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This post continues the ethical and political thinking I have shared in some of my eco-theoretical manifestos and asketological writings (including parts of Shadowing the Anthropocene). Its interest in ‘non-fascist life’ takes its lead from critical analysts of fascism including Wilhelm Reich, Erich Fromm, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, and more recent writers like Natasha Lennard. This proposal has two parts, whose intersection I hope to merely suggest here.

1. Non-fascism

Fascism has been defined in many ways. Here I will define it psychologically, as the desire to submit to authoritarian power that would defeat and destroy feared otherness.

Something has been rejected, displaced, and demonized. It is a form of ‘otherness’ that could be racial, sexual, religious, national, ethnic, or some combination of these and/or others. It is perceived as profoundly and historically threatening to oneself and one’s community. It must be overcome. This can only be done by an authority, a constructed power, that requires submission. The fascist psyche is the one that willingly and eagerly submits to such authority.

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Research on the usefulness of psychedelics for treating depression, anxiety, addiction, and post-traumatic stress has been growing steadily. (See here, here, here, and here for glimpses of it, and To the Best of Our Knowledge‘s recent exploration of it for a fascinating in-depth look at the topic.) I’d like to extrapolate from that research for thinking about ecocultural and climate trauma.

The recent New York Times Sunday Opinion cover piece “Taking the Magic Out of Magic Mushrooms” captures a debate brewing for years now between researchers who believe that the experiential effects of taking psychedelics — personally challenging and transformative experiences turned into life-shaping narratives — are central to their healing effects, and those who believe those experiences can be removed and the effects retained.

We could call these two camps the “experientialists” and the “biomedicalists.” For the former, any kind of pill that “rewires” the brain but does not involve some sort of memorable and transformative experience (like this one) is treating symptoms rather than causes. For the latter, the experiences are incidental by-products of what’s really going on, which is neurological, not experiential.

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On the Ecocene, the Chthulucene, the Ecozoic, and other Holocene successor terms

The term “Anthropocene” has come to be accepted among many intellectuals as the best, or perhaps least worst, name for the geological present, when human activities have come to dominate the planet. It’s still debated among geologists, with “Holocene” or “Late Holocene” preferred by many (and left-leaning social scientists preferring Capitalocene, Technocene, or one of a series of others). But among humanists and popular writers concerned with environmental issues, the verdict can sometimes look as if it’s already in and the Anthropocene is here to stay.

The term’s valence is sometimes taken to be negative (“What a mess we’ve made of things!”), sometimes positive (“We are as gods,” as Stewart Brand has said, and may as well start acting like it), and most frequently a mix of the two (we’ve “ended nature” and are, for better or worse, in control of the wreckage). It rarely carries any assurance that things will continue indefinitely in the way they are going now. And its critics, by now, are legion.

The more optimistic among us like to speculate about a future that does better than the present.

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While it’s easy to overuse the term “ecofascism,” applying it to things that don’t necessarily deserve it (the debate might be a little like the one I’ve been following over whether Putinist Russia qualifies as fascist), it’s important for anyone involved in environmental issues to have a sense of where the term does apply and how it reflects a longer tradition.

Anti-fascist theorist Shane Burley has produced a bibliography, shared on Twitter, that presents a solid and up-to-date starting point for getting this background (even if a few of its sources do occasionally overreach).

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When your life takes you places. Or, on localism and the ambivalence of the green mobile intellectual

One of the paradoxes of environmental scholarship is that, for obvious reasons, many of us favor localism over globalism, community solutions over international policy crafting (though we obviously recognize the need for the latter), and living-in-place over a life spent on screens and in airports. Yet we work within an intellectual community that is effectively global — scholarly networks are that by their nature — and that beckons us to be that way in our daily lives, and not just in the background of our (never only) 9-to-5 professional interactions.

Living in northern Vermont (in Burlington over the long run, but partially and currently in the northeast Vermont town of Greensboro for personal/family reasons and because our permanent home is rented out), my family and I engage a lot with the lives around us, human and nonhuman. Most environmentalists would say that this is absolutely as it should be.

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The Immanent Frame, the Social Science Research Council’s forum on religion, secularism, and the public sphere, is in the midst of publishing a series of responses to David Graeber’s and David Wengrow’s The Dawn of Everything. My contribution, entitled “The Dawn of Everything Good?“, appeared last week. The series can be read here. The following comments build on those I’ve written there, so it’s recommended (though not essential) that you read those first.

