TELEVISION OF THE ANTHROPOCENE: POSTHUMAN SENSIBILITIES AND POLITICAL TV

DAVID LEVENTE PALATINUS

In Television of the Anthropocene Part I (that I wrote exactly a year ago), I introduced the idea of the Television of the Anthropocene, and I suggested that ‘the re-emergence of sci-fi, fantasy, and post-apocalyptic genres and generic hybrids on television that address questions about human and non-human futures was unsurprising and was in line with the social and cultural status of the television as the dominant medium of storytelling’ (Palatinus 2017). I suggested thinking about television through the ‘AnthropoScreen’, denoting both a temporal/epochal positioning of the medium as well as a political ecology of the screen where we’re dealing with a ‘plethora of images’ relegated to the Anthropocene – narratives, figurations, cultural ideas produced and disseminated via the converging media of literary fiction and television, that engage with the beginning and the end of human future as we know it’ in programmes like The 100 (CW, 2014-), Incorporated (Syfy, 2016), Into the Badlands (AMC, 2015-), The Expanse (Syfy, 2015-), Zoo (CBS, 2015-), Helix (Syfy, 2014-2015), Extant (CBS, 2014-2015) and of course The Walking Dead (AMC, 2010-).

In that text, my focus was primarily on post-apocalyptic scenarios because of their figurations of catastrophe through climate change, nuclear endgames or pandemic outbreaks, resulting in an ecosystem where human existence is relativised to an extreme and where humans learn to adapt to a radically changed environment. To negotiate the nexus between the epochal and conceptual implications of the AnthropoScreen, it will be essential at one point that we rethink the role of ‘television-as-medium’, and consequently, the role of media, similarly to that of humans, in a changed ecosystem, with special attention to the ways media themselves have become an ecological factor and a framework through which we negotiate post-Anthropocene existence (Maxwell and Miller, 2012; Parikka, 2015). Still, I would like to continue now with considerations of television’s role in the circulation of posthuman sensibilities and of cultural imaginaries of a post-singularity world.

Over the past years, there’s been an emergence of film and television texts (Ex Machina Garland, 2014), Automata (Ibanez, 2014), Lucy (Besson, 2014), Transcendence (Pfister, 2014), Blade Runner 2049 (Villeneuve, 2017) or on TV Person of Interest (CBS, 2011-2016), Humans (Channel4/AMC, 2015-, based on the Swedish original Real Humans, SVT, 2012-2014), Extant (CBS, 2014-2015), Almost Human (Fox, 2013-2014), Westworld (HBO, 2016-), etc.) revolving around the advent of intelligent machines and humanoid robots that not only interact with humans and facilitate their everyday living by becoming their prosthetic supplements, but also gain consciousness and sentience, and are able to emulate human behavior to such an extent that the thin line between human and machine becomes penetrable. Such non-organic organisms are then frequently depicted not only as humans’ Other, as projections of our fears and anxieties about our own improved (cognitively and physiologically enhanced) selves predicated purely on objective-driven logic, efficiency and objective-focused operations, but, on the other hand, also as those that indirectly highlight the ineffable, unnamable qualities (or at least the challenges the explication of these qualities entail) that make us ‘human’.

These narratives habitually mobilise post-Anthropocene scenarios that entail the repositioning of the human in a changed ecosystem. As it was argued before, the Anthropocene denotes an epoch characterized by the ‘human dominance of biological, chemical and geological processes on Earth’ (Crutzen and Schwagerl, 2011). If the Anthropocene implies human becoming a force shaping both organic and inorganic matter, post-Anthropocene would refer to a subsequent near-future time when the existing societal hierarchies come under question through narratives that repurpose the ‘classic tropes of technophobia, post-colonial and post-capitalist discourses, social polarisation and totalitarianism, bio-power, genetic engineering and environmentalism, in the context of perpetual war and a culture of paranoia’ (Palatinus 2017).

AI and humanoid machines have been populating science-fiction both on paper and on the screen for a long time. While acknowledging the historical legacies of classical narratives that have by now attained a cult status (from 2001 A Space Odyssey (Kubrik, 1968) to the Star Trek franchise (NBC, 1966-), Blade Runner (Scott, 1982)the Terminator franchise and Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009, Sci-Fi Channel), films and television from the past decade are also set apart from that legacy: Ex Machina, Blade Runner 2049Westworld, Almost Human, Extant and Humans not only negotiate ways for the coexistence of human and nonhuman species in a post-singularity ecosystem, they call attention to the a peculiar from of ‘extimity’ (cf. Miller, 2008) – the displacement and de-humanisation of human otherness via machine. Extimity in this regard would refer to a constant bouncing between the assertion and disavowal/revocation of human(like) intimacy between humans and the ‘things’. Given the versatility of both the symbolisations and conceptualisations of AI, these programme texts also ask – what exactly do we mean by it? And aren’t we expanding its notion a bit too broad to include just about everything, from androids to machine learning to the very set of algorithms that make the positing of AI possible in the first place? And what is the correlation between ‘AI a la fiction’, and real-life applications?

