Two extracts from Green Earth

Kim Stanley Robinson

Chapter 14: Is there a technical solution?


No one thinks it will ever happen to them until suddenly they are in the thick of it, thoroughly surprised to be there.

A tornado in Halifax Nova Scotia; the third and catastrophic year of drought in Ireland; major floods on the Los Angeles River: these kinds of anomalies kept happening, at a rate of more than one a day around the world. Sooner or later almost everyone got caught up in some event, or lived in the midst of some protracted anomaly, for the weather events were both acute and chronic, a matter of hours or a matter of years.

Still it was hard to imagine it would ever happen to you.

At the poles the results were particularly profound, because of major and rapid changes in the ice. For reasons poorly understood, both polar regions were warming much faster than the rest of the planet. In the north the break-up of the Arctic Ocean’s sea ice had led to the imminent extinction of many species, including the polar bear, and the stall of the Gulf Stream. In the south it had resulted in the rapid break-up of the giant ice shelves hugging the Antarctic coast, unblocking the big glaciers falling into the Ross Sea so that they became “ice rivers,” moving so rapidly down their channels that they were destabilizing the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the biggest variable in the whole picture: if this sheet came off its underwater perch on the sea floor, the world would suffer impacts greater by far than what had been witnessed already, most especially a rapid rise in sea level, up to as much as seven meters if the whole sheet came off.

Still it was hard to imagine it would ever happen to you.

There were further ramifications. The ocean bottom, where it drops from the continental shelves to the abyssal seafloor, is in many places a steep slope, and these slopes are coated by thick layers of mud that contain methane in the form of clathrates, a chemical form of freezing that cages molecules of the gas in a frozen matrix. As ocean temperatures rose, these chemical cages were being destabilized, and release of the methane could then cause underwater avalanches in which even more methane was released, rising through the water and rejoining the atmosphere, where it was a greenhouse gas much more powerful than carbon dioxide. Warmer atmosphere meant warmer ocean meant released methane meant warmer atmosphere meant—

It was a complex of cycles—geologic, oceanic, and atmospheric—all blending into each other and affecting the rest. The interactions were so complex, the feedbacks positive and negative so hard to gauge in advance, the unforeseen consequences so potentially vast, that no one could say what would happen next to the global climate. Modelling had been attempted to estimate the general rise in temperature, and actually the models had been refined to the point that there was some agreement as to the outside parameters of possible change, ranging from about a two to an eleven degree C. rise—a big range, but that’s how uncertain any estimates were at this point. And even if the estimates could have been tighter, global averages did not reveal much about local or ultimate effects, as people were now learning. There were non-linear tipping points, and now some of these were beginning to reveal themselves. The stall of the Gulf Stream was expected to chill the winter temperatures in the northern hemisphere, especially on both sides of the Atlantic; further effects were much less certain. The recent two-year failure of the monsoon was not understood, nor its violent return. China’s drought was ongoing, as was the longest-ever El Nino, called the Hypernino. Desertification in the Sahel was moving south at an ever-increasing rate, and South America was suffering the worst floods in recorded history because of the rain brought by the El Nino. It had rained in the Atacama.

Wild weather everywhere, thus the most expensive insurance year ever, for the eighth year in a row. That was just a number, an amount of money distributed out through the financial systems of the world; but it was also a measure of catastrophe, death, suffering, fear, insecurity, and sheer massive inconvenience.

The problem they faced was that everything living depended on conditions staying within certain tight climactic parameters. The atmosphere was only so thick; as Frank put it once, talking to Anna and Kenzo, when you drive by Mount Shasta on US Interstate Five, you can see the height of the liveable part of the atmosphere right there before your eyes. No permanent human settlement on Earth was higher than Shasta’s summit, at 14,200 feet, so the mountain served to show in a very visible form just how thick the breathable atmosphere was—and the mountain wasn’t very tall at all, in comparison to the immense reach of the plateau the highway ran over. It was just a snowy hill! It was sobering, Frank said; after you saw the matter that way, looking at the mountain and sensing the size of the whole planet, you were changed. Ever afterward you would be aware of an invisible ceiling low overhead containing all the breathable air under it—the atmosphere thus no more than the thinnest wisp of a skin, like cellophane wrapped to the lithosphere. An equally thin layer of water had liquefied in the low basins of this lithosphere, and that was the life zone: cellophane wrapping a planet, a mere faint exhalation, wisping off into space. Frank would shake his head, remembering that vision driving over the shoulder of Shasta. At that moment the world had said to him, I AM.

Still, it was hard to imagine.


Chapter 15: Autumn in New York


The most beautiful regatta in the history of the world convened that year on Midsummer Day, at the North Pole.

The sun hung at the same height in the sky all day long, blazing down on open water that appeared more black than blue. A few icebergs floated here and there, dolmens of jade or turquois standing in the obsidian sea. Among them sailed or motored some three hundred boats and ships. Sails were of every cut and color, some prisming as they bent to the shifts of a mild southern breeze. All possible rigs and hulls were there: catamarans, schooners, yawls, ketches, trimarans; also square-riggers, from caravels to clipper ships to newfangled experiments not destined to prosper; also a quintet of huge Polynesian outriggers; also every manner of motor launch, rumbling unctuously through the sailboats; even a lot of single-person craft, including kayakers, and wind-surfers in black drysuits.

The fleet jockeyed until their skippers linked up and formed a circle centered on the pole, rotating clockwise if seen from above. Everyone thus sailed west, following the two rules that birds use when flocking: change speed as little as possible, keep as far apart from everyone else as possible.

Senator Phil Chase smiled when the flocking rubric was explained to him. “That’s the Senate for you,” he said. “Maybe it’s all you need to get by in life.”

This was the fifth midsummer festival at the Pole. Every year since the Arctic Ocean had opened in summer, a larger and larger group of sea craft had sailed or motored north to party at the pole. By a happy coincidence, the North Pole itself, as determined by GPS, was marked this year by a tall aquamarine iceberg that had drifted over it. In the immediate vicinity of this newly-identified “Pole Berg” idled many of the largest ships in the fleet. As always, the gathering had a Burning Man aspect, its excess and fireworks leading many to call it Drowning Man, or Freeze Your Butt Man.

This year, however, the party had been joined by the Inuit nation Nunavut and the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change, who had declared this “The Year of Global Environmental Awareness,” and sent out hundreds of invitations, and provided many ships themselves, in the hope of gathering a floating community that would emphasize to all the world the undeniable changes already wrought by global warming. The organizers were willing to accept the risk of making the gathering look like a party, or even God forbid a celebration of global warming, in order to garner as much publicity as possible. Of course a whole new ocean to sail on was no doubt a cool thing for sailors, but all the missing Arctic ice was floating down into the North Atlantic at that very moment, changing everything. IPCC wanted people to see with their own eyes that abrupt climate change was already upon them.


 But of course there were many people there who did not regard the polar party in its official light, just as there were many in the world who did not worry overmuch about entering the Youngest Dryas. On the sail up to the festival, some of them had encountered an oil tanker making a dry run on a Great Circle route from Japan to Norway that passed near the pole: the Northwest Passage was open for business at last. Oil could be shipped directly from the North Sea to Japan, cutting the distance by two-thirds. Even if oil was passé now, Japan and the North Sea oil countries were nevertheless awfully pleased to be able to move it over the Pole. They were not ashamed to admit that the world still needed oil, and that while it did, there would be reasons to appreciate certain manifestations of global warming. Shipyards in Glasgow, Norway, and Japan had been revitalized, and were now busy building a new class of Arctic Sea tankers to follow this prototype, boldly going where no tanker had gone before.

Here at the Pole on Midsummer Day, things looked fine. The world was beautiful, the fleet spectacular. In danger or not, human culture seemed to have risen to the occasion. Noon of summer solstice at the North Pole, a glorious armada forming a kind of sculpture garden. A new kind of harmonic convergence, Ommmmmmmm.


On one of the bigger craft, an aluminium-hulled jet-powered catamaran out of Bar Harbor, Maine, a large group of people congregated around Senator Phil Chase. Many of them were bundled in the thick red down jackets provided to guests by the National Science Foundation’s Department of Polar Programs, because despite the black water and brilliant sun, the air temperature at the moment was 24 degrees Fahrenheit. People kept their hoods pulled forward, and their massed body warmth comforted them as they watched the group around Chase help him into a small rainbow-colored hot-air balloon, hanging over the top deck straining at its tether.

The World’s Senator got in the basket, gave the signal; the balloon master fired the burners, and the balloon ascended into the clear air to the sound of cheers and sirens, Phil Chase waving to the fleet below, looking somewhat like the Wizard of Oz at the moment when the wizard floats away prematurely.

But Phil was on a line, and the line held. From a hundred feet above the crowd, Phil could be seen grinning his beautiful grin. “Here we are!” he announced over the fleet’s combined radio and loudspeaker array; and of course millions more saw and heard him by satellite TV. A big buoy clanged the world to order as Phil raised a hand to still the ships’ horns and fireworks.

“Folks,” he said, “I’ve been working for the people of California for seventeen years, representing them in the United States Senate, and now I want to take what I’ve learned in those efforts, and in my travels around the world, and apply all that to serving the people of the United States, and all the world.”

“President of the world?” Roy Anastopholous said to Charlie, and began to laugh.

“Shh! Shh!” Charlie said to Roy. They were watching it on TVs in different parts of DC, but talking on their phones as they watched.

“It’s a crazy thing to want to do,” Phil was conceding. “I’m the first to admit that, because I’ve seen what the job does to people. But in for a penny in for a pound, as they say, and we’ve reached a moment where somebody who can handle it needs to use the position to effect some good.”

Roy was still giggling. “Be quiet!” Charlie said.

“—there is no alternative to global cooperation. We have to admit and celebrate our interdependence, and work in solidarity with every living thing. All God’s creatures are living on this planet in one big complex organism, and we’ve got to act like that now. That’s why I’ve chosen to announce my candidacy here at the North Pole. Everything meets up here, and everything has changed here. This beautiful ocean, free of ice for the first time in humanity’s existence, is sign of a clear and present danger. Recall what it looked like here even five years ago. You can’t help but admit that huge changes have already come.

“Now what do those changes mean? Nobody knows. Where will they lead? Nobody knows. This is what everyone has to remember; no one can tell what the future will bring. Anything can happen, anything at all. We stand at the start of a steep ski run. Black diamond for sure. I see the black diamonds twinkling everywhere down there. Down the slope of the coming decades we will ski. The moguls will be on us so fast we won’t believe it. There’ll be no time for lengthy studies that never do anything, that only hope business as usual will last for one more year, after which the profiteers will take off for their fortress mansions. That won’t work, not even for them. You can get offshore, but you can’t get off planet.”

Cheers and horns and sirens echoed over the water. Phil waited for them to quiet back down, smiling happily and waving. Then he continued:

“It’s one world now. The United States still has its historical role to fulfill, as the country of countries, the mixture and amalgam of all humanity, trying things out and seeing how they work. The United States is child of the world, you might say, and the world watches with the usual parental fascination and horror, anxiety and pride.

“So we have to grow up. If we were to turn into just another imperial bully and idiot, the story of history would be ruined, its best hope dashed. We have to give up the bad, give back the good. Franklin Roosevelt described what was needed from America very aptly, in a time just as dangerous as ours: he called for a course of ‘bold and persistent experimentation.’ That’s what I plan to do also. No more empire, no more head in the sand pretending things are okay. It’s time to join the effort to invent a global civilization that we can hand off to all the children and say, ‘This will work, keep it going, make it better.’ That’s permaculture, as some people call it, and really now we have no choice; it’s either permaculture or catastrophe. Let’s choose the good fight, and work so that our generation can hand to the next one this beautiful world.

“That’s the plan, folks. I intend to convince the Democratic Party to continue its historic work of helping to improve the lot of every man, woman, child, animal and plant on this planet. That’s the vision that has been behind all the party’s successes so far, and moving away from those core values has been part of the problem and the failure of our time. Together we’ll join humanity in making a world that is beautiful and just.”

“We’ll join humanity?” Roy said. “What is this, Democrats as aliens?” But Charlie could barely hear him over the ship horns and cheers. On the screen he could see they were beginning to reel Phil in like a big kite.


Extracts first published in Green Earth by Kim Stanley Robinson (London: Harper, Voyager).


From OOO to P(OO)

McKenzie Wark

I have been reading the work of Timothy Morton with pleasure for many years now. Originally a scholar of English romantic poetry, I find his work reads best as poetry, or perhaps a poetics, as a singular Mortonian vision of the world – or in this case, a vision of the absence of the world. For his most recent book is called Hyperorbjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minnesota, 2013).

I have some problems with it as theory, however, and will try to outline here where my own thinking and Morton’s both overlap and diverge. Perhaps bodies of work are a case of what Morton calls hyperobjects: spooky, nonlocal, pervasive entities that are at once in us which we are in. In which case best way to proceed is simply to map one onto the other and find the edges where such things resonate.

One of the merits of Morton’s work is its attention to twenty-first century problems. Morton: “To those great Victorian period discoveries, then – evolution, capital, the unconscious – we must now add spacetime, ecological interconnection, and nonlocality.” (47) If one suspends disbelief and reads him texts as a science fiction poetics, one starts to breath the (overly warm, possibly radioactive) air of the times. Branching off from Alphonso Lingis, Morton offers a phenomenology for the strange and untimely objects one increasingly seems to encounter –hyperobjects.

But first, objects. Morton: “Objects are unique. Objects can’t be reduced to smaller objects or dissolved upwards into larger ones. Objects are withdrawn from one another and from themselves. Objects are Tardis-like, larger on the inside than they are on the outside. Objects are uncanny. Objects compose an untotalizable nonwhole set that defies holism and reductionism. There is thus no top object that gives all objects value and meaning, and no bottom object to which they can be reduced. If there is no top object and no bottom object, it means that we have a very strange situation in which there are more parts than there are wholes. This makes holism of any kind totally impossible.” (116)

In short, Morton declares victory in advance for the poets. The world is made of things that elude any other kind of knowing. This is even more the case with hyperobjects, which stick to being, which are viscous, nonlocal, temporally weird and detectable only through the waves they make coming in or out of phase with other, more banal kinds of objects.

Mortonian poetics is a species of the genre of object oriented ontology (ooo), which is itself a kind of poetic realism. One in which entities are shy and retiring, like an octopus squirting a jet of ink as it disappears. There’s no transcendental leap outside of this world of hyperobjects, and as such a ‘world’ can not be said to appear at all, if by world we mean that which can be said to exist over and against me.

