A Review of of Bruno Latour’s Down to Earth

“How could we deem ‘realistic’ a project of modernization that has ‘forgotten’ for two centuries to anticipate the reactions of the terraqueous globe to human actions? How could we accept as “objective’ economic theories that are incapable of integrating into their calculations the scarcity of resources whose exhaustion it had been their mission to predict? How could we speak of “effectiveness’ with respect to technological systems that have not managed to integrate into their design a way to last more than a few decades?  How could we call “rationalist’ an ideal of civilization guilty of a forecasting error so massive that it prevents parents from leaving an inhabited world to their children?” – Bruno Latour

Our rationality is leading us…to where? If rationality is a mental discipline, a method, then we must ask what purpose does it serve?  Where does it begin and where does it go to? If we don’t know in what our rationality is rooted and where it is leading us, then what good is it?  Or if our rationality is leading us somewhere that we don’t want to go, then it is worse than useless.

The anthropologist and historian of science, Bruno Latour, has written a political essay: Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climate Regime. This brief but fascinating book begins by invoking the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. “From the 1980’s on, the ruling classes stopped purporting to lead and began to shelter themselves from the world.  We are experiencing all the consequences of this flight, of which Donald Trump is merely a symbol, one among others.  The absence of a common world we can share is driving us crazy.” Continue reading “A Review of of Bruno Latour’s Down to Earth”

Anima Monday

Happy New Year everyone!

I have been super remiss in not giving a shout-out to the amazingly talented folks at Anima Monday, which I like to think of as a sister-blog. (I’ve been super distracted, more on that later.)  I’m in love with all of them over there.  Go visit now!

This week they have posted an interview with Emma Restall Orr, whose book, The Wakeful World,  takes animism to the gladiator ring of Western philosophy in the Academy.  Not for the faint of heart, such an endeavor!  And Orr does it admirably, with heart as well as intellectual rigor.

But the contributors to Anima Monday are her equal in their wild, fierce, generous, and humble insights into what it means to live in this world, fully alive, fully present, and in love with life, in all its glory and pain.

Animists of the world unite!  🙂

 

The Mushroom at the End of the World

How (capitalist) money and nature intertwine and bring multiple life-worlds into being is one of the themes of Anna Tsingʻs book on the matsutake mushroom, highly valued in Japanese culture and cuisine as a signal of autumn and a nostalgic reminder of the rural bounty of pre-industrial Japan.   Tsing, who teaches anthropology at UC Santa Cruz and at Aarhus University in Denmark, is part of a network of thinkers who are forging new ways to write about human interactions with nature.  Like the South American anthropologists associated with Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, the Santa Cruz cohort centered around Donna Hathaway have built a framework that allows the conversation between humans and non-humans in making landscapes and worlds to be taken seriously in academia.  This is one step to making such thinking possible in the wider culture, rather than marginalized as the ravings of women and mystics  or backwardness of indigenous people and cultures.  Tsingʻs book, which has won numerous awards, is a lively and personal account of the people who interact with the matsutake mushroom, whether immigrant Lao or Mien mushroom foragers in the regrowth forests of Oregon, Yunnanese middlemen who use traditional ethnic ties to construct a supply chain, or the Japanese customers who relish the mushroom resonance with rural ways of life.  Tsingʻs  project is a study of the Anthropocene and “The Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet” (the title of her more recent edited volume) and the kind of “arts of noticing” and  thinking that she champions as so urgently necessary to  change the way we think about and relate to our world.

Against Complacency: the fierce voice of Patrick Noble

We don’t need more renewable energy to power how we live, but to change how we live so we don’t need that power.  –  Patrick Noble, https://convivialeconomy.com

There are some writers on the internet that get thousands of clicks and hundreds of comments every week.  Generally these writers work hard to build their online community of readers.   Their art is that of building a common language.

There are others who don’t have the knack or interest in building their readership.   I suspect they are the kind of artist that is fascinated by something on the horizon, something that is not readily visible, and even less readily conveyable.  Their art is that of illumination and discovery. Continue reading “Against Complacency: the fierce voice of Patrick Noble”

Economics, Traveling & Brian Davey’s Credo

“Sharing the same motivations and rules of the self interest game created a common orientation and thus a common operating system for economic actors to participate in.”  Brian Davey, Credo, 9. 

For a few days I’ve been sleeping in airplanes and hotel rooms.  There is nothing in a hotel room that tells you about life.  There is a bed, a TV, and some electrical outlets.  The closest thing to life is the water piped in, and the view if there is one.  Everything non-human has been disappeared except as it appears on the breakfast, lunch or dinner plate.  “There is no there there,” as Gertrude Stein once said so famously of Oakland, (By which she meant the place that she had known had been disappeared).  What does it mean to live in a place which is no place, an abstraction made concrete (and of concrete),  a place where appetite is untethered from its context and therefore unlimited in scope and blind ferocity?