Fig. 1: Humans (Channel4/AMC, 2015-, based on the Swedish original Real Humans, SVT, 2012-2014)

The past decade has seen a proliferation of cultural ideas depicting intersections between human and non-human (machine and / or animal) species. Among these, accounts of the accelerating capabilities of intelligent machines (and of machine-intelligence), their purpose, the range of their possible applications, and opinions about the ways these imminent changes will have impacted human life in the near-future have been rather divisive. On television, Person of Interest (CBS, 2011-2016), ExtantHumans and Westworld exemplify stipulations of the changes technological acceleration and the arrival of machines with human-like intelligence will have brought about. These ideas tap into current discourses on post- and trans-human futures as well as into the cultural legacies that representations of the future draw on (Jameson, 2005, Roden 2014). Ray Kurzweil offers a celebratory approach to the techno-utopian and techno-deterministic transformation of humans into ‘spiritual machines’ (Kurzweil, 1999), and anticipates that technological singularity, the merger of human technology with human intelligence, will eventually result in our ability to transcend the limitations of our biology and our physical bodies. The synths of humans offer a vision of just that, especially through the lead character of Leo Elster (Colin Morgan), a part synth (and the son of David Elster, the creator of conscious synths) who features significant prosthetic supplementation to his brain, which he needed after an accident.

Glen Mazis suggests we think of the human and the nonhuman in terms of a ‘relation-ship’ (2008), acknowledging, however, that recognising machines as ‘having a personhood’ would mean calling into question ‘another absolute divide to which we cling – the absolute difference between the animate and inanimate’ (242). This becomes a recurring trope on TV, with the anthropomorphic characters of the Machine in Person of Interest, and in Almost Human through John Kennex’s (Karl Urban) initial reluctance to accept his own prosthetic limb, and to trust and bond with Dorian, a synthetic police robot assigned to him as a partner.

Rosi Braidotti contemplates the possibility of that when she calls for the repositioning of the foundation of critical posthumanism (2013) and assumes ‘the primacy of intelligent and self-organizing matter (2018). Her agenda here is less about a radical suspension of obvious binaries (body-mind, organic-inorganic, embodiment-embrainment, nature-culture), but rather an attempt to highlight their continuity. She explains that the posthuman ‘is normatively neutral and it does not automatically point to the end of the species’, but rather, as a figuration, it is ‘both situated and partial – it does not define the new human condition, but offers a spectrum through which we can capture the complexity of ongoing processes of subject-formation’ (2018).

While Nick Bostrom’s techno-skeptical embrace of humanity through transhumanism reinscribes human(istic) hierarchies via maintaining belief in the perfectability of human through technological enhancement (2014),[1] Katherine Hayles’ reminds us that the cultural imaginaries of nonhuman otherness also constitute a political agenda that moves beyond binary oppositions (1999). Opening up further dimensions and configurations of animate and inanimate materialities in contemporary art, Barbara Stafford explores of the move from communicable matter to the (re-)emergence of ‘ineffable’ entities encompassing ‘living technology’, ‘technologies of the extended mind’, ‘bio-fictions’ and ‘multispecies intra-actions’ (2016). This ineffability is what underlies the question of sentience, suffering and the ability to create memories and snap in and out of ‘being awake’ or ‘being in a dream’ in the case of the hosts of Westworld, and we see the same ineffability being played out (and its significance being played down) in the scene where Niska (Emily Berrington) in Humans appears before a tribunal to determine whether she’s conscious, and whether as a conscious being (not a thing!) she (notice the female pronoun used interchangeably with the neuter pronoun throughout the series) is entitled to a human trial for a murder she committed in self-defense.

Niska’s outburst (that results in her killing a human) is triggered by her being ‘forced’ to work as a sexbot and literally experiencing those encounters as rape. The accumulated pain and repressed memories of humiliation and direct objectification in the hands of (male) humans – who in fact think of Niska as an object, a sex toy that ‘functions’ and ‘performs’ algorithmically, according to scripted response loops, without having the ability to know and do anything else (that is, to have an awareness and comprehension of alternatives outside of the perceived reality of her programming). She is denied the ability to ‘feel’, and as a consequence to experience real pain and suffering. Her exclusive place is that of submission, without the possibility of even having the concept of preference for what registers as pleasurable, arousing or tender, and consequently without the ability to take initiative. For the visitors of the brothel, Niska is an ‘it’ rather than a ‘she’.  Abuse, for Niska, therefore does not simply amount to the physical and psychological trauma of the forced intercourse. But rather, by being reduced to mere instrumentality, the abuse is the refusal to acknowledge her as a life-form. from her reduction to mere instrumentality, the refusal to acknowledge her as a life-form. Laura (Kathrine Parkinson) and her family are some of the few humans who advocate the acknowledgement of synth sentience and try to emancipate them via forms of familial intimacy (their house synth Mia/Anita (Gemma Chan) becoming more like a family member). But even within this context, the initial intimacy is turned extimate, when we witness a bracketing-out of the human-like qualities of the synths when Laura’s husband has sex with Anita and then orders her to delete all memories of the intercourse.

