Nietzsche claimed that his time was that of the death of God. Maybe we should characterize our present as the time of the coming of the Earth. More precisely, our time might be that in which the Earth is making its appearance on the stage of history. This, at least, is what a certain number of scholars have recently claimed, including Chakrabarty, in his already classic article on the Anthropocene, Stengers and Latour in their respective appeals to Lovelock’s Gaia, and Viveiros de Castro in a recent article with the Brazilian philosopher Déborah Danowski (among others). I will support their claim. However, it is also my contention, as I think it is theirs, that we can only become prepared to interact with this new actor if we accept that it raises considerable ontological challenges. It is not only a new being; it is also a new kind of being.
Many have already argued that this present requires us to overcome the distinction between nature and culture, reality and representation, constructivism and realism, being and sign, world and language. I will support this idea too, but from a particular line of argumentation: I will argue that getting ready for the Earth requires us to accept a form of radical ontological pluralism, specifically of the kind introduced by what has been called the “ontological turn” in the discipline of anthropology. This movement, as is well-known, begins with a simple observation: the very notion of “culture” is self-relativizing in the sense that it is itself attached to a particular “culture.” Consequently, anthropological relativization must not pluralize and compare “cultures,” but rather “ontologies,” one such ontology being characterized by the distinction between nature and culture. According to such a pluralism, to be is ultimately to be an alternative of what could have been instead, or to be situated at the intersection of various lines of virtual becoming-other. I will thus argue that the redefinition of anthropology as comparative ontology defended by a certain number of anthropologists today (Viveiros de Castro, Descola, Latour, Strathern, Ingold, Holbraad, etc.) is exactly the sort of theory we need to approach the Earth that is coming, on the condition that it is slightly redefined in light of the new concept of the Earth.
My point here will be that this new actor that we can call the Earth is at the same time unique—there is no planet B, as the activists rightly say—but nonetheless not unified. The oneness of the Earth is not separable from the diverging ways this oneness is made on each locality of the Earth (and a locality will have to be defined as such a diverging construction of globality itself). This situation, I will claim, is the new situation in which anthropology, understood (following Viveiros de Castro) as the art of controlled equivocation, is yet again needed, as it was in the past as a counter-poison to colonization. And it is from there that we will understand what sort of ontological turn in anthropology is indeed necessary at the age of the coming of the Earth. If you liked the ontological turn in anthropology, you will love the geological turn!