The poverty of our nomenclature

A Reading Note

In Anthropocene or Capitalocene?, editor Jason Moore collects a number of essays that interrogate what to call this new epoch. In the first essay, Eileen Crist writes:

The Anthropocene? Such is the poverty of our nomenclature to bow once more before the tedious showcasing of Man. To offer a name which has no added substantive content, no specific empirical or ethical overtones, no higher vision ensconced within it—beyond just Anthropos defining a geological epoch. If a new name were called for, then why not have a conversation or debate about what it should be, instead of being foisted (for a very long time, I might add) with the Age of Man as the “obvious choice”?

Moore, Anthropocene or Capitalocene?, page 27

There are several things I take from this (and the rest of Crist’s excellent essay): that the failure to acknowledge the gendered nature of the “Anthropos” is one of many flaws with the term “Anthropocene”; that the idea of the Anthropocene is one that looks to the past, even though it purports to name an epoch that is only just beginning; and that whatever naming choice we make now will impact our understanding of the world for perhaps thousands of years. It’s possible even to imagine this as the last epoch—since there’s no guarantee humans will even be around in ten thousand years’ time.

To the book’s titular question, I can only answer: neither. A new epoch may be upon us, but I don’t think we’re yet qualified to name it.

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