Rising Tides Lift Only Boats That Can Pay for Maintenance, Research Time, 17/07/2018

So yes, the conception of prosperity as abundance has all those problems I talked about yesterday. Ultimately, the concept can’t escape the perennial problem in human history – the conflict of the powerful and powerless.

I'm wondering – Do they all have to wear the shirts?
Lords and peasants. Nouveau riche and factory boys. Oligarchs and Taskrabbits.

Society is always much more complex in all the dynamic processes and knit us all together, of course. But this question of distribution always comes up because of the disastrous results of extreme inequality. When so much of a civilization’s wealth is locked up and never returned to the market, there’s a mass slide into poverty.

When the bulk of a population slides into penury while a small elite become earthly gods from their extreme wealth, you have a potential revolution on your hands. Oligarchy’s survival mechanism is to bring all the counter-revolutionary powers of the state – both military and messaging – to bear.

The counter-revolutionary state is a fascist one, because its purpose is to suppress and deceive the desires of its people. That’s why such an important message in democratic organizing is “fight the real enemy.”

I was lecturing in my Business class today about how inadequate general measures of a country’s wealth – like Gross Domestic Product – are to understand how that economy actually functions. Pure aggregates of economic measurement collapse too many distinctions to make the world comprehensible. They measure nothing about how many people in that society are comfortable and who is not.

So what does the concept of prosperity as abundance show us? It does lead us, productively, to focus on the phenomenology of economic anxiety. Abundance is the image of the world’s perfection for the economically insecure.

It’s what you dream of as you weigh how much you can fill up your car today against how many groceries you can buy that week. Progressive political philosophy could use a few more phenomenological accounts of that state of consciousness.

“He Was the God of Abundance,” Research Time, 16/07/2018

Here’s a really interesting idea about how the concept of prosperity has developed in Western thinking. It’s an idea that I really wanted to work into my review of The Quest For Prosperity,* but that couldn’t quite fit the general direction.

* Forthcoming in about a couple of weeks.

A prominent idea in one concept of prosperity that you can perceive in Western culture over the last few centuries is to define prosperity as abundance.

There's a complex relation of our visions of abundance with our anxieties and fears. To live in abundance is to never want again – more than that, it’s the security of never having to worry that you’ll want again. Not only do you live in a situation where you’ll always have comfort, but you know that this comfort will continue – that it won’t end.

Pictured: A succinct expression of ethical, psychological, and cultural
economic anxiety.
This is the dream of abundance. But it was popularly believed, and as a popular image still exists in our culture.** The image functions as a response to individual anxiety, showing that anxiety is a central component of the concept.

** Probably also in a bunch of other cultures as well. The title is a way-too-layered joke about how abundance imagery operates in many non-Western contexts. Sassower sticks with the Western context, because that’s the tradition he knows best.

The concept of prosperity as abundance expresses anxiety – depending on the context where we analyze how the concept plays out in thought, it’s an individual anxiety, or a cultural anxiety. Anxiety is your motivation to achieve prosperity, and abundance is the dream of an end to the torture of daily life.

The anxiety of poverty – whether you live it or have to avoid it – fuels the intensity of how a person or a public discourse conceives of prosperity’s abundance.

This image of abundance has painted the goals of socialist movements from the 19th century to today. Raphael Sassower draws from the recurring image to understand this driving concept of abundance – prosperity as the achievement of comfort. As a political movement, socialism aims for the basic dignity of comfort for all, that no one need live in poverty, penury, misery.

It’s admirable. But I can’t roll with this concept in my own approaches to progressive activism anymore. Basically, it’s because the concept turns out to be more destructive when it animates our current political priorities. When you make universal prosperity your political goal, and you understand prosperity as abundance, then you presume that your world can be made to create that abundance.

Is this really all that matters to you? The temptations of consumerism are
pretty intense, but the question remains of whether this is even
something you can achieve without facilitating a disaster.
Karl Marx himself thought this way about the ultimate goal of socialism. As he conceived the material achievement of communism, it was a world where technological industry would produce prosperity and comfort for everyone. But we have to move beyond the thought of the 19th century.

Environmentalist political movements being as mainstream and powerful as they are, we largely have. If we think of prosperity as everlasting abundance for all people, then we rapidly run up against the carrying capacity of the Earth.

I don’t mean this in some cheap Malthusian sense – no simple ratio of resources to population to consumption intensity. I mean it in the larger sense that the exploitation of material resources for economic prosperity will destroy the means of physical comfort. We may relieve our monetary anxieties, but our health and quality of life anxieties will be worse.

If the ecological side effects of the technology to create abundance makes life a torture, that’s no prosperity. Just look at the water quality in cities that prosper economically from the high-paying secure jobs of oil or metal extraction, or steel foundries and oil refineries.

This continues to be a conflict in our society. Obviously from the extremist extraction politics of state leaders like Hugo Chavez, Stephen Harper, and Vladimir Putin. These people who’d build an entire economy around spreading the wealth of oil money inevitably and quickly come into conflict with environmentalists.

But the most telling – and depressing – such conflict among priorities of extraction and ecology is among the progressive set. Take the Canadian case.

Right now, the provincial leadership and membership of the New Democratic Party in Alberta and Saskatchewan support prosperity-by-extraction with similar zeal as Chavez. In each case, they’ve come into conflict with Indigenous activists and their settler environmentalist allies, who refuse to accept the bargain of the land’s utter destruction for the economic abundance of consumerist values.

Two Utopian Visions of a 1600 Year Civilization in One Page, Research Time, 13/07/2018

One of the reasons I wanted to review Raphael Sassower’s new book formally* was that it’s relevant to my own major book of political philosophy – the messianically in-progress Utopias.

Few images of Jesus better communicate the essential idea of the
Incarnation better than Buddy Christ – He really is one of us.
* Which these blog posts are most definitely not. I’ve already outlined the review formally speaking, and know which points I’ll be covering. No specific critiques or interpretations that I’ll be throwing down in the review at the end of this month will be included in these blogs. It’s a compliment to Raphael that I consider his book complex enough to sustain more than one take. As all books should if they’re worth the paper or the hard drive space.

Concepts of prosperity all tend to focus on building a more perfect society. This refers at least to concepts in the Western tradition, in which I grew up and which until recently dominated the popular imaginary of most of Earth. To prosper is a joyful wealth, joy in wealth. Prosperity is a wealth about which you need no longer worry, a secure wealth.

How individualistically you read those last couple of sentences tells me a lot about your ethics and personality. The progressive political movements of contemporary Westerners share a common ground in their economic philosophy – we no longer believe that the prosperity of individuals in a community is the same as the community’s prosperity.

We ask how many individuals are prospering. We measure highest achievements, averages, create ranks, tax brackets. But if those prosperous individuals become wealthy from dynamics that keep others poor and suffering – whether intentional, systemic, or both – you don’t have a prosperous community.

Never mistake the prosperous man for a sign of a prosperous
In a single page from his introduction, Sassower lays out the religious and ontological framework that – broadly speaking** – Christian civilization has centred in thinking. Put very broadly, the Christian engagement with time is a sublime and terrifying teleology.

