The critical theorist Frederic Vandenberghe sent this essay to assist my research. It may only be cited on condition that researchers reference published copyrighted versions which have appeared in The Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour (2003, 34, 4), Societe (2004, 24, in French) and Tijdshrift voor Humanistiek (2004). The essay will be removed from this blog upon request of Frederic Vandenberghe if not compliant with fair use conditions.
2. The Nature of Culture
2. 1 The Culture of Modernity
2. 2 Towards a Realist Phenomenology of Nature
A Realist Theory of Nature
Regional Typologies Post-humanism, or the cultural logic of global neo-capitalism
"Chaque époque doit découvrir son humanisme, en l’orientant vers le danger principal d’aliénation" (Simondon, 1969: 102).
"Philosophy is a long footnote at the bottom of this declaration, uttered with fear and trembling: ‘Nous voici, nous les humains, nous les mortels!" (Ricoeur, 1989: 101).
Table of Contents
1. Revolutions and Reifications
Globalisation and the New Civilisational Shift
New Reactionaries, New Ideologies
3. We have never been human
3. 1 The Exteriorisation of the Organs
A Theory of Alienation without Alienation
3. 2 Machinic Heterogenesis
The Plane of Immanence
Homo homini parasitus
3. 3 Intermezzo: Living Machines
The Order of Things
Mechanology as Vitalist Technology
4. Neo-capitalism and the Colonisation of Life
4.1 Deleuzian Capitalism
The New Spirit of Capitalism
Networks of Capital
4. 2 Colonisation, Commodification and Reification
Governing the Self
The Commodification of Culture
The Colonisation of Life
5. Gen-ethical Considerations on the Reinvention of Nature
The End of Nature
The Reinvention of Nature
Life-politics and the Technological Performance of Morality
The Slippery Slopes of Liberal Eugenics
Posthuman Humanist Postscript
1. Revolutions and Reifications
The heated discourse on globalisation (and its globalisation) and the rise of a powerful anti-globalisation movement might be indicative of the fact that post-industrial, neo-capitalist societies are slowly but surely nearing the threshold of a new civilisational shift. In the next twenty or thirty years or so, societies within the North Atlantic rim will enter what Gramsci called ‘a new epoch of civilisation within advanced capitalism’. This new epoch builds further on the capitalism, industrialism and consumerism of today and radicalises some of its features (accumulation of capital, centralisation of power, dematerialisation of production, individualisation of consumption, etc.), yet is radically different from the one that emerged after the Second World War. The contours of this knowledge-based techno-civilisation are still vague. Sociologists who analyse the global transformations of late modernity in the domains of economics, technology, ecology, geopolitics, law, culture, war, etc., don’t know how to refer the newly emerging form of society: late modern (Giddens), late capitalist (Mandel), post-modern (Lyotard), post-industrial (Bell), post-fordist (Coriat), programmed (Touraine), informational (Castells) and risk (Bell) have all been proposed as adjectival labels for the new times, but apart from the terms of post-modernity and its successor, globalisation, none of them has really stuck. Perhaps it’s still too early and it’s only with hindsight, after dusk, that historians will be able to formulate the ontology of our present. Meanwhile the proverbial man on the street wonders ‘what else, what more’ the future will bring. Even if he’s a happy consumer and is not averse to technological change, he’s anxious about the future. At his most philosophical moments, he may voice his complaints about the destruction of nature, the commercialisation of society and the spiritual decline of humanity. Speculating about the next fifty or hundred years, he’s pessimistic about the future and fears for the future of his children and his grand children. "What will the human be in one, ten or a hundred million years?" (Hottois, 2001: 35) falls beyond his purview, though I suspect that like most people he would answer like Lord Keynes: ‘In the long run, we are all dead’.
Globalisation and the New Civilisational Shift
Globalisation is a container term. Altough it predominantly refers to global changes that are arguably triggered by the restructurations of the economic realm (liberalisation of world trade, internationalisation of the organisation of production, global spread of consumerism, declining costs of transportation and communications, etc.), it is important not to reduce globalisation to its economic dimension and to adopt an interdisciplinary approach that is able to take into account the economic as well as the political, technological, ecological, social, moral and cultural dimensions of the accelerated ‘time-space compression’ we are witnessing today (Vandenberghe, 1999a). As a catchword of our time, globalisation does not only refer to economic transformations across the globe, but to the conjunction and integration of the economic, digital and biotechnological revolutions in a single revolution that is triggering an epochal civilisational shift. Together, those three simultaneous revolutions are radically transforming the parameters of human existence and, uncontrolled, they may even put the survival of humanity at risk (Guillebaud, 2001: 36-40).
First, there’s, of course, the global economic revolution. Since the fall of the Berlin wall, capitalism has become the only game in town. It’s not the end of history, but with the spread of the neo-liberal ideology through the globe, there seems to be no alternative to the market and hardly any limits to its operations. As flows of capital, money, goods, services, people, information, technologies, policies, ideas, images and regulations transcend individual nation-states and dissolve their borders, the regulating power of the state is being curtailed. Everywhere, the welfare state is under attack and the question remains if, once destroyed, it will ever be reconstructed. The power of the state is waning when it is most needed to domesticate capitalism and restrain the immense power of transnational corporations. If the state is not reorganised from within into a federation of cosmopolitan states that can successfully re-regulate the market, the global economy might well be able to submit all other subsystems to its imperatives and to transform the world into a single, unified economic world system. Braudel’s économie-monde might be looming at the horizon, not as a rigid and well-integrated system, but as a global meshwork. The second revolution is the digital or cyberrevolution. The first computers were invented in the 1940’s; by the 1980’s the first personal computers became available for use in the office and household; in 1990, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. Nowadays, virtually everybody in the West has access to the internet and it is estimated that by 1935 one billion people will be on line world wide. All spheres of life are progressively integrated into the cyberworld. One after the other, economy, finance, commerce, culture, science, education, communication, leisure, etc. go virtual. The third revolution, the one I will talk about in this essay, is the genetic revolution or the revolution in molecular biology and its bio-industrial applications.
The three revolutions are not unlinked. They interact, interfere and strenghten each other; together, they revolutionise existing societies and prepare their entry into a techno-capitalistic civilization. Capitalism, informatics and the bio-sciences cannot be separated; together they form a complex and highly dynamic techno-industrial system that undermines traditional conceptions of the human. For the first time in history, human evolution can be accelerated and steered. This may be a blessing but it can also lead to the self-destruction of humanity. Technology in itself is innocent, as Weber rightly said, but neo-capitalism is not. Incorporated and driven by capitalist logics of accumulation, the techno-sciences may become dangerous, perhaps even lethal, if they are not kept in check.
The thesis I want to defend in this essay is that the conjunction of capitalism, informatics and genetics might be paving the way to the technological modification and commodification of human nature and, thereby, to a new kind of reification (Verdinglichung) that neither Marx nor Lukács had foreseen when they coined the concept. The old concept of reification was forged to analyse the transformation of labour power into a commodity and to criticize the degradation of human beings into things. Reformulating the concept of reification, Habermas actualised it in the eightees to investigate the invasion of the life-world by the objectifying logic of the market and the administration. The colonisation of the life-world undermines its communicative infrastructure and leads to the generalised diffusion of strategic behaviour through all the realms of life. The new reification goes further. As the techno-sciences scientifically deconstruct and technologically overcome the ontological distinctions between the human, the animal and the thing, human life itself is objectivated, patented, modified and commodified. Neo-capitalism knows no limits – apart from the ones that it is wont to transgress – and speculates on life itself. The new developments in the bio-sciences and the attemps of the techno-industry to transform life itself into a commodity show that global neo-capitalism does not only colonise the life-world, but that it is intent on reifying and colonising life itself for the sake of profit.
If the old reification transformed humans into things, the new reification goes further and scrambles the old ontological distinctions between the human, the animal and the thing. As the dividing lines between entities become fluid, complex and porous, human beings loose their distinctiveness. "Does genetics not bring us back in fact to an undifferentiated community of the human and the animal? Do cognitive sciences not suggest the hypothesis of a brain computer or a possible artificial intelligence and do they thereby not establish the proximity between man and machine? Do molecular physics not postulate a principled continuity of matter, living matter and man included?" (Guillebaud, 2001: 17). Once the human is downgraded to the animal and nature upgraded to the human, the distinctions between the ontological regions are bound to disappear. Reduced to genes, molecules and machines, humans, animals and things can then be mixed and recombined in a monstrous living artefact that is neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring.
With Habermas (2001b: 51), we can distinguish three ways to destroy civilisation. The first way is cultural. Looking back at a tradition of its own making and desperately searching for some kind of stability, different forms of fundamentalism – from the ecological to the theological – are willing to pay the price of the cultural and structural de-differentiation of modern societies to obtain some illusory security. The second way to destroy civilisation is systemic. Modern societies can not only destroy themselves through de-differentiation, but also through the exacerbation of the differenciation of its subsystems. Systematically uncoupled from the communicative structures of the life-world, the reifying logic of the economic, administrative, legal, scientific and technological subsystems can enter the life-world, with the result that the subjects start to behave as if they and the others in their environment were some kind of mini-systems themselves. According to Luhmann, this has already happened. The future lies behind us. Radicalising the reifying logic of the second way of destruction, the third way (sic) pertains to the risks of a technological modification and commodification of human nature itself. Driven forward by the thirst of profit, the techno-scientific advances in the contemporary bio-, cyber- and nano-industries steadily undermine the moral limits of anthropic production and open up the post-human perspective of the Übermensch, of the technological unmaking of the human through the genetic (com)modification of human nature.
To understand the perspective of the technological destruction of the human, one might follow the paradoxical reversals of G. B. Vico’s principle of the verum factum, which, supposedly, founds the human sciences as hermeneutic sciences, into the engineering principle of universal "factibility" (Heidegger’s Machenschaft). In an indirect polemics with Descartes’ theory of innate ideas, Vico stated in his Scienza nuova that we can understand history, because we have made it. However, we cannot understand nature: only God, who has made it, can understand it. As soon as the principle was formulated in 1744, Feuerbach and Marx creatively reformulated it. We have made God; therefore, we can understand him. Theology thus turns into anthropology. And we have also made nature, not just the urban environment and the countryside, but as the French wave in the social studies of science has taught us, also nature as such, nature as it is studied by the natural sciences. Anthropology turns into technology. And now that technology also makes the human, the circle is closed and technology reverts back to theology. At this point, everything is made, but there is hardly anything left to understand, apart perhaps from the non-culture of disenchantment that has brought us there.
New Reactionaries, New Ideologies
In this essay I want to present a critical analysis of post-humanism from a humanist perspective. The contemporary developments in the fields of bio-, cyber- and nano-technology that reinvent nature and reconstruct the human will not be welcomed here as the latest move in the "pomo-debate" that finishes off the human by deconstructing the "phallogoanthropocentrism" of Western thought, but rather as one more nail in the coffin of humanity. What I present is a "heuristics of fear" (Jonas, 1984: 385) at the beginning of the Third Millenium. If I extrapolate and exaggerate the extent of the risk, it is only for strategic reasons, and not because I believe that after the end of God, philosophy, history, grand narratives, art, nature, etc., we have already reached the end of Man, though if we are not careful, the end might well be nigh. My catastrophism is not naive, but like Dupuy’s, it is enlightened, reflexive and relatively controlled; it calls for prudence, not despair (Dupuy, 2002). Similarly, if I adopt a conservative posture in epistemo-ontological matters and unashamedly try to rehabilitate humanism - "a term used to signify all that is bad in traditional theorizing: universalism, rationalism and essentialism" (Stavro-Pearce, 1994: 217) - it is only for moral and political reasons. I want to vouchsafe the normative position that is necessary to criticise universal commodification and to politically combat the new reifications of our time. That the epistemological radicalism of deconstruction ends up deconstructing itself is only consequent, but that in spite of all its intentions, declarations and gesticulations, it accompanies the "creative-destruction" of the world by the global entrepreneurs of today as its soundtrack, that is more worrying. What we need after post-modernism and deconstruction is critique and reconstruction.
In France and elsewhere, a revamped vitalism is now spreading like a virus through academia and beyond. It attracts the more radicalised students and, of late, the apolitical Deleuze who never travelled, has even become the hero of the wandering anarcho-communistic fractions of the anti-globalisation movement. La pensée 68, the old structuralism of the 60’s, is now definitively passé. Structures are out of fashion; networks and rhizomes are in. As the structural relations between the positions that make up the system are backgrounded, the intersubjective relations between actors who perform networks gain prominence in intellectual discourses. In the same way as markets are opposed to the state, networks are pitched against structures and introduced into systems in order to make them more fluid and flexible, more agile and nimble, better adapted for survival in a rapidly changing market environment. Bourdieu, Lacan, Foucault are dead; only Levi-Strauss and Derrida are alive, while the neo-kantian gravedigger of structuralism became minister of education under a right wing government. As to the old revolutionnaries of yore, they have now become ‘new reactionaries’. If one may believe Daniel Lindenberg (2001), who wrote a much commented pamphlet on the issue, Sollers, Taguieff, Manent, Debray, Ferry and others who supposedly have gone over to the other side, now buck up the neo-liberal politics of globalisation, call for the restauration of law and order and support Israel and the US against Palestine. I will not go into such cheap polemics. Instead, I will propose an ideological critique of the new Lebensphilosophie, as it is expressed in a whole range of post-humanist theories of complexity, connectivity, non linearity, fluidity, etc. that consider the opposition between the human and the non human as another superfluous distinction that needs to be philosophically, scientifically and technologically deconstructed. I will not say that the neo-nietzschean vitalists of today are reactionnaries. As a matter of fact, they are not, but in so far as the contemporary fascination for networks tunes in all too well with the neo-capitalist politics of global flexibilisation, they find a willing ear with shareholders and new actionnaries. Taking a critical look at Deleuze, Serres, Simondon and other post-humanists who have inspired the seminal formulation of actor-network theory of Latour and Callon, I will present the fascination for networks and rhizomes as a ‘retiology’ (Musso, 2003: 233 and 326), that is as an ideology of networks for the newly emerging transnational ruling class. Looking at post-humanist philosophies and sociologies of technology against the background of the contemporary developments in the bio-sciences, molecular biology and genetics in particular, I will read them as ideological expressions of the cultural logic of neo-capitalism and use them as a springboard to develop a post-marxist critique of bio-political economy.
In the "untimely considerations" that follow on the deconstruction of the categories of the human and the non-human by post-humanist theories and late-capitalist practices, the theoretical-critical, and at times, even polemical mode of presentation of ideas has been chosen. The essay is divided in four parts. The first part is more epistemological and deals with the concepts of nature and culture. Drawing on the work of critical realism and transcendental phenomenology, I try to outline the contours of a realist phenomenology of human, animal and spiritual nature. This phenomenology of nature forms, however, only the background from which the critical analysis of the experimental scrambling of the regional ontologies that characterises post-humanism will depart. In the second part, I will introduce the main tenets of post-humanism through an analysis of the co-evolution of technology and humanity. That human beings exteriorise their organs into technology and that the artificial organism modifies in turn the make-up of human beings, this is the basic insight that underlies post-humanist philosophies of technology. In more detail, I will look at the work of André Leroi-Gourhan, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Michel Serres and Gilbert Simondon. In the third part, which is more sociological, I will connect post-humanism to neo-capitalism and argue that the latter is in effect, if not in intent, Deleuzian. As a network of networks, it is rhizomatic, flexible, chaosmotic, evolving, expanding. In the negativist spirit that characterises the work of the Frankfurt School, I will show via an analysis of goverment of the self, the commodification of culture and the modification of nature, how contemporary capitalism does not only colonise the life-world but life itself. Finally, in the last part, I will take up the issue of nature again, but from a more normative perspective, and conclude with an appeal to ethics: Instead of changing nature, should we not rather change culture? Can we reconstruct and reinvent nature as a moral convention that holds technology in check?
2. The Nature of Culture
The nice thing about culture is that everyone has it. The Bororo, the Mekeo, the Baktaman, the Katchin, the Nuer and the Taliban have it, but so do IBM, McDonalds and the ISA (International Sociological Association). Culture has become a global phenomenon. By this Marilyn Strathern (1995) means that the Euro-American perception of the ubiquitous role of culture in human affairs which is typical of cultural anthropology, post-colonial and cultural studies can be summoned in almost any context and at almost any level of human interaction. To the extent that anthropology puts things in contexts and conceives of culture both as a particularising context and as a generalising metacontext of contexts, anthropology can be understood as an analytical machine for creating and comparing differences, for making incommensurables and providing at the same time a comparative framework for making them commensurable.
2. 1 The Culture of Modernity
Travelling to exotic countries and coming back to their homes and universities, anthropologists import culture and export cultures. Culture may now be everywhere - in the streets and the universities but also on the shelves of your local supermarket - the fact remains that this double conception of culture as a singular plurale tantum is in itself most singular. It is a European invention and one that is not very old. As a concept of philosophical significance, it emerged in Germany in the eighteenth century as a romantic reaction to the universalism of the Enlightenment. Like its conceptual counterpart nature, and like alienation, which dialectically thematises the ontological degradation of culture into (second) nature, culture is, as Raymond Williams (1976: 76) has remarked, "one of the two or three most complicated words of the language".
In European languages, the word culture is used in at least three different senses, a more philosophical one, an anthropological one, and a common one (Schnädelbach, 2000: 10-19). As opposed to nature (phusis in Greek, referring to that which grows by itself and exists independently of humans), culture in the broadest sense refers, first of all, to everything that has been created by humans and is socially transmitted and reproduced. Culture, one could say, is everything human, everything which is produced by humans and which cannot be understood by itself. Without humans there is no culture, but without culture there are no humans either, as human beings are by nature cultural beings. Culture in this encompassing sense refers to the totality of human products that produce human beings.
Moving from culture in the singular to cultures in plural, we arrive at the second meaning: Culture as a symbolic expression and emanation of the "soul" of a collectivity that differentiates that collectivity from other collectivities and determines their "whole way of life, from birth to the grave, from morning to night and even in sleep" (Eliot, 1948: 31). Babylonian, Egyptian, Hindu, Arabic, Chinese, European and, why not?, Mancunian, Kwakiutl and Omaha cultures represent so many cultures, so many different ways of world-making, so many different ways of life. Speaking of English culture, the American essayist and poet T.S. Eliot lists Derby Day, Henley Regatta, the Twelfth of August, a cup final, the dog races, the dartboard, Wensleydale cheese, boiled cabbage cut into sections, beetroot in vinegar, nineteenth-century Gothic churches and the music of Elgar. Within each of the cultures, of which English culture represents only a particular, so to say provincial example among others, culture can, thirdly, refer to a social subsystem, differentiated among others from the political, economic and juridical subsystems, that is internally differentiated into several fields and subfields of cultural production, from museums, arts and literature to comics and haute couture, to only mention a few which Bourdieu has investigated.
