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"humanity", "human kind" : limits, ambiguities and dangers of an ill-built notion









Humanity _or Human kind- is not a totality superior to men and men's groups

It is important to preserve the contribution of "humanist" universalism because it is difficult to attack such a reference in case nationalism, racism or totalitarian sects would make significant comebacks. But we must simultaneously perceive the danger associated to the very notion of humanity, notably because of the merger of two of its features: unity and uniqueness.
As we have no serious reason to expect the upcoming visit of extraterrestrials, the local oneness of humanity (its uniqueness) can be postulated without much protest. As for its unity, it is a facet of its real essence, although it can be balanced with other aspects, such as its internal diversity.
The problem with the link between oneness and unity, is that the notion of humanity is so easily functioning as an ideal of local perfection in the universe : a singular whole, or a total singularity of which the main characteristic is that it is necessarily " vulnerable " as such and must be protected like a jewel against all assaults from wherever they might come. It is this attraction by the sublime imago which must be rejected at any price, because of symetrical dangers including the desire of so much security and integrity that this cannot come up without threatening life itself, as far as it is turbulent, diverse, impredictable and not idealizable.
To oppose this latent tendency, we must accompany the realization of human unity, which we must accept anyway for reasons of intellection and duty, with some preventive and protective maxims.

We propose hereafter four of these maxims (without prejudice to find others):
-First, the oneness of humanity should not be accepted uncritically, and it should not be taken as a feature opening a right to create a "global society". First, because we do not know positively whether humanity is truly unique (it is probably not in the vast universe). Secondly, because the concept of a single body cannot be applied to any living reality (because life implies a multiplicity of individuals, species and kinds, and a succession of generations). Finally, because the idea of an absolute isolation may give humanity a special status that can resemble a racist or nationalist pride, and allow it to be invoked against its own members -considered as traitors-.

Second important maxim: the unity of humanity does not allow anyone to make a totality of it. First, because totality is a fantasy that ignores the internal division of humanity (its diversity), or its separation from other jurisdictions claiming the same degree of universality (like the human species, the moral "human" quality, the world society or the universal cultural field), or finally, its "fractality" (the fact that every potentially self-supporting human group is representing human kind). In fact, all humanity is already present in each group of human beings, but no group can claim to be more human than another, nor a global community can allege such pretension.

Then, we are warned (by numerous experiences shared by social sciences and by the theory of mind) that when identity is taken by human beings as having both the characteristics of truth and absolute, these people are directly threatened by individual and collective madness. They can then take the path of "realizing their idea" that can only be a mass suicide, as the disparate characters and "heterogeneous" real entities should disappear behind this ideality, and literally be sacrificed to it. Any organic toralization of humanity functions as a narcissistic ideal for which we can only kill differences, that is to say... kill ourselves.

Some clues from recent history would give us some reasons to be optimistic about possible resistance to this trend. For example, if we take the various attempts to establish human rights in global society between 1929 and 1948, although driven in a context dominated by seductive totalitarian ideas, we find that the intensive work undertaken by philosophers and inspired law theorists shows a gradual incorporation of plurality. If we look at the definitions cited in the first place, concerning the supreme collective reference, we see they are slowly shifting from “State” and “People” (as foundations of an always unitary sovereignty) to notions like "the Human Family". This beautiful expression (presumably due to René Cassin ) immediately implies a gathering of diversities, but without any rigid link or call to a single law. One can only hope that in later stages -without any formalizing spirit of "political correctness" - this fragile trend will be confirmed, and that we will not see a backward move trying to impose a "true scientific definition” of mankind. It should be remembered again that this last reaction has always, hitherto, corresponded to moments of violent authoritarianism.

-Notwithstanding the relative effectiveness of our two previous maxims (humanity is neither unique nor total), the fact that humanity can still imagine itself as a unitary institution constructs it as a delusional imago. Our third maxim will therefore be negative ! It will ask that humanity -as a human reality- is not and never will be an self-creating institution. It cannot cause itself.

-The fourth and last maxim, however, will contain some positive aspect : it claims that humanity, as a profuse and diffuse reality, inaccessible to any objectification, can nevertheless act as an imaginary and distant but benevolent "presence", useful to evoke (as a fictional character) in order to be able to deploy the act of organizing political plurality.

Now let's turn to these two closely correlated features : the non-institutionability of real humanity and its capacity, as a fiction, to found the organization of Plurality.


The real humanity in action cannot be “constituted”, but its conversation can be established.


If humanity is never determined as such by any science or accounting discipline, or by any moral or behavioral approach; if it is neither a consistent singularity, nor a wholeness, and even less a civilian reference to be institutionalized, then, what is it? Is it just existing out of our minds, remaining far away from the stakes for which we invented it? Is it absolutely impossible to state anything of a palatable reality which corresponds to it, more or less?

