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Hierarchy, climate change and the state of nature

Hierarchy, climate change and the state of nature

We can start building new tools for a democratic and ecological society once we understand hierarchy as the central problem

The Sumerian Standard of Ur is 4,600 years old, showing the king in the top middle, standing taller than any other figure. Image: Wikipedia
We briefly mentioned the problem of hierarchy as the shared root of many systems of oppression in our first column two weeks ago.  In this article, we want to expand on the meaning of hierarchy—a system of obedience and command backed by the threat of force—and ground it in history. If we are to understand what we face and avoid reproducing it in building a new society, the social roots of hierarchy deserve a more thorough exploration.

In Western society, there are two prominent ‘origin stories.’ One is that of the Hobbesian ‘war of all against all,’ in which humans are innately vicious and violent, and only the introduction of strong authority could keep people’s natural state in check.

The other story is that prior to the existence of civilizations, humans lived in egalitarian and mostly peaceful bands enjoying the natural abundance of nature. In this version, it was only with the development of agriculture and centralized societies that we fell from grace and became the violent and hierarchical creatures we are today.

The destruction of our environment is not some natural, vicious drive of humanity, but something that emerges from the very inequalities created by hierarchy.

Both stories share an assumption that pre-civilization humans can be painted with a broad brush, and that hierarchy – whether good or bad – can be traced to a natural evolution point in human history.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Where’s the “eco” in ecomodernism?

Where’s the “eco” in ecomodernism?

Image: Richard Walker

If you hadn’t heard, despair is old hat. Rather than retreat into the woods, now is the time to think big, to propose visionary policies and platforms. So enter grand proposals like basic income, universal healthcare, and the end of work. Slap big polluters with carbon tax, eradicate tax havens for the rich, and switch to a 100% renewable energy system.

But will these proposals be enough? Humanity is careening toward certain mayhem. In a panic, many progressive commentators and climate scientists, from James Hansen and George Monbiot to, more recently, Eric Holthaus, have argued that these big policy platforms will need to add nuclear power to the list.

In a recent issue on climate change in the Jacobin, several authors also suggested we need to consider carbon capture technologies, geo-engineering (the large-scale modification of earth systems to stem the impacts of climate change), and even GMOs make an appearance. What’s more, one of the contributors, Christian Parenti, actually proposes that we should increase our total energy use, not reduce it.

Any critique of this kind of utopian vision is often dismissed as green conservatism. In her article, “We gave Greenpeace a chance”, Angela Nagle argues: faced with President Trump promising abundance and riches, greens can only offer “a reigning in of the excesses of modernity”. Despite all its failures, modernity freed us from the shackles of nature. Modernity promised a world without limits—and the environmentalist obsession with limits, she says, amounts to “green austerity.”

This argument is associated with an emerging body of thought called ecomodernism. Ecomodernism is the idea that we can harness technology to decouple society from the natural world. For these techno-optimists, to reject the promise of GMOs, nuclear, and geo-engineering is to be hopelessly romantic, anti-modern, and even misanthropic. An ecological future, for them, is about cranking up the gears of modernity and rejecting a politics of limits.

 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Going beyond the “ecological turn” in the humanities

Going beyond the “ecological turn” in the humanities

ecological turn

Photo by Aaron Vasintjan.

There’s a story about the time when Michel Foucault was accompanying his colleague, Jacqueline Verdeaux, on a car trip through the Italian Alps. As tourists do, they would often get out of the car at lookout points to observe some beautiful landscape. As biographer Didier Éribon tells it, the philosopher would then almost immediately walk back to the car, grumbling, “my back is turned to it”.

Whether this was just an example of Foucault’s cynical, dry humor or actually reflected his lack of concern for environmental issues is up for debate. Nevertheless, it’s almost impossible to imagine any major intellectual today “turning their back” to the environment. While such concerns often took a backseat in 19th and 20th century humanities, these days, even the most modest dinner-table political argument will carry an ecological thread.

Thomas Homer-Dixon’s prediction that “ecology will be the master science of the 21st century” is perhaps a bit excessive, but already carries some weight of truth. It may not be a “master”, but its influence in the humanities is now unavoidable—thinkers like Slavoj Zizek, Donna Haraway, and Bruno Latour are celebrated precisely because they are able to put environmental crises into thoughtful perspective. Today, it seems like every humanities conference call-out starts with the sentence “In the era of the Anthropocene…” and the dish isn’t complete without a few servings of “materiality”, “non-human”, “nature-culture”, and “oikos”.

This “ecological turn” in the humanities could be academic fashion—to be forgotten within a decade.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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