Category Archives: politics

FROM EXTINCTION: NINE STRATEGIES FOR A LEFT-HAND EXIT

by Michael Uhall, The University of Illinois

Extinction.png

The problem

As a political theorist, I often find myself submerged in the academic and professional details of my work. For example, I spend most of my time reading and writing, and much of what I write is addressed to an audience largely composed of other political theorists. The politics of knowledge production aren’t quite so simple, of course, and I think we political theorists should welcome the imperative to make our work speak to anyone who cares to listen.

In brief, my work addresses what I call the ecological crisis. The ecological crisis does not reduce to climate change – indeed, climate change is only a symptom of something much more intractable. Instead, the ecological crisis refers to a crisis of relationality that obtains at multiple scales – from the individual to the collective, from the local to the global. In short, the ecological crisis started when we started operationalizing the relationship between nature and politics in a certain way.

Call this way pathological modernity, which theoretically misconstrues nature as the ontological space of determination and necessity. If nature is necessitarian, then either the political also is determined by the principle of necessity, or else politics exists somehow apart from nature, even opposed to it.

This poses a ruinous conceptual dilemma that leads to extinction.

Politics as the unique synthesis of collective action and collective imagination becomes impossible both if nature determines it and if nature serves as its antagonist. If nature determines our politics, then this eliminates the possibility of free action. Without the possibility of free action, collective action ceases to be action. Action becomes behavior; decision is determined. On the other hand, if there is freedom – that is to say, if politics is possible, after all – then this produces an irresolvable antagonism between nature and the political. Hence, if nature serves as antagonist to the political, then politics transforms into sheer domination, and a politics of domination is no more genuinely political than is mere compulsion itself.

Think of it like this: either nature makes the political impossible, or politics is purchased at the price of eliminating or excluding nature, practically and theoretically. This dilemma drives pathological modernity forward, and it produces and sustains the ecological crisis as such.

In short, my work begins with the two intuitions: (1) something is terribly wrong and (2) the future will not resemble the past.

Rather than merely producing a critical theoretical diagnostic, however, I want to suggest alternatives and reasons for adopting such alternatives.

For example, in my work, I argue that the pathologically modern philosophy of nature to which we adhere can be replaced by an altermodern philosophy of nature that incepts a degree of freedom at the origin of nature itself. We rarely examine what we are talking about when we talk about nature. Instead, we simply assume that what is natural is deterministic and necessitarian. There are historical and intellectual reasons for this, but, these reasons, like all reasons, are subject to revision – else we are mere dogmatists and worshipers at the altar of modernity.

I also argue that such an altermodern philosophy of nature allows us to reconstruct how we conceive of human subjects – that is to say, of what it means to be an individual or collective agent capable of taking action and making decisions. In short, I conclude that subjectivity is – must be – an emergent property of ecologically embodied immanent relationality. In other words, agency emerges only in ecological conditions. Accordingly, I propose the concept of companion ecologies to help us understand better what and who we are. Companion ecologies name the composite, multimodal, yet entitative pluralities that constitute our ecological conditions, ranging from our gut and skin microbiomes to our habitats more generally, as well as the numerous agencies that compose and traverse such spaces.

Both the altermodern philosophy of nature and the theory of the ecological subject I propose allow us to intervene in the operation of commonplace political terms. Specifically, I look at identity, community, and normativity. In ordinary language, these refer to the ways in which we are concerned with ourselves, our companions, and our judgments. After contrasting securitarian and immunitarian dynamics (each modeled after different ways of understanding the formation of immunological functionality – i.e., immanent relationality), I conclude that we can recuperate a robust sense of human identity as creaturely, which is to say, radically dependent upon the companion ecologies in which we emerge. Likewise, community takes shape, then, as a function of ecotone – or, as the complex of companion ecologies that overlap and traverse each other at multiple scales. We do not have a community, because a community is not a form of identity. Instead, we are always already in a condition of community. As such, we are creatures – human animals – who depend radically upon the ecological conditions that first manifest us as distinctive agents. We are agents only by virtue of other agencies. This entails a new form of normative naturalism, a naturalism that says not “Do what I say because nature says so” (as with the old naturalisms), but, instead, “Act revisably in such a way as to acknowledge and preserve the metabolic and vitalizing capacities of your conditions of existence.”

