The information age may have at last found its philosopher.
Peter Sloterdijk, the German author of A Critique of Cynical Reason, is
one of the most revolutionary thinkers to arise in a long while. Yet,
in the English-speaking world, he remains scarcely known.
For Sloterdijk, information in our era of networks and genome maps binds
man and his tools that transform nature into one operative system. This
"post-metaphysical" condition not only tends to abolish the
separation between the subjective person and "objective spirit,"
but the distinction between culture and nature as well.
One co-intelligent system now encompasses subject and object, culture
and nature. This information ecology gives man a new fused identity with
the other, with his world and his tools. He is no longer an identity apart.
Such a civilization of co-intelligent "anthropo-technology"
requires an entirely new perspective on ethics. For Sloterdijk, todays
passionate debates over mans domination of nature or technologys
domination of man miss the point because they are fearfully rooted in
the obsolete master-slave dichotomy that holds such a hallowed place in
Western philosophy. As Sloterdijk sees it, this dichotomy, based as it
was on the opposition between subject and object and between culture and
nature, needs to be updated: In our time, master and slave are dissolved
in the advance of intelligent technologies whose operability is non-dominating.
One can only talk about self-manipulation, not slavery; not about a master,
but about self-mastery.
Unleashing the basic force of nature against the people of Hiroshima may
have been possible prior to the information revolution when "allo-technology"
(the division between man and machine) still predominated. But, the anthropo-technology
of the post-metaphysical 21st century, Sloterdijk contends, holds out
a generous promise. In this system bound together by information feedback
and artificial intelligence, the preservationist instinct of the co-beneficiaries
of co-intelligence will limit the destructive acts of anthropo-technology
Between the lines, Sloterdijk even seems to suggest that the "astraying"
fate of alienated Being may at last fnd its dwelling place rejoined with
nature and the world.
Last May, Sloterdijk gave lectures at the Goethe Institute in Boston and
in Los Angeles that covered these topics. Some excerpts appear below.
Nathan Gardels, editor
CYBERBEING | The fundamental differentiation [in the metaphysical
period] of soul and thing, spirit and matter, subject and object, freedom
and technique cannot cope with entities that are by their very constitution
hybrids with a spiritual and material "component."
Cybernetics, as the theory and practice of intelligent machines, and modern
biology, as the study of system-environment-units, have forced the questions
of the old metaphysical divisions to be posed anew.
Here, the concept of objective spirit turns into the principle of information.
Information enters between thoughts and things as a third value, between
the pole of reflection and the pole of the thing, between spirit and matter.
Intelligent machineslike all artifices that are culturally createdeventually
also compel the recognition of "spirit." Reflection or thought
is infused into matter and remains there ready to be re-found and further
cultivated. Machines and artifices are thus memories or reflections turned
The statement "there is information" implies therefore that
there are systems; there are memories; there are cultures; there is artificial
intelligence. Even the sentence "there are genes" can only be
understood as the product of the new situation wherein the principle of
information is successfully transferred into the sphere of nature.
Such a reconceptualization of reality diminishes the interest in traditional
notions of theory, such as subject/object relation. Even the constellation
of "I" and "world" loses much of its luster, not to
mention the worn-out polarity of individual and society. But above all,
the metaphysical distinction between nature and culture withers. This
is because both sides of the distinction are only regional states of information
and its processing.
INFORMED MATERIAL | One of the deeper motivations behind the so-called
astrayness of humankind through history can be detected in the fact that
the agents of the metaphysical age have obviously approached being with
a false description. They divide being into the subjective and the objective,
and they put the soul, the self and the human on one side, and the thing,
the mechanism and the inhuman on the other. The practical application
of this distinction is called domination.
In the course of technological enlightenmentand this in fact takes
place by means of mechanical engineering and prostheticsit turns
out that this classification is untenable, because it ascribes to the
subject and the soul a superabundance of characteristics and capabilities
that in fact belong on the other side. At the same time it denies to things
and materials an abundance of characteristics that upon closer look they
in fact do possess. If these traditional errors are corrected respectively,
a radically new view of cultural and natural objects comes about.
One begins to understand that "informed material," or the higher
mechanism, performs parasubjectively. These performances can include the
appearance of planning intelligence, capability of dialogue, spontaneity
MAKING HUMANS | The most spectacular encroachment of the mechanical into
the subjective reveals itself in genetic technologies, for they draw a
broad expanse of physical preconditions of the self into the span of artificial
manipulations. This evokes the popular, fantastic image of a foreseeable
future in which whole "humans" can be "made."
