XR (Extinction Rebellion) is going viral…

Steven Craig Hickman

Of late the first signs of a truly global initiative seems to be rearing its head toward the world’s economic and climacteric crisis: Extinction Rebellion. One need not delve into the history of environmentalism, climate science(s), radical green, ecosophy, Deep-Ecology, Earth First, or any other numbers of groups, organizations, and political vanguards to appreciate that an ongoing threat and atrocity of non-action concerning the Sixth Extinction event in which many species will die out as in the previous five events. Besides the biodiversity of plant and animal life, even we as a species may well end up in the abyss beyond the tipping point of no return. As in many things I’ve always delved into the extremes of such thought, exploring both the dire predictions and the agonistic elements within it that provokes us out of our bourgeois complacency.

Edward O. Wilson an advocate of committing half of the planet’s surface to the non-human life-forms of the natural world in a step to salvage the bio-diversity of the planet from the ongoing Sixth Extinction event. In that work he identified the unique blend of animal instinct and social and cultural genius that has launched our species and the rest of life on a potentially ruinous trajectory. Our lack of understanding of ourselves and the rest of life than the humanities and science have yet offered were – and are, central to this project. As he suggested,

We would be wise to find our way as quickly as possible out of the fever swamp of dogmatic religious belief and inept philosophical thought through which we still wander. Unless humanity learns a great deal more about global biodiversity and moves quickly to protect it, we will soon lose most of the species composing life on Earth. The Half-Earth proposal offers a first, emergency solution commensurate with the magnitude of the problem: I am convinced that only by setting aside half the planet in reserve, or more, can we save the living part of the environment and achieve the stabilization required for our own survival.1

Drastic to be sure, and possibly unrealistic; and, yet, extreme is what we need in this age of political malfeasance and mayhem. An age which is now labeled by environmentally inclined scientists as the Anthropocene. For most of my life environmentalists and climate scientists have grappled with advanced computer modeling to anticipate and forecast the  threat looming on the horizon, a challenge that would, perhaps soon, need to be faced. Those days are past. Today, all around the world, the menace we worried about is no longer merely potential, but has rapidly materialized. Record-breaking temperatures on every continent. Rates of extinction so high that the only relevant comparisons are to planetary cataclysms far beyond human memory. Species and ecosystems scrambling to change their geographical range and—where they cannot move quickly, as with coral reefs—perishing altogether. Rising seas, forests ablaze, glaciers disappearing, superstorms. The underlying cause is well known. The increasing proportion of certain trace gases in the Earth’s atmosphere (in round numbers, carbon dioxide [CO2 ] has risen from 250 to 400 parts per million, methane [CH4 ] from 700 to 1700 parts per billion) means a larger proportion of the sun’s energy remains in the Earth’s seas, land masses, and atmosphere, changing the movement of heat energy through the world’s climatic system.  As global temperatures rise, the weather changes too. Not just the unbearable summer days that now plague cities across the planet, but highly variable precipitation bringing flood or drought, volatile temperature changes, and more intense storms. This is already taking a toll on everyone, but the heaviest weight of all has fallen on relatively poor and powerless people, as well as the other living things with whom we share this planet. The troubles caused by climate change are accelerating so quickly that we have no ledger capable of measuring them.2

The corporations, the Oil companies, the Coal Industry, and any number of other industrial era energy Leviathan’s deny their contribution to this sad state of affairs. Yet, the undeniable truth is that at its core the real culprit is greed and profit, the World System of Capital which has over the past few hundred years unleashed a ravenous and global assault on our planetary resources, forced indigenous populations in backwater Third World countries into a catastrophe of the commons, and stripped he earth of its natural resources at the behest of a small and powerful contingent of Oligarchs, Banking systems, and a wealthy minority.  Why that wealthy minority did nothing, and what that means for our political futures, are the crucial questions of our time.

The Immortality Syndrome: How the Wealthy seek Anti-Aging Technologies

The Civilization and socio-cultural world view of Capitalism is at heart a realm devoid of life giving, life affirming sustenance, its main goal is profit – the unadulterated accumulation of Capital. It will not let anything stand in its way toward attaining that goal. In our own time that has come down to the truth of extinction and expendability.  The upper 10% of the world’s wealthy who control the great behemoth’s of Industry and global multi-conglomerates do not care about the masses of humans who eek out a bare life upon this planet. Yet, there is one qualifier: the wealthy themselves harbor dreams of Immortality.

Even now many of them seek to escape the coming extinction of the human species through space-faring technological plans to go off-world. Others seek to transcend our biological heritage and invent artificial means of immortality through transhumanist visions of techno-capitalist AI, Robotics, and externalizing the human bios into machinic systems. Such mad schemes of the artificialization of the human species as cyborg, android, and other immortalization programs were once the dreams of cartoon artists and writers. Not anymore.

Various hypertechnological innovators, investors, and Silicon Valley type entrepreneurs have for the past couple decades invested heavily into these various insane pursuits of escape. Peter Thiel back in 2006 gave Cambridge anti-aging researcher Aubrey de Grey $3.5 million under the auspices of the Methusaleh Foundation, a non-profit headquartered in Springfield, Virgina, that awards scientists who are working on life-extension therapies. “Probably the most extreme form of inequality is between people who are alive and people who are dead,” Thiel told The New Yorker.

In 2010, Thiel and his partners at Founders Fund, a Bay Area venture capital firm, invested $500,000 in Halcyon Molecular, a biotech start-up whose 28-year-old founder has a “dream to create a world free from cancer and aging.”

Brian Singerman, an early employee at Google who founded the iGoogle team, came to Founders Fund after having what he describes as an “epic six hour epic dinner with Sean Parker.” Parker, an executive general partner in the firm, recruited Singerman shortly after.
Equal parts brilliant and idealistic, Singerman is adamant that aging is a problem that can be solved. The fund’s portfolio has invested in about 14 health and biotech companies all interested in solving life’s ultimate problem: death.

“We have a company that’s charged with curing all viral disease, we have a company that’s charged with curing several types of cancer,” he says. “These are not things that are incremental approaches. It’s all fine and good to have a drug that extends life by a certain amount of months or makes living with a disease easier. That’s not what we’re looking for. We are not looking for incremental change. We are looking for absolute cures in anything we do.”3

Singerman, who graduated from Stanford, believes there are two basic elements of curing aging: first, you have to cure the stuff that kills you. The second part, of course, is figuring out the processes by which the body deteriorates. Finding complete, fast, and cheap DNA sequencing methods are a main focus of the fund.

“I’m not going to say we’re going to cure aging before next week,” he says. “That’s just silly. But do I think that within the next 10 years we’ll have the cure for several forms of cancer? I absolutely do. Do I think that in the next 10 years all forms of viral disease will be wiped out? Absolutely, we have a shot. Do I think that we’re going to stop the aging process within the next 10 years? No, but do I think we’ll have a much better understanding of how to get to that point? Absolutely.” (ibid.)

The truth behind all this fantastic immortalization is the wealthy minority themselves whose dreams of immortality and escaping death through any means necessary is driving such mad schemes.

How Did We Get Into This Mess?

Neoliberalism, far from revealing biological laws, describes a system that creates its own reality.

—George Monbiot

There is no need to define the term neoliberalism anymore. It’s apparent that the progressive Left has used this term to talk about that 10% upper-crust world of wealthy elites across our planet for decades. To traces it back into its various components of libertarian free-market economics, or the political and corporate control mechanisms, propaganda machines, mediatainment conglomerates where the fantasylands of hyperreal modernity emerged like a Disneyland of the Hollywood jet-set is fairly well documented in hundreds of publications, books, essays, blogs, etc.. No, I’ll not go there.

The truth is that the wealthy have created a world-wide system of corruption that seeks to control not only society, but its wealth beyond all necessary forms of life. The so called free-market  is dominated by powerful agents – corporations and oligarchs – who use their position to demand special treatment: contracts, handouts, tax breaks, treaties, the crushing of resistance and other political favours. They extend their power beyond their trading relationships through their ownership of the media and their funding and control of political parties.

These free-marketeers, pirates and bandits, all, have sought through their ideological and political malfeasance to instill a mythology of freedom. Freedom of the kind championed by neoliberals means freedom from competing interests. It means freedom from the demands of social justice, from environmental constraints, from collective bargaining and from the taxation that funds public services. It means, in sum, freedom from democracy.4

The present swing to the Right in politics as a grass-roots populism based of fear and economic insecurity came about through years of mainstream party corruption and stupidity. Both the Progressive Left and the Conservative Right became so enmeshed in their subservience to their masters, to the Oligarchs and Corporate powers through various lobbies and money funds, job offers, etc. that the age old – and, supposed, protections against such malfeasance was overlooked.

In recent years the extreme New Right, Alt-Right, Neoreaction, etc. have all been critical of socialism, liberalism, and various other forms of egalitarian beliefs, including the Judaeo-Christian origins of modern democracy. Whether these authors and ideas can be termed fascist or not remains for the reader to judge. These extreme ideologies have for years spawned a deep-seated hatred and criticism of equality, liberal capitalism, ‘economism’, and socialism in a theoretical and analytical manner. For these denizens of the Right the difference between liberalism, socialism, and Communism is almost negligible, because all of these ideologies rest on premises of universalism, egalitarianism, and the belief in economic progress. Many on the extreme Right are authors who officially and ‘unofficially’ enter into the category of  anti-egalitarian, anti-socialist, and anti-Communist intellectual tradition, and who, in addition, unanimously share the view that modern mass society equals totalitarianism.

