The Image of Man | Specter of Earth (II)

(a.1) The Image of Man | Specter of Earth (continued)

Assignation of The Feminine1 to The Earth2 and The Masculine3 to that-which-is-machinic is not to ascribe some intrinsic negative value to The Feminine, nor to ascribe some intrinsic positive value to The Masculine, for the Masculine has also become subsumed into the specter as well. Consider the work of the Marx and Kierkegaard inspired Christian anarchist4 and sociologist, Jacques Ellul, who, in his The Technological Society (henceforth referred to as TTS) lays out a broad and emotionally charged description of modern industrial society and elaborates on (and often decries) what he believes to be the principal flaw in the system: Technique. Ellul’s technique is distinct from both its folk-psychological and scientific usages as it is, in brief: a collection of mental processes which arose from the utilization of machines which is implicit in every aspect of society that works through men only to further efficiency of ordering. Ellul describes technique in his own words as:the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity.”5

In the aforementioned work Ellul states, “It will not do for him [the reader] to challenge factual analysis on the basis of his own ethical or metaphysical presuppositions6. The reader deserves and has my assurance that I have not set out to prove anything. I do not seek to show, say, that man is determined, or that technique is bad, or anything else of the kind.” This is rather contrary to declarations he makes later on in the TTS which clearly show that he believes technique to be the very root of all the ills of modern (or postmodern), civilized society.

Furthermore, there is the issue of Ellul’s peculiar and non-individuating sociological methodology which must be taken into account before further examinations can be made. He writes, “I do not deny the existence of individual action or of some inner sphere of freedom. I merely hold that these are not discernible at the most general level of analysis, and that the individual’s acts or ideas do not here and now exert any influence on social, political, or economic mechanisms. By making this statement, I explicitly take a partisan position in a dispute between schools of sociology. To me the sociological does not consist of the addition and combination of individual actions. I believe that there is a collective sociological reality, which is independent of the individual.”7 This laying-out of methodology is instrumental in understanding all that follows (as well as in understanding Ellul’s followers who we shall touch upon in later texts) given that he never states as to why he believes this in any truly cogent way; it would have been immensely helpful to his case if he had made, at least, some small effort to sketch out and concretize his methodology in his book. Speaking of this methodology, Ellul’s “partisan position” relies on attuning his representations to but a single strata of analysis; that of the crowd. Yet, a crowd is nothing without it’s constituent parts; without the individuals which make it up. To say that a group can be a group without individuals is the same as saying that capitalism can exist without capitalists or that an army can fight without warriors. One need not eliminate the individual altogether in pursuit of a clear and concise method for broad-range analysis of social phenomena, yet Ellul does just that; indeed, he goes even further than the mere elimination of the individual and eliminates individuation altogether in strange outpouring of poetically vague dialectical materialism (which he likely took from Karl Marx who he noted as one of his principal inspirations). This is clearly demonstrated in the line “I believe that there is a collective sociological reality which is independent of the individual.” What does this even mean? Ellul himself does not really say. It is one thing to say that there is a sociological reality which is co-dependent upon the individual, but it is rather another to say that the individual contributes nothing to the crowd. Ellul effectively postulates that there is some reality which simply emerges from the ether, unmoored from any given individual, solely existing upon, but separate from, any given group; this essentially positing technique as a self-replicating emergent process borne, not of consciousness, but of the machine. If you should be skeptical of the veracity of our assessment so far, if one is of the mind that Ellul could not possibly have believed that a human conception was created by machines, consider the following, “-let the machine have its head, and it topples everything that cannot support its enormous weight. Thus everything had to be reconsidered in terms of the machine. And that is precisely the role technique plays. In all fields it made an inventory of what it could use, of everything that could be brought into line with the machine. The machine could not integrate itself into nineteenth century society; technique integrated it. Old houses that were not suited to the workers were torn down; and the new world technique required was built in their place. Technique has enough of the mechanical in its nature to enable it to cope with the machine, but it surpasses and transcends the machine because it remains in close touch with the human order. The metal monster could not go on forever torturing mankind. It found in technique a rule as hard and inflexible as itself. Technique integrates the machine into society, It constructs the kind of world the machine needs and introduces order where the incoherent banging of machinery heaped up ruins. It clarifies, arranges, and rationalizes; it does in the domain of the abstract what the machine did in the domain of labor. It is efficient and brings efficiency to everything. Moreover, technique is sparing in the use of the machine, which has traditionally been exploited to conceal defects of organization. “Machines sanctioned social inefficiency,” says Mumford8. Technique, on the other hand, leads to a more rational and less indiscriminate use of machines. It places machines exactly where they ought to be and requires of them just what they ought to do.”

