For my 41st birthday, my family went skiing at La Rosiere, in the French Alps. Today, I got to go skiing into Italy and back – no passport checks necessary! Truly a unique experience!
I hadn’t gone skiing for years, since I was visiting my friend Josh in the Austrian Alps a few years ago, and he lent me some equipment and we got 10€ lift tickets on a very snowy day.
In contrast, today it was blazing hot. It hasn’t snowed here in over 3 weeks, in January. And this is top snow territory for the French Alps – we’re within sight of Mont Blanc. This is just one more sign that things are out of whack climatically.
Despite the shortened seasons, threatening the livelihoods of those working in the ski industry, I see tons of cars everywhere; petrol fueled snow mobiles, helicopters, and tour buses; meat as the main offering on every menu. So far, I haven’t seen any public transporation (gondolas from the train station up the mountain, or electric buses) that would cut down on the air pollution here in these beautiful mountains. It’s car-centric, even in the mountains.
Clearly, the understanding of what constitutes ‘environmentalism’ is
When we farm fish, do we think that, perhaps, we’re being farmed as well? If not? Why not?
When we bind life to fulfilling one function: delivering to us what we think we need; do we ponder whether our life also is bound to what someone else desires?
When we subordinate another, do we think that in this same process we are also being subordinated?
These are not idle thoughts, but the fruits of different ontologies. If we believed, for instance, in the Kantian Categorical Imperative – popularized as the ‘do unto others as they would do unto you’ Golden Rule – perhaps more advanced cultures, such as various indigenous peoples and cultures that still venerate wisdom, sophia, might understand it thusly:
It is not just wrong to make another your instrument (your tool) because it takes away their autonomy and agency and cheapens their life and does not develop their capacities not enable the universe to experience more flourishing which could lead to morphic resonance of higher echelons of joy for all – it is because when we involve ourselves in instrumentalism, we become tools.
Hegel basically said as much in his Master-Slave dialectic in Phenomenology of Spirit. When we outsource tasks, we also lose our ability to do things that might again become necessary. By commanding, we also become dependent. It’s like the modern white collar worker who can make you an excel spreadsheet but can’t change his own tires. That’s why when we outsource the growing of our food, we become slaves (or addicted, or susceptible) to the machinations of oligopolists providing our food. They can do anything they want, and unless we’re willing to seriously challenge their power, we’re helpless.
But the thing about instrumentalism which is so rich, is that in a relational ontology/cosmology, you are what you eat eats, to quote Michael Pollan. It’s not just that you do something and get away with it or not according to cosmic laws, but that depending on how you care for and treat yourself and the world, the laws governing reality (for you) themselves change. And when enough people make certain decisions, to enslave and instrumentalize, the planetary oversoul, or noösphere itself reflects the shared practices, calls in attractor energies, and signal boosts them.
This is part of why the relativists and constructivists are on to something. Reality does morph and transform according to how we relate. But that doesn’t mean that you can just do whatever you want with impunity. To the contrary, it becomes very clear that just the opposite conclusion is warranted. The fabric of the responsive universe (Meeting the Universe Halfway, thanks Karen Barad) folds to amplify and feedback our impulse. We have creative direction to alter – but not dominate – the relationship of the circuits of fate and possibility. So, it really matters if our heart is kind, our mind is unperturbed, and our body is feeling at peace, so that we can radiate in our thoughts, emotions, actions, intentions – extensions of these frequencies, rather than ones of rancor, hate, resentment, ressentiment, shame, guilt, regret, not-being-good-enough, imposter syndrome, etc.
In conventional reality, none of this really matters. The rules of the game are given by either nature or culture (natural law or positive law) in a fixed manner. They don’t change. So all you have to do is to learn them and stick with them. And then once you get good and getting consistent results, you can learn where you can cut corners. And as you cut more corners and cheat a little bit, you can notice where in your life the ripple effects of karma from such actions supersede on your mission, or not. Are all cheats just boons, unqualified goods? Or, does such ‘cleverness’ kick you in the but, destroy your sleep, keep nagging worry and anxiety eroding your quality of life? Or worse: do the thinks that you care about start crumbling around you, and you don’t know how to cope, so you just double down on extractive behavior?
These are things we should ponder, and get clear from the outset. This should be the first question we ask of each other before we shake hands.
Planned Obsolescence is just the verso side of perpetuating fossil fuels. GM’s buying up and then sitting on patents for electric cars in the 1960s is but an example of how the fossil fuel industrial complex has retarded energy evolution.
The fossil fuel industry and its frontgroups are the real luddites. They have put incredible, superhuman effort into slowing the eventual economic and efficiency take over of renewable power.
It is precisely the dystopia of kumbaya hippies without energy or the modern conveniences of ‘civilization’ that is one of the boogiemen the fossil fuel industrial complex conjures up to scare us into thinking that we still need them. Like in an abusive relationship, we would be nowhere without them, and by cutting off our access to others, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But the fossil fuel industry are the real luddites. They prevent innovation on less ecocidal energy sources; they gaslight us into thinking there are no real alternatives (ahem, gas hobbs are lame, not cool as big oil pays it’s influencers to tell us); and they fear change.
Any change in energy policy that favors innovation, big oil fears, like a superstitious pearl-clutcher. All they know is their fossil business. They have sunken costs. They don’t want to innovate, even if they are bringing about the end of the world. It is the globalization and monarchy of the most pathologized.
If FF brass were really leaders, they would say, “game on! This is capitalism, it’s a free market – we can do this transition thing. We’ve got tons of capital, and can roll with the times. Let the best capitalist win.”
Instead, the fossil fuel companies are so busy puppeteering the rules of the game so that they still get spoon fed their subsidies and lock out every other innovation (to the extent possible: nothing can resist an idea whose time has come – plus wind and solar now being cheaper per watt hour than coal, oil, or gas).
While planned obsolescence makes it so that for non-fungible goods (clothes, furniture, heck, even houses, but electronic goods are where this practice really shines) they are as crappy as possible, you’re stuck in monopolies and closed non-interoperable formats (hello Apple), and they break or become useless quick enough that you’ll addictively buy another one, corporate ludditism throws the wrench at competition.
The myths of free markets, or corporate transnationals somehow loving capitalism is sheer bullocks. These guys are like mafiosi: they thrive off of oligopolies and violently defend their turf. It’s not about the best products; it’s about preventing better products from reaching consumers.
Rather than competition, the biggies spend a good part of their time, energy, and coin rigging the rules and smashing competition so that they can be the devilish totalitarian rulers of their particular slice of the consumer universe, and more often than not (Google, Apple, Amazon, Disney, Facebook) like well-trained colonialists, are not content until they are drilling into every other aspect of our reality, too.
Corporate domination is the name of the game. One company to rule them all. Will it be Tesla? Will it be Amazon? Who knows? Let’s get some popcorn and watch as Goliath vs Goliath goes as it. Corporate hegemony is the new Monday night football. But with consequences worse than concussions.
This push/pull of corporate hegemony means that nonfungibles become fungible and fungibles (like a particular energy source) become nonfungible. A shortage? No switching allowed! We’ll metabolize our oil into plastic, if that’s what it takes for you to continue buying! Profits up! Stiff upper lip! No exceptions!
So we are dealt austerity on both ends, coming and going. The stuff we’re supposed to buy in locked-in and fast flowing (and breaking). Freedom from such rackets, however, is fiercely defended against. Gaslighting us that we’re addicted, when better alternatives exist, is an elementary powerplay; one that evidently our governments are too dense or greedy to refrain from going along with.
Buckminster Fuller said it best: instead of battling these dinosaurs, we’ve got to create a better alternative. And then vigilantly not let grifters pretend to sell knock-offs of the real thing. Having a strong YES to eco-innovation (socially-understood) and a strong NO to those rentier-seekers aiming to pawn off fakes for the real thing to siphon off business to their old hegemonies, is what will bring us deliverance.
In many ways, this is predictable enough. We need more police power, more data, more panopticon. Not better education, better prosecution of high up officials who goaded the failed coup d’etat, more social cohesion. No, that would actually achieve the end. But the end isn’t the end, viz., the goal is to accrue more power and legibility, not to actually stop terrorism. This cycle of reactivity, to only use the tools of violence, rather than reassessing social engineering and design, is exactly how you get more coup d’etats. On a logical level, it’s almost funny, if it weren’t for the dire consequences, and world-historic mess-ups.
Right now, the US Democrats are part of this treason, doing everything in their power to let voting be corrupted, districts gerrymandered, and terrorists win. There is no authority in the Democrats – they do nothing to staunch the bleeding, but only through gaff after gaff make themselves less potent to represent those they are elected to represent.
It is end times for traditional politics. The right and the left are no longer so clear cut. The long slide towards dictatorship is almost complete – and the mainstream hasn’t noticed this whole time. Those sounding the alarm for the past century have been marginalized, outside the meticulously kept Overton window of acceptable discourse.
There are no winners in this folly. Such inaction now – according to Karl Popper’s Paradox of Tolerance – assures much more intolerance and violence in the future. The system is gearing up for mutual dehumanization, increased deliberate misunderstanding, and a complete meltdown (which is already occurring in not-so-slow motion, if you’ve been watching). Social-ecological-political-economic meltdown is already happening and has been happening for those most marginalized, discriminated against, and materially compromised. Now, it’s beginning to happen to the rest of us. But right now, unless we actually see coordinated, organized leadership in the US government, we’re digging the country’s own grave.
My recently published paper in Environment & Society“Surveying the Chemical Anthropocene: Chemical Imaginaries and the Politics of Defining Toxicity,” draws on Sheila Jasanoff’s notion of “sociotechnical imaginaries” to describe how chemicals become cultural artifacts as much as material ones. This means that the flows of toxic chemical exposures are not impartial to the fears of contamination of the powerful, nor to to the racist, classist, sexist, gendered, and xenophobic preexisting constructions which have legitimated systemic forms of discrimination. Those who can, remove themselves from the toxics gradient, those who cannot suffer what they must. But such inequalities structurally create ignorance, and an agnotological deconstruction of the methods of how industries prey on preexisting biases to circumvent public feedback and accountability is an oroborous of legitimized harm.
In the article, I deploy Michel Serres’s optic of “appropriation by contamination” to indicate the colonial aspects of toxic chemical manufacture and exposures. Contamination renders necrotic land, flesh, and other areas of materiality, so that they cannot be used for anything else except further contamination. According to Carolyn Merchant, Fabian Scheidler, and many others, such scorched earth chemical and mining practices have been occurring for many hundreds of years, first in Europe, and then in other areas of the world.
In accordance with the infamous World Bank memo by that rational racist Lawrence Summers, once Europe got rich enough and had kicked the pollution of industrialization into high enough gear that it was killing a high enough proportion of its upper and middle classes, it simply virtualized the pollution, not by actually cleaning up the chemical industry’s act, but by shipping it overseas. Thus this wave of chemical imperialism I describe, ends up first poisoning the capital centers, and then once they succeed in regulating such practices, these same industrial processes – unchanged – move overseas. The failure to learn any lessons from the human health harms, the inability to flinch and reflect, before outsourcing our pollution elsewhere, is part of chemical colonialism.
We live in the middle of a chemical soup, created by the ambitions of companies and governments locked in an arms race through the competition of markets and the zero-sum game of market share. There is a huge asymmetry between the testing of chemicals and the invention and deployment of chemicals. Less than one percent of all chemicals produced in 25,000 pounds or more per year in the United States have been fully tested by the EPA’s Chemical Review Program (Krimsky 2017). Yet institutions and companies are under tremendous pressure to roll out new chemicals every year, at an ever increasing harried pace, as part of the Verschlimmbessernpolitik of ‘solutionism‘. Furthermore, 40% of chemical (including pharmaceutical) regulator income comes from the companies themselves, so bureaucrats have a vested interest in keeping the chemical treadmill running and not falling afoul of the cancer-causing gravy boat.
In the conclusion, I discuss that until we get focused on biomaterials, and get away from extracts and synthetics, chemical reduction in our lives or #chemicaldegrowth is necessary. But I don’t shy away from the obvious fact that this means that we can’t have all the nice cheap stuff we have. We need phones and computers that last for 20 years with tiny little pieces we switch out (what the FairPhone and Framework try to do, but better). We need robustness standards on all of our electronics, we need a maintenance culture, rather than an innovation culture. Just like the Manifesto for Maintenance Art, it is the culture of maintenance, or of care, that our epoch requires. In an essence, this is a move away from the macho idea that I am stronger than the chemicals I’m exposed to (or like a good Social Darwinist I deserve to die if I’m not), to honoring and listening attentive to those with chemical sensitivities as the canaries in the coalmine we’re making of the planet. Instead of ridiculing and gaslighting those who have more refined and deeper sensing abilities than the average chemically-intoxicated person, responsibilizing their problems, we should see that we perhaps have just been dulled down too much already through contamination to realize what’s going on.
They say that our capacity for change is inversely proportional with our sadistic willingness to suffer. Maybe it’s time to realize that sacrificing ourselves before the captains of industry to keep the cogs running has diminishing returns, and that the time has come to inventory, reduce stock, and close down shop of the most toxic businesses despoiling biology’s unique promise of intelligence and agency.
In an Earth Day issue of Time magazine (April 26/ May3 2021), we have an advertisement from the RJ Reynolds (or Reynolds American) tobacco company “Natural” American Spirits proclaiming “in more ways than one, bees are worthy of our love.” Yes, we ought to love the bees, and smoke cigarettes made by BAT (the owner of Reynolds), the #2 largest tobacco company on earth. This is what we call “bee washing,” and companies use it because it works.
“Beewashing” is using “save the bees” pleas to sell more product.
It resonates with people because for some odd reason, just like early Christian monks organized their monastery on the beehive, we know deep down that the fate of the bees and our fates are intertwined. As Einstein quipped, if bees disappear from the earth, humanity soon follows.
My paper looks beyond the rational reasons for why humans seem to be so captivated by bees – why we are willing to act for them, despite their puny size and relatively difficult to anthropomorphize characteristics (charismatic microfauna, they have been called).
I look at the documentary #QueenoftheSun and novel #FifthSacredThing by Starhawk as depictions of human-bee interspecies relationships based on love & reciprocity as indicative of the spiritual undergirding driving our defense of bees, and suggest such goodwill travels to other contexts. I conclude that connecting with people’s more theological and cosmological orientations is a successful way to motivate falling in love with the earth again, and attending to those aspects of the world deemed expendable in meeting our needs through industrial means. Such care and connection is not without it’s own illusions and perils, but remains an inextricable thread to solving our global climate crisis of meaning as well as material mattering.
My kid doesn’t play with Legos the way that Lego wants you to think that people build Legos.
Instead of those lush displays with those thousand dollar co-branded sets with odious media corporations that only have pieces that you can use in one way once and then it’s not really usable again for just playing and improvising and making your own stuff, my kid makes Franken-lego disturbing constructions. A reason for this, is because I’ve actually never bought a set of Legos for my son. When I was a kid all the pieces interlocked so if you bought a set it would transfer to your overall larger collection of pieces to be used for an infinite number of future builds. But now the pieces don’t really work that way. Instead I see my son looking at the collection that we inherited, and he regularly asks why the Lego men and women – Lego people – are missing their arms or hands or heads. It seems like an aberration to him, and so he always asks why.
He asks why because obviously nothing in nature is piecemeal snaps together or is take-apartable; it doesn’t work that way. So when he’s asking questions about why does this guy have no hands or why does she have no head and he instead just snaps on a computer console piece where the head should be, it makes me understand how deeply ingrained in our society is a mechanistic view of the universe. The idea that it’s all disposable and interchangeable. This is the metaphysics on which Western philosophy and engineering is based on. It’s an engineering view of the world. But nothing living works that way, so there is a discrepency. And that’s why my three-year old is puzzled and disturbed by these missing parts; precisely because they point out that in life, nothing is simply missing.
Previously, no doll simply was toted around without their head unless there was a very intense story about how it got that way. Now we’re able to open cognitively to chimeras of all sorts, because almost all interactions in our lives are based on this hybrid interchangeability, a instrumentalization of everything. Technomedicine tries to accomplish the same interchangability of parts. Replace this organ here (never mind who it comes from, or what black markets exist for some entitled person who blew their kidneys or liver out from years of abuse), get an artificial heart there. If we are not the body, as the Cartesian metaphysics of mis-interpreted Christianity claims, then, you can hack up the whole thing and sew it back together however you please with no remainders.
Of course the shadow side of this, is that nothing has any value if it can just be exchange for something else. No matter how much you can exchange it for, if it is exchangeable and bollocks to the remainder, there is lacking certain forms of value, even if it might have a different sort of value and exchange economy. But it’s important to not collapse these two different types of value into one. Value is contextual. My heart is uniquely clocked to the rest of my body. My hands bear the battle scars of my events and decisions. The tenderness in their weaknesses would not be valued if they were given to another – those sentimental reminders would be interpreted only as weakness, not as years of service.
Thus, the things we play with, engage with, on an everyday basis, form the models we hold for how to treat people and the rest of nature. If our models are fragmentable and fragmentizing, it is all too easy to believe that such fragmentation, such dispensibility and replaceability, is an innate quality of reality, and that life is reducible to things that can be swapped out. If we take this view, we have grasped but half of reality, the digital code aspect, and ignored the analog, the gestalt, the élan vital, which is irreducible to mechanics. We need better toys to represent these aspects of reality, so that we’re not just coding for solely left-brain halls of mirrors, feeding back to us a fragmented self and reality.
My co-edited book with Jonathan Hope, Food and Medicine: A Biosemiotic Perspective, was just published with Springer Nature (2021).
This volume explores how the most basic processes in our everyday lives – the material engagement with food and medicine – affect us and other organisms. The biological signals food and medicine provide are the basic way we as organisms interface with our environment. What gets coded as food/non-food, or medicine/poison is a determinant for every lifeform.
the medical ethnobotanist and philosopher Stephen Buhner had the following astute observations (posted in Facebook):
There’s a particularly good article in today’s Guardian on covid-19. I think it well worth a read. I have, of course, received scores of emails from people (with varying degrees of insistence) about the origin of the coronavirus. And, as many people know, I have been warning about the emergence of resistant and emerging microbes for over twenty years now. They are inevitable and we are unprepared for them (mostly because the medical industry is corrupt, its relationship with government oversight a joke; it is all about the money, not our health). The coronavirus origin is not and never has been an issue for me, just a matter of minor intellectual interest. Most people seem to believe that if the virus emerged as the result of a lab leak it makes some sort of essential difference. It doesn’t. It is still here, it is still a problem, it still has to be dealt with. I think that the reason that so many people are focused on the lab leak possibility is that then at least we will have someone to blame rather than having to deal with Nature inexplicably doing stuff to us. Oddly enough, the insistence on the lab leak comes out of an underlying belief that Nature can be controlled (it can’t) and we would be safe (we aren’t). In other words, IF the scientists had left well enough alone, none of this would have happened. Or, if they had practiced better safety protocols it would not have happened. The thing is, pandemics are inevitable. There are simply too many of us, there is too much pressure on natural systems, and ecosystems are beginning to fail. This always allows pathogen emergence. In fact it is a form of protection from ecosystem overload. We are just an animal, like all the others. If we put too much pressure on ecological systems we will pay for it. It is not personal, just as gravity is not personal if we drop a rock on our toe. It is just the way things work here. Should scientists be messing about with genetically altering organisms on this planet? No, they should not. Should they be messing about with pandemic capable pathogens? No they should not. It is part of the hubris of the rationalists and their scientific priests, the scientists (which are themselves part of the most successful of the protestant sects: science). I have been writing about the problems among the scientific and medical community for decades. The fact is that they are just people, no more important or valuable than a plumber or a waitress. As long as they are socially placed on a pedestal, considered better and more valuable human beings because of their degrees or job, we are in trouble. BECAUSE . . . they are people and possess all the limitations and stupidities that all of us do. Human error is inevitable. Always. Still, a lot of people believe that if it came from a lab, somehow that makes things different. Again, it really doesn’t. You have to consider the possibility that instead of us deciding to alter the organisms in the lab that the organisms decided to be altered in a human lab and simply used scientists who believe in human control to do it for them. This, of course insults core rationalist beliefs but there is far more going on here than rationalists can accept. They prefer simple reductionism and the foolish belief that humans are superior to all other life forms on this planet. (Haven’t they seen the movie? Everyone else has.) Earth is not as insentient as the rationalists and monotheists believe. Nor are our companion species. As my writings have shown (esp in Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm, Healing Lyme, and the antibiotic and antiviral books) bacteria are some of the most intelligent species on this planet. So are viruses. They are not as stupid as most researchers believe them to be — and have convinced most people they are. In any event, here is the link to the article (the links in the article are well worth reading as well):
The thrust of the paper is that plant neurobiology aims to borrow the nomenclature of animal (including human) biology in order to boost the moral standing of plants. By showing analogs between animal and plant hormones and processes (analogs to brains in the root subapex, as Darwin originally postulated), plants can be treated as moral patients. However, this approach fails to acknowledge the difference of plants, and value that difference. In attempting to use animal biology language for plants, however well intentioned by plant neurobiologists, speaking in the master’s language fails to do plants justice, and reaffirms the human- and animal-centric moral evaluative position. Instead, I offer a (non-utilitarian) pluralistic account of value that allows recognition of plant intelligence without requiring that intelligence to measure up against mammal intelligence.
Here’s the abstract: Plant biologists widely accept plants demonstrate capacities for intelligence. However, they disagree over the interpretive, ethical and nomenclatural questions arising from these findings: how to frame the issue and how to signify the implications. Through the trope of ‘plant neurobiology’ describing plant root systems as analogous to animal brains and nervous systems, plant intelligence is mobilised to raise the status of plants. In doing so, however, plant neurobiology accepts an anthropocentric moral extensionist framework requiring plants to anthropomorphically meet animal standards to be deserving of moral respect. I argue this strategy is misguided because moral extensionism is an erroneous ontological foundation for ethics.
Some entitlements are deserved: added respect and deference for those who have dedicated their lives to the common good; accommodation for the elderly, pregnant women, children, and those who need it; respect for those who have sacrificed their own good and interests for those of (especially underserved) others.
We have all sorts of entitlements: ambassadors don’t have to be responsible for infractions and misdemeanors in most countries; the rich buy lawyers that can help exculpate them from crimes ranging from pedophilia rings (Epstein) to murder (O.J. Simpson), to genocide and medical cruelty (Trump’s immigrant death camps and medical experiments).
Somehow, we willy-nilly accept these sorts of entitlements – by virtue of them actually occurring, the fact that these monsters have gotten away with it. Meanwhile, our society locks up indigenous protestors protecting the water sources for millions of people, Black children get shot to death by police in America, and in the Netherlands, people with ‘foreign’ sounding names get pegged for child benefit fraud (this very claim the result of racist fraud).
So, what does this have to do with undeserved entitlement? And environmental (in)justice?
If historically advantaged minorities create two-tiered legal and moral systems preventing others from getting away with the crimes they enjoy with impunity, this gives them undeserved entitlements. Undeserved, because these entitlements are predicated on their wealth, power, and authority derived from colonialism, violence, and harming others. If you agree as I do, that no just society could have billionaires, just as no just society could have dictators because even if they are benevolent or philanthropic ones, at any given time they could easily ‘flip’ and arbitrarily exercise power harming others according to their will and caprice, then clearly these forms of power and authority lead to undeserved entitlements.
Just as we view as noxious mafias exercising their own form of illegitimate extrajudicial power, the judicial and extrajudicial powers of economic elites too should be reframed as abuses of illegitimate power. Illegitimate because economic hoarding has precisely zero correlation with largess, beneficence, magnanimity, or any virtue, for that matter.
After 20 years of meditating on the subject, I’ve noticed one thing: health inequalities and environmental destruction have a single source: in exclusion. Gated communities and sacrifice zones are predicated on opting out of a shared fate. The idea of expendables, that these people will have to fend for themselves while we do what we can to protect ours, leads to further eroding the social and ecological commons we all rely on for survival and meaning-making. As long as we can throw others under the bus to get ahead, those with the means to do so and get away with it will continue to do so. The moment we agree that such corrupt and cruel action will not be permitted under any circumstances and punished by stripping offenders of their means to commit such crimes, our ecological and social commons will regenerate and improve, making things better for all — and especially the historically most discriminated against.
If it weren’t for the separation of pollution into the categories of those subject to it and those profiting off it, pollution wouldn’t exist. That’s why I strongly advocate that anyone making money off of contaminating processes should be those most exposed to the contamination. In such a scenario, we’d see how long pollution would continue.
“Cargo vessel stuck in Suez Canal drives up shipping losses estimating $9 billion per day” – CBS’ headline reads
Global commodity markets can fail spectacularly.
One little tie up like a stuck boat, and $9 billion is lost a day.
What people don’t realize is that this $9 billion is the same money that poor and rich people worldwide destroy their ecosystems, communities, and themselves for every day in order to survive or get ‘ahead.’
As part of my procrastination today from writing my book, I stumbled upon this video by the YouTube science communicator Veritasium.
What’s so lovely about the video is how clearly it explains reams of philosophical debates between liberals and libertarians in twelve minutes, and comes to a more cogent conclusion than most of them.
Basically, situated epistemologies require those most advantageously situated to help other have better luck. Combining social psychology and behavioral economics, this video clarifies through an experimental model how luck always plays some role.
The myth of the self-made man is one of the most destructive ones of our society, and acts as cover for those well-off to not value others who have not been so lucky. The punchline of the entire video is that we have benefited from intergenerational largess, and so those who have benefited the most have a duty to enlarge the ability for others to get recognition, validation, and resources through creating opportunities for other to enlarge the pool of luck – horizontally, not vertically.
Thus, policy implications include:
Getting rid of the possibility for billionaires (using a combination of taxation, demurrage (negative interest rates), taxes on trading financial assets, etc)
Regenerating the welfare state (including a universal basic income)
Social norm changes: quit venerating billionaires or other wealth hoarders as false idols
Not let people like Bill Gates or Elon Musk make public health or climate policy decisions — as these are far out of their expertise — only because they are rich or influencers
Quit using philanthropy as an ersatz for a functioning social democracy.
Return society to science, rather than let the irrationalities of greed eclipse scientific progress, insights, and applications
I just read the New York Times excerpt of Michael Patrick F. Smith’s (names don’t get more American, or Irish–his middle, middle name is Flanigan) book The Good Hand: A Memoir of Work, Brotherhood, and Transformation in an American Boomtown. What struck me first was how successful this guy is in the liberal darling — rough outsider: he’s story is about working on an oil rig — while still being pro-climate policy. He’s exactly the darling liberals have been waiting to come forward and lavish their praise on, to show that they are right and conservatives are wrong. But Smith aims to short-circuit this narrative with zingers: “Like most Americans I know, I have both strong progressive and conservative values.” This statement is immediately arresting because it is true. The Tweedledee-Tweedledum liberal conservative polarity is simply bunk. Any person, if they look into their own complexities realizes that the ideological camps we’re told we have to camp out in, never really represent our full values.
In reading the reader comments, the reason for the NYT (and Viking press) lauding and promoting this book are obvious, in addition to those described above. What is at stake is the definition of sustainable. Smith says that his conservative rural buddies have lower-carbon impacts than the liberal city slickers. This was the line most attacked by NYT readers. But what is at stake is something greater: liberals want an energy regime that sustains the unsustainable lifestyles of urbanites, tuning out to where there food, energy, water, and infrastructure come from. Cities are the classic reverse-Robin Hood: they rob from the peripheries and funnel resources to the centers. Most cities grow little food, and import almost all their stuff. Meanwhile, growing and sourcing your own food, and knowing your local ecology is something that you have to learn by default living rurally. You have to budget your ecology, live within your limits. Sure, you might burn a lot of wood during winter, but hell, its romantic — and local (if you’re not some rich ski person who buys or imports their wood).
So, the question is: does sustainability mean living off the land, more locally, more simply? Or does it mean technologically-driven and dependent futures that strive to be less impactful? The conceit of the first is that this is available for all — it’s not. We have to drastically reduce the world population to live sustainably like pioneers. The fallacy of the second is that we can have our cake and eat it too: that sustainability doesn’t require drastically re-engineering everything about our habits and lives. We can just surf on clean energy into the singularity. Both views are flawed, and will not get us to avoid collapse; but also have their merits. We must live more simply (without cars) but also in greater connection to the land. Slowing down the pace and scope of life will be necessary. We can choose it, or it will choose us. Global coordination and innovation, the type that cities provide, however, is also crucial for our future. The trick is, as Smith suggests, combining the virtues of both while owning up to their respective dark sides. Are conservatives ready for that? Are liberals?
The Washington Post‘s expose today 18 Dec 2020 on the few island nations that are still 100% COVID-19-free discusses the economic meltdown that has occurred as tourism has collapsed, especially as many of these island nations have imposed what the Post calls “preemptive lockdown” and “most drastic anti-coronavirus travel ban in the world.”
The Post insinuates that this is a bad thing — that had Micronesia been a bit more permissive and welcoming of the pandemic, they would have had less devastating economic losses. But perhaps this framing is backwards. Instead, what it reveals is the unsustainability of exogenously-sustained economies. That islands have become completely dependent on the global business model of travel and tourism. Long term, this is fragile, instead of anti-fragile (in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s description). John Rawls in his Theory of Justice even devotes an entire section on resource sovereignty and not needing external imports to sustain oneself (an implicit ecological argument — for my analysis on this elsewhere, see “The Threshold Problem in Intergenerational Justice“). In a sense, this is the opposite of Kant’s notion of Cosmopolitan Citizenship in Perpetual Peace, where trading makes us all so reliant on one another, that peace reigns because fighting each other destabilizes our economic and metabolic dependencies.
But instead of focusing on retooling these island nation’s ability to provide for themselves, to go back to their permaculture roots, they are given a false gambit: open up and woo biological misfortune, or stay closed and woo economic disaster. This is a great teaching moment.
Biological integrity is a thing. It has been swept under the rug for the last century, as elites, and a trickle down of upper middle class jet setters have drummed up an entirely just-in-time global logistics network where most of the food we eat and resources we use come from far, far away. It’s nice to eat bananas and avocados — I’ll admit. But would I give them (and many other things up) for a healthier world? You betcha.
If the choice is between being a potato-eater and being able to work and hug, versus getting exotic fruits in a closed-down quarantined life, I’ll choose the former any time.
Last year an edited volume on speculative vegetation that I contributed a chapter to on Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume came out with the University of Wales press in the New Dimensions in Science Fiction series (with a beautiful cover, I might add).
Since then, some nice reviews have surfaced, for example:
“Science fiction teaches us to ‘be-with others better.’ This is the core argument of Plants in Science Fiction, captured in one of its chapters and suffused throughout. Readers will come away with a profound and challenging understanding of what it means to be human, as well as a deep appreciation for the critical function of science fiction in a threatened world.” — Eric Otto, Florida Gulf Coast University
“Plants in Science Fiction demonstrates that science fiction and ecocriticism have much to say to each other. By considering ‘speculative vegetation,’ of course, we learn much about our own lives in the present moment on Earth.’ — Scott Slovic, Editor-in-Chief, ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment
Lunch lecture on the relationship between climate and viruses by environmental philosopher and public health scientist Yogi Hale Hendlin.
The impact of the Covid-19 crisis on climate is contradictory, to say the least: besides positive effects like reduction of CO2 emissions from fewer airplanes in the sky and cars on roads, the negative effects include “ghost flights” and tens of millions of littered face masks daily. Corona and climate-change both are global “wicked” problems without current solutions. With the idea of ‘never waste a good crisis’ in the back of our heads, we investigate what lessons we can learn from eco-philosophy?
Environmental philosopher and public health scientist Yogi Hale Hendlin will discuss the relationship between climate and viruses during this webinar and argues for a drastic change in behavior instead of treating symptoms. Is our relationship to flora and fauna not partly to blame for the current crisis? Which insights from climate research offer a perspective for the corona crisis, and vice versa? And how these two pandemics – one infectious, the other chronic – intertwined?
Dr. Yogi Hale Hendlin is an assistant professor in the Erasmus School of Philosophy and core member of the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative at Erasmus University Rotterdam. At the University of California, San Francisco, Hendlin is a research associate in the Environmental Health Initiative, working on the Chemical Industry Documents and Fossil Fuel Industry Documents. Hendlin has published in journals such as BMJ, Plos Medicine, Annals of Internal Medicine, MMWR and AJPH.
From Erasmus Magazine’s misrepresentative title “Smoke-free campus: responsible decision or counter-productive?” for the very pro smokefree campus comments from students actually interviewed in the article to the irresponsible and juvenile “Free to Smoke Zone” cartoon, it appears that more than sentiments of staff or students, it is Erasmus Magazine itself which is against the inevitable. A national law prohibiting smoking on the campuses of all institutions of learning countrywide, EM’s attempt to foment controversy where there is little, is either just clickbait or jousting at windmills.
Granted, EUR could have done better at communicating the law and what that means for students. This would have happened normally, but we are not in normal times.
Furthermore, there are a number of structural issues preventing a smooth transition to the current regulations. For example, at EUR there are no experts on tobacco control in the Smokefree Working Group. Only recently did the university form a “think tank” as an afterthought to address this oversight. In not putting the science of going smokefree on campuses first and foremost, the university has abdicated its responsibility to be science-based in its policy making. Instead, in shying away from actually affective, clear, and unambiguous actions, it is setting itself up to fail on every dimension. Lack of clear communication of the new rules and support for smokers is bound to make some smokers angry because they won’t know the details, and it won’t be clear what the rules or penalties are. EUR’s delay on this issue will also make nonsmokers upset because the national law says that people can’t smoke on campuses of educational institutions but EUR has not yet effective achieved, based on a cowardliness to stand behind clear and fair preventative measures and penalties. And EUR may even fail to comply with the national law, which could cost our university fines from the government, bleeding our university unnecessarily, when we have already suffered budget cuts. Plus, EUR’s potential failure to comply with laws sours our reputation versus business and governmental partners with whom we might pursue future contact.
Especially in times of corona, which is a respiratory disease, smoking will only make it worse. If we have social distancing on campus, lowering the quality of education and costing faculties untold hours of suffering in adjusting to the double responsibility of hybrid education, then we must certainly do our due diligence in not creating more disease vectors on campus. If we’re wearing masks to prevent viruses from entering our nasal passages, it makes only sense to get rid of non-essential pollution sources that weaken our immune system and predispose us to sickness.
An short article I wrote zooming out on the Black Lives Matter movement – “Decolonization Matters” – has just appeared in the journal Kosmos: Journal for Global Transformation.
There I write
The “white fragility” fear that the oppressed will become the new oppressors turns out to be a self-serving myth. Matriarchy isn’t a mirror reflection of patriarchy; Black Power doesn’t mean reproducing a black version of white supremacy. Rather, these alternative approaches signal the transformation and reconciliation of categories, not reproducing them merely with a different set of people at the helm.
The same Autumn 2020 issue of the journal also has many other highly relevant contributions from scholars in decolonization of thought I admire such as Alnoor Ladha, Vandana Shiva, Charles Eisenstein, and David Abram. If you look up the #curadaterra hashtag, you’ll find contributions like mine discussing how to decolonize matter – that is existence in all of it’s physical and energetic forms.
While you have to register to view the article, it’s free, and Kosmos really is full of thoughtful insights on our contemporary dynamics moving from domination to partnership.
It’s a thing. Like greenwashing, whitewashing, or astroturfing. Bee-washing is big business. It’s how companies fool us into consuming more: by appeasing our sense of guilt beforehand. It’s almost like they tried to reverse engineer our resistant points against buying things we don’t need and which hurt the environment, and then systematically distracting and deluding our conscious mind so that we’ll buy their crap anyhow.