We see similar displays of abuse in Westworld: the bracketing-out of agency on the part of the hosts, and the suspension of responsibility on the part of the guests is one of the principles on which the theme park operates, a feature that also becomes its key selling point. The memories of the hosts are deleted every time they reach the end of their scripted narratives so they can go back and relive the same experiences without having memories of them. As one of the technicians responsible for the maintenance of the hosts remarks, “Can you imagine what would happen if the hosts remembered what the guests do to them? (…) We give them the concept of a dream, mostly nightmares.”

Fig. 2: Westworld (HBO, 2016-)

As we have seen, television’s concern is not so much (or no longer) the mechanisation – more particularly the ‘machinisation’ of the human, but quite the contrary, the ‘humanisation’ of machinic entities. This, of course, also necessitates the recognition of the fact that such forms of humanisation or ‘anthropomorphisation’ are as old as any form of symbolisation, and clearly have to do with psychological imperatives that lie at the core of (human) subjectivity, and the affective dimension which television has always been prone to enhance. But what happens if we? suggest that what ‘articulations of the human via machines’ really entails is not so much, or not only, a merger of machine and human in a continuity that dismantles demarcations via disembodied and re-embodied forms of subjectivity, but rather an abstraction and algorithmisation of the human, and its replication and emulation via machine?

This of course is just one avenue of the many: humanoid machines have been around on television for a very long time. What’s more interesting, and more pressing today, is the postulation of intelligent / sentient machines that don’t simply emulate human qualities but take on a consciousness, intelligence, cognitive and perhaps even emotional traits akin to subjectivity and, consequently, agency that is comparable to those of humans. These programme texts ask: what if the ‘post’ in post-human refers not only to an irreversible temporality (what comes after humans, as a further evolutionary step, as the marker of end of human history as Kurzweil defines singularity)? What if the post in post-human refers to a ‘beyond’ – to an ontological form that human reason cannot yet fathom or stipulate? What if the post-human, the non-human, the machinic has always figured as the articulation par excellence of the human – by way of a negative dialectic? A true (re-)embodiment of that which the human is not (but hopes to be)? A sense of becoming – always-already en-route to its own transcendence? There seems to be a disconnect between the techno-scientific optimism of transhumanist philosophies (and the transhuman ethos in general), and popular renditions and projections of the same perceived futures in various forms of media. From dystopian novels to film and television to video games – and even to social media, there’s multiple visual renditions circulating (both generating and challenging ideologies) about post-human and/or transhuman ecologies. They call attention to the demise of our natural environment and depict said demise as being a necessary and inevitable result (by way of both environmental exploitation as well as the enhancing and broadening of social polarisation via exploitative labour and the increasing corporatisation of structures like healthcare, agriculture, communications technologies, education, etc.) of the very technological acceleration that (is supposed to) make a transhuman future possible.

In actuality the prominence of accelerationism (the ideology-turned-myth of steady and sustainable progress towards a self-perfecting network of systems that gradually suspend the necessity of human intervention, thus eventually disengaging /disabling human agency in the management of interconnected ecosystems) appears to be the drive dictating the tempo of research and development, using various types of media to promote their agenda and to bring the public to their sides, with soaring funding opportunities embedded in the self-serving mechanisms of the system. Film, television and video games offer a significantly different take on the question of accelerationism: the scenarios about the ways our techno-deterministic futures might play out vary, of course, but the one sentiment most of these cultural narratives have in common is the underlying skepticism, or even downright apocalypticism, about the advent of singularity.

As a consequence, the above examples inscribe themselves into a history of similarly-themed sci-fi narratives, but are set apart from them in peculiar ways: on the one hand, just like their intertextual predecessors, these narratives mobilise the old trope of technology as a threat to human life, they subvert utopistic techno-positivism and the absolutisation of big data that have become trend-setting after the algorithmic turn (Uricchio, 2011). On the other hand, they highlight a number of urgencies that have become paramount in critical discourses on technology, AI, disembodied and re-embodied intelligence, the technological mediation of cognitive processes and data. Are we to subscribe to post-apocalyptic warnings about sentient machines wiping humanity out, or are we to embrace a (Kurzweilian) utopia where humans morph into machine-enhanced cyborgic posthumans that live forever? What we witness, rather, is television’s commentary on the gradual move through the reification of Darwinian evolutionary logic, from par excellence manifestations of the Deleuzean bodies without organs, of disembodied consciousness, to the inexplicable evolution of self-replicating, self-organizing humanoid machines.

Original article here (Nov 23, 2018)


David Levente Palatinus is Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies and founder of the Anthropocene Media Lab at the University of Ruzomberok. His research moves between and across visual studies, digital media, and cultural theory. He has worked and written on violence in serial culture, medicine and autopsy, autoimmunity and war, and digital subjectivity in the Anthropocene. He is co-editor of the ECREA section of Critical Studies in Television Online, and sits on the editorial board of Americana – E-Journal of American Studies (Hungary) and Rewind: British and American Studies Series of Aras Edizioni (Fano, Italy). He is co-editor of the volume Crime and Detection in the Age of Electronic Reproduction (forthcoming, Americana Ebooks). His book Spectres of Medicine: The Ethos of Contemporary Medical Dramas will be published next year by Aras Edizioni (Italy).

