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hat we have here is one of the most compelling and carefully crafted books on the violent uncertainties called the Anthropocene. Combining a sophisticated grasp of the limitations of international relations theory with an interest in the sciences, from hematology to quantum physics to biogeochemistry, Grove’s central question is how the militarized technologies behind today’s global hegemonic games are ushering the world into nothing less than apocalypse. The possibility of the collapse of global society is programmed as normal byproduct of the capitalist megamachine, becoming more and more visible through the cracks in the shiny rhetorics of progress and globality.
This savageness of the twenty-first century is not a Hobbesian arena wherein everyone fights everyone else, but a historically contingent situation of states, companies, and scientists inescapably perfecting a dispositif of war which, once contingently discovered in Europe under imperialism and the industrial revolution, evolved into an autonomous force largely outside of the professed world order world of human rights, prosperity, and peace. Echoing Deleuze and Guattari, Grove writes, “War is a phylum of organizing principles, refrains, and protocols unto itself. War drags along with it the whole of the population—its vitality, industry, inventiveness, movement, rhythm, and affect—and attests to the human and nonhuman character of the population and violently metabolizes other forms of life in its path” (105). Climate policies and renewable energy are bound to become weaponized. Is it possible at all to wage war on (protest, sabotage, dismantle) this insidiously oppressive situation of generalized violence? There is need for a dose of apocalypticism to counter the constitutively self-congratulatory myths of technocapitalism, but in these brief comments I would like to ask whether the positing of inevitability is consistent with the ontologies the book claims to follow.
First, however, I think many readers will object to the elision of racial and sexual difference when constructing a transdisciplinary ontology of planetary mayhem. When it comes to Foucault and Deleuze and Guattari, while they are rightly criticized for downplaying these differences, they do offer important concepts for understanding how war and violence are always already imbricated in the segmentations of modern social formations (microfascism, Oedipus, race war, biopower, faciality, the molar, etc.). Grove fruitfully renames our geo-political predicament the “Eurocene” but does not theorize white supremacy as a fundamental structuring feature of empire and environmental injustices. Racism is often acknowledged, especially in the chapter on blood, and there are a few references to slavery. Yet when Grove writes, “There is no Eurocene without the capability to lay waste to whole civilizations, there is no settlement without extermination, and there is no globalization without homogenization and expansion backed by navies and freelance violence entrepreneurs” (81), and that settler-colonial states, especially the United States, are “ontologically violent in perpetuity with respect to form[s] of life and the catastrophe of homogenization” (103), he appears to forget slavery. The index does not have “slavery” and “race”, though it does have “entelechy” and “Schrödinger, Erwin”. If it might be true that for some contemporary US theorists slavery has become an almost ontotheological bedrock, there is a missed opportunity here to engage the exciting reinvigoration of the black radical tradition and black feminism to think through the bellicose impetus of the Anthropocene. Of course, one can’t write about everything, and the breadth of topics and sources is already breathtaking. That makes the relative downplaying of race in favor of less relevant themes (less relevant to theorizing apocalypse) all the more puzzling.
A smaller ontological qualm concerns the book’s recurring criticism of “neo-Kantian” resistance against artificial intelligence. Grove writes very well about the mass destruction and profoundly uncanny forms of control which information technologies, engineering, and neuroscience are increasingly capable of, speculating that machines could even outsmart humans and survive the ecological catastrophes which we unleashed but will extinguish us (271). Grove’s ethical response to this fundamental threat to human agency is to invent new attitudes of “generosity” and “gratitude” which accept that humans do not have a God- given monopoly on thinking and experience. In posthumanist vein he mocks thinkers like Habermas for being paranoid about the possibilities of AI. The book’s consistent emphasis on technocapitalism’s drive towards “cruelty” as opposed to old humanist sentiments around reason, communication, the moral law, and universality is a welcome pessimistic rejoinder.
Deleuze and Guattari too wrote about cruelty, computerization, and the society of control. However, following basic Darwin, Freud, and Marx, their work also make abundantly clear that humans are evolved creatures living in, or rather mostly lived by, geohistorical constellations in which desire, affect, ideology, art, revolutions, and last but not least philosophy have functions irreducible to their organismic and ecological existence. Humans become anxious and exuberant, they stumble on hallucinogens by accident, and a few of them are artistic geniuses. All of this is ontologically impossible to generate through software because software has no unconscious, no hormones, no fear of death, no compulsive itches. Far from considering the human body or the human mind as sacred ground or telos, Deleuze and Guattari’s antihumanism reminds us that humans are constitutively constrained by forces exterior to the knowable social.