Various tracts, apologies, and political introductions have been meted out over the past few years by apologists and critics alike. Works like Elizabeth Sandifer’s Neoreaction a Basilisk: Essays on and Around the Alt-Right, Thomas J. Main’s The Rise of the Alt-Right, David Neiwert’s Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump, Angela Nagle’s Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan And Tumblr To Trump And The Alt-Right, Michael Malice’s The New Right: A Journey to the Fringe of American Politics, and Tomislav Sunic,’s Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right among so many others that should be listed (and maybe I’ll create a bibliography of books, blogs, and recommended sites etc. at some time in the future). What do all these books share in common? What has spawned a new wave of alternative political thought on the Right that has so disturbed the progressive Left in recent years. Most progressives seem to lump all these alternatives into one umbrella term: Fascism. But this is ludicrous, and we need to delve deeper into it and understand why both the extreme Left and extreme Right have become the enemy of democracy in our time. What does it portend?

This post is not the place to go into such a lengthy investigation, one that I hope to pursue in the near future. Rather I seek only to touch base with the drift of its ideological keys, the basic outlay of its concepts and platforms.

A Short History of White Supremacy

One extreme is the platform of the New Right in Europe and the U.S.A. that as one of its proponents, Greg Johnson states: “The North American New Right is a “metapolitical” movement modeled on the European New Right, but adapted to our own circumstances. The goal of the North American New Right is to lay the metapolitical foundations for the emergence of a White Republic (or republics) in North America.”5 Whether one terms it fascism or the politics of White Supremacy is a matter of choice, either way it puts race and an aggressive politics of White Supremacy at its core.

This separation of Whites from other races is a sordid history whose origins – at least as concerns our modernity, lie in fifteenth-century Europe, on through colonial times when the early British settlers carried racist ideas to America, all the way to the twenty-first century and current debates about the events taking place on our streets.6 Here in the good ole U.S.A. the debates between assimilationists and segregationists,  racists and antiracists, are charged with antagonistic and prolonged struggle and intimately, if not intricately, woven into the very fabric of our republics history. Kendi in his short work elaborates this heritage of racist ideas through five key figures: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Angela Davis, saying,

[they] were arguably the most consistently prominent or provocative racial theorists of their respective lifetimes, writing and speaking and teaching racial (and nonracial) ideas that were as fascinating as they were original, influential, and/or contradictory. (ibid., Intro)

At the core of this heritage of White Supremacy is the two-fold debates surrounding assimilation and segregation. Jim Wallis in a pointedly religious metaphor tells us that racism “is America’s original sin and must be named as such… racism lingers far more pervasively in implicit and covert ways in American institutions and culture, in often unconscious attitudes, and in the very structures of our society.”7

Again this is a wide and deep-seated history with many things that need to be broached beyond the length of this post. I seek only to inform the reader that our present plight is multifarious, complex, and chaotic. Anyone pretending to understand the crisis humanity is undergoing must delve into a wide-spectrum of micro-histories if she would even begin to approach the truth in its larger sense of global socio-cultural matrix. Something I can only hint at rather than cover in detail.

Extinction Rebellion

The reason for brining up both the economic and racist debates is simply put because the upper-crust, the 10% of wealthy elite who control most of the world’s wealth are themeselves racist and control the political, social, and ideological strings that have created the World System that is destroying our planet, using the structures of social control to establish their right to impose their austerity upon the vast majority of humans to keep their system in place.

Against this world wide death praxis of the wealthy elite a new trend has arisen online and at the grass roots level, one that seeks to redefine our lives and shape our future. The Extinction Rebellion (XR) seeks to spark and sustain a spirit of creative rebellion, which will enable much needed changes in our political, economic and social landscape. Endeavouring to mobilise and train organisers to skilfully open up space, so that communities can develop the tools they need to address the deeply rooted problems of the United States.  Working to transform our society into one that is compassionate, inclusive, sustainable, equitable and connected.

It seeks a new world where we can build thriving connections within our society and environment, bringing hope and enabling us to decide the direction of our lives and futures. An inclusive world, where we work consciously to ensure fair processes of collective decision-making, where creativity is prioritised, and where our diversity of gifts are recognised, celebrated and flourish.

It demands that Governments around the world must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, it must reverse all policies not in alignment with that position and must work alongside the media to communicate the urgency for change including what individuals, communities and businesses need to do.

It demands that Governments must enact legally-binding policies to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and take further action to remove the excess of atmospheric greenhouse gases. It must cooperate internationally so that the global economy runs on no more than half a planet’s worth of resources per year.

Extinction Rebellion does not trust our Governments to make the bold, swift and long-term changes necessary to achieve these changes and they do not intend to hand further power to our politicians. Instead they demand a Citizens’ Assembly to oversee the changes, as we rise from the wreckage, creating a democracy fit for purpose.

XR people demand a just transition that prioritizes the most vulnerable people and indigenous sovereignty; establishes reparations and remediation led by and for Black people, Indigenous people, people of color and poor communities for years of environmental injustice, establishes legal rights for ecosystems to thrive and regenerate in perpetuity, and repairs the effects of ongoing ecocide to prevent extinction of human and all species, in order to maintain a livable, just planet for all.

Extinction Rebellion’s long term strategy is to, in alliance with other movements and thousands of people, inspire and be part of instigating a national and International, coordinated economic and governmental disruption on an unprecedented scale that lasts indefinitely, until the government feels forced to concede to the four XR demands. No one has ever tried to launch a rebellion of this kind in history for any reason. There is no way to overstate the danger we face from climate change, and on their own, our institutions have proven themselves incapable of addressing the crisis.

Most of all the time is short, and as they tell us we are losing the battle. “If we continue to only focus on lobbying congress and/or individual fossil fuel infrastructure fights on their own, without also planning and building for a national, coordinated rebellion, we will never bring about the systemic change we need.” As their preamble states it,

This type of rebellion is premised on extensive research that shows conclusively that if 3.5% of the population in any country is actively engaged in sustained resistance over a concentrated period of time, governments inevitably concede or collapse under the pressure. The research shows that governments simply can’t endure this many people engaging in serious disruption if it lasts for an extended period of time.

This is only surprising to most of us because we don’t realize yet that it’s only because many thousands of us cooperate that the government can run and that the system can operate. The moment enough of us withdraw our consent and refuse to carry on daily activities, the whole structure can’t work. If millions of people simply stayed home in a general strike for a week, for example, while thousands of others blocked key infrastructure nationwide, the government and industry would not be able to go forward. They don’t teach us this in school. They don’t teach us how much power we have collectively. But those who have successfully used nonviolent people power by the thousands are showing us the way. (here)

Against the top 1% a new battle cry is haunting the world. A world the wealthy elite have ripped apart. A World System that has degraded our conditions of life, surrendered our freedoms and prospects of contentment to a compulsive, atomizing, joyless hedonism, in which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. For this we have destroyed the essence of humanity: our connectedness. I’m an old man whose heart goes out to the young born in our time. What we’ve done to the earth, our home, is beyond recall. The system of economics and racist heritage of White privilege has left the planet in ruins not because we were superior, but because Whites had the technological power of a weaponized and warrior ethos that sought to conquer the earth as if they owned it. The whole heritage of race, economics, and property relations has brought about in our time an endgame civilization that may or may not survive the coming decades and centuries. It is up to the young who will inhabit what we’ve ruined to rebel against this state of affairs, and from within our failure, our ruinous wastelands of capitalism, to rebuild the earth without such a system of destruction. Is it too late? Let’s hope not, let’s hope with the courage of hopelessness that it is not too late to turn things around. That the young will awaken across this planet, this earth; and rebel against extinction, everywhere.


  1. Edward O. Wilson. Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life. Liveright; 1 edition (March 7, 2016)
  2. Joel Wainwright, Geoff Mann (eds.). Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future. Verso (February 13, 2018)
  3.  Eric Markowitz. Inc. Immortality: The Next Great Investment Boom: here.
  4. Monbiot, George. How Did We Get Into This Mess?: Politics, Equality, Nature . Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
  5. Covington, Harold; Devlin, F. Roger; Bolton, Kerry; Bowden, Jonathan; de Benoist, Alain; O’Meara, Michael; Kurtagić, Alex; Faye, Guillaume; Evola, Julius. North American New Right, Volume One (pp. 1-2). Counter-Currents Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  6. Kendi, Ibram X.. Stamped from the Beginning (Kindle Locations 154-155). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition.
  7. Jim Wallis. America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America (Kindle Locations 274-277). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition

Original article here

Democracy and environment: from ‘yellow vests’ to ‘extinction rebellion’

Helen Kopnina  

• Haagse Hogeschool blog

https://nieuws.hhs.nl/sendin/democracy-and-environment-from-yellow-vests-to-extinction-rebellion/

extinction rebellion london-uk-november-17-2018

 

Optimists see democracy as a panacea for ecological evils, a vehicle for positive change. Pessimists are not so sure. Can democratic governments solve environmental problems, ranging form climate change to biodiversity loss? Will citizens all agree on what the “good” is? Will they elect governments that will be able to stop climate change and halt biodiversity loss?

 

Let’s look at recent events. From November 2018, in France, the Gilets Jaunes (yellow vests), the protestors wearing the yellow vests were blocking the roads. From October 2018 in England, Extinction Rebellion members were also blocking the roads. These road blockers have very different messages.

Yellow vests

Gilets Jaunes movement started with the decision of the French President Macron to introduce a tax on fossil fuel. Initially, the protest was associated with a group of lower middle-class car owners protesting against what they felt would push their budgets over the edge. A few charters have been put out by Gilets Jaunes, eliding with social justice questions about who pays “sustainability bills”. There is a deeper mistrust and dissatisfaction with the government, with some contradictory demands. While they are diverse, when interviewed, many protestors gave their identity as “drivers” who demand the government to take the hands off their cars.

Extinction rebellion

Extinction Rebellion, on the other hand, is engaged in civil disobedience intended to force action by the British government on climate as well biodiversity loss and extinction of species. Extinction Rebellion attempts to make action on climate change the forefront of the political agenda. Using the strategy of non-violent direct action, Extinction Rebellion demands that both the government and the public take responsibility for the expansion of industry and agriculture that harms the environment.

