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Can the technology revolution bring us out of disability?

ESSAY / Today, the extreme state is different than in the post-war period, when Sartre and Heidegger wrote about anxiety and authenticity. The existential threat today lies primarily in an uncertain planetary future.


The essay of the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk The human greenhouse, which was first published 20 years ago, is now also published in an essay collection about Martin Heidegger under the title «Domestication of Aries» [See also leader page 2]. Whether these two titles at first glance seem different, they of course point to the same thing – that man understood both as a biological being and as a being who is open to Aries, is a product of a kind of domestication, an emigration from nature into a kind greenhouse.

Much of the content of the extremely condensed essay, sandwiched between other key works in Sloterdijk's most productive years, was later expanded into the enormous three-volume work spheres, which is about how the spaces we create around us, also create and reshape us. The home, domus, is a product of a technical mastery of the environment. For Sloterdijk, domestication becomes another name for whether human prehistory and history so far also point to the future of man, something he more than suggests in the subtitle – "key words to a historical and prophetic anthropology". Do we then find any answer in Sloterdijk's text to the question of where man is going, prophecies about man future? How can the answer to the question of the future of man, and perhaps of what Heidegger referred to as Aries, lie in domestication? Is man really as one greenhousegrowth?

We know the juxtaposition of man with greenhouse plants and useful plants, dogs and cows Nietzsche, who tended to see the domestication of man as a decline. He let his Zarathustra mock those who cultivate the harmless and domestic: "Virtue is for them the modest and tame: Thus they make man himself man's best domestic animal." Sloterdijk's understanding of domestication is far more positive than Nietzsche's – and far more fundamental. If some people are tamer than others, and if domestication turns us into pack animals, we are all domesticated – products of the technologies we have adopted to master nature.

A wide range of overlapping biological, psychological, technological and mental security systems.

By calculating natures movements – from the Stone Age man's spear throw at a mammoth to today's genetic manipulation that attempts to bring the mammoth to life – we have divided nature up. Where it seemed impenetrable, we have brought it to a distance where it is intrusive, and put it to use where it has been useful to us. This is how we have created what biology calls niches, and which for Sloterdijk constitute human spheres, which consist of a large number of overlapping biological, psychological, technological and mental security systems.

Technology – luxury evolution

It is only in the 20th century and especially in the last decades that technologyone becomes an essential concern for philosophy – and it is only in our days that it begins to be seen as an absolutely decisive key to the understanding of the human being. Sloterdijk bases his presentations on the German tradition of philosophical anthropology – which goes back to Kant. He later supplements this with palaeontological research and evolutionary theory, where the use of tools affects man's physiognomy, and where man's mastery of the living environment creates typical domestication effects – refinement, infantilisation and specialisation. Sloterdijk refers to this as a luxury evolution.

A parallel interpretation of man's evolusion and cultural history closely woven together with the technological evolution we also find in Bernard Stiegler, which builds on the paleontologist and philosopher Leroi-Gourhan and the philosopher of technology Gilbert Simondon. When Stiegler talks about early primitive technologies, such as fire, or about later technologies such as writing, especially in its latest version as computer code, it always functions as what Plato calls a pharmacon – a poison and a cure at the same time.

Damien Glez (Burkina Faso)

In Sloterdijk's presentation, a significant emphasis is also placed on the dangers of technology, especially with the atomic bomb as an example of a domesticated fire that has gone wild and threatens to break free from our control. The same could be said about genetic engineering, which becomes an extreme example of the domestication of ourselves and nature: a manipulation that depends on a good intention to work well, but which can also have unintended consequences. Perhaps the underlying question in Sloterdijk's text is whether there is one pharmacology for domestication, a practical understanding that allows us to distinguish between its destructive and constructive sides, both its poisonous and its playful effects?

The greenhouse

Domestication is not the same as technological production. There is a significant difference between a robot dog and a domesticated dog, because the latter is an organism that has been bred and changed. The greenhouse is, as a space where domestication takes place, a laboratory where human purposes are made applicable to plants, and in a metaphorical sense where the plant's possibilities are realized in exchange for a loss of freedom found in the wild world. Gilbert Simondon describes it this way: “A greenhouse-grown plant that produces petals (a double flower) but does not produce fruit is the product of the plant being made artificially. The originally coherent system of biological functions has been opened up to functions that are independent of each other and that are only connected through the care of the gardener. Flowering becomes pure flowering, somewhat disconnected and anomic; the plant blooms until it is exhausted and produces no seeds. It loses its ability to withstand cold, drought and the heat of the sun.” In this section there is an implicit warning that luxurious growth has its price, and that in careful care and observation there is also a drastic loss of autonomy.