The dawn of what, precisely?

One of the things I find interesting about The Dawn of Everything is that it’s never exactly clear what Graeber and Wengrow (henceforth, “G & W”) mean by their title. Do they intend their book to be the ultimate tell-all about the origins of everything? They claim that this isn’t what they’re doing, but those claims don’t always ring true. Or is it a reference to theories of “the dawn of everything,” including some of the very theories (or paradigms, really) that they critique? In that case the title should be accompanied by a question mark (“The Dawn of Everything?“). Or could it be a reference to their own hopes for the present moment — or for any moment (processual thinkers that they are) — that we have options we can choose from today that would make tomorrow a better day, less encumbered by trajectories inherited from the past?

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Here, for instance, in Brazil’s Parque Nacional da Chapada dos Veadeiros?

Zach St. George’s New York Times article “Can Planting a Trillion New Trees Save the World?” is an excellent overview of the reality of tree planting versus the ideal of it.

Among the reality-checks:

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I’ve sometimes imagined

I would throw a big party when I turn sixty, the kind of party I used to throw in my twenties, when there was plenty to celebrate and plenty of people to celebrate with. (One of those was the ‘End of the World party’, which tells you the kinds of things we celebrated back in the 1980s.)

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I’ve been quarantining, more or less, since I brought Covid back with me from Switzerland. (Conferences in Europe these days seem to be very efficient super-spreaders). It’s Day 17 now, with symptoms and positivity having returned last week after a few days of feeling fine and testing negative. Like Edward Gorey’s doubtful guest, this one seems reluctant to pack up its bags and leave.

But thanks to a wonderful uncle-and-aunt-in-law’s cabin, I am currently enjoying the festival around me, which that great anti-capitalist monk Thomas Merton described this way in “Rain and the Rhinoceros“:

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Klimat

I’ve just posted a piece called “Understanding Russia” over at UKR-TAZ, in which I look at some proximate and deeper causes of continued Russian support for the invasion of Ukraine. It’s mainly a review of some recent literature.

The part that may be of greatest interest to readers of Immanence is the concluding section, in which I discuss Sophie Pinkham’s review of Thane Gustafson’s recent book Klimat: Russia in the Age of Climate Change. Gustafson discusses Russia’s economic over-reliance on oil and gas, and its dismal economic prospects in the long term. As Pinkham puts it,

Russia is warming 2.5 times as fast as the world on average, and the Arctic is warming even faster. The cliché, avidly promoted by Moscow, is that the country will be a relative winner in climate change, benefiting from a melting and accessible Arctic shipping route, longer growing seasons, and the expansion of farmland into newly thawed areas. Gustafson counters, with a dry but persuasive marshaling of facts, that in the redistribution of wealth and power that will result from climate change, Russia is doomed. After reading Klimat, Russia’s attack on Ukraine begins to look like the convulsion of a dying state.

In my analysis, Russia is not an isolated case of a country that has deviated from some international norm. Rather, it is a variant of something we find reflected in many places — in illiberal, authoritarian responses to looming economic insecurity, such as those undergirding Trumpism in the U.S., Orbanism in Hungary, Bolsonarism in Brazil, and shades of Modiism (India), Xiism (China), Brexitism, and many others. And in an increasingly climate-traumatized world, we can not only expect those to continue, but to also seek common cause with each other.

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Big data + authoritarian governance = techno-totalitarianism.

At least that’s the equation we’re most familiar with, and the route that appears to be being laid out in Xi’s China, according to this lengthily researched New York Times piece. (To be fair, the authors only use “techno-authoritarianism,” and the titular and subtitular “-totalitarianism” gloss appears to be the editors’ — which makes me wonder what the authors think of that terminological shift.) The video is worth viewing.

If I was currently teaching a course in media and/or science fiction, the question I would want to raise is whether and how big-data surveillance and analysis technologies might be used for more libertarian and decentralist ends. (We know they are useful for monitoring the state of the Earth, since without them we would hardly know the details of climate change.)

Here’s a group assignment question for that.

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The following post elaborates on some comments I made this week at the Ritual Creativity conference at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. Deep thanks to conference organizers Katri Ratia and François Gauthier for inviting me to what turned out to be an immensely rewarding event, and to my co-panelists Graham Harvey, Sarah Pike, and Susannah Crockford for providing the occasion for these comments. Since this particular line of thinking was resonant among conference participants, I’m sharing it here in an extended form.

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