How Alexander von Humboldt Is Like an Anime Sadist

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How Alexander von Humboldt Is Like an Anime Sadist:
An Observation about Climate Change and Non-Eurocentric Voices (with Apologies to Alexander)

Ai no Kusabi is a well-known 1980s-90s boys love light novel/anime by Rieko Yoshihara set in a hierarchical dystopian future in which the elite “Blondie” Iason sexually enslaves “mongrel” Riki, separating him from his previous boyfriend and friends. The ruling Blondies are artificially constructed superhumans typified by cold, emotionless behavior. Iason radically departs from his culture’s laws and norms by experiencing sexual passion for Riki and, eventually, something the story depicts as love, albeit of an unhealthy, primitive variety.

In the course of revising my essay for the upcoming anthology on Jeff VanderMeer’s science fiction, Surreal Entanglements, I recently read the short essay, “Living in the Anthropocene: Toward a New Global Ethos” by Paul J. Crutzen, who coined the term “Anthropocene,” and journalist Christian Schwägerl. The essay makes several good points about limiting consumption and leveraging technology to combat climate change, but I take issue with its overarching thesis that “humans [are] masters of planet Earth” and must take responsibility for making the Earth what we want it to be. I’m not opposed to taking responsibility; it’s the mastery, I question. Our current crisis suggests to me that we have no idea how to “master” the Earth; indeed, it is running quite out of our control. And even if we could “master” it, why ever would we want a master-slave relationship to define our experience of living on Earth?

In the course of making their argument, Crutzen and Schwärgerl invoke the concept of a “world organism,” a phrase they attribute to the renowned 18th- and 19th-century naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, not, they say, to some “esoteric Gaia guru.” In other words, Humboldt, unlike those hippies, is a credible authority. They observe, “Humboldt wanted us to see how deeply interlinked our lives are with the richness of nature….” I have enormous regard for Humboldt. I hold him to be one of the greatest Renaissance men Western Civilization has produced and am gratified to be an alumna of the California State University that bears his name.

But invoking Humboldt—to the explicit exclusion of other “gurus”—as one’s central authority on the interconnectedness of humanity with the rest of the world is like making Iason one’s authority on love. Humboldt was as far ahead of dominant Western Civilization in understanding ecological relatedness as Iason is ahead of his fellow Blondies in comprehending the human heart. But every single character in Ai no Kusabi who is not a Blondie comprehends love an order of magnitude better than Iason. The vast majority of indigenous societies, and, indeed many traditions around the world, have understood for a very long time that human beings are fundamentally interlinked with the rest of the world. And very many have understood it and lived far better and longer than Eurocentric society. We need to let them, people such as Robin Wall Kimmerer, be our authorities on the subject. They might teach us about the folly of our fantasies of mastery over everything else.

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About the author

Arwen Spicer
Arwen Spicer

Arwen Spicer is a science fiction writer and writing teacher raised in the San Fransciso Bay Area, and Northern California will hold her heart forever, even if it turns into a desert. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on ecology in utopian science fiction and is an educator on the concept of workable utopias. Her novel The Hour before Morning was hailed as “A carefully paced, rewarding sci-fi debut” by Kirkus Indie.

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Arwen Spicer

Arwen Spicer

Arwen Spicer is a science fiction writer and writing teacher raised in the San Fransciso Bay Area, and Northern California will hold her heart forever, even if it turns into a desert. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on ecology in utopian science fiction and is an educator on the concept of workable utopias. Her novel The Hour before Morning was hailed as “A carefully paced, rewarding sci-fi debut” by Kirkus Indie.

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