Of angels and cyborgs

An eco-extremist Good Friday sermon

In spite of my lack of desire to carry out indiscriminate violent action (due mainly to my circumstances), I have found eco-extremist rhetoric rather familiar on one level. That is because, when I write about eco-extremism and interpret it, I don’t feel I am doing politics or even philosophy. I feel like I am doing theology. I should explain: not theology in a typical Western Christian manner, but rather interpreting the human through the gaze of something greater than the human. The “greater” may indeed be an illusion of the inferior mortal human brain, and it is not necessarily a concession that there is a greater “consciousness” than our own. It is more the affirmation of the complete debasement of consciousness, the acceptance that human reason is an utter failure. As I have written previously, this was the reason for the lack of anthropocentric perspective among long dead peoples and nations; the idea that we must aspire to the power of the bear, the freedom of the eagle, the knowledge of the coyote, etc. The idea that the Inhuman dwarfs the human, that it limits it and triumphs over it through death and forgetfulness.

So a sermon is entirely appropriate. On this day that the Christian church commemorates the death of its savior, it is fitting to meditate on the abject nature of human flesh itself, its blood, decay, and rot. Indeed, the continuation of the Christian church, secular progressivism, has denounced its predecessor for hating the flesh, and has praised every feat of licentiousness for being inherently progressive. It is a common talking point in the liberal mind to upbraid the church for condemning sexuality. This is foolish presumption. The current reign of sexual liberation is due in large part to the birth control pill, on the one hand, and the washing machine and microwave on the other. That is, female reproduction is controlled and social reproduction (to use the Marxist term) is mechanized, so that a woman (in particular) can have as many sexual partners as she desires and, even if she gets pregnant, taking care of the child is comparatively easy with instant meals, day care centers, parenting books, etc. Modern attitudes toward sexuality aren’t enlightened due to some evolutionary realization of the necessity of freedom of all individuals. They exist materially due to the techno-industrial apparatus that considers people to be “human resources” formed and educated in a uniform manner. This makes life “easier” and citizens more dependent on the system.

That doesn’t matter one way or the other, because Our Tendency has no concern for the human, but it is important to realize the foundations of the modern attitude. The former attitude against the flesh was justified prior to the emergence of modern comforts. Infant and child mortality were exceptionally high even among the wealthiest and most privileged sectors. Ancient humans probably observed that their offspring emerged from the womb prematurely and extremely dependent on their mothers. Taboos emerged among various peoples about touching a woman while she was still nursing lest her energies be distracted from nurturing a sensitive bud of life. Children died anyway, which is the basis for the relatively low life expectancy among hunter-gatherer peoples. Babies and children died, women died in childbirth, etc. This continued well into the emergence of agrarian societies. The Christian bishop, Gregory of Nyssa, painted a vivid portrait of the bond between love and death in his treatise in praise of virginity:

But her time of labour comes upon the young wife; and the occasion is regarded not as the bringing of a child into the world, but as the approach of death; in bearing it is expected that she will die; and, indeed, often this sad presentiment is true, and before they spread the birthday feast, before they taste any of their expected joys, they have to change their rejoicing into lamentation. Still in love’s fever, still at the height of their passionate affection, not yet having grasped life’s sweetest gifts, as in the vision of a dream, they are suddenly torn away from all they possessed. But what comes next? Domestics, like conquering foes, dismantle the bridal chamber; they deck it for the funeral, but it is death’s room now; they make the useless wailings and beatings of the hands. Then there is the memory of former days, curses on those who advised the marriage, recriminations against friends who did not stop it; blame thrown on parents whether they be alive or dead, bitter outbursts against human destiny, arraigning of the whole course of nature, complaints and accusations even against the Divine government; war within the man himself, and fighting with those who would admonish; no repugnance to the most shocking words and acts. In some this state of mind continues, and their reason is more completely swallowed up by grief; and their tragedy has a sadder ending, the victim not enduring to survive the calamity.