What most sci-fi dystopian scenarios about artificial intelligence get wrong is that an extremely recent contingent human invention—for what is more “man-made” than software?—is singled out as all-determining, and feared to become capable of emulating and surpassing a brain and collective intelligence which took millennia injustices and determination to form, on top of millions of years of “blind” evolution. That’s a strange anthropocentric twist, like saying the car is paradigmatic of all locomotion. That the human species is becoming increasingly cyborgian is all too true, but the specter of technological determinism needs to be carefully circumvented. The ethical upshot is to be clear about what exactly the human body can do qua human, and who (or what) exactly deserves our “generosity”. Distinguishing immanently and finely between technology’s (few) liberatory potentials and ubiquitous militarized biopower is one of the key objectives of Deleuze and Guattari’s Capitalism and Schizophrenia project. As with Kant but also Nietzsche, their critique of the human condition intrinsically prescribes the genesis of new concepts, affects, percepts, political movements—activities it is logically absurd to suppose robots or cats to be interested in.
This brings us to the mutual imbrication of apocalypse (“revelation”) with radical politics. As too often happens, the central importance in Deleuze and Guattari of “becoming-revolutionary” and their analyses of the inconsistencies of capital and power are excised within a more general disdain for Marxism. In theology and revolutionary traditions, declaring an end of the world and attacking decadence does not make sense without spreading the good message (euangelion) of salvation and collective destiny. Unfortunately this most compelling dimension of the concept “the end of the world” is not developed here. Before the book ends with a vision of zombie apocalypse, which is only half ironic, Grove even suggests that any organizing against governments and corporations, any effort to pull the emergency break on the train rushing inexorably towards catastrophe (to paraphrase Benjamin), is bound to fail. Instead he offers an ethos of “learning to live and die well in this world, regardless of how the world turns out” (267).
When Deleuze talked about restoring a “belief in the world”, a phrase Grove often uses, he wasn’t calling for such an extreme form of capitulation, which anyone in the climate justice movement would point out can only be done from a position of very rare privilege. The very encounter of Deleuze and Guattari having occurred within the global uprisings of 1968, their concept of becoming means not merely experimentation and embracing bodily forms considered freakish, but organizing, strategizing, theorizing, making transversal connections, creating common resources, and learning from failure. Communists Like Us, the little book Guattari and Toni Negri (1990) published as the Soviet Union was disintegrating, is seldom read. Of course Guattari’s communism is “molecular” and no longer based on the grand narratives-fantasies around a proletariat awakening from its Facebook slumber, but it is fundamentally revolutionary. Even if Guattari and Deleuze ultimately fell short of providing a clear sense of communist politics as such, that is, as a different kind of social experience than art (or philosophy, or science), the dominant anti-Marxist reading of them has sanitized their most pressing conceptual inventions and urgent relevance for the catastrophic present.
The philosophical framework of Savage Ecology is much richer than my focus here on Deleuze and Guattari would imply. Nevertheless, they are quite central to the book’s redirecting of the study of geopolitics towards nonhuman materialities and ecologies. Hence my concerns about how they are read. If Deleuze and Guattari were to have experienced 2020 they would have greatly appreciated Grove’s eclectic framework for analyzing the destructive ecosystemic, virological, militarized, neuropharmacological realities of technocapitalism as these crashed into the global fabric that year. But they would have also joined the wave of antiracist and decolonial uprisings and lent their thoughts to theoretical debates about communist futures. Their historico-ontological premise is that the horrors of biopolitical capitalism never entirely obfuscate the possibilities of revolution it attempts to silence. Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will, as Gramsci said. To put it in somewhat more scientific terms that have little to do with the humanisms Grove dislikes, systems only persist because their elements and milieus perpetuate them. At any moment a system can be pushed across thresholds previously invisible. How a more liveable system could come about is already the question for billions of people who do not want to be systematically oppressed, who can’t retreat to a forest cabin, and who would prefer not to go extinct. In the planetary apocalypse that Grove’s book beautifully and chillingly diagnoses, it is that question of the how of radical politics which is crying out to be theorized.
Guattari F and Negri T (1990) Communists Like Us: New Spaces of Liberty, New Lines of Alliance trans M Ryan. New York: Semiotext(e).
Arun Saldanha is Professor at the Department of Geography, Environment, and Society at the University of Minnesota and author, most recently, of Space After Deleuze (Bloomsbury, 2017).