There’s no more bracketing off of a separate world, as “we are no longer able to think history as exhaustively human…” (5) There’s no outside. We’re always inside hyperobjects and hyperobjects are always passing through us, whether the hyperobject is radioactive waste or global warming. This poetics brings us to an uncanny place – the end of the world.

Morton’s aim is to wake us from the dream of a world ending, to the realization that it has ended already. There’s no outside, no separation. “Because they so massively outscale us, hyperobjects have magnified this weirdness of things for our inspection…. What if hyperobjects finally force us to realize the truth of the word humiliation itself, which means being brought low, being brought down to earth itself?” (12, 17)

The book makes use of many examples from modern science, but I am resistant to the attempt to subsume such examples within ooo. Morton: “science doesn’t necessarily know what it is about.” (10) But surely the reverse is even more the case, as Morton almost acknowledges: “You have to wonder whether your poem about global warming is really a hyperobject’s way of distributing itself into human ears and libraries.” (175) One needs climate science to understand hyperobjects, as it is a key example, but not vice-versa. As always with ontology, ooo comes after the labor of producing a knowledge of affairs and adds a supernumerary interpretation to it.

As a species of the genus speculative realism, ooo wants to have an alternative to what Quentin Meillassoux calls (after Merleau-Ponty) correlationism, where for there to be knowledge of a thing there need be a corresponding subject. The ooo species approaches this by generalizing the Heideggerian theme of the withdrawal of the tool itself in the act of performing its tool-function, by positing that all objects withdraw from each other in this manner. The subject-object relation then becomes just a subset of all object-object relations, in which objects always withdraw from each other, and relate to each other aesthetically, through the face they present.

Morton uses an example from Husserl. Holding a coin, one sees its face. But you can’t see the other side of the coin as the other side. You can only flip it over and make it this side. But I think the thing to pay attention to is not the mystery of the other side or the limits of seeing just this side, but the labor of the flipping. Hence I would want to move on from the contemplative thought of ooo to what it cannot but acknowledge in passing but continually represses: the labor or praxis via which a thing is known.

But to say labor is not to say subject. It is not to return to correlationism. For labor is always a mix of the human and inhuman. To say ‘tool’ is to partly say, and then erase, labor. Particularly when one gets to modern means of knowing the world, the apparatus of labor and techne becomes a vast and inhuman thing. This is the case in a pertinent example such as climate science, as I discussed in Molecular Red. There it’s an array of satellites, computers, terrestrial weather stations, forms of international cooperation of scientific labor, elaborately agreed upon standards and so on. Climate science, like all modern science is an inhuman apparatus via which the nonhuman world is mediated in such a way that humans can comprehend it.

Contra Morton, I don’t think Niels Bohr’s Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics is not correlationist at all. Morton writes of “Bohr as thinking quantum events as if they were “correlations to (human) instruments.” (37) But why is the instrument ‘human’? Is not the instrument an inhuman thing that mediates the nonhuman to the human? Again, there’s a collapsing of the space in which praxis occurs here.

For Morton, we are always inside objects. We are neither at the center nor the edge, and if they are hyperobjects they maybe massive, pervasive and weird. But I don’t think it’s the object that withdraws; I think its ooo that occludes the ways in which objects are known in the first place, which is in three steps.

First, there’s the particular praxis that produces a knowledge. Whether the praxis is labor or science, its always a cyborg mix of human effort and inhuman apparatus.

Second, there’s the generalization of that praxis in the form of metaphors and images. This is also a kind of labor, an intellectual labor, a mix of human talk and inhuman apparatus of communication.

The third step is the erasure of the other two. First there’s the praxis of doing science about quantum mechanics or climate change. Second there’s the production of the metaphor of the hyperobject, and third the erasure of the dependence of this metaphor on that prior praxis. In this case, the metaphor will then be claimed to be what precedes all those other steps when it is actually a later derivation.

Objects and even hyperobjects then appear as objects of contemplation, circulating all around us, free from the labor that produced a knowledge of them as such. Here I think Morton’s version of a speculative realism has the same limitation as the work of Quentin Meillassoux, (about which I have written here and here.) Where Meillassoux produces the spectacle of the absolute, Morton produces instead a contemplative relation to the ambience of the long duration. This is progress, however. As Morton wisely notes, it is harder to imagine the long duration than to imagine eternity.

Meillassoux thinks the problem with phenomenology is the finitude of the human subject that correlates to the object of knowledge. Morton thinks it’s the privileged transcendental sphere. Morton: “Kant imagines that although we are limited in this way, our transcendental faculties are at least metaphorically floating in space beyond the edge of the universe, an argument to which Meillassoux himself cleaves in his assertion that reality is finally knowable exclusively by (human) subjectivity. And that is the problem, the problem called anthropocentrism.” (17) But what Morton offers instead is a contemplative access to the immanence of the strange and the weird. But we’re stuck with the problem ooo shares with speculative realism, and speculative realism shares with at least some other species of phenomenology: the erasure of praxis.

We’re left in some version of the eternal gap between the phenomena of the senses and their contemplation versus the essence of things that cannot be known. Interestingly, Morton chooses to concentrate on the contemplation of the gap between essence and appearance itself: “a thing just is a rift between what it is and how it appears.” (18) ‘Just is’, that is, once we have erased the inhuman praxis that produced it as an object of contemplation in the first place.

This is where Hyperobjects gets most interesting: as an aesthetics. By paying attention to the periphery of sensation, the ambient tone, the interference patterns, certain hyperobjects can be detected in everyday life (but only if we know in advance through other means that they are there.) “The ground of being is shaken. There we were, trolling along in the age of industry, capitalism and technology, and all of a sudden we received information from aliens, information that even the most hardheaded could not ignore, because the form in which the information was delivered was precisely the instrumental and mathematical formulas of modernity itself. The Titanic of modernity hits the iceberg of hyperobjects.” (19) Except that it doesn’t. This is like a Platonic myth. Information did not come “from aliens” but from the natural sciences. What modernity hit was (for example) information produced  by the praxis of the natural sciences about anthropogenic climate change.

There is already a name for the iceberg: the Anthropocene. What’s with the compulsion of humanities scholars to want to refuse this name we did not coin? Language is our job, of course. Its galling to have to admit that the relevant data here comes from without, from other ways of knowing, which bring with them other ways of naming, and other conventions about the rights of names. Somehow I just don’t think that insisting on the right to name things we did not discover is going to cut much ice.

One can indeed think the Anthropocene as a new historical age in which nonhumans are no longer excluded. Or one can do the reverse, which is perhaps more challenging, and is the point that earth sciences have arrived at: a new stage of geology in which humans are included. That to me is the truly strange thing to think.

However, there are elements in Morton useful for a twentieth century critique of separation. He does not inquire far as to where they come from, but he is hard on the case of modes of thought that assume a prior distinction, between the social and the natural, between self and world, between foreground and background. There are even forms of environmentalism that are caught up in this need for something separate, to be left alone. But this is no longer really possible. “Its oil we must thank for burning a hole in the notion of world.” (34) Its products are now everywhere, not least as that metonym for the Anthropocene, the hyperobject of global plastic residue. The geologists now even find strata of plastic rock being laid down as we speak.

Morton offers a brief glimpse of an aesthetic adequate to the viscous, pervasive nature of the oil-based world. It’s the rhapsodic, ambient, field-based art of a certain moment in modernism: Jackson Pollock, John Cage, William Burroughs. A contemporary extension might be Reza Negarestani’s astonishing Cyclonopedia, a book in which oil is the central character, a malign stain, a memory of sunlight, erupting from the bowels of the earth to change the course of history. Morton: “modernity is the story of how oil got into everything.” (54)

But what I think is to be resisted in Morton is the gesture that makes this poetics a higher truth than that of other practices of knowledge. Borrowing an image from The Matrix, Morton writes: “The mirror of science melts and sticks to our hand.” (36) He wants the viscous hyperobject to somehow be both before and beyond the realm of science, which as Karen Barad would have it, does require a kind of stabilizing of a closed space within an apparatus where observations can be made, repeated, recorded and then communicated.

It may be useful to have poetics (in the plural) that take the specific results of particular sciences and experimentally generalize them. This is what Bogdanov called tektology. But I think we start to get into trouble when we assume that poetics is a higher power. Morton is far less attentive to its limits than to the limits of scientific modes of knowing. So yes, let’s attend to Jackson Pollock, but maybe attend also to how the promotion of his work in postwar America is tied to the suppression of an art that directly addressed the class struggle or racial oppression, or how it partook in the cult of the male genius which is the very opposite of any approach to creation as the product of a field or an emergence from an ambience.

A good example of both the uses and the limits of a poetic and metaphoric extension of specific results from particular sciences is Morton’s use of the nonlocal as a metaphor. Here he has in mind things like nuclear radiation and endocrine disruptors, things that are waste products of modernity but which can’t be kept separate, which get into everything. Atmospheric carbon might be another example. They are examples of what I would call, following John Bellamy Foster, metabolic rift.

It was Marx who opened this metaphoric extension, thinking outwards from the metabolism of separate organism towards the thought that the whole planet is one metabolism. Marx was already starting to think the breakdown of such processes. In his time, it was flows of phosphorous and nitrogen. Now one could extend that thought to atmospheric carbon, complex hydrocarbon compounds, or radioactive isotopes produced by nuclear reactions. Thought of as metabolic rift, or as Jason Moore calls it metabolic drift, one can stay close to the science of geochemistry and need not add too many additional concepts.

It is indeed the case that one has to think causality in a contemporary way to understand such things: association, correlation and probability are all we have to go on. These days, empirical observations only make sense within computer simulated models of earth system processes. This is only weird or strange from the point of view of 19th century models of science. As contemporary science, the aesthetics of this are now quite ordinary, and need to be thought now as such.

One kind of science that really does still seem spooky and weird is quantum mechanics. But again, this is only so if one tries to sustain some sort of 19th century realism, from the point of view of which quantum mechanics seems to point to a troubling and contradictory reality. Niels Bohr really did have a solution to this, but it’s one that meets strong resistance from those who really need to maintain a faith in a reality that is out there, and separate. One way to read Bohr is as offering a realism not of the object of knowledge but of its practice, but where its practice takes place within the inhuman space of the apparatus.

This is Bohr’s complementarity: an apparatus gets a result; another apparatus gets another result. The results are a product of the apparatus. What is separate is the artificial space and time of the apparatus. One is to resist the temptation to say too much about what the results from within the apparatus might say about what we imagine to be the real and separate world beyond what the praxis of the experiment might say about itself.

But rather than affirm that the apparatus produces the phenomena, something that has the status of a fact, Morton proceeds the opposite way. Rather than stick with the limited recording of an object that an apparatus can produce, he wants to say that the real objects withdraw. Fine, but this is to speak of something that in its very nature is beyond observation, beyond any knowledge, but can only be an effect of a poetic art or speculative discourse.

It is a poetics which runs many risks of simply generalizing habits of mind or extrusions of current social relations onto the cosmic scale. It can lead to statements that are just not true: “OOO is deeply congruent with the most profound, accurate, and testable theory of physical reality available. Actually it would be better to say it the other way around: quantum theory works because it’s object-oriented.” In the space of two sentences, an alleged congruence becomes by fiat a foundation.

From thence we end up doing everything Ernst Mach warned us not to do: subordinating the genuine oddness of the praxis of science and the particular results it gets to a worldview which presumes to speak to a higher reality. Thus Morton: “Unlike the Copenhagen Interpretation, the ontological interpretation is noncorrelationist: particles withdraw from one another, not because humans are observing them in certain ways, but because the implicate order is withdrawn from itself.” (43) This is an imaginative solution to an imaginary problem. Bohr’s approach is not correlationist. To say so excludes the inhuman nature of the apparatus. It might be appealing to imagine objects withdraw, but poetry is not the unacknowledged legislator for the sciences.

Sometimes the praxis of science will simply blow a hole through our speculative worldviews. Thus I agree with Morton that once one has even a poor layperson’s grasp of something like quantum nonlocality, it is hard to call oneself a materialist, or even a ‘new’ materialist any more. In the Marxist tradition there were three responses to this.

One was to sever any connection between what materialism might mean as a scientific worldview and what it might mean when applied to social and historical formations. A second was to formulate a ‘dialectical materialism’ that could keep abreast of the sciences. A third was to shift from statements about the materialism of the world to a critique of the materialism of the production of knowledge about the world.

The first path was that of western Marxism and of much critical theory today. I think Morton and I might agree that (call it what you like) the hyperobject, the Anthropocene or metabolic rift renders it obsolete. There is no separate world of the social. The second path was that of Engels, reinvented in a way by new materialism in a Deleuzian vein, and by ooo in a Heideggerian one. Rather than separate itself from the sciences, it claims to be about something prior to them. I put Morton in this camp.

The third that of the ‘Machists’ such as Bogdanov, reinvented in a different register by Donna Haraway and Karen Barad. The merit of this third path is that it keeps critical thought in touch with the sciences, like the first path, but limits its ambitions. It respects the methods of the sciences and does not claim access to a superior reality. It looks critically at how ideas from the social world end up in the sciences, but also works creatively on how the sciences can produce figures that might be metaphorically extended to other domains. But it does not claim its second-order generation of such metaphors is a first order knowledge of something more fundamental than what scientific knowledge might know.

There is certainly a benefit to the poetics Morton opens up. From the point if view of the hyperobject, “Locality is an abstraction.” (47) Here is a useful reversal of perspective: “… in an age in which hyperobjects start to oppress us with their terrifying strangeness – we will have to acclimatize ourselves to the fact that locality was always a false immediacy.” (48) One can put this alongside the rather different critique of the folk politics of the Invisible Committee in Srnieck and Williams.

But I simply cannot accept statements such as: “The object is already there. Before we look at it. Global warming is not a function of our measuring devices.” (49) What’s missing here is the proper sequence via which knowledge is produced. A theory of global warming is confirmed, by computer modeling based (in part) on measuring devices, which then retrospectively comes to describe a state prior to the result of this praxis.

The particular pleasure to be had here is poetic: “Like God taking a photograph, the nonhuman sees us…” (50) And “We are poems about the hyperobject Earth.” (51) Indeed all life-forms become poems about nonlife, songs to the geo-trauma of being. Well and good. Until this: “Is the beyond of that might explain the poem more real than the here of the poem? There is no way to tell.” (53) There are ways to tell, and they are partial and fallible. They are the various kinds of praxis of knowledge and labor, here as always rendered invisible to the contemplative soul. What is withdrawn in ooo is always labor. In the absence of which magical thinking returns.