The woman’s lot was thus one of continuous sorrow, for herself every time she gave birth, and for all of the dead infants and children who she knew stood no chance of survival in a cruel world. It was no wonder that some women let forth a sigh of relief when they were promised to perpetual virginity in a cloister, to overcome the untrustworthy and transient flesh through the incorruptible substance known as “spirit”. The asceticism of the Western monastic is not so much a complete denunciation of the flesh, as the orthodox Catholic church’s condemnation of Gnosticism and Catharism indicates. It is, rather, a challenge to the flesh to become better than what it is, stronger and more resilient. This came to intellectual maturity in the thought of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who conceived of geist (spirit or mind) as the manifestation of reason in inert mattter: mind turning the world into a thinking (i.e. human) thing.

The true ambition of modern science in this sense is human power as its own end, and that is achieved through the overcoming of the limitations of the flesh. Just as the monk, nun, or ascetic overcomes their own limitations to achieve a life of the spirit that neither dies nor decays, so the scientist seeks to augment human potential to achieve angelic and even divine heights. Science allows humans to see both the microscopic and the cosmic. It can destroy harmful tissues of the body using invisible rays, and move entire mountains with the most frightful and monstrous machinery. It can feed masses of people with the miracles of factory farming, and allow people who have never met to have the most intimate conversations through ethereal screens. And perhaps most tellingly here, it renders vice and sin moot (with certain stipulations of course). A woman can take home a man and sleep with him, no longer fearing dreadful childbirth or suffering the death of a child (under most circumstances). A man can fantasize about killing his enemies and even slay them on a screen, pretending to be another heroic character instead of the cubicle fodder he actually is. Arguably, modern man doesn’t sin and barely transgresses: he consumes, and he can have whatever he wants as long as he pays for it and obeys certain rules.

There are those of course who are slightly less advanced in accepting the new order of things, and these are of course the leftists: those who rail against the immorality of capitalism and the State.  I call them less advanced because they do not realize that in our present circumstances, potential is nine tenths of right. If something can be done, it should be, regardless of the consequences to any particular sector of the populace. The unfolding of the forces of techno-industrial society itself is progress, regardless of who it steps on or condemns to irrelevance. That is the ethos of neoliberalism, and it is the World Spirit, simply put. Being able to buy the latest Smartphone and vegetate in front of our chosen digital entertainment is the culmination of progress, the Descent of the Holy Ghost in Jerusalem, the Storming of the Bastille and the Winter Palace etc. etc. Nevertheless, these stalwarts still think that there should be a direction to History instead of the zombie sleepwalk into ecological oblivion that no one seems to want to halt. It is telling, however, that even a revolutionary figure as Leon Trotsky at the apex of progressive fervor conceived of man as a new Marxist cyborg able to realize the dream of a better tomorrow:

More than that. Man at last will begin to harmonize himself in earnest. He will make it his business to achieve beauty by giving the movement of his own limbs the utmost precision, purposefulness and economy in his work, his walk and his play. He will try to master first the semiconscious and then the subconscious processes in his own organism, such as breathing, the circulation of the blood, digestion, reproduction, and, within necessary limits, he will try to subordinate them to the control of reason and will. Even purely physiologic life will become subject to collective experiments. The human species, the coagulated Homo sapiens, will once more enter into a state of radical transformation, and, in his own hands, will become an object of the most complicated methods of artificial selection and psycho-physical training. This is entirely in accord with evolution. Man first drove the dark elements out of industry and ideology, by displacing barbarian routine by scientific technique, and religion by science. Afterwards he drove the unconscious out of politics, by overthrowing monarchy and class with democracy and rationalist parliamentarianism and then with the clear and open Soviet dictatorship. The blind elements have settled most heavily in economic relations, but man is driving them out from there also, by means of the Socialist organization of economic life. This makes it possible to reconstruct fundamentally the traditional family life. Finally, the nature of man himself is hidden in the deepest and darkest corner of the unconscious, of the elemental, of the sub-soil. Is it not self-evident that the greatest efforts of investigative thought and of creative initiative will be in that direction? The human race will not have ceased to crawl on all fours before God, kings and capital, in order later to submit humbly before the dark laws of heredity and a blind sexual selection! Emancipated man will want to attain a greater equilibrium in the work of his organs and a more proportional developing and wearing out of his tissues, in order to reduce the fear of death to a rational reaction of the organism towards danger. There can be no doubt that man’s extreme anatomical and physiological disharmony, that is, the extreme disproportion in the growth and wearing out of organs and tissues, give the life instinct the form of a pinched, morbid and hysterical fear of death, which darkens reason and which feeds the stupid and humiliating fantasies about life after death.