Shifting membership

Like with the yellow vests, Extinction Rebellion’s “membership” shifts, they have no formal leaders, yet the movement members is spreading beyond the UK to the US, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and even Australia. Both movements have few concrete goals and genuinely practicable policies for attaining them. However, the ‘vests’ outnumber the ‘rebellion’ by thousands in all countries. What makes both groups angry is the fact that industrial groups (industrial lobbies, oil, transport, mining etc.) remain hidden but influential. The difference is that the ‘rebellion’ group recognizes that these corporate giants are fed by consumer demands and the ‘vests’ are angry that they grab most of the profits.

Consumerist life-style

Some have argued that any politician wanting to start subtracting carbon costs from the national economy is still influenced by lobbies and funded by industries. What is perhaps most disturbing is not just the fact that democracies in real life are influenced by powerful industrial lobbies, but that even the most environmentally-conscious politician (if (s)he ever gets elected in the first place) may fail to push through reforms if they mean compromise to consumerist life-style.

Caring citizens

Individual lifestyle change is part of the story but, on its own, it is too small to make a meaningful difference in sufficient time. Also, population growth and industrialization, which are the root cause of climate change, water depletion, soil erosion, habitat destruction and species extinctions, requires transnational multi-level governance that draws legitimacy from global ecologically informed and caring citizens.

What’s good?

We have just considered two European cities, not the world. It is unlikely that we can all agree on what the “good” is. For some, it is having a personal freedom to drive a car, for others it is a commitment to future generations of humans and nonhumans. For some (perhaps a majority?) the choice of “good” might be determined not as much by the images of melting ice but of bread and circus.

Fair treatment

Underprivileged classes have a right to demand fair treatment. But, for even less privileged nonhumans, plants, animals and others, no vote determining the future of this planet will be held. Even if these billions of beings could speak our language, it is not likely that 7.5 billion people will ever consider their vote.

Keep trying

Having said that, the saying attributed to Churchill goes “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried before”.  Maybe we should try again – and keep on trying.

Helen Kopnina is currently employed at The Hague University of Applied Science, coordinating Sustainable Business program and conducting research within three main areas: sustainability, environmental education and biological conservation.

 

Tags: GLOBAL CITIZENSHIP

 

For a World beyond Pigs and Dogs: Transversal Utopias— Guattari, Le Guin, Bookchin

 

Joff P. N. Bradley

My intent is not reactionary, nor even conservative, but simply subversive. It seems that the Utopian imagination is trapped, like capitalism and industrialism and the human population, in a one-way future consisting only of growth. All I’m trying to do is figure how to put a pig on the tracks.

(Le Guin, Dancing at the Edge of the World 85)

 

As a transversal thought experiment akin to the Guattarian practice of metamodelization examined in Schizoanalytic Cartographies, this paper aspires to engineer a philo-fiction, which is to say, a sense of utopos or absolute re(de)territorialization of world, territory, Nature, and earth. Operating in-between the social ecologies of Bookchin and Guattari, and deploying Gough’s “rhizosemiotic” thought experiment methodology throughout the paper—the whole text is itself a narrative experiment aiming at the “generativity of intertextual readings” (“Rhizosemiotic Play” 119), a kind of pataphysical exercise à la Alfred Jarry—I shall think the worlds imagined by Le Guin with and alongside Deleuze and Guattari’s geophilosophical principles as found in What is Philosophy?. This is to consider the other possible worlds constructed in Le Guin’s oeuvre as changeable planes of immanence and, following Gough, a means to “generate productive and disruptive transnational agendas” (“Changing Planes” 279). This is ventured to blur the distinction between the fabulations of philosophy and the enterprise of science fiction. This view takes inspiration from Difference and Repetition in which Deleuze writes: “A book of philosophy should be in part a very particular sort of detective novel, in part a kind of science fiction” (xx). The overall direction of this paper performs a transversal reading of Guattari, Le Guin, and Bookchin, to map out the possibility of a third space of utopia thought. It intends to differentiate orthodox and heterodox forms of Marxism and their interconnections with ecology and ecosophical thinking as a prolegomenon to thinking the fabulation of a third revolution.

 

Preliminary Observations

A thought emerges from reading the many articles on the environment in the Guardian newspaper in the UK over the years. Every day it seems we have in-depth, committed articles by George Monbiot and others on the climate crisis. The newspaper has an active readership concerned with the question of the Anthropocene— a “little industry” as philosopher Claire Colebrook calls it in her lecture “We Have Always Been Post-Anthropocene.” Many words have been spilled by Alex Blasdel trying to make sense of Timothy Morton’s theory of object-oriented ontology (OOO) and hyperobjects. There is also much time devoted to a purified, apolitical form of fashionable accelerationism, that ultimate paean to capitalist dynamics.

Whatever accelerationism is, one thing is clear, the human (men and women and their mutual becomings)—that fragile, vulnerable, imperfect mass of flesh and bones—is no longer worth the bother as Nick Land consistently writes about in Fanged Noumena. Better to think of abstract, glistening, metallic, global processes, unfathomable algorithms, Kondratieff K-waves, autopoietic cybernetics and impersonal forces rather than the material plight of hundreds of millions of people and all living beings across the planet. A further observation comes from reading David Adam’s 2006 list of the “Earthshakers: The Top 100 Green Campaigners of All Time”—again in the Guardian. In this top 10 list of ecologists and campaigners, we find deserving inclusions such as Rachel Carson, E. F. Schumacher, James Lovelock and William Morris. Outside the top 10 we find Aldo Leopold, Thomas Malthus, David Suzuki, Gandhi, and the like. Yet, conspicuously absent is Murray Bookchin—the American social anarchist who was writing on ecology around, if not before, the time Rachel Carson first published the seminal Silent Spring in 1962. When I read this list in 2006, I was perplexed by Bookchin’s conspicuous omission and continue to think it odd. Why is this important? Because I believe a dialogue remains possible between the social ecology of Guattari and the social anarchism of Bookchin. This is long overdue and needs to be recontextualized in terms of contemporary, Anthropocene debates. While Bookchin’s political philosophy roots itself in the humanist tradition of the Enlightenment, and Guattari is situated in a more cybernetic-influenced perspective, I am of the view that an argument can be made for the construction of a transversal model, a metamodelization exercise, between such seemingly contrary and irreconcilable paradigms.

 

Le Guin on Bookchin

Bookchin is no grim puritan. I first read him as an anarchist, probably the most eloquent and thoughtful one of his generation, and in moving away from anarchism he hasn’t lost his sense of the joy of freedom. He doesn’t want to see that joy, that freedom, come crashing down, yet again, among the ruins of its own euphoric irresponsibility. (Le Guin, Foreword 8)

In her celebratory foreword to Bookchin’s The Next Revolution Le Guin writes that Bookchin is a thinker resolute in his conviction that changes in the care of the environment can only emerge through transformations in social relations. As we know from Bookchin’s social ecology, contemporary environmental problems are exacerbated by deeply entrenched social problems—the domination of man by man or “it’s capitalism stupid” as Benjamin Fong might say in his New York Times article. In The Next Revolution Le Guin claims that there are no “dreams of happy endings” in Bookchin’s work (Foreword 8). She writes that Bookchin was staunchly opposed to succumbing to the “ruins” of “euphoric irresponsibility.” In Re-enchanting Humanity we find a similar skepticism to the postmodern and poststructural language games of Deleuze, Foucault, Derrida, and so on. For Bookchin the joy and freedom of resistance are practices worthy of preserving. In his extensive corpus he argues consistently that it is right to contest the organization, control, and domination of life. In the nightmare of Anthropocene reality which humanity currently countenances, one imagines that Bookchin would find, as Le Guin says in the foreword, “a moment of true choice—a chance to transcend the paralyzing hierarchies of gender, race, class, nation, a chance to find a radical cure for the radical evil of our social system” (Foreword 8). Indeed, Bookchin cites utopian thinkers and futurists precisely because they invoke a sense of freedom, play, joy, and creativity. He writes in Ecology of Freedom: “[T]he utopian tradition seeks to permeate necessity with freedom, work with play, even toil with artfulness and festiveness. My contrast between utopianism and futurism forms the basis for a creative, liberatory reconstruction of an ecological society, for a sense of human mission and meaning as nature rendered selfconscious” (11).

On this reading, for proponents of social ecology or ecosophy it is imperative to rethink the human. Human societies should get their collective house in order—ridding ourselves of hierarchies and structures of domination. In this respect, for Le Guin, Bookchin’s political philosophy remains an “honest, uncompromising search for a realistic hope” (Foreword 9) because he is a thinker and ecologist willing to throw down the gauntlet to imagine the impossible—that is to say, to envisage an alternative to the runaway system of capitalism intent on ecological destruction, exhaustion, and collapse. In this way, Bookchin writes a trenchant form of ecosophy, one not premised on the pacifism and univocity of being of Arne Naess’s or Aldo Leopold’s deep ecology thinking. Indeed, it is conceptually distinct from both transcendental, liberation theology and integral ecology, the latter of which is explored in Leonardo Boff ’s Essential Care: An Ethics of Human Nature. As Le Guin acknowledges, it was Bookchin’s Post-Scarcity Anarchism that inspired the anarcho-syndicalist world of Anarres in The Dispossessed. In this novel, we find a self-reflexive critique of both the concepts of anarchism and utopianism. This is expressed in the protagonist’s “ruthlessly anarchistic critique of Anarres itself,” as John Clark argues (Clark 143). In The Dispossessed we find “an anarchist critique of anarchism and a utopian critique of the dangers of utopia” (Clark 143). Indeed, while approving of much of Le Guin’s work, Bookchin describes the society in The Dispossessed as a limited form of anarcho-syndicalism and as such it is opposed to his vision of anarcho- or libertarian communism. This is because he is reluctant to embrace an economy-centric model of society and instead entertains a society in which social and human life takes primacy—in other words, which places community before economics. Le Guin, for her part, argues that science-fiction fantasy is not so much pivotally concerned with future worlds per se; it is not predictive in that sense, but rather descriptive of the ways of the contemporary world. While we may view utopia as a critique of the present in the name of the future in some forms of literature, in utopian science fiction we can discern a critique of the future articulated in the name of the present. One suspects that Bookchin would also echo this view. Indeed, as he argues in Post-Scarcity Anarchism: “What justifies my utopian emphasis is the near total lack of material on the potentialities of our time” (30). There is however another way to think about this. This is to write against the intolerable and the image of the “shame of being human” which Deleuze invokes. In the essay “May ’68 Did Not Take Place” Deleuze describes the inhering of the possible in the event itself: “The possible does not pre-exist, it is created by the event. It is a question of life. The event creates a new existence, it produces a new subjectivity (new relations with the body, with time, sexuality, the immediate surroundings, with culture, work)” (Two Regimes 234). In the exhaustion of the present, utopia is a response and an antidote. Utopian thought, which we find expressed in Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of absolute re-(de)territorialization, examines the present and extrapolates the possibility of new libertarian and immanent utopias.

