reading notes from Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence, Timothy Morton.
Very well, says the hesitant humanist. Anthropocene may not be colonialist or racist, but surely it must be a blatant example of speciesism? Isn't the term claiming that humans are special and different, unique in having created it? Humans and not dolphins invented steam engines and drilled for oil. But this isn't a sufficient reason to suppose them special. Etymology notwithstanding, species and specialness are extremely different. Just ask Darwin. Unfortunately he had no recourse to emoticons, for if his masterwork's title had contained a wink emoticon at its end, he could have said it succinctly: there are no species—and yet there are species! And they have no origin—and yet they do! A human is made up of nonhuman components and is directly related to nonhumans. Lungs are evolved swim bladders. Yet a human is not a fish.32 A swim bladder, from which lungs derive, is not a lung in waiting. There is nothing remotely lunglike about it.33 Let alone my bacterial microbiome: there are more bacteria in “me” than “human” components. A lifeform is what Derrida calls arrivant or what I call strange stranger: it is itself yet uncannily not itself at the same[…]
If you have some hesitation or difficulty proving that humans imagine, that's fantastic. It means that you have accepted modern science, which means you have accepted modern philosophy since the start of the Anthropocene. And if you try not to collapse the hesitation, like the hesitation of an ant on a tiny ladder, that's even better. It means you have accepted the deep reason for the validity of modern science and philosophy. You have not collapsed the wonderment. You have become scientific, but not scientistic. You are refusing to pounce on things with metaphysics. You are beginning the difficult upgrade of concepts such as person and thing and species so essential to human thought in an ecological age, and indeed so essential for the continued existence of lifeforms. You are beginning to think at Earth magnitude.
Wicked problems have uncertain boundaries because they are always symptoms of other problems. Global warming is a symptom of industrialization, and industrialization is a symptom of massively accelerated agriculture. Of what is this acceleration a symptom? We could say that it was capitalism, but that would be circular: accelerating agriculture and subsequent industrialization are symptoms of capitalism, not to mention existing forms of communism. So we are looking for the problem of which these things are symptoms. What is it? Why, if so influential, is it so hard to point to? Agrilogistics. Two reasons: it is everywhere and it is taboo to mention it. You could be labeled a primitivist even for bringing it up.
Three philosophical axioms provide the logical structure of agrilogistics: (1) The Law of Noncontradiction is inviolable. (2) Existing means being constantly present. (3) Existing is always better than any quality of existing.
A twelve-thousand-year structure, a structure that seems so real we call it Nature. The slowest and perhaps most effective weapon of mass destruction yet devised.
What is dark ecology?4 It is ecological awareness, dark-depressing. Yet ecological awareness is also dark-uncanny. And strangely it is dark-sweet. Nihilism is always number one in the charts these days. We usually don't get past the first darkness, and that's if we even care. In this book we are going to try to get to the third darkness, the sweet one, through the second darkness, the uncanny one. Do not be afraid.
What thinks dark ecology? Ecognosis, a riddle. Ecognosis is like knowing, but more like letting be known. It is something like coexisting. It is like becoming accustomed to something strange, yet it is also becoming accustomed to strangeness that doesn't become less strange through acclimation. Ecognosis is like a knowing that knows itself. Knowing in a loop—a weird knowing.
Weird weirdness. Ecological awareness is weird: it has a twisted, looping form. Since there is no limit to the scope of ecological beings (biosphere, solar system), we can infer that all things have a loop form. Ecological awareness is a loop because human interference has a loop form, because ecological and biological systems are loops. And ultimately this is because to exist at all is to assume the form of a loop. The loop form of beings means we live in a universe of finitude and fragility, a world in which objects are suffused with and surrounded by mysterious hermeneutical clouds of unknowing. It means that the politics of coexistence are always contingent, brittle, and flawed, so that in the thinking of interdependence at least one being must be missing. Ecognostic jigsaws are never complete.
The Anthropocene binds together human history and geological time in a strange loop, weirdly weird. Consider how personal this can get.
There you are, turning the ignition of your car. And it creeps up on you. You are a member of a massively distributed thing. This thing is called species. Yet the difference between the weirdness of my ignition key twist and the weirdness of being a member of the human species is itself weird. Every time I start my car or steam engine I don't mean to harm Earth, let alone cause the Sixth Mass Extinction Event in the four-and-a-half billion-year history of life on this planet.16 (Disturbingly, the most severe extinction so far in Earth history, the End-Permian Extinction, was very likely caused by global warming.)17 Furthermore, I'm not harming Earth! My key turning is statistically meaningless. In an individual sense this turn isn't weird at all.
But go up a level and something very strange happens. When I scale up these actions to include billions of key turnings and billions of coal shovelings, harm to Earth is precisely what is happening. I am responsible as a member of this species for the Anthropocene. Of course I am formally responsible to the extent that I understand global warming. That's all you actually need to be responsible for something
I'm a person. I'm also part of an entity that is now a geophysical force on a planetary scale
We have been telling ourselves that homogeneous empty “space” has conquered localized, particular “place.” We are either the kind of person who thinks that the category of place is a quaint antique or we are the kind of person who thinks that the category is worth preserving because it is antique.19 In a certain way, we are the same kind of person
we humans find ourselves on a very specific planet with a specific biosphere. It's not Mars. It is planet Earth. Our sense of planet is not a cosmopolitan rush but rather the uncanny feeling that there are all kinds of places at all kinds of scale: dinner table, house, street, neighborhood, Earth, biosphere, ecosystem, city, bioregion, country, tectonic plate. Moreover and perhaps more significantly: bird's nest, beaver's dam, spider web, whale migration pathway, wolf territory, bacterial microbiome. And these places, as in the concept of spacetime, are inextricably bound up
with different kinds of timescale: dinner party, family generation, evolution, climate, (human) “world history,” DNA, lifetime, vacation, geology; and again the time of wolves, the time of whales, the time of bacteria
Place has a strange loop form because place deeply involves time. Place doesn't stay still, but bends and twists: place is a twist you can't
When massive entities such as the human species and global warming become thinkable, they grow near. They are so massively distributed we can't directly grasp them empirically. We vaguely sense them out of the corner of our eye while seeing the data in the center of our vision. These “hyperobjects” remind us that the local is in fact the uncanny.23 Space evaporates. The nice clean box has melted. We are living on a Gaussian sphere where parallel lines do indeed meet. The empty void of space and the rush of infinity have been unmasked as parochial paradigms.
iron out of the fabric of things
An inconvenient Anthropocene. Not all of us are ready to feel sufficiently creeped out. Not a day goes by recently without some humanities scholars becoming quite exercised about the term Anthropocene, which has arisen at a most inconvenient moment. Anthropocene might sound to posthumanists like an anthropocentric symptom of a sclerotic era. Others may readily recall the close of Foucault's The Order of Things: “man” is like a face drawn in sand, eventually wiped away by the ocean tides.
The ocean's silver screen. The trouble with global warming is that one can't just palm it off on a particular group of humans or insist that the Sixth Mass Extinction Event is just another construct. The humanities have persistently argued, via Foucault via Heidegger or Nietzsche or Marx via Hegel via Kant, that there are no accessible things in themselves, only thing-positings or thingings of Dasein or thing discourses or things posited by the history of spirit or will or (human) economic relations. Only things insofar as they correlate to some version of the (human) subject, which is why this thinking is called correlationist
But the screen on which these correlations are projected isn't blank after all. It consists of unique, discrete entities with a “life” of their own no matter whether a (human) subject has opened the epistemological refrigerator door to check them. Some entities violently treated as blank screens are overwhelming human being itself, as what the insurance industry calls acts of God turn out to be acts of humans as a geophysical force
Let's examine the modes of Anthropocene denial.
