There are at least two clearly distinct ways of interpreting the word “end” in William Faulkner’s statement “I decline to accept the end of man.”
“End” could mean something like the downfall, obsolescence, or ruin of man. This would certainly be something worth rejecting.
Alternatively, “end” could be interpreted as a teleological projection of the developmental trajectory of mankind. In this far more interesting frame, Faulkner could be declining to accept the limitations of our cultural imagination.
It is this second sense of “the end of man” that I find so fascinating. Today one can find immensely variegated projections of mankind’s proper role on the planet.
Environmental indicators have produced a growing awareness that the modernist view of man’s end being conquest of nature and cessation of strife took precedence over the ethical aspiration to be good stewards of nature, leading western civilization to ignore the ecological impacts of its machinations.
Many civil society groups and religious organizations are beginning to speak out about the dangers of emerging technologies such as synthetic biology, arguing in effect that care must be taken to counteract mankind’s tendency to irreversibly alter the natural order through forms of ethical transgression. Often these groups would like to confine scientific experimentation to the laboratory. However, the logistical needs of an increasing human population combined with economic incentives provide an impetus to bring successful experiments beyond the laboratory, into the marketplace, into earth’s ecosystems.
Varieties of transhumanists, Singularitarians, posthumanists and others are beginning to gain attention with arguments that the end of man lay in some form of technology-enabled transcendence of the limitations of evolutionary biology. Developments in the GRIN technologies — genetics, robotics, information technology, nanotechnology — contribute a sense of urgency to such questions.
I could go on, discussing the competing values and visions of mankind’s “end” at work in thousands of unique cultural milieus, from the Horn of Africa to Taiwan and Teleuse.
It is the Prevail Project’s desire to build capacity for hosting the global conversation about the end of man. There are many reasons for declining to accept the end of man. If mankind is to thrive, overcome, and indeed continue, whither culture? Whither the body? What can be expected of man?
In developing a clear view of our ambition to become a digital clearinghouse for this capacity building, The Prevail Project has been forced to face its own contemporary limitations, from resource scarcity to the practical difficulties of developing a solid network of visionary content contributors. We are working to address these limitations in hopes of returning anew in the near future.
The Prevail Project lives.