On multispecies ethos

(excerpt from a work in progress)

As constituent phenomena born by the colonial past, the threat of runaway climate change and the worsening epistemological condition of post-colonial existence, compounded by the rise of neofascism and neoconservative ideologies in recent years, vis-à-vis the dominant neoliberal mindset of the present global and geopolitical arrangement, reveal a consistent direction that all points to a common discursive arc – as emphasized, the ‘permanent production of extinction’. The target could never be so obvious.

         The West’s extinction-producing discourse and power dynamics have acquired new rhetorical traction in more contemporary terms. By its designation within the humanities and social sciences discipline, the Anthropocene commands an imagined universality that, as a residual justification (in light of an impending climate doom) of the Western de-multispeciesification of the planet, requires the ‘totalization of the entirely of human actions into a single ‘human activity’ generating a ‘single human footprint’ on the Earth’ (Bonneuil and Fressoz, p. 65). The motive for such totalization is quite apparent. The Western ‘sense of entitlement and domination of natural systems’ (Cole, 2022, p. 6) is now a pang of planetary guilt, a distributive logic of planned economy of exoneration (through carbon reduction across national borders and geographical scale). The proximity to the economic jargon of planned obsolescence is not far-fetched. To the extent that the planet is starting to create the conditions for the nongivenness of the human in its most perfect sense – that is to say, it must no longer exist in the absence of a multispecies context of existence, now assured of its positive end – its nongivenness becomes an object of fantasy. Extinction has to be total, or else the nongivenness of the human will deprive itself of its self-imposed teleology, which is always ‘heavenward’ (Latour’s term for the plasticity of power), whether one takes it from the religious or scientific perspective.

         As a counterpoint to this heavenward plasticity of power relations in the Anthropocene, in recent years, the call for multispecies justice (Celermajer, et. al, 2020) accentuates the multisperspectival view eroded by this singularization of humanity. The Catholic church hierarchy is among the most vocal global institutions promoting this view with the recent encyclical letter of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’, which, if I may put it, is still oriented to classical negation logic. Laudato Si’ carefully crafts this multispecies perspective but fails at the tail end of expressing a ‘broader vision of reality’, which, if Latour would have it, requires that this vision modelled on God has to be ’emptied of its substance’ (p. 314):

Just as the different aspects of the planet – physical, chemical and biological – are interrelated, so too living species are part of a network which we will never fully explore and understand. A good part of our genetic code is shared by many living beings. It follows that the fragmentation of knowledge and the isolation of bits of information can actually become a form of ignorance, unless they are integrated into a broader vision of reality (Francis, 2015, pp. 103-104)

       The singularity of the Catholic church’s vision of reality, insofar as it is ‘sensitive to speech,’ can only be understood in terms of the ‘continuity of the message [that is] retained without any content but the reprise itself’ (Latour, 2013, p. 315). As Latour adds, one ‘sees nothing’ here, and if we may annotate in return, one sees an empty term devoid of its multispecies context – the real substance of speech, what lies underneath all ‘renewals of interpretation’. In terms of its resonance with spiritual ethos, the real substance points to the situated materiality of the spirit as enacted by bodies but formalized by institutional religion, which is the error of religion in the Western context, in the sense that it is only a constituent of its ‘whole world’, or, as constituent it is intersubstitutable with the master story of the West, thus, denying the ‘non-tradeable’ position and irreplaceability of the other’ (Plumwood, 1993, p. 194). In Plumwood, this is equivalent to the final stage of the dualizing process of Western reason – the ‘devouring of the other of nature’ (p. 192), with rational economy providing the new economic teleology assisted by the counterpoint of institutional religions that secure the non-proximity of power relations to the conscious awareness of today’s post-colonized peoples, or, more generally, the ‘other’ who ‘offers no resistance, which does not answer back because it no longer has a voice and language of its own’ (p. 193). This ‘other’ is not only the poor humans marginalized by rational economy but also actants in a multispecies world reduced to inaction and insignificant alterity by Western anthropocentrism.

       Nonetheless, far from the absolute case of silence and incapacity, the other is decolonizing self-consciously, and, thus, ‘deconstructive of [today’s] liberal hegemony’ (Celermajer, et. al, p. 11). Here, I take the position of Haraway concerning the concept of inappropriated alterity, which, while not completely irreducible, has the power to negotiate for less unitary, nay, totalizing forms of subjectivity (Haraway, 1992, p. 299). The negotiations produce monsters, which, Haraway idiosyncratically characterize as ‘hybrid [creatures that] show the arbitrariness and constructed nature of what is considered the norm(al)’ (in Prins, p. 360). Sufficed to say, today’s normal is the singularization of multispecies into human climate footprint. This is not to say, multispecies footprints should replace the anthropogenic guilt, rather that these actants are decolonizing the necessity to create the preconditions of this lingering colonial guilt. They are decolonizing the planetary mindset in terms of nature’s speechless articulation of ‘undecidable modes and sites where connections can be made’ (Haraway, 1992, p. 324) vis-à-vis the totalizing condition of the Anthropocene replete with human intentions and communicational codes designed only for humans to address, resolve and negotiate. It is in this sense that monsters decolonize; they signify asignifying codes that render humanity uncertain of its destiny – the humanity that pursues more abstraction from the multispecies past.

       In a gesture of diffraction, it is in this light that the multispecies history of colonialism and postcoloniality is making its mark felt on a larger geopolitical scale. As McKenzie Wark wrote in an old essay, ‘[I]t is only by becoming more abstract, more estranged from nature that I can make the cultural leap into thinking its fragile totality’ (Wark, p. 127). Multispecies history diffracts humanity’s nongivenness – as emphasized, this acquired the meaning of guilt – by demonstrating the uselessness of the metaphor of ‘fragile totality,’ such as the Western Anthropocene, if the latter means the totalization of humanity under the economic teleology of planned obsolescence where the multispecies past becomes the most potent object of the fantasy of extinction (whether one arrives at this fantasy via Laudato Si’ or the techno-inspired discourse of climate science).



Bonneuil C. and Fressoz J-B. (2016) The Shock of the Anthropocene. Translated by D. Fernbach, London and New York: Verso.

Celermajer, D., Schlosberg, D., Rickards, L., et. al. (2020). ‘Multispecies justice: theories, challenges, and a research agenda for environmental politics.’ Environmental Politics 30 (1), pp. 119-140.

Cole, D. (2022). Education, the Anthropocene, and Deleuze/Guattari. Leiden and Boston: Brill.

Prins, B. (1995). ‘The ethics of hybrid subjects: feminist constructivism according to Donna Haraway.’ Science, Technology, and Human Values 20 (3), pp. 352-367.

Wark, M. (1994).’Third Nature.’ Cultural Studies 8, pp. 115–32.


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