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Manifestos are back in style (if this one, this one, and this one are any indication). Here’s my latest crack at a fairly simple statement of principle.

The lesson of the field of environmental studies, to which I’ve dedicated more than three decades of my life, is that there’s a civilizational task ahead of us.

(When I say “us,” I mean to invoke humanity, fully aware that it’s a category that’s far from unified and settled. What “humanity” might be remains an open question. And when I say “civilizational,” I mean to indicate the immense complexity of ideas and practices that hold together much of the human side of the world as we know it.)

The task is that of instituting two radical and simultaneous shifts, one “external” and one “internal.”

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“Trust your immune system.” One often hears this slogan, or some version of it, from people who are against vaccination. But what does it mean, or what should it mean for an intensely social species like ours, living in a microbiologically fluid and creative environment like Earth’s biosphere?

We can only trust something if we know it to be well functioning. So on the supposition that trusting also means strengthening and maintaining, “trust your immune system” means to treat it as an individual protective shield, a kind of personal atmosphere around the planet of one’s “self,” and to feed it with what it needs — exercise, rest, a diet of nutritious and biotically regulating foods, and the like. In social philosopher Charles Taylor’s words, this individualized immunity represents the “bounded” or “buffered” self, which, as he shows, is the self of modern liberalism.

But this ignores both the biosociality of humanity and the globalizing “anthropocenity” of today’s world, so it is far from enough. Viruses do not respect individuality; they are microbial, and they spread laterally and rapidly across the boundaries of individuality we so treasure. They make individuality porous, not bounded (which, for Taylor, is exactly what religion had traditionally done; see my account in Shadowing the Anthropocene, pp. 164-180, for more on that).

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I often “think out loud” on this blog. That’s been very useful as a way of getting feedback on work in progress; it also forces me to be both honest and careful with my words. The following is being shared in the same spirit: it’s related to teaching and writing in progress, but also to my participation on my university’s (informal) Indigenous people’s working group. It is thinking that’s very much in progress and subject to revision. I hope it contributes to fruitful conversations with others. I anticipate that this will be the first post of two or more, but I offer no promises on when the others may come.

Preamble: self-positioning

I should preface this with two notes: one on the relationship between these issues and the cultural and philosophical themes I more commonly write about on this blog; the other about my limited qualifications for writing about Indigenous issues. Regarding the first, my thinking here is loosely informed by my broader philosophical “project,” but I will leave that relationship for a follow-up post in which I’ll delve into some specific connections to environmental philosophy, poststructuralism, and the cultural politics of identity.

As for the second topic, I am not a scholar of Indigenous studies. I have participated in Indigenous solidarity groups over the years (going back to my activity with a group that solidarized with the traditional chiefs of the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne at a time when that nation turned out to be in a state of deep civil strife; I learned how to remove myself quickly). My research, going back to my Master’s thesis, has often touched on “indigeneity” as a concept, set of discourses, and ideal, both for “wannabe Indians,” environmentalists, and “regular [white] folks,” and for Indigenous people. The research for my doctoral dissertation included interviews with a handful of Indigenous leaders in Canada and the U.S., though only the U.S. part of that made it into the final product and the book that followed. But I claim no expertise, and certainly no Indigenous ancestry, blood, or identity. (Well, there were some efforts to look into what indigeneity may mean in my “ancestral homeland” of Ukraine, but those ended up more of a prompt for deconstructive critique than an ongoing pursuit.)

All that said, my commitments, as I have expressed them over the years, are toward decolonizing, which means, in part, learning to be an ally with Indigenous people in their struggles (with all the fraughtness that entails). And my own personal vision of a viable future is a reindigenized one, by which I mean

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I just sent in my abstract for the Aarhus University conference The Garden and the Dump: Across More-than-Human Entanglements. Other speakers include Tim Morton, Michael Marder, and Chinese science fiction writer Chen Qiufan. The conference, which is open to all, will take place online on September 15 and 16. Further information here. (I like the Bosch imagery, which I’ve also been using in talks and on my FB page recently.)

Here is my abstract:

Event, Time, Trauma: Perambulations in and around the Anthropocenic Zone

The Anthropocene, or the Anthro-Colonial-Capitalocene (ACCene, for short), is not a time so much as it is a Zone, which enfolds and circles around the Hyper-Event of climate trauma. We humans are positioned at various stages in relation to this Event: pre-traumatic (for those who have managed to shelter themselves so far), becoming-traumatic (for those facing loss of shelter and bearings in a readily imaginable future), already-traumatic (for current refugees, both physical and existential), and continuously-post-traumatic (for those for whom this merely continues centuries of world-destroying trauma). How we engage with these layers of the Zone will dictate how successfully we might navigate through it. I propose three temporal paths for engaging this relationship: Chronos, or the time of causal determination (and fatedness to pass); Aion, or the time of imaginative constitution (and fatedness to meaning); and Kairos, or presence to rupture (and fatedness to act).

I’ve created a new page for my trilogy of piano recordings, made between 2006 and sometime in the mid-2010s, which made use of the Yamaha Clavinova’s capacity for altering the piano’s tuning system away from the “equal temperament” westerners (and now the world) have gotten used to, and toward some more interesting sonic terrain. As I write there,

While a piano always remains a piano — its keys are struck to resound in their fixed tonalities, unlike strings (bowed) or wind instruments (blown) which can be bent, pulled, elongated, and woven into tensile braids — the possibility of modifying the tonal relationships of a pianistic keyboard opens up a vast new world. Its harmonies become movable strata, with new rhythms and relationships introduced in their overtone structures. With its timbres become more adjustable as well, a piano can come to resemble something more like a tuneable gamelan orchestra.

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In the interests of improving the archivability, searchability, and general user-friendliness of this blog, I’ve changed some of the “Categories” and added several more to the list. (If you’ve been a subscriber to any of them, you may need to resubscribe under the changed label.)

Quick explanation: “Categories,” which are listed at the top of the sidebar on your right, classify blog posts into topics. These can be read in isolation from others, more easily searched, and subscribed to individually. So, for instance, if you are most interested in reading what’s been published here on the topics of climate change, media, and debates over the Anthropocene, but couldn’t care less about philosophy, politics, music, or film and cinema, you could subscribe to the “Anthropocene,” “Climate politics,” and “Media ecology” categories. To subscribe to individual categories, go to “Subscribe2” in the right-hand sidebar. Or you could of course just visit periodically, click on the categories you’re interested in, and scroll through what you’ve been missing.

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Anyone following the news on UFOs, or UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) — news that may be hard to miss, since the New York Times, The New Yorker, 60 Minutes, CNN, and most other major media have covered it in recent months — knows that an important government report is about to be released. (What’s more interesting is that science media are reporting on it, too.) Here are a few thoughts in anticipation of that report.

Many things are reported and believed to exist, which remain scientifically unsupported: ghosts, poltergeists, encounters with spiritual beings, experiences that appear to cross or at least blur the boundaries between life and death, sightings of creatures unknown to science (Nessies and sasquatches and the like), and so on. Reports of UFOs, or as they’re now sometimes called, UAP (unidentified aerial phenomena), tend to fall into this same grab-bag. A social scientist might consider them to be part of the unformatted “plasma” of reality that may be “out there,” but remains scientifically unmapped, unclaimed, and “untamed”; which means that we’re not sure which reality bin to slot them into — material, fantastical, fictional, folkloric, or some other kind. Evidence of personal and collective human encounters with all of those things is plentiful; there just isn’t a coherent and credible scientific theory to account for them.

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Buddhism has its “Two Truths” and its “Three Truths“: the “Two” were made famous by Indian philosopher Nagarjuna; the “Three” a little less famous by Chinese philosopher Zhiyi. About a year ago, I offered up four perspectives on mortality, and here I want to make the case that they could be seen as a kind of “Four Truths” formula — in effect, the four suits in the card deck of reality (a card deck that remains, however, triadic). Let me explain.