Here we come to the crux of the issue; when Ellul writes that “it [technique] places machines exactly where they ought to be and requires of them just what they ought to do” he is saying that technique itself is controlling machines! Technique has requirements of machines? To place this argument, this bizarre claim, into a concrete and real-world context, it would be analogous to saying that chiaroscuro controlled a paintbrush which, in turn, controlled a painter. Now a painter might well adopt different techniques based upon different kinds of brushes but it means absolutely nothing at all to say that such techniques are controlling those instruments which are, in turn, controlling the aforementioned painter. The most you could say is that the painter is constrained by the techniques available for the design, manufacturing and dissemination of his instruments as well as by the number and variations of brushes available to him. To conflate acting and constraint, will and pure conditions of possibility is to render all as agents, which is to eliminate the world of man when man himself, as such, is the object which Ellul wishes to safeguard (even if it is from his own devices).

This methodological quandary, this profound anthropomorphization, then, cannot help but lead our erstwhile hand-wringer astray as he is looking at machines as agents who created yet another agent – technique – which then proceeded to overtake it’s creator and rule over mankind like some kind of conjured demon. Somewhat later Ellul writes, “It is said (and everyone agrees) that the machine has created an inhuman atmosphere.”9 No context is provided for this, it is merely asserted that everyone already agrees with him, well, let us politely disagree, for the machine is, in brief summary, the tool for the transformation of the world in the image of man himself. Later still he let’s further cats out of the bag and exposes the whole of his game, “Think of our dehumanized factories, our unsatisfied senses, our working women, our estrangement from nature. Life in such an environment has no meaning.”10 Like as not you saw this coming. It was only a matter of time before “nature” reared it’s ugly head! How woesomely predictable! How dreadfully tiresome to ever wear these shackles of naturality! Whilst Ellul, in his rambling and effete introduction to TTS, goes to great lengths to assure the reader that it is not his intention to prove or even make a point, insisting that the text is merely a sociological survey which is meant to awaken the sleeping, yet what then is with all this talk of dehumanization and estrangement from nature? He goes so far as to refer to industrialized society as a “metal monster” – such an emotion-laden pronouncements and references can hardly be described as merely descriptive, quite the contrary. In the text we also witness a integral feature of the specter – the enclosure of the future. Given that the specter is conceived of as that which is eternally commensurate with the design of the earth, the field of possibility is intensely and rationally whittled away with ever increasing regularity. In defense of The Earth or Nature or The Natural, its defenders must always hew away at man’s potential, his will must be tempered, his creativity must be tamped down, his innovations, discarded, and so on and so on until every future project which is not ratified as aligned with the “needs” of Gaia are declared verboten. Yet, the natural is not given, it has no intrinsic qualia (least not that can in anywise be discerned – and that is a crucial thing), no externality beyond the mental landscape where it has grown and grown and now looms titanic, overshadowing and threatening to entomb all futurity by hemming man into one and only one modality of being: concordance with “the planet.”

If the cult of The Mother Goddess (qua Sjoo & Mor11) defines the promise of the specter (earthly paradise); Ellul’s anthropomorphic technique acts as a ancillary theology that defines the reasons why one should move away from the-world-of-man (human creation and construction) and instead retreat into the mists of prehistory, for, in those swirling depths, the “metal monster” holds no sway. Ellul errs in that in any endeavor, where a technique is found wanting, inferior to some challenge, the solution is not the decimation of technique-as-such, but rather, superior techniques.