Hyperobjects exhibit difficult spatial properties, being both molecular and global in scale at once. They are also temporally difficult. They need to be thought on very long timescales. In a brilliant insight – and a point against Meillassoux – Morton notes that “These gigantic timescales are truly humiliating in the sense that they force us to realize how close to the Earth we are. Infinity is far easier to cope with.” (60)

In a lovely metaphor, Morton has it that after relativity theory, “time and space emerge from things, like the rippling flesh of a sea urchin or octopus.” (63) But here again, the significance of experimental proof is only fleetingly acknowledged. “Hyperobjects end the idea that time and space are empty containers than entities sit on.” (65) No, physics does, once as theory, and then as theory confirmed by quite particular experimental apparatus.

Hyperobjects are not only spatially and temporally weird, for Morton they even exist in a higher dimension. They manifest through phasing, or interference patterns, when they encounter more mundane objects. This whole argument rests on an analogy: “If an apple were to invade a two-dimensional world, first the stick people would see some dots as the bottom of the apple touched their universe, then a rapid succession of shapes that would appear like an expanding and contracting circular blob, diminishing to a tiny circle, possibly a point, and disappearing.” (70) Like the Tralfamadorians in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, “A high enough dimensional being could see global warming itself as a static object. What horrifyingly complex tentacles would such an entity have, this high-dimensional object we call global warming?” (71)

For Morton, the mathematical description is not what underlies the object, it is a paraphrase. Not being a Platonist on such questions, I can quite agree. However, I can’t agree with Morton’s attempt to make a poetics of the object an intimation of a higher reality. The so-called flat ontology of ooo needs to be countered with a flat epistemology, one which does not a priori assign a hierarchy to ways of knowing, but rather holds open the question of which forms of knowledge have priority in which domain, and more importantly, what their modes of relation should be. Like Bogdanov, I think the goal is not to assert a hierarchy of one form of knowledge over others, be it the sciences or philosophy or poetry. The goal might rather be a comradely cooperation of modes of knowing as a subset of ways of laboring.

Thus I admire the literary quality of this metaphoric leap: “hyperobjects are disturbing clowns in an Expressionist painting, clowns who cover every available surface of the painting, leering into our world relentlessly.” (76) But I can assign no a priori truth value to this way of claiming a knowledge of the world. Unlike Morton, I want a consistently indexical or metonymic approach to what a form of knowledge praxis does. A known thing is an index of unknown things. But one must always keep in view the means by which the indexical sign is made out of the world. And one should try to assume the bare minimum about that world beyond what the index traces.

Or, one could speculatively imagine a lot of objects, even ‘withdrawn’ ones but assign them no reality besides being possibilities in the mesh of language. And so one can say: “The abyss is not an empty container, but rather a surging crowd of beings…” (80) Or, contra Morton, one can write as Meillassoux does of a universe after the style of Mallarmé that could collapse at any time and exists as and for no reason at all. To think that being reveals itself in such language, even in a veiled or withdrawn state, is really just the via negativa of logos.

To see it as something more Morton has recourse once again to an analogy. What if hyperobjects were to mind as base was to superstructure? “My thinking is thus a mental translation of the hyperobject – of climate, biosphere, evolution – not just figuratively, but literally.” Once again, notice that what is withdrawn from view here is praxis. The mind pulls the pattern of the world by reflecting on itself as itself.

What makes it a more appealingly contemporary aesthetic is its indirectness. Like deconstruction, “for every system of meaning, there must be some opacity for which the system cannot account.” (89) But it may be over-reaching to think that one can speak in the place of that opacity in domains other that writing, of the “magic of real objects that subtend the object system.” (89) It can produce an attractive metaphysics: “Appearance is the past, essence is the future. The strange strangeness of a hyperobject, its invisibility – it’s the future, somehow beamed into the ‘present.’” But metaphysics is here meta in the sense of supernumerary.

Hyperobjects offer an ecology without matter, without the present, dwelling, one assumes, in the futurity of essence. “The present is precisely nowhere to be found in the yawning Rift opening between the future and past, essence and appearance… The present does not truly exist. We experience a crisscrossing set of force fields, the aesthetic-causal fields emanated by a host of objects… Time is a flurry of spells and counter-spells cast by objects themselves… The unknown soul of things, the essence, remains on the hither side…” (92-94) Here we have a, rather than definitely the, way of thinking outside some kind of self/other or object/subject binary, even if that problematic dualism has been re-inscribed on another axis.

There’s no environment as something separate, out there. “The idea that we are embedded in a phenomenological lifeworld, tucked up like little hobbits into the safety of our burrow, has been exposed as a fiction.” (104) Rather, there’s an all too intimate relation with hyperobjects, which far exceed us yet pass through us, like radiation or dioxins. I agree with Morton that responding to all this with the rhetoric of sustainability (or even resilience) is insufficient. But unlike him I think this may mean more, rather than less attention to molecular flows, be they of oil or oil-based polymers. Earth systems sciences are never going to give us complete answers – like any verifiable knowledge they depend on the separations performed by particular apparatus – but more rather than less attention to such disciplines seems tactically the thing on which to insist right now.

Morton thinks we have to abandon the category of nature, which he takes to mean something like environment, a background, a thing apart. Hence his famous slogan ecology without nature. I appreciate the rhetorical gambit here, but I don’t know if in the long run this is a good tactic. One would have thought that ecology was an even more troubling term: oikos plus logos, as if there could be a logic or truth to metabolism within which the satisfaction of human social needs is achieved. I actually take the theory of the hyperobject to mean: there is no ecology. There is no homeostatic cycle of life that could be restored through the withdrawal of human interference.

Nature is a rather more tricky term. To shorthand Raymond Williams, its root meaning is connected to birth (natality). It has meant at least three different things. Firstly, the quality of a thing. Secondly, the force that directs the world. Thirdly, the material world itself. The human can be included or not in any of its definitions. It may not actually be possible to think ecology without nature, as ecology is just a point in the space of possible meanings of nature itself. As he himself says: “Home, oikos, is unstable.” (117) But the hyperobject is still a theory of nature, one among the set of possible deployments of the term that refuses to see the human point of view as one that could claim a fundamental separation or externality of point of view on it.

It seems that Morton’s resistance to the word nature has to do with Wordsworth’s colonization of it. He prefers Keats’ attention to the object. But perhaps this was just a way to write nature poetry differently rather than a break with it. And maybe it’s a path that comes with its own problems. “In ooo-ese, reification is precisely the reduction of a real object to its sensual appearance-for another object. Reification is the reduction of one entity to another’s fantasy about it. Nature is a reification in that sense.” (119) But ooo responds to this with reification in negative. The futural, essential, withdrawn object becomes the fetish, at the expense not only of any particular sensory one, but of the collaborative praxis needed to work these partial, mediated apprehensions that are the real into some workable relation to each other.

The insistence on a strange, spooky or weird kind of aesthetics is itself a product of this fetish in negative, which suppresses attention to praxis and contemplates a floating phantasmagoria of things. “Two hundred years of seeing humans at the center of existence, and now the objects take revenge, terrifyingly huge, ancient, long-lived, threateningly minute, invading every cell in our body.” (115)

Well, yes, if one had not paid attention to the praxis via which the inhuman world of of labor plus apparatus transforms nature into second nature (perhaps even a third nature), including all the things thus made that escape exchange calculus of exchange value. These things appear then as akin to that most rarified of fetish objects, art. “We are the curators of a gigantic museum of non-art in which we have found ourselves, a spontaneous museum of hyperobjects.” (121)

As in Shelley, there’s a wager on the ethical and political import of poetic vision: “This destiny comes from beyond the (human) world, and pronounces or decrees the end of the world. This decree marks a decisive point in Earth history in which humans discern the nonhuman and thus reckon the fate of Earth with greater justice.” (148) One is reminded here of Shelley attaching his incendiary poems to a hot air balloon as a way to try and close the gap between the poem and its public, and between a public and action. Everything is reduced to the rather idealistic project of countering a truncated view of the world with a vision: “This attitude is directly responsible for the ecological emergency, not the corporation or the individual per se, but the attitude that inheres both in the corporation or the individual, and in the critique of the corporation and the individual.” (155)

What gives ooo its old-fashioned flavor is its attempt to give new life to an old metaphysical strategy. As Morton notes, we are confronted with limited options within the old possibility space, of which he lists three. Firstly, essence is everywhere. Secondly, there is no essence. Thirdly essence is right here, yet it is withdrawn.

Here I place myself with Bogdanov in the second camp, which declares an end to philosophy’s attempt to claim a special object that is prior to and has more being that the objects produced within other forms of knowledge which are based on appearances. Maybe we don’t have to posit weird beings to understand evolution, ecology, quantum mechanics or climate change. Maybe we just have to accept these things as ordinary.

Morton has rather given us a variation on the hidden God (a variation on option one, essence is everywhere). Lucien Goldman’s Hidden God is a study of Blaise Pascal and his contemporaries, and perhaps an instructive one for our times. Pascal had a tragic vision of life. He accepts a world in which to act but its values cannot satisfy him. He is both in and out of the social. Its justice is not true justice, but he does not leave it as the mystics do. He maintains a faith in a superior realm, but this is not the ever-present God of the middle ages. God does not manifest directly in his creation.

For Goldman, this is the worldview of an administrative class whose power is waning. They are within a powerful institution but not governing it. Hence: “The feeling is rather of the nonhuman out of control, withdrawn from total human access.” (172) Rather like today’s humanities scholars. Hence the will to power over the world through the staking of a claim to a higher reality, but a hidden one: in Pascal’s case, God; in Morton’s case, objects. The latter builds on the formalization of the former which for Goldman was Kant’s achievement. He made philosophy the legislator of what counted as a legitimate object of thought, of what belongs to appearances and what to essences. Morton banks instead on being able to speak in and about the rift between, the weird zone just beyond appearances from which to claim that they issue.

Perhaps this does have a value, in creating an illusion within which traditional forms of humanistic knowledge can continue to go on. And perhaps illusions have their uses when the dangers of losing them are too great. “Art in these conditions is grief-work. We are losing a fantasy – the fantasy of being immersed in a neutral or benevolent Mother Nature and a person who is losing a fantasy is a very dangerous person.” (196) Morton’s contributions to reviving old modes of affect and percept under new and pressing circumstances is certainly an important project.

For myself, I’m closer to the way Donna Haraway goes about this, which likewise tries to ‘stay with the trouble’ of our times, but stays also in the world of appearances. There’s no additional claims for poetics as a way of knowing besides its ability to communicate between domains, and in particular to get actual knowledge about the nonhuman working within the spaces of humanistic and social thought.

In that vein I can agree with this version of Morton’s project: “Nonhuman beings strike a devastating blow against teleology, a blow detected by Darwin and celebrated by Marx, who wrote Darwin a fan letter for his opposition to teleology. The end of teleology is the end of the world.” (95) But these nonhuman beings can be thought strictly in the world of appearances, the world of the praxis of knowledge with its cyborg apparatus of human labor and inhuman techne.

I would call this way of working not object oriented ontology, but praxis (object oriented), or p(oo) for short.* I would paraphrase Haraway’s ‘staying with the trouble’ as staying with the poo, meaning both staying with the praxis, but also meaning – staying with the poo. Stay with the waste, the neglect, the bad byproduct. Here I retain the metaphoric use of object-oriented, which as Manovich, Chen and Galloway have pointed out, is a particular moment in the history of computation. There objects don’t withdraw, they are intentionally hidden from a programmer so that she or he works only on the object with which they are tasked and don’t fuck up the work others. It’s a way of staying out of each other’s way that I think Morton oversteps vis-à-vis the sciences or other empirical knowledge praxis.

And at the end of the day, what matters most in the Anthropocene is that each distinctive mode of thought and feeling find its own language and form of effectivity within its horizon. One could think it (or not) as Morton does, as a charnal ground, “an undead place of zombies, viroids, junk DNA, ghosts, silicates, cyanide, radiation, demonic forces, and pollution…. When the charm of world is dispelled, we find ourselves in the emergency room of ecological coexistence.” (126) The important thing, which Morton fully grasps, is to think it.


* I used the title ‘From OOO to P(OO)” for a presentation to the Object Oriented Ontology Conference at The New School in 2011, which unfortunately is no longer available online.


Article online at:


Confronting fundamental problems of the human condition and pressing problems of the day, using the broad resources of social research, we seek to provoke critical and informed discussion by any means necessary.

Following The New School’s ‘University in Exile’ tradition and Public Seminar’s mission, we support:

Copyright © 2014–2016 The Editorial Board of Public Seminar, All Rights Reserved.


“We The Resilient”: Colonizing Indigeneity in the Era of Trump

Julian Reid


Following Donald Trump’s xenophobic and racist electoral campaign, and in the wake of his election to become 45th President of the United States, in November of 2016, the artist Ernesto Yerena Montajana teamed up with fellow artists Jessica Sabogal and Shepard Fairey, and the non-profit Amplifier Foundation, a self-described ‘art machine for social change’ to produce works for the Foundation’s We the People campaign. The campaign’s objective was to flood Washington D.C. with symbols of hope on January 20th of this year, the date of Trump’s inauguration. And indeed, pictures of the demonstrations that took place that day indicate the efficacy of the campaign. Looking at those pictures we see people marching in their numbers carrying the images created by Fairey, one of an African-American woman, another of a Muslim woman, and one of a Latino woman, each titled, “We the People”. We also see Sabogal’s image being displayed, depicting two women, looking at each other tenderly, one above the other, whose neck she holds, and whose hat reads ‘Women are perfect’. The image itself is titled underneath, “We the Indivisible”.


Yerena’s contribution was a stenciled image, featuring Lakota elder Helen “Granny” Redfeather, a protestor fighting against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, where Yerena himself also spent time in the November of Trump’s election. Yerena’s work situates the Lakota elder underneath its title “We the Resilient: Have Been Here Before”.


Contextualizing his work, Yerena explains

“My relationship with the U.S. is very complicated…I was born here, I live here, but the government is like an occupying force on this land. The colonization process was so violent. It outlawed people from being able to practice Indigenous traditions and languages. How, through all that, have people been able to survive? Considering how hostile the attempted erasure was toward everything to do with our people, Indigenous people, it’s incredible. That’s resilience.”[1]

[1] ‘Meet Ernesto Yerena Montejano: Artist Behind Ubiquitous We Are Resilient Poster’ (accessed 2/9/17).

