John Dunn

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Human Zoo

Thursday, 4 Nov 2021

Gauze fence on Dr John Dunn. Peter Sloterdijk’s point is that the humanistic tradition is the literary canon - within a nation state. Everyone in that state reads the same texts and community results.

But from World War 1, mass culture ruptured this humanistic tradition with radio, television and more lately the internet.

Thus his thesis that modern societies can produce their political and cultural synthesis only marginally through literary, letter-writing, humanistic media.

He makes another point that humanistic texts have a taming effect upon individuals, leading them away from barbarism.

How a person can become a true or tamed human being becomes unavoidably a media question.

We are now in a post-literate age, a post-humanistic age influenced by disinhibiting media, (akin to Roman bread & Circuses).

The book is giving way to the sports stadium, or the same spectacle on screen.

Sloterdijk turns to Heidegger for a philosophical bolstering of his position.

Heidegger wanted to replace humanism with an onto-anthropology.

Heidegger believed that the humanistic tradition led to the problems of the 20th C. i.e. the logocentric tradition that places man, the rational animal that understands the truth, at the centre of all things.

Instead of humanism, Heidegger argued, we need a tradition in which the human being listens to being and does not dictate to being. Man should be the shepherd of being.

The place where this happens is the Clearing


Heidegger wishes man to be more submissive/obedient than a mere good reader would be.

There can be no public canon of manifestations of Being. 

This demands a passive rather than an active frame of mind.

Sloterdijk points out that you cannot construct a community out of this attitude. It will result in a construction of monk-like separate individuals.

He moves on to Nietzsche for further clarification, particularly on the subject of human taming. Of the humanised Nietzsche wrote:


They are uniform, decent and kind among themselves, as grains of sand are uniform, conforming and decent with each other. Modestly accept a kindness--that means, submit! Basically they want only one thing: that no one harm them…

Individuals have been minimised by this dwarfing process.

This is the root of the basic conflict Nietzsche postulates for the future: the battle between those who wish to breed for minimisation and those who wish to breed for maximisation of human function, or as we might say, a battle between humanists and super-humanists.

We are rushing headlong into a void. The decline of the book is concomitant with the rise of the stadium and disinhibiting media.

Humans are regressing back to a state of barbarism in which books are no longer needed and are instead archived, to be the preserve of experts.

Who is controlling this human zoo? asks Sloterdijk. He does not even pretend to have an answer, merely ‘the realisation… that our lives are the confused answer to questions which were asked in places we have forgotten’.

© John Dunn.

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