It’s a weirdly peaceful documentary, given the subject is our own demise. courtesy of Icarus Films

The world as we know it is in rapid decline.

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The cause of this decline is without question a mode of human/cultural metabolism that has, unfortunately, unlimited growth as its only condition of existence. This cultural form (the political economy known as capitalism) has resulted in a "metabolic rift."

Put another way: The historically specific mode of wealth generation that has dominated human life since its emergence in 17th-century Europe is, it turns out, totally alien from its very own planet. The wealth generation is infinite; the planet is rudely limited. The rift between the two is not only growing but closing down an old and roughly 12,000-year-old global system of life—and evidently opening a new, pretty much unknown one.

In the weirdly peaceful documentary Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival, the philosopher Donna Haraway sees the current crisis (some call it the Anthropocene, others the Capitalocene; I prefer the former) not as the end of life on earth but as the transformation (or rearrangement) of "ways of living and dying."

In short, life can and will continue after the extinction of humans (a young species). But if humans want to address the problem or hope to reverse the ongoing climate crisis, they must change their ways of living and dying on a cultural level. And it's important that humans distinguish what is natural from what is cultural. Though one (culture) is embedded in the other (nature), its rate of evolution is much, much faster. This fact is lost when nature (slow) is confused with culture (fast).

Haraway's work and personal life, which she describes in one section of the documentary, has been about "redoing ways of living and dying" that break not only with the political economy of unlimited growth but also with what she calls "heteronormative joy" (marriage, children, single-family homes, so on).

Haraway does not stop there. If she did, she would be a Marxist, a tradition she admires but, as she says in the documentary, she thinks fails because it's a totalizing narrative. Haraway imagines a revolution of human culture that precisely displaces the centrality of the human animal.

Some call her philosophy post-human. I call it cultural realism. And the last 15 minutes of the documentary perfectly capture the tone of this darkling modality.

You are not human; you are, instead, a metabolic process that is made possible, directly and indirectly, by other metabolic processes. This is the symbiotic planet of the late biologist Lynn Margulis. It's also the feminist sociobiology of Sarah Hrdy.

Margulis dealt with the ambience of life (microorganisms). Hrdy investigates the roots of human sociality. Haraway, in her work and in this documentary, critiques the cultural productions of this sociality. Her philosophy also constructs new modes of living and dying that weirdly resemble Margulis's ambient symbiotic planet. The last part of this documentary is serenely ambient.

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