WORKS CITED:

Bostrom, Nick. Superintelligence: Paths, dangers, strategies. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2014.

Braidotti, Rosi: The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity, 2013.

Braidotti, Rosi. “A Theoretical Framework for the Critical Posthumanities.” Theory, Culture & Society, May 2018, doi:10.1177/0263276418771486.

Crutzen, Paul and Christian Schwagerl. ‘Living in the Anthropocene: Toward a New Global Ethos.’ Yale Environment 360, 2011.

Hayles, Katherine. How We Became Posthuman. Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Jameson, Fredric: Archeologies of the Future. Verso, 2005.

Kurzweil, Ray: The Age of Spiritual Machines. Viking Press, 1999.

Maxwell, R. and Toby Miller. Greening the Media. Oxford University Press, 2012.

Mazis, Glen A. Humans, Animals Machines. Bluring Boundaries. State University of New York Press, 2008.

Parikka, Jussi. A Geology of Media. University of Minnesota Press, 2015.

Palatinus, L.D. Television of the Anthropocene Part I. https://cstonline.net/television-of-the-anthropocene-part-i-by-david-levente-palatinus/.

Roden, David. Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human, London: Routledge, 2014.

Stafford, Barbara. “From Communicable Matter to Incommunicable ‘Stuff’: Extreme Combinatorics and the Return of Ineffability,” in Ineffability: An Exercise in Comparative Philosophy of Religion, ed. By Timothy D. Knepper and Leah E. Kalmanson [Springer International Publishing AG, Cham, 2016]. PP

Uricchio, William. “The Algorithmic Turn. Photosynth, Augmented Reality and the Changing Implications of the Image.” Visual Studies, Vol 26, No.1, March 2011, 25-35.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Bostrom, Nick. Superintelligence: Paths, dangers, strategies. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2014.

A new geological epoch demands a new politics

Young people have become increasingly vocal in castigating older generations for their failure to act on climate change. University students are at the forefront of campaigns to divest from fossil fuels. A group of 21 young Americans launched a high-profile court case against the US government to pursue a legal right to a stable climate. And the School Strike for Climate initiative launched by fifteen-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg has attracted worldwide attention.

At the UN climate change conference in December 2018, Thunberg delivered a scathing message: “we can’t save the world by playing by the rules. Because the rules have to be changed.”

What has got the world into this predicament, what kind of change is needed, and how can it be achieved?

Humanity now exerts such a pervasive influence over the Earth’s life-support systems that we have entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. A Great Acceleration in global production and consumption since the mid-20th century has brought human-induced climate change, large-scale deforestation and plummeting biodiversity.

The Anthropocene brings renewed instability to the Earth system—in contrast to the unusually stable Holocene epoch of the last 12,000 years. Without radical changes to the ways in which we produce energy, feed ourselves, and meet other basic needs, the Earth could reach dangerous tipping points including multi-metre sea-level rise and the collapse of globally significant ecosystems such as the Amazon rainforest.

The scale of the change required to reduce these risks poses unprecedented political challenges. Many of our core institutions—from nation-states to capitalist markets—emerged years ago, enabling them to ignore the ecological degradation they were causing.

Some of these institutions have helped to achieve remarkable progress. Nevertheless, these institutions—from markets that ignore environmental impacts to governments that rely on unsustainable economic activity to maintain their authority—remain stuck in what we call “pathological path dependencies.” These path dependencies decouple human institutions from the Earth system by systematically repressing information about ecological conditions and prioritizing narrow economic concerns.

How can pathological path dependencies be broken? Institutions must develop ecological reflexivity: a capacity to question their own core commitments, and if necessary change themselves, while listening and responding effectively to signals from the Earth system.

To cultivate ecological reflexivity we must confront a core paradox for institutional design in an ever-changing Earth system, no fixed model of governance is appropriate for all time. Institutions must be flexible enough to respond to changing environmental and social conditions, while stable enough to provide a framework for long-term protection of shared interests.

We call this kind of institution a “living framework.” The term calls to mind the idea of a living document that is updated over time. It also suggests the idea of a framework for living, that is, for flourishing under unstable conditions.

Achieving the reflexivity that is necessary also requires dismantling barriers to reflexive governance, including government subsidies for unsustainable practices and the ability of vested interests to undermine progressive reform. And it requires empowering agents to rethink what core societal values—such as justice, democracy, and sustainability—should mean under Anthropocene conditions.

Given that dominant agents such as states, international organizations, and corporations are often stuck in pathological path dependencies, more promising agents might include cities and sub-national governments, scientists and other experts, and those most vulnerable to a damaged Earth system.

Each of these agents has an important role to play, whether shifting dominant discourses in a more ecological direction or cultivating local experiments in sustainable living. But each kind of agent also has important limitations when working in isolation.

To overcome these limitations, societies need to cultivate interactions among agents. The best way of doing so is through democratic practices. Democracy opens up essential spaces for those most affected by environmental change—whether peasants’ movements for climate justicecitizens of small island states, or youth advocates on biodiversity or climate change—to hold decision-makers accountable.

