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Merde. (3a) Why Now? Megas v. Climate

June 1, 2019

I take it that the way in which being has functioned for roughly 20B years is that what works persists until it no longer works because of changed conditions.  As a working thing, I find that conditions can change because of “self-defeating” actions be the thing that was working (such as me) that produce unintended consequences, or actions by other things in its environment, or by relatively haphazard (chance, accident) actions in its environment, or actions by something from outside its environment (e.g. arrival of an asteroid).  Recently, on Earth, this way of functioning produced a species of animal with extraordinary brainpower, including self-reflective, imaginative consciousness (me).  How well has that worked?  It has produced extraordinary changes in the environment that have made workability difficult or impossible for many many things that had been working well.  Now, most notably, it has produced a climatic change in the environment that may well make itself unworkable.  What doesn’t work gets replaced by something that does.  And really, once conditions make a thing unworkable, rather soon it gets replaced.

Reading Bruno LatourDown to Earth:  Politics in the New Climatic Regime, trans Catherine Porter (Polity Press, 2018; Où atterir?  Comment s’orienter en politique? 2017),

I’m thinking about two critical Qs for us Americans. (1)  How can we prevent the extreme predatory, obesely wealthy, Megawealthies (my term), from destroying the conditions that are necessary for the planet’s current life forms? (The Megas are a grubbing definition of Trompf’s “malignant narcissism.”) And even more critical and more difficult, (2) Can we actually heal the great gash that we have torn in our body and soul, the body and soul of living Earth, that is manifest in the “new climatic regime” that our actions have produced ?

Within the American Constitutional  framework, maybe we can come to agreements to regulate our group and individual behaviors, for the good of life on the planet.  But our individuals include the obscenely rich, who (I can’t help thinking, after 6 decades of observation) live only to please themselves, at the expense of everyone and everything else. Megas will fight like hell to avoid being regulated. 

I agree with the analysis of many thinkers, incl Latour in this book, that in the thinking of plutocrats, the real crisis is the fact that Earth, their global resource and playground, of which they maximize ownership and exploitation, has begun to “kick back,” making the conditions of life miserable or impossible—except, the Megas believe, for the very few (themselves) who have sufficient wealth to privilege themselves to comfort and (in their delusion) walled luxury.    A key to Mega success is ownership of a Unitary State of America. But that ownership is not possible within our constitutional framework for good governance.

No doubt there are multiple reasons why Now is the time when authoritarian American plutocrats, using their Republican Party as their weapon, are desperately assaulting our constitutional democracy.  One is the unanticipated election of Herr Trompf, whose narcissism, sexism, and racism make him perfectly suited to lead a fascist make-over of American government.  But another is that the Republicans have been preparing so long and so well.  They have made their good fortune (with unwitting (?) assistance by some Democratic leaders).

But Latour presents this particularly desperate and nefarious reason:  Climate Change.  He explains and explores in this 128-page essay, written in response to the election of Herr Trompf.  Here are the bones of his argument, to the best of my mastication (with some narratorial explorations of my own):

At the moment when we began to perceive that something very big was happening in the meteorology (fossil fuel execs knew in the early ’80s), the plutocrats began to generate an “immense political energy” of self-protection through a fusion of three factors:  “deregulation,” “explosion of inequalities,” and “denial of climate change.”

By “climate,” Latour means “the relations between human beings and the material conditions of their lives.”  That orients everything.  It sets the stage on which we are playing out our lives, and now the fate of humanity and of many other life forms.  On that “terrestrial” stage, the zone of Earth within which life as we know it exists, we are now one of two very powerful actors.  The other actor is the planet itself, which, going through changes, in response to our actions, is taking away our places to live. It’s as if the stage and set became actors and took away the conditions for performing our play. Or as suggested by L’s original title, it’s as if we are in a plane, flying above the changing zone of life, trying to orient ourselves, looking for a place to land.

“Deregulation” refers to what the plutocrats call, in their ideological propaganda (i.e. bullshit) “Libertarian” or “neoliberal” or “free market,” but is actually elimination of rules of behavior for the rich, in their pursuit of money, power, and privilege.  (Exercise: apply that understanding to this.)  

“Explosion of inequalities” means explosion of inequalities, everywhere, with the Mega few owning an unbelievably disproportionately large percentage of everything.  (In its real life effects, hyperbole is rendered impossible.) 

So, when the Megas realized that because of changing climate, soon the planet will not offer sufficient “room” (air+field, earth) for themselves and  everybody else, guess what they did (a narratorial cliffhanger, or cliffhangar, like the one in which we are living, day by day).