A fair answer is probably that humanity indeed exists, provided that we mean by that very fact the actual day-to-day existence of all human beings, considered in all their practices and relationships to the material and living world, and to themselves. This too rich reality, that all kinds of reductions or insights distort too much or simply do not reach, can only be approached indirectly. We can only get some hints of it, through several features that “do not lie" (at least presumably).

-First, precisely, it represents a special area of "Reality", which Arendt (having sorted through the Nietzschean and Heideggerian themes) called "action", which always exceeds the categories by which it attempts to define the world and to dwell itself in it. Humanity, in this sense is the policy "in action" in which science is only one aspect, not less political than the others.
In this sense, humanity is not institutionalized because it is the very instance which”institutes” or “dis-institutes” everything or everybody and therefore exists necessarily “upstream” compared to any institution, including what it defines as “itself”. Thus, any self-representation by the full Reality including the act of representation (which is humanity itself) can only " miss" itself (as it does not capture itself but only an image of it).
-As an extension of the rule Action is imposing over all its definitions (its institutions), humanity focuses everything which, in nature, is made of potential irreducible to forecasting. We can subsume this in what Rousseau called the "perfectibility" of mankind but we may also include an ability to trigger the most unlikely catastrophe.
-Third, Humanity is strongly associated with the human singular person, through the ambivalent concept of "rights" (in the phrase : "human rights"). There is no reason to get rid of this ambivalence, since Humanity, as a Reality, only reflects the contradictions of the person, and vice versa. Indeed, each person finds in each other (and others) several means to support one or another of one's tendencies, while the latter, once socialized, resonate in harmony (or in conflict) with each destiny.
-It follows from this, fourthly, that humanity as a political act is nothing but a permanent encounter with itself as indeterminacy. Even the mundane indeterminacy comes down to a meeting with this "self "which is precisely the part of reality that is" in action ", that is to say, the quintessence of indeterminacy. In other words, Humanity in action is essentially meeting otherness, which reminds it that the act is done by several players simultaneously. This encounter with a radical otherness is the only contact that the real human beings can get with “Reality”, without absorbing it more or less completely in the functional illusion of its representations (as in Technology or Science1).
In other words, the intrinsic plurality of humanity as the source of actions is a plurality both outside and inside, in the sense that every player who reveals some antagonistic humanity "in action" belongs to it, as one of its parts .

It seems we can not say much more about Humanity, and above all that we cannot deduce from it any political platforms based on ontology. However, we see that, once clearly recognized and distinguished , a few features (like non-recursive action -that cannot be based on itself-, the unpredictable potential of human action, the encounter with exterior and interior otherness, etc.) may extend a very different "backdrop" for human action from that proposed by ordinary "fallacies" about “our kind”.




Samedi 26 Mai 2012 - 09:48
Samedi 26 Mai 2012 - 09:55
Denis Duclos
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Introduction aux sujets principaux/ Introduction to key topics | éléments pour une géo-anthropologie (geo-anthropology) | Théorie de la pluralité/Pluralist Theory | Séminaire " PLURALITE OU DYSTOPIE " (Présent et avenirs alternatifs de la société-monde) | Séminaire "Société-monde" de Comberouger | Eléments du séminaire anthropologie analytique/géoanthropologie (2000-2008) | L'actualité en anthropologie de la société-monde / updates on the anthropology of world-society | Géopolitique et géostratégie | Origines et dynamiques des cultures / origins and dynamics of cultures | Les conversations entre cultures / conversations between cultures | Psychisme et culture | Fonder l'anti-sociologie | Fonder les places du singulier et du familier en sciences humaines / setting up the bases of singularity and familiarity | L'actualité dans les sciences de l'homme et de la société / updates on human and social sciences | Analyses de la "grande crise contemporaine" | tueurs en série, tueurs-suicidants de masse : symptômes du Sociétal | Les "grandes peurs" :symptômes muets de désirs et de besoins humains | Histoire d'un chercheur / a researcher's story | Publications | direction de thèses | textes de D.Duclos traduits du français/ Denis Duclos' Texts translated from French (English, German, Italian, Spanish, | bibliographies des thèmes travaillés par Denis Duclos / bibliographies of subject matters studied by Denis Duclos | le programme de recherche de Denis Duclos au CNRS / Denis Duclos' research program at the CNRS | Projets de manifestations, séminaires, rencontres et colloques | Imaginary dialogues (which could have been real if anyone had responded) | questions et choix philosophiques | Prises de positions, alertes / stands, warnings,whistle blowing | Papers, réflexions, interventions, réactions, propositions... / papers, reflections, reactions, interventions, proposals | Thèmes spécifiques (ecologie, risque) / Specific subjects (ecology, risk) | Essais et Romans de Denis Duclos / Essays and Novels by D.Duclos | Rabelaisiâneries / Rabelaisian jest


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