** This is based on a note from page 6. Literally the first chapter of The Quest for Prosperity. We’re still talking in broad strokes before more detailed examinations of the concepts. It always annoys me to meet academics who’d quibble over the details of clearly broad ideas to accuse an author of sloppiness. People with enormous institutional authority acting as if their research was to poke needless holes in the work of their colleagues. It’s called contributing to the current debates.

The Christian Bible is organized as the history of existence, and so conceives of the passage of time itself in human, Biblical terms. Christianity’s foundational and focal idea is the event of the Incarnation – when God literally becomes a creature, and that creature is human. Given that, you conceive all of existence as being for the sake of humanity.

Humanity’s existence and development is the purpose of the universe. How is that purpose framed? By utopias.

When the first skyscrapers of the United States
were built, popular culture conceived them as a
great achievement of human (and Western)
culture – the towers of our living paradise. Now
they're a sign of gentrification, condo crises, the
marginalization of poor people to distant suburbs,
the longest commutes, stress, misery.
Time begins with Eden – the pure presence of God with humanity on Earth. Time ends with Heaven – Earth’s corruption is cleansed and God now lives with humanity on Earth as one of us in this newly pure world. God the Creator is now God the Neighbour.

Jesus built my hot rod. Literally.

It’s not only time that happens in the middle of those two utopias – perfect existence at the beginning and perfected existence at the end. A Christian framework of thinking understands that middle temporality as purposeful suffering. We suffer now so that we can live in the utopia of Heaven.

Time becomes a process toward perfection, and the suffering of the present is an investment in achieving that perfection. You can secularize*** Christian utopian time, ending up with a teleology of technological progress. Human scientific, technological, industrial, and capitalist endeavour end with achieving paradise on Earth.

*** That’s how I want to understand secularity when I’m examining the religious aspects of Utopia’s argument. I may not engage with this too much, but it’ll be in the background. Faith: dogmatic religious belief. Atheism: pushing the logic of materialism to its limit (like Spinoza, or some readings of Kabbalah). Agnostic: Fucked if I know. Secular: retaining the concepts, the frameworks for understanding, of faith, but dropping reference to the dogma.


Challenges for a Globalizing Philosophy and a Globalizing Writer, Composing, 12/07/2018

Back in March, I published a review at SERRC of Bryan Van Norden’s book Taking Back Philosophy. I thought it was a pretty good review, and that Van Norden had written a pretty good book.

It’s a straight-up polemic – a political pamphlet for the university sector. The language is direct, but you can tell how deep the knowledge roiling in the background of this fascinating book goes. Van Norden has some of the most comprehensive knowledge of ancient and contemporary Chinese and other East Asian philosophical works as anyone I've encountered in my professional life.

When there are always too many things to read.
Only my old supervisor Barry Allen has knowledge that rivals Van Norden’s. His two recent books on Chinese philosophy, Vanishing Into Things and Striking Beauty, provide a history of the philosophical vectors of development across Chinese and Indian cultures.

Of course, I say this because I myself haven’t gotten to know very many Asian people who themselves are experts in the history of Asian traditions of philosophy. Or any, really.

My own review offered a few directions to anyone who has any expertise or experience in the Western tradition of philosophy – and no others. I gave a summary of my own knowledge of Asian philosophy, and the ideas in Chinese traditions that offers some crackling synergies with my own work.

The process-focussed ontologies and ethics of Daoist traditions offer a lot of profundity and depth to Western process thinking. Western traditions tend to keep process thinking in a minoritarian, obscured position. So a tradition where process thinking is mainstream and a subject of centuries of commentary can offer Western process thinking a lot.

I’m working now on another review for SERRC, on my colleague Raphael Sassower’s book The Quest for Prosperity. It’s a complex argument on behalf of communitarian approaches to economic, moral, political, and ethical matters.

A Chinese Daoist funeral service. Complex philosophies that have
grown out of thousands of years of culture, intellectual work,
religion, and engagement with the world.
I took a lot of notes on Sassower’s book, so I’ll be rolling through a few of those ideas as riffs on the blog for the next while. This is going to be a bit weird because I haven’t written the actual review yet.

I have the outline, which is based on a bunch of those notes that I took as I was reading the book. So I was of two minds for a while about whether I’d even mention Sassower’s book on the blog at all.

Ultimately, I decided that I would. Two reasons why.

First reason. The review is going to be a unified 2,000-word composition discussing a core concept of Sassower’s book – his communitarian vision of prosperity as a network of friendship.

The blog doesn’t do that. My cousin Hulk Stuart MacLean has described my blog as a profound act of improvisation, like the improvisations he plays with his colleagues as jazz musicians. He’s right. I’ve written blog posts where I haven’t even known where it was going to end, and ended in a totally different place than it began. That’s in less than 500 words.

Second reason. When I was reading The Quest For Prosperity, I had no idea what I was going to write about in this review. So I was taking notes on everything I found interesting as I was reading it. That’s what you’re going to see over the next while. Much more weird than what you’ll see at SERRC in a couple of weeks.

More Than Mere Images, Composing, 11/07/2018

Over the past week or so, I’ve been thinking about different ways I’ve seen philosophical writers push themselves into more ambitious expressions. The results are beautiful and inspiring. The quality of the results are mixed, but that’s true of any attempt to overcome limits.

You’d be right to ask what limits I’m talking about, for a start. Well, these limits are based in the norms of academic writing, which tend to the self-destructive. Let me take a paragraph or six to explain how.

Academic training in the university sector tends to cause a lot of impostor syndrome. There are many causes for this, but I want to focus today on two causes.

One cause is that there’s no generally acceptable upper limit on how comprehensive a paper must be to appear credible. A writer must always prepare to face someone who calls their work inadequate because it doesn’t refer to a particular writer that critic is familiar with.

A powerful mystical experience can be had here, but only if you're
already open to it. If you aren't open to that phenomenological
communion, you might just see some potentially valuable
minerals that this damn National Parks act prevents you from
accessing, for the economic good of the people.
Image by Jorge Lascar via Flickr / Creative Commons
But research overproduction has made this impossible, especially combined with how long peer review takes. In the sometimes two years or longer between submission and publication, a study might become obsolete or out of date. If an article for a research journal was written in 2015, it won’t be able to include references to relevant stuff published in 2017, even though it didn’t come out until 2018.

So academic writers are brutally scrutinized by journal authorities through a process that makes their submissions irrelevant because publication takes so long.

Another, related cause, is how the training and publication peer review processes are so rigorous about the form of academic research writing. An essay must use a particularly narrow range of writing styles, tones, and ways of explaining ideas, if it’s going to pass the muster of a peer review process for a publication whose credits count toward tenure and job security.

Little to no experimentation is allowed, until you’re so deep into your career that you’ve likely lost your zeal for experimentation in writing at all.

So I have a lot of respect for writers like Jussi Parikka, Timothy Morton, Ian Bogost, and Jane Bennett, who base so much of their philosophical positions on imagery as a starting point. It’s a method that breaks with the dry prose style where bloodless argumentation and obsolete rationalist attitudes dominate.

