Rules for the Human Zoo
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- see human zoo.
Rules For the Human Zoo is a speech delivered by Peter Sloterdijk on July 20 1999 on the occasion of a symposium dedicated to the philosophy of Heidegger. He had held that same speech two years before but nobody had taken offense. The speech is on biogenetics and its implications (think Gattaca). On September 9 1999 in Die Zeit, Peter Sloterdijk, following a public debate regarding his speech, declared critical theory as "dead".
Shortly after Sloterdijk conducted a symposium on philosophy and Heidegger, he stirred up controversy with his essay "Regeln für den Menschenpark" ("Rules for the Human Zoo"). In this text, Sloterdijk regards cultures and civilizations as "anthropogenic hothouses," installations for the cultivation of human beings; just as we have established wildlife preserves to protect certain animal species, so too ought we to adopt more deliberate policies to ensure the survival of Aristotle's zoon politikon. Breaking a German taboo on the discussion of genetic manipulation, Sloterdijk suggested that the advent of new genetic technologies required more forthright discussion and regulation of "bio-cultural" reproduction.
The core of the controversy was not only Sloterdijk’s ideas but also his use of the German words Züchtung (breeding, cultivation) and Selektion (selection), which recalled Nazi eugenic policies. Sloterdijk rejected the accusation of Nazism, which he considered alien to his historical context. Still, the paper started a controversy in which Sloterdijk was strongly criticized, both for his apparent usage of a fascist rhetoric to promote Plato’s vision of a government with absolute control over the population, and for committing a non-normative, simplistic reduction of the bioethical issue itself. This second criticism was based on the vagueness of Sloterdijk’s position on how exactly society would be affected by this genetic development. After the controversy multiplied positions both for and against him, Die Zeit published an open letter from Sloterdijk to Jürgen Habermas in which he vehemently accused Habermas of "criticizing behind his back" and espousing a view of humanism (i.e., critical theory) that Sloterdijk declared dead.