A volunteer gathers trash from the Pasig River in Manila, Philippines, June 2021 (CNS photo/Eloisa Lopez, Reuters).


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Adam Kirsch’s new book, The Revolt Against Humanity, is a very short volume concerned with a very simple yet “seemingly inconceivable” idea: “The end of humanity’s reign on Earth is imminent, and...we should welcome it.” The idea, according to Kirsch, unites two camps that would otherwise seem to be at odds with each other. On the one hand, there are the “Anthropocene antihumanists,” who see climate change as evidence of humanity’s crimes against nature, which can only be expiated by our extinction. On the other are the “transhumanists,” who see in technological progress evidence of nature’s crimes against humanity and our ability to transcend them. That is, developments in genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and robotics show that our inborn limitations are not parts of our nature to be cherished, but mere obstacles to be overcome on the way to a new, superior species.

Kirsch catalogues the central views espoused by each camp not in order to support or criticize them, but because he believes that their prophecies may be sufficiently influential to become self-fulfilling. That is, the idea that humanity’s extinction should be welcomed might motivate people to speed up the death of our species in one way or another. Climate change is already being cited as a reason to forgo having children, for example, and a fixation on technology that liberates us from human limits may come at the expense of projects that make ordinary life on this planet livable. Kirsch’s concern, then, is not whether the predictions of either Anthropocene antihumanists or transhumanists are correct, but whether they are convincing.

So, are they convincing? To start with the former, it is certainly hard to deny that climate change is underway and that human action is to blame for it (though that doesn’t stop some people from denying it). Floods, fires, and all manner of devastating weather events are becoming more and more common. At the same time, calls to reduce emissions, waste, and consumption seem to be met with derision and defeatism, and policy solutions lag far behind what’s needed. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that climate activists see humanity as both in danger and a source of danger. We are destroying ourselves and the planet, and not only are we doing little to stop it, we are seemingly only making things worse. So why try to save the planet for humanity? Why not instead try to save the planet from humanity?

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A major problem with this view—one Kirsch neglects—is that it conflates the destructiveness of particular humans with the destructiveness of humanity in general. Acknowledging that climate change is driven by human activity should not prevent us from identifying precisely which humans and activities are to blame. Plenty of people are concerned about climate change and have altered their behavior by, for example, using public transportation, recycling, or being more conscious about what they buy. Yet this individual behavior change is not sufficient because climate change is driven by the large-scale behavior of corporations and governments.

In other words, it is somewhat misleading to say we have entered the “Anthropocene” because anthropos is not as a whole to blame for climate change. Rather, in order to place the blame where it truly belongs, it would be more appropriate—as Jason W. Moore, Donna J. Haraway, and others have argued—to say we have entered the “Capitalocene.” Blaming humanity in general for climate change excuses those particular individuals and groups actually responsible. To put it another way, to see everyone as responsible is to see no one as responsible. Anthropocene antihumanism is thus a public-relations victory for the corporations and governments destroying the planet. They can maintain business as usual on the pretense that human nature itself is to blame for climate change and that there is little or nothing corporations or governments can or should do to stop it, since, after all, they’re only human.

Kirsch does not address these straightforward criticisms of Anthropocene antihumanism. This throws into doubt his claim that he is cataloguing their views to judge whether they are convincing and to explore their likely impact. Kirsch does briefly bring up the activist Greta Thunberg as a potential opponent of the nihilistic antihumanists, but he doesn’t consider her challenge in depth. He simply writes:

Thunberg’s speeches are calls to action, which implies that there are remedial actions to take and that people are capable of taking them. But for the most committed antihumanists of the Anthropocene, the corruption of our species goes deeper than today’s feckless governments and corporations. The state of the planet reveals that humanity is essentially a destroyer, and has been from the very beginning of its appearance on the planet.

To be sure, the goal of Kirsch’s book is to introduce, not refute, Anthropocene antihumanism, but a fuller introduction would present and evaluate basic criticisms and explore what resources, if any, antihumanism might have for responding to them. Absent this critical work, Kirsch makes these views look more convincing than they are.

Acknowledging that climate change is driven by human activity should not prevent us from identifying precisely which humans and activities are to blame.


This view that “humanity is essentially a destroyer” leads from Anthropocene antihumanism to Kirsch’s other main topic: transhumanism. The “corruption of our species” that makes our destruction as a result of climate change inevitable goes hand in hand with the transhumanist view that the human species must be replaced.

In his analysis of transhumanism, Kirsch’s presentation goes even further to make its adherents seem more convincing than they actually are. Some readers may be attracted to the antihumanist idea that our inherent corruption has led us to the brink of disaster but repelled by their embrace of extinction. Transhumanism seems to offer a more hopeful option. Instead of simply letting humanity go, transhumanists propose to replace us with something better. Their embrace of technology that can create a new, “posthuman” species makes them look like saviors compared to the Anthropocene antihumanists. As Kirsch writes, according to transhumanists, “It’s true that humanity has reached a point where our technological power threatens to destroy us. But if that power continues to grow at the same pace it has over the past two hundred years, it will become the means of our salvation.”

