The Eurasian World
I am kind of obsessed with the idea of provincializing the global, not least because it gives me masochistic pleasure to hack away at the foundation that’s supported me throughout. I am the quintessential cosmopolitan, living in two nations and comfortable in many cultures, drawing sustanence from ‘high’ science, philosophy, literature and religion. That foundation feels ‘right’ to me but is it possible that this very global civilization is an obstacle - not in its extractive avatar, but in its highest principles….
Humans are a global species - everything from the plate you eat on to the toothpick with which you clean your teeth is likely made halfway across the world. And that global species has a history. It’s a history that claims to be everyone’s history (That’s why Yuval Noah Harari is able to write a book called ‘Sapiens’ while sticking firmly to a globalist perspective) , but in fact, is quite parochial. As we think about provincializing the globe, we need to ask ourselves: whose globe?
The globe is ‘universal’ in the sense that it includes all humans as equals in principle - it being the globe of the declaration of human rights, for example - there’s no doubt that some are more equal than others, and even the act of universalization starts with preferred ‘model’ humans. There’s been much written about the cis white male archetype at the core of the global human, but I also want to historicize this claim and in fact, historicize history itself: the model human is a Eurasian male. In fact, the Eurasian male is so hegemonic that he’s the source of both good and evil. Consider this infamous typology from Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations”:
There you go: every civilization in Huntington’s list is Eurasian. You have to wonder: what happened to everyone else? Were they not civilized?
Eurasian cultures are the dominant cultures in every sense of the term: we eat Chinese food, listen to English music, watch Bollywood movies and shoot American guns (particularly poignant today). Eurasian empires are the canonical empires - from the Persian to the Roman to the Mongol to the British . So this universal Eurasian arose twenty five hundred odd years ago in what’s now called the ‘Axial Age’ after the philosopher Karl Jaspers.
The Globe is the Axial Age come to fruition.
Put another way: it’s the interpenetration of those frenemy Axial Age cultures that forms the basis for the Anthropocene, and remais its dominant expression.
This universalized Eurasian man has been a great success, but the earth’s come a knocking
Is the planetary human a natural evolution of the global man? Is that the next stage of our species history? Or do we need a revolution overthrowing the oldest imperial order ever, the rule of Eurasia? I am not sure how far back we are willing to go in our quest for the planetary species:
Thirty years to the end of the cold war?
Two hundred years to the Industrial Revolution?
Five hundred years to the beginning of western dominance?
Or twenty five hundred years to the Axial Age?
What if any temporal description of the problem is itself the problem, that we need to switch from time to space as the primary category. If the globe is history and progress in full flower (see: End of History), then we need to dethrone time and history to bring about the rule of the earth. Contrast that claim with its opposite as asserted by Hegel:
The Truth of Space is Time
or recently by Pope Francis in his Laudato Si:
Time is the ruler of the globe. Generations have lived and died inside Eurasian history and its successive divinities: God, Nation and Market. When time is dethroned, so will these divinities.
And so our project of provincializing the globe is not (only) to bring the earth into history, which is still to assimilate the earth to sacred axis of the globe, i.e., time, but also to open the globe up in space and to embed it in countless worlds, from the oceanic space occupied by the sperm whale to the whirling chaos of the bacterium.
The natural sciences take space a lot more seriously than the social sciences do, but then they assimilate spatial phenomena to a mechanical order that has no room for pain or flourishing. The human animal that suffers in solidarity with the hare and the tortoise is as poorly represented in this mechanical order as in any history that separates humans from all other animals.
How to reveal the animal nature of the human without turning that animal into a machine or accepting a dualism in which all animals have souls? Or should we simply assimilate all existence into a mechanical order? In other words: how to think the earth without
Turning it into a rock with chemicals arranged in fancy configurations.
Turning it into a divinity (the famous Gaia) we need to worship.
The earth is a being of beings, not an assemblage of numbers, but I have no f*ing idea of how to grasp it that way without falling into 1 or 2 above and making an idiot of myself.