Eivind Tjoenneland
Eivind Tjønneland is a Norwegian literary critic.

Recently translated into Norwegian, Peter Sloterdijk’s latest little book, In the Same Boat, thematises the challenges of hyper-politics in a globalised society.

Recently translated into Norwegian, Peter Sloterdijk’s latest little book, In the Same Boat, thematises the challenges of hyper-politics in a globalised society. The noted German philosopher posits the notion that hyper-politics must gather people ‘into one boat’ in order to solve the problems we are facing. Sloterdijk begins his depiction with the political history of ideas. And not the higher culture that Karl Jaspers has called the Axial Age (800–200 B.C.), but with smaller human gatherings occurring in the period before recent state formations.

A society is a society as long as it imagines itself as one. Sloterdijk describes three versions of ‘society forming realisations with the ship as a symbol: the wooden fleet representing the paleo-politics of the hunter-gatherer society (palaio – ‘ancient’); ruler frigates and state galleys point to the classic politics of the farming community; and finally, the global trade community of the third era that arrives with its ‘super-ferries which due to their vast dimensions, are barely able to be anchored. They speed through a sea of drowning people, with tragic turbulences alongside the hull, and depressing on-board conferences on the art of the possible’.

The herd. Sloterdijk paints with broad strokes, which, ironically, he attributes to Hegel. However, weirdly enough, there is no mention of Marx. The relationship between production method and form of government is clear: a hunter-gatherer society is unable to form the basis for larger state formations. Sloterdijk makes a good point that it would be a sham to start with the higher cultures that followed in the wake of the agricultural society. As a norm, political philosophy has a tendency to predict the political human (see Aristotle) from high culture, as a norm. This is despite the fact humans have been hunter-gatherers through ninety five percent of history. This is where the wandering human herd that socialises the individual and the idea that individuals join each other via contracts – a prerequisite in much of political philosophy – is in this case an untenable fiction.

«After our liquidation of both God and the soul, we are left with the world […] But although we have the world, we have no information points.»

Sloterdijk builds on sociologist Dieter Claessen’s (1921–1997) theory of the her as human incubator – a starting point which provided humans with psycho-cultural traits. In other words, without the herd you are nothing and, early on, banishment became a psycho-social death penalty.

Peter Sloterdijk

Homo Politicus. With such a starting point, how will it be possible for humans to create a non-herd based community to solve global problems? How will we be able to withstand further abstractions?

Within higher cultures, friendship and new abstract positions replace the old clan-and family relations. This new format creates a new form of soul which Sloterdijk calls ‘state athletics’. Homo Politicus comes into existence through hard training, a sort of mental weightlifting, and an obviously aristocratic education. The rulers develop ‘a functional cruelty’ from their ‘abstraction centres’ or governing position. Politics produces two types of people: high ranking individuals created through philosophical training programmes, or controllable human masses for manual labour.

After Nietzsche and the death of God, there are attempts to find new common platforms. Human rights being one such platform. People’s lives are no longer defined by home or family, but by networks and what Sloterdijk terms ‘hyper-civilisation mobility.’

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