‘T’aint boolean no more? No Paw.  

Me, me, me, Denial, Is the idea of “unless we act now” paradoxically harmful?

Recently I’ve had the desire to write these articles in a more objective way. Do some critical analysis or make some arguments and write them in a way that a lawyer would present a brief. To use the word “I” less. This was inspired by Marcie Smith’s two-part series Change Agent: Gene Sharp’s Neoliberal Nonviolence. 

In an interview in Jacobin she describes the impetus behind the articles

I spent about ten years, from 2006 to 2016–2017 involved in the US climate movement, and I also spent some time working within the climate movement internationally. And about 3–4 years ago I started to become acutely aware of, and frustrated with what were, in my view, chronic challenges that I kept observing — strange idiosyncratic tics within our movement that I couldn’t really understand. And I started this research as an effort to understand these challenges, and as part of that I started looking a bit more critically at some of the intellectuals and books that circulated in the movement, generally without any kind of skepticism or critical engagement. Many of these organizing handbooks are superficially apolitical; there’s no obvious ideology that they spring from. Indeed, often “ideology” is treated like a bad word. Anyway, Gene Sharp is one of the intellectuals whose name kept coming up again and again, and the more I read about Sharp, and read Sharp’s work itself, the more stunned I was that this fellow is so central to US protest movements and to international protest movements as well.

I’ve spent about two and a half years or so learning about Sharp and reading his corpus — he wrote prolifically.

I am inspired by the amount of work and care that went into the articles. I have been wondering how long it takes people who write critical essays to write them, and this example made me realize it could be years or maybe weeks, it varies. 

Adding to my collection of synchronistic happenings my reading took me in the direction of answering the questions that present themselves. Counting the quote from Marcie Smith, three other ideas cropped up. Though maybe I am only seeing what I want to see. 

In Walter Benjamin’s Reflections, he says

If I write better German than most writers of my generation, it is thanks largely to twenty years’ observance of one little rule: never use the word “I” except in letters. The exceptions -to this precept that I have permitted myself could be counted.  

So maybe if I want to be one of the worst writers of my generation I should continue this series of articles littering them with “I.” 

In another book that I randomly picked up after asking the question of whether I should use I so much, Hyperobjects, Philosophy and Ecology After the End of The World, Timothy Morton goes on in the introduction to justify his personal tone. 

Throughout Hyperobjects I frequently write in a style that the reader may find “personal”-- sometimes provocative or frustratingly so…. This seems appropriate. I am one of the entities caught in the hyperobject I here call global warming; one of the entities I know quite well. And as an object-oriented ontologist I hold that all entities (including “myself”) are shy, retiring octopuses that squirt out a dissembling ink as they withdraw into the ontological shadows. Thus, no discourse is truly “objective,” if that means that it is a master language that sits “meta” to what it is talking about. (emphasis added) 

And in a lecture by Sheldon Solomon Grave Matters: The Role of Death in Life he brings up a Kierkegaard quote that I found interesting, he said that you can

Render yourself the subject of your own objective inquiry. 

I am going to define a few things here, like, what is a hyperobject? What is object-oriented ontology? What is synchronicity? 

According to goop.com 

 Synchronicities are incidents of spiritual significance that ask us to momentarily dampen our self-obsession and consider the possibility of the divine. Synchronistic experiences leave us with a curious sense that we should pay attention.

Timothy Morton in Hyperobjects defines hyperobjects as 

things that are massively distributed in space and time relative to humans…can be the sum of all the whirring machinery of capitalism. “Hyper” in relation to some other entity, human-made or not.” 

This article expands on that a bit 

Things like: not just a Styrofoam cup or two, but all the Styrofoam on Earth, ever. There is so much more Styrofoam on Earth right now than there is Timothy Morton. Not just this one speck of plutonium, but all the plutonium we’ve made, ever. That plutonium decays for 24,100 years before it’s totally safe. That’s an unimaginable time. I can just about wrap my head around 500 years when I think about Styrofoam. But 24,100 years? Hyperobjects outlast me, and they out-scale me in the here and now. Things I don’t know, and things I don’t even know how much I don’t know. 

Object-oriented ontology 

Ask yourself: what does your toaster want? How about your dog? Or the bacteria in your gut? What about the pixels on the screen you’re reading off now—how is their day going? In other words, do things, animals, and other non-human entities experience their existence in a way that lies outside our own species-centric definition of consciousness? It’s precisely this questions that the nascent philosophical movement known as Object-Oriented Ontology (arising from ὄντος, the Greek word for "being," and known to the cool kids as OOO) is attempting to answer or at least seriously pose, and they’re setting certain segments of the art world on fire.

For OOO, your skin cells are objects, and so are you, and so is the population of the nation you live in, and so is the very idea of a nation. 

Timothy Morton: “an artwork cannot be reduced to its parts or its materials, nor can it be reduced to its creator’s life, nor to some other context, however defined  …  Art is charisma, pouring out of anything whatsoever, whether we humans consider it to be alive or sentient or not.” 

For more on object sentience read this cool piece about a sentient lightbulb named Byron, and what that has to do with planned obsolescence. 

in which a very chipper, eternally burning lightbulb (yes, that’s our Byron) finds himself in the crosshairs of Phoebus, a nefarious lightbulb cartel intent on controlling the life span of every bulb in the world.

In Hyperobjects Morton goes on to introduce what he considers to be the two markers of the end of the world. (As we know it and I feel fine.) He explains how hyperobjects shift us into 

A geological time (vast, almost unthinkable), juxtaposed in one word with very specific, immediate things-- 1784, soot, 1945, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, plutonium. This is not only a historical age but also a geological one. Or better: we are no longer able to think history as exclusively human, for the very reason that we are in the Anthropocene. 

Further justifying his “I” 

The thinking style (and thus the writing style) that this turn of events necessitates is one in which the normal certainties are inverted. Or even dissolved. No longer are my intimate impressions “personal” in the sense that they are “merely mine” or “subjective only”: they are footprints of hyperobjects, distorted as they always must be by the entity in which they make their mark-- that is, me. I become (and so do you) a litmus test of the time of hyperobjects. I am scooped out from the inside. 

More end of the world 

The end of the world has already occurred. We can be uncannily precise about the date on which the world ended…. It was April 1784, when James Watt patented the steam engine, and act that commenced the depositing of carbon in the Earth’s crust--namely, the inception of humanity as a geophysical force on a planetary scale. Since for something to happen it often needs to happen twice, the world also ended in 1945, in Trinity, New Mexico, where the Manhatten Project tested the Gadet, the first of the atom bombs, and later that year when two nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These events mark the logarithmic increase in the actions of humans as a geophysical force. 

I wonder about the ethics of bringing these traumatizing thoughts up alongside all of the other traumatizing things that have happened in 2020. People are worn out. Is it wrong of me to harsh on these points even if it’s only to a small audience of friends? I feel some guilt about it. 

Timothy Morton talks about how there is “a decrease in appropriate levels of concern.” A denial that is even couched in the terms we use to discuss our impending doom. He describes “climate change” as a metonymy (like “suit” for a business executive) for the phrase “climate change as a result of global warming.” And he sees all of the word games we play with each other around it as more denial. A reaction to the trauma of unprecedented global warming. 

“What we desperately need is an appropriate level of shock and anxiety concerning a specific ecological trauma-- indeed, the ecological trauma of our age.” 

Morton talks about how humans sense of self and place has been humiliated in the sense of being brought low, being brought down to earth. He talks about multiple times that this has occurred, Copernicus, we aren’t at the center of the universe, Darwin, we are animal, Freud, our brain has more control than our “I”, Marx, human social life is ruled by economic organization, Derrida, displaces humans from the center of human meaning-making, Nietzche, “Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon?” Object-oriented ontology is in this same camp suggesting that “the being of a paper cup is as profound as mine.” 

Is the reason that we haven’t been able to act to “save the world” that the “world” no longer exists? I am excited to read the rest of Hyperobjects because Morton claims that the idea that the world is about to end “unless we act now” could paradoxically be keeping us from acting. His strategy being 

To awaken us from the dream that the world is about to end, because action on Earth (the real Earth) depends on it….What ecological thought must do then, is unground the human by forcing it back onto the ground, which is to say, standing on a gigantic object called Earth inside a gigantic entity called biosphere….. The problem of hyperobjects, I argue, is not a problem that modernity can solve… modernity banks on certain forms of ontology and epistemology to secure it’s coordinates. 

I am excited to see how he unties this Gordion Knot.