About the Event: One of the most consistent critiques of the Anthropocene among humanities scholars has been that its putative Anthropos ignores difference to encompass all human beings universally in terms of their essential human nature. Trace the conceptual history of the term, however, and it quickly becomes clear that the Anthropos of the Anthropocene takes shape as not simply a sly return of Enlightenment Man (with all of his characteristic hierarchies and exclusions), but something far stranger. This talk works backwards from Paul Crutzen’s public introduction of the term in 2000 through the Earth System science of the 1980s and the systems ecology of the 1960s, to contend that the conceptual precursors of the Anthropocene arose in the crucible of the 1950s. It was there that the unprecedented possibility of ‘universal death’ by thermonuclear weapons fused with the new science of cybernetics to produce a paradigmatically distinct approach to conceiving human beings in their totality. Born under the shadow of its own extinction, the Anthropos of the Earth System Anthropocene does not seek to define what all human beings essentially are (as Enlightenment Man did), but to account for what it is that all human beings collectively do. Rather than claim that this is inherently better or worse, the talk concludes by arguing that this approach to human universality is categorically different, introducing new kinds of conceptual and political challenges that urgently warrant being treated on their own terms.
About the Speaker: Dan Zimmer is a postdoctoral fellow at CISAC and the Stanford Existential Risk Initiative, where he researches the challenges that anthropogenic existential threats pose for the foundations of Western political thought. He holds a PhD in political science from Cornell University.
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