Man will make it his purpose to master his own feelings, to raise his instincts to the heights of consciousness, to make them transparent, to extend the wires of his will into hidden recesses, and thereby to raise himself to a new plane, to create a higher social biologic type, or, if you please, a superman.

What is the revolutionary man, then, but the updated version of the Desert Father of early Christianity, in complete control of his desires and passions, able to sleep little and eat even less; an altruistic individual who has subjugated human flesh to a higher end? For the ascetic, the aim was to obtain an imperishable crown in heaven. For the revolutionary, this subjugation aims at the better tomorrow, at the realization of human power as its own end, its own development. Human flesh is weak and will be assisted by drugs to control emotions, education to control ignorance, licentiousness in some areas to curb desire, and unfettered technological ambition to curb the irascible appetite. Humanity itself has been tried and found wanting, and will be replaced by the cyborg that will be able to achieve the long-sought after goal of utopia.

In this light, the absurdity of primitivism becomes all the more evident. The insatiable drive to improvement through asceticism is turned against human power itself, as if the goal of human power as its own end will voluntarily self-destruct. The flesh that was long ago found wanting must reform itself by taking on its former strength and resilience minus the machines, as if continuous self-improvement was the goal of now extinct societies. Human ambition has revealed itself to be too much, so we must put the content back into Pandora’s box and rebind Prometheus to his rock. The ultimate ambition is to destroy ambition by harnessing the energy of ambition to make man unambitious, or something of that nature. We must regress and climb back into the trees because our love of force and speed condemn us to a slavery to force and speed, and we can only do so by clinging to the “sustainable” and “stable” force and speed of our ancestors, ignoring that this is an oxymoron if there ever was one.

All of this occurs because techno-industrial civilization clings to the Human, it clings to the idea that the universe must have Humanity as a unique and special animal within it or it cannot be at all. Even the primitivist, the so-called “species traitor”, is bound to the illusion that the salvation of the human will be the salvation of wildness, which is laughable. The only thing that the human can do now is bleed, die, and decay. This isn’t a moral judgment, but a physical one. Techno-industrial society will stumble along like a drunken man after a night of binge drinking, in a stupor of drugs and blinking lights. There is no escape, but the only reprieve is to take refuge in the Inhuman, to realize that the goal of techno-industrial civilization is a mockable idiocy: the folly that one animal, one clump of matter, has an eternal vocation to be special in the midst of a universe it barely understands let alone controls. But humanity has labored in vain, and the structure that it seeks to build, the Tower of Science, Progress, and Solidarity, will crumble as it is built on a foundation of hubris and incompetence. For it is written:

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.

For the eco-extremist, indiscriminate attack against the hyper-civilized is a cultic offering to the Unknowable which breaks the anthropocentric ambition of techno-industrial society. It is an attack on the supposed stability and bliss that law and order seeks to bestow on its adherents, a blood offering to Wild Nature. It is a religious act, not a political one, even if religion is understood very loosely here (as it had been before the emergence of modern Western civilization). It is a blow to the ascetic ambitions for a better tomorrow of both priest and scientist. It is the affirmation that only the Inhuman can defeat the idea of Human Power as Its Own End, only it can break apart all ambition for control and artificiality. The shedding of the blood of the hyper-civilized is a prophetic act that foreshadows the final destiny of techno-industrial society, and perhaps of humans themselves: a descent into Chaos, that fecundity that births and destroys beings without measure, and of which techno-industrial civilization is only a farcical imitation.

What can we say of the Human other than that it has the ambition to destroy itself, one way or the other? Either it is like the Neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus, who loathed being seen in the body, or it wants to improve and modify itself through discipline or drawing into itself artificial parts. It dreams of being rid of its mortal physical frame to become pure angelic light patrolling the stars, but happily I don’t think the hyper-civilized will ascend into heaven to litter their garbage all over it. The eco-extremist, often after many years of struggle, has decided to no longer try to save humanity, but to give humanity what it wants, though perhaps in an unexpected manner. Through his hostile work against the Human, may the eco-extremist and active nihilist descend deeper and deeper into the Mystery of the Unknowable and Inhuman.


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