Anarchism for termites: A manifesto

For Bruno Latour (1947-2022)

When we began to write this “Manifesto”, it was to compliment an earlier exercise in manifesto writing – A moss-like anarchist manifesto – and to continue the sceptical exercise of distilling images and concepts from parallel reflections that have served as inspiration for our own, in this case, Bruno Latour’s essay, After Lockdown: A Metamorphosis.

Midway through the writing, we learned of Latour’s death, and the exercise became as much a celebration of his work as well as a manifesto. Latour’s own body of work is extensive and we make no pretence to summarising it here, much less critically evaluating it. For those wishing to explore it, beyond our own modest efforts, can watch a recent and excellent interview with Latour made for the french-german television channel Arte and now available (in french) on YouTube and at the Arte website (in multiple languages), in eleven episodes.

For an overview of Latour’s work, see the recent essay “Latour’s Metamorphosis”, by Alyssa Battistoni (Sidecar/NLR 20/01/2023)

The logos in fact never speaks in a clear voice: it looks for words, it hesitates, it stammers, it starts over.

Bruno Latour, Politics of Nature

To be radical a “radical critique” of an unfair, destructive and unsustainable “system” should abstain from falling into the trap of fighting a system. It is because it is not transcendent and because it obeys no superior laws that any “market organization” may spread and it is for the same reasons that it may be amended, modified, corrupted, reformed or reorganized. To be radical a critique should follow the exact same paths through which the extension of standards, templates or metrological chains occurs. As soon as it jumps to another superior level, it ceases to be radical — that is, close to the roots of the problem.

Bruno Latour, On some of the affects of capitalism

We need to reinvent everything all over again – the law, politics, the arts, architecture, cities. But – and this is stranger still – we also need even to reinvent movement, the vector of our actions. We need to not forge ahead into the infinite, but to learn to step back, to unplug, in the face of the finite. That’s another way of liberating yourself. A form of feeling your way, and, curiously, of becoming capable again of reacting. Yes, yes, I know, ‘reacting’ and ‘reactionary’ have the same root. Too bad! It was always forging ahead that shut us away, so now its learning to step back that is de-confining us. We need to recover our capacities of movement, yes, our powers to act. It’s always this becoming-an-insect that allows other forms of movement, as a crab, as a cock-roach.

Bruno Latour, After Lockdown: A Metamorphosis   


That “other world” that we dream of is not waiting for us in some distant horizon; we build it, here and now, in the very same processes of struggle and in the forms of life that these give rise to. That these fragments of “other possible worlds”, actually built and lived, end by expanding until they bring the current world to an end, is something eminently desirable, but whether this happens or not, it does not affect the value of struggles pursued. As Albert Camus said: “we must imagine Sisyphus happy”, because he finds the reward of his effort in the realisation of the effort itself.

Tomás Ibáñez, The Happiness of Sisyphus: An interview


The threat of eco-system degradation and collapse for the human population, rendered still more evident with the Covid-19 pandemic and the general politics of confinement (literal and mobile – in the latter case, through generalised testing for viral infection and through mask and vaccine mandates), lays bare the illusion of promethean or absolute liberation from “nature” (read: earth, matter, finitude, animality, obscurantism, savagery and barbarism, paganism, femininity, inferior races and classes, underdevelopment, etc., etc.; all of them, expressions of exercises of sovereign autonomy, of tracing borders, of dominion, of inclusion-exclusion). A metamorphosis surreptitiously spreads in which we are brought back down to earth and the ethical-political task is now to knowingly and actively find our place.

