So it looks like my next project is up and running. With any luck it will come out with the Posthumanities Series with University of Minnesota Press next year. Right now I’m tentatively entitling it The Domestication of Humans. I’m conceiving it as a sort of theoretico-historico biography of the human race in the spirit of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. Inverting the way we commonly talk and think about domestication, the book will explore how grasses, grains, various animals such as wolves, cows, cats, goats, and microbes, as well as technologies have conspired to domesticate human beings for their own ends. Throughout North America and other parts of the world, for example, grass cultivated humans to be beings that love lawns and large grassy areas for their sports so that humans would spread grass all about the world, thereby getting itself replicated. Likewise, cows, in a sinister plot against other herd animals, cultivated humans to have a particular love of beef so that they might get replicated and spread across the globe, cornering the market on prime pieces of grazing land. The first club that seduced humans– as depicted in 2001: A Space Odyssey –was the initial salvo on the part of technology to advance itself throughout the solar system. Humans had to be cultivated in particular ways so as to enhance the ability of technology to replicate and cultivate itself. Something similar happened in the case of language and signs.
The whole point of such a project, of course, is to develop enhanced techniques for thinking in terms of flat ontology. When posing questions in the humanities our tendency is to think in terms of unilateral determination. We talk about humans structuring reality through their perceptions, concepts, and signs, treating the process of structuration as proceeding from the human towards a sort of gooey chaos that then gets structured by the human. Flat ontology calls for bilateral determination, where determination doesn’t simply run from human to world, but where all sorts of other entities structure humans and societies as well. Cultivating this sensibility requires, paradoxically enough, first surrendering bilateralization for a time and thinking unilaterally, but now in the form of a unilateralization that runs from all sorts of other nonhuman entities to humans and societies. In this way we begin to develop Latour’s “sociology of associations”, where the social is thought of in terms of associations or compositions in the process of being built, regardless of whether or not those associations involve humans. For example, in Latour’s sense a deep ocean volcanic vent teaming with life is a society, a field of associations, that exists in and through those associations (there aren’t any transcendent “social forces” that structure it), and that doesn’t involve humans in any way (at least until recently).