These are the notes from our March 27 class discussion (taken by KL, with a few minor additions by AI). The discussion focused on chapters 3-5 of Clark’s Inhuman Nature. Next we will move to Donna Haraway and geology (details TBA).
Chapter 3 discusses Naomi Klein’s use of the tsunami example to depict a leverage point where corporations can come in, land-grab, and pursue their capitalistic ventures. In-class examples: Sri Lanka and Detroit; these places are viewed as opportunities for “advancement” and less focused on social issues, and developing community. When market forces take-over, socially responsible groups and voters lose power and agency.
Clark’s response to Klein is: “Yes, and…” He adds more to the story. There is an asymmetry betweens humans and nature. Why subject these critiques to bracketed discussions, when there are many players involved. Clark uses Levinas, a Jewish ethicist that focused on human relationships, to probe beyond “otherness.” The tsunami and other disasters can provide leverage points for bad, but can also make way for positive relationships and community building.
Questions: How idealistic is Clark as he recognizes Klein’s argument, but also presents a positive spin? Is the role of the outsider to critique the injustices of disasters or to highlight the positive repercussions? These aspects can complement each other and don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Is Clark’s approach a gentle-realist one given that in future chapters he focuses on the dooms-day reality of impending future disasters? What would it look like for an experience with disaster to lead to an embracing of inhuman nature? Social connection is easier to accept than the “loss of ground,” that is characterized by disaster. We live in a world where we can always be crushed; always be destroyed. How do you trust nature?
Thomas Ligotti’s argument is that we carve our own lives on the remnants of God’s corpse. What do we do with all the nothingness? Clark asks: must that awareness lead to despair? Judaic ethics say that we must come together and help each other within this nothingness to create meaning.
We seem to be circling around Kantian ideas. Kant was fully aware about the vulnerability of human existence. The reason we need to build up human subjectivity to nature is that nature is unreliable. The Lisbon earthquake was the beginning of this subjectivity. The Holocaust and world wars were self-created and back up this argument.
We can think of nature as a placeholder for our bodies. Descartes and others promoted a masculine, mind-over-body approach so we can move away from nature. However, nature is inescapable, as is disaster. Disaster might be seen as a gift versus making the best of a situation. Responsiveness can manifest in different ways. The responsiveness itself becomes in effect a “potlatch” and an on-going gift giving event manifesting positive repercussions.
Disasters can be caused by nature and/or by people. This creates a dichotomy between the enemy being external and the enemy being “us.”
Lingis is all about relationships. For Levinas, it’s specifically about relationships to and with others. We are vulnerable as a species, but at the same time we have an opportunity to engage with everything. Levinas is criticized for his propensity for the exoticism of otherness. However, it could be said that this is part of his strategy to celebrate everything, including the unknown.
Atavism: Within us there are these dormant triggers, but when we enter into new ways of engagement these things can be activated. Disasters can serve as an opportunity to engage in mutual aid. The disaster functions as an activator for those triggers.
We have the leisure to think about these options because we are not forced to make immediate decisions because there is no immediate threat. We don’t have a global community to develop resolve and make pre-emptive decisions, but maybe we should. It would be helpful to prepare ourselves both with policy and philosophy. “We can see the flood coming and our just letting it come.” Information isn’t lacking; it’s resolve.
Temporality also comes into play. We don’t experience climate change on an everyday level. What is lacking is a sensory apparatus that can take the information from scientists and apply it to everyday life. We need to build an actor-network that would allow for translation between these: e.g., via public communication of science, individual decision-making, political process, etc.
For example, “The Day After Tomorrow” is a hokey movie, but renders an a visually/viscerally understandable message of the consequences of rapid climate change (“tipping points”). The popular media can play a role in dissemination of ideas. Is there a precedent for knowledge being dispersed quickly? Chernobyl example – repressed information by USSR, but coverage got out and got out fast. The GMO debate is another example as something that has brought many Americans together. What about a global consciousness? One theory is that we will only come together as a unified force when the meteor is heading toward earth; i.e. at the last possible moment.
What do we do when change is gradual? Especially when looking at different time scales, e.g. the deep future, and the past before humans. Multiple temporalities have to be taken into account. Subjectivity doesn’t matter when zooming out. How bad do things have to be to make change? Let’s not slow down the process; acceleration of issues will accelerate response.
Our tools are not up for the tasks. Religion is probably one of the largest motivators we have for change, but how do you harness that leverage point? What we need in these climate debates is cultural understandings of climate, and an ongoing definition of self and surrounding, environment and peoples.
So where do we go next with our exploration of the anthropocene and surrounding issues? Continue Clark? Karen Barad? Haraway? Latour? Read parts of the 6th extinction by Elizabeth Colbert? Claire Colebrook? TBD…
Follow-up (AI): we will all try to watch the lecture part (can skip intro and Q & A) of Donna Haraway’s talk “SF: String Figures, Multispecies Muddles, Staying with the Trouble.” Haraway begins speaking at about the 12-minute mark. (Note: there is an earlier version of the talk from the U of Arizona; Haraway starts at @ 8’30″. I haven’t compared the two — if anyone would like to do that and report back, you can let us know which is better. But the Alberta talk is more recent.)
Reading for next week TBA. Stay tuned.