In closing, it is important to preempt a likely line of criticism, that of conflating the specter with Ellul’s technique. Technique, is fundementally anthropomorphic (and well covered above) whereas the specter of earth is no such thing, rather, is the recognition, the bracketing, of all misattributed anthropomorphisms which are transposed from the mind of man unto the face of all the earth. Here we have seized the thread, here we understand the opposition and here we declare that nature as enclosure of the future must be changed or, failing that, destroyed. For the conceptual invariably informs the performative.

1We are here utilizing The Feminine to constitute the total set of all behaviors & appearances which are associated with the female sex.

2Here we deploy ‘the earth’ as idealization rather than earth-as-is (earth as space-rock).

3We are here utilizing The Masculine to constitute the total set of all behaviors & appearances which are associated with the male sex.

4A Christian anarchist is one who believes that societal order must be rejected given that God is the one and only authority. Ellul stated that he believed anarchism to be “an absolute rejection of violence” and the “most serious form of socialism.” Due this inclination, Ellul believed state power to be ‘the beast’ which was described in the Book of Revelations.

5The Technological Society, xxv.

6Echoing the concept of ‘false consciousness.’

7The Technological Society, xxix.

8Here Ellul references the American historian and sociologist, Lewis Mumford.

9The Technological Society, p. 4

10Ibid., p. 5

11Authors of the anthropological and religious text, Great Cosmic Mother.

The Image of Man | Specter of Earth

(a) Immanence or Earth?

What way went vigor?

Subsumed by vice.

Struggle lost to paradise.

Elimination of a concept is only a reduction of literal spatiality insofar as no parvenu concepts are there fabricated in its place. Fabrication should not come to be confused here with falsity, such as an illusion (true presentation, false content) but rather should be associated with methodological or normative effect (a presentation which may not be “true” but which contains true content – ie. a bracketing concept).

(a.1) The Image of Man | Specter of Earth

In his Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man1, Wilfrid Sellars posits two competing conceptions of the human subject, that of the “manifest image” and the “scientific image.” The manifest image, as defined by Sellars, constitutes the folk-psychological schema by which man describes himself, to himself, and relates to his fellows (I am, she is, she talks to him because she likes him, etc), what Sellars referred to in his more casual moments as “knowing one’s way around” the map of the world. To quote Sellars: “The ‘manifest’ image of man-in-the-world can be characterized in two ways, which are supplementary rather than alternative. It is, first, the framework in terms of which man came to be aware of himself as man-in-the-world. It is the framework in terms of which, to use an existentialist turn of phrase, man first encountered himself—which is, of course, when he came to be man. For it is no merely incidental feature of man that he has a conception of himself as man-in-the-world, just as it is obvious, on reflection, that ‘if man had a radically different conception of himself he would be a radically different kind of man.’”2

In contrast, the scientific image is that set of things which also constitutes man but which cannot be detected by the manifest image (or rather, which cannot be discerned by simply “feeling one’s way around”). He describes the scientific image thusly,

The scientific image of man-in-the-world is, of course, as much an idealization as the manifest image—even more so, as it is still in the process of coming to be. It will be remembered that the contrast I have in mind is not that between an unscientific conception of man-in-the-world and a scientific one, but between that conception which limits itself to what correlational techniques can tell us about perceptible and introspectible events and that which postulates imperceptible objects and events for the purpose of explaining correlations among perceptibles.”3