The thing that is indeed nice and practical about mushroom-cultivating termites and the way they live in symbiosis with specialised fungi able to digest wood – the famous Termitomyces which turns the digested wood into nutritional compost that the termites then eat – is that they build vast nests of chewed earth, inside which they maintain a sort of air-conditioning system. A clay Prague where every bit of food passes into the digestive tube of every termite in the space of a few days. The termite is confined, it’s really a model of confinement, there’s no case for saying: it never goes out! Except that it is the one who constructs the termite mound, drooling clump after clump. As a result, it can go anywhere, but only by extending its termite mound a bit further. The termite wraps itself in its mound, it rolls itself up in what is both its interior environment and its own way of having an exterior – its extended body, in a fashion; scientists would call it a second ‘exoskeleton’, on top of the first one, its carapace, its segments, and its articulated legs. (After Lockdown: A Metamorphosis, pp. 4-5)


The individual is quite a world of federations, a whole universe in himself. … [E]ach individual is a cosmos of organs, each organ is a cosmos of cells, each cell is a cosmos of infinitely small ones; and in this complex world, the well-being of the whole depends entirely on the sum of well-being enjoyed by each of the least microscopic particles of organized matter.

Peter Kropotkin, Anarchism: its philosophy and ideal


Our place is not walled, sealed off. If movement requires the multiplication and extension of spaces and times through which we can act, draw forth, create, we move-create with, with others, with others who are us, as we are them. The self-other polarity is a fiction of sovereignty. I am-I do only with age-old and contemporaneous agencies-systems which run through me and sustain me, and which blithely ignore fixed ontological and taxonomic frontiers. There is no outside to my inside; there are only shifting and temporary thresholds of varying porousness. The sovereign and autonomous self-governing individual, or individual community, is an illusion fed by the possibility of existing beyond all thresholds, in a timeless and universal absolute which we can only render meaningful through spectral ideas-ideologies. It is we who are-do-create, but not from new beginnings; this is the illusion of revolution. We reach out, draw forth, carrying and making our times and spaces as we go.

‘Where am I?’ sighs the person who wakes up to find they’re an insect. In a city probably, like half of my contemporaries. Consequently I find myself inside a sort of extended termite mound: an installation of outer walls, pathways, air-conditioning systems, food flows, cable networks, whose ramifications run beneath rural areas, for a very long way. The same way that termites’ conduits help them get into the sturdiest beams of a house made of wood even over great distances. In the city, in a sense, I’m always ‘at home’ … . What goes for the city goes for the termite mound: habitat and inhabitants are in continuity; to define the one is to define the others; the city is the ekoskeleton of its inhabitants, just as the inhabitants leave behind a habitat in their wake, when they go off or waste away …. A city dweller lives in his city the way a hermit crab lives in its shell. ‘So where am I?’ In, and through and partly thanks to my shell. (After Lockdown: A Metamorphosis, pp. 8-9)


Let us take another way: let us allow the world to pass through ourselves, let us be ready to feel the world, to experience it, to allow ourselves to be grasped and seized by it. Until now everything has been divided into a poor, weak, active I and an unapproachable rigid, lifeless, passive world. Let us instead be the medium of the world, both active and passive. So far, we were content with transforming the world into the spirit of man, or into the spirit of our brain – let us now transform ourselves into the spirit of the world.

Gustav Landauer, Through Separation to Community


As anarchists have criticised the State as “the government from above downwards, by a minority, of an immense mass of men” (Mikhail Bakunin), anarchists and other “thinkers of revolution” have far too often gazed upon human life from above, thereby grounding their politics, mistakenly, on sweeping generalisations about human evolution, historical progress, the State, society and revolution. To see like an insect, the experience of turning into an animal, “leads to a completely different view, one much more down to earth” (After Lockdown, 13), It is to become a terrestrial. The density of human life – the plurality of ways of being in the world – and of life in general, reveals itself. The static world seen from above fades away before the flows and becomings of everything that exists and within which it is impossible to conceive and act as a sovereign being. The latter is then replaced by multiple and overlapping concerns with subsistence and creation or engendering; concerns which emerge from the distant pasts of predecessors and project into varying and different futures. Any truly radical politics must find its place within this web of concerns and not confine itself, or its inevitable plurality of forms, to a single, universal gesture pertaining exclusively to human life.