There are two big assumptions involved here that Kirsch helpfully—for transhumanism—fails to unpack. The first is that technological progress from the past to the present can be projected into the future. This makes predictions of the “posthuman” seem logical rather than ideological. The second is that replacement is “our salvation.” Transhumanists assume that technological progress will culminate in a new step in human evolution where the “posthuman” won’t really replace us but will instead improve us—extend our existence in a new and better form. In other words, transhumanism requires that we can remove our identities, conceived basically as “software,” from our bodies and simply move them onto new “hardware.”

Kirsch does point out that “transhumanism has an innate tendency to overpromise” and that “the big breakthroughs always seem to lie just over the horizon.” But he then immediately defends the prognostications of transhumanists by claiming that “they are extrapolating from developments that are undeniably real.”

Many of these “developments,” however, are both deniable and not real. For example, without citing evidence, Kirsch echoes transhumanist claims that “we know that the human mind has a completely material basis” and that “the brain itself is a computer.” This means that we can have “an uploaded mind” in the virtual reality of the “metaverse” where “we will need our physical bodies as only a substrate for our virtual ones.” Alternatively, through “laser porting,” we can “free our consciousness to explore the galaxy or even the universe at the speed of light.” Kirsch doesn’t treat these claims with enough skepticism.

Philosophers have long aimed to overcome this kind of simplistic Cartesian mind-body dualism. Even Descartes did not think the mind could actually be separated from the body. He denied that the relationship between mind and body is comparable to that between a sailor and a ship. Our minds cannot be reduced to our brains, and our brains cannot be reduced to computers. What has come to be known as “the hard problem of consciousness” (explaining how something entirely physical can possibly be conscious) remains unsolved. And it may remain so, despite the confidence of some scientists and philosophers. Similarly, the “hard problems” of the metaverse—that no one has legs, for example, or that no one seems to want to use it—may remain unsolved as well. Mark Zuckerberg, it seems, has already gotten bored and pivoted to something else.

Yet it must be recognized that whether or not these “developments” are currently real, or even possible, is less important than whether they sound plausible to investors. Even more tempting and persistent than mind-body dualism is the idea of immortality. And there is perhaps no one for whom it is more tempting than the aging billionaires nowhere near done spending their money and enjoying their lifestyles. Transhumanist tech companies promising digital immortality are, therefore, attractive investments. Of course, were such mind uploading to become possible, only the wealthiest would be able to afford it. Still, investment in digital immortality might eventually begin to sound reasonable, especially if Anthropocene antihumanism has made it seem futile to use that money to combat climate change instead.

Anthropocene antihumanism and transhumanism do not just involve a “revolt against humanity,” but a revolt against responsibility. Combined, they make the CEOs of tech companies look like our saviors rather than our destroyers. Those who have become wealthy by destroying the planet in the name of technological progress can use that destruction to justify their pursuit of further technological progress, which now appears as the only solution to the crisis they helped to cause. Kirsch suggests that “ultimately, transhumanists and antihumanists could converge on an ideal of extinction, with rapacious humanity making way for wiser virtual beings who tread more lightly on the planet,” but this vision reinforces the fantasy that tech companies are a solution to climate change rather than among the drivers of it. The creation of “virtual beings” requires massive data centers and massive amounts of electricity, and so the pursuit of transhumanism reinforces Anthropocene antihumanism, much like Anthropocene antihumanism reinforces transhumanism.

Fittingly, given the nihilism behind both Anthropocene antihumanism and transhumanism, Kirsch concludes by discussing Nietzsche. Nietzsche railed against the “ascetic priests” he thought offered nothing but cures to the diseases they were spreading. In the same way, he would have rejected both Anthropocene antihumanism and transhumanism for not only seeing humanity as fundamentally sick, but for offering solutions that can only serve to make humanity sicker. Kirsch worries that these views are convincing enough to have an impact on society whether or not they are correct, but too often he is unwilling to point out basic flaws in these views or the interests they serve. Anthropocene antihumanism and transhumanism are dangerous not only because they might stop people from caring about the destruction of the planet, but because they embolden the people actually destroying it. 

This piece was published as part of a symposium about The Revolt Against Humanity. For more of the symposium, read:

  • Gilbert Meilaender on birth, the expression of hope that defies posthuman ideologies
  • John F. Haught on how human thought is integral to, not separate from, the arc of the universe
  • Frank Pasquale on deflating the image of AI that underlies transhumanist fantasies

To see the full collection, click here. To listen to an interview with Adam Kirsch on the Commonweal Podcast, click here.

Published in the November 2023 issue: View Contents

Nolen Gertz is an assistant professor of applied philosophy at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. He is the author of Nihilism (MIT Press 2019), Nihilism and Technology (Rowman Littlefield International 2018), and The Philosophy of War and Exile (Palgrave 2015). His work has been translated into multiple languages and appeared in numerous academic journals as well as in international publications such as The Washington PostThe Atlantic, and Aeon.

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