Sellar’s takes special care to note that by utilizing the word “image” he is not thereby positing that either the manifest, scientific, or both – as conception of being-in-the-world – are in anywise not of ‘the real.’ Rather, he ‘brackets’4 the “images,” thus transmogrifying them into philosophical objects of navigation. The tension between these images is starkly exemplified by such permutations in the humanities as posthumanism and its attendant sub-categories – transhumanism, non-humanism, anti-humanism and so on – as well as in the popularization of the displacement of the holocene by the anthropocene, patterned after the noosphere5 of the Russian geochemist, Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky; further refined by de Chardin and Le Roy. The anthropocene was utilized as early as the 1960s but was popularized in the early 2000s by Dutch chemist, Paul J. Crutzen. The anthropocene, broadly described, is the geo-era birthed out of post-industrial human civilization; generally, a human-dominated geological epoch; a time where man has obtained unprecendent power which has, through his ignorance, caused irreparably damaging climate change and ecological devastation. In other words, the anthropocene places man as geological force. This is a transmogrification of the manifest image; a taking of man from his place as the center of concern and placing him within a system with it’s own concerns (the planet, earth, Gaia, etc). Such a transformation is the summation of a existential quandary. The end of the world, or, more minimally, the end of the world of man. If you should find this talk of “the end of the world” to be an incredibly over-the-top pronouncement know that it is not our pronouncement but rather, a sentiment which is increasingly accepted by academia at large. Consider this excerpt from a 2014 speech given by the urban geographer, Stephanie Wakefield, “The end of the world then is not this or that disaster coming in the future – a flood, a hurricane, the collapse of mid-western agriculture – the end of the world is not a potential extinction of homosapiens. The end of the world is what we are living through right now.”6 Now, clearly, this is manifestly false if “end of the world” is to be taken as a literal and immediate eventuality (as her usage of “now” could connote). The world, either as nature-as-such, or, the-earth-as-such, in totality, is not literally at an end; it was not “ending” back in 2014 when such statements were made nor is it “ending” now (anymore than it has always been ending). Rather, it is Sellar’s manifest image that is slipping away – this a failure of synthesis – behind computer screens and into the ever-burgeoning smart-phone matrix, slipping through the cracks in the facade of a world torn open in the new reality birthed by empiricism and modern science, slithering through the fissures of the harmonic concordance which has been shattered by the might of human industry and will.

Man is no longer merely a clever beast, he has become something else entirely. We are all cyborgs, after all. All the more reason for synthesis! The crucial question to answer then is whether he has become more or less his constituent parts. Obviously more. We now add on the collective armature of the whole of our species to increasingly powerful frames through mass communication and speculative theoretical exploration; no longer captive to the landlocked and resource scarce existence of our ancestors, oft trapped upon infertile planes or swampy marshes, nor are we so easily dispatched by meteorites, those great foes from the sky, nor the devastation of hurricanes, mudslides, deluges of the rain-cloud, nor the ague or the fangs of chittering beasts. Hence, the only truly meaningful question left in regard to man in relation to the earth is: “Should he continue the process of reifying his immanence, thus synthesizing the manifest and scientific images or doing away with one or the other or should he cease and desist altogether?”

Before we can even begin to answer such a series of questions it is of great importance to critically examine the conceptions of the earth which have been constructed by the manifest image, what we shall here collectively refer to as the specter of earth. What then is this specter which shrouds our clarity? The answer is: not earth as-is but rather, the idea of earth which has been collectively crafted from centuries of our relationship with it, imbued with agency by our own, misattributed and implicitly carried. Whether the concept takes the form of earth-as-hyperorganism or earth-as-deity; what is fundamental to the foundation of the concept of the specter is the idea that the planet is something which acts. Additionally, the specter is a being which also has specific interests which its proponents contend broader humanity (or in rarer instances, all human action) is actively working against, for in the philosophy of the spectral shamans, Man is nothing more than a virus, crawling out upon the whole of the world, siphoning it’s lifeforce with vile machinic efficiency for some unstated, hideous and invariably cataclysmic end. The decline of anthropocentric thinking via the rise of new and destabilizing schools of thought have acted as catalysts to this thought-process which has, in turn, allowed the mental ecological niches necessary for anti-human envirocracy7 to grow. But is this mindset justified? Is it true? We would affirm that even if such statements were true, that should not mean that man should cease philosophical and technological innovation and simply set himself down into the muck and the mud, scratching about with sticks to carve out a hovel in the hardening clay of some noisome landslide. All of nature wars with us and it is only right and just that man should the wage battle with equal fury. Now as ever. But before we lay out our positive position (what is correct and should be done) we must first finish our negatory enterprise (what is wrong and what should not be done).

