Invasive Aliens: The Late-Modern Politics of Species Being
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Invasive Aliens:
The Late-Modern Politics of Species Being

it is now no longer news that some very thoughtful human scientists have been part of a "species turn," being moved by evidence of the intensifying "entanglement" of human with other forms of life in what has become known as the Anthropocene. The term refers to an epoch in which human action is having unprecedented effects on the earth's geology and ecosystems, dramatically accelerating the rate of species extinction. And while bioscientists hotly debate its provenance, it has proved to be enormously suggestive nonetheless, especially among philosophers, literati, and "environmental humanists." Ironically, while this vantage attributes almost godlike agency to humankind in transforming the planet, as metaphysic (or "ontology," to use the currently favored word) it has fostered an urge to move beyond the human per se,1 to view that species as merely one among many.

Whether in hope or in weary disdain for "the foolishness of human exceptionalism" (Haraway 2008, 244), there has arisen a brave new discourse about "nonhierarchical alliances" among human and animal life (Deleuze and Guattari 1987; see also Kirksey and Helmreich 2010), about "more than human publics" (Smart 2014, 3), and about what Anna Tsing lyrically terms "collaborative survival" at the "end of the world" (2015, 2). This impetus is sometimes referred to as "posthumanism," but it seems, at the same time, to deploy a decidedly anthropocentric language in its quest to extend subjectivity and agency—a kind of species-being—to "other kinds of living selves" (Kohn 2007, 4). [End Page 29]

My concern here is with a different, less rhapsodic process, one that exists in counterpoint to this "continuist" (see Golub 2014) or posthumanist move: the impulse to reinforce dominant-species control over natural resources and processes, at a time when received boundaries are dissolving, and territories—both intellectual and geographical—are being overrun. To be sure, the modernist understanding of the human, a la Lévi-Strauss, is born of the primal act of setting culture apart from nature, of projecting an independent domain of rule-governed action, for which nature provides totemic reinforcement. In similar fashion, the modern idea of the social sphere, according to the likes of Durkheim, was as a sui generis realm of collective existence, one emerging from a uniquely human form of collective consciousness, and resting on the capacity for boundary-making and categorical thought. Critics have noted that approaches that strive to "dissolve the boundary between human and nonhuman, to 'flatten' the social world as it were"—approaches like Latour's actor-network theory, for example—end up abetting the "erosion of the identities, however phantasmic they might be, that motivate action and mobilize solidarities" (Chagani 2014, 428). In the effort to avoid a putatively "spurious" privileging of human intention over material causality (Latour 2005, 76)—as if the two could ever be cleanly separated!—this approach makes it difficult to deal, in any principled manner, with inequities of influence in relations of humans and objects, or in generating priorities of value or critique.

It is my claim that a good deal of current popular activism, focused on the redrawing of boundaries, the building of walls, and the reemphasis of "primordial" species distinctions, springs from precisely the erosion of mobilizing identities at issue in this debate. Hence the sorts of popular crusades I focus on here, ones that struggle to recuperate a form of nature that can serve as sublime object from which to recover a politics after the philosopher Carl Schmitt, one that can restore the distinctions that set friend apart from enemy and thereby "relativize" and prioritize identities and enmities (cf. Lievens 2010). The recent worldwide preoccupation with invasive [End Page 30] plants, I suggest, serves such a purpose, enabling a displaced, supplemental politics of demarcation, prioritization, exclusion—and also of dehumanization—especially in situations of scarcity and deterritorialization. The rhetoric of alien nature and the strong forms of action it authorizes—what Joshua Comaroff calls "paramilitary gardening" (2012)—together strive to separate ever less clear-cut categories of native from alien, host from invader, life from death.

Schmitt was scandalously dismissive of the capacity of liberalism to yield a...