Liberalism in the Anthropocene

In the more innocent time before the pandemic, we already knew that we were living in an era with a new name. We had entered the Anthropocene — a new epoch in which the chief forces shaping nature are the work of our own species. Some date the dawn of the Anthropocene to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, others to 1945 and the detonations at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While we may disagree about when this epoch began, we are beginning to understand, and not a moment too soon, its moral imperative. It requires that humans must assume responsibility for natural phenomena — the weather, sea levels, air quality, soil fertility, species survival, and viruses — that we once left in the hands of God or fate. This is a genuinely momentous alteration in our worldview. We have for centuries boasted of our mastery of nature, but the time has come for Prometheus to shoulder the responsibility that comes with mastery, and to make our mastery wiser. We may be lords and masters of nature, but as philosophers have been telling us, we must learn to master our mastery. It is dawning on us that this so-called mastery could kill us, and not only us. According to what we currently know, a virus leaps from a non-human to a human in a wet market in Wuhan: a tiny entity composed of RNA acid and protein jumps the gap between species, and within eight weeks, thanks to the malign interaction between the global economy and the global biosphere, the entire world was in lock-down, parents and grandparents were dying and the young adults, who came to majority in the new precarious economy, were wondering whether they would ever know economic security again. Naturally enough, the idea of the Anthropocene no longer

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