How To Develop A Planetary Consciousness

Democracy itself will have to be reinvented in the age of planetary crises, the philosopher Achille Mbembe argues. We need a new generation of rights that do not depend on the nation-state.

Nils Gilman: In the last few years, you have been using the term “planetary” to describe the current state of world-scale interconnection. What do you mean by planetary? And what prompted this particular shift?

Achille Mbembe: For me, the planetary immediately evokes a connection between life and its futures on the one hand, and the Earth on the other hand. What comes to my mind is the biophysical organic material and mineral order — a geological magma-filled rock topped with the entangled orders of physical, organic phenomena such as plants, animals, minerals and so forth, as well as the artifacts and things and tools we have invented.

In other words, the planetary evokes what we call in French le vivant, which in English is something like “the living world.” Le vivant is, for me, the planetary in its multiplicity, in its animate and inanimate forms, as it undergoes its endless process of transformation — a transformation which, for me, has no Omega Point. It is not supposed to reach an apex or a moment of unification. I find it almost impossible to think of the planetary without thinking about life and about the Earth. I probably owe that to my interest in the animist metaphysics of precolonial Africa. That’s the archive I draw on to propose this kind of understanding of the planetary as so closely linked to life, which itself is an indivisible process.

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