Tuesday, 5 May 2009

The Crisis in Humanism II

Part two of Joost van Loon's three-part series on the crisis of humanism.

The crisis in humanism however, has not remained an exclusive philosophical affair. The 20th Century, the century of high modernism, also witnessed a human crisis in terms of the meaning-fullness of life. I am referring here to the existential insecurity that emerges when we are confronted by the possibility of a pure arbitrariness of being. This is when the plebs no longer desire for utopia (because their needs are forever being commodified) – when Nietzsche's brutal historical force of the will to power, is revealed in its bare nihilistic arbitrariness.

This pure arbitrariness of being owes quite a bit to a revolution in biology – when life (already stripped of divine mystery by modern 18th Century science) transformed from being defined as the capacity for self-reproduction, i.e. a cell-based entity – to something that was no longer predicated upon the primacy of the cell but merely evolved as a series of proteins, DNA, RNA, i.e. viruses. I am referring to molecular biology and in its wake the birth of genetics.

The idea of DNA as ‘the book of life’ is an ironic mockery of the mystery of intextuation and incarnation. The mystery is being exposed in a pornographic fashion, as a mere series of protein-based codes. There is nothing to life but long strings of codes, which can be deciphered, taken apart, re-assembled and (in theory) modified. Using the pioneering work of Shannon and Weaver in mathematical communication theory, genetics adopted the model of information-processing as the basic trope for understanding life. Being alive in this worldview, is identical to being in communication. Plato’s cave is turned inside out; there are no ideas, no real objects, just shadows on the wall. The age of genetics is the age of the reign of the Simulacrum.
(Photo credit: King Coyote. Permissions.)

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