Instead of reviewing Joel Kovel’s important book, “The Enemy of Nature” (Zed Press, 2003), I’m going to just include his description of ‘human nature’ from pages 100-102. He is a friend of Maria Mies, and shares much of her eco-feminist socialism, in case people need a reference point.
Here is the excerpt:
Teasing apart some of the threads of human nature, we find the following:
An ensemble of somatic elements, rapidly evolving owing to the marked selection advantage conferred by human nature: a relatively huge brain, elaborate voice box, opposable thumb, upright posture, and the like, providing the material substratum of specifically human ways of being.
Of special importance was the emergence of language as the specific human mode of communicating and representing the world. This involved ‘hard wiring’ of the evolving brain, coordination with the evolving speech apparatus, and, decisively, integration with evolving forms of sociality, the result being that the powers of individuals could be combined.
Human sociality implies society, as a kind of super-body, with a culture, transmissible through generations as a shared system of meanings. Society and its culture become the locus of that parallel, imagined universe that comprises the human order in its varying relationships to nature.
The boundary of the super-body with pre-existing nature is made by means of technology. Tools are extensions of the body into material nature, and of nature into the body. Technology is always socially determined and the bearer of meanings constructed through language. It is not a collection of tools but a fabric of social relations, certain threads of which are nature transformed into tools.
Human being entails a new order of subjectivity. All beings, we have observed, possess a potential interiority implied by their difference from other beings — the fact that they are some-thing and not others. Human nature appears as that development within which this interiority acquires internal structure through the particular forms taken by our consciousness under the influence of language. All creatures are present to each other. Language involves re-presentation: a sphere of interiority arises what is presented is presented back — re-presented — owing to its signification with language. Hence the real is, so to speak, doubled. The re-presenting is formative of the imaginative space of subjectivity. The imagined world is just a much a part of human ecology as are chemical messengers for dog ecology or moth ecology.
As this space of interior representation attains identity, it becomes a self. Its form is given by a degree of consciousness of itself, clothed by language with the words ‘I’ (as the subject phrase) and ‘me’ (as the object phrase). The radically augmented poweer of the human species is generated here, in the space where the world is created within the self, which then defines a social collectivity that acts upon the world.
An ensemble of relations is involved here — not just intelligence, and the practical skills, but desire as well, which conditions and drives the practical intelligence. This arises from the radical formelessness of human instinctual structures, which are reshaped according to culture. Correlated with his are processes of separations and individuation that occur out of the matrix of childhood, something no other species remotely undergoes.
The sociality of humans is unique — though neither more nor less so than that of bees, coyotes, baboons, dolphins, and so on. It cannot be reduced to that of any other soical animal, nomatter how many amusing parallels can be found. Tis is because of the centrality of the self in huma n existence, and also because this self is always and necessarily a social product, fomred through language and mutual recognition between the developing person and others. This foundation gives the human self a permanently dialectical quality — that is, it is formed in and lives through a set of contradictions that arise as the self is formed in mutual recognition of others, and later, in contradiction between individual interest and social bond. The mark of the other is always upon the self, and so are its vulnerability to loss and fear of solitude, facts that are to loom large in our relation to nature.
The uniqueness of human being andits relation to desire, and the dialectics of slef and recognition, means also that sexuality and gender play a uniquely powerful role in huyman existence compared with allother creatures. The signficance of this for the ecological crisis will be examined in the next chapter…