Now the question is, like I said a few days ago – Can you open up the evocation of the image to find something philosophically experimental and innovative?

When I was researching Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity, I found a lot of academically-written environmentalist philosophy that depended on the power of the image alone for the strength of their argument. I did read one author, Scott Aikin, who dismissed the style of this argument in an insightful, if cruel way – He called it seeing a big rock and having an experience.

The lands where the different nations of the Nishnaabeg lived before
they were driven from their lands by the violent dispossession of
Canadian and American state institutions.
Map by DarrenBaker - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Thinking about this more mystical philosophical method now, I think the point was well-made, but without giving credit to a failed attempt to write philosophy differently than the academy typically trains you.

The naive environmentalist argument is that these experiences – farming, hiking, naturalistic observation, among others – is that there’s only one correct response to them in thought. But they made no argument as to why that one response is the correct one.

A few days ago, I started reading Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s As We Have Always Done. She produces a strong argument for why a reverent, respectful attitude to the ecological networks in which we live is the proper response to experiences of Indigenous ways of life.

That argument is rooted in the philosophical concept of grounded normativity, a central framework principle of many Indigenous North American philosophical traditions, particularly in her own culture, the Nishnaabeg of what is now called the Great Lakes region.

Simpson is building a remarkable philosophical edifice. It’s one of the most conceptually ambitious works I’ve come across in a long time. I don’t want to talk much more about this book right now, because I only just started reading it, and there’s already enough philosophical density to sustain centuries of commentary and uptake. It deserves such devotion.

As for Parikka, his reliance on images to express philosophical concepts is still vulnerable to the Aikin critique. More respectfully, it means that an image underdetermines its meaning. The Geology of Media does interesting things with media theory, and along with allied works like Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter, pushes against the tired restrictions of academic style. Reading Parikka, I want his next book to try even harder.

Data Thieves Seed Clouds to Rain Then Get Big Buckets, Jamming, 10/07/2018

That title is ridiculous. But it reflects how ridiculous a lot of popular imagery of the internet unfortunately is.

Virtual Reality!
Even worse is that I don’t just mean popular imagery. It’d be a lot more sane, frankly if we were only talking about how Tron and similar stories across many films, television shows, books, and other media popularized this silly conception of “cyberspace.”

It was another plane of reality, where we could live inside the computer and an entire world of energy opened up before us. The world of . . . Virtual Reality!

The leaders of the business sector really do talk about using VR technology to create parallel planes of existence – technologies that bring direct physical presence to distance. Palmer Luckey genuinely refers to the imagery of fanciful science-fiction to describe what virtual reality does.

Nothing about the internet exists on any other plane of reality. The same goes for the hard drives. The data of the entire internet is all coded onto physical disks somewhere. They are massive server farms.

Virtual Reality!
There’s nothing that distinguishes a VR interface communicating between Toronto and Shanghai from this reality. We’re learning how to communicate more aspects of our own presence to others without actually being in the same room, until there’s no real difference from our being in the same room.

Reading Jussi Parikka, I was chuckling at the passages where he tries to knock some sense back into us. Let’s not think any of this is really virtual in an ontological sense. Only our presence to each other is simulated – the physical things that we run our communication through still sits around us.

Wires. Wires everywhere. Where there aren’t wires, there are wifi and cellular data projectors. But it really is mostly all wires. The wires all thread together and connect into massive cables. The massive cables all connect to massive server farms. The server farms need electricity all the time – enormous amounts of electricity.

Virtual Reality!
Even more if you start earning money from Bitcoin and other blockchain-based currencies. Because cryptocurrency mining is probably the dumbest lucrative business in the world. You build a massive server farm, and dedicate its processing power to verifying cryptocurrency transactions. Your human workers sit around maintaining the server farm. Your company collects commissions on each transaction.

Providing you can afford the massive power bills it takes to run and cool a server farm huge enough to verify as many cryptocurrency transactions to make this profitable, you can make thousands of dollars a day by sitting around and making sure a computer doesn’t break.

Why aren’t I doing this right now?

My burgeoning entrepreneurial career aside, I want to make one last ontological point about virtual reality and the internet. We’ve become accustomed to thinking of cyberspace as a realm apart. Parikka’s point is that cyberspace is just as massive, heavy, smoky, and grimy as the old steam engines and coal-fired boot factories are.

Its by-products poison us differently, but they still poison us. There’s just not as much smog as there was a century ago. More pollution of water and soil, as lead, barium, and all those rare earth metals leak into the ground and rivers.

Waste never truly goes away.

Earth As Its Own Memory, Composing, 08/07/2018

Philosophical writing at its best walks a dangerous wire. Well, several such wires, really. The more wires you walk in your writing, the better your writing can be when you pull everything off. Of course, the more wires you walk, the riskier it is that you’ll succeed.

Acknowledging a truth doesn’t make it any easier to handle.

There's a curious image that appears in Jussi Parikka’s The Geology of Media – the Earth as its own memory. It’s an evocative image, and would be an impressive, brilliant image and metaphor when used in a literary context. If I ever write a sequel to Under the Trees, Eaten, I might use such a metaphor myself.

It's one thing to imagine walking in the earliest days of Earth. It's
another entirely to know walking in those days, living as much as
you can the real ancient past.
But in a philosophical context, such an evocative metaphor can be dangerous. The literary power of metaphorical imagery rests in its ambiguity. Metaphors can create an atmosphere for thinking and contemplation, expose a relationship that a write wants to examine.

But a metaphor resists any attempt to pin down its specific meaning for good. Its purpose is to open a spiral of interpretation – you’re meant, as a reader, to lose yourself in it. Metaphor paints thought, gives it a character or a general direction, a tendency. Yet it strays too far from the concrete to be philosophically productive.

Philosophical writing needs specificity – a philosophical concept is widely applicable, but very precise. Like a blueprint or a plan. Or an OS designed with intricate detail, which can then do a huge variety of different things – but a different sort of variety that you’d get with another OS.

No, those are all metaphors, similies. Images and comparisons, not the actual conceptual structures.

And there you have a demonstration of why metaphor isn’t very philosophically useful.

So does Parikka’s image succeed? Is it a philosophically interesting component of a planetary-centric way of thinking? Or does it only evoke?

I think it succeeds, anyway. For one thing, it relies on a conception of memory as a form of consciousness of history. You experience knowledge when you learn something for the first time, of review it, cementing it in your memory. So memory itself is an experience of learning and engaging with history.

This isn’t a purely discursive history – this concept of history leaves no risk of reduction to current human discussions. You aren’t left open to that juvenile interpretation of history as discourse about the past. You aren’t left wondering if history is only talk about the past, with the grittier, complex accounts no better than the empty exaltations.

Here is a concept of history as the material reality of the entire past, the persistence of past presents, events, and processes into the current time.

A piece of Earth, flying through space.
The material reality of the past is, geologically speaking, the crust of the Earth itself. Geological strata and the transitions between them reveal the actual development of Earth, the planet itself over time.

We can analyze rocks to reveal chemical, atmospheric, and geological conditions of the planet up to 4.4-billion years ago. The literal preservation of the most ancient past of this planet. Becoming conscious of this history, investigating and learning about these astronomically ancient conditions is an act of memory.