This is entirely consistent with Deleuze and Guattari, who consider utopia as the absolute Other, that is to say, an expression of possible worlds. Thus, the utopian constitutes more than a mere pipe dream. Indeed, for Deleuze and Guattari in What is Philosophy?, this is because it “designates that conjunction of philosophy, or of the concept, with the present milieu—political philosophy” (100). For them, it is through absolute re-(de)territorialization and the embrace of the forces of the Outside (of thought, apeiron) that one may begin to detail the contours of this absolute uncanny that is contrary to the stasis of the present. Their immanent sense of utopia is therefore at odds with the transcendent forms of utopia which merely react to the depressing list of twentiethcentury horrors—“world war, totalitarian rule, genocide, economic depression, nuclear destruction, massive famine, and disease” (Moylan 7). Here we arrive at a theoretical aporia because, if the remit of utopian writers is to fabulate social systems contrary to capitalist dynamics on the one hand, and for science-fiction writers like Le Guin to undermine the illusory nature of utopias on the other, the question is which path to proceed upon because there appears no discernible path at present. One way out of this petrification of thought is through Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of absolute re-(de)territorialization, as it seems to formulate a different position. This is to view science-fiction figures such as Le Guin as writing a kind of deterritorialized science-fiction space, a third space. This is a kind of metamodelization principled in accordance with the logic of Guattari’s schizoanalysis found in The Machinic Unconscious in which a dystopian discourse and utopia might be brought into transversal communication with one another. This is to afford and explore the reconceptualization of the human. My interest is how one must struggle to speak across different political philosophies or traditions even though both share a common set of assumptions, goals, and concepts. A clear example of this is between different ecological and philosophical visions. How can a dialogue be made between the philosophies of deep ecology on the one hand and the distinct social ecologies of Bookchin and Guattari on the other? One answer is to develop transversal concepts to communicate across these philosophies. This is found in Transversal Rationality and Intercultural Texts, the work of Korean-American philosopher Hwa Yol Jung, a philosopher who melds Asian and Western philosophical traditions and concepts to create an inspiring ecosophy and phenomenology. In addition to this, my goal is to further complicate this model by insinuating utopia and indeed science fiction in-between social and deep ecologies. This is why I am designating a third space, a vantage point to eke out the possibility of thinking a third revolution.

 

Degrowth: Bookchin, Gorz, Le Guin

At this stage, let me develop this a little further through analysis of a troika of thinkers—Bookchin, André Gorz and Le Guin—with regard to Gorz’s concepts of degrowth and Bookchin’s post-scarcity anarchism. First of all, I must make a brief comment about Gorz and his consideration of Le Guin’s work. Le Guin’s work is criticized by Gorz because it constructs Anarres as a model society impossibly free of commodity relations. As we know, on Anarres all the means of production and consumption are held in common: there is no property of any sort (hence no crime as such), nor are there traditional state structures. There is order though, as Anarres has a communal-based economy and is organized into syndicates. This society clearly resembles ideas derived from Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid and Fields, Factories and Workshops and indeed Paul Goodman’s Communitas. As the social division and labor is a necessary prerequisite for a workable community, Gorz in his Capitalism, Socialism, Ecology describes The Dispossessed as “the most striking description . . . of the seductions—and snares—of self-managed . . . anarchist society” (81). Similarly, in the doctoral thesis Anarchism and Political Theory: Contemporary Problems, Uri Gordon claims that Le Guin’s Dispossessed is perhaps “the most honest” attempt to portray, in literature at least, a functioning, anarchist society—warts and all (123). On this view, Le Guin’s manifestation thinks anarchist society as resistant to closure and as such it is rigorously animated, yet neither bound to ultimate telos nor final deathly stasis. The project is never done. From Gorz’s perspective on décroissance or degrowth, the capitalist desire for production for the sake of production is incompatible with the earth’s atmosphere and ecosystem. According to Gorz, the degrowth of material production is a necessary precondition for ecological sustainability. As such, Gorz is arguing for a form of socialism distinct from the continuation of capitalism by other means (this is similar to the critique of Scandinavian social democracies in Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s work). For Gorz in his Ecology as Politics, socialism cannot be a mere “extension of middleclass values, lifestyles and social patterns” (14). Indeed, Gorz notes that the industrial capitalism of the 1970s was confronting numerous concrete ecological limits.

To practice “ecological realism” then was not to refrain from consuming more and more, but to consume less and less. As Gorz says, there was no other way of conserving the “available reserves for future generations” (13). This is to argue for a break with the “economic rationality” of the 1970s and 1980s. In keeping with her unflinching stance on ecological care for the planet, Le Guin would agree with the need to counteract such rampant egotism. For Bookchin, the central criticism of Gorz is that scarcity is a social problem, not only a natural one. In his Toward an Ecological Society Bookchin draws on Marx’s “compelling demonstration” that we have come to know that the law of capitalist competition is based on the maxim, “grow or die” (294). Translated into ecological terms, and by necessity, a fully developed market economy will unrelentingly exploit nature. As Bookchin writes in The Next Revolution: “For capitalism to desist from its mindless expansion would be for it to commit social suicide” (146). As we have found, social ecologists like Bookchin envision utopia as a non-repressive or libertarian milieu. As such, anarcho-communism would be a stateless and classless utopia. Society would be decentralized and, with its citizens free of alienated relationships, Man would return to Man as Marx forecasts in the Paris Manuscripts of 1844. The ecological principles undergirding such an organic society and its social principles would affirm this utopian dimension. This is not a return to some primitive habitat or nature. We are not talking about primitive communism or prehistoric society as such because human relationships with nature are necessarily mediated by science, technology, and knowledge; philosophy is thus technics as first philosophy. Clarifying this point, Bookchin writes in Post-Scarcity Anarchism: “Either revolution will create an ecological society, with new ecotechnologies and ecocommunities, or humanity and the natural world as we know it today will perish” (23-24). Critical of the forms of “environmentalism” (“technocratic stratagems for manipulating nature”) which do little more than tinker with existing institutions, social relations, technologies, and values, Bookchin in Post-Scarcity Anarchism writes of the need for the root-and-branch transformation of everyday life: “It is plain that the goal of revolution today must be the liberation of daily life. Any revolution that fails to achieve this goal is counter-revolution. Above all, it is we who have to be liberated, our daily lives, with all their moments, hours and days” (66).

 

Bookchin contra Deleuze

In a similar vein to Bookchin’s view above, it is the protagonist Shevek in Le Guin’s The Dispossessed who remarks that “[y]ou cannot buy the Revolution. You cannot make the Revolution. You can only be the Revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere” (393). This statement regarding the nature of revolution echoes comments by Bookchin on the revolution of the everyday. It is here we find a clear difference of emphasis between Bookchin’s social ecology and Deleuze’s so-called “lifestyle anarchism.” In the introduction to the first edition of Post-Scarcity Anarchism, Bookchin notes that anarchism “has always been preoccupied with lifestyle, sexuality, community, women’s liberation and human relationships” (21). Later in his work, Bookchin unites ecology with anarchism to create an ecoanarchism or social ecology which would give fullest expression to the above. Again, this is why Le Guin finds much of relevance in his work. For Bookchin in Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm, the ecological world is impossible without radical democracy and social revolution. In his reading of Deleuze, Bookchin stands radically at odds with the perceived egocentric demand for “desire armed” found in Deleuze’s work or with Taoist contemplation and Buddhist nirvanas. As Bookchin says: “Where social anarchism called upon people to rise in revolution and seek the reconstruction of society, the irate petty bourgeois who populate the subcultural world of lifestyle anarchism call for episodic rebellion and the satisfaction of their desiring machines” (52). He has little time for the language of desiring machines, lines of flight, cracks, or becomings which one finds in abundance in Deleuze’s thought. Bookchin writes in Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: “[L]ifestyle anarchism today is finding its principal expression in spray-can graffiti, post-modernist nihilism, antirationalism, neoprimitivism, anti-technologist, neo-Situationist ‘cultural terrorism’, mysticism, and a ‘practice’ of staging Foucauldian ‘personal insurrections’” (15). In “Libertarian Municipalism” he continues the critique, writing with Deleuze, Foucault, and others in mind: “To leave that red button untouched and slip back into the worst habits of the post-1968 New Left, when the notion of ‘power’ was divested of utopian or imaginative qualities, is to reduce radicalism to yet another subculture that will probably live more on heroic memories than on the hopes of a rational future” (86). And, writing in Re-enchanting Humanity, Bookchin lambasts those philosophies which fail to challenge root and branch the radical reorganization of society: “Having attained the conscious level of ‘desiring production’, however, it remains unclear how a revolutionary ‘machine’ is to advance beyond a naive ‘lifestyle’ anarchism, raging with desire and a libidinal sexual politics, and try to change society as a whole” (199).