I am myself a correlationist, by which I mean that I accept Kant's basic argument that when I try to find the thing in itself, what I find are thing data, not the thing in itself. And I grasp that data in such a way that a thing does not (meaningfully) exist (for me) outside the way I (or history or economic relations or will or Dasein) correlate that data. I believe that there is a drastic finitude that restricts my access to things in themselves. The finitude is drastic because it is irreducible. I can't bust through it. This marks the difference between some speculative realists, who think you can puncture the finitude and enter a world of direct access, for instance via science, and those who don't think so, for instance the object-oriented ontologists
Ontology doesn't tell you exactly what exists but how things exist. If things exist, they exist in this way rather than that. Object-oriented ontology holds that things exist in a profoundly “withdrawn” way: they cannot be splayed open and totally grasped by anything whatsoever, including themselves. You can't know a thing fully by thinking it or by eating it or by measuring it or by painting it…This means that the way things affect one another (causality) cannot be direct (mechanical), but rather indirect or vicarious: causality is aesthetic. As strange as this sounds, the idea that causality is aesthetic is congruent with the most powerful causality theories (the Humean ones), and the most powerful theories of causality in physical science: relativity theory and (to an even greater extent) quantum theory. In a way that profoundly differs from the demystification most popular in humanistic accounts of culture, politics, and philosophy (and so on), OOO believes that reality is mysterious and magical, because beings withdraw and because beings influence each other aesthetically, which is to say at a distance.
If ecological culture and politics is about “the reenchantment of the world” as they say, then something like OOO could be highly desirable. In particular, the way in which OOO doesn't reject modern science and philosophy, but rather proceeds from them and somehow finds magic that way, is valuable indeed.
The fact that humans really have become a geophysical force on a planetary scale doesn't seem to prevent the anxious spirits from accusing the term of hubris. Quibbling over terminology is a sad symptom of the extremes to which correlationism has been taken. Upwardly reducing things to effects of history or discourse or whatever has resulted in a fixation on labels, so that using Anthropocene means you haven't done the right kind of reducing. But what if you are not in the upward reduction business? Scientists would be perfectly happy to call the era Eustacia or Ramen, as long as we agreed it meant humans became a geological force on a planetary scale. Don't like the word Anthropocene? Fine. >Don't like the idea that humans are a geophysical force? Not so fine.
Anthropocene is about humans—a mess of lungs and bacterial microbiomes and nonhuman ancestors and so on—along with their agents such as cows and factories and thoughts, agents that can't be reduced to their merely human use or exchange value. This irreducibility is why these assemblages can violently disrupt both use and exchange value in unanticipated (unconscious) ways: one cannot eat a Californian lemon in a drought. Returning to the point about intentions and hubris, “we” did it unconsciously. Becoming a geophysical force on a planetary scale means that no matter what you think about it, no matter whether you are aware of it or not, there you are, being that. This distinction is lost on some of those who react against the term. One cannot be hubristic about one's heartbeat or autonomic nervous system
Haraway's and Latour's suggestion that we call it the Capitalocene misses the mark. Capital and capitalism are symptoms of the problem, not its direct causes.
“Anthropocene” is the first fully antianthropocentric concept
I take Earth magnitude to mean “at a scale sufficient to open the concept Earth to full amplitude.” Solar winds do this as they interact with Earth's magnetic shield and produce auroras. Global climate does this: the mass of terrestrial weather events are downwardly caused by a massive entity that exists at Earth magnitude. Human thought at Earth magnitude is human thinking that is as “large” as the aurora. It can think the aurora in such a way that its vastness is witnessed and opened in us. A single person can do this on the ground. You don't need to be a geostationary satellite or a scientist or an astronaut. Or a member of the UN or CEO of a global corporation
We live on more timescales than we can grasp
The Anthropocene is an antianthropocentric concept because it enables us to think the human species not as an ontically given thing I can point to, but as a hyperobject that is real yet inaccessible.
We are faced with the task of thinking at temporal and spatial scales that are unfamiliar, even monstrously gigantic
It might be argued that “livestock” are as much the proletariat as human workers.49 The etymology that associates patriarchal property (chattel) with nonhumans (cattle) with standing reserve (capital) makes this quite obvious.50 It might be the case that, for the specter of communism to haunt earth sufficiently, the specter of the nonhuman would need to be embraced by the specter of communism. Full communism might need to include earthworms and bacteria, although for reasons given in the Third Thread that might look more like anarchic clusters than one system to rule them all. How can we think totality and collectivity at a moment when there is no good reason to stop at a certain species or scalar boundary? For this is what we should task ourselves with: thinking future coexistence, namely coexistence unconstrained by present concepts.
Marx writes that the best of bees is always worse than the worst of architects.51 That's because the architect is imagining her or his building and the bee is just executing an algorithm. We could go about disproving the claim in two ways: (1) considering the bees and (2) considering ourselves.
Cause and effect are “in front” of things, not behind them: in front ontologically rather than spatially.56 Which is to say that in order for there to be causality there must always already be objects. In this sense, weird as it is to say so given our tendency to snap back to mechanistic causal theories, causality in a post-Newtonian world has its rightful place in the aesthetic dimension
along with Plato, I take wonderment to be the basic phenomenological chemical of philosophy
At Earth magnitude, anthropocentric distinctions don't matter anymore. Or, better, they cease to be thin and rigid. They matter amazingly differently. These distinctions include binaries such as here versus there, person versus thing, individual versus group, conscious versus unconscious, sentient versus nonsentient, life versus nonlife, part versus whole, and even existing versus nonexistence
cultural Marxism cannot think the geo sufficiently to think the geopolitical
Capitalist economics is also an anthropocentric practice that has no easy way to factor in the very things that ecological thought and politics require: nonhuman beings and unfamiliar timescales.
Thinking the human at Earth magnitude is utterly uncanny: strangely familiar and familiarly strange. It is as if I realize that I am a zombie—or, better, that I'm a component of a zombie despite my will. Again, every time I start my car I'm not meaning personally to destroy lifeforms—which is what “destroying Earth” actually means. Nor does my action have any statistical meaning whatsoever. And yet, mysteriously and disturbingly, scaled up to Earth magnitude so that there are billions of hands that are turning billions of ignitions in billions of starting engines every few minutes, the Sixth Mass Extinction Event is precisely what is being caused.
So, back to that question: am I conscious? Prove that I'm not better than the best of bees. Prove that my idea of consciousness, let alone individual free will, isn't just the algorithm that my particular species has evolved to run. Stripped of its metaphysical, easy-to-identify, soothingly teleological content, the notion of species is an uncanny thought happening not in some universal or infinite realm but at Earth magnitude. It is strictly uncanny in the Freudian sense, if we recall that Freud argues that uncanny feelings in the end involve the repressed intimacy of the mother's body, the uterus and the vagina out of which you came.67 This is significant because thinking this mother's body at Earth magnitude means thinking ecological embodiment and interdependence. That uterus is not just a symbol of the biosphere, nor even an indexical sign of the biosphere, pointing to it like a footprint or a car indicator. The uterus is the biosphere in one of its manifold forms, just as me turning the key in the ignition is the human in one of its manifold forms. It is, and it isn't, which is how you can tell it's real. To be[…]
There appears to be no way to solve a wicked problem neatly and know that we have solved it. Like poems, wicked problems entangle us in loops. We know that our reading of a poem is provisional and that our thoughts about what poems are influence how we read them; the same goes for global warming. Wicked problems make the strange loop form of ecological beings obvious. As a matter of fact, global warming is a “super wicked problem”: a wicked problem for which time is running out, for which there is no central authority; those seeking the solution are also creating it, and policies discount the future irrationally.
We are still within this twelve-thousand-year “present” moment, a scintilla of geological time. What happened in Mesopotamia happens “now,” which is why it has made sense for Dark Ecology to refer to us as Mesopotamians. This long now started somewhere, sometime. It is bounded. Yet to think outside it, since that very outside is defined by it, is to think within it.
What is the monster? Sophocles encapsulated it already in the astonishing Second Chorus of his Theban play Antigone: Of the many disturbing beings, man is the most disturbing.
This is like being able to see hyperobjects. Why is this disturbing? Because you are already living on more than one timescale. Ecological awareness is disorienting precisely because of these multiple scales. We sense that there are monsters even if we can't see them directly.