The image Yerena created soon became ubiquitous, a symbol of hope and defiance for peoples protesting the white supremacism of Trump’s election. On January 21 Yerena could be seen distributing his ‘We are Resilient’ posters at the Women’s March in Los Angeles. Yerena himself was born in California, close to the Mexican border.[2] Although identifying as Chicano, he expresses solidarity with the indigenous.[3] His work is dedicated to exposing ‘the weight of colonization and the effects of Westernization of Indigenous cultures’.[4] ‘Trump is the Chernobyl of colonialism’, he explains, ‘but I don’t want to make artwork that’s against him; it gets too dark. I want to make artwork that’s for something. I’m for dignity. I’m for resilience. I’m for Mother Earth. I’m for honoring elders. I’m for working with my friends. I’m for making positive messages’.[5]


Yerena’s positive message can be seen to have already spread. Inspired by the image and Yerena’s message, Sarah Bunin Benor, an Associate Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies at the Hebrew Union College Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, set to work on a book, now already published, titled We the Resilient: Wisdom for America from Women Born Before Suffrage. The book began life as a website set up in October of last year, designed to give voice to hopeful women voters who had been born in the years preceding the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920, and who were in the lead up to the election of November 2017, not only able to cast a vote in ways that women not long ago were denied, but vote for what could have been the first female president of the United States, Hillary Clinton.[6] The book, We the Resilient, features interviews with fifty-five of the women who appeared on the website, and who respond to Benor’s questions. Questions that included: when in your life have you experienced personal disappointment, tragedy or unexpected loss? How were you able to overcome those setbacks? Though coming from a variety of different backgrounds, the women tell of similar experiences of disappointment, tragedy, and loss, such as losing parents, spouses, siblings and children, and contemplate how it was they were able to bounce back from those difficult experiences.[7]


Within the health sciences resilience is identified as the ‘trait that enables an individual to recover from stress and to face the next stressor with optimism. Resilient people are considered to have a better mental and physical health’.[8] The analysis of resilience invariably involves examining how people cope with disappointment, tragedy and loss. What divides the resilient self who bounces back from life tragedies from the failed selves who never recover?  Where does resilience come from? What are its sources? Who has it and why? How to build resilience where it is lacking? These are the questions health practitioners of resilience routinely ask. But its growth as a concept within the health sciences can be traced in correspondence to its development in a range of other fields, including the social sciences concerned with the attributes of human groups, as well as the non-human sciences concerned with the study of non-human living systems. Across these different fields resilience is defined as the capacity of any living system, including human systems, both individual and social, to absorb the shocks generated by disastrous events, and respond by either maintaining or changing form, evolving with them, and growing stronger from their occurrence.


The word resilience has existed for centuries. It comes from the Latin word resilire – to rebound or recoil. In the 17th century it described the ability of physical materials to return to their original shape after suffering deformation. Its contemporary use developed significantly in Ecology during the 1970s to describe how living systems recover and evolve following disasters. Gradually it mutated into social science as a way to understand how humans absorb shocks and withstand disasters of multiple kinds. In the era of Sustainable Development it became identified especially with the Global Poor, given their excessive exposure to shocks of a disastrous nature.[9] And more recently it has become a capacity especially attributed to indigenous peoples.[10] This is evidenced not just by Ernesto Yerena’s representation of indigenous resilience in the protest posters, but also by the anthropological literature on indigenous resilience. For indigenous peoples are perceived by western anthropologists to be particularly exemplary subjects of resilience.


Indeed not just anthropologists but policy makers the world over, concerned as they currently are with attempting to formulate policies to help people cope with the coming era of disasters portended by climate change, are attracted to indigenous peoples on account of their perceived abilities to live in a state of permanent crisis. Within the Academy, anthropologists are currently being mobilized to provide ethnographic studies of the practices and forms of knowledge that enable indigenous peoples to do so. For example the Oxford-based anthropologist, Laura Rival, has detailed the ways in which the Makushi, an indigenous people living in the borderlands of northern Brazil and southern Guyana, live with severe drought and flooding as normal conditions of life.[11] This is a people as well adapted to a world of floods as much as it is to extreme drought, Rival argues, and able to cope with whatever the climate throws at them.[12] As such she holds them up as a model for the rest of humanity, faced as it is with a coming era of climate disasters and global ecological catastrophe.


Anthropology has, from its origins, ‘existed in a state of complex symbiotic dependency on government, in so far as anthropologists have been materially and practically dependent on state support to fund research, and the direction anthropological work has taken in any particular period has been influenced by state needs for certain kinds of information with which to govern its Indigenous populace.[13] This is as true today in the context of the mobilization of anthropologists to produce knowledge about indigenous resilience. The arguments and conclusions of academic anthropologists are mirrored in policy reports such as that published by UNESCO, titled Weathering Uncertainty, and which likewise describes how indigenous peoples, on account of their high-exposure sensitivity to extreme weather events, are thought to be especially resilient to climate change.[14] The indigenous are of interest and value to policy-makers because they have a proven track record of what the report describes as ‘resourcefulness and response capacity in the face of global climate change’.[15]


Many are those who interpret this development as a step forwards in the decolonization of relations between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. For it seems to challenge the west’s teleological sense of its own superiority, debunks it even, and places the indigenous on a pedestal once reserved for the western subject of modernist tradition.[16] What such enthusiasts don’t recognize is the problematic nature of the entanglement of this reversal with white western strategies of power. The ascription of resilience to indigenous people is not something being achieved simply by anthropologists working to the left of western states or other colonial institutions. It is a mantra being repeated by colonial states and deeply powerful western actors worldwide. Such that the representation of the indigenous as possessing exceptional capacities to care for their natural environments, to adapt to climate change, and deal with extreme weather events has become a governing cliché of white western neoliberal governance.


Resilience is advancing throughout the west as a major discourse for the implementation of neoliberal governance. Indigenous peoples are but one target population of strategies for the making of resilient subjects. Nevertheless they are a crucial one, given the arguments beings made for their exemplary status. For this reason anyone concerned with indigenous politics must be circumspect when confronting claims about the inherent resilience of indigenous peoples. For the risks in accepting such clichéd representations of the indigenous are vast, and ultimately complicit with colonial power and neoliberal exploitation. We know much by now about the long history of colonial violence that arose from the western desire to destroy indigenous peoples on account of their perceived inferiority. We recognize much less of the violence which arises from the apparent desire to protect indigenous peoples and the ontological alterity they supposedly embody.[17] Yet that is a form which colonial violence now takes. From South to North, indigenous peoples must resist the violence embedded in neoliberal strategies of resilience, while the anthropologists who study them must beware being drawn into the latest ideologically driven project to govern the lives of indigenous peoples.


What then to make of the artwork of Ernesto Yerena Montajana with which this essay began? And what of the people carrying the ‘We The Resilient’ banners on the protests against Trump? Are they also to be condemned, along with the concept of resilience itself, as part of the problem of colonialism today? Is resilience a univocal concept, or is it open to different usages? I recognize the salience of critiques of the critique of resilience that have appeared recently. I read with interest works arguing we must avoid the cynicism of a blanket dismissal of resilience, distinguish between its positive and negative aspects, and recognize its potential to constitute more open and inclusive democratic political orders.[18] The geographer Ben Anderson has made similar kinds of points when asking ‘what kind of thing is resilience?’ and by imploring that we make the connections between resilience and neoliberalism into a question to be explored rather than a presumption from which analysis begins.[19] These are useful interventions the basis for which echoes throughout this problem of discourses on indigenous resilience. The resilience at stake in strategy documents of international organizations is not the same as that enunciated on the streets of American cities as indigenous people and their allies took to those streets to fight the election of Trump. There are differences between claims concerning resilience. For one, the resilience indigenous peoples lay claim to refers to their having survived a project of colonial extermination, while the resilience which colonial states now identify with indigenous peoples refers to their abilities to survive environmental disasters and pays little heed to their own histories of colonial violence.


Nevertheless, there are relations between these different usages of resilience, and while their points of articulation are indeed different and to some extent opposed, they are nevertheless tied by the concept itself. In each case the indigenous subject which resilience refers to is defined by its capacity to survive. Is there anything problematic in that?


Ernesto Yerena Montajana, like everybody else, has also to survive. An artist has to make a living, and art, for the most part pays badly. In Yerena’s case survival requires once in a while a relative sacrifice of principle. Which is why he sold his work to the manufacturer of the energy drink, Red Bull. Some of their cans are decorated with his signature rose symbolizing dignity and a calavera (Mexican sugar skull).


As he explains, ‘sometimes corporations hire me because they want to tap into the “Latino” market. I take some of the jobs because I need to keep paying rent, but it’s a fine line. What I really want is to make critical, challenging work. A lot of times I have to self-fund or work with a small stipend. Unfortunately, the people with the best ideas don’t have a lot of money’.[20]


Many of us know this conflict between good intention and its sacrifice for survival’s sake. Images, concepts and arguments are all open to appropriation by agencies whose intentions are self-interested, as is the case with the profit-maximizing Red Bull, an Austrian company with the highest market share of any energy drink in the world, selling five billion cans a year; a market share that owes in no small part to the distinctiveness of the blue silver design of the cans in which its drink is sold and on which Yerena’s designs appear.


There is no direct connection between Yerena’s work for Red Bull and the ‘We Are Resilient’ poster that he made for the campaign against Trump. In effect the former served the latter. Selling to Red Bull meant Yerena could pay the rent and paying the rent meant Yerena could design for the Amplifier Foundation and its political campaign against the particular formation of white racist neoliberal capital that Trump’s presidency represents. We have no reason to believe Red Bull saw any capital in hiring an artist with his politics or with his links to indigenous peoples and political struggles. As Yerena states, Red Bull were interested in tapping into the Latino market and it is the resonance of his designs with Chicano culture that attracted them. But there is some faint sense of a connection, in this collaboration between Yerena and Red Bull on the one hand, and the collaborations taking place between resilience and neoliberalism on the other. Red Bull, as the most iconic energy drink of its generation, epitomizes resilience culture. It is what you drink when you are struggling to cope, stay awake, or persevere amid stress, physical or psychic. If you need resilience in a liquid form you drink Red Bull. It is also the drink that besides giving you resilience, gives you stereotypes. On the website, Native Appropriations, a forum for discussing representations of native peoples, including stereotypes and cultural appropriation, a commercial campaign of Red Bull is described as reading like a ‘check list of native stereotypes.’[21] Amid tipis, smoke signals, war whoops, and “tom-tom” drumming, two natives, Brown Bear and White Dove, express in third person broken English their frustrated sexual desire for each other.


‘Greetings White Dove, my heart is heavy’, says Brown Bear. ‘Mine too, Brown Bear’, replies White Dove. ‘The end of the year is near, and we still can’t get together. Brown bear can’t jump that far!’ complains Brown Bear. ‘And White Dove can’t fly! We are only united in mind’ concludes White Dove. ‘Yes, but my body longs for you too’, confirms Brown Bear. White Dove sighs. ‘No Red Bull, no happy ending’, warns the narrator. Yes, Red Bull is not only the drink that gives you resilience. It’s the drink that gets you laid. Or it’s the drink that gives you the necessary resilience to get laid. And, which in sexualizing resilience, also sexualizes indigeneity, making a commercial stereotype out of indigenous perseverance, and stoking colonial myths.


Red Bull is responsible for mythic representations of indigenous peoples, but what about resilience itself? In March this year the Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare published an article titled ‘Mental Resilience, Perceived Immune Functioning, and Health’. The article is a classic of its kind, describing resilience as the ‘trait that enables an individual to recover from stress and to face the next stressor with optimism’.[22] People with resilience, it argues, ‘have a better mental and physical health’.[23] People with reduced immune functioning tend to be those who are less resilient, while people with resilience tend to have better functioning immune systems, is the conclusion it draws on the basis of a large empirical study.[24] Like a lot of medical research the article had as many as eight authors, among who is named a Dr. Joris Verster from the University of Utrecht. In the Disclosure section of the article the authors list the sources of financial support that have funded their research. Verster, a proponent of resilience lists among the many different funders he is in the patronage of, Red Bull. Which is interesting. In fact Verster is also the author of a another study, published last year, in the Journal of Human Psychopharmacology, titled ‘Mixing Alcohol With Energy Drink: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis’. The article addresses the belief that people who mix energy drinks such as Red Bull with alcohol end up drinking more alcohol than they ordinarily would. Reassuringly, Verster and his colleagues conclude that their research proves that mixing energy drinks with alcohol does not increase the total amount of alcohol consumed.[25]  Which is interesting. What to make of these connections between the science of resilience, so assured in its conclusions concerning the reality of resilience as property of healthy people everywhere, and an energy drink manufacturer which funds the science of resilience, and which employs the same science to defend itself from mythic representations of the properties of the product as a source of alcoholism and ill health? A corporation, and icon of the neoliberal economy, furthermore, which sells its products on the basis of colonial representations of indigenous people, as well as by decorating its cans with the designs of an artist who, unwittingly no doubt, is himself a proponent of indigenous resilience, and the creator of what is the most iconic image of indigenous resilience, the picture of Lakota elder Helen “Granny” Redfeather, carried on banners by the many people who showed up to protest the election of Donald Trump, in Washington DC and other American cities in January of this year.


There is a lot at stake in this nexus of relations between colonialism, capitalism, neoliberalism, the fight against fascism, and the science of resilience, both in the forms it is attributed to indigenous peoples, as well as people everywhere struggling to recover from stress and to face the next stressor with optimism.


Resilience, I agree, is not a univocal concept, and like all concepts in fact, is open to different usages. We should never condemn, or at least be content with condemning concepts. But wherever it is used, and however it is used, resilience is a dangerous concept. Beneath the surface of the seeming positivity with which it has been invoked this year as a defining characteristic of indigenous people everywhere, fighting their dispossession by colonial powers, and struggling to persevere against the racism of colonial states, there lurks a great deal of danger and malign investments. It’s not my place in the world to tell indigenous people who they are or what they are. All I have to say to them is this; be careful. And when you listen to the next anthropologist, the next statesman, the next well-meaning activist, or corporate brand manager, who talks about indigenous resilience, treat the term with the circumspection it deserves.

[2] Ibid (accessed 2/9/17).

[3] (accessed 2/9/17).

[4] ‘Meet Ernesto Yerena Montajano’.

[5] Ibid.

[6] ‘Wisdom of the Aged Offers Hope to Clinton Voters’ (accessed 2/9/17).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Van Schrojenstein Lantman M, Mackus M, Otten LS, et al. ‘Mental resilience, perceived immune functioning, and health’, Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare (10, 2017),107-112.