We are part of the same 4.4-billion year process of development of the giant ball of matter that we call Earth. We’re very strange, innovative parts – even sending little pieces of Earth far into the vastness of interstellar space.

We think of ourselves as separate from the planet. The planet is a giant thing that I live on. I personally pay a sum of money every month for the right to reside on a particular patch of the planet Earth.*

* When you explain rent and mortgages this way, it makes our entire civilization’s economy sound absurd and ridiculous. I think we should each do this regularly, to give ourselves a sense of perspective.

Now think about the history of your development. The web of causes that have produced your life so far. Causally, we’re part of Earth because the same processes of growth and decay continue as we’re born, eat, shit, die, and are eaten by bacteria, insects, and worms.

A few traces of the earliest days of Earth exist as they once were. All the other traces of the earliest days of Earth exist as they are now.

Becoming Is the Alchemical Ontology, Jamming, 05/07/2018

The other day, I was revisiting a short book by my colleague Elizabeth Sandifer. Recursive Occlusion is a little book about the mysticism of Kabbalah and Tarot, in a framework of exploring the Doctor Who story Logopolis.

Her work has always been a bit strange, which is one of the reasons I like her work.

Anyway, it reminded me of one of the original thematic images of her ongoing epic work of commentary, TARDIS Eruditorum – the solution to alchemy as material social progress.

The vision of progress we’re talking about here is fundamentally rooted in freedom – overcoming the bullying authoritarian attitude of social, political, and moral conservatism. Fundamentally, it’s the freedom to transform – to live differently than others, experiment with different kinds of relationships and identities. A constructively queer identity – opposed to nothing but the refusal to accept difference.

Against the Day is a beautiful book. It
depicts, a tad fancifully, a time in human
history that amounted to a technological
and ethical crossroads. The years between
the 1889 World's Fair and the outbreak of
the First World War was a moment where,
but for a few contingencies, we could
have ended up living in a very different
world. Would it have been better? I
have no idea, and I don't think Pynchon
does either. But given where we've
ended up, any possibility is worth
trying. Or at least imagining.
To jump from this to ontological thinking seems utterly barmy, but it can be done. Jussi Parikka gives it a very good shot when he weaves his concepts for a geological philosophy using, among other tools, artistic criticism and commentary.

Alchemical thinking is an attitude of awe, fascination, and love for the powers of substances to transform into one another.

Parikka illustrates this with images from Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day, which is one of my favourite novels. He chooses images that show a transition in society that’s ethical at its core, but also political, moral, economic, and ecological. It’s the transformation of alchemy as our attitude to the world, into chemistry.

He interprets these images to mourn how contemporary attitudes that embrace industrial technology refuse the need for magic. The transformation of one substance into another now requires no mysticism, no ethical consideration at all. You routinize it, regularize it, and industrialize it.

The shorthand that’s often used for this is the transition to full capitalism. But that’s not quite accurate. Parikka describes a transition that I think has already changed by now.

Alchemy was a research discipline that included mysticism and ontological philosophy alongside its empirical studies of how to transform substances. Chemistry – and the capitalist economics that fuelled the institutions of industrial chemistry – stripped the divine and philosophical from its research discipline, replacing it with a techno-industrial framework of understanding and practice.

Parikka gives us a quick description that offers a shade of Karl Marx and Hannah Arendt. As work became labour, alchemy became chemistry, and a practice of mysticism becomes an assembly line.

Yet care wasn’t entirely stripped from chemistry. You could argue that ethics was transformed, but that the ethical still emerged from the practice. We were offered “Better living through chemistry,” after all. The goal of industrial chemistry was to build a better life for people, to build some kind of material social progress.

There are different capitalist economics in place now. Ask the folks who used to work at Dupont Labs, until a few years ago. We might need other concepts.

Geology's Founding Lie, Research Time, 04/07/2018

One pleasant piece of history I learned from Jussi Parikka’s The Geology of Media was the founding of the science of geology itself. It’s not too old, after all.

James Hutton developed the basic concepts, essential theories, and analytic methods of the science of the composition and dynamics of rocky planets over the late 18th century. Hutton wasn’t too well-known for most of his own lifetime, but his legacy is pretty well staked these days.

Charles Lyell brought geological science to the mainstream by the mid 19th century. The explosion of Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory certainly helped. It was a beautiful moment of synergy.

Perhaps the greatest achievement humanity will ever manage is
destroying ourselves. We're making the planet we live on utterly
unfit for us to live on it. One oil slick can cover thousands of
square kilometres and destroy billions of living creatures,
countless ecosystems decaying into dust. One stupid accident
among thousands. We've made ourselves epochal, burning
ourselves to death in a fire that consumes a whole planet.
See, one of the reasons why Hutton’s scientific work wasn’t widely accepted was because most people* couldn’t conceive of the Earth being billions of years old. This is a very strange kind of mind-set to get into, because such a thing is taken for granted now.

* In Western cultures, anyway. This scientific work happened at the heart of the globe’s colonial economy at the time, in Europe.

Even if you’re a dedicated Young Earth Creationist, you live in the influence of the conception of Earth and the cosmos as billions of years old. It’s the consensus view of your enemy, the secular culture of science.** You may not believe in the billions-year-old Earth, but you live in a society where that’s the common sense view of most people.

** I don’t use terms like these – “secular culture of science” – as actual elements of how I understand scientific practice and institutions myself. I’ve studied science philosophically and sociologically for too long to accept such a broad term as that. But vague terms like this are, to my knowledge, how extremist Biblical Creationists think of science.

When James Hutton was alive, things were totally different. The notion that the Earth was billions of years old was strange and terrifying. There also seemed to be no need for it. No other process on Earth required millions and billions of years to unfold.

Hence, why Lyell had a much easier time promoting this idea when The Origin of Species hit, and as Darwin himself followed this up with the rest of his works exploring the processes and implications of life being an evolutionary process. The geological concept of the billions-year-old Earth was the physical companion to Darwin’s biological work.

When I was a kid, I used to hear the old Christian ditty, "He's got the
whole world in his hands!" It's a beautiful thing to believe in, but it's
a lie too.
The Terror

Why do I title this “Geology’s Founding Lie,” then? The lie isn’t that the Earth is billions of years old. That’s true, no matter what some other folks want you to believe. The lie isn’t a matter of straight fact, but of scalability.

When you think of Earth as only a few thousand years old – maybe six to seven thousand like the Biblical Literalists, maybe a few thousand more – human existence is of massive consequence. If Earth is so young, then most of the planet’s history is humanity’s history too.

Human significance is obvious on a young Earth because we’ve pretty much always been here, as dominant over the planet as we are. We can very easily believe that the planet is here for us. If Earth is the same age or only a little older as civilizational humanity, then it’s easy to believe that we’re at the centre of Earth’s story.

Geological science introduced a conception of deep time. Accepting geology as valid meant that we had to accept human insignificance on Earth. Earth was no longer for us – its existence was now alien to human needs and histories. You have to learn to let yourself be dwarfed in all aspects.