Does man become unfree when he is tamed, as Nietzsche more than suggested? Undoubtedly – ​​to some extent. What is being lost as we become increasingly specialized? And if taming brings man away from the wild, how can there be so much violence in the world? According to Sloterdijk, criminal and violent tendencies in humans are a potential that is put to use when the human greenhouse or the luxury sphere needs protection from outside pressure – in the earliest times, wild predators, and in historical times primarily other human groups. Brutalized warriors were needed to protect the sphere of life from other groups who were out on the same errand, or who wanted to enrich their own spheres of luxury through plunder. Here the text points The human greenhouse from 2001 onwards towards Sloterdijk's later texts, where he claims that the domestication of man has failed. Where Nietzsche saw a somewhat liberating potential in the wild and warlike virtues – a robust contrast to an embarrassing tameness and decadent domestication – Sloterdijk points out a danger that is far greater: Man becomes barbarized as the unrestrained and harsh means of war take hold and get out of control .

This is a tendency towards the extreme, which he also explores in the essay's opening. There is a close connection between existentialism and that of war extreme conditionis, Sloterdijk points out: The trenches at Verdun and the Nazi torture chambers become the opposite extreme of the safe and comfortable luxury interiors of the human greenhouse. It is also when we are exposed to the extreme, that we ask questions about the essence of being – and see what it means to have a world, and to feel safe.

The extreme state

But today the extreme state is different from in the post-war period, when Sartre and Heidegger wrote about anxiety and authenticism. The existential threat today primarily lies in an uncertain planetary future. Man's pursuit of his own life interests, especially in the richest parts of the world, has produced incalculable threats that affect us all. It is of course tempting to grasp an analogy between the human greenhouse and greenhousethe effect – and it is completely in line with Sloterdijk's analysis to point out that the air conditioners in New Delhi, which are supposed to make the indoor temperature livable, contribute to heating up the air over the city, so that more air conditioners are needed. In a similar way, the world's protective and convenient infrastructure is in the process of heating up the absolute common space of people.

A "fine technology" that collaborates with nature, and that "lets it play its own melodies".

So far the analogy extends, but no further – for greenhouses are built to warm, and the protected spheres of culture are created to protect and secure life. The warming of the atmosphere is an unintended effect, but it is equally the product of what Sloterdijk calls "raw technology", a dominant exploitation of nature and resources that takes and subdues without giving anything in return. As a contrast, he imagines that we will get a "fine technology" that cooperates with nature, and that "lets it play its own melodies". Which allows nature to unfold its own being, we could say, rather than being made into an object. In the gap between ecology's respect for complexity and genetic engineering's fingertip operations, he envisions technology that no longer beats and cuts, subdues and controls nature – but is based on reciprocity, or at least a respect for nature's own intelligence.

The optimistic

Although technology and evolution are entangled in human evolution and history – which has brought us to the crisis we find ourselves in – Sloterdijk dares to hope that technological evolution can bring us out of the predicament. The optimistic but captivating premise is that the good – both in nature and in technology – is that which has been tested over time: "The predominantly evil operates in a self-eliminating and self-limiting manner, while the predominantly good has properties that are self-propagating and self-preserving. »

In contrast to this, we can of course point out that raw technologyone for dominance in the worst case takes use fine technologyhappen funds. Just as psychological insight can easily turn into psychological manipulation, ecological insight can be used for a deeper manipulation of nature: genetic modification, specially designed plant and insect poisons, modification of the weather and atmosphere.

When it comes to dealing with nature, it is relevant that Sloterdijk believes that dominance always gets in the way of learning: "As in all wars, the strategic, egotistical and crude use of intelligence leads to secrecy, one-sidedness and the democratization of knowledge. […] The society of the future is doomed to show trust.” The willingness to learn from nature must be part of this relationship. Sloterdijk says prophetically: "After the abandonment of slavery in the 1800th century, we see the contours of a comprehensive dissolution of dominance in the 21st and 22nd centuries – although no one will imagine that this can happen without intense conflict."

Dangers and solutions

The belief in learning by detours is perhaps the most credible way to be optimistic in our difficult times. And when Sloterdijk remains a relevant voice in the present, it is particularly because he explores such an understanding of civilization without naivety and with a critical depth that is absent from most technology optimists and enlightenment idealists. Both the wild and the tame carry dangers and solutions in them – and so does technology.

Can the tendency towards manipulation and dominance be overcome by the tendency towards cooperation and mutual respect – also between human groups? Does not spread virus og armstechnology as quickly as medical solutions and peace initiatives? Don't lies and misunderstandings spread as quickly as truths and insights?

The hope is that it goes the right way – in the long run. Such a prophetic anthropology as this is forced to try to predict the development of technology, and like ancient oracles must give its answers in the form of riddles.

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

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