2020 — Interview

On Xeno-Solidarity and the Collective Struggle for Free Time

Interviewer: Sasha Shestakova, Anna Engelhardt

With: Helen Hester

Strelka Magazine

Hospitality toward difference—what I describe in my book as xeno-solidarity—is particularly important here. In the book, I call for an approach of outward-looking solidarity with the alien, the foreign, and the figure of the stranger, over restrictive alliance with the familiar, the similar, and the figure of the compatriot. The relationship between this position, abstract reasoning, and situated knowledge is not one I fully develop in the book, but I think the connections are profound and crucial.

The process of clearing critical space for neglected perspectives and alternative knowledge cannot take place without the operations of a self-transcending reason able to recognize that which lies beyond the immediate conditions of specific, situated consciousnesses. In other words, having the ability to engage in complex forms of abstract reasoning brings with it an ability to reach beyond the immediate realm of the same and into the xeno—to see things otherwise, and to be hospitable to difference. This has implications for the planetary perspective you mention in your question. Rather than seeing sapience as an invitation to species chauvinism, we can (and should) recognize that it is as crucial to any ability to deprioritize ourselves and our immediate concerns in favor of recognizing wider obligations to the environmental networks of which we are a part.

It is my contention that a capacity for abstract reasoning equates to particular possibilities for action, as well as to particular obligations and liabilities. It can be thought of as bestowing upon us a particular kind of responsibility, extending not only to other humans but to non-sapient forms of life and the ecologies that sustain us all as well—in other words, an ethical duty to enact xeno-solidarity. As a result of a capacity for complex and distributed cognition, those emerging from within our species are likely to be best placed to mitigate the manifold negative effects wrought by homo sapiens. By bringing hospitality and self-transcending reason into conversation in this manner, one starts to conceive of a possible philosophical approach to accepting an idea of reason and a general duty of care without assuming mastery, dominance, or custodianship. That which facilitates a recognition of our own particularity and situatedness is also that which enables us to see beyond these conditions and makes the notion of a “planetary perspective” possible.