 

At the Level of Dogs

In his triadic ecology of the environmental, social, and mental life, it is clear that Guattari is writing to destabilize the dualisms of nature and culture, man and machine, organic and inorganic. The subject is decentralized and configured from an exteriority of components (the unconscious, the body, and so on) and Guattari names these components of subjectification. Guattari is principally interested in the possible emergence of new paradigms of ethico-aesthetic thinking and praxis. Such paradigms would transfigure the relationship between human subjectivity, the unconscious, and the context (environment) within which it engages. Subjectivity here implies the role of the unconscious in relation to the human and the natural environment. In comparison to this focus, what is conspicuously absent in Bookchin’s thought is a sustained analysis of the unconscious. With emphasis upon the creative potentiality of subjectivity or new ways of existing, Guattari is writing a different kind of utopian, futurist agenda. Such a project attempts to think the intersection of the human with cybernetics and more particularly with computer-aided subjectivity. Guattari is advancing a generalized ecology in his Three Ecologies which incorporates the “whole of subjectivity and capitalist power formations” (52). On this reading, a generalized ecology eschews a sole concern for the welfare of animals or trees and refuses to demarcate the three ecologies. Indeed, both he and Deleuze were aiming to write a kind of philosophy of Nature because they believed that the distinction between nature and artifice had become blurred. Nature is perceived more as a plurality of machinic assemblages—with Nature perpetually in-formation. Deleuze and Guattari write in Anti-Oedipus: “There is no such thing as either man or nature now, only a process that produces the one within the other and couples the machines together. Producing machines, desiring machines everywhere, schizophrenic machines, all of species of life: the self and the non-self, outside and inside, no longer have any meaning whatsoever” (2). In his individual work, Guattari is searching for a new kind of subjectivity and ecosophy, which can better comprehend the interactions between ecosystems, the mechanosphere, and the social and individual Universes of Reference. The problem for the reader is that there is no clear picture, as is always the case with speculative, utopian-inflected thought, of what a non-primitive communism shaped by schizoanalysis might look like in Guattari’s work. Given this problem, the folding of Guattari’s thought with utopian literature may be a path to reimagining another way of organizing society. This for Guattari demands a transversal form of conceptualization (metamodelization) and one which contains the possibility of new openings to the socius and the cosmos. What remains radical, singular, and distinct in Guattari’s work is the insistence that environmental ecology must also be machinic.

Although Bookchin cannot be easily aligned with the Luddite tradition as he is affirmative of the use of technology to liberate people from endless toil, it is equally true that a certain aspect of machinic ecology is conspicuously missing in his social anarchism. Faced with this lacuna, we are tasked with formulating a philo-fiction which can articulate a transversal struggle based on Guattari’s and Bookchin’s philosophies so as to speculatively intertwine them with the forecasting or anticipatory principles inherent in utopian, science-fiction thought. The utopian aspect of his thought emerges in the essay “To Have Done with the Massacre of the Body” in which Guattari contends that to think beyond capitalist formation (family, school, factories, army, codes, discourse, and so on) is to confront the subjugation of our desires in everyday life (Chaosophy 207). This is to write against exploitation, property, male power, profit, productivity, and so on. Guattari exhorts us to think beyond the castration of desire and the torture of the body and to unpick the mechanisms in our unconscious which reproduce enslavement—a position which Bookchin would presumably affirm. This is to unite desire, the unconscious, and the body in new arrangements beyond the status quo. This expresses a quintessential utopian impulse and one finds it aplenty in Le Guin’s work. This is to think beyond capital, exploitation, and the family as Guattari says; in other words, to redirect the nervous system to communication networks of growth, pleasure, and becoming. Simply put, it would be to return pleasures to ourselves. As Guattari says, such pleasures, “ruthlessly quashed by educational systems charged with manufacturing obedient worker-consumers” (Chaosophy 212), have the capacity to explode systems of oppression. Without explosions and cadences of a different order, we, stumbling forward into the future, remain, as Guattari says, at the “level of dogs” (Chaosophy 212).

 

Le Guin and Taoism

To demonstrate how deep ecologies (shaped by Chinese cosmologies) have informed utopian speculations, let me turn to Le Guin’s work in which we find an interesting amalgam of deep and social ecologies. I am arguing that this focus may contribute to the formation of a new philo-fiction or image of thought in response to dystopic representations of the Anthropocene and climate change. Extrapolating from Bookchin, Gorz, and the writings of Laozi and Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu), her utopias are mixed together to create a thought-provoking juxtaposition of social and deep ecologies, which one finds in The Dispossessed and Always Coming Home. Indeed, many writers, such as Samar Habib in Re-visiting Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, have insisted that there is a residual Taoism in Le Guin’s work. Indeed, as a contributor to a translation of Laozi, she admits this as much herself, saying that in The Dispossessed she combines early Taoist thought and Western political philosophy. Le Guin is arguing against a notion of utopia tied inextricably and exclusively to a particular Western worldview. She writes in Dancing at the Edge of the World: “Utopia has been Euclidean, it has been European, and it has been masculine” (88). And in the short story “The Day before the Revolution” in The Wind’s Twelve Quarters she reflects on this and writes: My novel The Dispossessed is about a small world full of people who call themselves Odonians. . . . Odonianism is anarchism . . . not the social-Darwinist economic “libertarianism” of the far right; but anarchism, as prefigured in early Taoist thought, and expounded by Shelley and Kropotkin, Goldman and Goodman. Anarchism’s principal target is the authoritarian state (capitalist or socialist). Its principal moral-practical theme is cooperation (solidarity, mutual aid). (285)

For Le Guin, Western forms of anarchism and those prefigured in Taoist thought are the most idealistic and interesting of all political theories. Indeed, Fredric Jameson in Archaeologies of the Future picks up on this interpretation too, claiming that Le Guin has a “Taoist agenda” (78) and that the Tao is the central reality of her metaphysics. For example, the ecologies of Urras and Anarres in The Dispossessed express ideological antagonisms between scarcity and abundance. In the novel, Keng compares the fate of her home, planet Earth, with the “paradise” of Anarres: My world, my Earth, is a ruin. A planet spoiled by the human species. We multiplied and gobbled and fought until there was nothing left, and then we died. We controlled neither appetite nor violence; we did not adapt. We destroyed ourselves. But we destroyed the world first. There are no forests left on my Earth. The air is grey, the sky is grey, it is always hot. It is habitable, it is still habitable, but not as this world is. This is a living world, a harmony. Mine is a discord. You Odonians chose a desert; we Terrans made a desert. . . . We survive there as you do. People are tough! There are nearly a half billion of us now. Once there were nine billion. You can see the old cities still everywhere. We failed as a species, as a social species. . . . Well, we had saved what could be saved, and made a kind of life in the ruins, on Terra, in the only way it could be done: by total centralization. Total control over the use of every acre of land, every scrap of metal, every ounce of fuel. Total rationing, birth control, euthanasia, universal conscription into the labor force. The absolute regimentation of each life toward the goal of racial survival. (454-55)

In this book, Odo, the libertarian leader, inspires a revolt against the “propertarian” class system of her home planet of Urras. Her followers leave Urras for Anarres to create a nonhierarchical society based on Kropotkin’s notion of mutual aid and voluntary cooperation found in Goodman’s Communitas. On Anarres, the means of production are held in common and everyone has equal access to the necessities of life. Work is voluntary and organized into small, decentralized workers’ syndicates. There is no government as such, only administrators who coordinate the work of the syndicates and syndicate federations. There is strict equality in all relations—including sexual couplings. The Dispossessed then develops two parallel stories, one on the anarchist world of Anarres, the other on the capitalist world of Urras. The protagonist Shevek gradually becomes disillusioned with both the conformism of Anarres and the selfish individualism of Urras. Shevek eventually starts an anarchist revolution on Urras, and then leaves for Anarres to rejuvenate the dysfunctioning anarchism there. Why is this important? Faced with the daunting political and ecological issues of our time—chief among them the trauma of the Anthropocene and the almost homicidal forms of Integrated World Capitalism (globalization/neo-liberal capitalism)—this paper is committed to the question of how a transversal rethinking of Guattari’s triadic ecology, Bookchin’s social ecology, and utopian thought may help us respond, in whatever small fashion, to the challenges that await us. Put otherwise, science fiction can help us to explore chaos-worlds of becoming—between for example the dialectics of change found in Asian thought and the dialectic of Aufhebung in Western metaphysics. It may help us to fabulate as Deleuze and Guattari describe in What is Philosophy? as a “mass-people, worldpeople, brain-people, chaos-people” (218)—a different order of things. Science fiction contributes to imagining how things might be otherwise. This may well suggest an altogether inhuman and indifferent processual becoming, a mutual becoming inbetween porcine (Le Guin) and canine natures (Guattari), in-between immanent and transcendent utopias.

