Reversed revolution

Déborah Danowski & Eduardo de Castro: The Ends of the World Polity. UK

The Ends of the World Polity
Forfatter: Déborah Danowski, Eduardo de Castro
Forlag: (UK)
The West must change its mindset that the good life is about modernization and technology.


Chaos and disintegration are the signs of time. Economic crisis all around – China and the other emerging economies that were supposed to save a crisis-hit world economy are now in big trouble themselves. Political resolution – The EU is falling apart and neonational solutions are on the way. Geopolitical instability, and finally the rapidly accelerating climate crisis. We are dealing with a civilizational crisis, and theorists like Immanuel Wallerstein read the development as the end of the American century, but perhaps also capitalism as such.

New mythology. In this context of crisis and resolution, Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and philosopher Déborah Danowski intervene with the book The Ends of the World, where they present nothing less than a new mythology that can open up a whole different way of understanding the crisis. For them, the crisis is first and foremost the biocrisis – the biospheric meltdown – so it is crisis in the ultimate sense we are dealing with. Hence the title of the book. What do we do, faced with a global social process that destroys the Earth's biophysical systems, destabilizes the climate and changes evolution?

So far we are not doing anything. The effects of global warming appear as melting ice caps, rising water levels, droughts, storms and extensive migration. Burning of carbon dioxide and forest precipitation will cause the ice around the North Pole to melt and result in floods throughout the globe. The biocrisis is also a diversity crisis, with an average of three species disappearing every hour – that is, 100-1000 times as fast as before the capital's profit requirement became the governing social logic. We are thus in the sixth mass extinction of species and the degradation of ecosystems, and this time it is man who is the cause of the misery. One thing is to know that in a thousand years man may be extinct, another is to know that in 25 to 50 years we or our children will live in an organic desert with their backs to the wall.

Basic crazy. de Castro and Danowski initially discuss various Western conceptions of the relationship between man and the world, based on the climate crisis, which is fundamentally altered by ideas of culture and nature. They are sympathetic to the idea of ​​the anthropocene, but also skeptical of the inherent reformism of the anthropocene concept. They therefore want to challenge this so that it does not become the focal point of a new round of capitalist modernization, now in the form of green growth, where we try to manage and control the climatic solution through geotechnology and militarization. There is a risk that the notion of the Anthropocene does not radically challenge the processes that have set the course for a planetary meltdown.

The project thus becomes to develop a counter-paradigm to the anthropocene, but also to all other modern Western notions of the end of the world. Therefore, the first six chapters are one tour de force through numerous scientific analyzes (IPCC), novels (Cormac McCarthys The Road), film (Lars von Trier Melancholia and Abel Ferraras 4:44 Last Days on Earth) and more recent philosophy and theory (speculative realism, Latour, etc.), in which de Castro and Danowski dissect the Western notion of the end of the world. According to the two authors, this can be divided into three directions: the first is archaeologically retrospective or nihilistic foresight and imagines a world where man has disappeared from the earth. The second is based on the destruction of the earth and considers how man survives in a ruined world. This direction is represented by, among others, the bestselling author Alan Weisman The World Without Us (translated into more than 20 languages, including Danish, and inspiration for both TV series and video games). The third imagines a technological transgression of man, where man becomes a cyborg or something like that. de Castro and Danowski exhibit, with great ironic surplus, the limited ability of the various directions to actually think the end of the world. None of them challenge the logic that has initiated and continually accelerates the destruction of the globe. The problem is that Western thinking is caught in a fundamental opposition between nature and culture.

It is a struggle between Native Americans and Whites, but also a struggle between Native American perspectivism and Western modernity in all of us.

The Jaguar drinks beer. The West's thinking thus does not work – it is, so to speak, not on a par with the situation. The authors therefore propose a radical change, in which we replace anthropocentric thinking with Amerindian perspectivism, as de Castro has described in a number of previous books. It operates with a completely different view of the relationship between man and nature: nature as the multiple, and culture as the common. Nature is changeable and multiple, while culture is stable and common to all, including animals, spirits and plants. The world is different, depending on who sees it. Humans see animals and spirits as animals and spirits, while animals and spirits see themselves in the same way that humans see themselves. de Castro's favorite example is the jaguar, which for humans seems to drink blood, while it is a person who drinks manioc beer from his own perspective. Animals are ex-humans who at one point got a new body, a different nature. In Native American perspectivism, reality and our knowledge of it are characterized by variations, not identity or contradictions. Clearly, Native American cosmology is radically challenging the ontological divisions of the West, which is replaced by a notion of many worlds and not just one.

For the Amazon Indians, the disaster is not something that suddenly threatens. It has already happened, in 1492, when Europeans came to America.

Thought Revolution. While Western man is trapped in solipsism and thinks only of himself and his things, the Americans are affirmative of all life. The surroundings are nothing external. This is the counter-paradigm that de Castro and Danowski propose: Perspectivism as a response to the integrated world capitalism that is desperately transforming our entire planet in the pursuit of profit. The two-headed monster of Western modernity, state-capital, must be set aside in favor of an intangible intensification of life. The West (including Rio de Janeiro) must undergo an anthropological revolution that takes the form of a fundamental reorientation of all handed down notions of the human, and good life created by modernization and technology.

For the Amazon Indians, disaster is not something that suddenly threatens. It has already happened, in 1492, when Europeans came to America. 95 percent of the roughly 75 million Indians were exterminated in just 150 years. It is about mobilizing for a kind of anthropological civil war in which the people of the earth fight against the Western giant Armadillo that keeps digging into the earth for resources and destroying the planet. As de Castro and Danowski write, it is a struggle between Native Americans and whites, but also a struggle between Native American perspectivism and Western modernity in all of us.

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