Culture in singular, as opposed and yet internally related to nature, exists only in plural. The conception of culture as a plurale tantum, as one amongst other cultures and as a subsystem of the social system, is typically modern. Herodotos, Protagoras and other sophists were obviously aware of the existence of other cultures, but they nevertheless remained ethnocentric and conceived of the ‘non-Grecians’ (Bush Jr.) as barbarians. Although modern cultures have also been prone to exclude the ‘Other’, to phrase it mildly, they were also able and willing to consider themselves as barbarians and to question their own superiority. "The extent to which Western society has historically constituted itself through the denial of the ‘other’ and violent oppression of whole constituencies of the human species is indisputable and today increasingly well documented. So, too, is the process through which it began to question these exclusions, and to open itself to the possibility that these ‘others’ had been illegitimately excluded" (Soper, 1995: 66). In modernity, the recognition of cultures other than one’s own and the understanding of one’s own culture as one culture among others are correlative processes that trigger the reflexivity of culture as such. If there is culture, it is first of all between those that do not share the same culture.
Taking the attitude of the exotic other, seeing one’s own culture through the eyes of the culture of the other leads not only to a relativisation of one’s own culture and a concomitant opening up to the other cultures in and through a progressive "fusion of horizons" (Gadamer), but also, and perhaps more interestingly, to a methodological self-objectification that estranges and thereby makes one aware of one’s own culture. This methodological self-alienation paves the way to a critical hermeneutics that is able to uncover and make conscious the culturally and historically determined deep symbolic forms that pre-structure our vision of the world and ourselves, and thereby mediate and make possible our being-in-the-world (Kögler, 1992). In any case, awareness and acceptance of multiple cultures induce reflexive processes of cultural self-relativisation and self-objectification that make one become aware of culture as such, and correlatively, of nature as such. This reflexive emergence of the distinction between nature and culture is an epochal cultural event. It grounds the human sciences in general and anthropology in particular, or at least that branch of anthropology that defines itself by its subject matter and proceeds by way of a comparative analysis of culture.
Although premodern and modern cultures are both equally caught up in "the symbolical nets that they have spun themselves" (Cassirer-Geertz), the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is that ‘we’ are able reflexively to know that we are spinning the threads of reality whereas ‘they’ are not aware of what they do, or at least not on this metalevel. Modern cultures are by definition reflexive cultures. They do not simply live in cultural worlds like fish in water, but they know that they do so. They not only know that the world they live in is their own product, but they also know that it is a contingent and conventional world that could be different and is amenable to change. In so far as this self-awareness of cultures proceeds from and presupposes a demarcation from nature (phusis), understood as "that which naturally determines itself" (Aristotle, Phys., II, 1) we can presume that "the concepts of nature and culture are co-original" (Schnädelbach, 2000: 16) and that they are thus constitutive of each other. Indeed, if we follow the speculative historians, from Hegel and Cassirer to Castoriadis, and link the de-differentiation of nature and culture to the epochal transition from mythos to logos that marks the coming of age of humanity, we can see that the emergence of the concept of nature is itself a moment in the "disenchantment" of the natural world and the advent of modernity. Nature only comes into existence as an autonomous domain when it is no longer conceived of as a "magical garden", filled with demons, spirits and other anthropomorphisms, but objectified as an impersonal "mechanism that is submitted to the laws of causality" (Weber, 1922: 564). This scientific objectification of nature is inseparable from the progressive denaturalisation of culture. As a matter of fact, the objectification of nature is itself an important stage in the grand Weberian narrative of the rationalisation of culture and society that characterises the world-historical advent of modernity. In modernity culture is no longer alienated as "second nature", created and instituted by the finger of God, but is thoroughly demystified and recognised as a human product. Conceived as nomos, culture appears to the modern mind as a conventional order of reality that is in principle transformable by humans. Unlike pre-modern cultures that occlude their creative potential by positing a metasocial or divine foundation of their own constitution, modern cultures are thoroughly reflexive and autonomous. They give themselves their own laws, and to the extent that they know and accept that they do so, they are able to understand the cultural processes of "imaginary institutions" that constitute them as socio-cultural historical institutions. History and culture have always existed, but it is only in modern societies that they exist in the reflexive form of ´historicity´ and ´culturicity´ (to coin a new term).
The difference between nature and culture is not completely unknown to pre-modern cultures, however. According to Lévi-Strauss (1968), this distinction is as universal as the incest taboo. All cultures make a demarcation between nature and culture, the wild and the domestic, or the raw and the cooked, even if their demarcation does not necessarily correspond to ours (Strathern, 1980). But to the extent that premodern cultures lack reflexivity and are not aware of the distinction itself, we can paraphrase Bruno Latour (1991) and conclude with some irony that "they have never been modern".
2. 2 Towards a Realist Phenomenology of Nature
What is at issue in the contemporary debates on nature that oppose the realism of the "nature-endorsing" approach of the ecologists to the constructivism of the "nature-sceptical" perspectives of the feminists of the third wave (Soper, 1995), is not the nature-culture distinction itself, but the way it is to be drawn, and whether it is to be conceptualised as one of kind or degree. Are we thinking of an absolute distinction between the "ontological regions" of the material world of things and the cultural world of humans, or should we rather conceive of them as "typological regions"? Should we think of an opposition between absolute realms, or of a continuum in which no hard and fast distinctions can be drawn between nature and culture, between things and humans? Or should we perhaps follow the radicalisation of postmodernism-turned-into-posthumanism and ignore the distinction alltogether, happily mixing humans and non-humans in a heterogeneous network?
A Realist Theory of Nature
In an attempt to answer those (admittedly) difficult philosophical questions and to overcome the stalemate of the opposition between naturalists and culturalists, I will seek guidance and inspiration in the critical realism of Roy Bhaskar. With Bhaskar and the realist movement, I start from the distinction between the "transitive" (or epistemic) and the "intransitive" (or ontological) dimension of knowledge (Bhaskar: 1978: 17). Applied to nature, the principle of the existential intransitivity of the objects of knowledge simply states that nature exists independently of our observations and descriptions of it. Assuming for a moment that all human beings were to disappear, nature would presumably still exist. The principle of the socio-historical transitivity of the knowledge of the objects recognises that nature can only be known under certain descriptions and that those are socially and historically variable.
The whole point of this somewhat scholastic distinction is to foreclose the "epistemic fallacy" which, assuming that statements about being can be reduced to statements about knowledge, erroneously concludes from the fact that nature (‘Natur an sich’) can only be known under certain descriptions that those descriptions constitute nature. Collapsed into "nature", nature becomes culture, while the intransitive or extra-discursive existence of nature is simply elided. The signifier "nature" performatively constructs "nature", and at the end of the day the signified is deferred and the referent "exterminated" by discourse. To counter the preposterous ´de-ontological´ claims of radical constructivism and to bring their practitioners back to their senses (and to common-sense), one should, however, take the risk of being pedant and remind them the elementary lessons of realist epistemology. Even if objects can only be known "to us" under certain descriptions, one is nevertheless not allowed to conclude that the descriptions actually construct the objects themselves. Régis Debray (1998: 267), the founder of "mediation studies", has correctly remarked that "it does not follow from the fact that the objective world is inseparable from the practical representations that a society has of it that the latter can construct all its objective references. That a map contributes to the formation of a territory does not mean that the territory is the invention of the cartographer". Indeed, even if mapping and map-making exemplify the ways in which spaces are made presentable and re-presentable in maps, charts, pictures and other inscription devices so that they become available for further exploration, specification, sale, contract, management or any other form of "government" (Latour, 1985, Rose, 1999: 30-37), the defetishisation of the map should not overstep its boundaries. To shore up its political arguments, it should rather recognise the existence of a mappeable substrate and analyse how the techniques of mapping construct a political space of government through the enclosure of entities (land, estates, populations, constituencies, etc.).
Once the independent, extra-discursive existence of nature "out there" is recognised and accepted, we can grant the constructivist that there is, and can be, no reference to nature that is independent of discourse - except in discourse. Provided that we do not interpret the discursive mediation and construction of nature as "nature" ("Natur für uns") as an epistemological licence for the erasure of nature ("Natur an sich"), we can even accept Judith Butler’s most provocative thesis that the "construction of ‘sex’ as the radically unconstructed" (Butler, 1990: 7) is itself a discursive construction. Sex is indeed constructed as "prediscursive", as nature, prior to culture, but precisely through discourse. Discourses of bodies and bodies of discourse intersect in and through reiterative and citational practices that construct what appears as an unconstructed "outside". Given that this outside is "not an ‘absolute’ outside, an ontological thereness that exceeds or counters the boundaries of discourse", but a "constitutive ‘outside’ which can only be thought –when it can- in relation to that discourse" (Butler, 1993: 8), the body doesn’t really matter for Butler, except of course as the unmarked body that makes the cultural distinction between nature and culture, sex and gender possible.
Moreover, to avoid further misunderstandings, it should also be stressed that the distinction between the transitive and the intransitive dimensions of knowledge does not aim to deny the social construction of nature, or its social destruction for that matter. The realist conception of nature only aims to posit the existence of a natural substrate in the physical world that is always already presupposed by the natural sciences and that functions as a transcendental condition of the possible forms of human intervention in nature, from those of the engineer and the transsexual to the lyrical poet and the sociologist of science. With Kate Soper (1995:155-160), we can indeed distinguish between the realist or "deep" concept of nature and the lay or "surface" concept of nature. The latter is used to refer to empirical nature, i.e. to the ordinary observable features and the directly tangible forms in the environment: the fauna and the flora, the countryside, the landscape, "the nature we have destroyed and polluted and are asked to conserve and preserve" (id., 156). As an object of human destruction or of human appreciation, nature is always a human construction.
Provided that we distinguish between deep and surface nature, we can easily accept Beck and Giddens’s thesis of the "end of nature". Sociologists and anthropologists of science have convincingly demonstrated in the last decade that the nature on which the scientists are working in their labs, the brains of the rats they are chopping into slices, the genes they are manipulating, are effectively and literally social constructions (Latour and Woolgar, 1978). And so is the landscape we admire. The nature and countryside we love and drive to in our cars on sunny Sunday afternoons is mostly a cultural landscape. In the countryside, nature is mostly agriculture, and quite often the "pure nature" we crave for is a nature that has been artificially reconstructed as nature by bulldozers (Keulartz, 1998). Finally and more subtly, we could also indicate that to see a stretch of nature as a landscape, one has to frame it, see it and constitute it categorically as a landscape (Trom, 2001).
Can we conceive of nature as something that exists independently of culture and at the same time as something that is always subsumed under culture? Can we combine the insight that the nature-culture distinction is universal with the fact that not all cultures draw it exactly in the same way? To answer that question, let us move from the transcendental realism of Roy Bhaskar to the transcendental phenomenology of Edmund Husserl. Although the idealism of Husserl might seem at first incompatible with the materialism of Bhaskar, one should nevertheless remember that both of them are concerned with a transcendental inquiry into the conditions of possibility of knowledge. Taking the epistemic practices of the natural scientists as the starting point of their epistemological research, Husserl and Bhaskar each attempt in their own way to to answer the Kantian question: "How is nature possible?" by reflexively uncovering the a priori conditions of knowledge. If Bhaskar demonstrates that the natural sciences always already and necessarily presuppose the intransitive existence of nature as an uncontrovertible fact, Husserl insists for his part that this nature can only be grasped if it is categorically constituted as nature (of a certain kind) in and through the epistemic practices of the scientists. By proposing a theory, or perhaps better: a method to describe and analyse the "marvellous correlation between the object of knowledge and the phenomenon of knowledge" (Husserl, 1958: 12), that is the object as it appears to consciousness, Husserl goes further than Bhaskar. Unlike Bhaskar, he not only shows that knowledge of nature necessarily presupposes that there is indeed something like nature "out there" (nature as transcendent object of knowledge), but he also analyses in detail how this nature can be grasped as nature (of a certain kind), that is how the epistemic activities of the subjects constitute nature as an intentional object of a certain kind (nature as phenomenon or immanent object of knowledge). By offering a method for describing in minute detail how the mind can grasp something that exists outside of the mind by constituting it inside the mind as an object of certain kind, he thereby solves an epistemological problem that Bhaskar does not really touch. Inversely, by insisting on the intransitive or transcendent properties of the objects of knowledge, Bhaskar can offer a transcendental index or guideline for the constitutive activities of the mind and act as a safeguard so that the mind cannot constitute the object of knowledge as it pleases, but has to take into account the essential properties of the objects of knowledge. What I want to suggest is that a "cross-reading" of Husserl and Bhaskar indicates the way of a realist phenomenology of nature that is able to describe and account for the correlation between the object and the phenomenon of knowledge.
In a former article, I drew on Husserl’s complicated analysis of the structures of constitution of the material world (the thing-world), the animated world (the animal world) and the spiritual world (the human world) to contest the ontological confusion of things and humans that has become the trademark of actor-network theory (Vandenberghe, 2001a, see also Husserl, 1952). Going ‘back to the things themselves’ in order to analyse how different phenomena give themselves to consciousness and are intentionally constituted as givens of consciousness, I was claiming that all phenomena, human and non human, have an essence (eidos) that predetermines what they necessarily must be when they are to be things of a certain kind. This essence can be a priori determined through the procedure of "eidetic variation". By submitting a given phenomenon, say a book, to a process of imaginative variation, we can freely vary the perspectives on the book, introduce other books, which are different from the first one in terms of colour, size, shape, texture, etc., and gain insight into the materially determinate essence of the book that remains invariant and of which any variation represents only a particular instance and possibility. Once grasped intuitively, an essence can be compared and contrasted with other essences at varying levels of generalisation and specification. At the highest level of generalisation, we can distinguish the three ontological regions of material, animate and spiritual nature that found respectively the physical sciences, the biological and psychophysical sciences, and the human sciences. Convincing ourselves that they are essentially different, we can arrive at a categorical determination of the essence of the thing, the soul and the spirit. Simplifying the long and important but complicated eidetic analyses of Ideen II on the constitution of the world that were so important for Merleau-Ponty (Husserl, 1952), we can say that a thing belongs to the material world by virtue of the fact that it is causally related to other things in a unified spatial-temporal context. The spirit belongs to a human world by virtue of the fact that it is endowed with meaning and intentionally constituted as a cultural world. The transition from the first region to the latter is made possible through the body, which is both an object of nature and an organ of the will, something that can touch, but also something that is touched. Although Husserl distinguishes between three ontological regions, he is, in fact, mainly concerned with the a priori establishment of a categorical distinction between the regions of nature and culture, and with the relation between the natural world and the spiritual, whereby the latter is granted priority over the former.
Assuming for the sake of the argument that the distinction between the ontological regions of nature and culture could be established on secure transcendental-eidetic foundations, we can now reinterpret those regional ontologies as "regional typologies of the historical life-world" (Luckmann, 1970), and combine the transivity of nature with the intransitivity of the nature-culture divide. This move from a transcendental to an empirical phenomenology of the constitution of the regions of reality recodes the opposition between nature and culture, which corresponds to an objective order of the world, into an "artificial creation of culture" (Lévi-Strauss, 1967: xvii). This cultural recoding of the universal divide allows us to make sense of the fact that even if all cultures draw a line between nature and culture, they nevertheless draw it differently.
Without falling into the evolutionist traps of the early anthropologists, I think, however, that we can generally differentiate the typologies of the pre-modern and the modern life-worlds by saying that the former are holistic societies with gift economies that tend to interpret things within a anthropomorphic frame as if they were human, whereas the latter are individualistic societies with commodity economies that tend to interpret humans in a fetishistic frame as if they were things. By insisting on the as if character of those typifications, their conventionalist or imaginary status is recognised: Things are things and humans are humans by nature, but that does not mean that humans cannot be conceived and treated as animals or things, things as animals or humans. It is enough to swap the perspectives, seeing ourselves and the "others" through the estranging eye of the anthropologist, to obtain a perspective on the perspective that allows for a systematic relativisation or "symmetrisation" (Bloor) of both of the regional typifications. What seems strange to "us" is familiar and ordinary to "them", and vice versa, but there’s no reason to assume that either of the miscategorisations is superior to the other. As Castoriadis (1975: 221) rightly says, "Treating a human as a thing is not less but more imaginary than seeing a human as an owl".
In the realm of the imaginary, one is no longer dealing with differences in kinds or realms, but with a continuum and fluid transitions between the extremities. In a world in which nature can become culture and culture can become second nature, things, animals and humans can be more or less natural, more or less human, and shift from one end of the continuum to other, as can be gathered from the fact that the Greeks considered slaves as things, that the colonial masters considered Negroes as animals, and that there are still too many husbands who consider their spouses as pets. In the meantime, blacks, women and pets have jumped the ditch between humans and non-humans, while at the same time everything, or almost everything, from body parts, babies and football players to audiences and human capacities, can be alienated and reified into a commodity (Radin, 1996). Notwithstanding the fetishism that is attached to commodities, they don’t grow on trees but are eminently cultural. Like slaves, goods have a trajectory or a biography (Appadurai, 1986). In the same way as slaves are dehumanised when they are sold as things and forced to work (the slave as "thing in the field") and rehumanised in a new setting (the slave as "person in bed" – Patterson, quoted by Kopytoff, 1982: 220), goods are reified into commodities when they enter the market and decommodified and repersonalised as they leave the sphere of circulation to enter the sphere of consumption.
By allowing for a cultural recoding of the ontological divide through regional typologies, the "interpretative flexibility" (Bijker) of the world is foregrounded. The regional ontologies of the world do no more determine the interpretations of the world than the base determines the superstructure, though the latter are obviously conditioned by the former. Nevertheless, if we want to conceive of some kind of progress through "epistemic gain" (Taylor, 1989), we have to assume as a regulative ideal that in the very long run the regional typologies of the life-world will come to overlap and coincide with the regional ontologies. When appearances and essences are identical, humans, animals and things will be considered as what they really are. This asymptotical overlap (or Deckung) of the ontological and the epistemological, of words and things, can be expected on the grounds of the self-corrective mechanism that is built in human cognition. Nothing forbids us to to conceive of human beings as baboons, baboons as cauliflowers, cauliflowers as stones and stones as persons, but the imaginary transfer of the project on the object is nevertheless restricted by the fact that the meanings that are intentionally transferred and projected from the subject onto the object will eventually be confirmed, modified or discomfirmed by the objects themselves. Thus, when I intentionally represent the stone as a person, the noematic meaning of the stone which I constitute in my present experience of the stone and automatically transfer to the next phase of the experience will be partially or totally confirmed or disconfirmed, depending on whether the stone walks, talks, etc., or not. When the projected meaning is totally confirmed and the object fills and fulfills each and every one of the expectations, then the object and the project perfectly overlap. "Then the real adequatio rei et intellectus is produced. The object is really ‘present’ or ‘given’, exactly as the object is intended and as the object that it is intended to be; there is no longer a partial intention that lacks fulfillment" (Husserl, 1980: II/2: 118). This is the noetic experience of evidence, and when it is continuously repeated and sediments into a relatively natural worldview, we can presume - for the time being and until further notice - that we have arrived at the truth and that the object really is as it is and as it gives itself to consciousness. "The objective correlate [of noetic experience of evidence] is called Being, or also Truth" (id.: 122). Truth may be an artefact, but when the artifice is intersubjectively validated and the relation between culture and nature is continuously confirmed in and through discursive practices, the ontology and the typology of the natural, the animal and the human world naturally overlap. When the congruence between them is given with evidence, we can counterfactually presume that that the regional typology is grounded in reality as such. When it speaks the language of reality, reason presumably cannot be wrong - or can it?
So far so good, were it not that since world war II the stable ontologies of yore have become subject to epochal technological inventions and reinventions of nature that are so revolutionary that they may well undermine any attempt to maintain a priori distinctions between humans, animals and things. As a result of the recent developments in bio-, nano- and cybertechnology, my archeo-modernist refusal to treat ontologies as simple ways of speaking that can be changed at will seems quaint and outmoded. That humans and non-humans can be assembled and interconnected in heterogeneous networks is nothing new. If we may believe Latour and the other members of his expanding actor-network-network (Latour-Callon-Akrich-Law-Mol-etc.), the fact that societies are stabilised through quasi-objects (a.k.a. "hairy" objects), that objects are so to say the "cement" that keeps human collectives together, is the differentia specifica that distinguishes human beings from baboons (Strum and Latour, 1988). In this respect pre-modern cultures are not that different from modern cultures. "We" may have electronic cars, Portuguese vessels and "couch-potatoes", but the fact that we have more and longer socio-technical networks in which humans and non-humans are chained to each other only shows that we are not really modern and that, like "them", we don’t really make a priori distinctions between nature and culture (Latour, 1991). In so far as actor network theory teaches us a post-modern way of telling semiotic stories about technology and about how it "redistributes" the actions of humans and non-humans over syntagmatic chains, it represents a most innovative, provocative and interesting take on the sociology of science and technology that projects and presents itself as an experimental ontology. The problem with this and similar socio-philosophical attempts to develop an experimental ontology that wilfully scrambles the demarcations between the material, the animal and the human world lies not with those attempts themselves, but with the fact that their joyous anti-humanism may well offer an ideological countenance to the socio-technical practices of the engineers of the contemporary bio- and cybertech industries of late capitalism that make tons of money by artificially producing a monstrous nature that transforms the nature of the human itself.
As far as I’m concerned, post-modernists and their radical cousins, the post-humanists, can "cyborg anything – mix and juxtapose elements that are thereby made compatible in so far as their combination creates a workable circuit of ideas" (Strathern, 1995: 165). But when I read in the newspaper that sheep are cloned and that it soon will be our turn, when I hear on the radio that pigs’ genes are modified and patented so that their hearts can be transplanted into human bodies, when I’m told that the world champion of chess has been beaten by "Deep Blue" and that some people are dreaming of "downloading" the entire human brain into an artificial, immortal body, I start worrying about the future of "really existing humanity". I start wondering about the innocence of the post-humanist celebrations of the new "meat and metal symbiosis" that allows us finally to overcome our philosophical anthropocentrism and to become the monstrous Übermensch that Nietzsche and the neo-Nietzschians want us to become: "The organic can rise to yet higher levels. Our eagerness to know nature is a means to perfect the body. […] In the long run, it is not a question of man at all: he is to be overcome" (Nietzsche, quoted by Deleuze, 1965: 59).
3. We have never been human
This is a story about organised complexity, technological mediation and human alienation. Looking for a third position that polemically overcomes the ancient "conflict of the faculties", post-modern philosophers, historians and sociologists of science and technology set sail for the Canadian High North. Tacking through the icy waters and the immense arctic archipelagos, they search for the epistemic equivalent of "the Northwest Passage" between Alaska and Greenland that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The passage that connects the natural and the human sciences is a complex unfolding topological network of mutual translations between theories and practices, forms and forces, words and things that performatively co-construct and co-produce the long winding road that connects nature and culture. At the end of the journey, the passage appears at the misty horizons: "[It is] the passage that one didn’t hope to find anymore between two types of knowledge, each of which always deals with humans and the world, but separated by a bar, as if there were two worlds, the one of those who are awake and the other of those who are asleep, as if there were two humanities, the one that is busy transforming things, and the one that delights in its own relations" (Serres, 1980a: 60). At the intersection of the natural and the human sciences, mediating between both, stands ‘techno-logy’ (among other things and other sciences), understood as the science of the productive forces that socially transform nature and naturally make society.
Reconnecting the two humanities, ‘technology’ acts as double mediation between nature and society that performatively co-constructs the objects and the subjects as it interconnects them into a ‘seamless web’. Humans make artefacts and the artefacts they make organise and fix them into human collectives. Socially constructed by humans, technology constructs society – that is how one could neatly summarise the constructivist position of contemporary social studies of science and technology (Akrich, 1994). Having supplemented the mantra of the action sociologists "no humans-no society" ("intersubjectivity") with its inversion "no objects-no society" ("interobjectivity"), the postmodern analysers of science and technology go on, however, and tell us that without objects there would not only be no society, but there would be no human beings either. By means of a post-humanist gloss, Mike Michael (2000: 1) eloquently summarises the main tenets of Actor-Network-Theory: "There are no humans in the world. Or rather, humans are fabricated – in language, through discursive formations, in their various liaisons with technological and natural actors, across networks that are heterogeneously comprised of humans and non-humans who are themselves so comprised".
3. 1 The Exteriorisation of the Organs
To make hard the claim that human beings would not be human without non-human beings, French anthropologists, sociologists and mediologists of a post-humanist bent draw on the seminal work of André Leroi-Gourhan, the paleo-anthropologist and pre-historian who deciphered the "mythogrammes" of the grottes of Lascaux and who can be considered as the antipode of Lévi-Strauss. As a student of the prehistory of humanity, Leroi-Gourhan has analysed the process of humanisation in terms of the progressive specialisation of the two corporeal zones of the face and the hand, which, once liberated by the upward posture of humans, have made possible the exteriorisation of the brain and the body into the extra-organic realms of symbolical institutions and material technology, both of which have led to a better grip on reality. Putting man thus "back on his feet", Leroi-Gourhan pithily summarised his conclusion in Le geste et la parole, his masterwork in two volumes, by saying that "humanisation begins with the feet" (Leroi-Gourhan, 1964, I: 211). Indeed, the vertical locomotion of the "Zinjanthrope" has liberated the hand from the constraints of locomotion, which is a precondition for the development of tools, and the liberation of the hand has in turn liberated the mouth from the tasks that are related to food and thus made speech possible.
In this grand narrative of the process of humanisation, which started two and a half million years ago, the development of the brain appears only as a secondary process that follows the general one, though once developed, it will take a decisive role in the evolution of mankind. Once the double capacity of the fabrication of tools and symbolic expression is functionally acquired, the process of humanisation and civilisation can begin and be understood as a process of progressive "exteriorisation of the operational programmes" that allow human beings to successfully adapt to their environment. At first, a piece of technology is a prosthetic extension of the hand that is exteriorised, but then it becomes independent of the hand and starts to follow its own laws. The same holds for for language. At first, memory is the extension and exteriorisation of speech, but then, with the invention of writing, memory can be stored in archives, knowledge can evolve according to its own laws and be accessed at any time or consumed anywhere, thanks to the mass media. With the total exteriorisation of the organs in autonomous socio-cultural and socio-technical institutions and organisations, the evolution of humans is "liberated" or "unballasted" from its biological substrate and comes to its term:
Liberated from his gestures, his muscles, the programmation of his actions, his memory, liberated from his imagination by the perfection of the means of tele-diffusion, liberated from the animal and the vegetal world, from the wind, the cold, the microbes, the unknown of the mountains and the seas, the homo sapiens of zoology is probably close to reach the end of its career (Leroi-Gourhan, 1964, II: 266).
Having found its origin in the materiality of the human constitution, the "replacement of the organs" (Organersatz) by technology has led, as Gehlen (1957: 10) says, to "the replacement of the organic as such" (Ersatz des Organischen überhaupt). From the hand to the brain and beyond, the process of extension, ‘exsudation’ and exteriorisation of the organs has found its provisional point of culmination in the substitution of the functions of the brain (information, computation, decision) by the computer.
Human evolution seems to be characterised by a tendency towards increasing spiritualisation. If we may believe Leroi-Gourhan, everything happens as if the evolution of the species were geared to converge and culminate in the Supreme Consciousness of the divine "point Omega" – as theorised by his friend and co-religionist Teilhard de Chardin. Steered by a tendency towards enlightenment and dematerialisation, and a correlative affirmation of the Spirit that culminates in the emergence of a "collective intelligence" (Lévy) that is able to steer evolution, human genesis is conceived by Leroi-Gourhan as a form of "orthogenesis", that is a kind of Lamarckian evolution in which the variations onto-theo-teleologically lead to the end of supreme mastery (Groenen, 1996: 61-90).
The specialisation and exteriorisation of the human organs in a socio-technical super-organ – society – that allows the humans to intervene more succesfully than ever in their external environment and to adapt it to their own ends appears as the end product of biological evolution. The paleo-anthropological story of Leroi-Gourhan is not a happy one, however. Far from leading to the perfection of the individual as such, the exteriorisation of the human faculties eventually leads to a progressive integration of the individual as "a piece of the indefinitely perfectible mechanism of a totally socialised society" (Leroi-Gourhan, 1964, II: 199). After a couple of millions of years of evolution, we may ask ourselves if human societies are not at the point of regressing into societies of ants and bees in which the individual element is almost cybernetically programmed to be part and parcel of the social organism. Writing in the sixties, Leroi-Gourhan had already clearly understood the technocratic and consumerist trend of late capitalism: "A restricted elite will not only work out programmes of life, politics, administration, techniques, but also emotional relations, epic evasions and the image of a life that is totally imagined" (id., II: 203). His vision of the future of humankind was rather bleak. Anticipating the times in which humans would be interconnected with computers, he predicted that the process of humanisation would end in a "terminal cyberworld’ (Virilio), which he envisioned in the most horrific terms as "a humanity without teeth that would live and lie down using what remains of its anterior members to push buttons" (id., I: 183).
The apotheosis of humanity coincides with its apocalypse. In one of those dramatic reversals, to which dialecticians are accustomed, the liberation of human beings through technology turns out to coincide with their alienation by technology. Consequently, the exteriorisation of organs of the humans reverses into their reification by a super-organ that follows its own inhuman laws, while imposing them on its elements. Once again, as in the story of the Golem, the human becomes the creature of its own creation. Leroi-Gourhan warned us: Unless we keep our technology in check, "we may have only a couple of thousand years left, if not a couple of centuries" (Leroi-Gourhan, 1982: 242).
A Theory of Alienation without Alienation
As a catholic and a convinced humanist, Leroi-Gourhan was not really a post-humanist. I suspect that he would have had little sympathy for the wacky projects of the transhumanists and ectropians who want to "employ technology in the near-term for the purpose of attempting to perfect ourselves" (cf. www. transhumanism.org). Insofar as his theory of socio-technological evolution offers the perfect platform for the development of a coherent post- or even antihumanist position, it should nevertheless be taken seriously.
By conceiving of the anthropogenesis as a "technogenesis" (Debray, 2000: 53), Leroi-Gourhan has systematically extended the theory of the techniques of the body to technology as such. Inspired by Marcel Mauss (1950), his mentor, who has shown that even our seemingly most natural ways of behaving such as walking or swimming presuppose the learning of a technique, the French pre-historian has shown that technology is the exteriorisation of operational chains of behaviour that forms the human being in its totality (l’homme total) - in its biological, psychological as well as social dimensions. In order to be able to use a piece of technology, say a car or a computer, human beings have to learn a series of habits, gestures, reactions and other schemes of action that get progressively sedimented into a stable habitus. Through the formation of the habitus, the individual incorporates the technology at the same time as she is incorporated in it. Through this mutual incorporation of human and machine, an integrated operational technological apparatus is built up that not only mediates between the human and the environment, but that co-contructs both at the same time. Contemporary text programmes like Word offer a good example of man-machine integration. The programme proposes synonyms, translations, spell checks, grammatical corrections, etc., and while the text is being written, it offers cognitive assistance and intervenes both on the writing and the writer. Consequently, the ensuing text can be considered as a genuine ´co-production´ of the writer and the text programme. The karaoke machines, which one can now find in virtually all Japanese hotels and inns, offer another example of a computer driven ´co-performance´ by humans and machines.
Contemporary post-humanism builds further on the theory of humanisation through the exteriorisation of organs into an integrated technological apparatus, but while it maintains it as an accurate description of the becoming other than human – "technogenesis as heterogenesis" - it divests it of its essentialist assumptions and normative overtones. Although the notion of exteriorisation sounds vaguely similar to Hegel and Marx’s notion of Entaüsserung, the post-humanist reappropriation of it is highly selective. The "expressivist" idea that there might be something "inside" of humans that they exteriorise in and through their praxis and that this praxis is precisely what distinguishes them from animals is ditched. Given that humans have no essence, they cannot express their "species being" (Gattungswesen) in their work and, as a result, they cannot be alienated from it either. In so far as post-humanism accepts the theory of the "exteriorisation of organs" while refusing to interpret its dialectical reversal in terms of dehumanisation, it can be described as a theory of alienation without alienation – "Entfremdung to be understood by philosophers", as Marx (1972, III: 34) once said attacking the beautiful soul of the German literati.
Like post-modernism, post-humanism wholeheartedly says ‘yea’ to life and wants to be affirmative. Refusing to consider the negativity of alienation in the dialectical light of its Aufhebung, it dismisses the old humanist notions of Man, alienation and reification. Following Nietzsche’s (fourth) Prologue to Zarathustra, post-humanists celebrate the negativity of dehumanisation as a constructive step in the unfinished overcoming of the limits of the human, thanks to which the human becomes other than human, and creatively redefine alienation as "alteration". The human is no longer a being, but a becoming, a being that becomes other through the exteriorisation of its organs in a plethora of extraorganic mediations. Paraphrasing de Beauvoir, we could say that for the post-humanist man is not but that he becomes what he is and what he is not, by overcoming himself, thanks to technology.
Having ditched every form of essentialism, the post-humanists adopt a performative vision of anthropology in which human beings are literally made by what they have made, by culture, but also and above all by technology. By means of technology, nature is humanised. Seen from another angle, the humanisation of nature appears, however, as the naturalisation of humans. The technological mediation that intervenes between humans and nature establishes a performative or "transductive" relation between them. Co-constructed or performed by the relation, the human can no more exist outside of its relation with the non-human than the non-human can exist outside of its relation with the human. "Pro-jected" and "pro-duced" by humans, technologies, techniques, instruments and tools in turn act back on humans and modify them. Altering inner and external nature, material practices, bodies, language, habits, percepts, affects, etc., the naturalisation of the human has opened the way to the artificial evolution of mankind.
This is nothing new. In the ouverture of his philosophical soap opera, Sloterdijk revisits the creation myth (Genesis (2, 4-7)) and presents the first human being as an artefact – as living earthware. Created by God out of the earth, Adam appears as a theo-technological product of his time: "Android figures are made according to routines of ceramics: the biblical genesis reflects the state of the art of earthmaking at the time. […] Metaphysics begins as metaceramics" (Sloterdijk, 1998: 33). From Adam and the Man of the Caverns to the Homo sapiens, the human being is made by what he makes. The silexes, pebbles and bones made and transformed the Man of Cro Magnon; today, it is the spectacles, the pacemakers and the laptops that make Homo sapiens. We have never been human. Having estranged the human, nothing human is strange to the post-humanist. Once we understand that we are made by the technologies that we make and that we become human through our inplants, transplants and prostheses, we can even appreciate the intelligence of a stupid statement like the following: "For a humanist, the best friend of man is man himself. For a non-humanist, it is his gun, his car or his mobile phone" (Tisseron, 1998: 273). Indeed, the heterogeneous assemblages of humans and non-humans that transform, fix and stabilise the social, cultural and political networks also make, transform and modify human ways of acting, thinking, feeling, seeing and being. Inverting the classic tenets of humanism, the post-humanists not only affirm that it is the objects that make humans (like when we say that it is "the snit that makes the man"), they also insist that technologies follow their own laws and have a mind of their own, that they have unintended and unexpected consequences, both happy and perverse, that no one - no individual, no society, no politics - can control. Where humanists cry "wolf" and see only a sign of dehumanisation, alienation and reification, post-humanists see only a normal, "human, inhuman, all too human" process of humanisation through exteriorisation, reification and alienation.
3. 2 Machinic Heterogenesis
Human nature has a history (Moscovici, 1977). Thanks to his diligence, man creates technology and intervenes in nature, but this intervention transforms at the same time human nature. As far as we can go back in history, we never encounter pristine human nature. The opposition between nature and culture, nature and technology, technology and society does simply not hold. Nature is not static, technology is neither, nor are the results of their interaction. As a product of history, nature is always ‘second nature’. From its origins, human nature has been "fabricated" by technical evolution. Although technogenesis significantly relativises the place of humanity in the greater scheme of things, it still has not broken completely with the anthropocentric mode of thinking. This only happens when we give up our ingrained resistance to fluxes of becoming and accept the experimental production of creative ontologies in which all the boundaries between the human, the animal and the material are wilfully transgressed, pragmatically blurred and, finally, overcome. Rejecting the distinction between the post-human and the inhuman as a mere survival of "old European thought" (Luhmann-Rumsfeld), contemporary anti-humanism links up with vitalism. Joyously celebrating the becoming of Life, it seeks to conceptualise the death of Man free of anthropocentric conceits.
The most radical and influential attempt to theorise the posthuman condition in non-anthropocentric terms has been "composed" as an esoteric, vitalist, orgiastic, vibrating "machinic opera" by Gilles Deleuze, a philosopher, and Félix Guattari, a practising psychoanalyst and lifelong political activist, in A Thousand Plateaus (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980). The thousand plateaus of the vitalists do not form a mountain, but open up a thousand ways that, unlike those of Heidegger, lead everywhere. Displacing the "question concerning technology" by the "question concerning the machine", Deleuze and Guattari present the genesis of the human not only as a technogenesis but, extending and radicalising it, dissolving anthropos into bios, equally as a "bio-technogenesis" (Ansell Pearson, 1997: 124), that is as a machinic production that plunges the human species back into the magma of the becoming of life.
The machinic conception of evolution conceives of the human as a component of a heterogeneous assemblage that cuts across all lineages of different kinds and rearranges them in "monstrous couplings" and "anomalous becomings". To the extent that the technological approach still suggests that the machine is a complex tool and, thus, an extension or exteriorisation of the human that fabricates the human, it still maintains the idea of human evolution. The machinic approach is more radical. It replaces the idea of evolution with the idea of "involution" (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980: 292), understood not as a form of regression, but as a "creative evolution" that brings heterogeneous populations into symbiosis, creating thereby "counter-natural alliances" between different species, such as the monkey and the human, the tree trunk and the crocodile, or the wasp and the orchid, to take Deleuze and Guattari´s favourite example.
Moving away from the genealogical or filiative conception of evolution, represented by the model of the tree or the root, it allows for a "rhizomatic" becoming whereby humans can creatively-destructively enter into the most monstrous of couplings with Gods, humans, animals, plants, things, tools, machines, etc. Although a rhizome can grow on roots, it is not a root itself, but a subterranean stem or underground sprout, such as a bulb or a tuber, with multiple branching roots and shoots that go off and proliferate in all directions, break off at a certain point and form a rhizome with other offshoots or something else – "with the wind, an animal, human beings" (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980: 18).
A rhizome is a meshwork in which each and every point can in principle be connected, one way or another, with any another point. By entering into "transversal communication" with different lines of descent, rhizomatic offshoots scramble the genealogical trees. They have neither a beginning nor an end, but start, so to say, in the middle. Unlike the model of the tree, which reduces the multiplicity to the One, the rhizome eliminates every possible reference to a possible substance or substantive, synthesis or dialectics that leads back to the One in order to stimulate the proliferation of the Multiple and celebrate the virulence of Life. Multiplicity is more than a matter of logic, however. It is something one must make or do – "le multiple, il faut le faire" (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980: 13). We must always make connections, ever more connections, between points, offshoots and lines of flight, since they are not given, cross the boundaries and experimentally realise other possibilities than the ones that are given. As the rhizome grows and proliferates by making always new connections, it becomes more complex, always more complex, and transgresses all the boundaries, till there is only one single, but always expanding and deterritorialising machinic flux or phylum of unformed materiality that fills the entire space with the most disparate things and ends up covering the whole earth.
The Plane of Immanence
The machinic assemblage that is always in the making, always becoming, is a potentially infinite open system. It knows no limits and no boundaries. Without temporal or spatial limits, it transgresses the boundaries between the ontological regions, and levels all that exists to a single ontological plane, the so-called "plane of immanence" or "plane of nature" (Deleuze, 1981: 164-175) - though nature has nothing to do with it as it eschews all distinctions between natural and artificial kinds and includes bodies, souls and things. Opposed to the plane of transcendence, in which the multiplicity is always captured and organised by a hidden subject, form or force that cannot be seen, but that has to be inferred, deduced or transduced from the given, the common plane of immanence has no supplementary or "intransitive" dimension. There’s no depth, only a surface; there’s nothing hidden, no God, no Master, no Man, no Plan that steers and organises from above the becoming of world. On the one-dimensional plane of immanence, there is no dialectical synthesis of heterogeneous and disparate elements; there’s only, as Leibniz said, the becoming of "a continuous becoming like an ocean" (Serres, 1972: 10), the division of which into Ethiopian, Caledonian or any other sea is arbitrary. Everything is loosely connected with everything into a heterogeneous assemblage of sorts, and immediately given, levelled, reduced to relations of speed:
In any case, there is pure plane of immanence upon which everything is given, upon which unformed elements and materials dance that are distinguished from one another only by their speed and that enter into that individuated arrangement depending on their connections, their relations of movement. A fixed plane of life upon which everything stirs, slows down or accelerates (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980: 312).
Speed and slowness do not refer to quantitative degrees of movement, however, but to qualitatively different types of movements of bodies through space, to two different ways of making space, namely the geometrical way and the topological-energetic one. Whereas the former analytically carves up space and organises it by means of walls, pillars and closings, the latter opens up space and ‘performs’ it as it follows the flux of unformed materiality that moves along rhizomatically, shooting off in all directions, making connections, "occupying or filling a smooth space in the manner of a vortex, with the possibility of springing up at any point" (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980: 473).
Whatever moves on the plane of immanence is taken up in the vortex of becoming and consumated by it. Whatever enters the energetic flux is dissolved into a "dance of unformed elements and materials". The becoming of life that dissolves all forms of being into a pure magma of energetic, immaterial forces, this cosmic soup of free-floating submolecular, subatomic particles out of which organisms and beings emerge and in which they are sunk - this is the ultimate reality.
On the plane of immanence, there’s life - just as we say that there is water or sand - and all beings, without distinction, partake of it. "Of pure immance, we shall say that is A LIFE, and nothing else" (Deleuze, 1995: 4). Life knows no distinctions or boundaries between genera, species, subjects, substances or organs. As it flows underneath, above, in and through everything and everywhere, it "disindividuates", disintegrates and annihilates all beings and all entities into an anonymous flux of becoming. Needless to say that, swamped by life, the human also disappears - "like a face in the sand at the edge of the sea" (Foucault)- in this orgiastic night of becoming.
Homo homini parasitus
This vitalist "ontology of the annihilation of beings" (Foucault, 1966: 291) forms the background of the biophilosophy of "germinal" or "viroid" life that is put forward in the "Becoming-Animal" Plateau of the book. Like Othello, Deleuze and Guattari would be only too happy to "change humanity with a Baboon". Breaking with the evolutionist models of descent, they conceptualise the becoming-animal (vegetal, mineral, etc.) of the human as a becoming "anomal", i.e. anomalous and monstrous, through a machinic process whereby the human enters into symbiosis with heterogeneous populations. In biology, symbiosis refers to the process whereby genetic material is transmitted between populations of different species, such as baboon and cat or wasp and orchid, for example, through bacterial contamination and viral infection, and not through sex:
Propagation by epidemic, by contagion, has nothing to do with filiation by heredity. The vampire does not filiate, it infects. The difference is that contagion and epidemic involve terms that are entirely heterogeneous: for example, a human being, an animal, a bacterium, a virus, a molecule, a micro-organism (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980: 295).
Symbiotic exchange through infection, contagion, mutation or genetic drift does not happen at the "molar level" of the organism or the species but underneath it, at the "molecular level" of the bacterial micro-organisms (microbe, virus, bacillus, worm, phagocyte) that enter the organism, and spread from within as they mingle with the micro-organisms of the host. The lesson that Deleuze and Guattari have to teach us is ultimately a filthy one: "The human is an integrated colony of ameoboid beings, just as these amoeboid beings (prococtists) are integrated colonies of bacteria. Like it or not, our origins are in slime" (Ansell Pearson, 1997: 124). Dust to dust, slime to slime, the Homo sapiens dissolves into a sticky substance and, degraded and debased, the species regresses to the sorry state of the parasitus sapiens (Serres, 1980b: 143).
Feeding onto each other, growing on and into each other, the symbiotic populations transgress the boundaries and form heterogeneous "blocks" of machinic becoming through a cascade of supermolecular differentiations. Those blocks are not simply hybrids. Whereas hybridisation brings together elements that are pure and uncontaminated before they are mixed, machinic symbiosis infects and fuses them in a new living synthesis that ignores the ontological boundaries to such extent that it becomes hard to say who is host and who is parasite. In symbiotic becoming, the distinction between the inside and the outside is fluid. This holds not only for the heterogenous organisms, but also for their relation with the environment. Both are linked through a porous intermediary environment, such as the membrane, that mediates between them. The opposition between the organism and the environment is dissolved into a heterogenetic flow that interconnects the organism and the environment, co-constructing both at the same time. "An animal, a thing can thus never be separated from its relations with the environment: the interior is only a selected exterior, the exterior, a projected interior" (Deleuze, 1981: 168). But if the organism "selects" its environment, rather then the other way round, if the organism does not adapt to the environment, but creates its environment by "deterritorialising [fluidifying] itself with respect to the exterior and reterritorialising [reorganising] itself with respect to its internal environment" (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980: 71), then we are done with the principles of Darwinian evolution.
In terms of systems theory, one would say that machinic organisms are self-organising, self-regulating or autopoietic systems. Using the reflexive lingo of contemporary "radical constructivism", we can define autopoietic systems with Maturana and Varela as networks that produce and maintain themselves by producing out of the elements of which they are composed the network that produces the elements of which they are composed. Autopoietic systems are by definition self-referentially or organisationally closed systems. They recursively constitute the basic elements of which they are made up by circular reference to their own self-reproduction as autonomous systems of communications. This self-reference allows the system to maintain its structure invariant, while each of its vanishing elements is continuously replaced by new, different ones. Paradoxically, this self-closure of the system is a precondition for its opening to the environment. Concretely, this means that as an autonomous and self-determining unity, the system can only react to the "provocations" of the environment in accordance with its own mode of operation. The environment cannot influence the system directly but only indirectly in so far as the self-referentially closed system opens itself up to the environment and allows it from within to selectively influence the system from without. In other words, the system can only communicate about the environment within itself. It cannot communicate with the environment without disintegrating.
On this crucial point, machinic heterogenesis differs from autopoiesis (Ansell Pearson, 1997: 140-142; 1999: 168-170). Less concerned with the maintenance of their own stability, machinic assemblages do not maintain the organisation of their structure invariant. As they cross techno-ontological thresholds between regions, they enter into a genuinely dynamic, open and transgressive relation with their environments, which are after all not that different from what they are, and allow for the punctual emergence of flexible, mutable, variable modes of organisation. At this point, where the "necessary disequilibrium and far-from equilibrium conditions" (Kauffman) required for a truly creative model of evolution are introduced into the system, machinic autopoiesis mutates into machinic heterogenesis. Linking up machinic heterogenesis with complexity theory, fusing Deleuze with Serres, we could say with the latter that when order is created out of chaos, islands emerge out of a disorderly sea: "Order is an uncommon island. It is an archipelago. Disorder is the common ocean out of which those islands emerge" (Serres, 1977: backflap).
3. 3 Intermezzo: Living Machines
Schematically speaking, one can conceive of technological development through the ages - "from prehistory to ballistic missiles" (Latour and Lemonnier, 1994) - in terms of a quatriphasic process of exteriorisation or objectivation of the human capacities, activities and organs in machinic organisms that "liberate" (Leroi-Gourhan), ameliorate and "unballast" (Gehlen) the human capacities, activities and organs. In the first phase, the organ is removed from the body and exteriorised in the tool, while manual and intellectual work is still being done by the human. In the second phase, the physical force of the human is objectivated in the machine that now works for and in place of the human. In the third phase, it is not just the physical force that is exteriorised in the machine. With the automatisation of the machines, the psychic capacities and activities of the human are also unballasted as the functions of the brain (consciousness, computation and decision) are exteriorised and incorporated in the machine. In the fourth phase, the integration of machines into a living whole, life as such is finally exteriorised into a complex anorganic living organ.
Since the natural sciences, technology and the capitalist system of industrial production have become systematically coupled in the late eighteenth century, the pace and the reach of the correlative process of the humanisation of machines and the machinisation of humans has been accelerated and intensified, first with the industrial revolution and, now, with the post-industrial one, to such an extent that, today, life itself can be explained scientifically and produced technologically. From the hand to the mind to life as such, we see a progressive movement from the internal to the external – and back. As the internal workings of the organism are analysed and properly understood by the sciences, they are exteriorised and constructed by technologies as an artificial organism that functions like a natural one. Arnold Gehlen (1957: 21) has aptly summarised the process in the following terms: "As technology progresses, man brings into unanimated nature a principle of organisation that is already operative inside the organism at multiple locations".
Incidentally, the history of the concept of the network confirms this analysis of the process of the exteriorisation of the internal workings of the organism into a non organic, but organised social body (Musso, 2003). From biology to philosophy, engineering and sociology, the root metaphor of the network always associates images of the body and of techniques to suggest the existence of a living tissue. Originally, the network refers to a woven net (retis). Hippocrates, Herophiles and Galienus used it in medecine to study the tissue of canals, ways and vessels like the veins, muscles and nerves that cover the human body, but also the brain, described by Galienus as rete mirabili. Later on, in the seventeenth century, Descartes and especially Leibniz transformed the ‘percept’ into a ‘concept’ and formalised the network in mathematical terms. With the industrial revolution, the concept leaves the body to become a ‘construct’. The reticular image of the body is taken up by engineers and becomes the template for the technological construction of the great artificial territorial networks like the rail, the telephone or the electricity network. "The natural network becomes artificial. From a given it becomes a construct. From a tool, it becomes a machine. The engineer conceives and constructs it, while the doctor observed it" (Musso, 2003: 146). When Saint-Simon and Proudhon borrow the concept of the network from the engineers to theorise social relations and develop utopian models of society, the technical network becomes the template for the political construction of social networks. Today, with the development of the internet, which interconnects machines (and persons) into a worldwide web, the concept is popularised and commercialised and becomes a ‘decept’ which can refer to almost anything that is interconnected – from spiderwebs, crystals, roots of trees and the cerebral cortex to waterworks, telephones, computers and transnational terrorist NGO’s like Al-Qa’ida. Through complexity theory, the socio-political conception of the network is once again linked to biology and neurology. Vitalist conceptions of technology abound and merge with technological conceptions of society. Eventually, sociology itself becomes a kind of ‘baroque social physiology’ of which all the other sciences can be considered as branches. As Tarde (1999: 58) said: "Every thing is a society, every phenomenon is a social fact. […] All sciences seem destined to become branches of sociology".
Moving back from sociology to technology, I now want to take a closer look at molecular biology and present it as an anthropic technology of information. What the sciences can theoretically conceive of is now on the verge of being artificially conceived and technologically produced as a living system, whether this system is a virtual organism (artificial life), a virtual mind (artificial intelligence), or a mixture of both (cyborg). Cyber- and biotechnologies converge asymptotically in the "rewriting" of the human code, mostly for commercial purposes. From this perspective, the post-modern infatuation with complexity theory does not so much represent a break with cybernetics, the "science of communication and control" (Wiener), as its ominous continuation as a thermodynamics of the umpteenth generation. Symbiosis may have appeared at first as a clear break with the determinism of the grand narrative of DNA, but, today, the living organism is understood as a hypercomplex open system. Complexity theory generally analyses open systems as unstable, "dissipative structures". When such dissipative structures reach points of bifurcation, their behaviour and future pathways become unpredictable and now higher order, more differentiated structures may emerge. Dissipative systems are regulated by the thermodynamics of open systems and can be analysed, described and formalised, at least in simple cases, as a mathematical model of differential equations. In the mean time powerful computer programmes have been developed that are able to simulate the evolution of life (Hayles, 1999: 222-246). Through recursive looping of the computing operations, small deviations become quickly magnified, leading to complex interactions that generate unpredictable evolutions. In such a synthesis of artificial life, the becoming of life over a couple of millions of generations is effectively replicated in the span of a few days by intelligent machines.
It is true that cybertechnologies abstract from the body and reduce the human to an intelligent machine that processes information, but when the biological sciences reduce in turn the human to DNA, to a complex string of information that can be cybernetically decoded, recoded and recombined, then it is not clear how complexity theory can help the human to escape unscathed from the digital pincer movement that reduces everything to the bits and bytes of the barcode. The universality of cybernetics realises the project of the mathesis universalis (Leibniz). When everything, life included, can potentially be levelled and reduced to information and the communication of modularised information, the effective techno-industrial realisation of the one-dimensional plane of immanence may be just around the corner.
Inscribing every phenomenon and every event that cybernetics describes as a transitory moment of a global moment of "trans-lation", everything can be "trans-formed" into anything else, according to some algorithm. "In principle, there’s no naturally occurring genome that cannot be experimentally redesigned" (Haraway, 1997: 246). In theory, theory becomes virtually practical and the sciences become techno-sciences, to use a term coined by Gilbert Hottois. Cybernetics is not just produced as a universal theory and epistemology, but also and already as a universal praxis, technè and technology. When scientific mastery is immediately coupled to the virtual mastery of its application, "theory does no longer disclose anything (épistémè), but makes virtually everything (technè)" (Freitag, 2002: 291).
In spite of all the hype about genetic engineering and genetic therapies, one should, however, note that the bio-sciences do not really know how genes really function or how to explain their causal connection with illnesses. All they know is what the right and what the wrong sequences of nucleotides are, and how the genotypical variation is correlated with the phenotypical one. Wilfully confounding statistical correlation with causal explanation, they logically and pragmatically conclude that the wrong sequences have to be replaced by the right ones and, leaving aside all so-called epigenetic factors (= everything besides the genes) as well as the complex interactions between genes, they simply explain the illness in terms of a wrong sequence of nucleotides. From the perspective of critical realism, which considers that an explanation is only given when the "constant conjunction" (Hume) between genotype and phenotype is explained by a generative mechanism that actually produces the conjunction in question, the market driven search for applications of molecular biology in the form of genetic tests and therapies, can be interpreted as a practical strategy that aims to hide the deep theoretical and moral crisis of the new discipline of genomics.
The Order of Things
In his theory of translation, which has obviously inspired Latour and Woolgar’s brilliant ethno-philosophical analysis of the laboratory life at the Salk institute in California (Latour and Woolgar, 1978), Michel Serres (1974: 15-72), the French philosopher who translates science into poetry and poetry into science, presents a Leibnizian analysis of genetics as a progressive translation of the idea of biological generation into a calculus of bio-chemical reproduction: "The history of genetics consists of a slow passage from the reproduction of animals to the production of texts" (Serres, 1974: 20). On the one hand, there are qualitative, observable phenotypical differences between living beings; on the other hand, there is an underlying, invisible genotypical code made up of letters, ciphers and characters. The passage, or translation, between the visible and the readable characters – le visible et le lisible - is effectuated when the phenomenal variety between the living beings is projected onto a single topological-energetic plane and deciphered as a continuous variation of the DNA-code through differential combination of the biochemical letters of which it is made up. Combining identity with difference into a heterogeneous network of relations between words and things that is able to explain the generation of the phenomenal variety of organs and organisms, including the most anomalous ones, in terms of the infinite possibility of combinations of the code, contemporary biology finds the traces of its code everywhere, precisely because it decodes the totality of nature by projecting the variations of its code onto a stable referent. "When the reference is a plan, and the plan a collection of projected traces, every decomposition (découpage) of the real is like a book: Notification of the resolution of things into words, of the predominance of language" (Serres, 1977: 28).
If the world of yesterday was a text, the world of today and tomorrow is a hypertext. Thanks to hyperlinks, texts can be interconnected so as to form one single, giant deterritorialised hypertext that is continuously evolving and expanding without any foreseeable limits (Lévy, 1998: 33-48). With the hypertext, there is no longer a text, but only text - just as we say that that there’s water or sand. The page we see on the screen of our computer is not really a text, but a small window that gives us a view on (though never an overview of) a potentially endless reserve of text. The hypertext is a rhizome in which "any point can be and should be connected with any other point" (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980: 13). Paraphrasing the topological language of the theory of organised complexity, we could say that the hypertext is a complex network of overlapping and interconnected lines, ways and roads that meet at the summit or at the cross-roads, where they bifurcate again and go off in multiple directions. Given that any point or summit is virtually connected with any other summit in the network, "there are as many ways as one wants to go from one summit to the other, or at least a very large number, as long as the number of summits is finite" (Serres, 1968: 12).
If the network is like a "crumpled space" that can be folded, unfolded and refolded like a handkerchief, the global network itself is, in turn, made up of local networks of overlapping and interconnected ways that coexist in the network and interfere in complex ways with one another. Although the way to the summit cannot be predicted in a network of networks of overlapping and interconnected ways, the movement through space can very well be followed and traced mathematically, graphically and topographically on the plane of immanence.
One way or many, the progression to the summits can easily be traced and recoded in the binary terms of informatics. Life itself is nothing but a network, nothing but a hypertext, nothing but a microbacterial flux that can be traced and captured by the informatics of life. Nature is a hypertext and so is life itself. Life is a mess, a viral network, in which "all bacteria may be seen as nodes in one great web of interconnectivity" (Clark, 2000: 26). Nature is no more than the provisional outcome of local processes; it is a complex dynamical system that plays accross all distinctions of kinds. Scientifically understood, life can now be technologically rewritten. Genetics as bio-informatics is applied information technology. Four hundred years after Galileo Galilei famously pronounced that nature is written in the language of mathematics, the sciences of biology and communication are integrated into a unified cybernetic science of information that translates the totality of the world, life included, into a digital code - the code of the "informatics of domination" (Haraway, 1991: 161-167) that underlies the rewriting of nature by the cyber- and biotechnologies of late industrial capitalism.
Mechanology as Vitalist Technology
Cybernetics teaches us that the organism is a living, self-organising system that reproduces itself (like a dictionary) through the self-referential production of the elements (words) out of which it is made up. But if the organism functions as a self-organising system, then the converse is also true: The self-organising system functions like an organism. It follows, not so much logically as techno-logically, that the scientific analysis of life can thus also become the template for the technological production of artificial systems as living systems, with the result that the age-old dividing line between mechanism and vitalism, technology and biology simply vanishes. When the (Kantian) distinction between machine and organism is effectively overcome, the production of a vitalist technology or "mechanology" (Simondon) becomes possible - as a preamble and propedeutics to a mechanological sociology and a machinic society?
From a mechanological perspective, technology progresses and becomes progressively more "concrete" as its starts to function as an artificial organism that has succesfully integrated the organs into a self-organising whole. The concrete technical object is in symbiosis with its environment. It has not only attained an internal coherence through the relative closure that allows for the recursivity of the internal operations as well as the circularity of causes and effects, but, by incorporating a part of the environment as an "associated environment", it has also transformed the latter into a condition of its own functioning, integrating it thus as part of a self-organising system of causes and effects. "Through technical concretisation, writes Simondon, the object that was at first artificial becomes more and more like a natural object" (Simondon, 1969: 46). Although the machinery functions like an organism that is in symbiosis with its environment - humans and the other machines with which it is interlinked - so as to form as single smoothly functioning machine, the symbiotic integration of the system and its environment can obviously not be accomplished by the machines themselves. On this point, cybernetics is plainly wrong, according to Simondon. Reducing the system to an organism, it forgets that the integration of the humans and the non-humans into a self-regulating machinery necessarily presupposes human intervention:
Self-regulating machines need the human as a technician, i.e. as an associate. […] This aspect of self-regulation through which the environment in its totality has to be taken into account cannot be accomplished by the machine on its own, however perfectly automated. […] There’s something living in a technical whole and the function of the integration of life can only be secured by human beings (Simondon, 1969:125).
Thanks to the technical intervention of human beings, the ontological hiatus between life and mechanism and, thus, also between human and machine, can finally and successfully be overcome in a living, self-regulating machine in which humans and machines are symbiotically integrated. Coupled to each other, humans and machines form an "associated milieu" that is fully individualised and conditions itself through a multiplicity of recursive processes and feed-back loops. Human beings may appear as servants of the machine, but in so far as their integration into the machine is in the last instance effectuated by human beings who understand how machines function, Simondon chastises theories of alienation for "misunderstanding of the machine" (Simondon, 1969: 9). To overcome the alienation of human beings by the machine, we should understand that human beings are not opposed to machines, but among them. Machines are the "associates" of humans and humans are the "shepherds" of the machines. It is only if we accept to become mediators and partners (or interpreters) of machines, rather than dominators (and legislators), that "mediocracy" (Debray) and democracy can coincide and that we shall eventually be able to move beyond alienation.
Speaking for the machines, Simondon may be right, but in his enthusiasm for the machine, he unfortunately has forgotten to relocate the shepherd and his machines into the socio-economic context that mediates their relation and to ask the crucial question: Who mediates the mediators? Who educates the educators? And how can one be sure that the mediators of the machine are not themselves integrated into a megasystem as one of its living parts? After all, the essence of technology is nothing technological in itself. A machine is always social before it is technical, even if the social is invariably co-constructed by the technological. The windmill may well be linked to the feudal society, as Marx famously said, but the windmill does no more produce the feudal society than the steam machine produces the industrial society, or the computer the post-industrial one. Technological determinism is the ideology of technocracy, and technocracy is anti-democracy. What a machine is and what is does to humans, depends on the humans that make it. But what they make and why they make it, depends in turn on the social machinery in which they are integrated. And today, the social machine in which they are integrated is the capitalist megamachine. To understand it and to understand what it does to human beings, we now turn to an analysis of global neo-capitalism that produces the producers, the consumers, and life itself as a commodity.
4. Neo-capitalism and the Colonisation of Life
"One day, perhaps, the century will be Deleuzian" (Foucault, 1994, II: 76). What was supposed to be an anti-platonic compliment by Foucault to his friend and philosophical companion can be interpreted with hindsight as a sociological statement about the state of the world. Continuing and radicalising the global trend of the late modern capitalism of the twentieth century, everything seems to indicate that the twenty-first century will not be spiritual and dialectical, but empiricist and materialist, pragmatic and performative, heterogeneous and machinic, chaosmotic and rhizomatic, hypercomplex and hypercapitalist. "Pluralism = Monism" (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980: 31) - the magic formula of the becoming without end that Deleuze and Guattari were searching for on a thousand plateaus has been found, and almost realised, on a global scale and a single plane by contemporary neo-imperial capitalism.
4.1 Deleuzian Capitalism
The machinic phylum that animates capitalism and flows through its unified body without organs is money. Money is always in flux and never rests. It is, as Simmel says in his Philosophy of Money, the objectivation of economic circulation in a symbol without substance that represents all possible goods and that, by substituting itself to them, speeds up the circulation of goods. Flowing through the subsystems of society, invading them from underneath, vivifying them from within, money is the blood that flows through the veins of capitalism and unifies the subsystems into the single market of the integrated world-system of the world-economy (Braudel’s économie-monde). Marx famously likened capital to a vampire. "Capital is dead labour which, like a vampire, only becomes alive by sucking out living labour, and the more it sucks, the more it is lively" (Marx, 1968: 247). Marx had obviously understood the internal connection between labour and capital when he predicted its enlarged reproduction on a global scale, but fixed as he was on the category of work, he could not foresee that production would become post-industrial and that capital could exist and reproduce itself without labour (Vandenberghe, 2002b). But capitalism is inventive and productive, and to capitalise, it progressively leaves the factory and invades, like a parasite, all spheres of life and the life-world itself. At the end, it ends up, as we shall see, producing and consuming life itself.
The basic principle of rhizomatic sociology is that society is always en fuite, always leaking and fleeing, and may be understood in terms of the manner in which it deals with its lignes de fuite, or lines of flight. There is always something that flees and escapes the system, something that is not controllable, or at least not yet controlled. With their machinic analysis of becoming, Deleuze and Guattari want to encourage leakages and "cause a run off – faire fuire – as when you drill a hole in the pipe or open up the abscess" (Guattari, 1977: 120; Deleuze and Guattari, 1980: 249; Deleuze, 1990: 32). The intention is obviously anti-systemic – draining the system, digging holes, continuing the work of the old mole. Yet, today, the capitalistic system itself thrives on anti-systematicity, "artificial negativity" (Adorno), or "repetition and difference" (Deleuze). It feeds, as it were, on its own problems and in the process it changes itself and mutates. The "repetition of the same" eventually leads to "difference", which is tantamount to saying that the survival of capitalism means "continuity with difference". Capitalism explores and anticipates the deterritorialising lines of flight to capture them from without, enter into symbiosis with them, and redirect them from within, like a parasite, towards its own ends. Capitalism is inventive; its creativity knows no limits – "it is of the viral type" (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980: 580).
Deleuze and Guattari put their anti-capitalist hopes in the guerrilla tactics of the schizoid minority that refuses to play the game (Marcuse’s nicht mitmachen) of the self-content majority. Although they know that the squirmishes of the dispersed minority accompany the war machine of the entrepreneurial companies like their "supplement", although they realise that capitalism advances like a war machine that feeds on the lines of flight and indicated that capitalism knows no internal limits, they nevertheless believed that capitalism would find its logical conclusion in the schizophrenic production of a free flow of desire: "Schizophrenia is the external limit of capitalism itself" (Deleuze et Guattari, 1972: 292). What they apparently meant by that mad statement is that the final crisis of capitalism would eventually be generated not by the regulation or domestication of capitalism but by the complete commodification of the desiring machines that we are. Only by accelerating the decadence of the present system, only through some kind of self-commodification in a consumerist potlatch would the capitalist system be beaten by its own game:
Which is the revolutionary path, if there’s one? To withdraw from the world market […] in a curious renewal of the ‘economic solution’ of the fascists? Or might it go in the opposite direction? To go still further in the movement of the market, of decoding and territorialisation? […] Not withdraw from the process, but going further, ‘accelerating the process’, as Nietzsche said. As a matter of fact, we ain’t seen nothing yet (Deleuze and Guattari, 1972: 285).
The New Spirit of Capitalism
A quarter of a century later, the process of accumulation has accelerated to the point that capitalism itself has become Deleuzian in form, in style and in content. This junction is not accidental. As usual, an ironic and profoundly perverse relationship exists between the romantic ethic and the spirit of capitalism (Campbell, 1987: 202-227). Needless to say that I am not claiming that Deleuze’s libertarian critique of capitalism was anti-critical or phoney from the start and that Deleuze is somehow the Giddens of the seventies: A neo-liberal disguised as a libertarian, or Thatcher on LSD. What I am claiming is, rather, that capitalism has progressively integrated the critique of capitalism into its mode of functioning, with the result that capitalism appears stronger than ever, whereas the critique of capitalism seems rather disarmed.
In their magistral analysis of the new spirit of capitalism, Boltanski and Chiapello (1999: 241-290) have convincingly demonstrated that capitalism has co-opted the post-modernising critique of the 1960's and 70's and used it as a way to reorganise itself and expand infinitely. The industrially organised capitalism of the "golden thirties" (1945-1973) was essentially Fordist. Bureaucratic, hierarchical, pyramidal and centrally controlled, planified and taylorised, oriented to the mass production of standardised goods, it was elephantine, rigid and alienating. The neo-corporatist arrangement between the state, the employers and the unions guaranteed job security, an indexed income, a steady career track and a pension, but this security hardly compensated for the employees’ lack of autonomy. Attacking the dehumanising and disciplining, massifying and standardising nature of the "capitalist-bureaucratic-technical-totalitarian society of planned exploitation and directed consumption" (Lefebvre) in the name of spontaneity, creativity and authenticity, the libertarian left took over the "artistic critique" of capitalism of the bohemians and translated their grievances in a language that was inspired by surrealism and the "masters of suspicion" (Marx, Freud and Nietzsche).
At first, the capitalists reacted to the "artistic critique" of the soixante-huitards in a traditional way. They negotiated with the unions about "quantitive demands" and granted a pay-rise but, realising that the critique did not abate in spite of the concessions, they opened discussions with the unions about the "qualitative demands". To solve the motivational crisis among the ranks of the disenchanted workers, they started introducing changes in the workplace that granted more autonomy to the workers. As the increase of freedom was being paid by a decrease in security, the result was most ambivalent. "Through this change of politics, autonomy was somehow exchanged against security" (Boltanski and Chiapello, 1999: 274).
In the wake of the crisis of accumulation of the 1970’s, the capitalists proceeded to a neo-liberal reinterpretation of the libertarian critique of capitalism of the radical left. Transforming the cultural contradiction into a sociological compatibility, they progressively introduced more and more flexibility in the organisation via the application of market principles. The old bureaucratic elephant of Fordism started to dance to the neo-liberal tune, but the elephants’ keepers had to hold on firmly if they didn’t want to loose their jobs. As the Fordist regime of accumulation was supplanted by the post-Fordist regime of "flexible accumulation", the organisation became not only "leaner" (decentralisation of management, flattening of the pyramid, flexible specialisation and orientation to niche-markets, rotation of tasks, life-long learning, outsourcing and subcontracting, etc.), it also became "meaner". The principles of the market were progressively introduced in the organisation, unions were sidelined, wages were individualised, contracts liberalised and labour time flexibilised, with the result that, thirty years later, the individualised, casualised and contractualised flexi-worker is confronted with insecurity and delivered to a completely restructured, radically flexibilised labour market on which she has not only to sell her labour force, but also her personality, her self and ultimately perhaps also her soul.
Disorganising time as well as the career-track, flexible capitalism does not only apply the JIT (or just-in-time) approach to the punctual delivery of goods, but also to the workers and management itself. Conceived as some kind of "standing reserve" that can be hired and fired at will, managers and workers alike have to become flexible, adaptable and multi-skilled, disposable and at the disposition of a new employer, available and "at hand", ready for the spot market and prepared to seize any job that might improve their situation. The emphasis that is put on adaptability and availability for the market transforms the worker into a performing "actor-networker" who behaves strategically and constantly looks out for opportunities to enhance his social capital by making connections, always more connections, on which he can market his human capital, his connections and his personality. The good networker who treats his or her person as a marketable asset is a master in self-presentation and decorum. Promising to give himself entirely in any project, he remains in fact unattached to the job and to his self in order to remain at the disposition for any other project that might come up. Redefining his self as the opportunity may require, the actor-networker treats her personality as a mask, reverting thereby to the original meaning of the term persona as the-one-who-speaks-through-the-mask.
Coincidence or not, the fact that the identity of the networker is variable and performed in and through the relations that he enters into chimes in all to well with the contemporary discourses on performativity, mobility, fluidity, complexity, topology, relations, networks, performances, displacements, multiple selves, etc. that follow the "postmodern flip" in the human sciences. In the mean time, those fashionable discourses have also been introduced in the "cultural circuit of capitalism" and discovered by the consultant gurus, the hero-managers and the business schools (Thrift, 1999). Transposing metaphors of the body from biology and physics to economics and psychology, the post-Darwinian message of complexity theory is relatively straightforward: Corporations, groups and individuals must become flexible and fluid, transformative and innovative, agile and nimble like complex biological systems that successfully survive in nature (Martin, 1994). Displacing the politics of distribution by a politics of identity, those discourses have started to infiltrate and infect society at large – like a virus.
With hindsight, we can now see that the hatred of the collective and transcendence, the pragmatism of connections and the disindividuation of the self that is the trademark of Deleuze & Co. is not accidental, but anticipates, expresses, accompanies and helps to perform the networker and the network society. Were it not for its celebratory tone, we might even have welcomed Deleuze and Guattari’s borderline description of schizophrenia as a more or less adequate expression of the disorganisation of time, the fracturing of life-narratives and the superficiality of relations that characterises the corrosion of character of the networkers the new economy (Sennett, 1998). As it stands, I am more tempted, however, to see the "Deleuze-effect" as a syndrome and symptom of a countercultural "bad trip"- or "the sixties gone toxic", to borrow a phrase from Jameson’s (1991: 117) justly celebrated essay on the cultural logic of late capitalism.
4.2 Colonisation, Commodification and Reification
From a systemic point of view, the flexible rationalisation of the organisation that transforms the worker into an actor-networker can best be understood in terms of the generalised introduction of market principles in the organisation, with the result that the boundaries between the organisation and its environment (markets and other organisations) are eroded and that the relations between the inside and the outside are radically transformed. Decentralisation and segmentation of the organisation itself, autonomisation of its unities and marketisation of their internal relations, increased self-organisation of the unities and of the sub-unities, introduction of modes of financial calculation and budgetary obligations, translation of programmes into costs and benefits that can be given an accounting value, orientation towards shareholders’s value, all those structural transformations that accompany the introduction of the principles of exchange, competition and calculation in what was heretofore a hierarchical-monocratic-bureaucratic organisation effectively convert the organisation into a flexible and profitable network of enterprises. When intra-organisational networks are interconnected in inter-organisational networks that cut accross sectors and when those start to network and become interconnected on a global scale in a machinic network of sorts, we become the involuntary witnesses of the rhizomatic spreading of networks across sectors and frontiers that marks the passage from the network enterprise to the global network society of late capitalism.
Although the spread of networks might appear anarchic at first, it should be noted, however, that the centrifugal process of decentralisation is balanced by a centripetal process of concentration and command. In the archipelago of networks, there is a mainland of power that commands the "decentralised concentration" of capital. In the conclusion of the first volume of his trilogy on the rise of the network society, Manuel Castells has drawn attention to the fact that the global network is geared to the extraction of profit and enframed by a "meta-network of financial flows" that is operated by electronic networks: "Networks converge toward a meta-network of capital that integrates capitalists interests at the global level and across sectors and realms of activity" (Castells, 1996: 506). The virtual integration of regional, national, multinational and transnational corporations into a global network of networks is not only driven by the introduction of market principles (marketisation as input); the thirst for profit is also what drives the expansion of the networks through the globe and triggers the colonising process of universal commodification (commodification as output) that characterises contemporary neo-capitalism.
Unlike the imperial capitalism of yesteryear, which had to expand through space and integrate its non-capitalist environment in a colonial system of exploitation to guarantee the continuous extraction and accumulation of surplus value, contemporary network capitalism no longer colonises the world. It colonises the life-world instead and introduces the calculating and objectifying logic of the economy and the administration into everyday-life, threatening thereby the communicative structure of society (Habermas, 1981, I: chapter 4). Having progressively integrated the markets of the periphery and the semi-periphery into a single world market, the logic of the market-society progressively invades and colonises the life-world "like the masters of colonisation in tribal societies" by commodifying culture, the mind, the person and, ultimately, life itself.
Once capitalism has conquered the whole world and covered it with a financial network that eludes control by the states and captures the heterogeneous totality of monetary fluxes, capital starts to operate like a Deleuzian machine with a "general axiomatic of decoded flows" (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980: 567) that functions on a single plane. This axiomatic is general, because it transvalues all possible goods into commodities and recodes all possible values into determinate prices, and it is global, because it deterritorialises the flows and operates in the smooth space of world-capitalism. Saying that capital operates as a general and global axiomatic system that functions on the plane of immanence is a convoluted way of saying that it rules the whole world and forms an Empire that no longer has an outside and that can thus no longer be criticised from without, but only from within, through a subversion of the axiomatics of capital. When the lines of flight are sealed, or, what amounts to the same, captured and co-opted by the axiomatics of capital, there is nothing that is not enframed by capitalism, nothing that escapes the global flows of capital, though that does not mean that there is no alternative. Only that the alternative has to come from within capitalism.
To survive and further expand, capital had to shift from colonisation in the strict sense to colonisation in a more encompassing sense. To overcome its dependency on labour, it had to shift from an extensive to a more intensive form of production and integrate the other spheres of life and, ultimately, the production of life itself, into its axiomatics. Indeed, having reached the limits of the exploitation of labour, capital transgresses them and starts to exploit "immaterial labour" (Negri, Lazaretto, Virno) – that is, intellectual, communicative, symbolic or emotional labour that is produced outside of the sphere of production. To continue the process of accumulation and overcome its dependency on labour, capitalism had to exploit the life-world and extract value from communicative processes that are not productive in the strict sense and that it cannot produce itself, but on which it is nevertheless dependent. The exploitation of material labour is no longer sufficient; intellectual labour has now to be exploited as well. Capitalism is innovative. To innovate continuously, it constantly draws on knowledge that it does not produce itself, but that is the result of individual and collective processes of communication, cooperation and learning that take place in the life-world. With the privatisation of the commons, the boundaries between production and communication, production and consumption, labour and leisure, paid and unpaid work disappear. As the consumption of services, cultural goods and information during leisure time produces the knowledges and skills that capitalism needs to constantly innovate, the distinction between production and consumption collapses. When free time becomes productive, everything becomes work. By becoming the source of the production of values through communication, innovation and continuous improvisation, "immaterial labour eventually merges with the work of the production of the self" (Gorz, 2003: 20).
With the exploitation of immaterial labour, capitalism takes a ‘linguistic turn’ and extends its reach into the lifeworld. A double extension of capital takes place, which is both quantitative and qualitative. Echoing the Marxist distinction between the "formal" and the "real" subordination of labour under capital, i.e. between the extraction of surplus-value that operates by means of an extension of the workday and accumulation by means of the technological rationalisation of the production process, cognitive capitalism accumulates not only more, but also differently. With Deleuze and Guattari, we can conceptualise the colonisation of the life-world in terms of a progressive generalisation of machinic control beyond the sphere of production and a concomitant interiorisation of domination by the subject. When the machinic production of capital captures the subjects to control them from within, "enslavement by the machine" mutates into "subjection to the machine".
Since the machinic production of capital has left the factory and spread to the whole of society, the capitalist machine reproduces itself on an enlarged scale by producing the subjects that produce and consume the products they have produced. Deleuze and Guattari suggest that modern technology has successfully overcome the opposition between enslavement and subjection, domination and submission or alienation and subjectification. In the cybernetic "human-machine systems" of advanced liberal capitalism, humans and machines have been coupled through a multiplicity of recursive processes and feedback loops and integrated in some kind of a living self-regulating mega-machine that operates globally on a single plane. Having incorporated the humans as components of its own machinery, humans have become the living medium and mediation of the system: "A small amount of subjectification took us away from machinic enslavement, but a large amount brings us back to it" (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980: 572).
Using language that post-humanists self-consciously avoid, we could say with Adorno (1975, I: 391) – but against Simondon (cfr. supra) - that "reification reaches its limits with the reification of humans". When the constraints of the system are no longer imposed on humans from without, but alienation is mediated through them, alienation is introjected and reaches its very limits. Overdramatising a bit, we could say that the end of alienation coincides asymptotically with the end of Man. Indeed, when enslavement by the machine is no longer opposed to machinic, but both tend to coincide with the "becoming-machine" of a man, subjection becomes the mode of alienation. Subjected to a capitalist megamachine that produces willing subjects, the latter have been fully integrated into a living machine that functions not against their will, their thoughts, their desire, their body, etc., but through those.
Deleuze and Guattari’s dialectics of subjectification remind me of Adorno and Horkheimer’s dialectic of the enlightenment. Although I have always opposed their bleak depiction of late capitalist society as a "totally administered world" (total verwaltete Welt) on metatheoretical, methodological and empirical grounds (Vandenberghe, 1997-1998), I am now tempted to consider their analysis as a brilliant anticipation of what was to come. At this point, I must confess that I am slightly afraid that the contemporary conjunction and co-evolution of science, technology and neo-capitalism might well offer a belated confirmation of some of the most radical theses on reification, alienation and commodification that have been propounded by the first generation of the Frankfurt School. To flesh out my worries, I will analyse the structural transformations of contemporary capitalism and underline their alienating consequences. More particularly, I will present the "government of the subject", the "commercialisation of experience" and the "commodification of life" as three overlapping processes that undergird the current forms of societal rationalisation and reification. Progressively invading the domains of the person, culture and nature in order to control and commodify them, advanced liberal capitalism colonises the life-world and life itself. It not only threatens the communicative infrastructure of the life-world, which is bad enough, but worse: the conjunction and integration of capital, science and technology potentially puts the human race itself at risk and opens thereby, though probably not in the way that the structuralists had expected it, the perspective of the end of the human sciences.
Governing the Self
Capitalism not only produces objects, but also subjects and subjectivities. To assure the conditions of its own enlarged reproduction, it has no only to produce goods and services, but also the producers and consumers of those products and services. Those processes of the production and reproduction do not remain constant, however, but are historically variable, as Michel Foucault has amply shown in his genealogical studies of the mid-seventies, from Discipline and Punish to the The History of Sexuality. Analysing the epochal changes in the epistemic, normative and institutional constellations through the ages, Foucault used his study of the changes in the penal regime of the eighteenth and nineteenth century to theorise the different forms of production of subjects and subjectivities - from the "sovereign power" of the Ancien Régime to the "disciplinary power" of modernity and from there perhaps also, as Deleuze (1986, 1990: 229-247) suggests, to the regulatory power of the emerging "society of control".
In the society of control, disciplinary power is more economic and liberal, more subtle and indirect, more decentralised and capillary, micro and molecular, diffused and individualised, though not less pervasive and effective than the forms of power that preceded it. Unlike sovereign power, which is exercised through corporal punishments and decisions about life and death, disciplinary power is not repressive but democratic and productive: "It is a power that aims to produce forces, to make them grow and regulate them rather than block, submit or destroy them. […] It is a power that is positively exercised over life, that attempts to administer, raise, multiply and exercise precise controls and global regulations over it" (Foucault, 1976: 179-180).
Targeting the self of the subjects through a host of panoptic and confessional technologies, the former operating through the external, the latter through the internal environment of the individual, it aims to produce docile bodies and responsible subjects. Disciplinary power does not destroy the subject; it produces it as one of its effects. In the original project of the History of Sexuality, which was initially to count six volumes and not just three or four, Foucault wanted to enlarge his genealogy of ethico-political subjectification, from the Greeks to the middle ages and beyond, by illustrating how responsible, autonomous, free subjects are produced, not just in prisons, factories, schools and hospitals, but continuously and throughout society. Looking at his last investigations on the "care of the self" from the perspective of his middle, more sociological period, we come to realise that what he was really after was a genealogy of the present society of control that shows, through a careful analysis of the technologies of subjectification and other techniques of the self, how disciplinary power produces subjects not against their will, but by adopting and co-opting their will, thus precisely through their will. There are thus not two Foucaults, the one of the analytics of power and the other of the problematics of the subject, but only one who analyses power in terms of the government of the self and the others. As Foucault (1994: 223) himself says: "It is thus not power, but the subject that constitutes the general theme of my research".
Systematically extending the scattered remarks of the last Foucault on pastoral power, the police and government into a sociological theory of power, knowledge and subjectivity in advanced liberal societies, Nikolas Rose (1999a, b), the animator and instigator of the Anglo-Australian school of "governmentality-studies", has forcefully introduced the notion of "government" over and against the notion of domination to theorise and analyse the multiplicity of theories and vocabularies, methodologies and technologies, instruments and techniques of rule (from the layout of buildings and the structures of timetables to the statistical methods of calculation and the psychoanalytic ones of interpretation) through which a heterogeneous network of governmental and non-governmental authorities and agencies (from the Ministry of economic affairs all the way down to the economist, the manager, the journalist, the teacher, the priest, the doctor, the counsellor and the psychoanalyst) seek to control and regulate, shape and modulate the conduct of individuals that constitute a population by working on and through their aspiration and intentions.
Government is a form of power referring to the "conduct of conduct" (Foucault, 1994, IV: 237). To govern is not to impose directly a certain action, but to control it indirectly through the structuration of the possible field of options and actions of individuals. In so far as governing means governing through the freedom, aspirations and beliefs of the individuals rather than in spite of them, government does not annul the capacity of individuals as agents, but presupposes it and draws on it to further its own ends: "Personal autonomy is not the antithesis of political power, but a key term in its exercise, the more so because most individuals are not merely the subjects of power but play a part in its operations" (Rose and Miller, 1992: 174). Appealing to the aspirations of self-determination and self-realisation, the government of subjects passes through the personal strivings of each and every individual for self-fulfilment. Power does not crush aspirations, but acknowledges and adjusts itself to them, while instrumentalising and utilising them for its own objectives.
In the same way as one should not identify government and domination, one should not identify government with the State and avoid the paranoiac prism of conspiracy theories that seek the "interpelating" hand of the State in any of its ideological apparatuses. Rather than thinking of the State extending its power through its apparatuses, the analytics of power "decapitates" the State and concentrates its analysis of the powers of freedom on the proliferation of a heterogeneous multiplicity of governmental and non governmental, public and private, legal, scientific, economic, religious, educational, therapeutic and other organisations and institutions, authorities and agencies that seek to regulate, modulate and influence the internal worlds of organisations, institutions, families and individuals by shaping them in desired directions. Among the plurality of mediating instances that intervene between the State and the individuals while interconnecting, intentionally or unintentionally, the aspirations of the authorities and the activities of individuals, one finds, among others, bureaucrats and experts, philosophers and philanthropists, sociologists and psychologists, doctors and hygienists, managers and planners, priests and parents. Although all those different actors follow their own interests, confront their own problems and look for their own solutions, each and any of them can potentially be "enrolled" by other actors who "translate" their interests and bring them thereby into a loose alignment of sorts, forming a governmental "dispositif" (Foucault), "assemblage" (Deleuze) or "actor-network" (Latour) of sorts: "Each of these diverse forces can be enrolled in a governmental network to the extent that it can translate the objectives and values of others into its own terms, to the extent the arguments of another become consonant with and provide norms for its own ambitions and actions" (Miller and Rose, 1992: 10). Thanks to the continuous translations of the respective epistemologies, moralities and ideologies into common visions of the "good life" and their materialisation into concrete programmes of action, white papers, reports, books, plans, etc., flexible and loose associations are established between a variety of agents that come to share a common language and common interests and that seek to shape, each in its own way, the practices of individuals by summoning them to become loving parents, ardent consumers, active citizens and enthusiastic employees. As networks form and relays, translations and connections are established to the mutual benefit of those who govern and those who are governed, power is disseminated through the whole of society and a machinic assemblage without exterior is performatively constructed that couples from within the political aspirations of the authorities to the individual motivations of the subjects.
Drawing attention to the fundamental role that theories, technologies, techniques, methodologies and methods of government play in rendering the practices of individuals, groups, organisations and populations thinkable, representable, calculable and administrable, or in short: governable, genealogists of the present insist on the importance of studying empirically the humble and mundane technologies, instruments and "inscription devices" (Latour) by which all kind of authorities seek to instantiate government and rule "at a distance": "Techniques of notation, computation and calculation; procedures of examination and assessment; the invention of devices such as surveys and presentational forms such as tables; the standardisation of systems of training and the inculcation of habits; the inauguration of professional specialisms and vocabularies; building design and architectural forms – the list is heterogeneous and is, in principle, unlimited" (Miller and Rose, 1990: 8). In their detailed studies of the variegated techniques of social regulation, governmentality studies draws on several specialised subdisciplines like science studies, economics, accounting or archictecture, but reconfigures their materials within the framework of a political sociology of power.
Against this background, we can now analyse some of the major transformations of the mode of social regulation that have intervened in the last quarter of a century and that characterise "advanced liberalism" (Rose, 1993, 1999b: 137-166). We have already seen that capitalism has been able to restructure itself and expand in the 70s and 80s through a neo-liberal co-optation of the libertarian aspirations to autonomy and authenticity that were voiced by the new left in the 60s and the 70’s and the new right in the 70’s and the 80’s. Translating and displacing the aspirations of autonomy, freedom, initiative, creativity, spontaneity, originality and responsibility of the individual into a political programme that aims to roll back the state and to "govern without governing society" (Rose, 1993: 298), neo-liberalism has succeeded in turning the critique of alienation, domination and bureaucracy to the advantage of the market. Thatcherism, Reaganism - and in its wake also Third Way-ism - have reactivated the anti-statism of classical liberalism and linked it up with a series of techniques that has rendered the criticism of welfare and bureaucracy "governmental" and, thus, implementable. Through liberalisation, privatisation and budgetary restraint, it has paved the way to a system of "governance without government".
Compared with the old labourist, Keynesian and Fordist mode of social regulation of the ‘golden thirties’, the new liberal mode is much more global though dispersed and multi-layered, much more marketised and consumerist, and also much more accountable and controlable. Three aspects stand out. First, social regulation is now on the verge of becoming a global affair. Although local and national regulations are obviously still important, a whole series of governmental agencies are now operating not only below, but also, as the phrase goes, above and across states. Local, regional, national and international agencies and authorities, like the EU or the GATT, for instance, as well transnational non- and quasi-governmental organisations, like the ILO or Greenpeace, are now increasingly coordinating their policies in the domain of health and labour standards, economical and ecological regulation or anti-terrorism, to name a few examples, and exerting sophisticated and effective pressures on states, organisations and individuals. What is emerging, therefore, is a decentered, dispersed and multi-layered system of government at the global level. Second, a whole range of marketised mechanisms (contracts and subcontracting, public-private partnerships, quasi-markets, internal, budgetting, end-user empowerment, etc.) have been introduced into economic life to replace thre rigidities of central planning and stimulate competition not only among private firms, but also among the public services. Through the introduction of competition in social services, the privatisation of public services and the generalised transformation of clients into customers, the scope of economic rationality has vastly expanded. Meanwhile, the productivistic logic of the enterprise and the consumerist language of choice have also spread from the economic to the individual sphere. Through techniques of market research, advertisement, designing, branding life-styling and, not to forget, credit, individuals are seduced into consumption and summoned to become entrepreneurs of their own life, as it were, through the acquisition of goods and services. As Zygmunt Bauman (1995: 270) pithily remarks: "it is thus not only the gas industry but life in general that has been privatised". This "privatisation of life" has now invaded all the spheres of life: production, consumption, education, leisure, health and even death. Third, to render organisations accountable, transparent and controllable, audits are now regularly used (as British academics trying to cope with the constraints of the Research Assessment Exercises (RAE) and the Teaching Quality Assessments (TQA) no doubt have noticed). If individuals are controlled through the "conduct of conduct", organisations are for their part regulated through auditing, or the "control of control", as Power has aptly called it (Power, 1994). Transforming organisations in order to make them conform to ideals of auditability, audit attempts to act indirectly upon systems of control rather than directly upon first order activities. In so far as the technologies of government of advanced liberalism embody new receptivities to private sectors of management, we can conclude by saying that they are political technologies that "enterprise up" individuals and organisations alike.
The Commodification of Culture
It has become a commonplace to note that late capitalism has taken a "cultural turn". This cultural turn in the economy should be understood in the context of the more general de-differentiation of the social subsystems that characterises post-modern societies (Crook, Pakulski, Waters, 1992). The collapse of the boundaries between culture and the economy works in two ways: The economy interpenetrates culture and transforms it into a commodity (economisation of culture), and culture is coupled in return to the economy, loosing its autonomy in the process (culturalisation of the economy). The dissolution of the autonomy of the domain of culture does not mean that culture looses its importance. To the contrary, it gains in importance and effectiveness. Conceiving of the dissolution of culture as an "explosion", an astute observer of the post-modern scene has noticed "a prodigious expansion of culture throughout the social realm, to the point at which everything in our social life – from economic value and state power to practices and the very structure of the psyche itself – can be said to have become cultural" (Jameson, 1991: 48).
As a result of this "shifting out" of culture through the social realm, culture assumes the role that was once imparted to the material forces of production. In so far as the whole production process has shifted from the production of goods to the production of signs, this shifting out is in line with the shift from an industrial to a post-industrial and post-Fordist mode of capitalist production. What is increasingly being produced and consumed nowadays are not material objects but semiotic objects or signs. As the aesthetisation of commodities progresses, the design and branding of consumer products become more and more important. As objects are increasingly aestheticised and emptied out of their material content, the aesthetic form trumps the latter. Use value becomes secondary, and at the end, everything happens as if it is now the exchange value that induces the use-value. Even more, according to Baudrillard, the exchange value simply absorbs the latter, becomes self-referential and turns into a simulacrum, that is, into a copy without an original. Although Baudrillard’s influential theory of ‘hyperreality’ playfully, and at times, cynically exaggerates the extent of the dematerialization of reality, there can be no doubt about the fact that the ‘spectacularisation’ (Debord) of commodities indeed characterises contemporary consumer culture.
Contemporary mass culture is more and more commodified, but that does not mean that it is standardised and homogenised. To the contrary, commodification leads to diversification and heterogenisation. Today’s mass culture is pluralist, heterogeneous, fragmented and diversified, or post-modernist, to use a vague word which summarises it all. Diversity sells, and to guarantee a constant access to diversity, the margins of the sub- and countercultures of rebellious youth are constantly inspected for novelty. Counterculture aims to subvert the mainstream, while the mainstream attempts to co-opt the subculture. The idea that consumer culture is a form of conformism has become a commonplace of anti-consumerism. It obscures the fact that capitalism feeds on "negativity" and "difference" and that rebellion is actually fuelling the carousel of fashion and, thus, implicitly complicit in the making of "fashion victims". Consumer culture is hip. Advertising tells us that we are unique and different, non conformist and not part of the masses, and sells us what we need to become what we are – a nose ring, a tattoo, the latest double CD of Paul Oakenfold, or whatever else might be needed to distinguish oneself from one’s fellow punters and to make an "artwork of one’s self". The idea of conspicuous consumption has been outmoded by hip consumerism: "It’s no longer about keeping up with the Joneses, it’s about being different from them" (Rutherford, quoted by Ray and Sayer, 1999: 11).
In the new age of cultural capitalism, it is not only popular culture – "folklore and proletarian art, plus sports" (Kuper, 1999: 229) - that is commodified. Since high culture is no longer exempted from the free market, but considered as an upmarket niche on high street, we can say that culture as such, understood as the totality of symbolic expressions that determines "the whole way of life, from birth to the grave, from morning to night and even in sleep" (Eliot), has become colonised and integrated as a profitable province of the economic system. Culture, which was once considered in opposition to the vulgar interests of economic sphere, has become a commodity – and "nothing else but a commodity" (Adorno, 1977: 338).
The "webs of significance" that human beings spin around themselves to make sense of the world have been systematically raided by the culture industries. This was already the case when Adorno and Horkheimer coined the phrase to refer to the American mass culture of the forties and the fifties but, following the digital revolution, the commercialisation of culture has progressed to the point that experience itself is now on the verge of becoming a commodity, and nothing else but a commodity. The integration of computers, telecommunications, cable television, consumer electronics, broadcasting, publishing and entertainment in an integrated communications network that is largely controlled by a few global corporations (Disney, Time Warner, Bertelsmann and Vivendi Universal) has given commercial enterprises unprecedented control over human experiences. With the transformation of the culture industry into an "industry of programmes" (Stiegler), human experience has become the consummate commodity of the new capitalist economy, while the mind is more or less directly plugged into the terminals of the multi-media: "The technical system that was up to now essentially a dispositif to transform material has become a system to transform spirit, operated by a whole network that transmits programmes" (Stiegler, 2001: 136).
Analysing the long-term shift from industrial to cultural production, Jeremy Rifkin (2001) contends that hypercapitalism is entering a new phase, the "age of access", in which markets are giving way to networks and ownership of goods is steadily replaced by paid access to interconnected supplier-user networks. Whether it is music, games or films, cuisine, travel or theme parks, sports or gambling, what one pays for and what is marketed is not so much the goods and the services as the cultural experiences one consumes. By connecting the mind to the market and selling lived experiences, capitalism has commodified time and culture. Slowly, but surely it comes to resemble the "context of total blindness" (totaler Verblendungszusammenhang) that Adorno had anticipated by exaggerating and extrapolating the dumbing impact of the culture industries: "Capitalism is making its final transition into full-blown cultural capitalism, appropriating not only the signifiers of cultural life and the artistic forms of communication that interpret those signifiers but lived experience as well" (Rifkin, 2001: 144). As the culture industry gives way to the "experience industry", there is hardly a sphere of life that escapes the reach of capitalism. By paying for access to experiences and for the experiences themselves, one becomes, so to say, the consumers of one’s own live.
The Colonisation of Life
Having colonised the life-world, capitalism turns its attention to nature and invades life itself to modify and commodify it. Since the late seventies, the large multinational corporations, which had closely observed the developments in molecular biology and genetic engineering, began to invest substantially in biotechnology. Dependent on the universities for their expertise and on oil, chemical and pharmaceutical corporations for capital, the biotech industry rapidly enrolled the biosciences to redesign, patent and re-engineer Lifeitself® for commercial purposes. The first transgenic organisms appeared in the 1980’s and, by 1988, Oncomouse™, a transgenic mouse, designed for research in cancer and marketed by Du Pont at 50 to 75 dollars per piece, became the first patented animal in the world (Haraway, 1997: 49-118). Since then, the biosciences have made great progress and, using viruses as vectors for transmitting DNA between different species, they have fabricated and patented some of the most monstrous creatures for the sake of profit: Tobacco plants with firefly genes; fish and tomatoes with anti-freeze genes; headless embryos of mice and frogs, dispensing with their superfluous heads so that that they can harvest their organs; monkeys with jellyfish genes and human embryo cells merged with enucleated cows’ eggs; cloned calves and sheep carrying human genes, cows producing lactoferrin, a human protein useful for treating infections; and not to forget, Dollies, sheep that are cloned, and Pollies, sheep that are both cloned and genetically engineered (Best and Kellner, 2001: 171-175).
Involved in a highly competitive race for the human race, the private corporation Celera Genomics and the publicly funded Human Genome Project anounced in 2000 that they had completed a rough draft of the entire human genome. While the atlas of the genome can be consulted against payment, the question about the ownership of the human genome remains unsolved: Does the human genome belong to the individual person with a particular genome, to the scientist or the company who has identified particular genes or nucleiotide sequences, or is the common heritage of mankind? The question is momentous: If the human genome is the collective property of humanity, deliberative intervention should never occur without collective deliberation. If it is not, then the genome can be patented, privatised and subjected to monopolistic control. Observing the "gene rush", NGOs predict that in less than twenty-five years, much of the "genetic commons"- the legacy of millions of years of biological and cultural evolution – will have been isolated, identified, and enclosed in the form of intellectual property, controlled, for the most part, by a handful of biotechnological corporations without frontiers (or scruples) like Monsanto, Novartis, Du Pont or Aventis. What is seen as intellectual property is often, as Vandana Shiva says in her critical analysis of property rights, TRIPs and patents, "information ‘pirated’ from non-western societies and indigenous communities" (Shiva, 2001: 33).
Moving from the molecular to the molar body, we can now proceed with our analysis of the colonisation of life and further inspect the commodification of the body and its parts. Enslavement, exploitation, prostitution, body trafficking and other practices that reduce human bodies to a pair of hands, a pair of breasts, or a vagina are only some examples of the commodification of the body that precede the systematic objectification, fragmentation, modification and commodification of the body by modern medicine. Driven by a highly technocratic ethos, the medical sciences drive out the common sense conceptions of the body as a unitary object, as something that we ‘are’ rather than as something that we ‘have’. Abstracting the body from the human being that is embodied (dualism of body and mind), as well as from the other human beings (individualism) and the cosmos to which it was once intimately tied through a cascade of homologies (disenchantment of the world), the medical sciences consider the body as some thing that exists in itself and functions like a machine, or, to quote Descartes, like a "watch composed of wheels and counterweights" (Le Breton, 1990: 61-82, see also Leder, 1992). Objectivating the body by means of sophisticated visual techniques (such as X-rays, sonography, endoscopy, magnetic resonance imaging) that render the body transparent and thus also permeable, the medical sciences increasingly conceive the body as an array of parts, organs and tissues that can be repaired or, if needed, replaced by other parts, organs and tissues. Like the global economy, the body is now an open, complex, flexible machine, with spares and parts available from the "body shop" (Kimbrell, 1993).
The market of transplants (organs, tissues, or fluids from other bodies, living or dead) and implants (artificial organs or body parts made of plastic, metal, nylon, or other synthetic materials) has led to the fragmentation of the body and the breaching of its boundaries. In an interesting article on ‘spare part surgery’, Cecil Helman notes that the body has been reconceptualised as a ‘machine’ (and ‘machines reconceptualised as ‘people’): "The body is now a collection of ‘parts’ or ‘pieces’, for which ‘spares’ are available when they finally wear out" (Helman, 1988: 15). Through transplants and implants, the individual is permanently linked to the world of the market, industry and science and transformed into a "potential prosthesis" for another individual (Le Breton, 1990: 234; 1993: 296). Whereas the implants and prostheses are mass-produced by the industry, the transplants and organs are available on the world market – or on the black market, as the bodies of innocents and poor people are now raided once again by organised body snatchers with links to the underworld.
Through the implantantion of mass-produced heart valves, pace makers, artificial hip joints, prosthetic arms and legs, and synthetic lenses, the patient becomes effectively a "cyborg"; through the transplantation of mass-marketed hearts, kidneys, lungs, lymph nodes, nerves, bone marrow and the infusion of blood and plasma, s/he becomes – like Frankenstein - a living patchwork of foreign bodies. Through implants and transplants, the cybernetic organisms become a living node in the medical network of commercial relations between producers, suppliers, doctors and nurses. "Overall, it is the older members of this society who, as they emerge from the workforce, will be reincorporated into the world of industry through the ageing of the bodies" (Helman, 1988: 15). Ageing, they become consumers of implants and transplants; sick, they become cyborgs, attached to a complex array of machines that keep them alive; dying, they become potential donors of organs. In all cases, the bodies have been invaded by the medical industry and linked to a complex, evolving transnational network of corporate actors and commodified actants.
Although capitalism tends to invade the totality of existence, one should not conclude all too fast, however, that reification has become total, that everything is commodified, and that there is no way out. Even if our body has been objectivated as as a material anatomo-physiological body (Körper) among bodies, the fact remains that for the time being, we still experience our body as a living body (Leib), that is, to use the phenomenological terms of Marcel, Plessner and Merleau-Ponty, as something that we are and not only a something that we have. Although we are always already caught in the tentacular grips of an integrated and integrating machinic capitalism, the omnipresence of commodification does not mean that in our everyday life, we have become mere appendices of the capitalist megamachine and thus, so to say, executors of our own life. In spite of everything and for the time being, we remain human. We communicate, empathise, rationalise, moralise and criticise. To avoid the totalising closure of its critical analysis of the processes of reification, commodification and alienation, a critical theory of contemporary society has to take those anthropological constants into account. Having presented elsewhere a metacritical analysis of critical theory (Vandenberghe, 1997-1998), I am only too aware that a critique of domination presupposes a theory of emancipation to be effective. Yet, if I have insisted in this lengthy essay on the colonising and totalising logic of capitalism, it is to flag the danger involved and in the hope to contribute thereby to an active critique and passive resistance to the emperial tendencies of the neo-capitalist system. There is hope. While capital goes transnational, resistance is globalising as well. Since the end of the 90’s, the resistance against universal commodification is gathering momentum. As Naomi Klein (2001: 82), the Canadian activist, says: "Thousands of groups today are all working against forces whose common threat is what might broadly be described as the privatization of every aspect of life, and the transformation of every activity and value into a commodity. […] American students are kicking ads out of the classroom. European environmentalists and ravers are throwing parties at busy intersections. Landless Thai peasants are planting organic vegetables on over-irrigated golf courses. Bolivian workers are reversing the privatization of water supply. […] Typically these anti-privatization campaigns get under way on their own. But they also periodically converge – that’s what happened in Seatlle, Prague, Washington, Davos, Porto Allegre and Quebec".
5. Gen-ethical Considerations on the Reinvention of Nature
Now that we have arrived at the point where, driven forward by the "werewolf hunger for profit" (Marx) and the unrelenting search for new niches and markets, the expanding neo-capitalist network of networks has colonised the whole universe (or almost) and melted everything that is solid into fluxes of pure becoming without being, I would like to return to the initial discussion about nature and culture. This time, however, I will not reflect on the distinction between nature and culture from an epistemo-ontological angle. Instead I will treat the question of the future of human nature from a more normative perspective and inquire if we could perhaps set ethical limits to the colonisation of life by the techno-sciences in general and the bio-industry in particular. Taking up the suggestion of Simondon (1969: 102) that each epoch has to reinvent its humanism by pondering the momentous dangers that humanity faces, I will look more closely at the slippery slopes of genomics that might put the future of humankind at risk and suggest that, in order to impose normative limits to human engineering, we should reinvent and reintroduce nature as a conventional and consensual marker.
The End of Nature
The experimental scrambling of the ontological regions of material, animal and human nature by the bio-, cyber- and nano-scientific industries has given rise to the emergence of strange nether lands in which cyborgs, chimeras and other monstrous couplings are experimentally produced and fabricated for the sake of profit. It would be convenient if we could still appeal to nature as a meta-social order that grounds society and culture to set moral limits to what human beings in general and the techno-sciences in particular can do. Unfortunately, nature has been modified, ‘demoralised’ and commodified by human intervention to the point that one can no longer rely on it to impose normative limits to the colonisation of life by the scientific-industrial complex of late capitalism. To understand how "we", moderns, "progressed" to the "extermination" of nature, we have to go back once again to the reflexive emergence of the nature-culture distinction in the sixteenth and seventeenth century but, this time, the story needs to be told from the point of view of the invention of nature.
The rationalising processes of the objectivation of nature and the self-objectivation of culture that are the harbingers of modernity have dispensed with the hypothesis of the divine. Just as God has been demystified and uncovered as a human invention, so, too, nature has been defetishisized and apprehended as a social construction. The humanisation of God and the objectivation of nature are internally related processes in the secular process of the disenchantment of the world. Remember Swammerdam, the Dutch entomologist of the seventeenth century? He opened his course of zoological anatomy with a divine promise: "With the anatomy of the louse, I’ll bring you a proof of God’s providence" (cited in Weber, 1992a: 91). Apart from a few well-meaning scientists and credulous new age acolytes, "we, moderns" no longer believe that science and theology are compatible. Although scientism has become a religion in itself and scientists seem to have arrogated the divine power of conception to themselves, science is the secular power par excellence that eradicates the infamous superstition at its very root.
The scientific objectivation of nature secularises the order of being and transmutes nature into a cultural construct. No longer God-given, detranscendentalised and secularised, nature becomes a contingent, meaningless order of regularity, subject to the laws of causality. Since Galileo, the natural sciences no longer deal with nature, but with a theoretical-mathematical conception of possible nature of which the phenomenal nature only represents and realises a particular instance (Cassirer, 1994, I: 314-318, 377ff.). Instead of understanding nature as some kind of a substance that is a given to the senses, it is theoretically constructed as a theoretical contexture of functional relations of causal determination that can be disclosed in and through scientific experiments. Together, the epistemological disconnection of scientific experience from its pre-scientific origins and the mathematisation of mechanics have allowed the modern sciences to break with the traditional metaphysics of substance and to effectuate the transition to a constructivist, functional or relational and experimental conception of nature (Böhme, Van den Daele and Krohn, 1977:7-10).
Once the laws of nature are known, experimental knowledge can be systematically applied and used to control and manipulate, transform and fabricate nature. Knowledge is power, as Bacon famously said, and power is the will to dominate nature and harness it to serve human purposes. What he did not say, but what is also sociologically implied in the linkage of science and technology, is that knowledge does not only increase the power of human beings over nature, but also over people.
Recoding the distinction between nature and culture as a cultural distinction, modernity has introduced the reflexivity it has about its own culture into the realm of nature. With Latour (1991), we could even say that the separation of nature and culture is a precondition for the scientific analysis and the technological transformation of nature. Unable to separate out nature as an independent realm, differentiated from culture, pre-modern cultures could not experiment on the modern scale. "We", moderns, can, and this cultural difference explains in part why we have become the "masters and possessors of nature", to use Descartes’s consecrated phrase, and colonised, exploited and dominated nature on an unprecedented scale. While the modern separation of nature from culture has allowed for the scientific investigation and technological transformation of nature, the techno-scientific successes of late capitalist modernity have paradoxically, and rather perversely, resulted in the "end of nature", which raises, of course, the timely metascientific question of the "mastery of the mastery" of nature.
Indeed, three or four centuries after the techno-scientific revolution, modernity has so thoroughly modified and commodified the natural environment that nature itself appears now as an artefact and an artifice of human enterprise. Radically reshaping the connections between social life and the material world, industrial capitalism’s culture of mastery has transformed the natural environment into a created environment. As a result, nature is no longer "given" as something that exists outside of society (and culture), as a kind of self-evidential ground and background of society, but rather as something that can be transformed, manufactured and changed at will. Modifiable, modified and manufactured, nature has become as contingent as culture. Neither necessary, nor impossible, it is no longer perceived as something that exists outside of society and that we can take for granted, but as something that is increasingly threatened by the modern culture of mastery that characterises industrial capitalism. From this vanishing perspective, we can even understand the emergence of the ecological movement in terms of the disappearance of nature. It is because nature is disappearing that it is so central and that everybody talks about nature, whether it is to preserve, to further exploit or to deconstruct it. In any case, when nature is threatened by human enterprise, we end up discovering that it was never autonomous: "The distinction between the natural and the cultural is revealed for the construction it always was" (Strathern, 1992b: 55).
Of course, nature does not really disappear. Rather what disappears and implodes is the distinction between nature and culture (Lau and Keller, 2001), or nature and society for that matter, as society and culture are not distinct entities, but different aspects of the same socio-cultural reality. The implosion of the distinction between nature and culture not only means that nature is recognised as a cultural artefact and a social construction, but also, and, perhaps, above all, that the natural sciences that socially construct nature are now themselves explicitly recognised as cultural artefacts and social constructions. Attacking the "culture of no culture" (Traweek) of the natural sciences, exposing the social relations of production and definition that are responsible for the scientific objectivation and technological exploitation of nature, the constructivist turns, twists and returns in the social studies of science and technology have demolished the firewall that separated science and technology from politics and radically politicised the production of knowledge in the natural and social sciences.
The politicisation of the sciences adds the contingency of culture to the contingency of nature. When both nature and the scientific production of nature are susceptible to all kinds of transformations and redefinitions, nature becomes optional and, so to say, optical. Depending on the perspective one takes on nature, it can either be considered as a social construct or as a natural given, as thesei or phusei, with the result that what is natural ensues from a decision. The hole in the ozone-layer, global warming and BSE can all be analysed, for example, as a natural state of affairs or as a social construction. When macro-sociologists (like Beck) show that natural states of affairs are, in fact, non-intended consequences of human action and decision; when micro-sociologists (like Latour and Woolgar) next demonstrate that scientific facts are literally constructed in the lab; and when critical scholars (like Haraway) finally uncover the racist, capitalist and gendered subtexts of the micro-sociologists, no layer of scientific practice remains outside the reach of the sociological techniques of interpretation, defetishisation and politicisation of natural facts.
The Reinvention of Nature
Until recently, human beings lacked the knowledge and the capacity to transform and reconstruct human nature. They could therefore take it for granted and consider it as a basic precondition beyond our purposes and outside of our responsibility. But now that human nature itself has become modifiable and optional, they come to realise that there are no longer any natural barriers to artificial intervention and technological engineering. Thanks to the revolution in the techno-sciences, humans can now control human evolution, alter the biological make up of humans and their offspring, and literally create new species that scramble the lines and the times of spontaneous evolution. As creators of humans, humans have become gods, or at least god-like, not in their wisdom, though, but in their knowledge and transformative power. Humans have always made history, but not under conditions of their own choosing. Now they also make biology. By altering human nature for the sake of profit, the techno-sciences short-circuit history, speed up evolution and court the risk of destroying humanity in the name of health. One thing is clear, however: "Biology under control is no longer nature" (Strathern, 1992b: 35).
Since nature is no longer a symbol for the given parameters of human existence, nature, human or otherwise, we can no more rely on it to impose limits on human enterprise. And yet, if we want to ensure that humanity does not destroy the biological foundations of civilisation, if we want to hold fast to the idea of humanitas and the future of humanity, it seems to me that we have to reinvent nature and reintroduce it as a normative convention that sets limits to its reconstruction. Now that the natural and the social sciences have technologically reconstructed nature and discursively deconstructed essences, it may seem a bit quaint and queer, however, to want to introduce nature, be it as a convention. Now that the boundaries between nature and culture, between humans, animals and machines, and also between life and death, have been eroded, it may seem unreasonable and unseasonable to want to reintroduce the distinction between nature and culture as a conventional context that grounds society and culture. And yet, to be on the safe side and to avoid the modification of human nature beyond recognition, I would like to suggest that instead of changing nature, we start to change culture.
Since nature has become optional, we need a conscious decision to moralise human nature and not to reconstruct it – one we take knowing that we could also act otherwise. To reduce the contingency of nature I would like to propose a conventional redefinition of human nature as something "sacred", or, at least, as something that inspires awe and deserves respect and should therefore not be experimented or tampered with without precaution. Or, as Hans Jonas (1987: 218) says in quasi-theological vein: "We should learn again to fear and tremble and, even without God, learn to fear the sacred".
Although I have intentionally used the term "sacred", the strategy I want to pursue is not the theo-conservative one of the sacralisation of nature, however, but the neo-humanist one of the moralisation of nature. Divested from its mystical enveloppe, the rational core of the religious intuition can be redeemed I think through a consequent linguistification, immanentisation and secularisation of the sacred. Unlike the sacralisation of nature, which presupposes somehow that human nature is divine and that only God has the right to reconstruct human nature, the moralisation of nature is humanist in intent and purpose. It accepts that humans have the right to reconstruct nature, but stresses that this right has to be balanced by a duty to preserve human nature and to defend it against arbitrary control. Using Weberian terms (Weber, 1992b), we could say that the moralisation of nature is first and foremost intended and understood as an "ethics of responsibility" and not simply as an "ethics of conviction". If it accepts in principle the transformability of human nature, it is only to open up the ends and the means of the techno-sciences to public discussion and scrutiny. Given that it most emphatically subscribes to the "precautionary principle", it does not absolve politicians and scientists from their responsibilities but urges them instead to take explicitly into account the unintended, unforeseeable and potentially uncontrollable consequences of technological decisions into their prudent decisions.
In the age of high reflexivity, the traditional conceptions of nature can obviously not simply be restored. Defending a traditional conception of nature in a traditional way would be tantamount to fundamentalism. And it would bring us dangerously close to the reactionary romanticism of (some versions of) "deep ecology". What we need is not "second nature", but "third nature", i.e. nature self-consciously posited by spirit as a highly reflexive, consciously formulated conventional and consensual, nomic and normic conception of nature. What I am thinking of is some kind of a communicative update of the Kantian theory of the postulates of practical reason for the age of genetics (cf. Kant, 1956b: A215-241). For Kant, the postulates of practical reason are not theoretical dogmas but rather necessary conditions for obedience of a finite being to the moral laws which determines its will in general and the categorical imperative in particular. As is well known, the (second) formulation of the categorical imperative stipulates that one should always act "so as to treat the humanity, in your own person or in the person of another, as an end-in-itself and never simply as a means" (Kant, 1956a: BA67), always as a person and never as a mere thing. This imperative remains valid, of course, for humans in the age of technical reproducibility, but instead of postulating the existence of god, freedom and immortality, I would like to suggest that we introduce human nature as a theoretical postulate of practical reason and a normative presupposition of "gen-ethics".
Gen-ethics is understood here with Habermas (2001) as the bio-ethical division of the "species-ethics" (Gattungsethik) that conventionally and consensually defines the nature of the human and thereby sets normative limits to the human freedom to technologically alter human nature and change it beyond recognition. The intent of a modern and modernist gen-ethics is obviously not to forbid once and for all genetic engineering or other human experiments in bio-, cyber and nano-technology, but to regulate them. As Wolfgang van den Daele (2000: 24) rightly says: "What has become technically at our disposition through the sciences, should again be made unavailable (unverfügbar) through normative control". From this gen-ethical perspective, a definition of "third nature" that is counterfactually valid for the whole of humanity should be consensually formulated and validated in an "ideal speech situation" and consciously introduced as a necessary precondition of practical reason and as a guarantee that humans do not treat human beings and their genes as simple means for one’s own ends or the ends of others, but that they pay due respect to the dignity (Menschenwürde) of the human person. Of course, we can not pre-empt what the outcome of such counterfactual discussions would be, but we can nevertheless safely presume that the participants will, for instance, consensually decide that genetic engineering with eugenic intent, human cloning and breeding between animals and humans enter into conflict with the commonly accepted ideas about the identity and the dignity of human beings. Be that as it may, the intent of a discourse-ethical redefinition of human nature is not so much to define once and for all what it means to be human as to decide about the techno-scientific interventions in human nature that are incompatible with the "humanity of humanity" (Morin, 2001), that is with the self-identity of a humanity that defines itself by distinguishing the human both from nature and from the animal, while recognising that the human has emerged out of nature and remains an animal.
Knowing that we could reconstruct human nature and consciously deciding not to do so on the basis of scientifically informed normatively orientated discussions between scientists, citizens and politicians about the unintended, unforeseeable and uncontrollable consequences and risks that humanity would be confronted with if it were to authorise the cloning of humans or genetic engineering without restrictions, that is the prospect of a gen-ethical politics that takes the precautionary principle seriously. What is needed is not simply a survey about what the citizens think about the biosciences - 44% of the French confuse the latter with phytotherapy anyway -, but a roundtable discussion in which citizens, scientists and politicians take part (Habermas, 1971: 104-145). Having been informed by the scientists about what is possible from a techno-scientific point of view, the citizens and the politicians tell the scientists what is desirable from a normative point of view and together they take a well-informed and well-founded decision to act or not to act. Reformulating Beck’s gloss on the precautionary principle, we obtain the following gen-ethic devise: "Even when we don’t know what we have to know [about the possible consequences of techno-scientific reconstruction of human nature], we have nevertheless to decide [on the basis of a conventionally defined and consensually validated concept of human nature] that we will not decide and to take a decision when we will decide [not to allow the reconstruction of human nature]" (Beck, Bonb and Lau: 2001: 40).
Sub-politics and the Technological Performance of Morality
To learn? or not to learn? That is the gen-ethical question of the age. Should we adapt our norms to the world or the world to our norms? Should we adopt a cognitive attitude to norms, pragmatically revise them when the circumstances demand it and opportunistically redefine our vision of humanity as human nature is occasionally reconstructed by the techno-sciences (Luhmann, 1969)? Or should we perhaps stubbornly stick to our norms, maintain our normative intuitions against all odds, and insist on the dignity of the person to normatively re-regulate the techno-sciences (Habermas, 1998:243-256)?
I must confess that I am internally split. Looking at the future and the unprecedented risks that humanity is confronted with, I feel inclined to stress the unconditional validity of our norms, normative intuitions and visions of humanity. Looking at the past, however, I observe how our norms and normative intuitions have been periodically revised as techno-scientific advances required it and how, by manipulating the bodies, scientists have also been manipulating our norms and performatively redefining our visions of humanity. Initially, the dissection of corpses by Mondino and Vesalius was condemned by the Church as a clearcut case of profanation that would thwart the resurrection of the body, but by the end of seventeenth century the opening of the body had become generally accepted by the educated fractions of the population who attended en masse the anatomical theatres and cabinets of curiosity (Le Breton, 1993: 169-219). Moving closer to us, the transplantation of organs, which was also originally attacked as morally unacceptable, became quickly established as a revered practice, even if it redefined our visions of life and revised our definitions of death (Kimbrell, 1993: 36-44; Sharp, 1995: 361-362). Prior to 1968, death was recognised by the absence of easily detectable signs, such as pulse and respiration. To facilitate the acquisition of viable organs from potential donors, death was redefined in 1968 in terms of irreversible coma. Of late, new definitions of death have been proposed so that babies and neo-morts ("faux vivants") with lower, but without higher brain function can be declared officially brain-dead before they die. The implication of this new "performance" of death implies that, legally and technically speaking, a brain-dead, heart-beating, breathing cadaver is considered alive till the organs are "harvested" and the plug is finally pulled.
In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is another good case that instructs us about the inbuilt obsolescence of our visions of the human and of our normative resistance to change human nature. In 1978, the first test tube baby, Louise Brown, was born in Great Britain. Until then, it was considered unthinkable that a human being could be conceived without sexual intercourse and regarded as normatively unacceptable that a human being could be fabricated in a petri dish and implanted in a surrogate mother. Having sex, transmitting genes and giving birth indicated a natural sequence that could and a fortiori should not be changed. But what was unthinkable and unacceptable until yesterday has become almost generally accepted today, as can be gathered from the fact that since 1978 some 50,000 test tube babies have been born around the world. Included in the right of self-determination of childless couples, IVF and other baby making techniques, such as DI (donor insemination), GIFT and ZIFT (gamete and zygote introfallopian transfer), have now become an option for childless couples and, increasingly, for single mothers and homosexual couples as well.
The speed with which the transplantation of organs and artificial insemination have been diffused through society and accepted by the population at large shows that the half life of our norms is steadily declining. What is considered as unacceptable and intolerable today may very well appear as normal and beneficial tomorrow. Leaving aside techno-industrialists, Raelians and mutants, I presume that today most, if not all of us, are against human cloning, and yet I can almost predict that in ten or twenty years time human beings will be cloned for therapeutic reasons and that cloning will be a most profitable industry. Or, in the words of an Indian doctor: "Ten years from now, I will be able to grow you foetuses like popcorn" (quoted in Cohen, 2001: 23).
Although the philosopher in me is tempted by the Kantian perspective of a Habermas and I am inclined to start preaching like an unreconstructed humanist about the Unantastbarkeit of human dignity, the sociologist in me wants to correct the naïveté of the philosopher and to enlighten him sociologically about the limits of the Enlightenment. Such a sociological analysis of the limits of philosophical Enlightenment does not aim to undermine its premisses, but to strengthen its promises: Emancipation of and through reason (Aufklärung) rather than from it (Abklärung), as Luhmann (1992: 42) maliciously suggests - that remains the perspective of a critical social theory that presents a philosophically informed and normatively orientated analysis of the techno-scientific risks of dehumanisation and alienation in late capitalist, post-industrial consumerist societies. That a critique of alienation is only possible if and as long as the alienation of human beings is not total is self-evident. As long as humans are human and resist the total self-objectivation, they can in principle criticise the system, change it from within, and practically reorient its course. Nuclear power, germ line engineering and cloning can not be disinvented, but confronted with the "manufactured uncertainties" and dangers of the global risk society, citizens can still exert pressure on the politicians they have elected and democratically press for a political domestication of capitalism, as well as a normative regulation of the techno-sciences.
Personal reflection and resistance are always possible and always necessary, but not sufficient. What is needed is not only ethical behaviour, but also sociological insight into the "sub-politics" of the bio-technological sciences that technologically push through fundamental decisions that concern every individual without any legitimation, without any control and without any consultation of parliament. Exposing the political power and the bio-politics of the medical-industrial complex, Ulrich Beck (1986: 335-336) compares the politics of the fait accompli of medicine with a silent and undemocratic social revolution:
"Despite all the criticism and scepticism, what continues to be possible, even taken for granted, in the area of medicine would, if transferred to official politics, be equivalent to the scandal of simply implementing epoch-making fundamental decisions on the social future, while bypassing the parliament and the public sphere, and making debate on the consequences unreal by virtue of their realisation in practice".
To normatively regulate and socially domesticate the techno-sciences, the sociological analysis of the depoliticising mechanisms and the sub-political processes that bypass the checks and balances of parliamentary democracy has to be supplemented by social critique and political reform. Given that the political demands of a moral regulation of the techno-sciences will be formulated and worked out in the medium of the law, the political reform will in any case be implemented through the formulation of juridically binding norms. Although the struggle is ultimately a spiritual one, it will first be waged as a legal one.
The Slippery Slopes of Liberal Eugenics
Although we can counterfactually presume that a normative consensus exists about bio-ethical norms of decency and that such a virtual consensus is sufficiently solid and universal to justify a ban on germ line engineering with eugenic intent or human cloning for reproductive purposes, a sociological analysis of the limits of the moralisation of nature informs us that we cannot rely on this consensus to regulate the bio-sciences and to assure that humans will not be genetically engineered and cloned in the next decade or so. Norms are only constraining and binding as long as the technical projects remain in the realm of science fiction. Once the technological development turns the fiction into a fact, moral judgements tend to become ambiguous and the taboo on the reconstruction of human nature quickly vanishes among large parts of the population. Usually, medical purposes have spearheaded technological interventions in human nature. Using military language to describe the demoralising effects of medicine, Wolfgang van den Daele (2000:25), a former member of the Starnberg-Group and now a distinguished member of the bio-ethical committee of the German Bundestag, considers "the medical intervention [a]s the open flank of all taboos concerning human nature". Indeed, the history of the medical sciences and the bio-medical industry in the last quarter of a century shows that medical interventions and therapies - from the transplantation of human organs and the implantation of artificial ones via IVF to somatic and possibly also cell line engineering - have always provided the initial justification for the technical transgression of sacrosanct boundaries.
The reason for the regular transgressions of binding norms by bio-medical technologies is to be found in the fact that good health generally trumps all other values. As a result, "an ethics of rigorous respect for the naturalness of human nature cannot be defended against peoples’ interests in life and good health" (van den Daele, 1992: 551). The valuation of good health and the promises of the medical industry to cure illnesses explain why normative regulations are always provisional and why technological prohibitions, such as the current ones on PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis) and somatic cell engineering, should rather be read and understood as "moratoria" (van den Daele, 2000: 27) that can and will be lifted when and as soon as a medical therapy for a cure becomes available. On this basis, we can not only expect that some of our normative resistances to genomics are going to vanish in the near future, but we can also almost predict that in the interest of reducing suffering and the promises of a cure for a whole spate of illnesses will lead us down the slippery slope of "liberal" or "pastoral" eugenics (Agar, 2000, Rose, 2001).
Unlike the authoritarian eugenics of the past, which was state-driven and aimed to improve the genetic stock of the population, the new eugenics is market-driven. On the basis of access to information about the full range of genetic tests and therapies, prospective parents will use all the new genetic technologies on offer to select a desirable genotype for their future children. Although the prospective parents do not directly aim to improve the genotype of future generations, the aggregated demand for corrections and enhancements of the genome of their offspring will nevertheless undercut the distinction between "positive" (or ameliorative) and "negative" (or defensive) eugenics. Indirectly, but almost inescapably, the individual demand for "biologically correct" children will pave the way for a return to eugenics that is no longer imposed by an authoritarian state, but driven by the market and freely chosen by the parents: "The distinguishing mark of the new liberal eugenics is state neutrality. […] Authoritarian eugenicists would do away with ordinary procreative freedoms. Liberals instead propose radical extensions of them" (Agar, 2000: 171).
Although the technologies of somatic and cell line engineering that promise a cure for diseases that arise from single genes, such as Huntington’s disease, sickle cell anemia and hemophilia are more spectacular, and therefore more likely to receive attention in the media, most of the diseases that can be cured through genetic engineering are in fact rather rare. Although the bio-medical industry will undoubtedly search to explore the commercial possibilities of therapies that correct genetic defects ("a cure in search of a disease"), they will more likely invest in all kinds of genetic screenings that can be offered and sold to the families "at risk" ("a test in search of a disease"). Given that the diagnosis techno-logically precedes the cure, it is in any case more logical and profitable to start with the development of genetic tests that screen the genetic material of the parents for defects and risks. Moreover, unlike the cure, which concerns only the sick, diagnosis interests all prospective parents, or initially at least those who are "at risk", and obviously their children as well.
Initially introduced to screen the genetic material for specific diseases, the genetic tests will, however, quickly be proposed to all parents. After all, parents do not simply desire children, but they desire healthy children. Once again, the alleviation of suffering and the promise of health will act as a spearhead for the generalisation of genetic "quality controls". The scenario for the marketisation of genetic tests is always the same. Looking back at how the reach of IVF was extended over the years, Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim (1991: 42) has already described the typical pattern of generalised diffusion of medical innovations: "New biomedical help is first introduced to prevent or alleviate suffering for a narrowly defined catalogue of unambiguous problematic cases. Next comes a transitional phase of habituation during which the domain of application is extended further and further. Eventually, the final stage is reached: all women and men are defined as clients".
Although genetic screening is not compulsory, there’s nevertheless a strong social pressure to act responsibly and to undergo a test, if only to be informed about the medical risks and to be able to prevent predictable illnesses. Talk about prevention and prophylaxis should not hide, however, what is really being proposed: "More is at stake than oral hygiene. What is really meant is the prevention of the birth of genetically damaged children through renunciation of the desire for children or (and this is the most likely option) through ‘experimental’ pregnancy and abortion in case of an unfavourable diagnosis" (Beck-Gernsheim, 1994: 326-327). What is really being proposed, if not imposed, is not so much the prevention of illnesses, as of the existence of an ailing individual. Following the lead of Agamben´s terrific book on bio- and thanatopolitics (1998), we could describe the life that does not pass the test and that, as a result, is deemed not to deserve to live as "sacred life" – life that can be eliminated without punishment.
Moving from genetic testing to genetic engineering, the prospects for avoiding the slippery slope of eugenics do not look much better. Some "scientific tourism" has taught me that, when talking about genetic engineering, one should carefully distinguish between "germ line" and "somatic cell engineering". Using viral vectors to transmit genetic material into cells, somatic cell engineering aims to replace sick cells by healthy ones. Genetically engineered cells have, like normal cells, only a limited life-span. This means that the somatic gentherapy has to be periodically renewed and that the genetic information is not transmitted to the next generation, at least if the viruses do not spread and accidentally introduce the engineered gen in the cell lines of the patient. From a bio-ethical point of view, somatic engineering, which is still in an experimental stage, can be compared to organ transplantation: "Whether organs or single cells are transplanted does not make for a moral difference (Zoglauer, 2002: 98). Unlike somatic engineering, germ line engineering permits the alteration of genetic material such that genetic changes become permanently encoded in the sex cells of the resulting adult. While techniques of germ line engineering have already been successfully used in animals to accelerate the genetic improvement of lifestock, the technical feasability of germ line engineering of the human genome remains so far only theoretical. Notwithstanding all their disagreements, bio-ethicists seem to agree that germ line engineering that directly attempts to change the genotype of future generations amounts to eugenics and cannot be ethically justified. "However, when such changes arise as an indirect and otherwise unavailable consequence of an approved form of somatic cell line engineering, they are morally acceptable" (Lappé, 2000: 164).
Morally acceptable or not, through appeals to health and promises of a therapy, the commercialisation of technological advances in medicine point almost inescapably to the liberal application and market-driven implementation of a non authoritarian and humane form of eugenic politics that risks to destroy the dignity of humanity, while advancing under the cover of human progress. The sociological prognosis that humanity will soon go down the slippery slope of "consumer eugenics" may seem demoralising, but one never knows, perhaps this prediction might actually function as a warning and help to prevent us from the worst. "Catastrophy remains a possibility, says Dupuy (2002: 82), but only the inevitability of its future realisation can lead to prudence".
Posthuman Humanist Postscript
Nothing is certain, however, not even the worst. But to avoid the self-destruction of the human, we have to invent a new humanism that is able to distinguish between the inhuman and the post-human and can combat the new forms of alienation and reification. Edgar Morin (2001: 242) is right when he says that "the battles of tomorrow will be waged in the spiritual domain" - the domain of the Geist, not the one of the mind. In the name of the human, humanists of all sorts and all continents have to track and unrelentlessly criticise the categorical mistakes of those who, willingly confusing the worst with the millenial advent of the best, celebrate the overcoming of the human as the "ecstatic clearing in which the human responds to Being" (Sloterdijk, 1999: 32), accompanying and ideologically cautioning thereby the progress and progression of the inhuman. Although the end of the human might be looming and the future of humanity is not assured, we have only started the human adventure. We may have lost the confidence in the future, but we have not lost the battle yet. The post-human is our destiny; the inhuman is not our fate. Although and precisely because the coming century will most likely be Deleuzian, we have no choice. In the name of humanity and in the hope that the era of the post-human will not be inhuman, we have to reject the anti-humanism of the neo-Nietzscheans and try to define a new humanism for the coming age. Against Foucault, but with Malraux, I thus conclude with a warning: The twenty first century will be spiritual, or it won’t be.
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