The lie was that the immense vastness of the planet in time dwarfed humanity in all aspects. You see where I’m going with this. The popular and intellectual conception of humanity, as the Victorian concepts of secularism dominated the reflexive thinking of Western cultures, was that the Earth dwarfed our powers as well.

Earth was so vast that human activity – even the industry driving unprecedented technological development – could never cause the planet real harm. Vastness meant resilience, movement and change so slow as to approach eternity. At least relative to human activity.

This is Parikka’s conclusion on researching this idea in the popular and intellectual culture of the first years of the Holocene era – comparing human existence to the depth of planetary time made us appear entirely insignificant. But that appearance was false in one awful aspect.

The terrible truth of our ecological crisis is that our powers can radically transform the Earth. This aspect of human existence really does achieve geological vastness. And we’re completely unprepared to reach that planetary level of power.

The Enchanting Falsenesses of True Romance, Jamming, 02/07/2018

When I was researching what would become Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity, I found a lot of very frustrating environmentalist literature and philosophy. Not that it was insufficiently environmentalist – oh no.

These were works that romanticized the non-human world. For one thing, such philosophical writing collapsed all the diversity of everything-that-isn’t-human-or-industrial into a single category – Nature.

This Nature had a single essence, which was inevitably described with images of goodness, purity, harmony, and love. Wading through this dreck was intellectual torture.

It's an old trope of dehumanizing indigenous people to consider
them part of a non-human nature. Just because you want to conserve
them instead of raze them like a forest in the way of a condo tower,
doesn't make the concept any less racist.
Worst of all were the works that conceived of the indigenous peoples of Australasia and the Americas as conduits of this pure Nature, vehicles for an ethic of harmony and balance. They perpetuated the same division of the world into cowboys and indians, but made sure the cowboys were evil and the indians were good.

Some of that stuff was so racist, I wanted to puke a little as I read it. The worst racism of all – validation through valorization. You just switch the valuation around on the old racism of colonial genocide.

Virtuous missionaries and brave settlers become the crushers of indigenous spirituality and prosperity, which is a very good first step. But the ignorant indians now become enlightened mystics. Problem is, you still treat them like savages. Now, you just think it’s good to be a savage.

Jussi Parikka does a solid job of quickly and clearly identifying the roots of this angelic racism in the first chapter of The Geology of Media. The central concepts that are used in this destructive, falsifying, idealizing understanding of nature come from the Romantic tradition of literature and philosophy.

I’m not going to go into it. Just read his book. Or mine. Whichever you prefer to buy or steal. If stealing, why not both?

Millions of years lie before your eyes, present for you.
An alternative – and I think the best one – is in materialist thinking. Just remember to be as thorough as you can – a materialism that subtracts nothing from the world. Account for everything that you always felt you needed the non-material for, by material means.

Parikka finds a means for people to engage with profoundly deep times, for example, by a thoroughly materialist analysis.

Romantic dualism about nature and technology can only conceive of nature as eternal, while technology is the force that introduces change and the flow of time into existence. That change is inherently destructive, just as a return to the eternal nature is good, the restoration of harmony.

But an eye on the geological roots of technology show how the material of our civilization has always been part of the Earth. Technology is a product of nature – geological flows lasting millions of years and ecological flows lasting hundreds of thousands. Our technology is the exploration and rearrangement of metals that exist on planetary scales of time.

Nature is a process billions of years long. Our ecological catastrophe of a few centuries is a relative instant.

How to Turn an Image Into a Concept II: Self-Consumption, Research Time, 29/06/2018

Most of the popular political activism around the environment and Earth’s ecologies is about climate change. Which is a very serious topic and problem that we do need to confront honestly. But it isn’t the only environmental crisis facing human civilization, just the one that’s gotten the most press.

Mining, and the pollution that comes from large-scale mining, is another process significantly adding to the conditions that will keep humans from staying alive on Earth.

Yet the problems of mining are much more difficult for an environmental activism movement to address. The causes how* are frankly painful. It all revolves around those rare earths mines that I was talking about earlier this week.

The Tesla auto company is promoted as a leader in developing the
technology for cars to have no negative environmental impact. It's
true that Tesla cars don't give out greenhouse gas as exhaust, and so
can be major contributors to preventing climate change. But
climate change isn't the only form of catastrophic result from
industrial pollution. The more you learn about heavy industry of
all kinds, the easier it is to conclude that we're damn if we do and
damned if we don't. It's definitely quite easy to feel damned.
* If we say “reasons why,” then why wouldn’t we also say “causes how”? I think I’m going to run with this phrase for a while and see what it gets me. Is it a neologism? Is its meaning clear? I think so, but I need feedback from people who aren’t me. Let me know.

Rare earth metals are essential for the core technologies of the renewable energy industries as well as computer devices. Some examples. Cerium and lanthanum are used in hydrogen fuel cells and batteries. Dysprosium, neodymium, and praseodymium are important for the powerful magnets used in wind turbines. Neodymium is also an essential component of hybrid car engines. Terbium and europium are used to make solar panels, and terbium is also needed to build fuel cells for fully electric cars.

So the environmental movement becomes, inevitably, complicit in environmental destruction. That’s just great, then. There seems to be no way of continuing large-scale industrial civilization that doesn’t cause severe ecosystemic harm somehow.

Jussi Parikka looks at this fact, as well as heavy industry’s dependence on fossil fuel energy, and concludes that any attempt at an ethical geological approach to philosophy will inevitably be an assault on capitalism as a social order. It seems we can’t build genuinely environmentally friendly and constructive technology products, without causing severe ecological harm somewhere in the production processes.

I’ve been talking a lot about the different social orders that we call capitalism. A lot of us have been talking about it. The last decade or more of Western politics has largely revolved around confronting or sublimating the economic anxieties of life under an increasingly destructive oligarchical economic system.

Because sites like this lie behind every Tesla car, every Prius, every
hybrid and all-electric vehicle, it can really drive you into a more
pessimistic point of view about our future. Here's another horribly
depressing fact: Most of the public transit buses we use today are
hybrid, so these filthy, destructive mines are behind every
proudly environmentally-friendly bus. We can't even reduce car
use without driving the heavy industries that to serious harm to
our ecosystems and ourselves.
You can find plenty of critiques of capitalism in today’s journalism, entertainment, and theory. When they occur in so many different contexts, it can seriously confuse the popular definition of capitalism.

If you use the term as a shorthand label, it means entirely different things to different people. So when I write official publications, I mostly describe economic relationships and processes, rather than the single label for this diverse family of systems.

Geological philosophy, as Parikka describes its mechanics, is an ontology and an advocacy all at once, because thinking philosophically about geology displays the most destructive aspects of capitalist economics. Unlike most of the capitalism-critical traditions, geological (and ecological) thinking focusses on the physical destruction of Earth’s processes and ecologies, rather than directly human misery.

Capitalist society is produced through societies’ energy consumption to build and consume things. But not all energy consumption is capitalistic. You properly call it capitalism when you cross a threshold of intensity in energy production that radically transforms how your society operates.