In Kafka’s novella [The Metamorphosis], there is the family of wire figures on the one side – the obese father, the asthmatic mother, the infantile sister – to whom must be added the tedious ‘chief clerk’, two young and horrified maids, the ‘all-bones’ charwoman and three interfering lodgers. And then there’s this Gregor whose transformation into an insect foreshadows our own. He is thicker now, heavier; he has more trouble walking, at least at first; his more numerous legs hamper him; his rigid back makes a dull sound when it hits the floor, but he can connect with many more things than they can – to say nothing of the fact that he can climb up to the ceiling … And so, he feels more at ease, as there’s nothing in his peregrinations as a creature who can pass through walls that doesn’t remind him of his competence fairly freely to build nests, domes, bubbles, atmospheres, in short interiors that are not necessarily comfortable, but are always chosen by those who’ve formed them – engineers, urbanists, bacteria, mushrooms, forests, peasants, oceans, mountains or anthills – or, failing that, are organised by their forbears, often unintentionally, what’s more. As for Gregor’s parents, they’re the ones who are walled up in their oversized apartment, whose rent they can’t even pay. Inevitably, since the only interior they’ve got is the one drawn up in the eyes of others by the pretty cramped limit of their ugly bodies. They are still confined, whereas Gregor no longer is. As long as he hasn’t reached the real exterior, the other side of the barrier, he remains inside a world that is pretty familiar, all things considered. For his parents, menacing exteriority begins at the door of the street; for the new Gregor, interiority stretches as far as the limits, admittedly still undetermined, of Earth. (After Lockdown: A Metamorphosis, pp. 17-18)


… revolutions are never made by individuals or even by secret societies. They make themselves; they are produced by the force of circumstances, the movement of facts and events. They receive a long preparation in the deep, instinctive consciousness of the masses, then they burst forth, often seemingly triggered by trivial causes.

Mikhail Bakunin, The Program of the International Brotherhood


The earth is small by comparison to the infinite universe of “Enlightened Man”. Yet it is the “home” of all life as we express it and know it. The metamorphosis of our times however leads us to a recognition of inevitable “immaturity”, that is, dependence on others, or better, interdependence. This is not though a consequence of cowardice or lack of will, as Immanuel Kant stated, but of a de-centring away from the fictional, self-sufficient individual of modern metaphysics and politics towards a picture of the human as a vortex of flows which sustain and provide the conditions for temporary forms of life with others, with both human and non-human agency. Against Ezra Pound’s Vortex, which carries the stench of a masculinist corpse, the vortices that we are, are neither “points of maximum energy”, nor “representations of efficiency”. They are rather vulnerable, liminal points, engendered, sustained and sheltered within living architectures – what may be called the critical zone – of collective acts. The task then is to imagine a politics, a political praxis, consonant with the fragility of collective doings and makings; fragile because harmonious and dissonant, engendering and fracturing at the same time.

… terrestrials never move around ‘freely’ everywhere in some undifferentiated space. They construct that space step by step. Curiously, it’s feeling confined that gives us this freedom finally to move ‘freely’.  Turning into a termite assures us that we can’t survive for a minute without constructing, by means of saliva and mud, a tinny tunnel that allows us to crawl in complete safety a few millimetres further along. No tunnel, no movement. We’ve lost the old freedom but only to gain another one. … [T]errestrials are realising that they need to take cover within a layer that’s miniscule in comparison to what they once imagined of this outside world, which they chose to call the Universe and in which they previously had the impression they were travelling without constraint  … . (After Lockdown: A Metamorphosis, pp. 27, 28)