[9] Julian Reid, ‘The Disastrous and Politically Debased Subject of Resilience’, Development Dialogue 58 (2012), 67-79.

[10] Marjo Lindroth and Heidi Sinevaara-Niskanen, ‘The Biopolitics of Resilient Indigeneity and the Radical Gamble of Resistance’, Resilience (4:2, 2016).

[11] Laura Rival, ‘The Resilience of Indigenous Intelligence’ in K. Hastrup (ed.) The Question of Resilience: Social Responses to Climate Change (Copenhagen: The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters), 293-313.

[12] Ibid, 302

[13] Melinda Hinkson, ‘Introduction: Anthropology and the Culture Wars’ in Jon Altman and Melinda Hinkson (eds.), Culture Crisis: Anthropology and Politics in Aboriginal Australia (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2010), 5.

[14] Douglas Nakashima et al, Weathering Uncertainty: Traditional Knowledge for Climate Change Assessment and Adaptation (Paris: UNESCO, 2012).

[15] Ibid

[16] Tess Lea, “Contemporary Anthropologies of Indigenous Australia,” Annual Review of Anthropology (41, 2012), 196.

[17] Luc Bessire, Behold the Black Caiman: A Chronicle of Ayoreo Life (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2014).

[18] Peter Rogers, ‘Researching resilience: An agenda for change’, Resilience: International Policies, Practices and Discourses (3:1, 2015), 66.

[19] Ben Anderson, ‘What Kind of Thing is Resilience?’, Politics (35:1, 2015), 60.

[20] Meet Ernesto Yerena Montajana’.

[21] ‘Red Bull Gives You Stereotypes’,

[22] Marith Van Schrojenstein Lantman et al, ‘Mental resilience, perceived immune functioning, and health’, Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare (10: 2017), 107.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid, 112.

[25] Joris Verster et al, ‘Mixing alcohol with energy drink (AMED) and total alcohol consumption: a systematic review and meta-analysis’, Human Psychopharmacology (31: 1: 2016).

Education for ecological democracy

Michael A. Peters


We have every reason to think that whatever changes may take place in existing democratic machinery, they will be of a sort to make the interest of the public a more supreme guide and criterion of governmental activity, and to enable the public to form and manifest its purposes still more authoritatively. In this sense the cure for the ailments of democracy is more democracy.

–John Dewey (1927), The Public and Its Problems.

Environmental ecology, as it exists today, has barely begun to prefigure the generalised ecology that I advocate here, the aim of which will be to radically decentre social struggles and ways of coming into one’s own psyche …

Ecology must stop being associated with the image of a small nature-loving minority. Ecology in my sense questions the whole of subjectivity and capitalistic power formations.

–Felix Guattari (2000), The Three Ecologies.


Democracy, yet again

Donald Trump’s decision to quit the Paris agreement, a contemptible decision that does the US no good in term of moral leadership and one almost universally condemned by world leaders, raises the question about the structural capacity of democracy at the extra-state level to reach consensus or indeed to action decisions at a global level. Under the circumstances one wonders whether democracy is able to deliver ecological outcomes or whether in the stand-off between democracy and oil and gas capitalism that it has the power to harness and transform the energy sector. The fact is that modern representative democracy was never designed to handle environmental challenges and many scholars now seek the establishment of new global institutions that carries the mantle for intergenerational environmental problems based on evidence-based sustainability science. One set of anxieties revolve around whether democratic institutions based on deliberative forms of government have the power to set new environmental norms, to curb the transnational energy multinationals or to institute change quickly enough in order to avert environmental collapse.

There is some evidence that democratic values increasingly operate now at the global level and multi-stakeholder dialogues between civil society, NGOs, governments and world agencies are now more common, yet some critics doubt whether concepts of world democracy will ever be strong enough to reconcile either radical participatory politics and the world’s energy multinationals, or the climate deniers and the scientific mainstream consensus. Some scientists despair that green diplomacy perhaps best represented in the Paris agreement, where the French hosts acting in concert with many agencies engineered an agreement with 195 countries, can ever protect itself and its environmental policy decisions against the actions of authoritarian thumb-nosing and outright grand-standing on the basis of flimsy ‘America first’ sloganising.

Yet others talk of the longer term transformation of democratic culture aimed at producing green citizens committed to the principles of bioregionalism on the one hand and to principles of discursive democracy on the other, steadfast in their belief that deliberation is the appropriate space in which to change peoples’ habits, beliefs and actions.



Ecological democracy

The term ‘ecological democracy’ (ED) has been established in the literature for a couple of decades (Dryzek, 1992, 1997; Faber, 1998; Morrison, 1995; Ungaro, 2005), if not always in an explicit conceptual formulation. It is slowly evolving as a liberal notion that presupposes a link between democracy and ecology, sometimes cashed out in terms of ‘sustainable development’ or ‘green capitalism’ (‘green consumerism’) while emphasising that ED requires a form of grass-roots participation by citizens both individually and collectively. The exact nature of the link and the success and results of ED have been up for ongoing scrutiny and political scepticism. Both ‘ecology’ and ‘democracy’ are expansive concepts that have been refined and developed over the last couple of decades so it is not surprising that the links between these and cognate concepts are hard to pin down.

There has been a peak in the use of the concept with applications in a variety of settings. For example, an online journal based in India established in 2013 has adopted the name ( which it introduces in the following way:

The last century has seen many national movements successfully liberating countries from colonial rule. But since the last quarter of the twentieth century, we have witnessed world-wide schizophrenia in our ‘development’ policies. Global players like the US and European Union and arms of their economic hegemonies such as the World Bank and I.M.F. have forced governments to adopt policies which are resulted in a serious all round crisis, including an ecological crisis. On the other hand there is a multitude of UN Conferences on various dimensions of the ecological crisis. To understand this schizophrenia and to evolve policy frameworks to respond to this crisis from the ecological swaraaj perspective is the need of the hour. Our online journal is an effort to bring cohesion to the efforts of all who believe in the idea of ecological swaraaj [‘self-governance’ in Hindi].

The term ‘radical’ ecological democracy (RED) stands for degrowth policies, grassroots participation and has been used to demonstrate problems for existing democratic structures (Kothari, 2014; Mitchell, 2006). RED contributes to the search ‘for sustainable and equitable alternatives to the dominant economic development model’ that pursues the ‘goals of direct democracy, local and bioregional economies, cultural diversity, human well-being, and ecological resilience at the core of its vision’ (Kothari, 2014, p. 57). RED also maps on to the concept of ‘radical democracy’ developed by post-Marxist thinkers Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe starting in the early 1990s (Laclau, 1990; Laclau & Mouffe, 2001). One line of thought, which I support, has begun to map notions of ‘radical’ and ‘open’ on to overlapping concepts of democracy and environment through notions of collective subjectivity (Peters, 2002, 2013).

Hester (2010), in another example, outlines new principles for urban design that he calls Design for Ecological Democracy emphasising how ‘responsible freedom’ rests on respect and acknowledgement of an interconnectivity with all living things. Finally, an example- based on a workshop entitled ‘Ecological Democracy’ that was held at the University of Sydney 20–21 February 2017 that advertises itself in the following terms:

The role of democracy in the face of global environmental threats has been subject to intense scholarly debate over the past four decades. At times, ecological democracy has had a bright future ahead of it. Yet the ideal of ecological democracy continually faces challenges both to its conceptual foundations and to its practical realisation on national and global scales. This workshop will seek to focus on new considerations and directions for ecological democracy, while looking back to examine the impact and viability of its founding texts as well as empirical studies of the relationship between democracy and sustainability.

The wide-ranging workshop included sessions on: Foundations of Ecological Democracy; Rights, Institutions, and Deliberation; Democracy and the Nonhuman; Culture & Ecological Citizenship; Diversity, Culture and Democracy; Ecological Democracy and Indigenous Peoples; Resources, Democracy and the Local. A panel discussion ‘Ecological Democracy – Looking Back, Looking Forward’ chaired by David Schlosberg with Robyn Eckersley, Karin Bäckstrand and John Dryzek as discussants, examine the attempts at reconciliation between democracy and sustainability within environmental political thought including problems of “the representation of the nonhuman, the relationship between democracy and ecological ‘limits,’ and the design of ‘green’ states.” The note continues:


Since this first wave of scholarship [in 1980s and ‘90s] on ecological democracy, there have been numerous crucial developments that pose a range of challenges. On the environmental side, we have seen the acceleration of climate change, arguments for setting planetary boundaries around humanity’s environmental impacts, and widespread acknowledgement that the Earth has entered a new epoch: the Anthropocene. On the political side, we have had the growth of environmental and climate justice movements, the proliferation of institutions for global environmental governance, and the anti-environmental and post-truth era.

In short, the second wave of ED concerns the growth of political movements broadly embracing the concept of environmental justice in an attempt to counteract and address backsliding anti-environmentalism. The third wave of ED takes place in relation to President Trump’s anti-environmentalism, his withdrawal from the Paris agreement, his championing of world oil and gas, and cuts to the jurisdiction and budget of the Environmental Protection Agency. In this political environment, the future of environmental sustainability depends upon more radical forms of ED tied to notions of citizen science and forms of learning as activism.


Origins and possibilities

The concept and practices of ED have developed as part of a broader theoretical re-examination and conceptual development of ‘participatory,’ ‘strong,’ ‘discursive,’ ‘inclusive,’ ‘deliberative’ and ‘radical’ democracy (Barber, 1984; Dryzek, 2010; Ester, 1998; Gutmann & Thompson, 2002; Laclau & Mouffe, 1985; Young, 2000, 2001). These diverse threads spring in part from attempts to revisit democracy after the rise of neoliberalism in the age of globalisation that hastened the decline of social democracy. Social democracy as part of the Keynesian post-war consensus developed an ideology based on the compromise between market and the State that supported the mixed economy and capitalism as the means of wealth generation and distribution that necessitated State intervention based on rights and equality of opportunity to correct the defective tendencies of the market towards increasing poverty and growing inequalities.

In effect, it was largely this attempted compromise that led to the first green social democracies and red–green coalitions in Germany under Gerhard Schroder (1998–2005), the ‘plural Left’ coalition in France (2012–2014), Lipponen’s first and second cabinet in Finland that included socialist and green members (1995–2002), Norway’s red–green coalition (2003–2013), with similar developments in Iceland, Italy, Denmark, Sweden and Portugal. Radical red–green alliances formed in the Netherlands (GreenLeft), Denmark (Unity List), Norway (Green Left Alliance), Italy (Left Ecology Freedom) and Greece (SYRIZA). There are also red/green political alliances and/or electoral agreements between social–democratic or liberal parties with green parties such as the Red–Green Alliance in Canada, Sweden and Italy.

After the demise of the Keynesian-based and the empirically discredited neoliberal variant of capitalism, the goal of transcending global capitalism seems far-fetched and Left parties—Far-Left and centrist socialist—began to question the basis for renewed social democratic appeal. Under the Third Way, social democracy capitulated to neoliberalism and thus compromised the green market solution and no growth policies. Under the rise of authoritarian populism in its first phase with Thatcher–Reagan and then most recently under Trump, working-class voters have been easily captured by anti-immigration far-right parties that promise to bring back industrial jobs at home.

The origins of green parties begin in the 1970s first in Australia and then Germany. By the 1980s and especially after Green Politics: The Global Promise (Spretnak & Capra, 1984), green agendas became more progressively tied to policy issues outside immediate ecological considerations.1 As Mendes (2015) notes the West German Green Party ‘founded in opposition to the guiding principles of the West German post-war consensus’ and their entrance into the Bundestag in 1983 marked a turning point in German parliamentary history but soon also reverted to traditions of political liberalisation with a mixture of classical elements of conservativism over conservation of resources. Jackson (2012, p. 593) suggests the Australian Greens, as a political organisation, are possibly following the transformation of European green parties moving from ‘a movement based party to a pragmatic parliamentary party.’ The question is where do green parties go after the Trump retrenchment of global oil & gas? Is there any legitimate resistance against neoliberalism and authoritarian populism that draws off the working-class vote?



Education for ED

Education has the possibility of bringing together two powerful concepts and international movements of ecology and local democracy that are needed to bring about the transformation of grass-roots civil society. This combination of ‘ecological democracy’ that rests on two fundamental principles—the freedom to participate in local society and our growing awareness of the interconnectedness of all living things. It also draws and encourages the development of new forms of green identity and citizenship.

Peters and González-Gaudiano (2008) observed the evolution of environmental education over three decades towards a new relation to identity struggle, new social movements and green citizenship.

During its thirty years of existence, despite having faced problems and diverse challenges from country to country, environmental education (EE) has acquired a certain influence over the design of educational and environmental public policies on an international level. Throughout these three decades, environmental education has contributed to the configuration of new ontological and epistemological proposals, as well as introducing practices that have become well-established and have made significant contributions to the strengthening of not only the environmental education field but educational processes in general. However, as EE became established a great variety of viewpoints were taken into account and elements incorporated not only from the widest variety of theoretical approaches and philosophical currents, but also from very different schools of thought and action, which established important articulations with complex social movements such as feminism, multiculturalism, peace, democracy, health, consumerism and human rights to mention but a few.

One definition of ED emphasises sustainability in action by emphasising a relationship between biological processes and political subjectivities of participatory democracy considered as a co-evolutionary strategy. Education for Ecological Democracy is based an alternative democratic model that strives to educate students about the norms and values of democracy-in-action and eventually incorporate them as interested citizens into environmental decision-making and collective action. ‘Ecological democracy’ is still a concept in the formative stage. In its radical form ‘it places the goals of direct democracy, local and bioregional economies, cultural diversity, human well-being, and ecological resilience at the core of its vision’ (Kothari, 2014). In educational theory and practice it is closely associated with the notion of deliberation that is considered central to consensus decision-making and majority rule. The principles of deliberative democracy are embraced for their educative power and pedagogical force in teaching secondary school students to reason in democratic for a about ecological issues. The deliberative nature of ED has a strong base in grassroots participation within civil society. In philosophical terms, it is indebted to Dewey’s (1916) Education and Democracy and more recently to Habermas (1984) theory of communicative rationality that proposes the ideal of a self-organising community of free and equal citizens, coordinating their collective affairs through their common reason. Free and open debate is a necessary condition for the legitimacy of democratic political decisions based on the exercise of ‘public reason’ rather than simply the aggregation of citizen preferences as with representative or direct democracy.

