Extra-acting and Extracting Whiteness: Why Asians called Euro-Americans ‘Enemies of Heaven’ in the 19th Century

February 3, 2021 - 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm
Mark Driscoll
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In the 17th century, European science (Bacon; Newton) and philosophy (Descartes; Locke) established new epistemological protocols that raised European Christian men above the standard status humans had at the time. Instead of being one link in an interconnected Chain of Being overseen by God, Bacon's inductive method and Descartes ontological splitting of mind from body lifted Euromen out of this interacting web of life and positioned them above and beyond it; their wordly actions would now be extra-actions. I argue in this talk that this system of extra-active positioning generated an epochal shift in the exploitation of and extraction from nature and non-white bodies. While scholars know much about the effects of this extra-active positioning in the Atlantic-the necropolitical African slave trade; near genocide of the Native peoples of the Americas-much less is known about the ways European extra-action overturned Asian cosmologies and economies beginning in the late-18th century through drug, human and weapons trafficking. This earned them the epithet "enemies of Heaven" by Chinese and Japanese elites. I insist this was no misnomer. While China's sustainable economy represented approximately 30% of world GDP in 1800 (and the larger Sinocentric trade system 50%), by 1900 it was destroyed and replaced by an unsustainable Anglo-American capitalism run on fossil fuels and releasing greenhouse gas emissions that produced relentless global warming.

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  • Duke University Center for International and Global Studies
  • Asian/Pacific Studies Institute
  • John Hope Franklin Center
  • Wednesdays at the Center Series