Humans And Lemmings

translation from Italian of a recent essay by Giorgio Agamben.

Original in Italian here:

Lemmings are small rodents, about 15 centimeters long, living in the tundras of northern Europe and Asia. This species has the peculiarity of suddenly undertaking for no apparent reason collective migrations that end with a mass suicide in the waters of the sea. The enigma that this behavior has placed to the zoologists is so singular that they, after having tried to supply explanations that have turned out insufficient, have preferred to remove it. But one of the most lucid minds of the twentieth century, Primo Levi, questioned himself about the phenomenon and provided a convincing interpretation. We take it for granted that all living beings want to go on living: in the lemmings, for some reason, this will has failed and the instinct that pushed them to live has turned into an instinct of death.

I believe that something similar is happening today to another species of living beings, the one we call homo sapiens. Collective suicide happens here — as befits a species that has substituted language for instinct and a series of devices outside the body for an endosomatic impulse — in a contrived and complicated way, but the result may be the same. Human beings cannot live unless they give themselves reasons and justifications for their lives, which in every age have taken the form of religions, myths, political faiths, philosophies and ideals of every kind. These justifications seem today — at least in the richest and most technologized part of humanity — to have fallen away, and men find themselves perhaps for the first time reduced to their pure biological survival, which, it seems, they prove incapable of accepting. Only this can explain why, instead of assuming the simple, amiable fact of living alongside one another, they have felt the need to institute an implacable health terror, in which life without any justification by ideals is threatened and punished at every moment by disease and death. And only this can explain that, although the industries that produce them have declared that it is not possible to predict the effects of vaccines in the long term, because it has not been possible to comply with the required procedures, and that the tests on genotoxicity and carcinogenicity will end only in October 2022, millions of people have been subjected to an unprecedented mass vaccination. It is perfectly possible — even if it is in no way certain — that in a few years the behavior of humans will be similar to that of lemmings and that the human species is thus heading towards its extinction.

28 July 2021

Giorgio Agamben



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Lena Bloch

Background in psychology of learning, literature, philosophy, math.