It’s really quite tricky and unutterably foolish:  they have been working mightily to both prevent everybody else from realizing the danger, and at the same time, produce more wealth for themselves (and more inequality) through activities that increase the danger (Trompf example). But “to deny in this fashion is to lie cold-bloodily, and then forget that one has lied—even while constantly remembering the lie after all.”

Well we Westerners have been lying to ourselves that way since at least Columbus and his patrons, in our expansion of what L calls “the Modern project.”  [As I understand him, putting it in my own words, that Project is a leading mythology of the Modern era (Whoa! That’s a very big thought. I want to think, as soon as I can, more about the possibility that we cannot make essential sense of Western civilization unless we place the facts into our mythic interpretation of those facts, and about how hard it will be to develop an alternative, healing mythic interpretation and life, in time to reduce the climate change that the old mythology has reinforced.) It is a post-medieval West Euro (then Euro-N Amer) con, perpetrated by a few rich authoritarian types (and bought into by everyone else with means), for putting the world under their control while pretending to be returning, slowly but surely, all the world’s population to a Garden state, via superior technology and ferocity, paid for by the conquered, wrong-thinking resisters, by the animal population that is considered irrelevant because of its inferior state of consciousness, and by the rest of Earth, that is so totally lacking in consciousness that it can have no agency, or desire to have a say in the matter, and is simply a steady-state, passive platform and source of materials.  History, in this mythology and ideology, is a universal patrimony—inexorably, irrisistibly progressive. (Lots o’ luck with that.)

It was always a goofy idea, riddled with self-contradiction (as Marx pointed out, and Ralph Ellison), at its best an idealistic delusion that tends to produce cynicism, and (often) at its worst, a narcissistic and nihilistic insanity, including genocide and nuclear warfare.

Current American examples of the mythic vivacity of The idealized Project/con include Jeff, who brings cheap pricing to the world’s peoples, hoards money, and spends some of it on extraterrestrial Project fantasies, Elon, who stores sunlight in batteries instead of fossil fuels, hoards money, and spends some of it on extraterrestrial Project fantasies, and Donald, who denies everything, hoards funny money, and spends it on empty Project spaces where his head and heart should be.]  

Most of us in the American middle class cannot avoid participating in The Project, although we buck it when we can.  Latour wants us to develop an alternative, sane idea, and put it into terrestrial practice.  He thinks that, now that Nature is showing the power of its agency, we don’t really have much choice.

But when the Megas “decided that it was pointless to act as though history were going to move toward a common horizon, toward a world in which all humans could prosper equally” (which Mega exploitation renders unsustainable),  they “stopped purporting to lead and began instead to shelter themselves from the world.” (I’m thinking, however, that in the States, they continue to pretend to be our leaders into prosperity. It’s the mythic American Way.)  L sees Trompf as a symptom and mediator of that Mega move.  What has been called “T derangement syndrome,” the disabling anxiety that T affects in the entire population, L sees as part of our sense of “the absence of a common world we can share.”  

But this “abandonment of a common world leads to epistemological delirium,” a nihilism in which there is no objective, factual truth and no operative reality of shared vision, value, responsibility, and sacrifice for the good of others. “Facts remain robust only when they are supported by a common culture, by institutions that can be trusted, by a more or less decent public life, by a more or less reliable media.”

The reactionary, America First, response is “the panicky desire to return to the old protections” of hyper-nationalism (in which I would include, especially, the supremacy of the heroic ego of the white Christian buccaneer male).  When T withdrew from the Paris Accord on climate change, he signaled the end of American vision of, leadership of, even participation in, an international vision of common humanity.  

But “the climate question is at the heart of all geopolitical issues and…is directly tied to questions of injustice and inequality.”

So there you have the major ideas on the first 3 pages of the essay.  Then 103 pages+notes of additional analysis and proposals. L doesn’t pretend to have the solutions, but he is doing some serious thinking about identifying and enacting a new political and geopolitical ecology.

On page (3a2) of this episode, I’ll proceed to page 4 and beyond, trying to just summarize main points (plus some thoughts in response).  I’m leaving out a lot of complexities, subtleties, and ironies.

[Other pages of this shitty episode: (1) “I Was So Wrong,” (2) “What IS Going on Here?”, (3a2 the next page), (3b) “America’s Sociopaths,” (3c) “A Uniquely Representative Pr*sident,” and (4) “Fools.”]

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