From its development in the 1980s and 1990s Green Political Theory or ecopolitics founded on the work of John Dryzek (1987), Robyn Eckersley (1992), Val Plumwood (1993) and Andrew Dobson (1980), participatory democracy has been viewed as a central pillar and key value, often associated with descriptions of decentralisation, grass-roots political decision-making and citizen participation, ‘strong democracy’ (Barber, 1984) and increasingly with conceptions of deliberative democracy. The value of participatory or grassroots democracy also seemed to gel with a new ecological awareness, non-violence and the concern for social justice. Green politics favoured participatory and more recently deliberative democracy because it provided a model for open debate, direct citizen involvement and emphasised grass-roots action over electoral politics.

Local government is often more democratic than any other level of government. At the same time it provides education for the practice of political education instructing children and others people in the art if decision-making that is sensitive to opinions based on local knowledge and on the representation of diverse political groupings and sub-state actors. It is especially appropriate in mobilising community to gain local support for ecological projects ensuring that power is widely dispersed while also encouraging people to rebuild democracy at the local level moving towards forms of self-organisation that can collect, analyse and monitor ecological data on the local environment while hooking up to larger global concerns.


In an era of authoritarian populism based on the echo-chamber of Twitter politics the only sure answer to Trump’s arrogance and world selfishness is to organise, to educate and to motivate the younger generation to take matters into their own hands, combining forms of learning with activism.


  1. The Origins of Green Parties In Global Perspective, at Washington/Publications/Bulletin35/35.179.pdf.



Barber, B. (1984). Strong democracy: Participatory politics for a new age. University of California Press, 1984.

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York, NY: Macmillan.

Dewey, J. (1927). The public and its problems: An essay in political inquiry. Penn State Press, 2012.

Dobson, A. (1980). Green politicial thought (4th ed. 2007). London & New York: Routledge.

Dryzek, J. S. (1987). Rational ecology: environment and political economy. Oxford: Blackwell.

Dryzek, J. S. (1992). Ecology and discursive democracy: Beyond liberal capitalism and the administrative state. Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, 3, 18–42.

Dryzek, J. S. (1997). The politics of the earth. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dryzek, J. (2010). Foundations and frontiers of deliberative governance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Eckersley, R. (1992). Environmentalism and political theory: Toward an ecocentric approach. State University of New York Press.

Ester, J. (Ed.). (1998). Deliberative democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Faber, D. (1998). The struggle for ecological democracy: Environmental justice movements in the United States. New York, NY: Guilford.

Guattari, F. (2000). The three ecologies. Translated by Ian Pindar & Paul Sutton. London: The Athlone Press. Retrieved from

Gutmann, A., & Thompson, D. (2002). Why deliberative democracy? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Habermas, J. (1984). The theory of communicative action, vol. 1: Reason and the rationalization of society. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Hester, R. (2010). Design for ecological democracy. Retrieved from

Jackson, S. (2012). Thinking activists: Australian greens party activists and their responses to leadership. Australian Journal of Political Science, 47, 593–607.

Kothari, A. (2014). Radical ecological democracy: A path forward for India and beyond. Development, 57, 36–45. doi:10.1057/ dev.2014.43

Laclau, E. (1990). New reflections on the revolution of our times. London: Verso.

Laclau, E., & Mouffe, C. (1985). Hegemony and socialist strategy: Towards a radical democratic politics. London: Verso.

Laclau, E., & Mouffe, C. (2001). Hegemony and socialist strategy: Towards a radical democratic politics (2nd ed.). London: Verso.

Mendes, S. (2015, Winter). “Enemies At The Gate” The West German – Between old ideals and new challenges. German Politics and Society, 33, 66–79.

Mitchell, R. (2006). Building an empirical case for ecological democracy. Nature and Culture, 1, 149–156.

Morrison, R. (1995). Ecological democracy. Boston, MA: South End Press.

Peters, M. A. (2002). Anti-globalization and Guattari’s The Three Ecologies. In M. A. Peters, M. Olssen, & C. Lankshear (Eds.), Futures of critical theory: Dreams of difference, 275–288. Lanham, CO: Rowman & Littlefield.

Peters, M. A. (2013). Institutions, semiotics and the politics of subjectivity. In B. Dillet, R. Porter, & I. Mackenzie (Eds.), The

Edinburgh companion to poststructuralism (pp. 368–383). Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press.

Peters, M. A., & González-Gaudiano, E. (2008). Introduction. In E. González-Gaudiano & M. A. Peters (Eds.), Environmental education: Identity, politics and citizenship. Rotterdam: Sense Publications.

Plumwood, V. (1993). Feminism and the mastery of nature. London: Routledge.

Spretnak, C., & Capra, F. (1984). Green politics: The global promise. E.P. Dutton. New York, NY: Paladin, 1990.

Ungaro, D. (2005). Ecological democracy: The environment and the crisis of the liberal institutions. International Review of Sociology, 15, 293–303.

Young, I. M. (2000). Inclusion and democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Young, I. M. (2001). Activist challenges to deliberative democracy. Political Theory, 29, 670–690.

Michael A. Peters

University of Waikato

Originally published at:



Fukushima: The geo-trauma of a futural wave

David R. COLE





The authors of this article have constructed an abstract machine, dated and signed, ‘geophilosophy-futural wave-geo-trauma-Fukushima’. In this article, the authors are committed to the view that they have put geophilosophy to work, and thus have performed an inaugural and creative act of thinking, which is entirely consistent with the spirit of the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Moreover, this abstract machine is an application of Deleuze’s (1994) transcendental empiricism (which can be read as the search for the conditions of singular, creative production) and invents a new mode of thought that encompasses the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. From this perspective, and in developing an unprecedented thought-experiment, the authors have consequently worked with Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of geophilosophy to explore the 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi disaster in the time of the Anthropocene as a singularity of absolute deterritorialization, as a moment when life escapes formations of categorical or territorial capture. The article engages with the pressing ecosophical matters at hand, engineering a compelling set of concepts and questions, in order to think the outside and beyond human finitude. Here geophilosophy is employed to consider the sense of immanence in nature which operates through interactive material processes and between boundaries and bodies of differentiation. The article concludes that the geo-trauma of the nuclear disaster acts as a spur away from the black hole of entropic capitalism, and toward an irradiated homelessness which holds the promise of a new utopos, a site of world-formation and a people yet-to-come. This is both the Zerrissenheit or torn-to-pieces-hood of Fukushima and a time of crisis, a moment fecund with new possibilities. This is the movement of philosophy to a third reterritorialization as set out in What is Philosophy? – from Greek polis, to modern democratic state to the absolute deterritorialization of a future revolution and earth: – in other words, philosophy as infinite movement, as the “utopia of immanence”. This is a movement from third reterritorialization to the possibility of eco-planetary-revolution. In sum, geophilosophy finds its milieu in the time of the Anthropocene.


Geophilosophy: Fukushima and the Anthropocene

Deleuze and Guattari (1988, 1994) anticipate many of the ongoing debates regarding the notion of the Anthropocene (Crutzen 2002). The Anthropocene is a vital consideration at this juncture, as the geological time of man’s intervention on Earth is exactly what this article is about through the example of Fukushima. Deleuze and Guattari predicted the rise of the Anthropocene and the resultant crises such as the 2011 nuclear meltdown in Japan: For example, in A Thousand Plateaus, the plateau “The Geology of Morals (Who does the Earth think he is?)” is precisely dated 10,000 Years B.C., a period before the rise of human civilization in the Holocene, a time in which “the Earth – the Deterritorialized, the Glacial, the giant Molecule – is a body without organs” (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 40): that is to say, Deleuze and Guattari give voice to the Earth as a response to the Anthropocene. Moreover, in September 1988, in an interview with the Magazine Littéraire, Gilles Deleuze (1995) announced his plans for the near future: “I want to write a book on ‘What is Philosophy?’ Also, Guattari and I want to get back to our joint work, and produce a sort of philosophy of Nature, now that any distinction between nature and artifice is becoming blurred” (155). Although the joint philosophy of Nature was never realized, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie? [What is Philosophy? 1994] was published in 1992. In Chapter 4, “Geophilosophy” of the work, the philosophy of Nature (and the Earth, which might be seen as their translation of Spinoza’s Nature) becomes apparent. Revitalising the sections on Nature and the Earth that can be found in their previous collaborations, their philosophy of Nature focuses on the destabilising of dualisms that separates nature and culture, man and environment, matter and thought; in other words, on attacking exactly those dualisms that are at the heart of critical thinking in the Anthropocene. Their alternative is already found in their opening statement of the “Geophilosophy” chapter, which says: “thinking takes place in the relationship of territory and the Earth” (85). Thinking thus happens in a double movement or “entrenchment”; in a deterritorialization (from territory to the Earth) and a reterritorialization (from the Earth to territory): it is a passage to a third reterritorialization or new Earth and people. As territory and the Earth are inseparable from the moment that thinking (as a mode) begins according to this schema, it is impossible (for us) to take them apart ― in other words, all thought removes itself from a territory, towards the Earth, while it is at the same time installs a territory, removing itself from the Earth. “Thought” itself, moving parallel to the matters from which it breaks free, then necessarily involves both the Earth and territory, while it is deterritorialized and reterritorialized in perpetuum.

This article focuses on the event generated by “Fukushima” in the time of the Anthropocene, an event where the planet, as Deleuze and Guattari say in their own terms in Anti-Oedipus (1983), “becomes so artificial that the movement of deterritorialization creates of necessity and by itself a new Earth” (353). Working from a deep Spinozism, and radically breaking from Eurocentric Cartesianism, that still largely dominates the image of thought in philosophy, Deleuze and Guattari’s geophilosophy emphasises the “situatedness” of thinking principally in two ways: 1) Descartes’ cogito functioned “independent from anything else” (Gaukroger 50), forming both “the starting point for knowledge and the paradigm for knowledge” (50). Consequently, the origin of Cartesian thought and knowledge had nothing to do with the Earth. Cartesian thought reflected upon the Earth, but always already remained fully independent of it. 2) Descartes considered the cogito a distinctly human enterprise: our thinking (all the operations of our soul) is completely in our power and it is only according to our ideas that we envision the outer world (which makes Fukushima in light of the Anthropocene a radical break with this tradition). For Descartes, and in contrast to Spinoza and Deleuze and Guattari in What is Philosophy?, the human mind thinks about something―an animal, a thing, a disaster, or simply: “the Earth.”

By situating thinking between territory and the Earth as ‘entrenchment’, geophilosophy breaks with Cartesianism, because it turns thinking into an immanent activity and refuses to make thinking a solely human enterprise. Situating thinking “in the midst of things” as they occur, Deleuze and Guattari stress that the act of thinking is produced in the zigzagging relation between territory and the Earth. Thinking thus does not wait for man to begin, and necessarily happens when territory and the Earth meet. Spinoza (1955), in response to Descartes, notably offered the situated conceptualisation of thinking in his “Letter to Schaller” (390) in which he goes as far as to say that even the material assemblage called a stone holds the ability to think:

… that a stone, while continuing in motion, should be capable of thinking and knowing, that it is ‘endeavouring’, as far as it can, to continue to move. Such a stone, being conscious merely of its own endeavour and not at all indifferent, would believe itself to be completely free, and would think that it continued in motion solely because of its own wish. This is that human freedom, which all boast that they possess, and which consists solely in the fact, that men are conscious of their own desire, but are ignorant of the causes whereby that desire has been determined. Thus an infant believes that it desires milk freely.

Thinking, for Spinoza, is not a product of the human mind; it isn’t even located “inside” a body. Rather, thinking is what immanently causes the body to function as one, (since in the end its oneness is an illusion of the mind), and to act as one. Spinoza already noted that a body is “always already” a composite―he tells us that every individual is always a series of individuals ad infinitum (see Deleuze’s lecture on Spinoza, 1981; also Dolphijn 2014). The functioning together of these individuals, and, most importantly, expressing the desire to keep working as one (to maintain this particular being) forces the stone, the child or any possible individuality, to action. Therefore, thinking, in turn, is not so much “caused by” its body because this would lead us to the wrong kind of essentialism (there are an infinite amount of causes, unknown to the body in casu). Rather, thinking has its body as its object of thought (it is the idea of the body).

For Deleuze and Guattari (1988, 1994) in both A Thousand Plateaus (The Geology of Morals) and What is Philosophy? (geophilosophy) thinking decisively breaks the Cartesian mind/body distinction and rests on the capacity for entrenchment between territory and the Earth, or between culture (which is not necessarily human) and nature; thought is being actualized immanently, offering new life-forms (Cole 2011) and new images of thinking hitherto unknown or unforeseen. Hence, can we make sense of the event of Fukushima through the ‘geological-geophilosophical’ thought of the Anthropocene, the mixing of territories and the Earth, and the type of thinking that the nuclear meltdown has initiated?

The article is about Fukushima, that moment when a singularity ended the world as we know it and made in its wake both an un-world (immonde) as well as the possibility of a new Earth. Of course, the event of Fukushima was anticipated by dystopic Manga comics (think of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 or Astro Boy/Mighty Atom), by the historical precedents of Hiroshima and Chernobyl, and by capitalism itself, through the economic imperatives that drove nuclear technology, including the construction of the Fukushima site. This last point is explored by Shirō Yabu (2012) in 3.12 No Shisō, in which he describes the thirst for nuclear energy as being primarily driven by what he terms as ‘nuclear capitalism’.

The concept of geophilosophy in the work of Deleuze and Guattari and in the light of Fukushima and the Anthropocene, pivots on two aspects of how, and in what sense, the singularity of the man-made nuclear meltdown is immanent:

  1. What is the (new) Earth in the context of Fukushima and the Anthropocene, and how does it relate to territory and land?
  2. How is the nuclear disaster and contamination of Fukushima not only in the Earth, but in the end, a mode of geo-trauma of human/non-human subjectivity (see, section IV) that prevents thinking altogether?

