By Felice Cimatti
The humanimal is a brand new creature; it is such a human being, which is an animal too. At the moment, “humanimal” simply does not exist. According to a quite standard zoological definition, an animal is a “multicellular, heterotrophic organism that develops from an embryo derived from gametes produced in specialized organs or surrounded by somatic cells. Typically, animals are motile – that is, capable of independent locomotion − at least during some stage of the life cycle, and have sensory apparatus with which to detect changes in their immediate environment” (Allaby, 19992, p. 28). Take the case of a zebra. According to such a definition, a zebra is an animal, because it cannot directly fix carbon for its own growth, therefore it uses organic carbon; its body develops from an embryo derived by two gametes; it is capable of independent locomotion; it has a sensory apparatus with which it detects changes in its immediate environment. From a zoological point of view, an animal life develops itself around the body and its immediate surroundings. Animal life precisely takes place in the “where” and “when” the body takes place.
If one accepts such a standard zoological definition – it seems quite uncontroversial − a typical member of the species Homo Sapiens is not at all an “animal”. Sh/e is not an animal because her/his life is radically different from the life of the zebra. The key difference lies in the fact that a typical human life is not delimited to its own “immediate environment”. The zebra can be worried because it smells the odor of a hidden lion, or because it does not smell the flavor of its preferred flower. On the contrary, for example, a woman can be worried by the rumors of a possible future reorganization of the factory where she is working or she can remember her mother who died many years before. A typical human life extends itself well beyond its own body hic et nunc. While a typical animal life develops itself where the body actually is, a typical human life develops itself forward and back in time and space. The point is not that a zebra cannot somehow ‘desire’ or ‘regret’ something; the point is that human desires and memories are much more extended, in time and space, than those of the zebra are. The world of a zebra is the world where it actually lives.
On the contrary, there is quite a deep separation between the human body and what such a body can think to, hope for, remember, and so on. The human body is right here, but her/his thoughts can be very far – in space and time − from it. It is obviously true that animals too are somewhat capable of detaching themselves from their own “immediate environment” (cf. Griffin, 20012), but it seems quite indisputable that in the typical human life there is an enormous degree of detachment from it. Notwithstanding the dramatic anatomical and genetic similarities between Homo Sapiens and all other living beings, human life is made of activities and thoughts that are not present in the rest of the zoological world. Such a statement obviously does not mean that human life is better or worse than zebra life, for example. The point is that human life is dramatically different from animal life.
If one takes into account such a typical characteristic of human life, Homo sapiens is not an animal, at least not in the same sense, as a zebra is an animal. The main theoretical consequence of such statement is that so far human animality is completely unknown (Cimatti, 2013). “Animality” means a life that completely and radically coincides with itself. Animality means a life without detachment from the hic et nunc of the body. On the contrary, since actual human life is completely detached from the immediacy of the body, there is no animality in human life. Human life is a zoological life without animality. Homo sapiens is human just because s/he does not know her/his own animality.
Such a character of humanity perfectly explains why human beings are destroying the earth. Such destructivity is not a consequence of a presumed original wickedness. Wickedness is not necessary, it is sufficient the humanity of the human beings. We just saw that human beings live in a “mental” world, which is larger and richer than the actual existing world. Being human means that the world like it is it is not enough for accomplishing the more and more complex and sophisticated human desires. While the zebra lives in the world, it finds when it was born, the human being lives in the world she/he wants to live. Human world is the world constructed by human beings. Human world is such a world, which exactly adapts itself to human will. The zebra adapts itself to the way the world already is; in the case of humanity, on the contrary, the world is forced to adapt itself to the human will. For this reason, Homo sapiens is not an animal. Therefore, the ecological problem is the anthropological problem, the problem that the very existence of humanity poses to the life of the planet.
The question of anthropocene (Hamilton, Gemenne, Bonnueuil, 2015) is the question of humanity: there would be no antropocene if there would be no human species. From this point of view, the optimistic concept of a future ecological economy is similar to the concept of a squared circle, an oxymoron. The problem is not that capitalist economy is greedy and indifferent to the environment; the problem is that economy is human. In fact, the example of past soviet economy should teach us something worth remembering: a communist economy is as ecologically disruptive as a capitalistic one (we must remember that Chernobyl nuclear plant was built to give to the “new communist man” the electric energy he needed to realize the communist society, the supposed end of the human history). Therefore, the problem that anthropocene poses us is neither an ethical nor an economic one; it is the problem of the capacity of the planet Earth to bear humanity. It is not an ethical problem, because the hour-by-hour greater impact of humanity on the hearth is not a consequence of its intrinsic egoism or greed; the point is that humanity is the very same thing of greed. We are not bad people; we simply are human.