The question of knowing which of the works of man serves to beautify and which contributes to the degradation of external nature can seem pointless to so-called practical minds; nevertheless, it is a matter of the greatest importance. Humanity’s development is most intimately connected with the nature that surrounds it. A secret harmony exists between the earth and the peoples whom it nourishes, and when reckless societies allow themselves to meddle with that which creates the beauty of their domain, they always end up regretting it. In places where the land has been defaced, where all poetry has disappeared from the countryside, the imagination is extinguished, the mind becomes impoverished, and routine and servility seize the soul, inclining it toward torpor and death. Throughout the history of humanity, foremost among the causes that have vanquished so many successive civilizations is the brutal violence with which most nations have treated the nourishing earth. They cut down forests, caused springs to dry up and rivers to overflow, damaged environments, and encircled cities with foul-smelling marshes. Then, when nature thus desecrated turned hostile toward them, they came to hate it, and, unlike the savage, who could immerse himself in the life of the forest, they increasingly allowed themselves to succumb to the stupefying despotism of priests and kings.

Élisée Reclus, The Feeling for Nature in Modern Society


A radical, sovereign, proprietorial autonomy, what might be called autotrophic autonomy – autotrophs “feed themselves by themselves in taking up all they need to live on, extracting it from the sunlight” (e.g., bacteria and plants) –, is exceptional. The notion of a limit, of a border, of a stable identity, is itself limited. The nomos of the earth is difficult, if not impossible, to locate. Whatever autonomy is therefore imaginable is heterotrophic, that is, our sustenance, our perseverance, our creativity, is intrinsically inter-dependent. Either we are all autonomous, or no one is. And this equality necessarily extends beyond human identity. In opposition, domination is the appropriation and exploitation of inter-dependent creativity, grounded in and producing inequality and slavery.

If there is an area of the old planet earth that in no way corresponds to the requirements, influences, mixes and relationships of the existing beings that form Earth, it would have to be the area defining the sovereignties we’ve inherited from the past. The reason for this … is that every state delineated by its borders is obliged by definition to lie about what allows it to exist, since, if it’s wealthy and developed, it has to expand over other territories on the quiet, though without seeing itself as responsible for these territories in any way. … If a state was restricted to its borders, it couldn’t live. (After Lockdown: A Metamorphosis, p. 41)


Lying on his back, he was now looking at the high, cloudless sky. “Don’t I know that it is infinite space and not a round vault? But no matter how I squint and strain my sight, I cannot help seeing it as round and limited, and despite my knowledge of infinite space, I am undoubtedly right when I see a firm blue vault, more right that when I strain to see beyond it.”

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina


Religious spirituality and anti-religious atheism have, through institutionalised powers, created mirror images of total worlds, worlds seen from nowhere, the world above, pure and sinless – spirit –, and the world below, tainted and corrupted – matter. Theological politics and its imaginary opponents have only ever endeavoured to reproduce the same religious-atheistic uprooting of human life, in different guises. Sovereigns – those deemed free – have thus either sought to escape from this world or to mould it as the one heavenly reality demands – with fire, if necessary. What is lost, in both instances, is the complexity, interdependency and “impurity” of the meshes of life, of which we are a part, and from which all religions have sprung. An anarchist politics of freedom must be both chthonic and ouranic, thereby fragile and forever unfinished, an always possibly “tragic” exercise of justice. Donna Haraway’s “Chthulucene” speaks to our time. The “Chthulucene is made up of ongoing multispecies stories and practices of becoming-with in times that remain at stake, in precarious times, in which the world is not finished and the sky has not fallen—yet. We are at stake to each other. Unlike the dominant dramas of Anthropocene and Capitalocene discourse, human beings are not the only important actors in the Chthulucene, with all other beings able simply to react. The order is reknitted: human beings are with and of the earth, and the biotic and abiotic powers of this earth are the main story.” (Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, 55)