In such fantasies, primitive biologisms compete with helpless humanisms
and theologisms, and it is impossible to detect in the proponents of such
opinions a trace of insight into the evolutionary conditions of anthropogenesis.
This invasion into the imaginary field of the "subject" or the
"person" is beset with fears. The basis for this is to be sought
in the fact that even on the side of the so-called object, in the fundamental
material structure of life, as represented by the genes, nothing "material"
in the sense of the old culture/nature divide is to be found any more.
Rather one finds the purest form of information, for genes are nothing
but "commands" for the synthesis of protein molecules.
It is clear that the traditionally conceived personal subject no longer
recovers in these processes any of that to which it was ontologically
accustomedneither the side of the self, as it traditionally presented
itself, nor the side of the thing, as it was known.
Therefore it seems to the subject as if he/she were confronted with anti-humanisms
hour of truth: Instead of making the subjects own home and integrating
the external into the self, the self is being sunk into the material and
external where he/she will be lost.
Naturally this horrifying vision is also only an hysterical illusion that
stems from the fundamentally false metaphysical classification of being.
MASTER VS. SLAVE | The anti-technological hysteria that holds large
parts of the Western world in its grip is a product of the decomposition
of metaphysics, for it clings to false classifications of being in order
to revolt against processes in which these classifications are overcome.
It is reactionary in the essential sense of the word, because it expresses
the ressentiment of those who cling to outdated dichotomies and reject
complexities they fail to understand.
This applies above all to the habits of the critique of power, which are
still unconsciously motivated by metaphysics. In the metaphysical schema,
the division of being into subject and object is mirrored in the difference
between master and slave, as well as that between labor and capital. Thus
within this disposition, critique of power can only be articulated as
resistance of the suppressed object-slave-material-side against the subject-master-worker-side.
But since information systems reign, this opposition no longer makes sense
and is developing ever more into a phantom conflict. This hysteria is
indeed the search for a master to stand up against. But the master as
an effect is in the process of dissolving, and more than anything else
lives on as the postulate of the slave fixated on rebellionas the
historicized Left or a humanism that is ready for the museum.
A living left-wing principle would need to constantly reinvent itself
through creative dissidence. Homo humanus can only maintain itself in
poetic resistance against metaphysical reflexes of humanolatry.
AUTOEVOLUTION | If there is man, then that is because a technology
has made him evolve out of the prehuman. It is that which authentically
brings about humans. Therefore humans encounter nothing strange when they
expose themselves to further creation and manipulation, and they do nothing
perverse when they change themselves autotechnologically, given that such
interventions and assistance happen on such a high level of insight into
the biological and social nature of man that they become effective as
authentic, intelligent and successful coproductions with evolutionary
NONDOMINANT TECH | We are witnessing that, with intelligent technologies,
a non-dominant form of operativity is emerging which I call anthropo-technology.
By its very nature, it cannot desire anything different from what the
"things themselves" are or can become of their own accord. The
"materials" are now conceived in accordance with their own stubbornness
into operations with respect to their maximum aptitude.
With this they stop being what is traditionally referred to as "raw
material," which can only be found where raw subjectscall them
humanists or other egoistsapply raw technologies to them.
Anthropo-technology is characterized by cooperation rather than by domination,
even in asymmetrical relationships. Outstanding scientists of the present
express similar ideas with the metaphor of "a dialogue with nature."
TRUMANS OF GENETICS | The problem of evil no longer presents itself
so much as the will to enslave things and humans, but as the will to disadvantage
the other in cognitive competition.
It is not a coincidental observation that classical allotechnology, in
which man dominated through the machine, was linked with mistrust as a
form of thought and with cryptological rationality and its psychological
Indeed, the emergence of a post-paranoid culture of reason is on the evolutionary
agenda of civilizations that are highly advanced both technologically
and communicatively, but it is delayed by the powerful inertia of the
raw material age and its custom of rape in dealing with beings as such.
The assumption that the suspicious mood will remain the realistic one
in the future is most strongly confirmed by the actions of US strategists,
who, in August of 1945,did not refrain from employing the most extreme
allotechnological weapon, the atom bomb, directly against humans.