What is wrong, principally, with the various notions which we here collectively describe as the specter of earth is that it is just that, a specter; a construct of the mind with no verifiable external reality. This is not to say that mental constructions are not themselves true or that they are not immensely important; they are. Rather, it is to say that there is a profound distinction to be drawn between the conception itself and the way that conception maps onto any given externalities (if any at all). As pertains to usefulness it is crucial to understand that every mental construction is only as useful or useless as its applications within the mind to the individual who contemplates it and the ability of the individual who conceives of it to then utilize that concept to effect “the world” in some way that is conducive to some end. In the case of humanity, that end is, typically, a anthropocentric one. The problem with the concept of the specter is that, though it is obviously false (or, in more rare and sophisticated iterations, unfalsifiable), it is not useless; in fact, it is highly useful for a variety of human pursuits. To illustrate this fact and better conceptualize the actual effects of the specter, consider the cult of femininity which sprung up around the archaeological discoveries of Çatalhöyük, Turkey. In 1958 the archaeologist James Mellaart unearthed the remains of a proto-city in southern Anatolia, Konya Province, Turkey. It came to be known as Çatalhöyük8. Among the ruins of the neolithic settlement were various female figurines which Mellaart believed to be evidence of a cult of some Mother Goddess that was “the basis of our civilization.”9 Other similar claims had been, for instance, the American occult writer, Rosemary Ellen Guiley wrote that goddess worship extends as far back in time as the neolithic and might possibly be even older10 and the mythologist Joseph Cambell once cited a discovery that was dated to 6500 BC11 which he believed to be indicative of mother goddess worship. The validity of Mellaart’s theory, however, was somewhat complicated by the fact that not only was the archaeologist possessed of black market connections, he was also a proven forger. Regardless of these facts, Mellaart’s theories garnered a following and in short order a new, tentative religion had sprung up around his findings (both real and counterfeit). A similar fixation surrounds the ancient Bronze Age city-site of Knossos in Crete wherein many figurines and frescos were discovered which hinted at nature worship conducted under the auspices of powerful priestesses. Despite widespread denouncement of the idea that either Knossos or Çatalhöyük were, in their time, hotbeds of mother goddess worship, the idea persisted; indeed, both locations are still quite popular tourist designations for dedication worshipers of “the mother goddess” which has formed into various different internet communities. The “the” here is significant as members of the Knossos and Çatalhöyük mother goddess community believe in a monotheistic conception of the divine; a great and all powerful woman-creator who stands separate from man. It is pertinent to note that many modern devotees of the Mother Goddess believe that during neolithic times (or other proximal ages) womankind lived in tranquility until they were invaded by men who brought chaos into the world through the creation of technology. In it’s modern iterations, mother goddess worship tends to arise in, or affix itself to, circles wherein radical feminism, Jungian Psychoanalysis, New Age pantheism and extreme forms of evironmentalism are present. Whilst Mellaart’s discovery was a important locus in the reknewal of the specter goddess, it was but a portion of the multifarious iterations of modern earth and goddess worship, which re-surged in the 1960s in tandem with reinvigorated feminist movements, the popularization of ecology and neo-paganism and various non-asatru associated witchcraft and occult movements.

Another important node in the reification of the specter of earth was the work of the independent British scientist, James Ephraim Lovelock. During a joint venture with NASA to discover life on Mars, Lovelock conceived of what he called the Gaia12 Hypothesis, which postulated that a planet which contained life could be thought of as one, cohesive and self-regulating organism. First put forth in the 1960s, Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis was elaborated upon in his 1974 paper, Atmospheric homeostasis by and for the biosphere13 and various, subsequent scientific and polemical papers and books. The Gaia Hypothesis, originally conceived of as a new way of modeling the planetary ecosystems, Lovelock took the concept well outside the bounds of the hard sciences when, in his paper, Science and Christian Belief, Vol. 4, No. 1, 29, he wrote, “Gaia is Mother Earth. Gaia is immortal. She is the source of life. She is certainly the mother of us all, including Jesus.” Therefore it is starkly evident that Lovelock, whatever his initial conceptions, had come to believe the earth to be a literal feminine deity, possessed of vast intelligence, power and agency; sensitive to the workings of man and all the other organisms which take up residence beside, below and above him. Thus, in Lovelock’s schema, man is subsumed in the telos of “the world” and must readjust his workings in alignment with it or face The Revenge of Gaia14. Two decades after Lovelock’s hypothesis took hold, numerous other earth-centric thinkers and movements began to percolate throughout the increasingly global zeitgeist. We must pause he to take the measure of the thing, the strange convergence of scientific modeling and neolithic mythology, which, we would postulate, might have emerged out of the isolating and uncommunal nature of scientific research; for instance, both Mellaart and Lovelock were academics, given over to isolation in pursuit of furthering their personal knowledge of their particular field of study. It would not be unreasonable to suppose that such habituations occasioned considerable loneliness given the obvious social dimension of the human animal.