When you look up at the sky, you no longer see divine headquarters as your ancestors did, a consolation for their miserable lives here-below. And yet you don’t see mere altitude there either, the altitude that measured its distance in kilometres as in the days when you believed you were modern. You’re actually forced to see it as something like the canopy of an enclosure constantly held in place by the multifarious and multimillenial activity of billions of agencies. The limit of this atmosphere is no longer anything like the limit of a wooden beam measured by a ruler, which you could extend ad infinitum with another beam and another ruler; it looks like the confines of an action that has the same kind of limit as the external surface of an anthill in the eyes of an ant. It could be extended, yes, but not by a ruler; only by getting down to work, by the recruitment and upkeep of a new cohort of ants – and only if the conditions of such an expansion are favourable. The sky above terrestrials is not the same sky now as the one involved in the ‘extended thing’ of the past. It’s a membrane that is actively held in place and that has to stay able to produce an inside and an outside. Finiteness doesn’t have the same meaning for the wooden beam as it does for the anthill. (After Lockdown: A Metamorphosis, p. 54)


Property is theft!

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, What is Property?


The economy engenders the powerful illusion that nature and human life are governed and is governable by a system of calculation, thereby raising above everyone the figure of the manager as sovereign, or sovereignty as management. Talk then of economic growth, of improving the economy, or even, of nationalising it or self-managing it, from whatever political quarter, can only mean the expansion and intensification of a form of calculated appropriation of the energies of life, channelled, yes, with seemingly spectacular consequences: the dominion of nature and the flourishing of human productivity, both supposedly in accord with and the expression of the “laws of nature”. What is absent from the picture is the illusion of these laws and the fact that the products of the economy – essentially of resources/wealth of all kinds to feed the cycles of expanding energy consumption – rest upon the enormous violence and destruction of energy extraction from the processes of life engendering, the necessary condition for the creation of an economy. The task then is not to reform the economy, but to abandon it.

If we are not individual, autonomous subjects – even potentially – confronted with a calculable world of objects, which we may then employ well or poorly, for all, for many or for a few, against possible and inevitable enemies, because the warp and woof of life renders false any ontology of subjects and objects, then all manner of supposedly transparent concepts and practices should be set aside as false and unjust: cognitive immodesty, sovereignty, immunity and security, friend and enemy, borders, moral autonomy and worthiness, individual private property, social hierarchies of domination, and so on and so forth … all so much flotsam on the sea of the “modern world”, which with its passing, saps the nightmare of the economy of its seduction and terror.

The Economy is like a veil thrown over various practices to hide all of the hiatuses in courses of action. Like Nature, it, too, likes to hide … If there’s one temptation we must absolutely not yield to it is to smooth overall of these hiatuses so as to replace them with some sum that would close the discussion, a sum that has been done elsewhere, by others and especially for others far from the scene. … This doesn’t amount to whingeing until we get other preoccupations put above the Economy, concerns that are supposedly ‘more noble’, ‘more human’, ‘more moral’ or ‘more social’. Quite the opposite: it means really taking stock of the fact that it’s high time we delved further down, by becoming more realistic, more pragmatic, more materialistic. … [I]t’s not about making a fresh attack on economics; it’s about abandoning it altogether as a description of the relationships that lifeforms maintain with each other. The Economy casts its spell, but we need to learn to exorcise it. (After Lockdown: A Metamorphosis, pp. 62, 63, 64)


For he only who intensely perceives the nature of his surroundings, he, and he only, who has felt, and keenly felt, all the throbs and throes of life, can judge with any degree of truth of the action of that which is past. You, you who have loved, you who have joyed, you who have suffered, it belongs to you to people the silent streets of the silent cities with forms now vanished, to comprehend something of the passions which animated their actions; it belongs to you to understand how the fury of a great energy, striking terrible aimless blows in the dark, may yet, across the chasm of awful mistake, touch the hand of a greater Justice.

Voltairine de Cleyre, The Drama of the Nineteenth Century 


The oikos of the economy has never been our home. If the ancient Greek oikonomia suggests a well ordered distribution of what is created or made within one’s dwelling place, that is, within what is close by, that is, again, within what is lived with intensity and engagement, bringing with it obligations, then the home and its “management” has nothing to do with mathematical scale and resources – it is not the “local” against the “global” –, and everything to do with a commons of encroaching and overlapping constraints and accountabilities which are the grounds of ethical orientation and political constitution.