When you are sufficiently creeped out by the human species, you see something even bigger than the Anthropocene looming in the background, hiding in plain sight in the prose of Thomas Hardy, the piles of fruit in the supermarket, the gigantic parking lots, the suicide rate. What on Earth is this structure that looms even larger than the age of steam and oil? Isn't it enough that we have to deal with cars and drills? Hardy provides a widescreen way of seeing agricultural production, sufficient for glimpsing not only the immiseration of women in particular and the rural working class in general at a specific time and place but also the gigantic machinery of agriculture: not just specific machines, but the machine that is agriculture as such, a machine that predates Industrial Age machinery. Before the web of fate began to be woven on a power loom, machinery was already whirring away. 12 January 2560 BE
Agrilogistics: an agricultural program so successful that it now dominates agricultural techniques planetwide. The program creates a hyperobject, global agriculture: the granddaddy hyperobject, the first one made by humans, and one that has sired many more. Toxic from the beginning to humans and other lifeforms, it operates blindly like a computer program. The homology is tight since algorithms are now instrumental in increasing the reach of agrilogistics. Big data makes bigger farms 12 January 2560 BE
Agrilogistics promises to eliminate fear, anxiety, and contradiction—social, physical, and ontological—by establishing thin rigid boundaries between human and nonhuman worlds and by reducing existence to sheer quantity. Though toxic, it has been wildly successful because the program is deeply compelling.The First Thread
Agrilogistics arose as follows. About 12,500 years ago, a climate shift experienced by hunter-gatherers as a catastrophe pushed humans to find a solution to their fear concerning where the next meal was coming from. It was the very end of an Ice Age, the tail end of a glacial period. A drought lasting more than a thousand years compelled humans to travel farther. It happened that in the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia barley and wheat were growing wild beneath the trees. The same can be said for rice growing in China; corn, squash, and beans growing in America; and sorghum and yam in Africa. Significantly, the taro of New Guinea is hard to harvest and low in protein, not to mention hard to plant (you have to plant taro one by one), and so the farmers in the highlands never “advanced” from hunter-gathering. The taro cannot be broadcast. Incidentally, so many terms from agrilogistics have become terms in media (field among them), not to mention the development of that very significant medium, writing. How we write and what we write and what we think about writing can be found within agrilogistics.The First Thread
Humans represent roughly 32 percent of vertebrate biomass. The other 65 percent is creatures we keep to eat. Vertebrate wildlife counts for less than 3 percent.79The First Thread
Despite the misery and disaster, agrilogistics continues to run. For all intents and purposes, agrilogistic boiling is performed for its own sake—there have been no other great reasons, as we shall see. That is very strange, because growing and nurturing theories of ethics based on self-interest is a major feature of agrilogistics. Yet, in practice, it is as if humans became fascinated with maintaining the program at whatever cost to themselves. The loop of agrilogistics for agrilogistics' sake should remind one of the aestheticism of “art for art's sake.” It is an unorthodox aestheticism of utility, an aestheticism of the nonaesthetic. The non- or even antiaesthetic is intrinsic to agrilogistic production: humans evolved wheat, for instance, for minimal flowers and maximal nutrition. So-called utlility operates just like so-called inutility.The First Thread
The human hyperobject (the human as geophysical species) became a machine for the generation of hyperobjects.The First Thread
Consider the cats and their helpful culling of rodents chewing at the corn.85 The ambiguous status of cats is not quite the “companion species” Haraway thinks through human coexistence with dogs.86 Within agrilogistic social space, cats stand for the ontological ambiguity of lifeforms and indeed of things at all. Cats are a neighbor species.87 Too many concepts are implied in the notion of “companion.” The penetrating gaze of a cat is used as the gaze of the extraterrestrial alien because cats are the intraterrestrial alien. Cats just happen. “Cats happen” would be a nicely ironic agrilogistic T-shirt slogan.The First Thread
Jared Diamond calls Fertile Crescent agriculture “the worst mistake in the history of the human race.”95 Because of its underlying logical structure, agrilogistics now plays out at the spatiotemporal scale of global warming, having supplied the conditions for the Agricultural Revolution, which swiftly provided the conditions for the Industrial Revolution. “Modernity once more with feeling” solutions to global warming—bioengineering, geoengineering, and other forms of what Dark Ecology calls happy nihilism—reduce things to bland substances that can be manipulated at will without regard to unintended consequences.The First Thread
There is a “very large finitude” in the shape of a specific, gigantic object (Earth) on which humans cooperate (and refuse to cooperate) with one another and with other lifeforms. There is also indeterminate futurity—how many future generations should we take into consideration? The combination of massive yet finite spatiality and massive and indeterminate time generates a very specific “game board” on which cooperation and its opposite play out. It seems clear in mathematics that a well-structured game board would ensure the best cooperation.99 But the extremely minimal utilitarianism and ontology (Easy Think) implied by agrilogistics does next to nothing to determine the quality of the game board. The result is predictable: at any particular moment in the indeterminate time line it always seems better to destroy as much of the very large finitude as possible.The First Thread
Organic, a rich and serious term for a rich and serious circularity without play or excess or brokenness or deviance: mountains, Bruce, mountains. A zombie substance for zombie human substances.The First Thread
Mountains, Bruce, mountains: in other words, Nature, a substance “over there,” underneath, just round the corner, despite appearances, out back, behind the surface, comfortingly present, endless, normal, straight. Agrilogistics spawns the concept of Nature definitively outside the human. The normative concept of Nature, telling you what's “in” and what is “out,” as surely as a jaded fashion magazine, is deeply troubled. Normative Nature simply can't cover absolutely everything because Nature depends on specifying the unnatural.The First Thread
The rhetoric of what I have elsewhere called ecomimesis is typified by a Nature speak that tries to straighten out a loop.109 The core of ecomimesis is a sentence such as “As I write this, I am immersed in Nature.” Ecomimesis tries to fuse the layer of narrative and the layer of narration, creating a paradoxical loop about whose paradoxical and loopy qualities ecomimesis is perpetually in denial. The denial within ecomimesis is a symptom of the larger loop of whose machination ecomimesis is a small, human-scaled, “lived experience” region.110 Its job is to flatten out the inherent twist in a chiasmus, to make the twist into a pure circle, “an insect that clacks and vibrates about in a closed circle forever.”
Closing the circle is impossible. Even a circle is a circling, a circulation that implies an inherent movement, a constant deviation from the integral (pi, impossible to compute completely, yet thinkable). A circle is thinkable yet impossible to execute, the very opposite of agrilogistics, which by contrast is pure execution without a head.
The edge of a circle is a deviation. The edge of a system such as agrilogistics is a fold, a twist.113 The edge is not absolute.
Nature is defined within agrilogistics as a harmonious periodic cycling. Conveniently for agrilogistics, Nature arose at the start of the geological period we call the Holocene, a period marked by stable Earth system fluctuations.114 One might argue that Nature is an illusion created by an accidental collaboration between the Holocene and agrilogistics: unconscious, and therefore liable to be repeated and prolonged like a zombie stumbling forward. Like Oedipus meeting his father at the crossroads, the cross between the Holocene and agrilogistics has been fatally unconscious.
The Anthropocene doesn't destroy Nature. The Anthropocene is Nature in its toxic nightmare form. Nature is the latent form of the Anthropocene waiting to emerge as catastrophe.
Agrilogistics is a virus, and what sustains it in human being is viral. A nonhuman code is interfacing with another nonhuman code, an easy-to-replicate pattern that is independent of “me.” Something purposeless, something (disturbingly) aesthetic, though the agrilogistic code explicitly bans purposelessness. And therein lies the chemistry of the viral hook. Agrilogistics and the willing that sustains it are paradoxical patterns that deny their patternlike status and deny that this denial is a looplike recursion, another pattern. In one sentence, the agrilogistic loop is this: This is not (just) a pattern.
A field grows war on the back of a slain nonhuman because agriculture is already weaponized.
