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Lenses on the Non-Human World

The contemporary cynic – which on many days describes myself – might respond that we still live by all of these [historical] interpretive frameworks, and that only their outer shell has changed – the mythological has become the stuff of the culture industries, spinning out big-budget, computer-generated films and merchandise; the theological has diffused into political ideology and the fanaticism of religious conflict; and the existential has been re-purposed into self-help and the therapeutics of consumerism. While there may be some truth in this, what is more important is how all of these interpretive lenses – mythological, theological, existential – have as their most basic presupposition a view of the world as a human-centric world, as a world “for us” as human beings, living in human cultures, governed by human values. While classical Greece does, of course, acknowledge that the world is not totally within human control, it nevertheless tends to personify the non-human world in its pantheon of humanoid creatures and its all-too-human gods, themselves ruled by jealously, greed, and lust. The same can be said of the Christian framework, which, while also personifying the supernatural (angels and demons; a paternal God by turns loving and abusive), re-casts the order of the world within a moral-economic framework of sin, debt, and redemption in a life after life. And the modern existential framework, with its ethical imperative of choice, freedom, and will, in the face of both scientific and religious determinisms, ultimately constricts the entire world into a solipsistic, angst-ridden vortex of the individual human subject. In short, when the non-human world manifests itself to us in these ambivalent ways, more often than not our response is to recuperate that non-human world into whatever the dominant, human-centric worldview is at the time. After all, being human, how else would we make sense of the world?

—Eugene Thacker, In the Dust of This Planet

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