By means of rethinking Deleuze and Guattari’s geophilosophy, we note how Fukushima is an excrescent component in the logic of Japan’s post-war development, that its body (in space) and the ideas with which it causes its endurance (in time, see, section II) are situated in Japan. However, such logic does not properly take into account the location of the power plant, the likelihood of future strong earthquakes and fierce tsunamis, and the dangers of nuclear contamination. The schizophrenic “full Earth” as described in Anti-Oedipus (1983), where “the body without organs is the deterritorialized socius, the wilderness where the decoded flows run free, the end of the world, the apocalypse” (176) was unthinkable in terms of Fukushima as a staged event in the realisation of post-War Japanese capitalism. Even if (or when) human beings become extinct because of looming global climate catastrophe, Fukushima remains a lasting monument to the ways in which the insatiable desire or jouissance for constant energy has led to unsustainable invention. Following Geoffroy Saint Hilaire, the pre-Darwinist naturalist, who was more interested in the homologies in life than in genus and species, we read the Anthropocene as a layering of strata (his concept), a thickening of the Earth, with all sorts of sediments (from nuclear waste to socio-economic policy). Not starting from the human being, or from any privileged form of life, the focus on strata allows us to see the power differentials or levels involved with thinking the Earth in the context of the Anthropocene, and today, these differentials tend towards extenuating and obfuscating the intent of human activity. For example, the reasons for Fukushima’s placement are prefaced on the capitalist need for cheap energy to supply Japan’s industry― and this fact sets up a double articulation in terms of why Fukushima was built in such a precarious situation, in terms of modelling a new capitalist Japan after World War II, and in the frame of an obliviousness to global environmental effects that the push to a new Japan has created. The Anthropocene as an over-arching concept or designation for our ‘all-too-human’ times has inter-linked streams, flows or vectors working through it. Especially within the geosciences (e.g., the atmospheric sciences), the results of the Anthropocene indicate the interconnected layerings and feedback loops that define the ways in which human activity is changing the world irreversibly (Steffen et al. 2011). These changes are akin to the point made by Heidegger in Being and Time (1962) who claims that it is when our circumspection confronts the breakdown of equipment as ready-at-hand, that the environment is itself revealed afresh. Similarly, we can say that it is not until there is a traumatic rupture or bifurcation in our thinking vis-à-vis this layering, that what is happening becomes truly apparent.

Fukushima is one such bifurcation point or singularity; it is at once an event of creation and destruction, which has, for example, radically altered environmental thinking about nuclear power as a possible solution to global warming through fossil fuel usage (Chu and Majumdar 2012). In contrast, the mainstream political and conservative mollification of what has happened in Fukushima can divert and stall the asking of questions about possible action or activism as a result of the accident. The political forces that have set Fukushima in place and have justified its funding and construction, work to suggest the implications of nuclear meltdown are not as they in fact are. Fukushima is a singularity that shows how the strata of the Anthropocene work, on all levels of life and in all spheres, and it demonstrates how the various spheres fit together in the context of Japan and in time (sections III & IV). Fukushima realizes the Anthropocene, forming a singular territory of fluid materiality and geo-ideas that continue to create new cancerous webs of truth and lies between its territory and the Earth.


The futural wave and the irradiating plane

If Fukushima acts as a realization of the Anthropocene, as promoted in this article, one way to speculate upon the (end) times to come is through Alvin Toffler’s (1980) idea of the Third Wave. From the perspective of the geophilosophy of Deleuze and Guattari (1988, 1984), the strategic use of Toffler is important because of the ways in which Fukushima in the Anthropocene operates as a fully evolved concept that is at work on every social level from the micro to the macro, and also eats itself into the dimension of time. Toffler’s predictions were based on developments in the information society in the 1970s, and how, for example, democracy could change for the better under pressure from the new information society and increased transparency. Whilst some of Toffler’s predictions have come true, for example, the ways in which the internet has reinvented the limits of socialisation, learning and knowledge, the wholesale refashioning of society due to the information age has not taken place, principally because of the ways in which capitalism has resisted and co-opted such changes (Harvey 2000). Capitalism has been able to deal with Toffler’s utopian ideas, such as changes in and improvements to democracy, through the increased reach of credit and debt forms of financialization and in their very fluctuations (Lazzarato 2012), which have seeped into all aspects of life through learning, and which have been largely facilitated through the combination of electronic mediation and cybernetics. Toffler’s wave notion, figured here as a “futural-wave”, works in parallel to the entrenchment of the geo-idea of Fukushima (as (an)other plane), and captures the ways in which the socius is changing: the futural wave is a time-based, posthuman means to understand the geothought of the Anthropocene – or non-anthropocentric, nonhuman ‘Nature’ in the wake of Fukushima.

If we take the very instance of the singularity of Fukushima: March 11th, 2011, it could be figured as a “shock of the new.” Suddenly, the (conscious and unconscious) mistakes of the past and possible ways forward become apparent as planes collide. Instead of relying on the nuclear power solutions of the previous generation, new modes of energy creation can begin to take precedence, as ideas and in practice, as the dangers of nuclear energy are fully understood and this knowledge is gradually disseminated. However, these changes in thinking and societal organization are not instantaneous, but take concerted pressure, imagination and activism/work on all levels, as the stalling mechanisms in capitalism (anti-production) hinder progress to a better (uncontaminated) life. The unfortunate reality of living in the Anthropocene is that it takes deep ruptures, crises, moments of Zerrissenheit or torn-to-pieces-hood, here figured as societal futural-waves, as adapted from Toffler, combined with the geo-thinking of the strata, to refigure the modes through which society has been organised in the past, and to alter the continuums for society and thinking. Or as Michel Serres (1995) puts it: “Global history enters nature; global nature enters history: this is something utterly new in philosophy” (4). The continued growth and strengthening of global capitalism makes “cost benefit analysis” a matter of life and death in terms of society’s choices around building and maintaining nuclear power stations in vulnerable areas such as Fukushima. As Ronald Bogue (2011) has argued, Deleuze and Guattari’s “people-yet-to-come” (after Nietzsche) is not simply a utopian project, but posits “collectivity as change” that makes a difference in “the now,” involving, in the context of this article, those who have fully realised the folly of Fukushima, and those who would do everything in their power to ensure that a nuclear disaster never happens again.

The futural-wave discussed here is therefore about disruptions in social strata, and, the time-based thinking that can happen because of and in relation to Fukushima and the Anthropocene. Toffler underestimated the power of capitalism to undermine and infiltrate such processes as those that might think Fukushima with the Anthropocene, perhaps because of his Marxist-influenced notion that the capitalist mode of production will be overcome. In contrast, the futural-wave takes on inter-related scientific, political, artistic and strategic meanings, depending on how it is positioned, and pragmatically what work it is set to do in the world. Such an argument about the futural-wave leads to the genesis and question of time in relation to the future in Deleuze. Significantly, the third passive synthesis in Deleuze’s Difference & Repetition (1994) is of the future. The third synthesis is a peculiar force in time that dislocates time and divides the subject or “I.” Williams (2011) and Bogue (2011) have remarked that the third synthesis cannot be understood simply through dislocation, but it is a deliberate reordering and playing with time (or a science fiction of the temporal order).

In the context of Fukushima and the situatedness of this article, Japanese art has concerned itself with time since Hiroshima. For example, in its aftermath, Kurosawa’s classic film I live in fear (1955) works with Fukushima as its extreme limit or next plane of collision. Furthermore, Manga comics such as Astro Boy/Mighty Atom (from 1952 to 1968) and Barefoot Gen (1945 onwards) have incorporated the irradiated playing with time of the third synthesis in the context of Fukushima as a limit thought. At the heart of Fukushima, one could place the writings of noir author Haruki Murakami, whose Kafka on the Shore and 1Q84 meticulously show us how, as Deleuze puts it in Difference and Repetition (1994), “time itself unfolds instead of things unfolding within it” (88). In other words, the third synthesis is a form of novelty or action that produces lesions in time, a “before and after” that, in our case, has been realized with the futural-wave of Fukushima and in the geothought of the Anthropocene. One could say, following Bergson, that the third synthesis or futural-wave constructs time internally as duration, but also tears such duration asunder. Once the violence and loop in time have been achieved, a new sequencing will occur: in the context of this article, around how exactly to deal with Fukushima in the Anthropocene, the consequent geo-trauma that Fukushima has produced, and the new forms of subjectivity that the plateau based around March 11th, 2011 tolerates. A territory, an Earth, an idea has emerged that is so radically different from hitherto notions that a rupture in time, a “crack in the world,” as Murakami puts it, is noticed, producing a non-equilibrium division in which the before (nuclear power in the Anthropocene) and after (alternate power in the Anthropocene) are incommensurable. Put differently, an absolute silence, an absolute nothingness is realising itself as time unfolds post-Fukushima. As non-equal elements pre and post Fukushima, the continuum is thus divided not only as a sequence, but also as a series (Williams 2011).

In the 22nd series of The Logic of Sense, entitled “Porcelain and Volcano,” Deleuze discusses how self-destruction comes out of left field. Something happens that shatters the image and sanctuary of a perfect life – “looks, charm, riches, superficiality and lots of talent” – like “an old plate or glass” (154). This is what he describes as the “terrible tête-à-tête of the schizophrenic and the alcoholic” (154). Indeed, in Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics, regarding a discussion on the nomadic processes of transformation, Braidotti (2006a), following Deleuze, maintains that the point is to learn how to refuse the sad passions which one feasts upon on “the crest of the wave of cracking-up” (208). If one toils in “the long deep crack” of life, the question is how to learn to ward off the sad affects “of orchestrated demolition of the self” (Braidotti 2006a 213). In Braidotti’s essay “Affirmation versus Vulnerability: On Contemporary Ethical Debates,” she suggests that from the experience and recovery from the crack up, what returns is a new force of health, resistance, adaptability, even ethical transformation, which is productive of difference. As she says, “[p]aradoxically, it is those who have already cracked up a bit, those who have suffered pain and injury, who are better placed to take the lead in the process of ethical transformation …. They know about endurance, adequate forces, and the importance of Relations” (Braidotti 2006b 156). Deleuze takes the line that art itself is a path between the cracks. As he says: “There is no work of art that does not indicate an opening for life, a path between the cracks” (Bogue 2004 9). For Deleuze, and indeed Nietzsche, the question is how to live in and on the surface of the crack, to traverse it, delicately, like the tightrope walker, balancing as ever over the precipice, yet learning all the while how to avoid headlong, hell-for-leather suicidal collapse and thus to resist the perilous descent into nihilism, decadence and despair. In this article we argue that this is precisely the type of sensitive balancing required to live on in the time after Fukushima, as the futural wave constantly extends, mutates and plays with time, as the Anthropocene become even weirder.

One could suggest that, with respect to the futural-wave that unfolds from the caesura that we have called the singularity of Fukushima in the Anthropocene; there are three forms or planes of the future, that is to say, the 1) present, 2) past and 3) future. These forms of the future “groove the Earth” for the people-yet-to-come, as they carry with them and work with forms (material and immaterial) of the future. Such modes of time set conditions and act as contingency in terms of the non-linearity of what happens next. In the context of Fukushima, the force of the Fukushima-Anthropocene geo-idea, for example, which includes the ability to rally against nuclear power and compellingly dispute its continued use in exposed and vulnerable positions, will live or die depending on the ruptures and feedback loops in time that are possible, and the outcomes associated with such rupturing and subsequent assemblage. Deleuze’s third synthesis promotes the thinking through of the absolute complexities of time, which adds another dimension of thought to the gathering of forces necessary to change society with respect to Fukushima. Ultimately, Deleuze and Guattari’s geophilosophy lends itself to avoiding the mistakes of the past (e.g. those involved with nuclear capitalism), but this avoidance cannot be left to gradual changes in society, especially in the context of an irradiating Fukushima in the Anthropocene; it has to do with creating difference and planes on all levels, including the natural world (rethinking the Earth), the unconscious (reimagining and feeling a new world), and the hyper-rational (making a new world). In the next section, the challenge of the futural wave is taken up in the context of the temporal and traumatised dimensions at work in post-Fukushima Japanese society and is read through the trope of “geo-trauma.”


Geo-trauma from within Japan

How does the application of Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus (1988) and What is Philosophy? (1994) make sense of post-Fukushima Japan? Firstly, one can now name a Fukushima-Japanese thinking-praxis that disseminates the rhythm of the irradiated, singular milieu (March 11th, 2011), hence opening up new (possible) worlds. This is a wholly new conception of thought in and for Japan, redefining what it means to think of and according to an infected and traumatised non-place such as Fukushima. In this context, the Japanese Earth, the cherry blossoms, seas, mountains all give rise to geo-ideas, marking the Anthropocentric nuclear age as infected by/in Fukushima. However, one cannot overlook the power and “affect” of the geo-trauma produced on March 11th, 2011, and the social and psychic maladies which have ensued – which are bound up in memory, image, contamination and a frozen temporality where one “works to forget” to the point of karoshi or death from overwork. The geo-trauma of Fukushima functions in a new sense based on the posthuman thinking that the nuclear meltdown has precipitated and constantly gives rise to as a futural wave (see, Figure 1 below).

The anthropologist Chihiro Minato, who appears in Melitopoulos and Lazzarato’s documentary, “Life of Particles” (2012, 82 min), speaks of the adaptation to the environment in terms of interior and exterior “psychosis,” which he argues is a territory or psycho-geography that the Japanese must now negotiate. Minato suggests that “the absolute evil” of the atom bomb is inextricably tied to Japanese desire. Similarly, the adoption of nuclear power is wedded to desire for economic development in post-war Japan. Because of this desire, Minato says that the Japanese are compelled to respond to Fukushima. Geo-trauma, in the context of the Anthropocene and Fukushima, is defined as a form of ecological thinking that takes as its object not Nature per se but the unnaturalisable as such. Drawing on the concept of geo-traumatics, as suggested by Nick Land (2011) and as elaborated on by Reza Negarestani in Cyclonopedia (2008), we can say: “it is not a question of being “open to” something, some object or other, but, rather, of being opened, with all the necessary force that this suggests” (200-1). Geo-trauma helps us to rethink the relation between the human and non-human post-Fukushima, by embracing a notion of violence irreducible to either side of the human/non-human relation and through the very irruption of Fukushima. As Land points out in Fanged Noumena (2011), for Freud, the notion of trauma corresponds to a breach or invasion, the emergence of something alien from the outside that the conscious system struggles to assimilate (333).

Prior to March the 11th, 2011, Koichiro Kokubun writes in his newspaper article, “Beyond Boredom” (2012) that even though the post-Pacific war generation in Japan believed that politics could not change anything in principle, they nevertheless engaged in politics to “pass the time” (taikutsu shinogi). One could say that given the historical structure of Japanese democratic politics and sovereignty, before 3.11, no new image of thought or vision of the future could have been imagined – because Japan had enjoyed its prosperity, while living schizophrenically under the shadow of American imperial will. As such, there is no way to actively engage in politics, except by merely passing the time. However, following the nuclear meltdown, and in the resultant horror and danger to their life, the Japanese people are forced to become “animals” (doubutsu ni naru koto) – compelled to think a new image of thought that fully embraces the ramifications of Fukushima. In an interesting way, this move by Kokubun is a reworking of Deleuze and Guattari’s (1994) geo-conception of thought. Why? Because, as they say, in facing the “ignominy of the possibilities of life” and the shameful compromises of our non-thinking present, Deleuze and Guattari contend that: “[T]here is no way to escape the ignoble, but to play the part of the animal (to growl, burrow, snigger, distort ourselves)” (108).