 

Third Space

From its onset this paper has applied a transversal methodology or metamodelization to map out the possibility of a third space. I am naming this space a third space of utopian thought. Utopian thought can act as literature in-between tenses—past, present, and future. It can form a philo-fiction that is able to fabulate the possibility of a third revolution. My point is that the social ecologies of Bookchin and Guattari share a common middle, inclusive ground and this fecund third space demands further research and exploration. This third space can help us to crisscross the sense of a third revolution in Bookchin and third reterritorialization in Deleuze and Guattari. For Bookchin, the third revolution is an emancipatory praxis, a communalism as he calls it. In The Next Revolution he describes the third revolution as emerging at the end of hostilities in 1917, when Russian society witnessed the surging up of a desire for a third revolution—one “not to restore the past, as the Bolsheviks claimed, but to realize the very goals of freedom, economic as well as political, that had rallied the masses around the Bolshevik program of 1917” (137). The third reterritorialization in Deleuze and Guattari is a form of absolute reordering of territories and temporalities—one tied to the immediate political milieu but also invoking a futural, virtual, or utopian dimension contrary to the current ordering of the socius. As Yoshiyuki Koizumi argues: “We are heading towards a third reterritorialization” (280). This would be to escape utopias of transcendence so as to embrace immanent, revolutionary, libertarian utopias or ecosophies. This would be to invoke the possibility of a new people, earth, and ecosophy to come. It would invoke utopia once again, to risk thinking beyond the lot of our days, “the turbulent passage of our times” (Guattari Reader 262). In “Remaking Social Practices” Guattari writes of the problem of thinking a utopian space beyond poisonous spaces “heavy with thick clouds and miasmas”: The routines of daily life, and the banality of the world represented to us by the media, surround us with a reassuring atmosphere in which nothing is any longer of real consequence. We cover our eyes; we forbid ourselves to think about the turbulent passage of our times, which swiftly thrusts far behind us our familiar past, which effaces ways of being and living that are still fresh in our minds, and which slaps our future onto an opaque horizon, heavy with thick clouds and miasmas. We depend all the more on the reassurance that nothing is assured. (Guattari Reader 262)

One can find in the social ecologies and anarchisms of writers like Le Guin, Bookchin, and Guattari a manifestly utopian impulse which is affirmative and immanently directed to the world. It is “a call to life” as Guattari and Negri insist in Communists Like Us, a willingness to break the “encirclement” of the world of work and reason, which is to say, that organization of life which continues to repress, exploit, and lead to “the extinction of the world and humanity with it” (11). Guattari, Le Guin, and indeed Bookchin share the determination to stall, if not derail, the runaway mechanism of capitalism. On this point, both the social ecologies of Bookchin and Guattari share a committed view that capitalism is intractably hostile to the ecosystem. Yet, in Guattari’s work there is an attempt to unearth capitalism’s tactic of intension, that is to say, the way capitalism nestles into unconscious levels of subjectivity. The choice is less between humanism and antihumanism, social and deep ecology, the dialectic and difference, and more toward the invocation of the utopian imagination. This is to question and disrupt the runaway machine of capitalism. The construction of a technological, anarchistic utopia or dystopia for example in Le Guin’s work is one such way to imagine a different order of things. Indeed, in The Ecology of Freedom, Bookchin brilliantly anticipates the direction and thrust of both Guattari’s and Le Guin’s enterprise: The continuing substitution of rationalism for reason, of scientism for science, and of technics for ethics threatens to remove our very sense of the problems that exist, not to speak of our ability to resolve them. A look at technics alone reveals that the car is racing at an increasing pace, with nobody in the driver’s seat. Accordingly, commitment and insight have never been more needed than they are today. Whether or not the time is too late I will not venture to say; neither pessimism nor optimism have any meaning in the face of the commanding imperatives that confront us. What must be understood is that the ambiguities of freedom are not intractable problems—that there are ways of resolving them. (302)

Confronted with the runaway processes of capitalism, it seems right to search for new models of thought such as anarchism and utopia. We can concur with science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, who in a recent interview acknowledges the shared inheritance of anarchism and utopia. In the interview “The Realism of Our Time” he tells Helena Feder: “I’ve read Bookchin and I admire his work. What’s good in anarchism is the idea of a complete horizontalization of power and prosperity. . . . It’s a great long-term horizon to aim for. It’s like utopia itself.” Indeed, writing 500 years after More’s Utopia, Robinson expresses the point succinctly when he writes that utopian thought is a vital tool to rethink the plight of the planet in the wake of the Anthropocene: We’re probably not going to be able to cap the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at less than 450 parts per million, and 560 parts per million is quite possible. At that point we will be living on a quite different planet, in a significantly damaged biosphere, with its life-support systems so harmed that human existence will be substantially threatened. It has become a case of utopia or catastrophe, and utopia has gone from being a somewhat minor literary problem to a necessary survival strategy. (Robinson 9)

In the wake of the “geotrauma” of the Anthropocene (Cole et al.), the reconsideration of utopia and anarchism therefore is a “necessary survival strategy,” which is to say, one which takes the real movement of thought—absolute re(de) territorialization—to its highest level, prompting a fresh analysis of the material conditions of life, a rethinking of both exhausted, ignoble utopias and the immonde or vile world. This form of thinking invokes the heterogenesis of values and a possible exodus strategy to contest the runaway processes of capitalism. In a dialogue with Elkaim, Jimenez, and Wigley, Guattari argues for a new aesthetic paradigm to understand the post-mass media and post-capitalistic age: “I continue, therefore, to affirm this Utopia, to affirm what I would call this choice of the value of values, this choice of the heterogenesis of values” (Schnitman and Schnitman 149). Such a paradigm or strategy is part of a transversal process to create new models of thought befitting our time and for times yet to come. This transversal model asks for a new mode of thought, a mode beyond disillusionment, depression, and sorrow, a mode beyond collusion and compromise, a mode beyond the pigs and dogs of Le Guin and Guattari.

 

Works Cited

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Blasdel, Alex. “‘A Reckoning for Our Species’: The Philosopher Prophet of the Anthropocene.” The Guardian, 25 June, 2017, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/15/timothy-mortonanthropocene-philosopher.

Boff, Leonardo. Essential Care: An Ethics of Human Nature. Baylor UP, 2008.

Bookchin, Murray. The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy. AK Press, 1982.

_____. “Libertarian Municipalism: An Overview.” Left Green Perspectives, issue 24, Oct. 1991. The Anarchist Library, theanarchistlibrary.org/library/murray-bookchin-libertarian-municipalism-an-overview.

_____. The Murray Bookchin Reader. Edited by Janet Biehl, Black Rose Books, 1999.

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Original article published here: https://www.academia.edu/38174270/For_a_World_beyond_Pigs_and_Dogs_Transversal_Utopias_Guattari_Le_Guin_Bookchin

For a World beyond Pigs and Dogs: Transversal Utopias — Guattari, Le Guin, Bookchin

Dec 2018

Tamkang Review 49.1:

DOI: 10.6184/TKR201812-4.

pp. 53-70 

Extinction Rebellion

Rupert Read

Reader in Philosophy, University of East Anglia

Article first published in the Conversation here: 

Not heard of the “Extinction Rebellion” before? Then you heard it here first. Because soon, everyone is going to have heard of it. The Extinction Rebellion is a non-violent direct action movement challenging inaction over dangerous climate change and the mass extinction of species which, ultimately, threatens our own species.

Saturday November 17 2018 is “Rebellion Day” – when people opposed to what they see as a government of “climate criminals” aim to gather together enough protesters to close down parts of the capital – by shutting down fossil-powered road traffic at key pinch-points in London.

I’m a Reader in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia and I have thrown myself headfirst into this movement. Our long-term aim is to create a situation where the government can no longer ignore the determination of an increasingly large number of people to shift the world from what appears to be a direct course towards climate calamity. Who knows, the government could even end up having to negotiate with the rebels.

As someone who is both a veteran of non-violent direct actions over the years and an academic seeking to make sense of these campaigns, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about what’s old and what’s new about the Extinction Rebellion. Here are my conclusions so far.

From world peace to climate justice

The Extinction Rebellion is rooted in longstanding traditions exemplified by the radical nuclear disarmament movement. The founders of the Extinction Rebellion have thought carefully about past precedents, and about what works and what doesn’t.

They’ve noted for instance that you don’t necessarily need active involvement from more than a tiny percentage of the population to win radical change, provided that you have a righteous cause that can elicit tacit backing from a much larger percentage.

The Extinction Rebellion is also quite different from its predecessors. True, the disarmament movement was about our very existence, but nuclear devastation was – and still is – only a risk. Extinction Rebellion’s aim is to prevent a devastation of our world that will come – and quite soon, unless we manage to do something unprecedented that will radically change our direction.

Climate activists often compare their struggle to victories from the past. But in my view comparisons which are often made – to Indian independence, the civil rights movement or the campaign for universal suffrage, for example – are over-optimistic, even fatuous. These historical movements were most often about oppressed classes of people rising up and empowering themselves, gaining access to what the privileged already had.

The Extinction Rebellion challenges oligarchy and neoliberal capitalism for their rank excess and the political class for its deep lack of seriousness. But the changes that will be needed to arrest the collapse of our climate and biodiversity are now so huge that this movement is concerned with changing our whole way of life. Changing our diet significantly. Changing our transport systems drastically. Changing the way our economies work to radically relocalise them. The list goes on.

This runs up against powerful vested interests – but also places considerable demands upon ordinary citizens, especially in “developed” countries such as the UK. It is therefore a much harder ask. This means that the chances of the Extinction Rebellion succeeding are relatively slim. But this doesn’t prove it’s a mistaken enterprise – on the contrary, it looks like our last chance.

Risking arrest is a small sacrifice when life itself is on the line. Andy Rain/EPA

From the lecture hall to the streets

This all leads into why I sat in the road blocking the entrance to Parliament Square on October 31, when the Extinction Rebellion was launched – and why I will be “manning the barricades” again on November 17. As a Quaker, I cherish the opening words of the famous Shaker hymn: Tis the gift to be simple. What does it mean to live simply at this moment in history? It means to do everything necessary so that others – most importantly our children (and their children) – can simply live. It isn’t enough to live a life of voluntary simplicity.

One needs also to take peaceful direct action to seek to stop the mega-machine of growth-obsessed corporate capitalism that is destroying our common future. That’s why it seems plain to me that we need peaceful rebellion now, so that we and countless other species don’t face devastation or indeed extinction.