More than this. Crossing the threshold of heavy industry’s intensity of energy production and consumption transforms what is and isn’t possible for a particular society. That change in what can be is far more profound than a mere change in what is. Keeping energy consumption in a particular, very intense range limits some possibilities and opens others.

Here’s the question you’re left with. Are the possibilities of a high-intensity lifestyle of energy consumption better overall then the possibilities of low-intensity energy production? Is the worst of one better than the best of the other?

Which one?

How to Turn an Image Into a Concept I: Living Earth, Composing, 28/06/2018

Jussi Parikka's book The Geology of Media is one of several books that have come out in the last decade exploring aspects of our global ecological crisis with an old image. The living Earth.

I’ve come across different aspects of this in Tim Morton’s work, as well as others in his broadly-related crew of thinkers – Ray Brassier, Graham Harman, Ian Bogost, a few others falling under the name speculative realists.* A variety of creative – and in Bogost’s case, delightfully bizarre – fundamental pessimists about the future of humanity.

* They all went to the same conference in 2007 that had “speculative realism” in the title, and appeared in an essay collection with that phrase in the title.

I hope the insane billionaires of the world will be happy to invest the
massive fortunes they've squired away in building inter-planetary
mining infrastructure by the end of the century. Because that's when
we're going to run out of all the metals that make computers work.
I mean, the most thoroughly absurd stance in ecological philosophy in the 21st century is optimism. So the image of a brutalized, raging, vengeful Earth – whether radically alien or hauntingly personal – is a constant.

But there are other, more impish, perspectives as well. I remember reading Jane Bennett’s book Vibrant Matter during research for my last big book. She built a curious outline of an ontology she called vital materialism – major components were a return to vitalist biological theories and a quirky extrapolation of metallurgy.

Another book that delivered on almost all its potential, but petered out a little. Still excellent, if not quite great – fascinating ideas that weren’t tied together quite as profoundly as they could have been.

Parikka himself offers another set of sources for this image of the living Earth – an important one for him is the history of geology. Geology is, in the simplest terms, the historical investigation of a planet’s own development and the essential nature of a planet, along with the techniques for doing all that well.

It’s a science that could work on any planet made mostly of rock, but Earth is where we’ve done the most studies so far. Works just as well for other planets, moons, and asteroids – but for now such studies are prohibitively expensive, and getting there is a bit of a commute.

Throughout his book, Parikka turns to media theory and art for the
tools to turn the image of the living Earth into a philosophical
concept you can act on (and through). There are many hitches with
this decision, but one of them is that there have been so many
such images that focussing on a single one requires so much
justification that you spend all your time on it and not the analysis.
A lot of the first people to study geology shared a general, kind of vague image that served as their very rough framework for understanding how Earth worked as a system. Scratch that – it was a framework to understand THAT Earth worked as a system. This was the living Earth – that the generation and dynamic fluxes of Earth’s processes were its life processes.

Not as an organism like us. No one seriously thought they’d find igneous analogous to kidneys or lungs. If you describe these early geologists that way, you’re just doing it to dismiss their ideas from relevance by making their interpretive frameworks sound too plainly ridiculous.

Here’s how they thought, in brief. Having dynamic internal processes that generate themselves – one powers the other, the other powers the first – is a necessary and sufficient condition for being alive. For being a life.

It didn’t imply anything ontologically or physically – it didn’t mean necessarily that a planet would have a geological circulation like an animal’s cardiovascular system. The implication was ethical – that the Earth deserved the respect that you’d accord any living thing.

For example, take my personal favourite utterly barmy image of the
living Earth in popular culture – Mogo! The Green Lantern that's a
sentient planet! Mogo is pretty much the only thing I like about
Green Lantern proper, mainly because of its core premise that our
hero is a narc.
That’s different from the other common idea about respecting the Earth – philosophers use words like alienation and sublimity. Because the Earth is so much more powerful than a person – storms, floods, earthquakes, volcanos, massive mountain chains, vast oceans, etc – we respect it because it dwarfs us. We respect Earth because we’re so insignificant compared to it and casually destroyable in the face of it.

A geologically-inspired philosophy for our current crisis can’t inspire respect for the Earth through fear. Our processes – the grotesque pollution of mining and e-waste, the overflowing dumps of nuclear waste – are enough to strike fear into the Earth. We no longer need to fear the Earth – we need to fear ourselves.

That begins from understanding Earth as something which we harm. Not something we wreck, the way an angry toddler wrecks a plastic toy or a train set. You wreck something, and all that matters is the money to replace it and the mess you made. Earth is something we harm, the way a psychotic toddler yanks a kitten’s tail or pulls her ears to hear it scream.

Harm is to inflict suffering. And we need to learn how to understand the Earth as something we can inflict suffering on. Not suffering like an animal – any more than the Earth has blood and breath. No – There is suffering. Earth suffers.

Fearing for Our Lives / Reaped by Robot Scythes, Research Time, 27/06/2018

I told you I was switching gears. Quite literally to metal gears. Some of the analyses in Utopias will include some concepts from media theory, but the research discipline of media theory comes with some limitations.

In short form, it gets a bit idealist, ontologically speaking. Here’s what I mean. Mainstream media theory concentrates on the structure of media communications. You study the structures, conventions, and techniques of how media products are assembled.

Above: a metaphor.
So you come to think in terms of a multi-form semiotics – language, meaning, and how the structure of communication shapes language and meaning.

Quick illustration. You watch a video on someone’s phone. It’s shaky, clearly a phone held in the hand. Clear yet distant. The form of the video itself tells you what it is, displays its genuineness. Understanding the form helps you understand the message. Sounds familiar for some reason.

This is a pivotal aspect of media studies, theory, and the general means we use to understand our enormous ecology of communication. But we need to understand the literally ecological aspects of communication, and the geological too.

Information is conditioned by the physical media that carries it, but the process of manufacturing that media conditions the structure of our world. Some of the most destructive pollution generated in the mining sector is in the rare earth mines.

We dig complex minerals and intensively filter and treat them to separate all the different metals like yttrium, dysprosium, thulium, neodymium, and all the rest of the lanthanides. The result of those industrial mining procedures is rampant and horrifying pollution.

Above: a referent.
I picked up Jussi Parikka’s book The Geology of Media because I’d heard it was a solid continuation of many of the geological and ecological concepts that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari developed. Damn right it was.

Semiotics – the study of meaning and how communication infrastructure conditions the information it carries – is vital to understanding contemporary media and globalized communication. But Parikka’s work is essential in understanding the brute physicality of our media – a hurricane of metals swirling into an assemblage of mines, factories electricity, and language that is simultaneously liberating and disastrous.

You can’t have contemporary media – computer and smartphone technology, including all the accessories as small and seemingly inconsequential as headphones – without these massive machines of metal extraction and manufacture.

The environmentalist movement makes a big deal about fossil fuel extraction, industry, burning, pollution, and impact on climate change. But quite often, activists will post their critical messages using smartphones and computers built with another horrifically destructive industrial process – lanthanide mining.

Is there any way out for us? I honestly don’t know.

If I want to start a blog post with Judas Priest lyrics, then I will. It’s the closest I have to an answer.