Our rootedness lies in a geographical-biological-psychological-ethical-political place and in a tradition-moulded present open onto possible futures. The free floating, autonomous subject emancipated from all place and time is a fiction – the fiction of the enlightened thinker, the fiction of the artist-genius, the fiction of “free labour”. We stand neither against nor in the face of Nature, nor do we occupy territory.  It is territory which defines us, running through us at different planes and levels, lines of energy both centripetal and centrifugal, while we, in a multiplicity of ways, together, define it. Whatever autonomy that is possible is inevitably heteronomous; whatever emancipation is within our grasp, it is always dependent. Whatever we are or do bears the agency of many – both “human” and “non-human” – , and it is from here, from this termite like and terrestrial vantage point, that we must endeavour to orient ourselves: ethically, by finding paths of collective creation that engender lives, and politically, by finding public forms for the flourishing of commons.

The repopulated person finds himself grappling with the situation. Which means that he has a right to rediscover ascendants and descendents. The territory he reconstitutes bit by bit no longer belongs to him, he is judged by it. … This is the nomos of the earth. The metamorphosis has taken place: the participant has gone from being the ‘subject’ who faced a landscape and turned into the vector of a decision to be made between ascendants and descendants. And between the two, at this intersection, in this crucible, he will be judged by his capacity to decide on the fecundity or sterility of lifeforms with which his fate is now entwined. He finds himself hopping around in a game of hopscotch where his fate will be decided, between Earth or Heaven. …

There are ‘ties that free’: the more the individual depends, the less he is free; the more the person depends, the more scope he has for action. …

This kind of compass doesn’t just orient whoever stands in it, it repairs the principle of engendering that was broken. The erstwhile modern ‘subject’ didn’t know where to stand in space, all contorted as he was, immobilised, and indeed half-blind, so that he could stay facing ‘objects’ equally discombobulated, left hanging, led astray by having to be exposed to the public gaze … . But this modern subject also doesn’t know where to stand in time. Obviously, since, to fit into the cube, he had to break with his past – even with the act of passing. Not just make a radical break so as to become ‘resolutely modern, but agree to pass up the means of passing. Deprived upstream as well as down, the ‘modern subject’ can’t backtrack in order to find the well-spring of action he’ll need when he realises he’s gone astray. This is the source of his distress: in order not to be tempted to backtrack, in order not to risk being considered ‘reactionary’, he has burned his bridges. The future has turned the past into a nightmare and opened up an unbridgeable chasm between the two. Horribly, the modern subject can only forge ahead, no matter what the consequences. And so, obviously, he can only cling doggedly to error, something rightly said to be the work of the devil. So that’s it, he can no longer have any experience of the world, he has well and truly made life impossible for himself. (After Lockdown: A Metamorphosis, pp. 86-87, 88, 88-89)


Whether the scholar examines clouds or stones, plants or insects, or whether he goes further and studies the general laws of the world, he continually discovers unexpected wonders everywhere. The artist who seeks out beautiful landscapes encounters a continual feast for the eyes and mind. The industrialist who tries to make use of what the earth produces inevitably sees around him unutilized riches. As for the simple man who is content to love nature for itself, he finds in it his joy, and when he is unhappy, his sorrows are at least mitigated by the sight of the wild countryside. Certainly, outcasts or even those poor déclassés who live like exiles in their own homeland always feel isolated, unknown, and friendless, even in the most charming settings, and they suffer the constant ache of despair. However, in the end they also experience the gentle influence of their environment, and their most intense bitterness gradually changes into a sort of melancholy that allows them to comprehend, with a sensibility refined by sadness, all that the earth has to offer in grace and beauty. Even more than those who are happy, they know how to appreciate the rustling of leaves, the songs of birds, and the murmur of springs. And if nature has the power to console or to strengthen individuals, what could it do over the course of centuries for whole peoples?