New “green” forces, less mystical and considerably more political, began to arise seldom a decade after Lovelock’s magnum opus. In the 1970s, the international NGO, Greenpeace, rose to prominence amidst the hippie furor of the 1960s, having no single founder or founders, the group organically coaleseced around environmental concerns, gradually becoming both more influential and more radical in their beliefs and tactics. 1987 saw the publication of the book, The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth, wherein Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor declared of the masculine,

Perhaps the greatest harm patriarchy has done to us is to stifle, coopt, and deform our powers of imagination. Moralism, dualistic dogmas, repressive prohibitions block our imagination. Patriarchal religions keep this fusion from happening, imagination dies, and is replaced by mechanical-linear thought patterns, i.e. indoctrination.”15

and in another section,

The world’s definition of God is the self-definition of humanity. The Gods who rule us “from above” are simply mirrors in the sky, faithfully reflecting our own faces. The Gods who rule us ‘from within’ might represent deep truths of the mind and heart, or they might reflect the profound self-distortions of four millennia of ontological misperception. We do not know if a ‘God’ is a true God or a false God until we see what kind of world is created in that God’s image. When we look around today at the world generated by the male Gods of patriarchal rule, we see warfare, degradation, suffering, and sadism on a scale such as earth has never seen, nor will ever see again—for of course if we don’t end it, it will surely end us.”

and later,

This is all very rudimentary, but once it has been set into motion as world machinery, every living thing on earth is entangled in its gears, all our functions become definitively embodied in its functions—and it’s very hard for those living inside the machinery to stop the machine, because our lives and all their ontological terms have come to depend on the ongoing machinery in all its terms.”16

Thus, we can see, from the mists of prehistory to the present, a consistent familiarity of association; earth to mother, woman as creator and thus God(dess), feminine magicks stultified and routed by vile patriarchal will and the persistent disdain for the horrid masculinity of the machine. If we define spirit as that portion of the human mind which motivates, and if we define the machine as the concretization of masculine will, we can accurately define opposition to the machine as indicative of a feminine spirit.

1‘Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man’ was a lecture given by Sellars in 1960. It was later transcribed and published in the journal, Frontiers of Science and Philosophy.

2Sellars, ‘Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man,’ p. 3

3Sellars, ‘Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man’, p. 10

4‘Bracketing’ was a phenomenological term deployed by the philosopher Edmund Husserl, meaning: to suspend direct engagement with the world in partiality to better focus on some form of analysis of experience therefrom gained.

5The noosphere was conceived of as a biosphere of human thought. Nous = mind, sphaira = sphere.

6Notes on the Anthropocene: “What Must I Do?” At the End of the World, 2014.

7Those who place lack of human impact upon the environment at the forefront of all political & philosophical thinking.

8The name Catalhoyuk is a combination of the Turkish catal (fork) and hoyuk (mound).

9Evaluation Claims of a Mother Goddess Cult on Prehistoric Malta, Margaret Creech, 2015.

10Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experiences, (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 239.

11The Masks of God, vii.

12Gaia, or, Gaea, is a important primordial Greek deity who is the living embodiment of the earth.

13Lovelock wrote the paper in co-authorship with the microbiologist Lynn Margulis. The paper was first published in Tellus XXVI, 1974.

14The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth is Fighting Back, is a book published in 2006 that was written by Lovelock.

15Sjoo, Mor, The Great Cosmic Mother, p. 427

16Sjoo, Mor, Great Cosmic Mother, p. 217 [PDF ver.]