with a large-scale geopolitics that was followed up by the Nazi geopolitician Carl Schmitt's main works, which Land and sea (1942) and The nomos of the earth (1950)

The concept itself geophilosophy is introduced by Deleuze and Guattari, who have just given Nietzsche the honor of having established the discipline. In his book Thousand Trays they have a chapter with the humorous title "The Geology of Morality – Or Who Believes the Earth That It Is?". In this unreadable but fascinating text, the wildest theories on earth are put in the mouth of Professor Challenger, a fictional character from Arthur Conan Doyle's novel The lost world. The manic fantastical Challenger postulates that the earth is a living organism – and in the story "When the world screamed" he causes the earth to bleed by drilling into the deeper tissues of the planet. In the age of climate problems, "the lost world" appears to be a suitable name for the earth as such, and the mistreatment of the earth's living web has become a daily occurrence. 

Man as a landslide

Shapiro goes thoroughly into Nietzsche's readings by optimistic Hegel student David Strauss and the more pessimistic Eduard von Hartmann. The main error Nietzsche finds in the philosophers of history is that they consider historical development to be guided by an inner necessity that ultimately leads to the completion of history – which at the same time becomes its end. As Shapiro points out, these arguments have been repeated in recent times in Fukuyama's Hegel-inspired book The End of History and the Last Man. The problem with such storytelling is that, on the one hand, they confirm progress and the development of modernity as "right" and "necessary", but also close down the possibility of other movements, turning points and events – other futures. 

In the era of climate change, we must realize that the earth is not a dead object.

Thinking about the future of the human-earth rather than thinking "world-historical" involves trying to understand what man is to the earth, and what the earth is to us. Nietzsche's prophetic Zarathustra figure launches the last human being as a kind of anthropological dystopia: "For the earth has become small, and on it the last human jumps, which does everything little. Its breed is indomitable like the earth's flea; This misanthropy, which seemed provocative in Nietzsche's time, has today been normalized in a widespread feeling that man is truly a plague and evil for the planet. Still, the portrait of the last man can be read as an educational provocation more than as an elitist gesture. The superhuman that Nietzsche's megalomant contrasted with the last man may today have to be interpreted as a type of human being whose task is grown – and thus can be worthy of the earth. On such a human being, "the earth waits like a garden." 

ground Contact

Geophysics – this marginal and slightly megalomaniacal discipline – has in recent years expanded significantly with Bruno Latour's latest books. The scientific sociologist Latour here lets his influential authorship into fundamental and acute considerations of climate research, worldview and geopolitics. His previous book Facing Gaia is about what he calls "the new climate regime". In the era of climate change, we must realize that the earth is not a dead object – it is full of systems and organisms that Causes different reactions, have different needs, reacts og acts. However, we must not believe that the earth or what we call "nature" is an invulnerable and overriding force that can put us in place.

Latour's latest book has been titled in English Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime. The book is current and polemical, but at the same time builds on a surprisingly effective metaphor: It oh land or oh get down to earth has an epoch-making significance. Nietzsche's Zarathustra encourages people to be "faithful to the earth," which involves abandoning the consolationist fantasies of religion about salvation and a life after death. Translated to environmental philosophy, this may mean realizing that everything is at stake here og access, on the material earth of the real world. According to Latour, we desperately need what Lenin called "a concrete analysis of the specific situation". It is not so much the religion's later worlds that we have to leave, but rather the baseless dreams of modernity about a growth into heaven, a floating utopia of invulnerable prosperity. This is easier said than done: Even though we know we only have one earth, we live as if we had several planets at our disposal – or as if we actually thought that we had unlimited resources and endless leeway. 

Philosophical orienteringart

In addition to being a philosophical attack on Trump's withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, Latour's latest book is a small handbook on global history. orienteringart. The question of where we should land is part of a larger and more Nietzschean question of where humanity is headed. Apparently we have been on our way from the local – from each our birthplace, from each our nation. The imagined destination was "the global", which at the same time has become a name for a deregulated flow and an increasing intertwining of everything and everyone. When the flow of goods and migrants, of animal species and diseases, of information and responsibility becomes too much for us, we instead retreat to the local – or to the imagination of the local as we knew it. However, the Earth and the "global" are two different sizes.

In a long series of alternative maps of the world and our relationship to it, Latour records the situation: We are moving in a different direction and on a different axis than we thought. The movement of history goes neither against the political right nor the left, towards the conservative or progressive, towards the local or the global. The movement goes to earth – the place where our own life practices are down-to-earth and walkable. In the opposite direction lies the floating fantasies of a never-ending modernization: a growth into heaven or an invulnerable independence from the earth.

What humanity is worth is determined by how we play our geo-historical role.

If we read Latour's project in Nietzsche's terms, we can say that a relatively small and undoubtedly large event is on top of each other: The small event, which takes place in the game between the nation states, is Trump's decision to pull the US out of the climate agreement – in the tradition where one would rather live as the last people than "negotiate their own way of life" (Bush). The big event is what becomes visible through this gesture: the choice between declaring that this "is not our problem" – and accepting the climate problems that our problems – constitutes a turning point for humanity as such.

Heating the political climate

We are all climate quitists, says Latour: With a calm that is as astonishing as it is idiotic, we all assume that it will work out, more or less. If the vast majority of people go from here to become climate activists, the climate-skeptic lies of climate skeptics must be exposed: We need a clear and shared understanding of the situation. Thus, science's descriptions of the earth and atmosphere have become activist: a vital work to describe a situation that goes far beyond the direct everyday experience. We must become acquainted with our own conditions of life – yes, with the "conditions of life" whatsoever. 

However, the realization that we have only one earth does not automatically lead to peace and brotherhood, as holistic new-age thinkers often assume. We are in a situation where what Carl Schmitt called "space crisis" has become a permanent state. The earth beneath our feet consists of layers upon layers of overlapping territories, competing life interests, complex biotopes, diffuse populations and climatic movements. Despite the myriad of groups and interests, the front can be simplified to a two-party battle: the battle is between those who are willing to relearn the art of earthlyness – and those who believe they can fly ever higher in an undisturbed orbit without political ground contact and scientific realignment. 

What Deleuze and Guattari half jokingly call "the geology of morality" can turn bloody serious about global warming: What humanity is worth is determined by how we play our geo-historical role. 

Anders Dunk
Anders Dunker
Philosopher. Regular literary critic in Ny Tid. Translator.

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