Élisée Reclus, The Feeling for Nature in Modern Society

The individual bodies which have lived on this earth from its beginnings are not just a sum of isolated individual beings; they form a big and real community, an organism; an organism that changes permanently, that always manifests itself in new individual shapes. As little as our consciousness usually knows about the powerful and real life of our allegedly unconscious desires, reflexes, and physical automatisms, as little do we know about the life of the ancestors in ourselves. And yet their existence is undeniable. If we do not acknowledge this, the meaning of life and the world will remain mysterious to us; they will be all matter, all perception, all spook.

Gustav Landauer, Through Separation to Community


If the machine for engendering peoples is clogging up on all sides, that’s because terrestrials never stop wrestling with the very notion of borders, whether local, national or universal. We can measure just how far modern humans are offshore, when we realise that their mental resources rely exclusively on identity and its boundaries. That’s like treating heterotrophs – those who depend on other lifeforms to exist – as if they were autotrophs, autochthons and autonomies. And that’s where the chaos springs from. (After Lockdown: A Metamorphosis, p. 106)

Our politics must dispense with borders and identities, or, stated differently, it must recognise the limits of all notions of limit. There is the world in which we live in and that which we live off.  It is the latter that calls for borders and active political violence to guarantee the relations of domination and exploitation that living off others demands; this is the political world of the extractors. In opposition, acknowledging liveability and habitability assumes that others’ worlds cannot be simply appropriated and violated, that our earth bound dependencies recognise no fixed borders or policed identities, that these other worlds are not in fact radically other. It then follows that we must mend our ways, that we must become menders of lives.

The menders are not the poor or the proletarians of yesteryear, for whom economic reform and political revolution – replacing the old for the new – are called for. The economics of old offers no challenge to our unearthly lives. We need not development, but an enveloped freedom generative of an abundance that promises habitability. And there is no world to replace through revolution, but an earth to be rediscovered, slowly and without certainty, thereby revealing and caring for associations and collectivities that are generative of life-worlds.

Over the previous two centuries, a huge machine was in place, an enormous scenography, that organised all conflicts and allowed people to work out, albeit roughly, where they needed to stand to try and be just. This was the conflict between the rich and the poor, a conflict made all the more precise by the distinction made between proletarians and capitalists. The new conflict between the Extractors and the Menders, if we accept the term, plays the same role today in its ubiquity, its intensity, its violence, its complexity, as the previous conflict, except that it mobilises many more living things than humans alone. To say that it’s global would be a euphemism. It has the world as its stake, except that the definition of the world differs radically according to the parties to the conflicts. Above all, it cuts across the old class lines in a whole host of cross-sections: we learnt this from the Gilets Jaunes. …

The old scenography relied on the Economy since it was through their position in the ‘production system’ that injustices were spotted. But in these strange new battles, the Economy is no more than a superficial veil, and we’re no longer dealing with production. What’s at issue now are engendering practices and the possibility, or not, of maintaining, continuing, even ramping up the liveability conditions of lifeforms which, by their action, maintain the very envelope inside which history never ceases to unfold. Not just a history of the class struggle anymore, but a history of these new classes, alliances, sections struggling for the liveability that Nikolaj Schultz studies under the heading of ‘geo-social classes’. The becoming-non-human of humans displaces injustice: it’s no longer ‘surplus value’ that gets gobbled up, but our capacities for genesis, the surplus value of subsistence or engendering. …

What about organising the war of the Extractors and the Menders into two camps? No! It can’t be done, because the notion of a ‘camp’ only made sense in revolutionary periods, when people imagined replacing one world with another, radically, totally, through a great dialectical swing, through a sort of extreme operation, limited in time, consistent and concerted. …