Drifting and Drifting Until . . . What Now, Composing, 26/06/2018

Tomorrow’s post is going to switch gears pretty hard. After going through Jeremy Gilbert’s history of academic Cultural Studies and its place in the anti-capitalist movement, I decided to switch gears in my research.

The ideas for which I came to Gilbert in the first place were locked in my thinking pretty solidly. His book and his bibliography offered me a great outline for some ideas and passages in Utopias. It was just what I wanted from his work. There was just one way where it fell short.

I think a reason why many academics' books peter out so sadly
as they end is because so much training and mentorship in the
humanities accustoms you to staying away from thinking with
the scope needed for a 250-300 page work. You need to think
with ambition to produce a unified work of philosophy or
history with that size. University philosophy especially trains
you to stop well short of that, sticking to smaller and smaller
debates and dialogues.
Anticlimax. Now, a work of philosophy or history doesn’t need to be written with a full narrative arc like the conventions of drama. When I talk about a philosophical or historical work being anticlimactic, I mean that it loses focus as it ends.

Here are a couple of examples. Maybe they’ll illustrate what I mean. Maybe they’ll confuse you more. I honestly don’t know.

In AntiCapitalism and Culture, the core ideas run up against the same wall. Now for him, it probably didn’t seem like a wall. As I said a few days ago, Gilbert was writing ten years ago in a very different time and with very different purposes, than I am. By the end of his book, he’d explored pretty thoroughly the history and ideologies he wanted to explore.

Yet his writing kept running up against the same point at the end, the repetition becoming frustrating. My own notes on the closing chapters are all reiterations of the same question. Exactly the question I wrote about yesterday.

Gilbert isn’t sure what protest can achieve other than simple demonstrating that a different way of living and thinking together is possible. He doesn’t think you can achieve much with that.

He has some good reasons for thinking so, most of which are reasons of strategy. Such a demonstration can’t finish the job. Plus, the globalized nature of 21st century capitalism creates its own problems – if there’s no real keystone to the networks of oligarchy and finance capital, then there’s nothing to attack with revolutionary activity. No palace to storm.

Which is fine, if you think of an economic system and ideology as a state government. That’s slipping into what had been a common tendency on the radical anti-capitalist left – falling under the image of 1917. The shocking attack on the centre of government, the speeches from the leader of the military and intellectual vanguard from the balcony of their deposed royals’ palace.

Seriously, guys. This was 100 years ago. I think at least the internet
and all of our contemporary technology has changed the economic
and military situation of politics from 1917. Yet the only folks I
know who sincerely think you can straight-up replicate Lenin's
revolution in contemporary Washington are underemployed
sessional academics who only talk to other marxist academics.
These people couldn't organize anything outside of a set of
moderators' rules for a Reddit forum.
Protest is the first step, in today’s context, of prompting rebellion everywhere. A system with no centre isn’t stormed – it’s eroded from the inside. Experimental spheres of new economics form, reinforce themselves against attack, grow and connect. But without these ideas, Gilbert’s book just runs over and over against the pessimistic premises.

I’ve even noticed this in other books I’ve been reading. A fascinating book on Martin Heidegger and the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge school is drifting into disconnected comparative moments from an earlier clear thematic unity. More thoughts on that will come from the SERRC later this summer.

Even a fiction book ended like this. I picked up Isabelle Allende’s The Infinite Plan at a garage sale I wandered by last year, and finally got around to reading it a month ago. It’s a strong piece at the beginning, depicting the singular protagonist’s bizarre family and the vivid world of his upbringing in the Los Angeles barrio of the 1950s.

But that unique character becomes sadly generic once he leaves his eccentric, colourful world and becomes an ordinary rich white guy with shitty narratives who needs some therapy to deal with his PTSD from the Vietnam War and parental neglect. It drifts through well-written but increasingly boring stereotype after stereotype.

I think I dislike promising books that drift away more than books that are outright terrible from the start.

Anyway, an ecological / geological ontology of contemporary media tomorrow. Switching gears for a little bit.

Protest as the Foundation of Ethics, Research Time, 25/06/2018

Jeremy Gilbert's book on the history of resistance to neoliberal politics and economics in the British academy doesn’t end very hopefully. It was published at the end of the W Bush Presidency, for one.

It was a time when so much of the West’s progressive visions of humanity were destroyed, for one. The deranged patriotism following the Sept 11 attacks and during the Iraq invasion and occupation brought conservative patriotism to a horrifying extreme. The US government was so anemic from austerity that they couldn’t even repair a humanitarian disaster. Unrestrained investment bankers collided with poorly-considered mortgage policy to crash the economy as millions sunk into debt.

That's not what Gilbert was considering when drafting his book, though. How he crafts his history conditions how partial is his view. Because he focusses specifically on explicit resistance to neoliberal economics and politics, he focusses on the protest movement.

Remember how the conditions for the present madness lie in the
madnesses of the past. I'm not talking about learning your history,
just remembering the meaning of the history you actually lived
is hard enough for some people.
The key connection is that of Cultural Studies academe to the protest movement. But it’s primarily about the protest movement. It’s another case where he’s not wrong, but his focus misses so many other important vectors of history.

And I think that narrow vision plays into his pessimism. He asks whether protest against unjust economic systems can work in creating any significant change at all. The best a protest can do, he writes, is express an alternative morality. Such an expression is totally separate from real political organizing against that economic system.

In the decade since he wrote, there’s been plenty of progress in building opposition to that economic system. We don’t always call it neoliberalism every time we talk about it. But we know what’s going on.

I also think Gilbert’s book is wrong to dismiss as politically useless the expression of an alternative morality. The whole reason neoliberal thinking about economics and morality could become a default among many people’s thinking was the popular conclusion that no other way of thinking was genuinely possible as a sustainable system of human life.

Genuinely successful protest actions demonstrate by their existence that there can be sustainable ways of social thought beyond rabid mercenary individualism. Occupy and Standing Rock were events that created such alternative ways of life.

No political movement ends with protest, of course. You have to build alternative institutions, like communication networks, places of trade and exchange, places of education and outreach to bring people a new way of thinking. Work together to develop strategies to create other such places and networks. Finance, build, learn, and grow.

There’s going to be a lot of resistance to this project. Your way of life may seem monstrous or hypocritical to a lot of people who aren’t open-minded. The powerful people in the mainstream system – the oligarchs and the people who make decent livings serving their interests – will fight. And they’ll enlist as many oppressive arms of the state as they can to do it. No outcome is inevitable – not yours nor theirs.

You can create an alternative and change your society for the better. But you can’t put any of that work in when no one believes that it can come to anything at all.

Nostalgia Feeding Fascist Dreams of Cackling Joy, Research Time, 21/06/2018

We’re in a fascist moment right now. I don’t have to tell you this. Not only is the United States government locking away families seeking asylum from war and violence, but the guards enjoy their jobs, there are already allegations of abuse in the children and infants’ detention camps, and there’s a pretty big minority who doesn’t care or believe any of this is going on.

Maybe they really do think that everyone ICE is arresting and throwing into prison camps are all thousands of MS-13 gang members who constantly stream into the country.