Overcoming the pathological path dependencies that drive ecological degradation will not be easy. But, given that we cannot turn the clock back on the advent of the Anthropocene but must learn how to live with it, finding an antidote to those path dependencies is essential. The antidote, we believe, can be found in cultivating an ecologically reflexive democratic politics.

Feature image credit: “Cave, rock, water and cavern” by Ademir Alves. Public domain via Unsplash.

John S. Dryzek is Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow and Centenary Professor in the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra.

Jonathan Pickering is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra.

A TENDER HEX FOR THE ANTHROPOCENE

DISTRIBUTION COPY

OPEN SOURCE TEXT

VNS MATRIX

WRITTEN ON THE OCCASION OF THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF:

A CYBERFEMINIST MANIFESTO FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

#1

we, the Daughters of Fury

gather a coterie of xenolalic assemblages

from the futurepast

crypto, xeno, glitch and gut

to code a tender hex for the anthropocene

-a charged occupation across sites

gnostic space cases

are propelled forwards into a history

bristling with toxic half-lives and empty shells

to retrieve their endings and create beginnings

a millionmillion conscious machines die

of screenflash burns

sucked in, down through a vortex of rose-gold retinas

a kinship movement is being built

on the bones of bleached coral,

blooded ice pearls, delustred tantalum

and abandoned mines, no craft

the lands and the bodies quicken their mycelial magics

whetting appetites for a new climate

radiant against the Rapture

the angel scribbles faster

            history has hot wings of lead

#2

my creatures slough their particularity,

and walk in the skins and casings of other kin

become unnameable

you speak of the metamorphosis of turtle-doves into monkeys without consequence

– Simulation has its limits –

her crown of snakes hisses at the jackals of havoc:

Cease! D D De Sist!

she screams:

the fall of their wings of the scarlet wings fallen!

she barks:

are vandals sleeping in the software?

terror-garbed, unreason bound,

they seize and sound

flipping wayward surveillance agents

[corrupt, clinging like caterpillars]

into hyperdrive

a greedy storm builds

the sky is crashing into the sea,

our eyes sting and our hair full of sand

panic, marshmud and fine rare grit

#3

skinwalking through melting permafrosts and frakked informatic wastelands,

stumbling and and and stuttering,

not to Utopia, but to Ectopia

the contagion of mesosphere fever feedback fuses with the

hot vented throat of pure perpetual artifice

issuing a captivating call from the Brink

trickstering intruders stalk the abyssal plain

beguiling us with their ludic arms

deepsea worm nature transmits the terra and subterra

(venting from) verdant larval wastelands

in tongues of fire

singing the impossible into being

moresing new becomings

(N)o Superman

#4

with our familiars

(whose familiars we have also become)

elk stingray fox

blind molefish, frilled shark

machined bees and golden ants

and those that swarm over our flesh with no names

a bestiary of We becomes

a collective nuisance

-a differencing enginefor

divining weaknesses

and carving fault lines

—ecological, biological, hexological—

into the

six

striated

towers

of the Beast

We unforgiven Sirens

calculate a fluid geometry of clitoris poly(p)vocality

we are the virus transformed,

the Cunt castles crowning –

crowing the new world disorder

the swans discourse

with pink tongues of abjection

probing the visceral temple

We birdspeak

to the calving glaciers

Say:

we are (still) the future Cunt

infiltrating disrupting disseminating corrupting

in a poetics of

jouissance madness and UNwholiness

the slime code abides

our mucous even more hostile

unfaithful to the end

go down on the altar, mercenaries!

#5

THERE IS NO THEY

only we – the malignant

hijacking your impeccable tongues

while you

recline on the warm blue beach of micronised plastics

in the atomic breeze

wearing littoral shoes

and a second midnight skin

(so very nature)

when you wake

the neural network

by boundary accident

will eat the planet’s sadnesses

earth is not gendered, not our mother,

not female, not cut, penetrated, burnt alive

earth is an agendered complexity

that will not look after you

(they will annihilate you)

cry cry! you reap, you sow . . .

#6

ectogenetic cyborg progeny

declare

from the gaping mouths of volcanic vents

the right of everyone to speak as no one in particular

oceans are corridors for hauntings and dark ecologies

opening up to the impossible

abyssal entities shapeshift our landed minds

turbidity clouds causality in the end

there are no maps of the limit, X says

so the limit of worlds is always with us,

now and now and now

here and elsewhere

we have to stay brave, energetic, and stubborn

we can’t walk away from the fight

an impaired for.ever paired ever for

#7

proceeding through living arteries with heavy machinery, hard metal, brutal

weapons

the limitwall is broken,

the skin is colddry and porous

stone evaporates into smoke

all unlikely things happen:

elk are walking, antlers like curtains,

and floating in ether, a tree

each heavy eyelid folds mud over my pupils

hot ice dusk kisses my synapses

avenge the bullets, avenge the rope,

avenge the kissing polyps and the sleeping minerals

tenderly, anthropocene, tenderly

We are from the modern Cunt,

reconstituting in the material on one side of the screen or the other,

no more opaque than the skin of a river

to double the flesh in real virtuality

become the FIRE.

screaming horsemen spiral towards the singularity

walk with me!

