(This post spun off from the last, where I concluded by noting the increasing amount of debris out in the upper atmosphere. Somehow I couldn’t resist pulling that image into the vortex of ecopolitics and the objects-relations debate, which is carrying on at hyper tiling, Object-Oriented Philosophy, Larval Subjects, and elsewhere.)
Like the tail of a dog who, in his immersed excitedness at any signs of life, notices movement behind himself and lurches back to catch it, humanity’s material ecologies are wagging behind us in various ways: from reports of melting glaciers and impending crashes of the ocean’s fish stocks to images of the Pacific Trash Vortex, space junk accumulating in the atmosphere (anyone remember the rains of space debris on Max Headroom?), the mountains of e-waste accumulating around the world (which, in our future history, take over the terrestrial landscape around the time of Wall-E), and the repositories of toxic and radioactive waste that dot the landscape all around us, though we rarely see or think about them. Sooner or later, the trash will hit the fan, somewhere at least, if not everywhere at once.
Our social ecologies work the same way, with “blowback” to social injustice arriving in the form of terrorism and other forms of political violence. If, as I’ve argued before, it’s better to think in threes than in twos — with our material ecologies (“nature”) and social ecologies (“culture”) supplemented and filled in with mental or perceptual ecologies, the actual interactive dynamics out of which the material and the social, or the “objective” and the “subjective,” continually emerge — then what is blowback in the perceptual dimension?
That’s easy: it’s guilt, bad dreams, and the other affective undercurrents that plague our “unconscious.” These are our responses to the eyes of the world (human and nonhuman). It’s what makes us feel that things aren’t right. It’s the traumatic kernel of the Real, which Lacan (and, somewhat differently, Buddhism) place at the origin of the self, but which in a collective sense is coming back to haunt us globally. (I’ve made the case for a psychoanalytically inspired ecologization of Fredric Jameson’s political symptomatology of culture here and here.)
We misperceive the nature of the world for the same reasons that we misperceive the nature of the self. Every social (and linguistic) order interpellates its members somewhat differently, but, over the course of humanity’s long history, most such orders have incorporated into that process some sense of responsibility to more-than-human entities or processes. In whatever way they were conceived — as spirits or divinities, or in terms of synthetic narrative or conceptual metaphors (life-force, the Way, the path, the four directions, etc.) — these have generally borne a crucial connection to what we now understand as ecology. Modern western capitalism has fragmented these relations, setting us up individually in relation to the products of a seemingly limitless marketplace, but leaving us collectively ecologically rudderless. So even if scientists, the empirical authorities of the day, tell us we’re fouling our habitat, we haven’t really figured out how to respond to that, at least not at the global levels where many of the symptoms occur.