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Here’s a hypothesis:

If the human community exists in some more or less unified form in 880 years (in the year 3000 by our calendar), that feat will have been accomplished, at least in part, in and through the emergence of an ecological religion.

What does this mean, and how could we test it?

Religion, defined anthropologically, is something like a system of symbols — encompassing creed (beliefs, tenets, and ideas about humans and the larger universe), code (deeply held values, ethical and behavioral norms), and cult (practices, rituals, and actions regularized into observable and repeatable patterns) — by which people, in a more or less structured community, actively locate themselves in a world of power, meaning, and value that transcends yet includes them. For simplicity’s sake, let’s consider these five things essential to “religion”: creed, code, cult, community, and transcendence.

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As people around the world prepare for Global Climate Strike Week (Sept. 20-27) and for the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City on Sept. 23, here are some thoughts and sources to help us think about what’s at stake, what’s possible, and what we can do. This blog may be updated as needed, so please revisit it periodically.

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So, here we are…

Wow, what a reaction the article described here has gotten… This version includes a follow-up comment below.

Jonathan Franzen’s “What If We Stopped Pretending?” articulates an important point about hope and hopelessness in the face of climate change.

Franzen suggests that an “all-out war on climate change” no longer makes sense because the scenario for overcoming climate change — and with it the catastrophes of massive dislocation and ecological as well as civilizational breakdown — relies on too many unlikely conditions being met: “that every one of the world’s major polluting countries institute draconian conservation measures, shut down much of its energy and transportation infrastructure, and completely retool its economy”; that the actions taken must happen “not only in every country but throughout every country” (in New York and in Texas); that the actions “be the right ones”; that “overwhelming numbers of human beings, including millions of government-hating Americans, need to accept high taxes and severe curtailment of their familiar life styles without revolting.” In other words, no more of Bush the Elder’s “The American way of life is not negotiable” (let alone of the quantum leaps backward taken by his Republican descendants since that statement of his at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit).

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Sobering up…

Peter Brannen’s Atlantic article “The Anthropocene is a Joke” provides a helpful cold shower for those who’ve gotten a little too drunk on the concept of the Anthropocene.

The entire article is worth reading. Here are a few snippets:

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I keep trying to rephrase the second piece of the “double insight” — or two ontological “twists” — around which the philosophical argument of Shadowing the Anthropocene (and Ecologies of the Moving Image) is woven.

The first insight is the process-relational one, which is at the core of both A. N. Whitehead’s metaphysics and many variations of Buddhism (in its idea of pratitya-samutpada). That one is easier to grasp, once you have some familiarity with either of those formulations. It has to do with the processual and relational nature of every event that makes up the universe.

The second is the semiotic insight. It is at the core of one of the two source traditions underlying the contemporary field of semiotics: the Peircian one. (The other one, Saussurian linguistics, should be set aside for our purposes, as it is unrelated and somewhat tangential in its goals.) What follows is another attempt to elucidate this second insight. Continue Reading »

A Guardian article making the rounds on social media argues that the mindfulness movement has become “the new capitalist spirituality” — “magical thinking on steroids,” which instead of overturning the “neoliberal order,” now “only serves to reinforce its destructive logic.”

This “McMindfulness,” as Ronald Purser calls it, has been “stripped of the teachings on ethics that accompanied it, as well as the liberating aim of dissolving attachment to a false sense of self while enacting compassion for all other beings.” So instead of “discussing how attention is monetised and manipulated by corporations such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Apple,” mindfulness advocates “locate the crisis in our minds.” As a result, any “potential for social or political transformation” is “neutered” with practitioners simply improving their ability to cope with “the toxic conditions that make them stressed in the first place,” while leaving those conditions intact and, in fact, strengthened.

None of this is a new argument — it’s been made repeatedly by scholars of religion, including Buddhists (Purser among them), as well as by social critics like Slavoj Zizek. But I want to consider it further, if only because I dedicate one third of Shadowing the Anthropocene to introducing a complete system of mindfulness practice. How does that form of mindfulness — or bodymindfulness, as Shadowing calls it — differ from the “McMindfulness” Purser and others criticize? I’ll try to explain that here.

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I originally presented a “primer” to process-relational philosophy on this blog back in 2010. A substantially updated version of it is part of my book, Shadowing the Anthropocene. Here it is as a stand-alone, 10-page PDF file.

