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Anthropogenic destructions & need for ethical framework

Making sense of anthropogenic destruction

Muhammad Saleem Khan

How does it feel to be last human being on this planet? Or what should be the role of human being in the midst of unprecedented anthro-created disorders i.e. ecological, biological, political, geological etc? These questions not only provoke profound sense of urgency but also put us [human species] in a precarious situation where we have no option but to be as responsive as possible provided the need of consciousness in making sense of the pertinent risks.

This article discusses some concepts which might be helpful in understanding the given disorders within the context of the present geological period,namely “Anthropocene”. In doing so, it aims to contextualize some ethical principles that embody values – social, political, and cultural – which compel the thinking faculty of the particular species, human being, to be a part of societal and relational framework in which obligation or indebtedness is something indispensable as well as urgent.

Noam Chomsky’s concept of ‘internationalism’ provides valuable insights in understanding the given multifaceted crisis within the context of urgency and liability simultaneously. He argues that issues such as nuclear weaponization and corporatization are affecting each and every human being in some way or another. Using historical evidences, he reiterates the point that the threats to the survival of our planet are increasing with an exponential rate while the possibility of recovery or ordering is becoming highly improbable. “It is widely recognized that we have entered the period of the sixth mass extinction…”(Chomsky, 2020 ).

The catastrophe does not care whether you’re American or Asian; it doesn’t care one’s ideological attachment. It will affect all people irrespective of political beliefs, religious beliefs, race, and class. In the end, the only way we are going to deal with this issue is if all the people, beyond nation states, come together and have collective approach.Amidst such situation, it requires public awareness and mass movements of resistance around the globe – all nations collectively, actively and responsibly. We, as global citizens, must learn to rethink as per the need of the time: rationalize social and political inequalities, challenge the centralized decision-making process, and make the handful of criminal people accountable.

Another important concept is the effective use of psychological topics vis-à-vis imagination, thinking and perception in making sense of the above-mentioned chaotic situation. Since psychology, mostly, deals with an existing situation, it uncovers multiple factors which enable person to be aware of his/her being through the process of consciousness. For example, Donna Haraway argues that creative practice of imagination is something indispensable if we want to get rid of the current disorder and make another world which would be livable as well as nature friendly e.g., the notion of ‘Chthulucene’. 

While discussing the importance of imaginative practices, for instance, she writes that imaginative “visiting is not an easy practice; it demands the ability to find others actively interesting, even or especially others most people already claim to know all too completely, to ask questions that one’s interlocutors find interesting, to cultivate the wild virtue of curiosity, to retune one’s ability to sense and respond- and to do all this politely!” (Haraway, 2016).  In this way,the given situation requires a radical shift in the pathway of thinking. In other words, negation of the prevailing sense of thoughtlessness, formation of intellectual clarity, cultivation of tentacular [multidimensional and relational] mode of thinking and so on. 

Likewise, the first ethical concern that arises has something to do with an awareness of the ongoing but inextricably linked crises such as geo-ecological destructions, socio-political inequalities, and neo-colonization under Western empire. To put differently, the need of a sense of acknowledgement of the consequences of our actions. Unlike pre-globalized period, we know and foresee that the effects of our profit-oriented activities are terribly disastrousi.e., climate change, extermination of living species, nuclear weaponization, and political crisis. How do we, after this knowledge if not understanding, still do it?  The ubiquity of this passive attitude shows not only the corrupted nature of our morality but also signals the urgency of alternative ethical principles. In other words, it means we have to have holistic ethical framework which make us realize the importance of not being ignorant regarding the pressing issues of our time.

Unfortunately, in this period of rapid corporatization, we have been dominated by a societal atmosphere in which it is uncommon to think of our surrounding things relationally and contextually. For example, when we think of human freedom, autonomy or political thought, we (un)consciously assume that human autonomy is independent of other living and nonliving contemporaries including important members of our food chain such as animals, plants, geological components and relatable societal problems in the poor countries. The point, however, is that we have to think on multiple scales all at once and beyond human-centric circle; to think holistically or what Donna Haraway calls as “Tentacular thinking”. It also shows that anthropocentric way of thinking is limited as well as incapable of understanding provided the high level of planetary disorders. Haraway rightly points out that “bounded individualism in its many flavors in science, politics, and philosophy has finally become unavailable to think with, truly no longer thinkable, technically or any other way”(Haraway, 2016 ). In other words, our thinking should be ethical in the sense that one’s thinking should be holistic and creative.

Similarly, our ethical approach should be critical of the myriad for granted ideas. For instance, take the for granted idea of ‘unlimited growth’. It is because of the narrow conception of this particular term that we never bother to question the negative subtleties behind the so-called notion of limitlessness.  It is this limited understanding of growth that we, especially the proponents of capitalist system, frame multiple destructive practices in a positive or at least in an ostensible neutral light.We have to think of other such terms which we accept without proper comprehension including the idea of ‘progress’, ‘development’, ‘meritocracy’, ‘sustainable and other vital components of concerned discourse. The need of the time is to know why we do what we do, why we think the way we think,and why exploitative knowledge produce the way it produces.To be more precise, our ethical framework should be based on the understanding of the consequence of our actions.

Finally, it seems that practicality of the much-needed ordering framework, as discussed above, is extremely difficult but not impossible.  Given the higher intensity of anthropogenic devastations, only passive realization of waiting apocalyptic would not be enough rather it requires collective and timely response based on proper ethical framework- ethic, total sum of all ethics, which comprises of bioethics, geoethics, political and so on. The gravity of the said situation demands nothing less than revolutionary upraising because it is only through revolutionary upward (not top down) movements that such kind of urgent issues could be addressed properly. Last but not least,how to order the extreme disorder is a practical question and it must be prove in practice: “The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man [sic] must prove the truth—i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.  (Karl Marx’s second “Thesis on Feuerbach”, 1845).


(The writer is final year student at Habib University, Karachi). 

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