In a world increasingly dominated by technology and rational thought, the deep sense of connection between humans, their environment, and other life forms has been weakened, highlighting the need for re-unifying and re-enchanting our interconnectedness. Donna Haraway, a prominent scholar in science and technology studies, has sought to redefine our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world by urging us to adopt the term “humus” in place of “human.” This essay will delve into the 19th-century origins of humus, explore Haraway’s use and recommendation of the term, and address the much-needed secular re-enchantment of nature, with a nod to Max Weber‘s concept of disenchantment.
The concept of humus can be traced back to the 19th century, when scientists and naturalists began to study the composition of soil and its role in supporting life. Soil, which is formed by the decomposition of organic matter such as plant and animal residues, was found to be a complex and dynamic ecosystem that supports plant growth and sustains diverse living organisms. Humus, the organic component of soil, plays a crucial role in this process, as it provides nutrients, enhances water retention, and improves soil structure. The term “humus” is derived from the Latin word for “earth” or “ground,” emphasizing its connection to the natural world.
In her 2016 book, “Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene,” Donna Haraway builds upon the ecological significance of humus and advocates for its adoption as a new way of understanding our relationship with the environment. By embracing the term “humus,” Haraway aims to inspire a sense of awe for the interconnectedness of all life on Earth and to instill a renewed appreciation for the intricate ecological systems that sustain us. This perspective challenges the anthropocentric view that humans are separate from or superior to the natural world, encouraging us to see ourselves as participants in a larger ecological community.
Haraway’s proposal is particularly relevant in the context of the ongoing environmental crisis, as it offers a radical departure from the dominant narratives that have shaped our understanding of nature and our place within it. By adopting the term “humus,” we are reminded of our inextricable connection to the earth and its ecosystems, which calls for a more responsible and sustainable way of living. This shift in perspective aligns with the broader movement towards a secular re-enchantment of nature, which seeks to restore a sense of wonder and reverence for the natural world in a time when scientific rationality has often led to disenchantment and exploitation.
The idea of secular re-enchantment is rooted in the work of sociologist Max Weber, who coined the term “disenchantment” (Entzauberung) to describe the process by which the world has been stripped of its mystery and magic as a result of the rise of modern science and rationality. According to Weber, the modern era is characterized by a loss of religious and spiritual meaning, which has led to a growing sense of alienation from the natural world. In response to this disenchantment, there has been a growing call for a re-enchantment of nature that transcends individualistic and partisan religious systems and cultivates a sense of awe and wonder for the world around us all.
Haraway’s use of humus as a way to reframe our relationship with nature can be seen as a powerful form of secular re-enchantment. By urging us to recognize our interconnectedness with the environment, Haraway’s vision fosters a deeper appreciation for the complexity and beauty of the natural world. This perspective not only challenges the anthropocentric view that has contributed to environmental degradation but also promotes a sense of responsibility for the welfare of the planet and its inhabitants.
Incorporating the concept of humus into our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world also has profound implications for how we relate to other species. Haraway argues that by acknowledging our kinship with the non-human world, we can begin to forge new relationships based on empathy, respect, and mutual care. This vision of “making kin” extends beyond the human realm, fostering a more inclusive and compassionate view of the ecological community that we share. By embracing our humus nature, we are encouraged to rethink our hierarchies, challenge our assumptions, and strive for more equitable and just relationships with the beings that inhabit our planet.
Haraway’s vision of a humus-based identity has the potential to inspire a revolutionary shift in our collective consciousness. By grounding ourselves in the awe-inspiring reality of our interconnectedness, we can begin to imagine new ways of living that are more sustainable, equitable, and compassionate. This transformative potential is evident in the growing number of movements and initiatives that seek to promote ecological stewardship, foster interspecies empathy, and challenge the anthropocentric paradigms that have driven environmental degradation.
In conclusion, Donna Haraway’s use and recommendation of humus as a way to redefine our relationship with the environment offers a powerful antidote to the disenchantment and alienation that have characterized the modern era. By embracing our humus nature and fostering a sense of awe and wonder for the intricate ecological systems that support life on Earth, we can begin to cultivate a re-enchantment of nature that transcends traditional religiosity and challenges anthropocentric views. This shift in perspective has the potential to inspire more responsible, sustainable, and compassionate ways of living, grounded in an understanding of our mutual dependence on the natural world.
Building upon the 19th-century origins of humus, Haraway’s vision invites us to reconsider our place in the ecological community and forge new relationships based on empathy, respect, and mutual care. As we confront the ongoing environmental crisis and the urgent need for transformative change, the adoption of humus as a guiding principle offers a vital pathway towards a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable future.
In the spirit of Max Weber’s critique of disenchantment, Haraway’s proposal provides a compelling framework for the secular re-enchantment of nature, rekindling our sense of awe and wonder for the world around us. By recognizing our interconnectedness with the environment and embracing our humus identity, we can challenge the dominant narratives that have driven environmental degradation and work towards a more harmonious and just relationship with the planet and its inhabitants.
Ultimately, the adoption of humus as a way to understand ourselves and our place in the world has the potential to inspire a profound shift in our collective consciousness, fostering a renewed sense of responsibility and commitment to the welfare of the Earth and its diverse inhabitants. In an era marked by environmental crisis and growing alienation from the natural world, Haraway’s vision offers a much-needed beacon of hope, reminding us of the awe-inspiring interconnectedness that unites us all and urging us to stay with the trouble as we work towards a more sustainable and compassionate future.