These are the places we made in the name of a certain kind of pantheon of economic Gods – in the name of Efficiency and Innovation and Growth and Jobs.  These are the names of the orthodoxy now.   It is difficult to argue with the gods.  It always has been.  These are the places that we make under the influence of our gods – hotel rooms, office buildings, airports.  They represent the ideals of our civilization.  They are clean to the point of sterility, air-conditioned,  anonymous, secure, profitable.  These, it seems, is the realm we make when the rules of the game are determined by the lowest common denominator of humanity: unmitigated self-interest. We make places that are stripped of all life and love of life.  We make places that are cold, efficient, and impersonal.  We make places that reproduce our lowest common denominator – our blind self-interest, our infinite appetite.

As I am traveling in this world of placeless hotel rooms, the  DJ Avicii, a mere boy in his 20’s but a superstar of the Electronic Dance Music scene, is dying of a drug overdose in another hotel room in Muscat, Oman.  It is a lethal world, this world, even for those who are its “winners,” and infinitely more so for the “losers.”

Why am I traveling in the karmic realm (avicii) of hotel rooms and airports?  To protect its opposite paradoxically enough.  Brian Davey’s speaks of such places:

“People living in human communities situated in specific biological communities (eco-systems) may come, over time, to recognise that the eco-system in which they live has a “balance level” of health. This is is not the same as what economists understand by equilibrium but a dynamic negotiation between the different elements beyond which “tipping points” occur and the system slips into a different state altogether. The sense of responsibility for the maintenance of a place and the way of life embodies and embeds a recognition of the need to stay back from these ecological tipping points. This is based on a keen appreciation of the needs of the whole human community, as well as the need to maintain balance in the community of species of which it is a part (the eco-system).”  Davey, 32.

What if we thought about economics in terms of looking at the whole picture of life on Earth?  What if we let economics be about our better selves – the selves that love and nurture our children without pay, that serve as volunteers in our communities, that feel  and act on our connection to the environment?  What if we advocated for a kind of economics that saw the whole picture of what it means to be alive instead of the current definition that has us fighting over scarce resources, selling ourselves to the highest bidder, bull-dozing “empty” land to make into hotel-rooms, and sacrificing our health and happiness in the name of success?

This is all to say that I am reading Brian Davey’s book Credo (available for free online) where he advocates for just such another kind of economics, and that it’s worth checking out, as well as the website for FEASTA  of which Davey is a frequent contributor.

Also here’s a picture of some lovely snowdrops – which I had never seen before – at Jody’s house.  Amazingly beautiful little things!

Pastoralist Propaganda

Of late, I’ve been under the spell of the Mongolian film-maker Byambasuren Davaa.  She has made three movies: The Story of the Weeping Camel, The Cave of the Yellow Dog, and The Two Horses of Genghis Khan (Das Lied von den Zwei Pferden).  I’ve only seen the first two of Byambasuren’s movies, the last was not released in the US.  Her movies are a fascinating blend of fiction and documentary; the actors, humans and non-human, are themselves, they don’t even play themselves, they live their own lives but there is a movie camera and a story that they act in.  Sometimes they think of the camera for a split second, as real people would do Continue reading “Pastoralist Propaganda”

Monbiot and how humans still don’t know who we are

George Monbiot, the acclaimed British writer, recently wrote a review of the book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change in which he points out the many disturbing social, political, and economic trends that seem to be making us less able to deal with climate change than more so. But there is a way out, he says: “Over the past few years, there has been a convergence of findings in different sciences: psychology, anthropology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. Research in all these fields points to the same conclusion: that human beings are, in the words of an article in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, “spectacularly unusual when compared to other animals”. This refers to our astonishing degree of altruism. We possess an unparalleled sensitivity to the needs of others, a unique level of concern about their welfare, and a peerless ability to create moral norms that generalise and enforce these tendencies.” https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/sep/09/george-monbiot-how-de-we-get-out-of-this-mess

Now George Monbiot is a good, trying kind of person, very urbane and a fine writer, but it amazes me how he (and we in general) constantly have to pat ourselves on the back about how amazing we are. We have being doing this obsessively since the Renaissance. Can we not give it a rest already? Are are so insecure that we constantly have to pump ourselves up?

I don’t know what kind of experiments led to these findings of our extreme specialness but I can just about guarantee that they were all designed with human capacities in mind. We don’t know enough about the emotional life of other animals to begin to measure their altruism. In my experience most cows are kinder to each other than most humans. But we can barely see them as emotional beings. And this is a problem, because if we can only see ourselves we can’t see the inherent value of non-human beings.

Monbiot goes on to talk about how the way out of our downward spiral is to rebuild community and connection, and I am not arguing with that at all. Rebuilding local communities and social connections among humans is critical, but in order for it to really work we need to see beyond the purely human realm into the life of the places where we live, and all of the non-human lives that are an inherent and necessary part of those places.