Here's another reason I think I had trouble finding a place in the university system. As far as a search committee or a grant committee could see, I often looked like a dilettante. A grad student’s research program typically focusses on contributing to a single sub-discipline of her field, frequently in the same sub-discipline as her supervisor.
But my strategy for success has never been doing what’s typical. I wanted my research to be publishable as a book that could actually push philosophy of ecology forward. I didn’t want to create one more dissertation that would go unread, but create a book that would have real impact on the field, and even pick up a popular following.
|The dynamism of industrial technologies can overwrite
any more fragile existence. The Futurist movement found
the joy of that destruction. Giacomo Balla's Speed of a
Motorcycle, painted 1913.
I was fortunate to have, in McMaster’s Barry Allen, a supervisor who was cool with my ambition. But because it was so rare to write a dissertation that was actually ambitious, it took a while for me to find a venue for publication whose editors would take it credibly. So I was fortunate to have connected with Steve Fuller at SERRC, who was impressed enough by my discussions of the manuscript on my blog to introduce me to his contacts at Palgrave MacMillan, who are publishing Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity.
Shameless plugging and autobiography aside, I am going to write about some deeper stuff tonight. When I was still looking for work in the university sector, I was in the early stages of developing Utopias, and pitched that as the object of a post-doc research grant I applied for. I didn't get any of those grants.
On the surface, the projects are very different because they cover very different disciplines. EEFH is primarily about the ethical implications of taking ecology seriously. It touches on a few topics in philosophy of science and political activism, but it’s primarily a book about how we should redefine the human identity to understand ourselves ecologically.
Utopias is primarily a work of political philosophy, though it also covers some philosophy of technology and time. But it also includes environmental themes, and how humanity’s conception of itself conditions our social, political, and economic activities.
EEFH revolves around a political and ethical problem. We’re facing a global crisis of climate change, massive ecological destruction and transformation, and ubiquitous, inescapable pollution. One of the conditions of our having created this planet-wide fuck-up is that we considered ourselves separate from the natural order of the world.
So as we developed industrial technology, we saw nature as a separate order of being – either it was our job to bring it to heel and order, or we could simply overwrite its whole existence, or nature would always remain separate from and larger than us. Nature was beyond us, and we were beyond nature. Val Plumwood called this a state of alienation.
The most fundamental solution to Earth’s ecological crisis is redefining how people understand their place in nature and relationship with it. Understanding ourselves as integrated and interdependent in the ecologies of our world will give a person a better sense that their actions will have consequences, that they’ll be far flung and complicated, and that destructive activities will bite us in the ass.
|Modern humanity has made porous islands of its own
filth. I almost feel as though I should be proud.
Filippo Marinetti’s conception, in his Futurist artistic and political movement, of how industrial technology would transform humanity is the purest version of the anti-ecological, hubristic megalomania that resulted in nuclear weapons and the Pacific Trash Vortex. Marinetti’s own goal was to transform humanity through building a new self-conception. But his vision wasn’t ecological.
The Futurist vision was an embrace of war, a love of speed, a vision of great nations subjugating weaker ones in international imperial conquest. The brave new human he imagined was a hybrid of human organism and industrial mechanism, the product of total sympathy between personality and machine. Transportation and communication systems would extend humanity throughout the planet.
The human framework of experience itself would change, blur with machinery. Marinetti saw it as a renewal of humanity from the state of decadence into which humanity had fallen through the dullness of its elites. But the spirit of this renewal is humanity’s destructive technological drive taken to its highest intensity. Marinetti’s vision wouldn’t renew humanity, but lead to mass suicide. Perhaps we’re already inexorably on the way.
Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity looks at what humanity will have to become if we’re to survive the Holocene Extinction. Its focus was the highest of human possibilities. Utopias will consider the origins, the purest expressions of our destructive drives. Its focus will be the most horrifying aspects of human nature, in the hope that we’ll be able to articulate a way out of the darkness.