All of the foregoing, however, constitutes a theoretical intervention aimed at dissolving certain conceptual formations and replacing them with new regimes of description. Take up my terms, and you will see nature and politics differently. See nature and politics differently, and you will have the means to resolve the ecological crisis. The problem is that our conscious assumptions and unconscious attachments already are formed under the conditions of pathological modernity. They are not a superficial optics that can be easily swapped out for another, like you might switch a pair of glasses. Here we encounter the weakness of theoretical interventions. Theory can elucidate, impel, or inveigh, but it cannot compel material change by itself.

Accordingly, I have condensed and extracted nine strategic recommendations with the intention of illustrating how the theoretical interventions I propose translate into modes of practical action. Theory is a form of action at a distance. I say these recommendations are strategic, first, because strategy is the hinge between speculative inquiry into the real and experimental practice. Also, they are strategic not because they speak to specific material interventions (although I do refer to specific examples, when possible), but because my recommendations are able to cash out into a wide range of possible programs. Note that these recommendations are not derived formally from my theoretical interventions, and nor are they the only possible such recommendations. That being said, I believe that, in nuce, they embody the practical framework of departure for a politics of exit from pathological modernity.

In other words, if you want to survive the ecological crisis and flourish after the collapse it heralds, consider what follows.

Strategic recommendations

The figure

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Scott Pruitt: Unfathomable Transgressions

Reporter On New Email Dump That Reveals Secret Inner Workings Of The EPA

May 9, 20182:05 PM ET
Heard on Fresh Air


New York Times
reporter Eric Lipton says the response to a recent FOIA request shows that Scott Pruitt and his staff have gone to great lengths to keep the public and the news media at a distance.

[Selected quotes]

ERIC LIPTON: One after another, Scott Pruitt has gone after the Obama-era regulations intended to clean the nation’s air and water and to limit the pace of climate change, and he’s been eliminating them – at least, attempting to. And so for Trump, you know, it’s hard to think about getting rid of a guy who is really executing on your strategy perhaps more effectively than any other member of the Cabinet.

[ . . . ]

LIPTON: Well, for example, he was going in August to Nevada, Iowa, to meet with a cattle rancher and to talk about his intention to roll back a Obama-era program that’s supposed to protect drinking water supplies. It’s called Waters of the U.S. And so Pruitt is in the process of repealing that regulation, and farmers did not like it because it was going to restrict their ability to work some of their land, potentially. So he went to this place where the cattle ranches worked. And it was supposed to be what they call invite-only press, which means you pick certain reporters who you know are friendly, you invite them and you don’t tell anyone else.

[ . . . ]

LIPTON: I actually have in front of me here a copy of his agenda from that trip, which was June 8 through June 10 of 2017. And we just got this full agenda last week through the Freedom of Information Act. And so what it shows you when you look at it is that while he spent just on the airfare alone $16,000 – and The Washington Post has added up numbers. I haven’t actually done this myself – to say that they think that the trip costs about $100,000. But what the agenda shows you is that most of the time that he was in Italy on the ground, he was actually sightseeing. He visited the Vatican Library. He visited the palace for a whole afternoon. Another part of the – he went to an underground area in the Vatican, which is very hard to get a tour of. He had dinner at La Terrazza – at a restaurant at the Hotel Eden, which is one of the most expensive restaurants in Rome. He had dinner at another restaurant called Al Ceppo.