Old English riddles talk about onions, bookworms, oysters. Riddles are funny because they exploit an irreducible gap between what a thing is and how it appears.4 Riddles are realist because things are riddles. Oedipus' answer “Man” is not so funny, closing down the riddling suspension of the many-legged being, legs that reveal a metamorphic time, not a linear succession of predictable now points. Man is a spoiler, not a punch line.
the arche-lithic, a primordial relatedness of humans and nonhumans that has never evaporated. Bruno Latour argues that we have never been modern. But perhaps we have never been Neolithic. And in turn this means that the Paleolithic—adore it or demonize it—is also a concept that represses the shimmering of the arche-lithic within the very agrilogistic structures that strive to block it completely
If the very question of inside and outside is what ecology undermines or makes thick and weird, surely this is a matter of seeing how ecosystems are made not only of trees, rock formations, and pigs (seemingly “external” to the human) but also of thoughts, wishes, fantasies (seemingly “inside” our human heads)? And isn't this at least plausible since it's quite logical to argue, as I shall do soon, that thoughts themselves are independent entities, reducible neither to brain nor to mind—just as pigs are independent entities reducible neither to parts of pigs or prepig ancestors or the ecosystems of which they are members?
Yet we were not always dancing in the agrilogistic disco.
One of the things we need to rethink weirdly is time. If future coexistence includes nonhumans—and Dark Ecology is showing why this must be the case—it might be best to see history as a nested series of catastrophes that are still playing out rather than as a sequence of events based on a conception of time as a succession of atomic instants. We can think these nested sets as ouroboric, self-swallowing snakes; it isn't surprising that many first peoples imagine the outer rim of reality as an entity like J=C3=B6rmungandr, the Norse serpent who surrounds the tree of the universe.
Geological eras are nested catastrophes. Consider the air you are breathing in order to stick around for the next sentence. Oxygen is an ecological catastrophe for the bacteria that excreted it (starting about 2.3 billion years ago). The Anthropocene is a loop within a much larger loop we could call the Bacteriocene. The Bacteriocene and its oxygen are happening now, otherwise I would be writhing on the floor rather than typing this sentence. The Oxygen Catastrophe was not an event in atomic time. Surrounding the Bacteriocene there is the Cyanidocene, the moment of the strange dance of death-and-life between nucleic acids, proteins, and hydrogen cyanide polymers
Temporality structures such as the Anthropocene are fuzzy and not atomic because things in general are fuzzy and not atomic. A human being is an ecosystem of nonhumans, a fuzzy set like a meadow, or the biosphere, a climate, a frog, a eukaryotic cell, a DNA strand. We might begin to think these things as wholes that are weirdly less than the sum of their parts, contra the usual rather theistic holism where the whole is always greater than its parts.
Things become misty, shifty, nebulous, uncanny. The spectral strangeness that haunts being applies not only to single lifeforms—a vole is a not-vole—but also to meadows, ecosystems, biomes, and the biosphere. The haunting, withdrawn yet vivid spectrality of things means that there can be sets of things that are not strictly members of that set, such as a meadow, and this violates Bertrand Russell's prohibition of paradoxical sets that contain members that are not members of them
Humans are sensitively susceptible to stones and flesh and wood, whether or not they are seen as alive.
How did we become Mesopotamians?
The basic anxiety described here is the characteristic attunement of an ecological age in which we know full well that there is no “away”—waste goes somewhere, not ontologically “away.” Nor is there Nature as opposed to the human world. Ecological awareness is necessarily elemental. Fear of a coming eco-apocalypse covers over the elemental by distorting this threat of nothing(ness) into a fear of something more palpable, approaching from a distance, as if to restore the distance enabled by the now badly broken concept world. Elemental anxiety is an existential Ganzfeld effect, the term for a visual experience that comes upon one during a blizzard. This effect renders here and there, up and down, foreground and background quite meaningless.
When a tool breaks or malfunctions we notice it. This theory of malfunctioning points out that when things smoothly function, when they just happen, they withdraw from access. When I'm involved in a task the things I involve myself with disappear. Yet the element in which I am involved doesn't disappear. This is a precise definition of the element: the appearance of involvement. It's just that I only experience this appearance obliquely, perhaps as goosebumps or a sense of horror or of bliss.
Meaning doesn't happen all by itself. Like me, Derrida is suspicious of the cybernetic (systems theory) excitement about the idea that meaning and “life” can emerge from nothing, hey presto.35 There is something remarkably ecological about Derrida's suspicion. Writing depends on paper, which depends on trees and water, which depend on sunlight and comets, which depend on…if we keep going, we soon discover what I have elsewhere called the mesh: a sprawling network of interconnection without center or edge.36 A haunting ecological vibration already hums within the notion of arche-writing, despite many readers' attempts to put Derrida in a box called idealism or skepticism or antirealism. The term arche-lithic only makes this hum a little louder, causing what is already the case to become explicit.
Nature, culture, agriculture: the terms are linked historically and philosophically. Derrida writes: “The culture of the alphabet and the appearance of civilized man…correspond to the age of the ploughman. And let us not forget that agriculture presupposes industry.”41 That last paradoxical sentence is worth pondering. We like to think that “industry” comes after “agriculture”; heavy machinery is a consequence of agrilogistics. But Derrida's point is that agriculture is already an industry from the beginning, and not just logically but physically: it requires metal, wheels, and all kinds of implements. And it demands an “industrial” view of the world as much as it carves out such a view and literally ploughs ahead with it. It presupposes the “viewfinder” that produces the “worldview,” static and picturesque, of stockpiles of stuff in fields and granaries and houses.42 This is not a coincidence. Writing and the origins of agriculture are deeply intertwined
The agrilogistic virus was co-emergent with other patterns. Furthermore, because patterns are uncertain, belonging as they do to the realm of appearance, This is not (just) a pattern haunts every pattern. Is this just a pattern? Is there such a thing as a pure pattern? Of what is this a pattern? It's a pattern—or is it data about something behind the pattern? It is—but it isn't.
Skepticism and faith might not be enemies in every social configuration. In archelithic space they might be weirdly intertwined. There is an ontological reason why the play of magic involves epistemological panic, giving rise to hermeneutical spirals of belief and disbelief. The dance of concealing and revealing happens because reality as such just does have a magical, flickering aspect. It is as if there is an irreducible, storylike hermeneutical web that plays around and within all things. An irreducible uncertainty, not because things are unreal, but because they are real.
(I must put “culture” in quotation marks because the term is hopelessly agrilogistic.)
The basic pattern is a trickster
The seduction that the seduction might not be a seduction. The dream of teasing apart dream and reality. Or a meme like this: The arche-lithic is just a dream, which is only the inverse of This dream isn't just a dream. Such a sentence promises an end to endless hermeneutics, endless anxiety as to the ontological status of things. The process of computing this promise is called agrilogistics.
Agrilogistics attempts to erase the intrinsic ambiguity of the arche-lithic
The arche-lithic is a welter of code that promises realities even as it withholds them. “Prehistoric” is only the moment at which not enough humans had become susceptible to the agrilogistic sentence to make it appear as if there were no history other than the long history of agrilogistic retreat, known to beginning undergraduates as “civilization.” The Anthropocene is simply the moment at which there are enough vectors of the agrilogistic sentence populating enough of the biosphere to exert downward causality on Earth systems.
While Jaynes holds that the modern mind has priority over civilization, it makes more logical sense and requires less cognitive machination to argue that the agrilogistic program has priority.50 What structures thought is agrilogistics, not the other way around. The voices didn't just show up out of the blue. They had always been there. What changed was our attitude toward them. And this is tantamount to peeling consciousness apart from a self-concept: on the ecognostic view, you can have consciousness without a specific idea of “you.”
Agrilogistic success led to the dissipation of voices such that we now consider only two types of people as legitimate voice hearers: the insane and the last few hunter-gatherers. Our thoughts tell us that voices are terribly serious and disturbing, that when you hear them you must be deranged or primitive. We can reverse-engineer this thought with an anthropological insight: not quite believing the voices is a hallmark of arche-lithic space because the arche-lithic is the space of the trickster. Complete disbelief would be out of the question because that would be as rigid as belief.