The next line of that Shaker hymn goes: “Tis the gift to be free.” In our times, to be free means to not be bound by laws that are consigning our children to purgatory or worse. If one cares properly for one’s children, that must entail caring for their children, too. You don’t really care for your children if you damn their children. And that logic multiplies into the future indefinitely – we aren’t caring adequately for any generation if the generation to follow it is doomed.

As mammals whose primary calling is to care for our kids, it is therefore logical that an outright existential threat to their future, and to that of their children, must be resisted and rebelled against, no matter what the pitifully inadequate laws of our land say.

I’ve felt called upon to engage in conscientious civil disobedience before, at Faslane and Aldermaston against nuclear weapons and with EarthFirst in defence of the redwood foreststhreatened with destruction in the Pacific Northwest of the USA.

But the Extinction Rebellion seems to me the most compelling cause of them all. Unless we manage to do the near impossible, then after a period of a few decades at most there won’t be any other causes to engage with. It really now is as stark and as dark as that.

If you too feel the call, then I think you now know what to do

 

The Anthropocene: A different learning landscape for a different world

Lecture delivered at the Universitas Nusa Cendana in Kupang, Indonesia, on 10 October 2018, by Jan Visser, President, Learning Development Institute

Questions about who and what we are, where we come from, and where we are going have long fascinated human beings. They are perhaps the most profound questions we can ever ask. They are also questions to which we may never find definitive answers. This is exactly why they inspire both our art and science—our ways to come to grips with an only partially understood reality.

In art we express our deepest feelings and reflections on where we belong. In our scientific endeavor we seek to grasp where we stand amidst all that surrounds us. Earliest artistic expressions of this quest can be found in rock art that dates back tens of thousands of years. Science, as it evolved over thousands of years, has given us beautiful mathematical descriptions—such as Maxwell’s equations or Einstein’s field equations—to aid in contemplating our world.

It’s a pleasure to address an audience that understands physics. However, what I should like to discuss with you today surpasses the boundaries of our discipline. You may ask: Does physics have boundaries? I know—we physicists maintain that everything, even life itself, is ultimately physics. We can be forgiven to think that way as long as we look at the world from a reductionist point of view. However, we should not be forgiven if—despite the profound knowledge and deep insight we gather about the nature of things—we fail to recognize the larger picture of which things are part. Allow me to illustrate this with an example from my personal experience.

During the 1960s I had a strong interest in the question ‘What is life?’ The question was first brought into prominence, as a matter of serious scientific interest, in 1943 by Erwin Schrödinger, when he delivered a series of public lectures at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. A year later he published his thoughts in a book with that same title, while apologizing, eloquently, for deviating from the expectation that, as a scientist, one should “not…write on any topic of which…[one] is not a master.” He wanted to free himself of the obligation to stay within the norm while addressing this uncommon issue, trespassing in the domain of a different discipline.

This little book, of less than a hundred pages, had a profound, revolutionizing, impact, not in the least because it encouraged the participation of scientists from different disciplines in researching issues pertaining to the realm of the life sciences. Only a decade later the structure of DNA had been unraveled as—in a landmark publication in Nature—Watson and Crick suggested, based on X-ray crystallographic evidence gleaned from work by Franklin, that it should be double- helical. It motivated further work to be done to understand life from a molecular point of view. This, in turn, led to the development during the 1960s and beyond of a dynamic field of multidisciplinary research that brought biology, chemistry and physics together under one roof. Quantum biochemistry was born.

I was a young theoretical physicist at the time, inspired by the question originally raised by Schrödinger, and hopeful to reach greater wisdom and more profound insight in what life really is. I had the great privilege to be working in close proximity to some of the senior colleagues who were shaping the new field. It was fascinating. But did the study of molecular orbitals bring me any closer to a real understanding of life the way we, humans, experience it? Could we correctly assume that such work as my colleagues and I were involved in would eventually contribute to our knowledge of life itself? Few people I knew were troubled by that question. The one exception I am aware of was Christopher Longuet-Higgins, a theoretical chemist and a prominent as well as respected figure in the field.

I remember well reading, in the Spring of 1967, while working at the Technion in Haifa, Israel, a document written by Longuet-Higgins that, sadly, I have never been able to trace again. It is long ago now, but I believe that what I read was not an officially published paper, but rather something like an open letter to colleagues that went from hand to hand. It argued— convincingly to me—that our assumptions were naïve. The work we did would never reveal the fullness of life. I have occasionally asked colleagues from that same period if they recalled the article. The answer has always been ‘no.’ The paper must have been generally ignored; an accidental deviation from the norm by an otherwise brilliant scientist, one may have thought. I now read in the Wikipedia that in 1967, Longuet-Higgins “made a major change in his career,” turning his attention to the brain and artificial intelligence rather than the quantum chemistry of life. In retrospect I note that I made a similarly crucial move a year later.

My brief autobiographic interlude above, presented in the context of developments that took place over a couple of decades in one particular multidisciplinary branch of science, shows that important benefit can be derived from the collaboration between researchers from different disciplines who work on dissimilar aspects of a given problem, each from the perspective of their own discipline. While that is the case, not everyone is happy. Surely, we understand things more fully, but greater depth of understanding can be achieved. In fact, greater depth of understanding must be achieved for humanity to interact constructively with the ever more convoluted problem situations of our time.

Allow me to explain.

As we have seen, sharply enhanced insights into the riddle of life were obtained. We understand life much better.

However, our understanding of life is still restricted by what the methods and procedures that define our science allow us to explore. We have to step outside the boundaries of our discipline if we want to consider issues such as ‘the value of life’ or Albert Schweitzer’s ethical principle of ‘reverence for life.’ And it’s often exactly such considerations that matter most when it comes to confronting the vexing problems of our time. So, where do we really stand within the grand scheme of evolution of the universe and life on planet Earth?

HLA

The composite graphic shown above locates us in space-time. It may help us feel both happy and humble. Our conscious existence now is the result of evolutionary processes over billions of years on the crust of an ordinary planetary satellite, of an ordinary star, located in some insignificant corner of one particular galaxy among the more than 100 billion (1011) that are known to exist. It is unlikely that no other similarly (or more) complex life forms could have emerged elsewhere in the universe. Regarding the amazing fact of our own conscious existence on planet Earth, which for each of us lasts no longer than a brief period that can best be expressed in tens of years, we should consider that it required 13.82 billion years of evolution, starting with a singularity that we call the Big Bang, for us to appear. As said, it should make us feel happy, because we have this brief opportunity to consciously participate in the ongoing evolution. It should also make us feel humble, because it is so infinitesimally short.

In what I so far discussed, I have deliberately added the adjective ‘conscious’ to words such as existence and its derivatives. I have done so for a reason. We are not separate from nature. We are nature. As we see nature evolve we should also see us—the species ‘Homo sapiens’—co-evolve with everything else that evolves. According to the most recent findings, our species emerged, from earlier hominids, such as Homo heidelbergensis, more than 300,000 (3 x 105) years ago.

That’s of course an ephemeral event when looked upon against the backdrop of the 1.382 x 1010 years of evolution since the Big Bang. Yet, our impact has been enormous, particularly due to the agricultural revolution (dating back to circa 10,000 BCE) and more specifically since the industrial revolution (starting during the 18th century CE). Both developments have benefited us in the short run (short in evolutionary terms), but consequences may be disastrous from the longer-term perspective of human existence on earth.

What are some of those short-term benefits and long-term adverse consequences? Here are some examples. The list is far from exhaustive.

It is thanks to the agricultural revolution that members of our species could liberate time for doing other things than satisfying their basic needs to survive. Food could be produced in much greater quantities than what could have been obtained through hunting and gathering. After food storage technologies were invented, humans managed to cope with the stresses of food shortages over long periods of time. Freeing up time was an important precondition for cultural development. We owe to it the beauty of music, literature, the graphic and plastic arts, and the marvelous science-based insights into our world and ourselves.

The industrial revolution and the current technological revolution have further contributed to freeing up even more time and to changing conditions that determine how we live together. Without the latter revolution, the emancipation of women might not have happened to the extent that it has been successful so far. It has also made life much easier for most of us.

On the downside it should be noted that, as a consequence of the agricultural revolution, the human population on Earth ceased to be naturally kept in check in ways similar to what happens in the case of other animals. Moreover, agriculture, industrial practices and the possibilities offered through technological development, have led to attitudes of ‘taking it all.’ It is felt that everything we can do, we also must do. Consequently, we have increasingly started living in ways that are unhealthy for both our bodies and the environment.

Commercial interests promote a generalized sense that we should feel happy about the replacement of our physical and mental faculties by machines. As a result, many of us have foregone the pleasure of living in harmony with nature as determined by our biologically evolved features. ‘Assisted living by default’ has become the norm.

A much more elaborate and comprehensive analysis of benefits and adverse consequences of what we have done to our living conditions and ourselves would be justified if time were available to present it as part of this brief talk. But I hope you get the point.

Our actions since 12,000 years ago, but particularly and increasingly during the last two to three centuries, have made us our own enemies. In the face of extreme meteorological events and changing temperature patterns around the world we are being told that we must ‘fight climate change.’ Yes, me must, but, as I see it, the fight is in the first place against ourselves and our disastrous habits. Particularly, we must come to grips with our superior intelligence. It’s a great gift, but we seem to have seriously lagged behind in emotional development. A profound change in our entire ‘way of being in the world’ is imperative to guarantee that we can survive as a species under the conditions we have ourselves so carelessly made to evolve.

