Welcome to the Misanthropocene
Misanthropy /mis-an-thruh-pee/: a hatred, dislike or distrust of humankind.
Anthropocene /ænˈθrɒpəˌsiːn/: the Anthropocene, a proposed term for the present geological epoch (from the time of the Industrial Revolution onwards), during which humanity has begun to have a significant impact on the environment.
My tagline above is "How Humanity Learned to Hate Itself. And Then Died." Okay, okay, I know. We're not dead. Yet. But for all intents and purposes, we are killing ourselves off. And I don't just mean physically.
According to the best available scientific literature, we're definitely doing that, and in increasingly dangerous and accelerated ways. That's something as a (predominantly Western) society we're pretty much obsessed with in that oh-it's-so-gross-I-can't-stop-looking-at-it kind of way. We know more and more in deeper and deeper ways just how screwed we are ecologically. And yet we continue on, dig our heels in and argue that at least some human comfort is reasonable while we watch the world burn. Right?
But we're killing ourselves off in other ways, too. And this is what I find so interesting. This is where the Misanthropocene hits its full stride: we're so misanthropic we're busy disappearing humanity from more than just the face of the planet. We're caught up in what I describe as a wave of cultural misanthropy in which we imagine again and again our own deaths, our obliteration, our demise, our uselessness and ultimately our irrelevance.
I see this happening in at least three distinct ways.
1. FIRST, we know that the environmental crisis requires human intervention and yet, at the same time, we know that the environmental crisis was caused by blind and often hubristic human intervention. So now we're caught in this horrible bind where we know we need to do something and yet no longer trust ourselves to do it right (some will argue that the sciences still harbour a dangerous humanocentric and rationalistic faith in human human ability, but I would argue that even that is changing. At least, if you look at the recent IPCC reports on the state of climate science, you'll see some of the world's top scientists acknowledge that we're hurtling towards an unknown future that is becoming increasingly uncontrollable and that we should start looking to non-western, non-traditional ways of being, like indigenous cultures, for cues to non-destructive human-nature relationships).
2. SECOND. The next way I see this happening is in our cultural obsession with apocalypse and eco-disaster narratives. We are clearly interested in exploring doomsday narratives - whether they be driven by natural disasters, human accident or zombies - that investigate a world after the human. We can see through the apocalypse theme so popular now in speculative fiction, including hits like Cormac McCarthy's The Road or Max Brooks' World War Z, or Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam trilogy, or television series like The Walking Dead, that we are keen to explore storylines that remove humanity from the face of the earth.
3. THIRD. My final area of interest involves the recent turn towards post-humanism and speculative realism in contemporary theory and philosophy. By post-humanism here I mostly mean the critical practice as it inheres in the post-anthropocentric vein of philosophical and theoretical thought (rather than in the transhumanist vein which explores bio and technological transcendence of the human - although that is arguable a manifestation of human self-hatred, or misanthropy, too). Much like cultural representations of the zombie apocalypse, the theoretical trend to 'disappear' the human from thinking - to make epistemology post-human - is critical to understanding not only how western individuals think themselves in the Misanthropocene, but how humanity attempts to think beyond the human, or outside the traditional realm of human reason, values and concerns.
From all sides, we're ushering in the "end of the human world," as Timothy Morton puts it in his recent book Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World.
Think about the emerging environmental argument that's meant to calm our nerves during dinner conversations that have dreadfully been derailed by climate change: "The planet is going to be fine. It will bounce back. We're the ones that are fucked."
That's exactly it. That is the logic of the Misanthropocene. That's it's hard kernel of truth moment. And it's precisely the undeniable persuasion of that argument, and how it bleeds out into a larger cultural ethos, that I'm so interested in exploring.
I think that we've already begun adjusting to that eventual demise and now we're busy thinking about and exploring what that will look like.
We live in strange times. With the multiple environmental crises that collectively represent the Anthropocene bearing down upon us, it isn't just the existence of the natural world that is up for question - it's the very question of our humanity. And not just if we survive, but what we will survive as and what we will survive for.