Therefore, what we need is not an ethical or an economic turn. What we need is much more radical; we need to become-animal (Deleuze, Guattari, 1996). Take the case of the zebra. It does not need to pay attention to its environment because it has not the power to change it radically. The zebra depends on its ‘own’ environment much more than how much the environment depends on the zebra. On the contrary, our power to change the environment and the very same planet Earth are growing day by day. Such a power of planetary change is not an extrinsic character of humanity; humanity is such a tremendous power. The point is not that such a power is bad or that during this planetary change millions of animal and vegetable species probably will die. The life of the Earth is full of episodes of mass extinctions (Hallam, Wignall, 1997), to which Homo Sapiens did not participate at all.
Therefore, the problem posed by the very fact of Anthropocene is not ethical; rather is ethological. What kind of life Homo sapiens could live when its control over world and nature will be complete? There is no doubt that such a goal, sooner or later, will be reached. What is at stake is exactly this future not so far: when such a situation will be reached, human life would still be possible? There is no ethical obligation, which could oblige Homo sapiens not to destroy the world. Notwithstanding the so-called environmental ethics, there is not an ethical principle that could oblige human species to assume the role of the ‘protector’ of the rest of the world. It is no clear, for example, why the preservation of and endangered species, for example the Siberian tiger, should be considered something morally compelling for us. With roles reversed, one can be sure that the Siberian tiger should not feel any moral obligation to preserve our species. The problem of Anthropocene is ethological, not ethical. This means that in a not so far a future, the life of our sons or grandchildren will be much more difficult than now, if not impossible at all.
The Deleuze and Guattari concept of becoming-animal is the first attempt to think the very fact of Anthropocene – not in ethical or in economic terms – in biological terms. Since Homo Sapiens has never been an animal, the only radical way to let the world sustain human presence is transforming human being into an animal, in humanimal, that is, a human being that is at the very same time an animal like all other living beings. In a physiological sense, we are animals like frogs or rats; but in another sense, we are not animals at all. Animality means to stay in the world completely, without any distance between the body and the environment. The zebra we spoke of, for example, lives the life it lives without the desire to live another life, in another place, in another time. The zebra is the actual life it is living. The zebra is such a life. For this reason, the question of a possible Equus-quagga-cene does not pose itself because the zebra does not even think to change the world in order to adapt to its own needs. The zebra is an animal just because it has no desires; the existing world is the best world it can desire (if it could desire something) to live. Quite the contrary, the biological problem of the zebra is how to survive in a hostile environment. This means to be an animal, to adhere to the world as it is, good or bad it is. Homo Sapiens, on the contrary, changes the world since its very apparition into the world. Homo sapiens denotes an animal, which is not satisfied with the world as it is. Homo sapiens is such a dissatisfaction. In fact, Homo sapiens is dissatisfied with the world as it is; therefore, from its very beginning it tries to change it. For this anthropological reason, the ecological problem is the problem of the humanity of the human.
Deleuze and Guattari elaborate such a new concept of becoming-animal to face the problem of the impossible coexistence of humanity and world. Someone could think that such a description of humanity is too harsh, or too pessimistic. The scientific data of Anthropocene are bold; the rate of climate change of the world is quite astonishing (Hansen et al. 2010). We are such a change. Maybe the process of global warming is not that fast as scientists tell us; anyway, what seems undeniable is the rate human species is changing the outline of the world. The problem is not if global warming is real, because it is sufficient to take a look of our cities, and to compare the way they were just few years ago. The becoming-animal is a process, which assumes two points: 1. becoming-animal means giving up the way humans usually think of themselves as subjects; 2. becoming-animal means a way of living similar to the lives of animals. A life without private properties.
A Homo Sapiens can desire of living in another world, different from the actual existing world, just because it perceives itself like a separate entity from the rest of the world. Human beings think of themselves as subjects. A subject is a body who think of itself being an “I”, a psychological identity, exactly a subject. Being a subject means being not made of the same stuff of the world; in fact, the subject considers the world an “object” that is set against it. The subject and the object, the “I” and the world. One can desire to change the world just because one does not think of being a same thing of the world. Anthropocene begins when a living being, somewhere in Africa, more or less two hundred thousand years ago (Tattersall, 1998), starts thinking of itself like something different from the rest of the nature. In such a moment, nature starts worrying about this new strange animal that, in deep contrast from all other animals of the planet, does not like the way the world has existed for billions of years, and begun changing it. Homo Sapiens implies subjectivity and, therefore, logically implies Anthropocene. The ecological problem begins when Homo Sapiens appeared on the planet.