The title of my intervention mentions the term ‘Anthropocene.’ For those who are unfamiliar with it, here is a brief update. In Greek, the word ‘ἄνθρωπος’ (anthropos) stands for ‘man’ in the sense of ‘human being,’ including male and female members of our species. In May 2000, Paul Crutzen, an atmospheric chemist and 1995 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, and the biologist Eugene Stoermer proposed the term ‘Anthropocene’—the era of man—to refer to the epoch in the history of our planet when humans started to have a significant impact on the Earth’s geological and ecological systems. They emphasized that “to develop a world-wide accepted strategy leading to sustainability of ecosystems against human induced stresses will be one of the great future tasks of mankind, requiring intensive research efforts and wise application of the knowledge thus acquired…” (p. 18).

Of course, it’s just a word, but its increased use in our daily conversations may hopefully keep reminding us that we live in a different world. It is a world in which there is a real threat that our species, the humans, will disappear and many other species with it. It is not impossible that we will see first signs that we are, irreversibly, on the way out in our lifetime or that of our children or grandchildren. The impending possibility of a Sixth Mass Extinction is being noted increasingly in the scientific literature. Our species may well be among those that go extinct.

Being reminded of the vulnerability of our species may sound like a call to pessimism, but it isn’t. The prospect of species extinction has always been there, and there is no reason why Homo sapiens would be excluded. But note that the past five extinctions have all occurred due to non-human causes, often a combination of different factors. The last one took place 65.5 million years ago. As long as there is still time, we should consider reversing the current trend.

We live in a world that is strikingly different from where we started, tens of thousands of years ago, when members of our species kept themselves alive through hunting and by gathering whatever they could find that was edible. Their (ecological) footprint was small and so was their number. We have now populated the Earth to an extent to which, when we see other animals do so, we find it is time to cull the population. I am not advocating any such deliberate violent means to control the size of the world’s human population. Yet, I should like to merely point to the fact that we have acquired knowledge about sexual reproduction and developed medical and technological innovations that allow us to regulate growth of the world population.

Not only the sheer size of our population, but also the ways in which we live (particularly by standards of the Western world), have dramatically increased our footprint on this planet. To change all that, new ways of being in the world, new ways of interacting with it, new ways of thinking within and about it, and thus new ways of learning must be invented and implemented. Not doing so will seriously threaten our sustained existence and dramatically change the biosphere or extinguish life on Earth altogether. Action at the individual, community, national/societal, and global level is needed to avoid this from happening.

Earlier, I referred to consciousness as an important attribute that characterizes our existence. We exist consciously. More than any other participant in the process of planetary evolution, we have an enhanced ability to be aware, cognitively and emotionally, of what we are doing; to foresee likely consequences; to learn from what we have seen happening in the past; to think about it; to imagine alternative scenario’s; and to correct our behavior while inventing new futures.

Not thinking deeply enough has allowed us to screw up the world. Going to greater depth in our thinking should allow us to fix the world as long as there is time left for things to be fixed. We should feel hard pressed. Periods as short as three years may already count.

It is precisely these ‘enhanced abilities’ of humans I just referred to that allow us to interact constructively with a changing world—a changing world to whose change we contribute ourselves, collectively and individually.

The highlighted words are important and I shall explain why.

There are certain concepts about which people usually don’t ask questions. The question ‘What is life?’ with which I started my intervention was such a question until it was raised by Schrödinger in 1943. We all knew we were alive and how it felt to be alive, but what exactly it was, well, that would have been hard to explain. Thanks to research since 1943 we now know a little better, but still don’t fully understand.

In addition to physics, an important—if not my most important—mission in life has been devoted to the development of human learning, of helping people to learn. Doing so is the task of teachers as well as parents, but, if you think about it, we are all continually playing a role in helping other people learn while, at the same time, we ourselves learn our entire life. But what is learning?

Just like the ‘What is life?’ question, also the ‘What is learning?’ question is seldom asked. It seems unnecessary. It is taken for granted that everyone knows what it means. Besides, if the question was asked, most people would find it difficult to come up with a concise and satisfying answer. Try it out at a party and you’ll see.

Should you ask the average person, you would probably get an answer like: “Well, why would you ask a silly question. Isn’t that what we all do in school? Don’t you know that.” When asked of a professional who studies learning or is involved in designing and creating the conditions for learning, the likely answer would be that it is about acquiring knowledge and skills. But is that all? Is that really what matters most, or is it simply what matters to those who teach or who administer education?

The question has long been on my mind, until I thought: ‘Let me find out.’ Starting in the year 2000 and continuing for several years, I used every appropriate opportunity to ask people some simple questions: ‘What is the most meaningful thing your learned in life?’ ‘Why do you consider it meaningful?’ ‘What prompted it and in what circumstances did it happen?’

Colleagues joined me and together we collected and analyzed over the years hundreds of so-called ‘learning stories’ that respondents had written down, expressed in drawings or poetry, or delivered orally to be recorded by the researcher. The stories were collected at different places around the world. They represented a diverse spectrum of people, including well-established academics as well as illiterate farmers living in the Andean mountains in South America.

Analysis showed that hardly any of the reported meaningful learning experiences had anything to do with what happened in schools and other formal learning environments. The most profound, most transformative, learning occurred in informal settings. That is a good thing. Transformative learning is a key condition for sustained human existence in the Anthropocene. It is therefore also a good thing that we spend most of our time in diverse informal learning environments. Yet, educators, education experts, administrators, and policy and decision makers hardly ever think about or recognize the importance of informal settings. Considering the challenges posed by the Anthropocene it is imperative that this should change.

But I digress, and do so intentionally, because the issue is so important that I can’t help bringing it up time and again.

Now, let me return to the research I was referring to. The results of it, in combination with what I had learned from my prior experience as an educator and developer of learning systems, compelled me to rethink the meaning of learning, redefine it, and figure out why it is so difficult to change people’s perceptions about it. This led to a definition of learning which highlights the following four things:

  • Getting better at constructive interaction with change is the essence of what it means to learn
  • Learning is a lifelong disposition rather than something one engages in only from time to time
  • The disposition referred to in the previous item does not only apply to individual people. Social entities (such as families, organizations, corporations, ) also learn and thus get better at interacting with change
  • Learning results from dialogue. It should be noted that we develop such dialogue along the lifespan with the human, social, biological and physical environment that surrounds us.

As said—and I repeat it here for enhanced emphasis—there is, as we face the challenges of the Anthropocene, an urgent need to indeed get better at how we interact constructively with a changing world. And, please, be aware that we contribute ourselves to that change. We thus must learn in the sense of my enhanced definition of learning. It requires that we all broaden our vision of learning, giving it a much richer meaning. This is as such a tremendous task. Changing one’s perceptions about such things as learning is difficult and may take a long time. It may even take generations, but it must be done, however difficult it may be.

A key issue regarding life in the Anthropocene is that we must be fully aware of its complexity and thus be capable of dealing with complexity. Life is not complex simply because it is complicated or difficult. Surely, it is also complicated and difficult, but the more important issue is that the essential problems of life in the Anthropocene cannot be addressed in isolation from their context. Any attempted ‘solution’ of a problem in isolation will change the context of which the problem is part and thereby redefine the problem, often making the situation worse. Solutions to complex problems come from complex approaches in which all actors (human as well as non-human actors) participate. Such solutions recognize that complex systems are adaptive and can be made to adjust under the influence of, generally, gentle forces. Such forces are equally applied in a complex manner in which actors work together in harmony. On the part of human actors this means that humans must be capable of complex thinking, an issue that is well addressed in the work of Edgar Morin.

Let me conclude. I started off by referring to questions that are at the origin of humanity’s intellectual and spiritual development. They express all at once awe, fear, veneration, respect for the unknown, and recognition of ignorance. We marvel and tremble as we look into the void of not knowing. When asked, such questions can only be answered partially. The partial answers obtained reveal more ignorance at ever higher levels. It is the recognition of such ignorance that fuels our curiosity and that drives us forward.

We have long thought of ourselves as separate from the world, a message that one finds embedded quite strongly in some of the major world religions that situate humans between God and nature, giving humans the divine responsibility to care for the world and all that it contains while transforming the world to serve humans’ best interests. Humans are not seen as part of the world but rather as the apex of evolution, as the crown of the creation.

Everything else is in the service of humanity.

This worldview has made us feel dominant and has led to a sense of license to transform the world to our liking. After tens of thousands of years we have come full circle and look ourselves in the eye. Yes, we have transformed the world, our home in the universe, but we are suddenly discovering that the way we changed it is now threatening our very existence. We are finally becoming aware of the complexity of a world to which we belong, of which we are an integral part, a world that we cannot escape.

This notion is poorly represented in how we currently think about human learning, what we do to create propitious conditions to facilitate learning. Recognizing our shortcomings, we should feel compelled to reimagine the entire learning landscape. In conclusion, therefore, I suggest a comparative, non-exhaustive, even minimalist, listing of necessary changes.

LEARNING AS IT OFTEN MOSTLY IS vs. LEARNING AS IT SHOULD BE
Accumulative vs. Transformative
Linear vs. Complex
Focused on acquiring skills and static change vs. Focused on process and dynamics of change
Aimed at transforming the world vs. Aimed at constructive interaction with the world
Mainly formal vs. Across formal, non-formal and informal
Documented in quantifiable terms vs. Documented in quantifiable and qualitative terms
Disciplinary silos vs. Integral knowledge and visions
Mono- and multidisciplinarity vs. Inter- and transdisciplinarity
One design fits all vs. Following a self-designed learning path
Curriculum driven vs. Flexible curricula or curriculum free
Acquisition-memorization-retrieval vs. Creative participatory involvement
Expository and didactic vs. Exploratory, discovery and inquiry based, participatory
Focus on single organ: The brain vs. Focus on organism as a whole, including the brain
Rational (part of the brain) vs. Rational and emotive (entire brain)
Knowledge and skills in isolation vs. Knowledge, skills, attitudes, values
Learning bounded in space and time vs. Learning without frontiers
Learning about nature vs. Learning in and from nature

Thank you.

Find version with extra pictures and footnotes here