The Juliet Question and Anthropocene


Shakespeare asked, in the late Sixteenth century, we think when Juliet was made to ask- “What is in a name?” and add “That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.”(Romeo and Juliet, Act 2 Scene 2). We know this is not a frivolous issue; everything depends on the name (since the blood feud barred any sexual engagement with Romeo (who is a Montague).

All would be well (nay, even ideal) if Romeo would just drop the last name or change it to any other. But Juliet raises a series of deeper questions: What is the relation between a name and identity? If a name is a vehicle of identity, is the latter communal (property of a community) or a matter of individual choice and freedom? Is changing the name given at birth a matter of changing one’s identity: primordial, communal, or national, or is it infinitely malleable and remains contingent on one’s choices? In several ways, names define social identity. However, Juliet enables us to perceive that social relations are often governed, both by the community and the individual; these are identity-bound and identity autonomous at the same time. But at times also tragically bound as Shakespeare depicts.

In the disastrous and threatening march of rising climate change and global warming, dubbed variably, no anthropogenic harm, unlike Juliet’s rose, will ever smell good. Although yet to be acknowledged by the International Stratigraphical Commission, the term the ‘Anthropocene’- the current geological age — marks an era of anthropogenic harm caused by human activity on earth. All this depicts two different narratives: the “Geological Anthropocene” and the “Popular Anthropocene” (Paul Crutzen, 2006). But although the latter speaks of human struggles towards ameliorating the Anthropocene effects, these may well continue after humans and other species extinction: for example, melting permafrost triggered by global warming would continue human absence. So much for our obligations to future generations.

The planetary scale of anthropogenic harm will thus be transhuman. Even so, as Jedediah Purdy (2015) says: we need “environmental decision-making” instead of “collective vulnerability to ecological change. An ideal of “Anthropocene democracy” tells that where “nothing is pure, we must create ways to rally devotion to a damaged and ever-changing world.” it includes “collective engagement with the question of what kinds of landscapes, what kind of atmosphere and climate, and what kind of world-shaping habitation to pursue”.

But we engage entirely here in the politics of name, we first must deal with the naming practice of ‘Capitalocene’. According to Jason Moore (2015), the Anthropocene argument presents humanity as a “Homogeneous Acting Unit” even though humans are diverse and dynamic. Their views toward ‘extra-human nature’ (or ‘commercialization’ of nature) differ according to the social relations of and in production, as well as the regimes of social property relations. Only social consciousness and organization-specific historical forms of society, modes of production, or social formations are available.

There are good reasons to propose that the Anthropocene be renamed the ‘Capitalocene’, since “the rise of capitalism after 1450 marked a turning point in the history of humanity’s relationship with the rest of nature, greater than any watershed since the rise of agriculture.” As it grew, the industrial revolution commodified and re- made Nature in quest of ( to borrow from Michel Foucault) ‘infra power’ and’ hyper-profits’— thus, the law of value becomes that of ‘Cheap Nature’. There is a deep relation, then, between capitalism-in-nature and capitalism-as-nature.

Donna J. Haraway, a multispecies feminist philosopher, prefers the ‘Chthulucene,’ in which humans and non-humans are inextricably linked in tentacular practices to make trouble, stir up potent response devastating events, as well as to settle troubled waters, and rebuild quiet places. “Sympoiesis, or making-with,” rather than “autopoiesis, or self-making,” is needed. More “liveable futures” can be found in interspecies camaraderie and solidarity, as well as learning to stay with the trouble on a damaged planet. In a move away from the Capitalocene, the terms “Westernocene” and ” Machineocene” have recently been proposed.

Though those who feel deeply that we are at the edge of this collective suicide may not find the question interesting at all, yet Juliet’s quest for naming persists even beyond the first quarter of 21 century, so long as collective resilience remains a favored attribute. After all, the true fight only begins when we can learn to identify a common enemy who threatens us all.


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