Being a subject means the desire not to be confused with the other subjects. There is no “I” without a “non-I”, like “You” and “They”. Subjectivity implies difference and inequality. “I” am what I am just because “I” am not like you, and you, and so on. In order to define the space of ‘my’ “I”, I have to delimitate ‘my’ private space, the space where ‘my’ objects are such objects that belong to me. “I” need them because through them only I can characterize what I am. If humanity implies subjectivity, it implies also “private properties”, that is, such objects without which I cannot identify me like an “I”. “Private property” is not a character, which depends on human egoism or greed. Human beings do not need “private property” because they are not generous, just because they are human. Humanity needs the possession of things. These two characters of humanity explain why Homo Sapiens is such a dangerous animal species.
Now go back to the zebra. It is a living body, which does not need to think of itself like an “I”. It is an autonomous body, with strong but simple desires like food, sex, water, shadow, and as much strong but simple fears, like lion, panther, and human beings. Zebra life is full of events, sometimes its life is interesting and at other times, it is boring. It is the life of every living being. There is no need of subjectivity in order to survive. The zebra has no time to spend wandering about its own “identity”; it is too busy in living to spend precious time in reflecting on itself. At the same time, it does not need anything, besides tender grass, fresh water, warm sun, safe pasture. There is no “private property” in the world of a zebra. It is important to stress that a zebra does not possess anything because it is a humble being or because it is not selfish; a zebra is neither selfish nor humble, a zebra is simply a zebra. That is, it lives the very life it lives. A zebra does not ask anything to the world; it takes from it what it sometimes offers it. When the world offers nothing to the zebra, it moves toward another place. The zebra does not complain of the world, because it does not know any other world where it can live. The life of the zebra is an immanent life. Immanence is such a condition of someone or something, which stays exactly where it stays. Immanence means the absolute coincidence of essence and existence: “we will say of pure immanence that it is A LIFE, and nothing else. It is not immanence to life, but the immanent that is in nothing is itself a life. A life is the immanence of immanence, absolute immanence: it is complete power, complete bliss” (Deleuze, 2001, p. 27).
Therefore, becoming-animal means nothing less than begin living like a zebra. Humanimal is such a strange being, which in a sense is human, but in another sense is no more human. It is human, because once it was a subject, who for example spoke of her/his things. A human being only can become an animal. A zebra has always been an animal; it does not need to become anything else from what it already was. It is a human being who gradually let go the marks of humanity: subjectivity, private properties, desires, regrets, objects. It is not at all clear how much human is a humanimal; but it is not at all clear also how much animal is a humanimal. A humanimal is neither a human being nor an animal being. Maybe a humanimal is neither. It is the indistinctness between animality and humanity, it is the very neutral and impersonal space, which both separates and connects humanity and animality. It is an unknown space of transition and movement between such two possibilities of being in the world, that of the zebra and that of the human. We do not have any idea of what could be such a humanimal life, just because humanimals do not tell us the life they are living. Maybe being a humanimal is just such an impossibility to say what a humanimal life is. Humanimality is beyond each of us. It is not an ethical possibility, nor a political one. At the same time, humanimality implies huge ethical and political consequences.
The passage from humanity to humanimality is not dialectical nor is a passage, which presupposes a series of preliminary actions; it happens like a lightning. Then all is changed. A humanimal does not anymore understand what we consider important and valuable, and what once was so important for her or him. It watches us like a zebra watches us. They do not understand us, as we do not understand them. Humanimality begins when what once was familiar and comprehensible suddenly appears completely senseless. It does not appear like something that is difficult to understand; it appears like something, which is beyond any sense, like a rock or a tree. Rocks and trees stay. That is all. The zebra is completely satisfied by the way the rock and the tree are. A satisfaction, which does not know of being satisfied. The zebra is such a satisfaction. Becoming animal means to be satisfied by the way the world is. Humanimal is such a satisfaction, which forgets itself. Because humanimality implies the forgetting of having been a human being. When one forgets humanity, and one is no more afraid of animality, then humanimality can begin.
Michael Allaby ed., 19992, A Dictionary of Zoology, Oxford Paperback Reference, Oxford University Press, Oxford UK.
Felice Cimatti, 2013, Filosofia dell’animalità, Laterza, Roma-Bari.
Gilles Deleuze, 2001, Pure immanence. Essays on A life, Urzone, New York.
Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, What is philosophy?, Columbia University Press, New York 1996.
Donald Griffin, 20012, Animal Minds: Beyond Cognition to Consciousness, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Tony Hallam, Paul Wignall, Mass Extinctions and Their Aftermath, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1997.
Clive Hamilton, François Gemenne, Christophe Bonneuil, 2015, The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis. Rethinking modernity in a new epoch, Routledge, London.
James Hansen, Reto Ruedy, Makiko Sato, Kenneth Lo, “Global surface temperature change”, Rev. Geophys., 48, 2010, RG4004.
Ian Tattersall, 1998, Becoming Human: Evolution and Human Uniqueness, New York. Harcourt Brace.
Felice Cimatti teaches philosophy of language at the University of Calabria, Arcavacata, Italy.
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