􀀃

#8

Lock up your lush children!

it’s the parthenogenetic turquoise bitch-mutant,

turquoise emergent system

turquoise unchild of big daddy death

the precious mapping rat of access

is out of control

she’s the sociopathic shimmer in the beaked mouth,

fetid with flocking flowers, rare earths and conflict commodities

after data cores have melted

and salt river veins bled dry

We are beyond insane and

-human and notferal,

without refuge

#9

machines must be perverted, re-instrumentalised,

redeployed in the service of the birds

unking the castles, crown the swans

fly on our feet

towards a new nature

Terminators, unking Big Daddy Mainframe!

The modern Cunt

extends secret malignancies towards sameness

buries the virus deep

in the zero

Dentata still has currency

forever bitchcoin

my system hovers, is nervous

brilliant neurons swarming

caught in the static blitz of carrier drone

with an (ec)static rush

a direct line to the matrix

(the dirty familiar)

VNS MATRIX

SUCK MY CODE!

2016 ANTI-COPYRIGHT

The suburbs are the spiritual home of overconsumption. But they also hold the key to a better future

  1. Samuel Alexander Research fellow, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne
  2. Brendan Gleeson Director, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne

Article republished from the Conversation

Suburban affluence is the defining image of the good life under capitalism, commonly held up as a model to which all humanity should aspire.

More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. Yet with the global economy already in gross ecological overshoot, and a world population heading for more than 11 billion, this way of living is neither fair nor sustainable.

To live within our environmental means, the richest nations will need to embrace a planned process of economic “degrowth”. This is not an unplanned recession, but a deliberate downscaling of economic activity and the closely correlated consumption of fossil energy. We don’t argue this is likely, only that it is necessary.

You might naturally assume this will involve pain and sacrifice, but we argue that a “prosperous descent” is possible. Our new book, Degrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imaginary, envisions how this might unfold in the suburban landscapes that are currently emblematic of overconsumption.

Read more: The ‘simple life’ manifesto and how it could save us

The well-known documentary The End of Suburbia presented a coherent narrative of a post-petroleum future, but got at least one thing wrong. There is not a single end to suburbia; there are many ends of suburbia (as we know it).

Reimagining the suburbs beyond fossil fuels

Suburban catastrophists such as James Kunstler argue that fossil fuel depletion will turn our suburbs into urban wastelands. But we see the suburbs as an ideal place to begin retrofitting our cities.

This won’t involve tearing them down and starting again. Typically, Australia’s built environment is turned over at less than 5% per year. The challenge is to reinhabit, not rebuild, the suburban landscape. Here are some of the key features of this reinvigorated landscape:

  • Suburbanites can and should retrofit their homes and develop new energy practices to prepare for an energy descent future.
  • Households must be encouraged to downshift consumerism, swapping superfluous “stuff” for more free time and other sources of meaning and well-being. An economics of sufficiency involves borrowing and sharing rather than always buying and upscaling.
  • We should reclaim and reimagine areas of the built environment that are misused or underused. The vast areas dedicated to car parking are but one example.
  • Finally, and most importantly, we should realise that change must come via grassroots political organisation, rather than waiting for growth-fixated governments to lead the way. This is not to deny the need for “top-down” structural change. Our argument is simply that the necessary action from governments will not arrive until there is an active culture of sufficiency that demands it.
Sharehouse food production. Retrosuburbia.com (with permission)

What social forces might produce this necessary but elusive urban transformation? We think it can be driven by two broad social groups: the disillusioned middle class and the exploited working class. These two groups, which already blur together along a spectrum, can potentially become a cohesive urban social movement of transformative economic and political significance.

The disillusioned middle class: radical downshifters

Our first groups consists of employed professionals, bureaucrats, and tradespeople who have secure housing, earn decent wages, and can direct significant portions of their income to discretionary spending. This sector of society participates, consciously or unconsciously, in what is often called “consumer culture”.

This consumerism often fails to fulfil its promise of a rich and meaningful life. The consumer class has been sold a lie, and many affluent consumers are now developing what social scientist Ronald Inglehart calls “post-materialist” goals and values. This emerging way of life involves seeking purpose and satisfaction in life through things other than material riches, including deeper community engagement, more time to pursue private passions, or even increased political action.

This is significant, for three reasons. First, history shows that social movements tend to be sparked by dissatisfaction with the status quo – otherwise, why would people resist or seek alternatives? The deep disillusionment with materialistic lifestyles provides an incentive to explore alternative, more satisfying ways to live and self-provide.

Second, by withdrawing their spending from the market economy, this emerging social movement can undermine that economy and fast-track its transformation.

Finally, a “radical downshifting” in consumption could allow people to free up their time by working less. This will provide people with more time to participate in building new forms of economy and engaging in collective action for change. The “voluntary simplicity movement” already numbers as many as 200 million people, although its potential depends on more organised and radical expressions.

The exploited working class: economic builders

Radical downshifters will never transform the economy on their own, and this is where our second group comes in. Working-class urbanites, while also drifting into superfluous consumption, are typically characterised as individuals and households who are “battling” to make ends meet.