So many ecological beings are “Excluded Middles” and so much ecological action is in the realm of “not quite” and “slightly,” gradations of yes.
Recall the first axiom of agrilogistics: Thou shalt not violate the Law of Noncontradiction. Yet agrilogistics itself defies the Law of Noncontradiction. The attempt to transcend the web of fate ends up doubling down on it: it is the web of fate, the very form of tragedy.
A tiny but visible (to the naked eye) tuning fork can be put into coherence such that it is vibrating and not vibrating at the same time.53 A tiny mirror (but much, much larger than a quark) emits infrared in a vacuum close to absolute zero, which is to say, it is shimmering without mechanical input: it is “here” and “there” at the same time.
What we are talking about is the very existence of weirdness, and, in particular, what we have been calling weird weirdness: the secret link between causality and the aesthetic.
Agrilogistics and metalanguages are wars against entities seen to contradict the idea that (human) existing is better than anything else.
Sense must coexist with nonsense, its shadow. A thing is shadowed by another thing because it's shadowed by itself.
Mathematics comes from the Greek math=C4=93sis, which means getting used to, acclimation. The Tibetan Buddhist for getting used to is g=C3=B6m, which is also the term for meditation.
Mindfulness can be used as a tool for getting used to awareness, which has a gnostic quality—the strangeness of knowing-in-a-loop about loops.
Yet mindfulness might become a way of numbing out and avoiding the strange openness, the love of wisdom. Math and meditation can be very soothing. They might result in openness to phantasms or they might result in seduction by the phantasm of no-phantasm, which is called reason. Which would explain why agrilogistics has become Candy Crush at Earth magnitude.
There are raindrops. You can feel them touching your skin coldly, wet and small. Though these phenomena are not the raindrop, they are inseparable from the raindrop. Raindrops just do feel wet and small and cold to a human.55 Raindrops aren't gumdrops, I'm afraid. Raindrops are raindroppy: their phenomena are measurably so. But I can't access the actual raindrops. Their phenomena are not raindrops. There is a fundamental, irreducible gap between the raindrop phenomenon and the raindrop thing. Moreover, I can't locate this haunting gap anywhere in experiential space or even in scientific space. Unfortunately, raindrops don't come with little dotted lines and a little drawing of scissors saying Cut Here, despite philosophers insisting that there is something like a dotted line somewhere on a thing and that their job is to locate it and cut.
Plato exemplifies a pervasive nihilism in Western (that is to say agrilogistic) thought.57 Plato is a nihilist insofar as he asserts a thin bright line between a realm of false appearances and a realm of realities in the form of reified, constantly present beings.
With the addition of the steam engine, cow appearances could be eliminated entirely in favor of concentrated cow essence, and agrilogistics eventually brought about Oxo, Bovril, and other forms of powdered British cow. The Chicago disassembly line gave Henry Ford the idea of massively efficient assembly lines. The current obsession with lab-grown meat continues the tradition, and its not-so-well-known employment of fetal bovine serum is yet another form of liquid cow.
Minds coexist with thoughts that coexist with hallucinations that coexist with brains that coexist with psychedelic plants, arche-lithic beings if ever there were.
We could read the history of modernity as the simultaneous discovery and blocking of nonhuman beings on the inside of psychic, social, and philosophical space, and one of the ways this manifests is in the discovery and simultaneous policing of something like the “paranormal,” causalities that do not churn mechanistically underneath things, but that wrap around, flow out of, and otherwise spray and pour out of things, onto-logically “in front” of things, not behind them.62 But this is just basic Hume and Kant “hypostasized”—turned into a physical substance!
Another name for this pervasive force is aesthetic dimension. This too has been policed—kept safe from something that looks too much like telepathic influence, though that is strictly what it is if telepathy is just passion at a distance
To be a logical system is to be able to speak nonsense because to be a thing is to be nonsensical. Ecognosis has to do with allowing for this nonsensical, pestiferous dimension of things
Objects are relations with themselves logically prior to relations with others. Forks, nebulae, narcissi, and bonobos are narcissists.
The irreducibility of being's circular intertwining with appearing means that dark ecology requires a serious engagement with narcissism, not yet another consumerist-era dismissal or critique or demonization of narcissism. We might even regard such demonizations themselves as ironic symptoms of narcissism. Elizabeth Lunbeck calls it “the narcissism of the theorist,” wishing for a world without “needs and attachments.”76 The wish for a cleansed world affects ecological thought. It would be better to start by admitting that one can't escape the narcissistic loop
In this sense plants are like algorithms, since algorithms don't know anything about number: they just execute computations. Algorithms look and act like they are calculating. Thus algorithmic models of plants work just like plants, hence the success of the beautiful book The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants. To extend our upside-down Marx Brothers joke, a plant isn't just a plant—it looks and acts like a plant too. A flower is a plot of an algorithm. And a trope is an algorithm, a twist of language that emerges as meaning by simply following a recipe such as “Stick two nouns on either side of the verb to be.” A trope is a flower of rhetoric (anthos, anthology). Milton's Satan, a master of rhetoric writhing with tropes, curls around like a snake trying to turn into a vine. He isn't just Satan—he looks and acts like Satan too.
Since there's no good reason why an insect is gorgeously iridescent apart from the recursive reason that it looks nice, isn't it easy to imagine that the conditions of possibility for human beauty are beautiful flowers, which are also just there to look nice in a sexual display mediated through bees? Sexual activity itself is by no means just heterosexual or monogamous, as trees prove every day by exploding huge clouds of pollen to be spread by insects and birds.91 Sexual activity is purposeless in that sense. Isn't it possible that the conditions for that are to be found below plants, in the logical conditions for lifeforms as such—self-replicating loops that are both physical and informational at the same time?
The human tendency to produce feedback loops at the level of representation is not unique. Viruses, flowers, iridescent wings, Kantian beauty, tropes, earworms, and daft ideas that float around in my head all share something. They are symptoms of an irreducible gap between being and appearing that eats away at the metaphysics of presence from the inside. Viruses and tropes and flowers might not only share some family resemblance. They might actually be part of the same physical family.
Imagine this Derridean rhetorical flower applying to humans and nonhumans alike: “There is not narcissism and non-narcissism; there are narcissisms that are more or less comprehensive, generous, open, extended. What is called non-narcissism is in general but the economy of a much more welcoming, hospitable narcissism…. Without a movement of narcissistic reappropriation, the relation to the other would be absolutely destroyed, it would be destroyed in advance.”94 Narcissism and coexistence intertwine. We want coexistence to mean the end of narcissism, but this is an agrilogistic thought that would destroy in advance the relation to the other. It is difficult to think agrilogistically in the face of our emerging awareness that we are a hyperobject (species) inhabiting another hyperobject (planet Earth).
A violent nihilism is hardwired into agrilogistics. A spoon could be a potato. A toaster could be an octopus. A meadow could be a parking lot. Hey, let's build one—that sounds like a good idea!
Not even nothing?
Things literally sparkle with nothingness. They are “alive.” Or, rather, “aliveness” is a small region of sparkling that transcends the life-nonlife boundary. Starlight is refracted through the atmosphere and comes onto my retina just so. It twinkles, twinkles.104 When I see that, I am seeing evidence of a thing I can't quite see called atmosphere, thus biosphere, thus Earth's magnetic shield. Where does one draw the line, ecologically speaking? Earth weather is influenced by space weather such as solar storms.105 When I look at the star, I'm seeing a translation of the star in a biosphere-morphic way and in an atmosphere-morphic way and in my anthropomorphic way. Atmospheres and magnetic shields can be as “morphic” as humans can. The star is a sort of unstar when the atmosphere translates it, let alone me. A translation of a poem is and is not that poem.