Amidst the ongoing and complex geo-trauma of the shock of 3.11, Japanese society is confronted with a demand to think a new image of thought, to begin thinking again, especially with respect to an engaged democracy. Kokubun makes the point that there is a pressing need to connect the everyday lives of people with representative bodies in singularly new ways. In this respect, 3.11 is a trigger for people to think fundamentally, in order not to fall back on received opinion, or what Kokubun terms passive democracy (omakase minshushugi). In a similarly critical manner, Shirô Yabu (2012), author of 3/12 no Shisô [The Philosophy of 3/12], writes that Japan remains bound to the logic of a “nuclear state” (a concept borrowed from Robert Jungk). What the 3.11 shock demonstrates, qua simulacrum of the real, is how the dystopia of “nuclear capitalism” (genshiryoku shihonshugi) was pre-existent before the catastrophic accident. Meanwhile, Sabu Kohso (2015) claims that Fukushima remains implicated in a capitalism-driven “totalisation of the world” (52) and, as such, its “apocalyptic symptom” is part of an “unending process toward a radioactive planet” (52). The fissures of Fukushima are, he says, “running everywhere on our existential territories” and because of this, the people of Japan face a crossroads, one towards conservatism and collusion with the nuclear industry, the other to “pry open the fissures” (52) ̶ to destinations unknown. Through the fissures, there is the remote hope to “decompose capitalism” (53), to “turn people’s sufferings into political projects and the different ways we can interact with the planet” (53). So it is this crack or rupture, a break in the clouds, a rend in the protective walls which govern the everyday, which offers the possibility to view something other, not-yet or unforeseen, a new utopos: an emergent island or volcano amidst the chaos.

Congruously, one could argue that post-Fukushima meltdown and the new geophilosophy from, in and about Japan on the singularity of the plateau of March 11th, 2011, is bound and grooved on a course of the autonomous technology of radiation (Winner). The geo-idea/wave of Fukushima forges an irradiated territory with the Earth that pushes the real “out to sea” to envelop the entire Japanese archipelago, and its conception of itself through contamination.

After Fukushima, the abstract movement from “land of hope” to “hope of land” – a relay to and fro, from deterritorialization to reterritorialization – is a question of terra incognita (unknown land) or, in Deleuze and Guattari’s terms absolute deterritorialization, nomadism, drift and utopia. Absolute deterritorialization connects with both the present relative milieu (of irradiated land) and the forces which are curtailed by this milieu (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994 99-100). “The land of hope” metamorphoses into “the hope of land,” as it is a passing from collapse of structure to ungrounded ground, or terra infirma. The absolute deterritorialization of the Anthropocene in light of Fukushima is, pivotally and simultaneously, the search for a new escape fantasy, an off-world sanctuary, enclave, haven or (an)other Atlantis ― sited in the sea of geo-trauma, indifference, separation and mutation – mare incognitum (unknown sea). The futural wave sweeps away the present, as well as assumptions about the past in Japan, made in and for the expansion of a post-war capitalist state as the “miracle economy.” The futural wave could be aligned with an impersonal K-wave or extended cycle of economic activity in Japan, because the course of inexorable inhuman economic logic, or expansion for any purpose ― is tellingly a line of pure madness, destruction, abolition in and for itself. As a consequence, a dramatic interplay between Fukushima as geo-idea/wave and the continuing economic miracle of the new Japan is emerging.

Post-Fukushima Japan is on a journey motivated by the “hope of virgin land” (risōkyō, utopia) as mutated object. The “idea” of Fukushima/Japan ― contaminated and irradiating ― thinks flows of time, images, abstract matter and machines in the context of geo-trauma. Terra firma ebbs in and out of being: irradiated being is a processual, futural ebbing machine of trauma. The future of Fukushima ungrounds the Earth and territory; its pollution remains “groundless,” nomadic. The breakthrough of the ground “ungrounds” the Earth from its moorings and sets it on a course for posthuman and futural becomings ― in other words, “processual virtual immanence.” Fukushima signals a universal breakdown or collapse (effondrement) alongside a universal ungrounding (effondement) – an ‘absence of fondement’ or ground, more cracked spaces than smooth spaces, but more than this, it is also a reversal of grounding and in effect, it is undoubtedly an “absence of ground” in the new Japan (Sauvagnargues 2009 97-98). However, one significant problem for the universal ungrounding of Fukushima is that there appears to be no immediate prospect for a Japanese diaspora, or the possible discovery of a new Promised Land. There is no escape from the viscous hyperobjects of the Anthropocene (Morton 2013 29). Fukushima now reconfigures “the Zeitgeist of precarity” according to Maria Grajdian (Rosenbaum & Iwata-Weickgenannt 2014 119), and is the new threshold of cataclysm and mutation. For example, filmmaker Sion Sono’s “The Land of Hope” in 2012 ― made soon after Fukushima ― represents this new sense of terra-formation as Fukushima. Inhabitants of a made up prefecture are uprooted and ordered to evacuate, never to return. They leave without destination. They flee with neither weapons nor hope. This harsh reality brings home the radical destratification of the Earth in the present epoch (see Figure 1) which is to say post-Fukushima as a fundamental condition of the Anthropocene.

Despite the aforementioned relationless and precarious aspects of the Anthropocene, Slavoj Žižek, in the documentary, “The possibility of hope” (2007), which was made for the film “Children of Men,” speaks affirmatively of the state of being adrift. Discussing the concept of the boat and reflecting on the geo-traumatic ecological crisis facing mankind, Žižek (2007) suggests: “We must really accept how we are rootless. This is, for me, the meaning of this wonderful metaphor, boat. Boat is the solution; ‘boat’in the sense of, you accept rootless, free floating. You cannot rely on anything. You know, it’s not a return to land. Renewal means you cut your roots.” This philosophical sense of cutting of roots and the acceptance of drifting at sea – rendered imperative in post-Fukushima geo-traumatised Japan – functions with the intensification in horror-Manga that we have seen in the last few years, in, for example, the cartoons of Junji Ito (Figure 1). The recent emergence of horror manga as a major genre in the Japanese expressive psyche, coheres with the schizophrenic downgrading of nuclear capitalism, after Fukushima. Put another way, the decoded schizo flows of Fukushima haemorrhage hyperobjects, a traumatic chaos from which ‘we’ – deliriously – pass into thinking the inhuman and the increasingly inhospitable Gaia. Irradiated Japan is posthuman and nothing posthuman is alien to it. And we are thus always already populated by this strange matter, overcoded by an abstract machine which emerges from the futural wave:


Figure 1. Junji Ito. Horror-Manga image, “the irradiating eye”


Conclusion ― After Fukushima and the kizuna to come

Although the Anthropocene may well be part of what Deleuze and Guattari designate the “landscapification” of all milieus in A Thousand Plateaus (1988 181), propelled, as Arun Saldanha claims,  by “the crazy greedy feedback loop that is capital” (Stark and Roffe 2015 201), there is also embedded in Fukushima-Anthropocene, equally, simultaneously and pivotally, a land (e)scapification of all current worlds, milieus, territories and (ir)rationalities of the human – a course of posthuman terra-formation for the people-yet-to-come.

Indeed, as Jean-Luc Nancy insists (2015), nature has reached a threshold; it is nature no more. The earthquake and tsunami render Fukushima not only a technological catastrophe, but also a social, economic, political, and philosophical earthquake. He writes: “We have, in fact, transformed nature, and we can no longer speak of it. We must attempt to think of a totality in which the distinction between nature and technology is no longer valid and in which, at the same time, a relationship of ‘this world’ to any ‘other world’ is also no longer valid” (34). Faced with the enduring geo-traumatic effects mentioned in this paper, we may ask the following questions: How does the philosopher, the friend of the concept, become a friend of the Earth in the time of the Anthropocene and in light of Fukushima? How does one become a friend of territory, a friend of terror-formation or “terra-formation” in Japan, when one is already caked in radiation? How does the philosopher form a provisional friendship with polluted territory and affirm the becoming of mutation? How does the philosopher think the Zerrissenheit of Fukushima and the third reterritorialization to come (eco-planetary-revolution)? How does the philosopher open up to the taking over of the unthinkable? More succinctly, these questions pertain to the question of friendship with the nonhuman. And it is this focus which crystallises the form of thinking in this article. Indeed, this article works in a parallel manner to Hiroki Azuma (2011), who discusses the notion of kizuna or bonds (of friendship), and claims that what 3/11 demonstrates is the conspicuous lack of solidarity and homogeneity in pre- and post-Fukushima Japanese society. He argues that the reality of post-Fukushima is that people remain atomized and alienated from each other in terms of income, location and age. Therefore, in this immonde or un-world the question is: How does one become a friend of radiation and embrace the kizuna, or friendship of the irradiated territory? Moreover, the question “How does one embrace kizuna in terms of the irradiated, impossible Earth?” coincides with Heidegger’s pessimistic view of the Earthrise photograph: “This is no longer the Earth on which man lives” (Wolin 105-106). In response, and faced with a kind of liminal eco-schizophrenia, geo-trauma or Zerrissenheit — so described because Japan’s nuclear capitalism appears hell-bent on more catastrophe, tearing the World away from Nature in its wake — we state that thought is destined for absolute deterritorialization, for all manner of strange becomings: Thought is no longer bound to the Earth on which man lives. How does one de/re-territorialize when one is terra-forming, searching for an island of renewal amidst irradiated seas? How does one embrace one’s “corporeal facticity” in the cosmic-making times of the Anthropocene? How does one embrace the absolute deterritorialization or utopia of a milieu in which and through which one calls, following (Nietzsche and) Deleuze and Guattari (1994) for “a new Earth, a new people” (101)? How is it possible to produce a mode of thinking capable of engineering futural becomings, to produce the thought of a third reterritorialization of the Earth. Post-Fukushima geophilosophy must respond to its current milieu, however traumatically, and contra the unworld or the immonde of Integrated World Capitalism, “create worlds of thought, a whole new conception of thought”, of “what it means to think” in that infected milieu (Deleuze 2004 138). So to ask the most Unheimlich of questions: How to become what one is, in the crack of time, outside of time, for a time yet to come?

Works Cited


Azuma, Hiroki. “For a Change, Proud to Be Japanese.” New York Times. March 17, 2011. Internet resource.

Bogue, Ronald. Deleuze’s Wake: Tributes and Tributaries. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004. Print.

______. “Deleuze and Guattari and the Future of Politics: Science Fiction, Protocols and the People to Come.” Deleuze Studies 5, (2011): 77-97. Print.

Braidotti, Rosi. Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2006a. Print.

______. “Affirmation Versus Vulnerability.” Symposium. 10.1 (2006b): 235-254. Print.

Chu, Steven, and Arun Majumdar. “Opportunities and Challenges for a Sustainable Energy Future.” Nature. 488.7411 (2012): 294-303. Print.

Cole, David R. Educational Life-Forms: Deleuzian Teaching and Learning Practice. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 2011. Print.

Crutzen, Paul. “Geology of Mankind.” Nature 415: 23, 2002. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles. “Spinoza: The actual infinite-eternal, the logic of relations.” trans. S. Duffy. Les Cours de Gilles Deleuze. 1981. Internet resource.

______. The Logic of Sense. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990. Print.

______. Difference and Repetition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994. Print.

______. Desert Islands and Other Texts, 1953-1974. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e, 2004. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Martin Joughin. Negotiations: 1972-1990. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. Anti-oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983. Print.

______. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. London: Athlone Press, 1988. Print.

______. What Is Philosophy? New York: Columbia University Press, 1994. Print.

Dolphijn, Rick. “The Revelation of a World That Was Always Already There: the Creative Act As an Occupation.” (2014): 185-205. Print.

Gaukroger, Stephen. Cartesian Logic: An Essay on Descartes’s Conception of Inference. Oxford [England: Clarendon Press, 1989. Print.

Harvey, David. Spaces of Hope. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. Print.

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. New York: Harper, 1962. Print.

Kohso, Sabu. “Constellations of the Fukushima Problematic: Socialization, Capitalism, and Struggle.” Boundary 2, 42, (3), pp. 37-54. 2015.

Kokubun, Koichiro. “Beyond Boredom.” Asahi Shimbun. February 10, 2012.

Melitopoulos, Angela and Maurizio Lazzarato. The Life of Particles: A 3-Channel Video Installation. 82 mins. 2012.

Nancy, Jean-Luc, and Charlotte Mandell. After Fukushima: The Equivalence of Catastrophes. New York: Fordham University Press, 2015. Print.

Land, Nick, Robin Mackay, and Ray Brassier. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987-2007. Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2011. Print.

Lazzarato, M, and Joshua D. Jordan. The Making of the Indebted Man: An Essay on the Neoliberal Condition. Los Angeles, CA : Semiotext(e). 2012. Print.

Morton, Timothy. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013. Print.

Negarestani, Reza. Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials. Melbourne:, 2008. Internet resource.

Rosenbaum, Roman, and Kristina Iwata-Weickgenannt. Visions of Precarity in Japanese Popular Culture and Literature. London: Taylor & Francis Ltd, 2014. Print.

Stark, Hannah, and Jon Roffe. Deleuze and the Non/human. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. Print.

Sauvagnargues, Anne. Deleuze: L’empirisme Transcendantal. Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 2009. Print.

Steffen, W, J Grinevald, P Crutzen, and J McNeill. “The Anthropocene: Conceptual and Historical Perspectives.” Philosophical Transactions. Series A, Mathematical, Physical, and    Engineering     Sciences. 369. 1938 (2011): 842-67. Print.

Williams, James. Gilles Deleuze’s Philosophy of Time: A Critical Introduction and Guide. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011. Print.

Winner, Langdon. Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-control As a Theme in Political Thought. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1977. Print.

Wolin, Richard (ed). “Only a God Can Save Us.” The Heidegger Controversy: A Critical Reader, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993. Print.

Yabu, Shirō. 3.12 No Shisō. Tōkyō: Ibunsha, 2012. Print.

Žižek, Slavoj. Monologue in film ‘Children of Men’. Alfonso Cuarón, United Kingdom: Universal Pictures, UK. 2007.