Kainos Anthropos: Existential Precarity and Human Universality in the Earth System Anthropocene

New Formations - ISSN 0950-2378
Volume 2022 Number 107 & 108

Kainos Anthropos: Existential Precarity and Human Universality in the Earth System Anthropocene
Daniel Zimmer pages 171-190
DOI: 10.3898/NewF:107-8.10.2022


One of the most consistent critiques of the Anthropocene among humanities scholars has been that its putative Anthropos ignores difference to encompass all human beings universally in terms of their essential human nature. Trace the conceptual history of the term, however, and it quickly becomes clear that the Anthropos of the Anthropocene takes shape as not simply a sly return of Enlightenment Man to be dismantled once more by academic antihumanists, but something far stranger. What follows works backwards from Paul Crutzen’s public introduction of the term in 2000, through the Earth System science of the 1980s and the systems ecology of the 1960s, to contend that the conceptual precursors of the Anthropocene arose in the crucible of the 1950s. It was there that the novel prospect of ‘universal death’ by thermonuclear weapons fused with the relational ontology of cybernetics to produce a paradigmatically distinct approach of conceiving human beings in their totality – the ‘Kainos Anthropos’. Born under the shadow of its own extinction, the Kainos Anthropos does not seek to define what all human beings essentially are (as Enlightenment Man did), but to account for what it is that all human beings collectively do. Rather than claim that this is inherently better or worse, the point is that it is categorically different, introducing new kind of theoretical challenges and opportunities that warrant being treated on their own terms rather than reflexively dismissed as yet another form of spurious universalism.

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To cite this article
Daniel Zimmer (2022) Kainos Anthropos: Existential Precarity and Human Universality in the Earth System Anthropocene, New Formations, 2022(107 & 108 ), 171-190. https://doi.org/10.3898/NewF:107-8.10.2022

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