BAP’s specious use of “species”

In #14 of BAM, BAP says that he “refuses the word species.” Yet, on pg 42 he helps himself to the word “species” as if it is entirely unproblematic. We are faced with a dilemma: either BAP has foolishly contradicted himself OR he has intentionally left us a puzzle to figure out on our own. Since option one of the dilemma is boring, we will at least travel down a more exciting path by choosing option two. And as I will argue, we can discover an interesting claim about the character of nature if we travel down the second path.

Why does BAP reject “species”?

Let’s summarize just a bit of the material that leads up to #14. In a number of aphorisms preceding #13, BAP argues that evolutionary biology is wrong to assume that all animal behavior can be explained by an unconscious desire to survive and reproduce. Explanations of behavior on these grounds are becoming increasingly convoluted, not unlike explanations defending a geocentric universe became increasingly convoluted. To take only one example: how, in Xenophon’s Anabasis, can we explain the fact that the Chalybians killed themselves (mothers did this before fathers) and their children while the Greeks approached their citadel? Without doubt, their feat is rare, but it is not unheard of. A dogmatist might say that they had been “badly socialized” into forgetting their “natural” instincts or some such thing; but a frank appraisal of what is before our eyes would lead us to conclude that these people loved freedom and feared slavery–that they did not think life was worth living without being free. A point that BAP seems eminently concerned with in these sections is that we ought to free science from crippling assumptions that make us deny what is clear to our eyes and instincts.

Then in #13, BAP announces his by now famous claim about animals (including humans) wishing for the space required to develop their in-born capacities. That is, animals flourish in the moments when they are not pressed by the needs of survival in which they can master the space around them, physically, socially, and (I assume) mentally. BAP doesn’t lay this out as a scientific doctrine, but as a more likely explanation than Darwinism about why animals do what they do.

Now let’s turn to #14 and the claim about “species.” One of the most striking things about #14 is that it appears to be a somewhat silly or out of place rant where BAP says he doesn’t mind a man touching or searching him for stolen goods after he works out, but that he abhors people sitting close to him in a nearly empty restaurant. His explanation of his paradoxical attitude towards different invasions of his space is what immediately precedes his bold claim that he “refuses the word species.” The full sentence: “Different types even within the same groupings of animals–I refuse the word species–have very different needs of life.” I suspect that BAP has something like this in mind: our ordinary use of language leads us to believe that there are permanent and unchanging classes of beings. That a word signifies a stable species or class to which we can provide a articulation that describes the essential unifying characteristics that tie each particular case together to the universal case. That is, that we can describe what is essentially human (the universal case), and that it will apply to all particular cases of human beings. BAP deviates away from the thinking I just sketched. To give an example, he must think that the needs and capacities of a yeasty bug-man are completely at odds with the needs and capacities of a god-like man. A yeast man will cling on to mere life until he is 100 years old, dying alone without the use of his body and mind, surrounded by cold, uncaring doctors; a god-like man will die beautifully by the age of 30, leaving heroic deeds done on behalf of dear friends in his wake. These are extremes (though the former is infinitely more common than the latter) and there are obviously many types in between. But the point is this: how can we can we claim that the bug and the hero are part of the same species, “human being,” without somehow contradicting ourselves? In this way, it would appear that BAP is calling for a highly particularized science that does not take universal groupings as a key assumption when it tries to explain beings. That is, BAP seems to be arguing that the differences between beings that appear to belong to the same group are of much more importance than the similarities.

Why does BAP return to the use of “species”?

I think the way I have presented BAP’s claim in #14 is fairly convincing, or at least plausible and worthy of consideration. (I wonder if this claim about difference applies more to human beings than to other animals.) Assuming that BAP thinks the same, why does he then appear to contradict himself or abandon this claim about species later on by using the word “species” as if it is unproblematic?

In #23, BAP says, “Science rightly understood helps understand the types, the species, the true cleavages of nature.” Can we reconcile this more or less common usage of species with the claim in #14? I think so.

In the earlier passage, it looked like BAP was almost pointing toward a science that takes up each discrete or particular being by itself; a science that would try to explain what each “something” is, or why and how it does what it does. But, here, BAP suggests that such a science goes too far. Such a science points to (or at least points bad interpreters like the lesser students of Heidegger toward) toward a belief in authenticity or the teaching that every single human being is unique and therefore must turn only to guidance from his internal and “true” self. It goes without saying that the public teaching on authenticity we hear so much about today is an unmitigated disaster. BAP states the problem of authenticity in this way: “humans are all slightly different. From this they draw the conclusion that no common ‘way’ can suffice for all, but that the only authentic way for you can come from the needs of your inner self. Every adherence to an external code, religion, or ideology is inauthentic and represents essentially a form of mind control, your adopting the thoughts of another, inappropriate for your own metabolism, biology, peculiar conditions for growth or flourishing” (#23). Someone like Nietzsche might have to pay attention to how peculiar he is in comparison to us, but we must not forgot how much we are not like Nietzsche: “the fundamental fact of nature is inequality.” The forgetting of this fact and promotion of authenticity as a thing everyone ought to pursue leaves a large section of the population ashamed of turning to religion, tradition, and familial guidance. It is not shameful to submit if it is in keeping with the needs of your nature to do so. Submitting to one who is wiser or better is all that most of us can hope for.

So, perhaps with a view to some of the evils that attend TOO much particularism, BAP returns to the use of species. Even if there is a significant variety in nature, and even if new species emerge or others change, indicating a kind of flux or becoming within nature, there are still enough similarities among members of a group that last a long enough time to make it helpful to generalize about them, even if we must always keep our eyes open for the exception.

Conclusion: The 3rd use of “species”

As it happens, BAP’s 3rd use of species reconciles the two usages we have considered. In #33, BAP considers the domestication that modern life (but not only modern life) brings, and the ways in which it stifles man in his ascent. BAP then says, “How one responds to this…that is different. And the responses are various. Look at a litter of pups, of whatever species, some will be inquisitive, playful, seek to experiment, to push boundaries, to leave gaze of parents and the old, to conquer space; others will be far more docile and will lack curiosity.” Here we see that what is important are the differing reactions among the pups of any species. Indeed, it is perhaps these differing reactions that will constitute the differences of type within a species that make it hard to use the word in the first place.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s