The Embedded and Embodied Humans

Human exceptionality as discovers of the secrets of all births of everything along with the ontology of inseparability inside oneself and outside of natural and the cultural (embodied and embedded nature of humanity) existence manifests a contract with nature. The natural contract was unfortunately set aside and forgotten by the social contract of modernity. The social contract of modernity is anthropocentric and has been the cause of the destruction of ecology. We need a natural contract between humans and nature that would bring about symbiotic relations between humans and nature. This requires new and disruptive thinking that contests our habitual Cartesian thinking that objectifies, genders and passify nature. Thinking of this kind will enable us to overcome the castrating dichotomies that shape our thinking of relations between Humans and nature. This means we have to accept that nature is not the mute passive ground of human action. Hence, we will need a reject what Serres calls reductive umbilical thinking.

Serres thinks of agency as a relational part of conglomeration and amalgamation. We may find that this way of thinking is congruent with the notion of assemblage in Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Serres thinks that nature is continuously enacting its agency in the world. This mode of thinking is opening us to focus on eco-political agency in the context of the global ecological crises that are facing us. Serres thinks of agency (human and non-human) as a possibility, inclination and invention. This way of thinking is decentering the position of humans who thought they were the crown of nature. It contests the narcissism of humans who thought of themselves as the culmination of all things. This position is subversive and critical of the idea of humans as the masters of nature. Humans as masters lead to the death and destruction of humanity as well as nature. This is why Serres speaks about a relation of symbiosis and advocates the acceptance of a natural contract in place of the social contract that brought about a dichotomy between nature and culture and lead us to the path of destruction. The natural contract will validate and affirm nature and will check the reductionist treatment of nature and non-human agency.

Nature cannot be reduced to only human nature. Serres thinks that nature behaves as a subject and has agency. Hence, he reverses our familiar subject-object relation between humans and nature. He strives hard to bridge the gap between nature and humans and heals the alienation between the two. By doing this he contests the phallogocentric construction of the agency as self-possession and that of the object as one of passive inertia. He, therefore, strives to overcome our anthropocentric obsession with a human agency that brutally obfuscates non-human agencies. Serres attempts to bring about a balance between both human and non-human agencies and leads us to novel possibilities opened by the recognition of non-human agencies. He tells us that the earth speaks to us in terms of forces, bonds and interactions. This speaking of the earth is enough to lead us to a natural contract.

Serres sees the relationship between human and non-human agencies as parasitic where the parasite takes all and gives nothing and where the host gives all and takes nothing. This relation is unidirectional. It is one-way arrow of the subject-object relations. We can see parasites everywhere but this relationship is not sustainable and is violent and destructive. Its history is of phallocentrism and is a single history. It is a history of identity which reminds us that we are others, sons of our mothers. This is why Serres teaches that we need a contract with nature that he thinks we owe to nature, a kind of legal identity that will lead us to ground our life on reciprocity and symbiosis. We have to note that Serres thinks of agency not in terms of conscious intention but in terms of four operations: receiving, storing, processing and emitting information. This mode of thinking agency renders subject-object dichotomy unthinkable. This does not mean that there are no subjects and objects but they are constantly substituting for each other. This means we are challenged to observe intra-actions.

This mode of thinking takes us away from language. It marks its boundary from the linguistic turn, semiotic turn, interpretive (hermeneutical) turn and cultural turn. it is turning away for a representative mode of thinking. What seems to be true is that we have a material turn which is using tools that are anti-representationalist, non-hierarchical, and decentering which are moving towards an interactive ontology. Maybe inspired by Jacques Derrida we may have to declare that there is no outside nature. Mattering is the das ding of nature and humans. This means the knowing subject is not human alone but complex assemblages that undo the boundaries between the inside and outside of the self. This means we are led to accept the embodied and embedded, relational and affective nature of being human in the world. Our relationality and the constant bifurcation of being subjects and objects require to be factored in to understand our agency and that of our nonhuman others. Therefore, we may have to begin with affinities rather than identities. This approach will lead to new ethics of recognition of humans as well as the agency of nature. Maybe we need to embrace Nietzsche’s affirmative ethics of saying yes to life and recognize our as well as the agencies of non-human others. Serres’ distributed agency opens us to move away from subject-object dichotomy-based knowledge. This shift also takes us away from subject-object based ethics. We have the challenge to consider the symbiotic intra-active agencies of humans and non-humans. Ethics, therefore, becomes a practice of symbiosis. This means we have the challenge to move to an integral mode of thinking that considers holistically both human and non-human agencies.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao