On Contradiction II
Nature and Society
Today’s contradiction is a biggie: between nature and society. No doubt a caricature, but nature is the backdrop of human affairs: vast, but also dead and inert, having no value until human labor comes and improves it. Society, on the other hand, is dynamic and progressive, able to shape nature to its ends. But of course, not all communities:
It’s only those who can be happy by design that can array themselves against nature. The rest are in a ‘state of nature:’
The state of nature, in moral and political philosophy, religion, social contract theories and international law, is the hypothetical life of people before societies came into existence
And being so condemned, they are fair game for any society that wants to use them for their purposes or if they are ever so kind, deign to improve their lot and bring them into history.
The Anthropocene has put paid to these delusions. Unless you are Elon Musk and want to establish a new society in the state of Martian nature, you have to take into account that the planet is far from inert and subject to your infinite whims. In fact, that’s why calling it the Anthropocene is a monumental mistake: it’s not the period when humans became a planetary force, but rather the period in which the planet decided blow open the doors of the house of society.
Accumulation is neither nature nor society, and to the extent the Human is defined by accumulation, we are neither nature nor society. Those categories and their watertight difference can no longer be sustained.
I don’t know if liberal capitalism has the wherewithal to resolve this contradiction. Decentralized, renewable energy production, more grassroots democracy, respect for planetary boundaries — these are all good things, but how far can they go? I also worry that when business better than usual hits a planetary wall, authoritarians are right there to say: we can’t solve this so better protect what you have and kill anyone that comes in your way. The globe is accumulation in its final form. It isn't sustained by evil and in fact, sustains many virtues. Moralizing won’t make it go away, but it could easily be replaced by fascism across the world.
Contradiction is a huge topic - cutting across logic, society and perhaps the planet. It’s possible these disciplines use the same term to label very different phenomena, but I I hope to convince you that’s not the case. It’s a fundamental feature of any phenomenon that’s embedded within a nexus of causes and conditions, which is to say: everything.
The way I have used contradiction as an defining feature of the globe has a Marxian and Hegelian lineage though I am not wedded to the specifically Marxian analysis of the contradictions inherent to capital. A useful Marxian take from here:
Marx or not, there’s a deep contradiction between the Globe and the Earth and that contradiction is going to play out in unexpected ways. What I don’t know and want to find out (hopefully in the positive!) is whether this contradiction between the Globe and the Earth also has ramifications in logic and other formal disciplines.
Or even more broadly, the advent of bourgeois society revealed new categories of thought and politics; Being entered history instead of being a static entity. Will the planet spawn new categories, or will it just be an object against which we will play out ever sadder human affairs.
What are those new categories? Are there any?