This announcement is long past due… It’s for the new, open access, peer-reviewed international journal that I am co-editing with Alenda Chang and Janet Walker, through the University of California Press. It includes a call for submissions for two special issue “streams”: “Disaster Media” and “Mediating Art & Science.”

Media+Environment is an open access, online, peer-reviewed journal of transnational and interdisciplinary ecomedia research. The journal seeks to foster dialogue within a fast-growing global community of researchers and creators working to understand and address the myriad ways that media and environments affect, inhabit, and constitute one another. Founded on the premise that media and environment is a crucial conjunction for our time, the journal encourages both traditional and multimodal forms of scholarship. Read more here

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As agreed to with my publisher (Punctum), the e-book version of Shadowing the Anthropocene: Eco-Realism for Turbulent Times is now available for free download (or pay what you can). To celebrate this, I’m sharing a couple of snippets from the book here.

As related in my Reader’s Guide, the book consists of three sections: first, an introduction to process-relational ontology (in general, and in the specific version I develop); second, an application of that ontology to understanding the possibilities for genuine action in the moment (any and every moment); and third, an application of it to the images and meanings that make up our increasingly post-secular, global, “iconoclashic,” and culturally and ecologically challenged world.

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I’ve been posting about the Ukrainian presidential runoff elections over at UKR-TAZ, the blog I established in the wake of the 2014 Maidan revolution. (See Four theses on Ukrainian politics and Politics as reality-FB.) The gist of my comments is relevant to the study of social media’s impacts on political and cultural change in general, so I’ll summarize them here.

My four theses were fairly straightforward: (1) that, in electing as its president Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian and actor who plays the president on television, Ukraine would overtake all rivals in the race to equate politics with reality-TV, (2) that Ukrainians are more savvy than most about their politicians, (3) that for a political system dominated by oligarchic interests, Ukraine’s is surprisingly pluralistic, and (4) that as with all oligarchic or plutocratic “democracies,” this pluralism is restricted to issues that don’t threaten the overriding interests of the oligarchic class.

I added a concluding sentence about why I wasn’t fretting too much about the electoral decision, unlike some (but not all) of my Ukrainian friends and colleagues. My follow-up post goes into a little more detail about this. It reads, in part:

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Like many, I’ve been finding it difficult not to feel an upwelling of anxiety as the scope and scale of the climate emergency has become more and more obvious, as Trump-style political (non-)responses — precisely the kinds of responses that will only make things much worse — have scaled themselves up around the world, and as new forms of political manipulation have been enabled via social media and other technologies, all of which inscribe the most serious cause of the problems — wealth inequality and the interest vested in maintaining it — ever deeper into the matrix of human options. To the extent that there is so much to be gained from maintaining the status quo (or lost from challenging it), to that extent will things continue to get worse. And if keeping up with all these developments seems so difficult, responding to them adequately has seemed almost impossible.

Movements and initiatives like Extinction Rebellion provide glimmers of hope on the possibility of mobilization — the next week and a half (Earth Week) is a particularly active time for them (see here on how you can join a local initiative).

At the same time, the sense of imminent crisis and urgency in all such activism carries an affective thrust that doesn’t necessarily model a healthy and “sustainable” mode of activity. (Amanda Lynch and Siri Veland deal with this to some extent in their recent book, Urgency in the Anthropocene.) The sense that there is so much to do right now — that we should be out in the streets rioting, waving our flags, poking our cameras into politicians’ faces, and constantly delivering monologues (so as to break into the 24-hour news cycle, to keep our opponents on their toes, and to keep ourselves from losing momentum) — all of that can contribute to the sense of heightened anxiety.

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It’s nice to see archdruid John Michael Greer’s proposal for a “Pleistocene-Neocene transition” get a little traction in the science press — specifically, in a Science Alert article by psychologist Matthew Adams.

Greer, whose writings on religion and ecology are respectably out-of-the-box, advocates against the Anthropocene label on the basis that a geological epoch — which is what the “cenes” refer to (from the Paleocene and Eocene to the Pleistocene and Holocene) — typically takes millions of years to establish itself. By that standard, the “Anthropocene” can only be based on the fantasy “that what our civilization is doing just now is going to keep on long enough to fill a geological epoch.” (The Holocene is only about 12,000 years old, so it’s debatable whether it even qualifies as an epoch.)

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