He had that dinner with Leonard Leo who is the head of the Federalist Society, which is a group that’s working with other anti-regulatory groups to try to get reductions in Obama-era regulations and get judges appointed to federal courts. He had dinner there at Al Ceppo with Leonard Leo, and Leonard Leo paid for that dinner. And only after The New York Times asked about whether or not Leonard Leo paid for that dinner – because we’d heard that he had – did the agency tell us that Pruitt had reimbursed Leonard Leo for that dinner. And so, I mean, again, what the agenda tells us from that trip is that most of the time, he was sightseeing. And then among the meetings he actually had – as I literally sit here and page through it – was one meeting that he had is – he met with a bunch of executives from major United States chemical companies, like Chemours and DuPont and 3M. But these are the Italian executives of their affiliates in Italy. He had a roundtable with business leaders on environmental innovation at the Embassy of the United States in Rome. And then he also met with the charge d’affaires at the Embassy of the United States, and he met with some officials from the Vatican. But for the most part, he was sightseeing.

[ . . . ]

LIPTON: I was writing about state attorneys general and what I perceived as their conflicts of interest as they were taking millions of dollars in contributions from companies that they were investigating – pharmaceutical companies, auto companies and, you know, across the board, food companies. And as I began to investigate the state attorneys general – because at the time, I was writing about lobbying out of Washington – and I saw that the – that corporations were beginning to lobby attorneys general more. I saw that there were a great number of energy companies that were contributing a lot of money as well. And when I began to investigate which attorneys general they were most focused on, I found Scott Pruitt. And it was just a matter of me sort of saying, well, who’s the guy who they go to the most to challenge the Obama regulatory rule?

So what Devon Energy, for example – which was an Oklahoma City-based oil and gas company – was doing, it was turning to Scott Pruitt to try to challenge Obama’s rules. And they would hand Scott Pruitt drafts of letters that they wanted him to send to Lisa Jackson at the EPA or to the Department of Interior or even to President Obama. And Scott Pruitt took those letters and essentially put them on the Oklahoma attorney general stationery, signed them and sent them in.

And he was – had become, you know, essentially a lobbyist on behalf of the oil and gas companies in Oklahoma at the same time as he was the top law enforcement official. And he was the head of the Republican Attorneys General Association and collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars from these same companies to help get other Republicans elected as attorneys general. So that was a story that I wrote in 2014, and that’s when I first met Scott Pruitt.

Superb reporting, thanks to Eric Lipton of The New York Times and the Sierra Club.  Read transcript of interview here.

 

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E.P.A. Cancels Talk on Climate Change by Agency Scientists

EPA

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency has canceled the speaking appearance of three agency scientists who were scheduled to discuss climate change at a conference on Monday in Rhode Island, according to the agency and several people involved.

John Konkus, an E.P.A. spokesman and a former Trump campaign operative in Florida, confirmed that agency scientists would not speak at the State of the Narragansett Bay and Watershed program in Providence. He provided no further explanation.

Scientists involved in the program said that much of the discussion at the event centers on climate change. Many said they were surprised by the E.P.A.’s last-minute cancellation, particularly since the agency helps to fund the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, which is hosting the conference. The scientists who have been barred from speaking contributed substantial material to a 400-page report to be issued on Monday.

The move highlights widespread concern that the E.P.A. will silence government scientists from speaking publicly or conducting work on climate change. Scott Pruitt, the agency administrator, has said that he does not believe human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are primarily responsible for the warming of the planet.

Continue reading here.

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Walk the Line, September 30th

Walk the Line

Walk the Line – Pipelines carrying Tar Sands oil—the dirtiest form of oil there is—are running through our neighborhoods in Northwest Indiana. Join us on Sept. 30, 2017 as we walk along the path of the tar sands pipelines that pass through our communities to help support a just transition to a renewable energy economy.

When: Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017 at 9:00 a.m. (arrive by 8:00 a.m.)