Very little about the Trump family is subtle. The Republican Party
apparatchiks like Stephen Miller and Kirstjen Nielsen may prefer to be
more slippery, cagey about what they're actually doing. They won't
say what they're doing. The Trump family is different. They tell you
what you say, but it's so ridiculous that you know it's a stupid excuse.
Maybe that’s just what they tell people who they suspect would be a little disturbed by their real thoughts. Maybe they’re genuinely happy that thousands of Central American Hispanic and Indigenous people are locked in prison camps, degraded, and beaten. Children and infants included.

Stare at that hatred. It’s a human desire. It is not monstrous. It is not somehow inhuman. It is ordinary.

Different trends of research examines the images that warp a personality to express such intense hatred against the ethnically different. Many of those research trends percolated through the academic discipline of Cultural Studies. Jeremy Gilbert provided a damn good bibliography section for this end of my research.

An important set of fascist concepts is rooted in the appeal to stability. You could call it the desire for freedom from fear. Any change brings risk, and a major shift in the nature and makeup of your society is riskier than if little to nothing changed at all.* Fear is the most intuitive response to the notion that your world is growing riskier, more dangerous.

* This is, of course, not the actual nature of risk, which is way more complicated. The point isn’t about what risk is, but people’s intuitions about risk.

When our world feels more dangerous, we dream of peaceful times. If we associate our feelings of danger with the change happening all around us, we’ll idealize a time in our society before that change began. We’ll want to return to that state.

Make America Great Again.

That’s how nostalgia becomes the driving image of a fascist political movement. When you’re so motivated by a fear growing in the most important desires of your personality, you’ll condone whatever violence needed to make that dream come true.

He gives you permission to use his moronically stupid excuse so that
you have something to say when a less racist person talks to you at
a party. And you can, happily and relatively privately, sit back and
enjoy watching thousands of people you hate suffer and die.
If you fear a society where your ethnicity and cultural heritage will be a minority so much, you’ll be relieved those detention camps are booming. They’ll turn back the desperate civil war refugees by conclusively demonstrating that Central Americans will find no shelter here.

The imagery of nostalgia can turn to better purposes, of course. Nostalgic themes play an important role in the environmental movement. I find it naïve that people would think of a non-technological world as a Garden of Eden.** Simply false when you learn anything about the very turbulent history of Earth.

** As a cultural image of a peaceful, harmonious Nature before human corruption. Not some silly story about a naked couple living in the woods with a talking snake.

If you come from a culture and a community that’s treated ethnic minorities with terrible oppression for centuries, wouldn’t you fear becoming an ethnic minority? You’d associate being a cultural minority with oppression, unable to imagine people of different cultures and ethnicities living together peacefully.

When you’ve grown up hating by instinct, you have an instinctive feel for how terrible it is to be the object of that hatred. When you see yourself in danger of becoming that object, your survival instinct kicks in. Luckily, what you’ll do to survive supports your disgust at having to share space with them. You’ll be relieved that these disgusting creatures won’t come to find you so disgusting.

Reading Gilbert, he brings it back to neoliberalism. How all of this becomes a way to dupe people into supporting an oligarchic economic system. He’s not wrong. But let’s understand this aspect as well – an ethical phenomenology of the racist.

What You Wish For Might Ruin Your Country, Research Time, 20/06/2018

Life is often ironic. Sometimes, you can laugh at the irony. Sometimes, all you can do is cry.

One thing I cry about, when it comes to folks who self-identify as progressives, is how everyone feels about globalization. In many contexts, most of us think it’s bad.

That’s the simple version. I mean, the modern popular movement against new liberal economic policies and political philosophies began with a demonstration against a World Trade Organization summit. One of the major controversies in Canadian politics right now is the Trudeau government signing the country into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement among many Pacific Rim countries.

When you demand the return of economic borders, you open yourself
to seduction by people who want borders closed overall. When you
blame trade with foreigners for the ills of your economy, it's easy to
start blaming all the people outside your country, not just the
powerful ones. That's how an anti-globalization activist becomes a
racist nativist.
People’s problem is that these trade agreements give too many rights to transnational corporations, which allow for increasingly intense concentrations of wealth among the oligarchs’ class.

Typically, all the major political parties jockeying for electoral control of state government institutions in the West have supported these corporate-driven trade agreements. There have been different emphases in those agreements and treaties.

Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party here in Canada focussed on resource extraction sectors. Typical of a party with a strong support base among Alberta’s petro-industrialists. Jean Chretien’s and Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party encouraged growth in the financial sector. Typical of the party that has represented the interests of Canada’s banking sector since the founding of the current state. Both of those parties doubled down on our continental trade deal, met with opposition from social and economic justice activists around the country.

There has been plenty of resistance to these legalistic acts of corporate piracy: networks among the multitude, groups of radical anarchists who’ve largely dropped out of society, trade union and student movements, progressive electoral political parties, think tanks, and non-governmental organizations.

Then, amazingly, in the heartland of the Washington Consensus, a political movement that put people first ripped apart all the presumptions of one of the most revanchist state parties in the West. The movement against corporate-led globalization had a new champion, and against all expectations, he entered the White House as President of the United States.

The politics of rage, demonization, and hatred are all too often
depressingly effective.
You see the problem here now.

Globalization in itself isn’t a bad thing. It’s the intensification of many physical, financial, and communicative processes that have linked different regions of the Earth for centuries already. It’s passed several major thresholds in the last few decades, which is why it feels like an entirely new phenomenon.

Yeah, it’s had plenty of drawbacks. Massive industrial pollution, the exponential growth in the power of global oligarchs to hide from public accountability and to hide their wealth.

But there are also plenty of benefits. Communication among people around the world can happen with incredible speed now, and we can learn about people in all parts of the globe. We can make friends from the other side of the planet. Communication connections can help build camaraderie, friendship, and community among people throughout the Earth.

People can move more freely than they ever have before. The late 20th century’s globalization had an amazing impact on a lot of the West: Asian, African, Pacific, and South American immigrants could come to our countries. If our labour markets throughout the Earth ever become truly open, it would be a genuine revolution of working people.

Imagine the economic and cultural booms that would result if Indian and Pakistani workers could come to the UAE or Saudi Arabia and have full rights, responsibilities, and legal protections of citizens who’ve lived there all their lives. If we had no borders, practically speaking, and everyone could move wherever the work was as long as they could learn the language(s) of the majority.

Globally open labour markets and globally-organizing union movements would take people out of the yoke of corporate wage slavery and state suppression as second or third-class citizens. Or worse.

Globalization can open our society to fantastic, unpredictable new paths of cultural creativity as traditions, languages, ideas, and moralities all merge and interact.

At this point, Earth’s progressives have to accept that globalization is a fact. You can’t turn it back now, without becoming the kind of xenophobic racist you hate. Those among the left who are taking advantage of the current moment to turn back economic globalization are racists and xenophobes. So screw them.

The 21st century left needs to accept that full-on anti-globalization is a failure. It’s been co-opted by some of the West’s most brutal racists and revanchists. The task of progressive politics now is to do globalization right. Globalization for the multitude.