Ecological awareness is dark, insofar as its essence is unspeakable. It is dark, insofar as illumination leads to a greater sense of entrapment. It is dark, because it compels us to recognize the melancholic wounds that make us up—the shocks and traumas and cataclysms that have made oxygen for our lungs to breathe, lungs out of swim bladders, and crushing, humiliating reason out of human domination of Earth. But it is also dark because it is weird. The more philosophy attunes to ecognosis, the more it makes contact with nonhuman beings, one of which is ecognosis itself. The world it discovers is nonsensical, yet perfectly logical, and that is funny: the sight of something maniacally deviating from itself in a desperate attempt to be itself
Operating within a very narrow temporality tube has been hostile to lifeforms, some of which are humans themselves. It's time to widen the tube. Tube widening will require extending narcissism. Since we saw that narcissism is an integral feature of being an entity, and that it cannot be destroyed in advance without violence, it follows that extensions of narcissism are one ingredient of future coexistence.
Isn't this just the quintessence of ecological awareness, namely the abject feeling that I am surrounded and penetrated by other entities such as stomach bacteria, parasites, mitochondria—not to mention other humans, lemurs and sea foam? I find it slightly disgusting and yet fascinating. I am “bored” by it in the sense that I find it provocative to include all the beings that I try to ignore in my awareness all the time. Who hasn't become “bored” in this way by ecological discourse? Who really wants to know where their toilet waste goes all the time? And who really wants to know that in a world where we know exactly where it goes, there is no “away” to flush it to absolutely, so that our toilet waste phenomenologically sticks to us, even when we have flushed it? Isn't ecological awareness fundamentally depressing in precisely this way, insofar as it halts my anthropocentric mania to think myself otherwise than this body and its phenomenological being surrounded and permeated with others, not to mention made up of them? Which is to say, isn't ecological awareness an awareness of specters?
Because of the nature of ecognosis, an ecological future is toys at every scale without a top level that makes everything sensible, once and for all. Perhaps that was the problem all along. Suddenly, horror appears ridiculous and another kind of laughter breaks out.
The narrator is an abject ecosystem.
As agrilogistic axiom (3) states, the logistics of this time window imply that existing is better than any quality of existing. So it's always better to have billions of people living near to misery than even millions living in a state of permanent ecstasy. Because of this logic, industrial machines were created. The small rigid time tunnel now engulfs a vast amount of Earth's surface and is directly responsible for much global warming. It's a depressive solution to anxiety: cone your attention down to about a year—maybe five years if you really plan “ahead.” One of the most awful things about depression is that your time window collapses to a diameter of a few minutes into the past and a few minutes into the future. Your intellect is literally killing little you by trying to survive. Like a violent allergic reaction or spraying pesticides.
We live in a world of objectified depression. So do all the other life-forms who didn't ask to be sucked into the gray concrete time tunnel. No wonder then that we find mass extinction depressing and uncanny. We Mesopotamians are shocked to find that our time tunnel is affecting other entities. Evolutionary time and geological time don't work with one-to-five-year time windows.
We can never get it perfect. There is no final, correct form that isn't a toy. There is no one toy to rule them all. And toys aren't exclusively human or for humans.
If we want to coexist ecologically, which is to say animistically and anarchistically, we may need to accept the fact that, while they are physically massive, hyperobjects such as neoliberalism are ontologically small, always less than the sum of their parts.
Farming and biodiversity are not mutually exclusive. Defying the Law of the Excluded Middle and working with biodiversity at the margins of the farm proves beneficial to all.7
If you farm rice with ducks, you save countless hours of weeding and generate an ecosystem rich in roaches and small fish, which eat plankton
The !Kung people among the Bushmen of southern Africa resolve problems through play and laughter.11 Play is not an accident that happens to otherwise deadly serious utilitarian lifeforms—but why is strict economic cost-benefit analysis associated with being grown-up and “serious”? “If the !Kung visited our offices and factories, they might think we're playing. Why else would we be there?”
Balance is what play can't do: transformative eruption, sure. One detects the difficulty in the way play becomes impossible in the very chiasmus Schiller uses to underline the importance of play, his most famous sentence: “Man only plays when he is in the fullest sense of the word a human being, and he is only fully a human being when he plays.”15 Mountains, Bruce, mountains. If I have to be a full human being before I play—and if I can only achieve this fullness by playing—then play is what I can't do. I am condemned to wish for play, a melancholy state that sums up a certain phase of dark ecology. And I am also condemned to a moralistic voice that yells “Play! Or else!” at me like the cans of Coke that tell me to “Enjoy!” or Google that hassles its employees with serious playfulness where what we want is playful seriousness.
Playing as a broken toy among other broken toys sounds more like it. Playing as an arche-lithic state, a trace of the arche-lithic, the beach beneath the street always available by collapsing, flopping, an “uncivilized” deliquescence that also appears too civilized, “decadent.” We need our new word subscendence to describe it. Subscendence is the inverse of “transcendence,” while “immanence” is its opposite. Unlike immanence, subscendence evokes an ontological gap between what a thing is and how it appears, or between a thing and its parts. Play is subscendence, connecting me with the Lego brick, the lichen, the activist network, the microbiome, the melting glacier. We are less than the sum of our parts; multitudes teem in us.
We have guilt because we can have shame. We have shame because we can have horror. We have horror because we can have depression. We have depression because we can have sadness. We have sadness because we can have longing. We have longing because we can have joy. Find the joy without pushing away the depression
Freud arrives at this idea of the mother's body by thinking of how the uncanny is excited when the seemingly rigid boundaries between life and nonlife, or between sentience and nonsentience, become confused.20 Is an android alive? Am I alive? Is an android sentient? Am I sentient? This paranoia is evidence of being physically embodied in an irreducible way.
Realizing we are on Earth in the full Earth magnitude way, realizing that we are permanently, phenomenologically glued to Earth even if we go to Mars, realizing that we are covered and brimful of skin, pollution, stomach bacteria, DNA from other lifeforms, vestigial organs—realizing all this is an experience of the uncanny.
Yet within the melancholia is an unconditional sadness. And within the sadness is beauty. And within the beauty is longing. And within the longing is a plasma field of joy. Laughter inside tragedy. Comedy, the possibility space of which tragedy is a rare form. Comedy, the genre of coexistence.
The way in is the way out
Desire is irreducible. To think this drastically upsets the applecart of stories about consumerism and stories about how we ruined Earth—Jeremiads worthy of any agrilogistic religion. Environmentalist assaults on consumerism (not to mention Marxist ones, anarchist ones, and so on) paradoxically inhibit subversions of the consumerist possibility space. The space of consumerism—an ultimately artful ism of consuming—emerged at the inception of the Anthropocene. With its bohemian consumption for consumption's sake and spiritually enhancing enjoyment (now there's a taboo), Romanticism was its quintessential expression.
The object-cause of desire is not the Coca-Cola or a pink cake in particular: it's the fantasy of why you want to drink a Coke or eat a slice of pink cake in the first place.
In quintessential Romantic consumerism, my object-cause of desire is a certain image of myself. What we are dealing with in thinking consumerism is a confrontation with the loop of narcissism, flickering between autoaffection and heteroaffection. Yet since to be a thing at all, let alone an ecological thing, is to be a narcissist, to assault consumerism in a black and white way is to throw the baby out with the bathwater, the baby without which there can be no relation to the other and no possibility of future coexistence at all.
Rather than rejecting this loop form, we simply need to realize that (1) objects of desire aren't blank screens, (2) the loop of desire is a component of a more basic loop between appearing and being at the heart of any entity at all.
Point (2) implies that there is, with all due respect to the anticonsumerism that has dominated ecological thinking for some time, some chemistry in Lacan's Kantian loop that accurately tracks something true about how things are. I know this is counterintuitive, but this means that there must be secret passages from consumerism to ecognosis. Let's try one: there are looplike entailments between desire and coexistence.
