The Testimony of Nonhumans
This is more Latour, whose thinking fascinates me, but few others. You may want to be like them, and skip this posting.
His basic point is that nonhumans have had a big impact on humans. And we have been negligent in our treatment of them.
Here he is speaking of Boyle’s experiments on making a vacuum and in determining the weight of the Air. The Air, he says, was talking to us – and all we had to do was listen to it properly. But this required that we build machines to create a vacuum – which would allow the Air to speak. It was many years before this exotic machinery became part of a network that would allow us to predict the weather.
From page 23 of his We Have Never Been Modern, I have taken the liberty of simplifying his terminology:
Here we witness the intervention of a new actor: inert bodies, incapable of will and bias but capable of showing, signing, writing, and scribbling on laboratory instruments before trustworthy witnesses. These nonhumans, lacking souls, but endowed with meaning, are even more reliable than ordinary mortals, to whom will is attributed but who lack the capacity to indicate phenomena in a reliable way. In case of doubt, humans are better off appealing to nonhumans. Endowed with their new semiotic powers (the power to give meaning), the latter contribute to a new form of text…
This had a huge effect on politics (of all things) which was obsessed with the problem of the religious wars which were killing everyone at the time.
The result was the Modern World – which involved some strange beliefs we have never questioned adequately, because they seemed to work so well – because they made us affluent.