A War of World-Building

As human life migrates to a new technological domain, powerful states race to write its rules.

In his book The Imperative of Responsibility, the philosopher Hans Jonas—who wrote his doctoral dissertation under Martin Heidegger but later repudiated his mentor—describes the profound transformation that modern technology has brought about in man’s relationship with nature. The Greeks, he says, were quite capable of praising humanity’s powers to transform the natural environment, but those powers remained within sharp limits. Our inroads into nature were essentially superficial. There was harmony in the end because human activity left the encompassing nature fundamentally unchanged. At most, it scratched the surface.

All this changed in modern times, the age of the Anthropocene, when human activity became, first, a much more relentless and limitless exploitation of natural resources, and then, a course of conquest tending invariably to the wholesale replacement of nature by a human-built world. Jonas takes a pessimistic and even despairing interpretation of these developments. Human beings cannot survive as a species if nature does not survive, so the ethical imperative today is to make sure that the conditions for human life are preserved. The Imperative of Responsibility is a book about the collapse of the natural world and the need to find a new balance.

But the contrast so vividly captured by Jonas has another dimension—a geopolitical one. In this age of human-built worlds, to whom falls the task of building? As Jonas put it, human power was once essentially superficial. A natural world remained outside our reach and could play the role of arbiter between different powers. Even the Cold War, a conflict rooted in the mastery over the atom and thus a conflict of the Anthropocene, still appealed to the impartial judgment of history. Whether the Soviet Union or the United States would ultimately prevail depended on which contestant was on the right side of history. Did they have the right beliefs and institutions to grow stronger over time? Did they control the forces of historical development? The conviction, which both sides shared, that a higher authority would ultimately decide the matter helped keep the Cold War contained within certain limits.

 Συνέχεια εδώ

Πηγή: city-journal.org

Σχετικά Άρθρα