Ecognosis is abjection. Consumerism is a problem because it unsettles the Mesopotamian idea that we deliberately impose our will on things. The priority of desire suggests we follow directives emanating from thoughts and from Coke bottles rather than deliberately and reasonably “needing” them. There's a fear of passivity colored by a fear of narcissism. This pattern is remarkably similar to the problem of ecognosis. How does ecognosis first appear to itself ? As an awareness of things I can't shake off, a distressing passivity commonly called abjection. A depressing nausea. The flip side of consumerism expressed in bulimia and anorexia (and punk and Wordsworth and Baudelaire) is abjection, the feeling of being surrounded and penetrated by entities that I can't peel off.25 There is a path from consumerism to the nausea of coexistence. Consumerism's flip side is a signal that there are other beings. Rather than being deliberately conscious of them, I attune to them “passively” since they are already spraying out directives: I acclimatize to them (math=C4=93sis, g=C3=B6m). This drives a huge spike through ideas that my mind is “in” my head and is mine and is the Decider.
Givenness is therefore always surprising, and surprising in surprising ways: surprisingly surprising, we might say. So each time givenness repeats there is no lessening of surprise, which is why givenness is surprisingly surprising. Repetition does not lead to boredom, but rather to an uncanny sense of refreshment.
I am as it were stimulated by the very repetition itself: stimulated by boredom. Another word for this is the familiar Baudelairean term ennui. Ennui is the sine qua non of the consumerist experience: I am stimulated by the boredom of being constantly stimulated.
Disgust is the flip side of good taste in this respect: good taste is the ability to be appropriately disgusted by things that are in bad taste. I have had too many vicarious thrills, and now I find them slightly disgusting—but not disgusting enough to turn away from them altogether. I enjoy, a little bit, this disgust. This is ennui.
Moreover, since beauty is already a kind of enjoyment that isn't to do with my ego, and is thus a kind of not-me, beauty is always haunted by its disgusting, spectral double, the kitsch. The kitsch precisely is the other's enjoyment object: how can anyone in their right mind want to buy this snow globe of the Mona Lisa? Yet there they are, hundreds of them, in this tourist shop.
Since in an ecological age there is no appropriate scale on which to judge things (human? microbe? biosphere? DNA?), there can be no pure, unadulterated, totally tasteful beauty. Beauty is always a little bit weird, a little bit disgusting.
Consumerism is the specter of ecology. When thought fully, ecological awareness includes the essence of consumerism, rather than shunning it. Ecological awareness must embrace its specter.
When thinking becomes ecological, the beings it encounters cannot be established in advance as living or nonliving, sentient or nonsentient, real or epiphenomenal. What we encounter instead are spectral beings whose ontological status is uncertain precisely to the extent that we know them in detail as never before
Starting the engine of one's car isn't what it used to be, since one knows one is releasing greenhouse gases. Eating a fish means eating mercury and depleting a fragile ecosystem. Not eating a fish means eating vegetables, which may have relied on pesticides and other harmful agricultural logistics. Because of interconnectedness, it always feels as if there is a piece missing. Something just doesn't add up. We can't get compassion exactly right. Being nice to bunny rabbits means not being nice to bunny rabbit parasites. Giving up in sophisticated boredom is also an oppressive option.
What is the case about agrilogistics and its capitalist metastasis is that they are not a solution to anxiety and “need.” But this is not because they are inherently evil, which is to say loopy. It is because they try to smooth out the strange loop.
The twelve-thousand-year trauma of agrilogistics itself, a (flawed) solution to the trauma of hunter-gathering, opens onto the archelithic, our relationship with nonhuman beings: the hot deep rocks in which ancient bacteria persist from some Hadean dawn, inorganic crystal structures, extraterrestrial minerals. A Spectral Plain of ambiguous beings, estuary of the Excluded Middle.
The trouble with consumerism isn't that it sends us into an evil loop of addiction. The trouble is that consumerism is not nearly pleasurable enough.29 The possibility space that enables consumerism contains far more pleasures. Consumerism has a secret side that Marxism is loath to perceive, as Marxism too is caught in the agrilogistic division of need from want. Consumerism is a way of relating to at least one other thing that isn't me. A thing is how I fantasize it. And yet…I fantasize, not onto a blank screen, but onto an actually existing thing, and in any case my fantasy itself is an independent thing. This thing eludes my grasp even as it appears clearly. You are what you eat. Doesn't the mantra of consumerism (concocted by both Ludwig Feuerbach and Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, almost simultaneously) put identity in a loop?30 Doesn't this formula hide in plain sight something more than (human) desire? That the “reason to buy” is also a relation to an inaccessible yet appearing entity, to wit, what you eat? I imagine what I eat gives me luxury or freedom or knowledge. Yet there I am, eating an apple. I coexist.
Depression is the inner footprint of coexistence, a highly sensitive attunement to other beings, a feeling of being sensitized to a plenitude of things. De-pressed by them. So we don't want to reject the logical structure of consumerism. Enjoy a thing just for the taste of it. By listening to it rather than sadistically treating it as silent plastic. Ecognosis means: letting become more susceptible.
Melancholy is irreducible because it's ecological; there is no way out of abjection because of symbiosis and interdependence. To exist is to coexist. Yet this coexistence is suffused with pleasure, pleasure that appears perverse from the standpoint of the subject under the illusion that it has stripped the abjection from itself. Down below abjection, ecological awareness is deeply about pleasure. Ecology is all delicious. delicious guilt, delicious shame, delicious melancholy, delicious horror, delicious sadness, delicious longing, delicious joy. It is ecosexual.35 Pleasure and delight only become more and more accurately tuned as ecognosis develops.
Ecological awareness is like a chocolate with concentric layers. In the spirit of Ren=C3=A9 Wellek I have mapped these layers in an absurdly New Critical way like some kind of cross between a Dungeons and Dragons dungeon master and Northrop Frye. Like Donna Haraway, I believe in the affective power of old-fashioned kitschy theory objects like the Greimasian logic square she dusts off.36 I'm calling ecological awareness a chocolate in part to provoke the standard reactions: chocolate, sugar, addiction, bad! And to blend that chocolate with ecology (saintly, good, just) in a perverse way.
Machination ruins Earth and its lifeforms, yet it supplies the equipment necessary for human seeing at geotemporal scales sufficient for ecological awareness.
The basic mode of ecological awareness is anxiety, the feeling that things have lost their seemingly original significance, the feeling that something creepy is happening, close to home
The attitude of rigid renunciation in which some ecological speech consists contains agrilogistic code exemplified in the autoimmunity of the Beautiful Soul, an attitude described by Hegel. The Beautiful Soul sees the world as evil and itself as pure.37 Or the other way around: evil me, pure world (humans are a viral stain). The Beautiful Soul is on an agrilogistic mission, trying to demarcate rigid boundaries. The Beautiful Soul brooks no contradiction: it lives in a world of black and white. It holds an implicit metaphysics of constant presence (the world is all evil, all the time). It's ethically simplistic in a disastrous way. Religious pretensions notwithstanding, the Beautiful Soul is an expression of the worst sort of agrilogistic materialism. Its gaze is the very evil that it sees yonder or hither, in the world or in itself. The Beautiful Soul is in a loop that it disavows.
It's not exactly what you think but how you think it that poses the problem. =46rom a certain point of view thoughts are viruses that code for specific ways of holding them. So we shall examine not the content of ecological thoughts but the attitude with which those thoughts are held, attitudes that are mutually constitutive of the reality they describe. If we want a good reality—say, for instance, nonviolent coexistence between all beings—we might need to figure out what kinds of attitude are conducive to such a reality.
James Turrell is a minimalist sculptor of photons, and his works, such as The Light Inside, employ subtle gorgeous electronic light
We have been hurt by the things that happened to us. But, in a way, to be a thing at all is to have been hurt. To coexist is to have been wounded. We are scarred with the traces of object cathexes: the very universe itself might be bruised from some unimaginably ancient bubble collision with another universe.