In doing this, they provided an epochal argument for the suspicion against
the alliance between the highest technology and the most lowly subjectivity.
Due to Hiroshima, humans have reason to believe that the most advanced
technologies are uninhibited and reason to distrust the Oppenheimers and
Trumans of genetics.
RELICS OF DOMINATION | In the inter-intelligently condensed net-world,
masters and rapists have hardly any long-term chances of success left,
while cooperators, promoters and enrichers ft into more numerous slots.
After the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, it becomes thinkable
that the relics of domination will be abolished in the 21st and 22nd century.
But nobody believes this can happen without intense conflicts. Certainly,
it cannot be ruled out that the master as reactionary might once more
join forces with the mass ressentiments to form a new kind of fascism.
But the failure of such revolutionary reactions is just as predictable
as their rise.
THE TRAIL OF TRUTH | Since Hegel, one of the great intuitions of
modern European thought is that there exists a connection between truth
and fate implying something more than a metaphysical resort to the eternal.
These intuitions are prefigured in the schemata of Christian eschatology.
Hegel sums these up in his attempt to provide for the spirit a path that
is modeled on the old-European scheme in which the suns course is
traced from Orient to Occident. It seemed as if the Hegelian spirit managed
to enter into a second eternity that follows its arrival in the distant
twilit west. The highest state of Hegelianism is the spirits complete
grasp of itself: its geopolitical symbol is the farthest extreme of the
West. In it, the being-together-with-itself would attain its final form,
and thereafter the only remaining task would be to round off some uncomfortable
provinces on the fringe of the inhabited world. In essence there would
already be validity to the statement: everything dwells. And where? In
the inevitable West End of history.
When Michel Houellebeq, at the end of his novel, Elementary Particles,
has his hero, the depressed inventor of biological immortality, seek death
in the Irish Atlantic under a "shifting, gentle light," this
is nothing more than an appropriate commentary on Hegel. When all is achieved,
one should sink into the ocean. In this twilight of the world, "astrayness"
[alienation] seems to come to an end.
Heidegger, however, had he had narrative intentions, would have had his
hero build a hut in the hills and there wait to see how the story goes
on. To him it was evident that astrayness continues. A total coming-to-oneself
does not take place. Rather everything suggests that the revelation of
man through history and technology is about to enter into an age of even
greater tensions and blindings.
In Heideggers view Hegel was right when he provided truth with a
history, but he was not right in having it run from Ionia to Jena, just
as he was not right in depicting it as a sun rising and setting.
Heidegger, confronted with the state of affairs in 1946, does not consider
the history of truth to be the course of the sun, but rather the burning
of a conceptual fuse running from Athens to Hiroshima and, as we
see, yet further into the laboratories of current gene technology and
beyond to who knows where.
In this advancing increase of technological knowledge and ability, man
reveals himself to himself as the maker of suns and the maker of life,
thus forcing himself into a position which he must address, whether that
which he does and can do is actually himself and whether in this activity
he is together-with-himself.
In the face of its results, there is no denying that this history, insofar
as it is a success-story of able knowledge and knowing ability, must also
be read as a history of truth and its mastery by man. However, this is
only as a partial history of truth, a truth that is always only fragmentarily
grasped by man and his operations.
When over the desert of New Mexico the atomic explosion flashed, there
was no human coming-to-oneself involved. At any rate, Oppenheimer had
enough chutzpah to call the frst nuclear test Trinity; when Dolly bleats,
the spirit is not together-with-itself familiarly, but when its producers
think of their own, its in the form of patents.
Since history makes no preparations to close the circle, both they and
the technological society remain caught up in a movement which Heidegger
has labeled with the term "astrayness." Going astray characterizes
the historical form in which an existence moves that is not together with
itself and that is working its way through a world it does not possess,
be it with the aim of coming home or in the mode of the never-ending journey
Both in directed and undirected astrayness, homelessness is the fundamental
state; misapprehensions in the apprehension of the self are the rule.
However since astrayness is presented by Heidegger as an epochal constant,
the question is unavoidable, whether it too, seeming to be linked by fate
to metaphysics, would not have to undergo a profound change following
the subsiding and "decomposition" of metaphysics.
The enormous increases in knowledge and ability of modern mankind force
the question of whether the diagnosis of astrayness can apply to them
in the same manner today as to the times before the development of modern
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