a. Machines and animals keep crossing the boundaries of the human. Literally crossing, as all kinds of devices and creatures, from bacteria to pacemakers, work and live inside what was once imagined as an epidermally contained being, whose skin-bound, individual, and sovereign self was meant to be the apotheosis of modern humanity.
b. And functionally crossing, too, as scientists keep discovering nonhuman animals doing quite a bit of thinking, feeling, lying, and manipulating symbols, all once thought to be the exclusive capacities of the human.
c. It’s this fuzziness of the boundaries of the human figure that have made room for the post-, trans-, in-, and non- of the human; the human’s prefixes appear in those places where the humanist domain of exclusivity is breached.
a. By that I’m not referring to death awareness, which also marked one of the boundaries of human exclusivity. It used to be said that only humans build burial mounds, compose dirges, make effigies, and elaborate rituals to deal with death; whereas nonhuman animals just perish, as Martin Heidegger put it.
b. But we have been receiving reports filed from the frontlines of nonhuman thanatology: video, audio, transcripts, and descriptions from the burial rituals of elephants, crows, magpies, red foxes, chimps, and dolphins. Apparently, other species feel forlorn and mourn, too.
c. That special relationship to death seems to be going the way of so many other human exceptionalisms.
a. Humans have had a range of end-time imaginaries based on occultations, returns, judgements, and a break with the time and life of this earthly realm. Perhaps humans saw the end as soon as they invented a beginning and, if so, the end has been there since the beginning—part of the very unfolding of the human as narrative.
b. But this one is science.
a. Like so many other futures, doomsday is subject to calculation and presented through prognostic numerology: if we don’t act now, by 2050 there will be a catastrophic two-degree rise in average temperature; or if we stabilize the human population at 9.5 billion in the next fifty years, rather than letting it rise to 11 billion, we have a chance.
b. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists set the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been to doom.
c. This kind of eschatology that scientifically measures the increments of end-times is what I call terminality—whether it is done for terminal patients or a terminal humanity.
d. The latter condition has also generated the former sort, such that there are people suffering climate grief and climate-change-induced trauma.
e. Without the eschatological sense, climate science would feel very different, even if all the facts about human-induced climate change were the same. That is, people wouldn’t be able to say “Anthropocene” with quite the same charge if they didn’t also have in mind “extinction,” or “humanity is at risk,” or “the end of the world is nigh.”
a. The freedom taken and promised by modernity as part of the special constitution and prerogative of human progress has turned out to be more destructive than imagined: everything done in the name of a better future is also leading to the end of the future.
b. Everything that is a leading candidate for causing human futurelessness—global warming, AI, nuclear Armageddon—has science and technology at its roots.
c. Destruction and salvation live without contradiction under the same roof built of capital, so that General Electric can be the maker of some of the most advanced medical equipment that saves lives and also one of the largest military contractors making killing machines.
d. Everything that was meant to open up the future has made it more constraining, that is, less free. This closing of the future as the domain of human freedom stands against the modern, progressive gambit that the human, unlike the best of bees, is the creature that can architect the future just as it wills it, and against the secular notion that the future is not fated but open to human planning.
a. There have been times when the vision of the end has been a liberatory one, pointing the way to a release from the confines of the petty human world or a transformation of the human’s miserable, death-dealing, and unjust world.
b. Take the Sufi concept and practices of fana—the drive to self-annihilation, to take leave even before death takes you; or the Hindu and Buddhist drives to escape the cycles of rebirth, of life and death, altogether—to try your best to not come back to the world after death.
c. Or take Aimé Césaire:
What can I do?
I must begin.
The only thing in the world that’s worth beginning:
The End of the World, no less.
d. That world was the world constituted as world through colonialism—that world had to end for the possibility of liberation, for another world to emerge.
e. Of course, for many peoples the end of a world has not been liberation but the threat of annihilation: The Yanomami leader Davi Kopenawa speaks of the fear “of being crushed by the falling sky” because white people are destroying the earth down below.
a. Those particular worlds are often called civilization—or human civilization.
b. Who sets the clocks, measures time to death, graphs the end?
c. What has not been exceptional is what Sylvia Wynter calls the “negation of co-humanness,” the inscription of difference “between ‘Western humanity’ as the ostensible embodiment of the normalcy of being secularly human, and all other groups, who were now to be, therefore, logically classified and institutionalized as that ‘humanity’s’ Others.”
d. It is imperative for a critical approach to the human terminal condition to notice the close connections between whiteness, capitalism, and civilization as the assemblage of survival.
e. The White Anxious Class in Europe as in North America has very different diagnoses, prognoses, and planning with regards to “existential threats” to “humanity” than, say, radical environmentalists, anti-capitalists, off-the-grid communalists, luddites, anarchists, Afro Brazilian candomble practitioners in coastal Bahia, Native water protectors in the Dakotas, Honduran refugees, indigenous nations in the burning Amazon, the food insecure in Niger, typhoon survivors in the Philippines, residents of sinking island nations, Yemeni rubble dwellers, Kashmiris sitting between two bombs . . .
Whose co-humanness is negated in the post-, trans-, in-, and non- of the human?
Which human world do you want to see end?
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These ideas about the human are meant to be read in two ways. First, as an uninterrupted sequence of seven statements, which is how they were initially written. Second, interrupted by or in conjunction with their dropdown elaborations, which may be viewed if you click on each statement. The sub-statements that unfold under each statement elaborate another layer of exegesis, prompted by the principal statement.