Energetic Ethics. Georges Bataille in the Anthropocene

Zwier, J.; Blok, V.


In this chapter, we develop the claim that today, in light of the distributed catastrophe called the Anthropocene, the question of ethics first and foremost becomes a question of economy and energy. Supplementing existing ethical approaches to the question of economy and energy, we offer what we understand to be a more fundamental economical interpretation of the Anthropocene by way of Georges Bataille’s philosophical thought on economy. We will argue that inasmuch as it results from what has come to be known as “the great acceleration”, the Anthropocene can be understood as a consequence of an economic consideration of energy that is oriented towards scarcity and utility, which is to say to Bataille’s “restricted economy”. Additionally, we show how for Bataille, such a ‘restricted’ consideration of energy is an ethical affair, since it misunderstands the constitutive abundance of energy associated with “the general economy”, thereby simultaneously and catastrophically misunderstanding the ethos of human existence in servile terms of labour and efficiency. Finally, we investigate how Bataille’s concept of sovereignty seeks to surpass such servility and efficiency by way of a consideration of energy that is oriented towards expenditure. We offer a reinterpretation of the ethics of sovereignty by confronting it with our contemporary deteriorating oikos inhabited in the Anthropocene. We close by arguing that notwithstanding its irrevocable difficulties, the question of ethics in the Anthropocene must be considered as an energetic ethics of sovereignty.