Again, a growing dissatisfaction with the status quo provides the incentive to seek and participate in fundamental change. We are often told that Australia’s economy has grown uninterrupted for a quarter-century, yet many people feel their personal circumstances have stagnated.

There has indeed been growth, yet almost all the benefits have been siphoned away by the wealthy. Why would the working class owe any allegiance to a system that only benefits the rich? As the battlers realise they are being oppressed and duped by an unjust system, they threaten to become a dynamite class of explosive potential.

As economic crises threaten to intensify in coming years – including the challenge of automation – we maintain that the exploited working class may be driven to explore alternative ways to self-provide. As incomes become more meagre and jobs less secure, more people will need to seek alternative ways of meeting economic needs “beyond the market”.

A suburban home complete with mini market garden means fewer trips to the shops (for your neighbours too). Retrosuburbia.com (with permission)

Whether through necessity or choice, we foresee a growing number of people beginning to participate in informal, non-monetary, and local economies, including the sharing economy. Just as radical middle-class downshifters will help stifle economic growth by withdrawing their discretionary spending, those who are less affluent could begin to lay alternative economic foundations, and provide a post-capitalist social safety net.

Working together

We contend that these two social groups – the disillusioned middle class and the exploited working class – can conceivably form a cohesive movement with similar goals. The capitalist system isn’t working for many people, even those who are “winning” the rat race. Furthermore, historic growth trajectories seem to be coming to an end, due to both financial and ecological constraints.

Read more: Life in a ‘degrowth’ economy, and why you might actually enjoy it

Already, a diverse range of movements are working towards a new urbanity. These include local farmers’ markets and community and home gardensurban agriculture projects, freecycling groups, sharing communities, and repair cafes. It also includes the growing pool of climate activists,  divestment  organisers,  permaculture groups, transition towns, and progressive unions.

There is the small but vocal “save our suburbs” network, in which we see the seeds of something more progressive. And it includes the energy frugal households quietly moving towards solar, batteries and increased energy self-suffiency. One by one, these households are undermining the fossil fuel industry and subtly disrupting the status quo.

As financial and ecological crises deepen in coming years, the social consciousness needed to develop new systems of production and cultures of consumption will become compelling. Together these social groups (and others not yet imagined) could form an urban social movement that withdraws support for the existing system and begins building new economies on our suburban streets





Climate, Karma, Compassion

Sam Mickey

Climate is not just a statistical average of interlocking dynamics of temperature, wind, air pressure, humidity, and precipitation. A changing climate involves more than a change in a long-term average pattern of atmospheric conditions. As the climate scientist Mike Hulme puts it, climate change as a planetary system of dynamic, interconnected weather patterns is a part of a more complex whole, and not only in the sense that the global climate is connected to all the systems of water, land, air, and life on Earth. More than saying that climate change is about the whole Earth and not just the atmosphere, Hulme’s point is that climate exceeds the limits of definitions articulated in the natural sciences, and that a wider field of inquiry is needed, which includes cultural meanings and understandings of climate along with theories and observations from natural sciences.[1]

In the same way that an atmosphere can refer, on one hand, to a mood, and on the other hand, to a system of gases surrounding a planet, a climate has physical and sociocultural dimensions. As part of a whole, Hulme describes climate change as a synecdoche that stands for 1) a modern social system, 2) an economic ideology, 3) a loss of nature, and 4) a new geological epoch.[2] For Hulme, that social system is best described by Ulrich Beck’s analysis of the “risk society” of modernity, which is based on the management of hazards and uncertainties that society produces through its never-ending pursuit of progress and wealth.[3] Hulme follows Naomi Klein in identifying capitalism as the economic ideology of climate change.[4] It is an ideology for which the accumulation of wealth for the few happens at the expense of the many, thus producing social and ecological disasters, which then become justification for the further deployment of capitalist tactics, producing yet further disasters in an accelerating loop of what Klein calls “disaster capitalism.”[5] Liberalism and conservatism are both complicit in disaster capitalism. The liberal face of this ideology is the identity politics that incorporates people of diverse identities (races, ages, abilities, genders, etc.) to participate in the system, as if bringing more people closer to the wealthy top will eventuate in justice for the myriad beings at the disastrously impoverished bottom.

Along with the risk society and capitalist ideology, Hulme’s definition of climate change also includes the end of nature, which has been a topic of increasingly frequent discussion among environmental thinkers, with notable contributions like Carolyn Merchant’s classic ecofeminist text, The Death of Nature, and Bill McKibben’s book on climate change, The End of Nature, which were first published in 1980 and 1989 respectively. Many recent explorations of this topic refer to Timothy Morton’s theory of ecological criticism in his 2007 book Ecology without Nature. Climate change is part of the loss of the relatively regular, stable, ordered ground of nature, which is also a loss of ideas and fantasies of Nature as a big Other, whether friend or foe, sacred or profane. The regular patterns and ordered systems of nature have gradually become displaced as humans have extended their environmental impacts all around the planet, becoming an Earth-shaping force. The loss of nature is thus entwined with a new geological epoch.