As we descend through the abject realm of The Melancholy, we will find that the Uncanny Valley smoothens itself out into a gigantic flat plain. We have already given it a name: the Spectral Plain. And we have already encountered it in the poetry of Baudelaire. Ecological awareness takes place on the Spectral Plain, whose distortion, the Uncanny Valley, separates the human and nonhuman worlds in a rigid way that spawns the disavowed region of objects that are also subjects—because that is just what they are in an expanded nonbiopolitical sense. I have called this animism in Dark Ecology so far, but it would be better to write it with a line through it, as I commonly do: animism.
The extreme political variant is accelerationism: capitalism should be sped up in the name of anticapitalism to bring out its contradictions, with the hope (underline hope) that it might then collapse. But this bringing out is thought as inviting a colossal machinelike alien from the future to come and destroy us pathetic humans once and for all. To allow agrilogistics to destroy its host: the future, minus Earth. That is what accelerationism is hoping for. The name of this hope is despair.
To cast intellect away would be the absurd anti-intellectualism that is part of the problem, trying to return to some state of Nature defined by stripping “civilization” of its symbionts: intellect, plastic, cancer; and, beyond this, stripping the very loop form that provides the structure for beings. This is absurd because “civilization” is already agrilogistic scorched earth and retreat with the nonhumans airbrushed out. Stripping the human realm of its symbionts is…agrilogistics.
What mainly impedes ecognosis is the deadly seriousness; we require toy political forms that don't take themselves quite as seriously. A lifeform, an engineering solution, a social policy, another lifeform—they join together and become another type of toy, in a sort of ecological Lego
the Realm of Toys provides the blueprint for an ecological polity, a polity that includes nonhumans as well as humans
Part of the benefit of this practice would be to create not only interesting toys but also a much needed host of interesting toy temporalities that reach beyond the agrilogistic temporal diameter.
Making toys would include meaningful collaborations between the arts, the humanities, and engineering, rather than the mutual suspicion that reigns today.
Toys are suspended between being and appearing. Toy is an umbrella term for anything at all.68 Toys play. There are things, and that's why we have appearance
The Ridiculous is a place where toys are torched for being anomalous. Large patches of the Law of Noncontradiction still predominate at this level. The Ridiculous is a realm of satire and sarcasm, comedy with something missing. A meta-ness lingers here.
Something strangely beautiful lies in the region below. We can detect it in The Melancholy. It is as if sparkles and shards of what lies below make their way upward, twinkling unconditionally in the fascinating reflections of the mournful toys. But to get to that strange beauty we must swim down through The Hollow, a boundary region. Trying to escape depression is depressing. We begin to recognize this loop as a hollowing out. We begin to learn from the no-way-out-ness of Alice, trying to leave the Looking Glass House and ending up back at the front door.76 The hollowing of depression, in turn, is recognized as a thing, which is to say a thing in all its withdrawn mystery.
When you experience beauty, you experience evidence in your inner space that at least one thing that isn't you exists. An evanescent footprint in your inner space—you don't need to prove that things are real by hitting them or eating them. A nonviolent coexisting without coercion. The basic issue with beauty is that it is ungraspable. I can't point directly to it and I can't decide whether it's me or the thing that is emanating beauty. There is an undecidability (not total indeterminacy) between two entities—me and not-me, the thing. There is a profound ambiguity. Beauty is sad because it is ungraspable; there is an elegiac quality to it. When grasped, it withdraws, like putting my hand into water. Yet it appears. This thing I am finding beautiful is beautiful to me. It is as if it is definitely this thing and not that thing. I have accepted that a thing is a narcissist; I have stopped trying to delete my own narcissism. The beauty experience just is narcissism, inclusive of one or more other entities. A narcissism in me that isn't me, including me and the thing in its circuit: ecognosis.
Things influence one another such that they become entangled and smear together. Something slightly sinister is afoot—there is a basic entanglement such that I can't tell who or what started it. Beauty is like a human-flavored, massively magnified version of what happens to a tiny tuning fork when you put it into a vacuum close to absolute zero. It starts to show you that it is—and isn't—there all at once: in the haunting phrasing of Aaron O'Connell, who ran one of the experiments, it “breathes.”81
I assume you are sensitively aware of the ecological emergency we call the present—which has been happening in various forms for twelve thousand years. It is that there are logical limits on caring, a function of interdependence. Even the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara couldn't save all sentient beings at once. This is why his head exploded into a thousand heads. That's what compassion (which is the beauty feeling) feels like. It is here that we encounter a deeper laughter than the laughter of absurdity. The laughter is about feeling a thing but being unable to grasp it or of knowing something but being unable to describe it. These pairs contradict, but they go together. This isn't just because of (human) perception or reason. There is a region of entities that support the loops of so-called subjects, their Harold and the Purple Crayon fantasies of being The Decider. Such entities are also in a loop. The style of a thing is always the slapstick impersonation of a thing. Toys are in an irreducible loop between themselves and themselves. Toys in this region are silly. Here we arrive at a truly comic level, the breadth of coexistence.
Interdependence is the deep reason why at high resolution the language of rights breaks down for imagining how to proceed ethically and politically with regard to nonhumans. Extending rights to everything is absurd since rights language is normative: some beings can have rights to the extent that others do not. Rights language cancels itself out or leads to marginal cases that we humans are once again
obliged to police. And, since rights language is based on property, it derives from one of the virulent lines of agrilogistic code. If everything has rights, then nothing can be property, for the same reason that rights language is normative. Furthermore, the one thing one can't possess in the ontological sense is oneself. One finds oneself “possessed,” rather, by all kinds of (other) beings
Universal rights are undermined by the notions of finitude and the hyperobject. The human as a species is not a universal but a very large finitude, absolutely concrete. It is better to think with Feuerbach that the human is not an abstract category but an actually existing being residing at a very large scale.
depressively narrow temporality diameter. So perhaps we should explore comedy and laughter a little before we proceed. The laughter of joy is full-on utter hilarity, accurately tracking ontological hilarity. Art begins to sound like dance music
The basic toylike nature of things means that reality fundamentally is playful, dancing, raving, elemental. This is hard to accept in a depressing ecological age and more generally during the time of agrilogistics, a social form with a
The neurologist Adam Kaplin asserts, “The worst part of depression is that it narrows the field of vision into a very small tube so they can't see the options.”86 Maximum tube compression as far as my experiences of depression have been concerned has consisted of five minutes into the future and five minutes into the past. Humans find it hard to survive if their temporality is restricted to a diameter of ten minutes. Again, there is an ecological resonance here: agrilogistics compresses temporality to diameters that are dangerous to lifeforms, including humans, and how we inhabit Earth and coexist with other beings affects us too. “Each year, 34,000 people commit suicide, about twice as many deaths as caused by homicide—about one death per 15 minutes. By 2030, depression will outpace cancer, stroke, war and accidents as the world's leading cause of disability and death, according to the World Health Organization.”87 Thinking that you or they can snap out of it is addiction speak akin to what Gregory Bateson calls the “heroic” style of alcoholism: I can master myself.88 The trouble is that this thought is itself depression
The ecological era we find ourselves in—whether we like it or not and whether we recognize it or not—makes necessary a searching revaluation of philosophy, politics, and art. The very idea of being “in” an era is in question. We are “in” the Anthropocene, but that era is also “in” a moment of far longer duration
In part, ecognosis involves realizing that nonhumans are installed at profound levels of the human—not just biologically and socially but in the very structure of thought and logic. Coexisting with these nonhumans is ecological thought, art, ethics, and politics
The demons and ghosts aren't demons or ghosts. They are faeries and sprites. The arche-lithic
Let's get small pieces of plutonium, store them in a way that we can monitor them, and encase them in a substance that will not leak radiation, aboveground, so you can maintain the structure and so that you can take responsibility for it. You, the human, made the plutonium, or you the human can understand what it is—therefore you are responsible. Let's put these structures in the middle of every town square in the land. One day there will be pilgrimages to them and circumambulations. A whole spirituality of care will arise around them. Horror and depression will give way to sadness and joy. We bristle plutoniumly. Or we feel suicidal plutoniumly. Or we cry plutoniumly. Or we even dance plutoniumly. The arche-lithic. There is always already a relationship to a nonhuman.