No Promises: Mass Extinction, Security and Intervention in the Anthropocene
The concept of ‘security’ is paradoxical. It acknowledges the fragility of life and promotes strategies of ‘survival’ to mitigate this condition. Yet it also presumes that human interventions can guarantee survival – that is, ensure that life and death ‘go on’. This belief in the power of human agency to shape the conditions of being is epitomized by Anthropocene security interventions, ranging from military invasions to conservation norms to massive geo-engineering projects. But does the concept of security have any meaning in the face of mass extinction? I argue that the temporal dimensions of mass extinction undercut the possibility of security in several ways. First, extinction is not simply an aggregation of deaths; it marks the cessation of both life and death. This undermines the biopolitical logics that contemporary security discourses, especially notions of ‘resilience’ that emphasise the persistence of life processes through time. Second, mass extinction is an what I call an ‘enormity’: a phenomenon that is massive in its spatio-temporal dimensions, and which has profound but largely unarticulated ethical significance. It vastly exceeds the frameworks of security – from the human calibrated dimensions of international ethics to the linear temporality of intervention. Third, mass extinction is a multi-temporal process of becoming that problematizes two aspects of security: inattention to the emergence and destruction of worlds; and the drive towards stability. In articulating these arguments, this paper suggests that mass extinction negates the possibility of security, and calls for modes of response more attuned to the time, space and enormity of extinction.
Audra Mitchell is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of York, UK. She is currently a visiting fellow in the School of Politics and International Relations, University of Edinburgh, and in 2015 she will be a visiting fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne. Audra has published widely in the areas of international security, philosophy and ethics, including her books International Intervention in a Secular Age: Re-enchanting Humanity? (Routledge, 2014), Lost in Transformation: Violent Peace and Peaceful Conflict in Northern Ireland (Palgrave, 2011), and (with Oliver Richmond) Hybrid Forms of Peace: From the Everyday to Postliberalism (Palgrave, 2011). She has published articles on a range of interdisciplinary subjects – from process thinking to cosmology to posthumanist conceptions of harm – in journals such as Security Dialogue, Review of International Studies, Millennium, Third World Quarterly, Alternatives and other journals. She also writes the blog ‘Worldly IR’ (www.wordlyir.wordpress.com). Audra is currently working on a major research project (funded by the Independent Social Research Foundation) exploring the ontology, ethics and security dimensions of mass extinction through the lens of posthumanist thought.