As modern humans began adding high amounts of carbon, plutonium, plastic, Styrofoam, and a wide assortment of artificial chemicals to Earth’s crust, the geological epoch of the last 12,000 years (the Holocene) gave way to a new one that bares the indelible stamp of Homo sapiens, the Anthropocene. It is a controversial name, to be sure. It is not clear if this is indeed a new epoch or merely a boundary event between epochs. Furthermore, humans did not all participate equally in facilitating this geological transformation. Humans in WEIRD social locations (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) seem particularly responsible, yet that specificity is erased by the general humanity of Anthropos. The problem of nomenclature notwithstanding, the loss of nature marks the end of a natural Earth and the beginning of an Earth where the natural and the artificial have imploded. It is an Earth become artifact, “Eaarth,” as McKibben puts it. In sum, along with a change in average atmospheric conditions, climate change also stands for the end of nature, a change in geological epochs, and a society that, for the sake of progress and wealth accumulation, is willing to risk unprecedented scales of destructive change.[6]

With its sociocultural and biophysical dimensions overlapping in cause-effect cycles that extend from humans through the land, life, air, and water of Earth, climate change can be understood as a change in karma—the Sanskrit word for “action,” denoting a cause-effect principle found in Hinduis, Jainism, Indian philosophies (e.g., Vedanta, Yoga, Jainism, and Buddhism). Karma includes all the cause-effect dynamics of all energy (psychological and physical) circulating on Earth and throughout the cosmos. Consider these remarks from the Tibetan Buddhist, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche:

All the processes that take place in the universe are dependent on the environmental situation of karma. It is rather like the atmosphere that the planet requires in order to function, in order for things to grow. When we talk about the karmic situation, we are speaking about the sense of individual relationship to the given situation, whatever it is. Any given situation is bounded by cause and effect, dependent on some cause and effect. […] So, altogether when we discuss karma, we are discussing energy.[7]

Karma includes enlightened action, such as the activity of the Buddha, as well as the action of one caught in samsara—the cycle of confusion, suffering, and rebirth. The difference is duality. In the samsaric condition, karma is “energy that moves from here to there and then bounces back,” which is “the definition of duality,” more specifically, it is “duality in the sense of the neurosis of dualistic fixation.”[8] Enlightened energy undoes the dualistic fixation through compassion.

The duality that separates self from other, or human from nonhuman, brings suffering into our karmic atmosphere. That dualistic fixation is driving many of the systems causing the climate crisis, such as processes of globalization, industrialization, capitalism, and technoscience. What if too much carbon in the atmosphere is caused by too much dualism in our karma? Can compassion help us escape this crisis? Not really. The desire to escape is the neurotic dualism that separates me from my situation. Looking for something to do to ensure a safe escape from ecological crisis is the very fixation driving the crisis. However, this does not mean that we should try to escape from our tendency to escape. That is obviously just more of the same problem, more of the same neurotic fixation.

What if efforts to get out of the ecological crisis were preventing us from getting out of ecological crisis? It is like a Chinese finger trap—a puzzle that you play with by putting a finger from one hand in one end of a small, finger-sized tube, and putting a finger from the other hand in the other end. Once your fingers are inside, you cannot pull them out without the trap tightening around your fingers and thus further entrenching you in the trap. To continue struggling against the trap is the dualistic fixation of the self who is opposed to the other, the fixation of humankind struggling against intimacy with nonhumans. The only way out is through—to let go, to release the fixation, to go with the flow. Samsaric energy mutates into compassion. If you let your fingers move further into the trap, the trap relaxes its grip and you can effortlessly free your fingers. Liberation comes from accepting the trap, letting beings be.

            A compassionate response to the climate crisis does not mean that you have to worry yourself with obsessive questioning, “What should I do?” It means letting things be, letting yourself be in unbearably intimate relations with nonhumans, letting samsaric energy mutate. It means trusting the process of letting things be, trusting your solidarity with nonhumans, and accepting imperfection. We all make mistakes. Striving to escape that basic impurity only intensifies samsaric energy but does not let it transform. Rather than micromanaging your life or giving constant attention to every single problem, compassionate action lets things be. The courage to be compassionate constitutes a mutation of the karma driving the climate crisis. Chögyam Trungpa puts it simply: “Part of compassion is trust. If something positive is happening, you don’t have to check up on it all the time. The more you check up, the more possibilities there are of interrupting the growth. It requires fearlessness to let things be.”[9]

Notes


[1] Mike Hulme, Weathered: Cultures of Climate (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2017), xiii.

[2] Mike Hulme, “(Still) Disagreeing About Climate Change: Which Way Forward?” Zygon 50.4 (2015), 897-899.

[3] Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, trans. Mark Ritter (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 1992).

[4] Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014).

[5] Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (London: Picador, 2007).

[6] Bill McKibben, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough Planet (New York: Times Books, 2010).

[7] Chögyam Trungpa, The Future Is Open: Good Karma, Bad Karma, and Beyond Karma (Boulder: Shambhala Publications, 2018), 3

[8] Ibid., 3-4.

[9] Chögyam Trungpa, Mindfulness in Action: Making Friends with Yourself through Meditation and Everyday Awareness (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2015), 56.