Ten Theses on Academia, Society, and the Planetary Future: A Counterpoint Manifesto
[For a German version of this manifesto, please click here.]
1. The so-called “Anthropocene” is the result of several thousand years of human thought-regimes that emphasize human domination and exceptionalism.
Current discourse on the “Anthropocene” is the result of a long history of thought-regimes that have established the idea of human superiority and domination. This process accelerated with the formation of new hegemonic orders of knowledge in sciences, philosophies, and economics from the seventeenth century onward. Genealogies of the “Anthropocene” can also be traced to religious ideas of human dominion and/or exceptionalism in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as certain forms of salvation from the world in the Indic traditions. All of these factors have contributed to the myth of human superiority.
2. We need to destabilize hegemonic power structures that keep the regime of human superiority in place.
It is important to criticize and destabilize the structures on which the idea of human superiority rests. Demonizing them, however, only feeds into the toxic discourse that we want to change. What we need are critical—contrapuntal—conversations that open new vistas and possibilities. In order to encourage such critical dialogue, we need to create spaces for these conversations in sciences, cultures, ethics, economics, and politics.
3. We have to actively engage with knowledge that tends to be marginalized by the emphasis on scientific epistemologies and methods.
In a concerted effort to understand all dimensions of planetary knowledge and to include them in our attempt to build sustainable futures, we have to access knowledge that the current emphasis on science and technology tends to sideline. These knowledge systems include indigenous traditions as well as knowledge conveyed by art, music, poetry, and ritual. We need to explore ways of communicating this knowledge, which often transcends the domain of language, and allow it to challenge and inspire science, academia, and society.
4. We need to recognize global entanglements and interdependent colonial structures.
Colonial structures are still operative around the globe, stabilizing a system that privileges a few at the cost of many. These structures have economic, political, cultural, social, and religious dimensions. Criticizing colonial discourse and the implications of orientalism, occidentalism, racism, gender inequalities, nationalisms, and other binary patterns of perception is important, but it can only be the first step. We need to recognize global entanglements and interdependence. We want to deconstruct systems of inequality and exploitation, but we want to take the people behind these systems with us into a different future that acknowledges the dependence of ‘hegemonic’ powers on the cultures they dominate, as well as on the more-than-human world that resists human domination.
5. We have always been entangled with all life on the planet.
Though the type of entanglement we experience within what we commonly call “globalization” is unique and extreme, we have always been entangled with the planetary community. Through various trade routes around the globe; through the emergence of what we call modern science (and its contributions from Greek, Indic, Chinese, Islamic, European, and indigenous cultures); through the expansion of Buddhism out of India and into China and Japan, Southeast Asia, and later the world; through the expansion of the Islamic world; through the processes of European colonization of India, Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Americas; and through the current era of globalization—through all of these processes and more, we have always been entangled. Furthermore, through cosmological, evolutionary, ecological, and other scientific narratives, we also know that our entanglements are not only human.
6. We need to queer narratives about Europe and make cultural alternatives visible in a contrapuntal way.
In the light of these global and intra-species entanglements, in order to unpack the complexities of European culture—often stereotyped as “Western”—it is not enough to ‘provincialize Europe.’ Queering Europe and its master narratives (which are often shared by people outside of Europe) is a better way to understand the ideological, philosophical, and cultural dynamics that have led to the contemporary situation. In a contrapuntal fashion, we need to make visible the perennial alternatives in European culture. Many of these were subdued after the rise of modern science and technology in the nineteenth century, but even within secular frames, these scientific, ethical, ontological, and religious alternatives continue to be driving forces of European and North American culture. Acknowledging them can help us formulate new programs for an inclusive and sustainable global future.
7. It is important to work with multiple open possibilities for the future.
Generating multiple possibilities for future becoming will be essential to building bridges between our current situation and viable paths toward a planetary future. Because the problems of an entangled world are so complex, we cannot know the full implications of our actions as we begin to implement solutions to contemporary ills. For this reason, we should not jump too quickly to single solutions; we need to work toward multiple solutions and outcomes without closing down possibilities.
8. Scholars need to make themselves heard as public interpreters of knowledge.
The university should be a space for taboo-free critical thinking. Against neoliberal tendencies that prioritize demand-driven research and the monetization of scholarly work, we need to insist on curiosity-driven research and the role of the university as an independent force and a critical conversation partner located at the center of society. This does not mean that scholars are at all independent of broader discourses, or that they do research only for its own sake; rather, scholars serve society by sharing their knowledge and critically responding to global developments. In order to do so, scholars need to leave their niches and accept their role as public interpreters of knowledge that is continually challenged and in need of reflective assessment.
9. We need to engage with activists and practitioners on social, political, and ecological issues.
Because any action in our (culturally, economically, politically, and ecologically) entangled world will have unintended consequences, we must pay close attention to how our actions fan out and affect different earth bodies in a variety of ways. It will not be enough to engage with academics; we must also engage with activists and others on the front lines of social and ecological issues in order to better assess both the positive and negative (potential) consequences of our actions on different bodies, both human and other-than-human.
10. We need to set up platforms that help make silenced and marginalized voices heard in a contrapuntal conversation.
If we want to establish a serious dialogue among different groups and parties, we need to institutionalize these contrapuntal conversations and provide them with platforms that allow underprivileged or silenced parties to become visible and heard. Both the conversation and its institutional form should be experimental, queer, open to failure, surprising, creative, and provocative. Counterpoint: Navigating Knowledge is a humble attempt to provide such a platform.
[For a German version of this manifesto, please click here.]
Whitney A. Bauman is Professor of Religious Studies, Florida International University, USA, with a specialization on religion and science, and religion and nature. He is one of the co-founders and co-directors of Counterpoint: Navigating Knowledge.
Kocku von Stuckrad is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Groningen (Netherlands), with a focus on the cultural history of religion, science, and philosophy in Europe. His forthcoming book is A Cultural History of the Soul in the Twentieth Century. He is one of the co-founders and co-directors of Counterpoint: Navigating Knowledge.
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