Policy: Space Travel and Defense

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  • Topic: Human, Human rights, Sovereignty
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Contention 1 — Anthropocentrism

Sovereignty belongs to the human and only the human—Nature and God are dead, giving the human the sole power to define and decide life. The unknowable and invisible extraterrestrial is the only remaining challenge to human sovereignty, existing at the limit of this metaphysic. Wendt and Duvall 2008 (Alexander Wendt, Professor of International Relations at the Ohio State University. Raymond Duvall, Professor of Political Sciences at the University of Minnesota. August 2008. Political Theory. “Sovereignty and the UFO.” http://ptx.sagepub.com/content/36/4/607.full.pdf+html JT) Few ideas today are as contested as sovereignty, in theory or in practice. In sovereignty theory scholars disagree about almost everything—what sovereignty is and where it resides, how it relates to law, whether it is divisible, how its subjects and objects are constituted, and whether it is being transformed in late modernity. These debates are mirrored in contemporary practice, where struggles for self-determination and territorial revisionism have generated among the bitterest conflicts in modern times. Throughout this contestation, however, one thing is taken for granted: sovereignty is the province of humans alone. Animals and Nature are assumed to lack the cognitive capacity and/or subjectivity to be sovereign; and while God might have ultimate sovereignty, even most religious fundamentalists grant that it is not exercised directly in the temporal world. When sovereignty is contested today, therefore, it is always and only among humans, horizontally so to speak, rather than vertically with Nature or God. In this way modern sovereignty is anthropocentric, or constituted and organized by reference to human beings alone.1 Humans live within physical constraints, but are solely responsible for deciding their norms and practices under those constraints. Despite the wide variety of institutional forms taken by sovereignty today, they are homologous in this fundamental respect. Anthropocentric sovereignty might seem necessary; after all, who else, besides humans, might rule? Nevertheless, historically sovereignty was less anthropocentric. For millennia Nature and the gods were thought to have causal powers and subjectivities that enabled them to share sovereignty with humans, if not exercise dominion outright.2 Authoritative belief in non-human sovereignties was given up only after long and bitter struggle about the “borders of the social world,” in which who/what could be sovereign depends on who/what should be included in society.3 In modernity God and Nature are excluded, although in this exclusion they are also reincluded as the domesticated Other. Thus, while no longer temporally sovereign, God is included today through people who are seen to speak on Her behalf. And while Nature has been disenchanted, stripped of its subjectivity, it is re-included as object in the human world. These inclusive exclusions, however, reinforce the assumption that humans alone can be sovereign. In this light anthropocentric sovereignty must be seen as a contingent historical achievement, not just a requirement of common sense. Indeed, it is a metaphysical achievement, since it is in anthropocentric terms that humans today understand their place in the physical world. Thus operates what Giorgio Agamben calls the “anthropological machine.”4 In some areas this metaphysics admittedly is contested. Suggestions of animal consciousness fuel calls for animal rights, for example, and advocates of “Intelligent Design” think God is necessary to explain Nature’s complexity. Yet, such challenges do not threaten the principle that sovereignty, the capacity to decide the norm and exception to it, must necessarily be human. Animals or Nature might deserve rights, but humans will decide that; and even Intelligent Designers do not claim that God exercises temporal sovereignty. With respect to sovereignty, at least, anthropocentrism is taken to be...
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