Where: The route is 10K (or 6.21 miles). The Walkathon will begin at the Hoosier Prairie Nature Preserve (135 E Main St, Schererville, IN 46375), just west of the Enbridge Pipeline Co. entrance.

Go to WalkTheLineNWI.com to register to walk or to sponsor a walker.

Please contact Melissa Brice, Chicago 350 with any questions and we hope to see you!

E-Mail: 350chicago350@gmail.com

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“An Inconvenient Sequel” Screenings and Much More

See below information about “An Inconvenient Sequel” screenings, and various related resources for educators, business professionals, and concerned citizens.

Inconvenient-Sequel-850x400

From a New York Times review:

In a summer movie landscape with Spider-Man, a simian army waging further battle for the planet and Charlize Theron as a sexy Cold War-era superspy, it says something that one of the most compelling characters is Al Gore.

“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” a follow-up to “An Inconvenient Truth,” Davis Guggenheim’s Oscar-winning documentary from 2006, is a reboot that justifies its existence — and not just because Mr. Gore has fresh news to report on climate change since his previous multimedia presentation played in multiplexes.

Read more here.

See trailer here.

Get tickets and find various resources here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image source: Occasional Planet, http://occasionalplanet.org/2017/04/03/just-time-inconvenient-sequel/

 

 

 

 

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The Upside Down World

by Jeff Tangel

The comfort of the rich depends on an abundant supply of the poor.    –Voltaire

 . . . and the working, and middle classes.   –Tangel

In the comic hit movie, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Mike Myers’s Fat Bastard character—who, as you might expect is always hungry—turns to Mini-me and demands, in his bellowing mock-Scottish bravado, “I’m bigger than you—and higher up the food chain.  Get in my belly!”  And then licks his chops while singing, “I want my baby back . . . baby back, baby back . . . ribs.”

Perhaps this is a telling example of being utterly absorbed in, and deeply confused by one’s worldview.  Mini-me simply scoots away of course, ironically into the loving arms of Dr. Evil, leaving Fat Bastard un-sated, yet nevertheless deliriously full of himself.

Despite appearances—and our hubris—we humans “on the top of the food chain” are actually the most dependent beings in existence—we rely on everyone and everything “below” us.   Author Michael Pollan’s lengthy and eye-opening essay for the NYT Magazine, “Some of My Best Friends are Germs,” reveals to us that we humans are, in reality, a mere 10% ourselves. The other 90% is actually an ongoing project of other beings, primarily bacteria and microorganisms going about their business.[1]

But for them we’d be nearly-nothing.

So what sense does it make to imagine ourselves at the top of anything?  Don’t we ordinarily think of dependent beings at some sort of bottom?  The child and the invalid are dependent on their caretakers.  So too are we humans dependent on the entire structure of ecology—which, as we are just beginning to understand, includes not just the flora and fauna all around us, but other people too.  Perhaps we can understand Max Ehrmann’s line from the Desiderata in a new way.

“You are a child of the universe . . . ” indeed.

And wealth works similarly, reflecting in parallel the imagined hierarchy we impose on Nature.  The wealthy hallucinate, seeing themselves as independent, as above everyone else.  But in reality, the wealthy are wholly dependent on all of the people “below” them, from their own workers to the teachers who educated those workers, to the people who maintain and operate buildings, the means of transportation, systems of exchange, and so on, and on and on . . .

Monopoly

The wealthy are utterly dependent on the entire infrastructure of nature/culture—they are dependents—more so than any other economic strata.  Think about this. Please.

The wealthy are not inter-reliant; the wealthy are held aloft by the compliance and work and servitude of others—some of whom they pay, or exploit, or from whom they simply receive unacknowledged and unearned benefits.  Yet many strut about the world, full of themselves, like Fat Bastard(s), as if they fashioned it all from their own hands.

Thus, shouldn’t we think of the wealthy as residing at the bottom of our society? And therefore, shouldn’t they be treated just like many of them treat the poor?

Reality bites! 

