- Rethinking the Human Condition in the Ecological Collapse
In The Ends of the World, their book for 2017, Déborah Danowski and Eduardo Batalha Viveiros de Castro state that the currently flourishing metaphysical discussion on the relationship between worldliness and humankind has begun to echo the generalized disquiet about the contemporary ecological crisis (Danowski and Viveiros de Castro 2017, 3). In their view, this crisis calls for a radical reconsideration of the fundamental condition upon which human existence depends. In fact, what becomes apparent is that current global changes occur in the terrestrial macro-environment. It is "a deterioration of the environmental conditions that presided over human life during the Holocene" (Ibid., 2). To the extent that [End Page 177] changing terrestrial condition as a physical power overwhelms human beings, stirring and disrupting the human condition, we need to reconsider the terrestrial condition on which human living depends.
To date, the terrestrial condition has been considered as a stable background that is inhabited by humans. Accordingly, it has been understood in such a way that it is thought of as a fixed and objective and physical stage. Therefore, it is assumed to be controllable by human rational activity. Under this assumption, much of the terrestrial realm is subsumed into the abstract representation of space that is suitable for the construction of the residential area inside of which humans live.
However, the current intersection of the human world with the earthly reality makes us realize that the terrestrial realm becomes unstable. I am haunted by the question of how we reconstruct the basic idea of the human condition upon which human beings make their living. This issue has been raised for me in terms of the question regarding the sense of reality. It certainly concerns the question of the realness of the world that might not be confused with the merely virtual reality that is generated as a purely formal digital world. As is shown in The Matrix, for example, our sense of reality is plugged into the purely formal universe of the virtual world, which is severed from "the real-world."1
My main thesis is that our existential sense of reality is conditioned by a certain way of fabricating our world. It is how we perceive and understand our worldly reality that we inhabit. We immerse ourselves inside of the artificial world that is physically fabricated by various human activities.2 While it has been assumed that the world solely exists as the human life world, separated from the surrounding natural world, the planetary crisis of climate change, or global warming, makes us aware of the earthly world, apart from human beings, going beyond the human presence. The sense of the existence of the contemporary human is thus conditioned by the contradictory registers of the world.
To ask the question of how we reconstruct our worldly reality setting so as to give to us a different existential sense, I will begin with the consideration of Hannah Arendt's argument that the human condition may be understood in terms of the world of things. She considers the reality of the [End Page 178] human world itself as constructed to be in sustained contact with the terrestrial condition, the latter as an alterity that exceeds human measurement. Further, she implicitly considers that the human world is established on the basis of the earth as background. Yet the latter may be unstable. Additionally, she comprehends the human world as the world of things. Notwithstanding, Arendt theorizes the world of things as "things produced by human activities" in such a way that natural things that are outside and beyond the human lifeworld are disavowed. In her understanding, the human world as the world of things is the human artifice that is separated from (external) natural things (Arendt 1958, 9).
Contrary to this, I propose that we may consider the contemporary ecological crisis as causing the breakdown of the human world and its collision with terrestrial reality. At that moment, we are required to think of the human condition not solely as the human artifice. Rather, we may also consider it as the open place which is not only...