On one level, an individual life is a precious and remarkable thing, especially if you’re fortunate enough to live a full one. How you live it matters.

On another, we are of the same substance as all things in the universe, continuous with everything. We just happen to find ourselves at a particular fold in the fabric, but that fabric unfolds on its own and there won’t be much of us around when (and where) most of that unfolding happens.

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Those interested in the Anthropo(S)cene thread (technically, a “category”) of this blog may be interested in the call for proposals for a special issue of Radical History Review on Alternatives to the Anthropocene. (Hat tip to Jeremy Schmidt at The Anthropo.Scene.) The call reads, in part:

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When we look back at this time a few decades hence, what changes will we take the pandemic of 2020-21 to have ushered in? How will it have transformed work, recreation, travel and transportation, food, politics, and everything else? The following are some initial thoughts toward a hopeful eco-justice based perspective on how the world might have begun changing.

Despite the expectation of an impending return to normalcy, many observers are recognizing that the post-Covid world will be in some ways very different from what came before. Judging by the spate of recent prognostications (for instance, here, here, here, and here), it will be less open and global, more multipolar, and probably more unstable; less growth obsessed, and more cautious and conservative in its expectations; less individualist and more collectivist, more concerned with security and with local resourcefulness; but also more virtual.

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To say that Billie Eilish’s “Your Power” video is intended to get under your skin (as many online commenters have suggested) is understating things.

First, there the topic of the song itself (which I won’t comment on). Then there’s the interspecies intimacy (which I also won’t comment on, except to say, I can’t imagine doing this myself).

Then there’s the video itself, but here I’ll issue a spoiler alert and just say: watch the video, from start to finish. Watch it full-screen. Pretend you are the camera. What are you feeling? What are you doing?

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Two new publications — one in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the other in The Atlantic — help make a point that critics of the “Anthropocene” (the name, not the geological designation) have been making for years: that it’s not humanity that is somehow at fault for the ecological crisis, since many human societies over millennia have learned how to live more or less sustainably within their environments, and that those who have deserve more recognition for it, recognition that could and probably should include some measure of land repatriation. I’m referring, of course, to indigenous societies.

The PNAS article, co-authored by Erle Ellis and 17 other environmental and Earth systems scientists, anthropologists, and archaeologists, demonstrates, as its title puts it, that “People have shaped most of terrestrial nature for at least 12,000 years.” This long history of “shaping” “nature” suggests a much more blurred continuum between “nature” and “culture” than was taken for granted until recently. The authors speak freely of “cultural natures,” the “global history of anthropogenic nature,” and of “anthromes” (or anthropogenic biomes) in a way that recalls the “nature wars” of the 1990s, when environmental humanists like Bill Cronon were chided by ecologists for disrespecting the boundary between culture and wilderness — except that now it’s scientists in PNAS who are doing that with hard scientific facts (rather than deconstructionist arguments) at their disposal.

The authors write:

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On the fifty-first Earth Day (this past Thursday), two of my classes premiered a virtual exhibition of environmentally themed art. Called “Intimations: Eco-Artistic Glimpses Through the Fog of an Unwinding Pandemic,” the exhibition features several dozen works in a multitude of media including paintings and drawings, digital images, collages, narrative poetry and haiku, 3-D works (displayed in 2-D, but sometimes creatively), and audio and video pieces. (I recommend giving the videos their full viewing time, with the sound turned up.)

The exhibition is co-hosted by the undergraduate “Environmental Literature, Arts, and Media” class, the undergraduate/graduate “Advanced Environmental Humanities” class, and EcoCultureLab. (Note that with one or two exceptions, the students are not studio art students; almost all are Environmental Studies majors. Some are being challenged to “make art” for the first time in their university career.)

You can view the walk-through exhibition here or start from the launch page, then return to it after viewing the exhibition so that you can vote for your favorite artworks and provide any other comments you may have. The exhibition will be up for at least a few weeks. We plan to announce the “People’s Choice” awards on May 1, so vote before then.

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