Of course I’m just having fun.  We certainly can’t cure dystopia with the “technologies” that created it.  We need to treat the rich the way most of us try to treat the poor: we help them because we feel for them.  I know, I’m asking a lot. But most of us are chock-full of empathy—plenty to go around—even if it doesn’t show that often.  For me, the older I get—the more I’ve seen—the more I cry, as if the world has been waiting for me to notice.

We need to dismantle the illusory hierarchy that encourages destructive arrogance, leaving the wealthy empathically poor and all of us poorer, so we can welcome them into human inter-dependency.  As Thict Nhat Hanh might say, such a generous and compassionate act could bring multiple benefits, to those helping as well as to those helped.  Who knows how far that wind may blow?

How do we help the wealthy and ourselves at the same time? We refuse to participate in their charade. We drop out of their hierarchically structured economy-world and build a new world that acknowledges our relational dependence on each other and all others; the whole nature/culture shebang. To start, this may take the form of public banking, co-ops and so on, but we can’t limit ourselves to economics. We need a new way to live, one that recognizes our inter-relational dependence.

 

Intertwined-4

Fortunately, the world is a rich place for ideas. But to unlock real creativity and enable a critical and kinetic mass, first we have to be unchained from the hegemony of imagined hierarchy. We have to begin to see more clearly. Start with this:

Humans are the most dependent beings, and the wealthy are the most dependent humans.

The older I get the more I come to understand that reality is the opposite of the proffered convention—because the profferers of convention have a vested interest in keeping the world structured just so.  The poor suffer a lack of justice, which is what Voltaire meant when he said: The comfort of the rich depends on an abundant supply of the poor.

But willful poverty—call it minimalism if you like—as both a personal and political act, is something to be achieved. Or better, it is something to be created, with others, as one might make art from detritus.  Finding satiety for yourself, and providing satiety for others, is a means and ends united; the wholeness of the individual secure in the inter-reliance of the community of beings. Think of this as an emancipating intervention, a reclaiming of justice by refusing to aid and abet the accumulators—the wealthy—and heal them, and us, at the same time.

Free from the servitude that feeds Fat Bastard, the willful poor weaken him and are empowered to seek authentic concert with the world—real relationships with each other and the ecosystem—and thereby change the world.

This won’t be easy.  Begin with the dismantling of illusory hierarchy that is itself a direct cause of suffering and planetary degradation.
 holypalace


Jeff Tangel
is an Adjunct Professor at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, an Associate of  DePaul’s Institute for Nature and Culture, and a regular contributor to Environmental Critique.  His individual blog is The Tecumseh Project.  E-mail tangel@sxu.edu

[1] Some of My Best Friends are Germs, Michael Pollan, NYT Magazine May 15, 2013 http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/magazine/say-hello-to-the-100-trillion-bacteria-that-make-up-your-microbiome.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 accessed June 13, 2013

 

Image Sources:

  1. New York Times: https://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/04/voting-in-and-out-monopoly-games-faux-riche/?_r=0
  2. Richelle Gribble, Intertwined-4: http://richelle-gribble.com/interdependent/
  3. David Friedman, The Holy Palace: http://www.kosmic-kabbalah.com/holy-palace

 

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Chicago mayor Emanuel posts EPA’s deleted climate change page

By Edward-Isaac Dovere  05/06/17

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s response to the Trump administration pulling down its website detailing information about climate change: putting up his own.

The new section of the City of Chicago’s website, launched this weekend, pulls data from the archived Environmental Protection Agency page, noting, “while this information may not be readily available on the agency’s webpage right now, here in Chicago we know climate change is real and we will continue to take action to fight it.” Emanuel is promising to build the site out more in the coming weeks, using city resources.

“The Trump administration can attempt to erase decades of work from scientists and federal employees on the reality of climate change, but burying your head in the sand doesn’t erase the problem,” Emanuel said.

Continue reading here.

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