What makes all of the current battles so very strange is that we really are at war, and it’s a war to the death, a war of eradication; a war that I, nonetheless, feel incapable of organising into camps, into two camps, imagining the victory of one over the other. Especially as we’d need to believe in identities if we wanted to rally under the same banner, whereas it’s precisely the limits of any notion of identity that the current crisis reveals. Enemies are everywhere and first of all in us, because they have actually insinuated themselves into our territories through the unexpected intermediary of things that have resumed their own movement – the movement we couldn’t discern when they were taken for simple ‘inert objects’ and they actually remained at a distance. Whence the obligation to reconstitute the nature of the soil particle by particle, yes, to mend, when every detail of critical zones is a world in itself that involves us and forces obligations upon us.  (After Lockdown: A Metamorphosis, p. 114-117)


Closing thought or thoughts for thinking anew

behind the political question – ‘What can we do? How can we get out of this?’ – another question has cropped up: ‘Where the hell are we?’ (118)

behind the political crisis, a cosmological crisis has erupted. We never have encountered an ‘inert thing’, no more in the city, where everything is the work of living things, than in the country, where everything preserves traces of the action of living things. (119)

Earth exercises an authority that thwarts, disrupts, contests the modes of sovereignty of the nation-states that organised the carving up of land in the modern era. Oh no, it’s not a matter of a sovereignty from above that’s swooped down and globalised those of the states into a single incontestable power, a sort of ersatz ‘global government’, It’s that the Earth is not global. Its mode of behaving, of expansion, of contamination has scarcely changed since the first bacteria succeeded in covering our ancestral planet with a film a few centimetres thick. This film has got thicker, bigger, more spread out, but always step by step, so that after four and a half  billion years, it has still not exceeded the few kilometres of the critical zone. This particular contamination, this viral form of behaviour, simply can’t be accommodated in the dazzling emblems of power imagined by the empires. No palace, pyramid, codex, prison, colonnade, dome or globe. No religion. No deification. …

In that sense, then, [Gaia] is sovereign. But this sovereignty comes from below and through step by step concatenation. In spite of the presence of forms of the global that always slip into its representation and are all borrowed human empires, Earth is in no way englobing. We are confined to it but it’s not a prison, it’s just that we are rolled up in it. Freeing ourselves doesn’t mean getting out of it. It means exploring its implications, folds, overlaps, entanglements.

There’s no doubt that this extension of Gaia obliges us to divide up the forms of sovereignty that the states once monopolised. As if Gaia peeled them off, one after the other, so as to better redistribute them. Nothing surprising about that, since the delineation of political beings depends on the old cosmology, the one that held sway in the sixteenth centuries, in the days of Bodin and Hobbes. …

Well, terrestrials employ a different scale, that of connected lifeforms, which obliges them to constantly thwart, and, so, call into question, for each subject, the relationship between the small and the big, the demarcated and the interlinked, the swift and the slow. Since nothing involving earth keeps inside state borders, and the international covers only a miniscule part of the stakes, the change in regime forces us to figure out what boils down to protection, to justice, to the police, or to trade, without necessarily condensing this within a national enclosure. All conflicts between Extractors and Menders are over such a redistribution of powers. Territories in desperate need of recognition are always on both sides of every border. Overshooting the limit of the notion of a limit is the new way of breaking free. (124-126)

Innovation and artifice are what makes the world go around. Injustice and crime stem from the carefree attitude that makes people feel they can ignore the limits but not learn how to turn them around, because that’s something that bacteria, lichens, plants, trees, forests, ants, baboons, wolves and even Vincaine Despret’s octopus friends have been able to do just as well. (127)

So where does it lie, then, this sickness that has paralysed our capacities for invention by orienting them in a single direction offshore? Obviously it lies in this strange perversion that strives to orient invention towards a single goal by overshooting the limits so we can be hurtled out of this world instead of turning those limits round; or, even more perverse, that strives to set up heaven on earth. Two forms. The first is the pseudo-religious one of exiting this world, the other the pseudo-secular one of introducing heaven on earth. (128)

‘Where am I?’ What to do? Go straight ahead, as Descartes advised those lost in a forest? No! You should scatter as much as you can, as hard as you can, with the agencies that have made the places you’ve landed on habitable. (128)

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