Enlivenment: From Parasitism to Symbiosis

The old and still hegemonic story of capitalism and industrial civilisation is coming to an end. We need a new story that opens our heart and mind for radical change and a more realistic and sane vision of what it means to be human as an integral part of the living planet Earth. “Enlivenment”, “Biogea”, “The Great Work” are notions that try to capture this change of perspective which is necessary if humankind is to have a future.

Humanity is struggling for survival – materially and psychically. Some people can feel it: it is like drowning, it is difficult to breathe, there is a leadenness out there that weighs us down, just like humanity weighs upon the Earth.1 Industrial civilization is crumbling under our feet. It has inflicted so much damage to the planet, that “the terms of survival will be severe beyond anything we have known in the past”.2 “We live in crisis. We have weapons to destroy the world, and even when we are at peace we destroy it: that is the logic of the power that rules our economy.”3 Promising wonderland, delivering wasteland. “The Great Work now (…) is to carry out the transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner.”4 But will there be enough time to turn the wheel? Or are we already beyond the tipping point, in a posthumous era that is unable to create humanness (Edward Bond), the whole world a hospice?
The Great Work
It is as if people were living in different layers of reality and time, in different worlds and in different stories, between “No More” and “Not Yet” (Oskar Negt). The Old Story has become dysfunctional, yet it is still powerful, with a firm grip on our collective imagination. It was founded on a disconnection between humans and the world. In a sense, “life” was expelled from the world of science: materialist science had no tools/concepts for understanding and explaining living organisms and societies or what it means to be alive. Humans became worldless creatures and lost their original home.5 Society reduced nature to a material object, that could be cut into peaces, analysed, dominated, owned and exploited. The idea of competition linked the natural with the socioeconomic, biology and economics joined hands to become “bioeconomics”, the presuppositions of which still dominate our understanding of how the world and humans work.6 It is no coincidence that the Old Story has been supported by the establishments/dominant classes; they used it to justify social hierarchies and the enclosure of the commons, and to explain why the common people were not educated enough to be entrusted with democracy. Politically the result was slavery not freedom as it is understood in the republican tradition (Quentin Skinner). The human-Earth relationship became a relationship of parasite and host: humans taking everything from nature without giving anything back – except waste.7
New unprecedented situation
The Old Story was about humans fighting each other, like in Goya’s painting, as if the world did not exist. But today the situation has fundamentally changed: The combatants sink deeper and deeper into the quicksand. The world strikes back, acting like a subject, revealing itself as the living Earth, that it always was, and to which Michel Serres gave a new name: Biogea. The game for two players has turned into a game for three players.8 The established institutions of the “system”cannot cope with this new reality any more; they were constituted in and for another age that had no place for living nature in and around us. Humanity will have no future if it keeps to its anthropocentric position as master over a world of material objects. We need a New Story that reconnects humans with nature/life; and people with people, established with outsiders. Our history is at a crossroads: the choice is between death and symbiosis.9
The concepts of “enlivenment” (Weber 2013) and “Biogea” (Serres 2012, 2014) try to capture the change of perspective from the old worldview to Biogea, from parasitism to symbiosis, from bioeconomics to biopoetics, from anthropocentrism to eco-centrism, from a planet of use to a planet of commoning. The direct experience of being alive connects the humans to all other living organisms and to nature. “All of us, inert, living and human things, send, receive, stock, and manage information. These four rules are the universals of human languages as well as codes for living beings and things. These four operations or actions reign in Biogea.”10 All organisms, from the simplest to the most complex, strive for a fuller life, just like people in a democracy, which empowers them to raise themselves up to become fully human and free. This means that we are all equal; the old separation of subject and object is no more valid.11 As a consequence everything must change: knowledge, language, ethics, jurisprudence, politics, economics, education.12
The universe story
The idea of enlivenment/Biogea brings the experience of being alive, subjectivity, creativity and meanings back into the scientific world by changing it. The natural world as we experience it enters or re-enters history – the New Story which is the story of the universe, researched and told by the emerging “life and earth sciences” (Michel Serres). Objectifying science, always keeping its objects at a distance, has no language to present the universe story as a living, creative and meanings producing evolutionary process. We need new languages to express what it means to be human in a living world. We will reinvent the human in the context of cosmogenesis as an integral part of the Earth community. “We [will] make a common home in Biogea.”13 The Earth will become the primary concern of what humans think and do – everywhere, be it in politics, economics … or everyday life. The New Story of the Universe is to serve as a guide for the creation of a sustainable presence of humanity on the planet Earth.14 The principle of enlivenment/Biogea is the principle of commoning is the principle of democracy is the principle of life.
1 Michael C. Ruppert. The lifeboat hour 13.4.2014
2 Berry 1999, 85.
3 Bond 2000, 68.
4 Berry 1999, 3.
5 Welsch 2012
6 Weber 2013
7 Serres 1995
8 Serres 2014, 27-32
9 Serres 1995, 33-34
10 Serres 2014, 34-35; Serres 2012, 170-173
11 Serres 2014, 57-58
12 Berry 1991; Serres 2014, 49-65; Weber 2013, 29-34
13 Serres 2012, 171
14 Berry 1991; 1999, 159-165; Brian Swimme 1: The New Story (click to watch the video)

References (click to open)

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