Don’t believe me? Listen to Adam Conover explain it:
From Tom’s Shoes to Burt’s Bees, to BodyShop and all the other fake do-gooder companies that attempt to make their billion dollar businesses into “aw shucks” 501(c)3s on the outside while replicating the same corporate structure as ExxonMobil, the myth of doing good through consumption is especially coopted for groups leaning on the environment.
Here are just a few beewashing advertisements I’ve recently come across:
noun /bēwäSHiNG/ 1. a form of greenwashing where a product, service, or organization is advertised as being more “bee-friendly” than it actually is
These major corporations and their support of unsustainable agriculture practices are here figured both as cause of colony collapse disorder and savior of the bees. They use their bee-washing to smokescreen their complicity in CCD.
Bees have become little more than a branding tool for most of the corporations that mention them. And some academic might potentially do an overview of all the mentions of bees by food and personal care product companies, and see how much of it would be considered bee-washing (my guess, upwards of 90%).
Here, I can only reiterate what I have stated (and will continue to state) elsewhere:
Companies should be outlawed and fined for using images of nature (whether bees, pandas, beautiful trees, sunsets, etc) until they can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are actually not destroying the material conditions for these beings and phenomena to flourish.
Short of this, we fall into necrophilic symbols, a cannibalism of the real by memes. This is just the sort of simulacra replacing life and living systems that Baudrillard warned us about.
I’m a jazz fan and player, and during the corona quarantine I started reaching beyond my normal playlist, and found the amazing work of Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah after stumbling across his stunning NPR Tiny Desk Concert. (If you don’t know this pioneering *stretch* jazz trumpeter and composer, look him up)
The flautist in his band, Elena Pinderhughes, he introduced as being only 20 in the 2015 recording, which is impressive in of itself. Upon looking her up, she has performed multiple times at the Obama White House, at Carnegie Hall, etc. So, it turns out she is a child prodigy.
Pinderhughes also sings. Her phrasing and swung rhythm is quite impressive, especially for a young person. For example in this 2013 video, where she must have been in junior high or high school, the push and pull against the beat, both in her singing and her flute playing (back to back, no less), creates the jazz flavor of suspension of time, eloquently.
As I found out that she is originally from Berkeley, California, my alma mater and home for many years, I became interested in her current work – whether perhaps I had seen her play out once at the Starry Plow, La Peña, Ashkanaz, or the Freight and Salvage, all venues I frequented.
Despite the fact that Christian Scott’s album titled by the same type of hip-hop and beyond jazz blend called “stretch jazz” featured Pinderhughes in the title – Stretch Music (Introducing Elena Pinderhughes) – Pinderhughes has not yet released a solo album in the last 5 years surprisingly.
She has played at so many high profile concerts, and recently accompanied funk jazz legend Herbie Hancock. Here’s an amazing solo she did at the Obama White House with Common, the famous hip-hop artist.
I’m not sure if they’re siblings, but here’s Samora Pinderhughes rapping accompanying Common at another Tiny Desk concert by the group August Greene.
On several write-ups and bios on Elena in 2015, there’s the following text:
“In 2015 Ms. Pinderhughes signed with SRP Music Group — responsible for signing Rihanna, among others — and began her journey as a solo artist. She is working on her debut project, which will showcase her voice and songwriting, and bring together her musicality, harmony, rhythm, and culture to create a specific sound all her own.”
This made no sense: she signed to a prestigious label, and 5 years later no album and hardly any social media presence? It was an enigma.
Upon looking on my usual music services, I found that Elena Pinderhughes had been reincarnated (most likely by SRP Music Group) as “Elena Ayodele.”
Such reincarnations are not uncommon in the music “industry” where artists become commodities, and one has to perform according to a contractual role.
I was a bit surprised though that SRP had both achieved constraining Elena’s output (for example, her sparse YouTube videos in the past 5 years) without producing the debut album. The only video they made, a trailer for the song “Roses,” released in 2017, has a scant few thousand views. Such an artist deserves better than that. But the literal suffocation with roses makes one think if Pinderhughes hasn’t also been suffocated under her contract.
The full version of the song can be heard here on Soundcloud.
The song itself is not bad, it has a nice complex melody, but the flue isn’t nearly as integrated as I’m sure many fans hoped. It’s much more trap than jazz, perhaps a little too stretch for many jazz fans.
As I got watching her rather bizarre, mock-epic, overblown production video, and saw the immense waste of roses – and of her talent, signed away and locked up with some mega shadow record label (thinking of Prince here) – I couldn’t but help remember an article during the early days about the corona flower industry crash.
Living in Holland, the world emporium for cut flowers, the images of empty auction houses struck a cord – the global commodity chains seem overwhelming. Roses were down 70% from last year.
To have such markets for life – performers or flowers – everything a means without an end, without a value in of itself, without any final pleasure or good or truth, but just to be consumed – the connections between Pinderhughes/Ayodele and the global flower market under corona times somehow dovetailed as tragedies with common sources.
Bloomburg writes: “The blooms are sold under the traditional Dutch auction system, in which prices start high then tick lower as a clock counts down. The first buyer to pounce wins. As the lots are bought, electric tractors pull long trains of wagons loaded with blooms from one side of the warehouse to the other. The average day sees more than 100,000 transactions. Most of the flowers end up elsewhere in Europe, in under 12 hours.”
Just as the global flows of flowers is tightly controlled by an artificial system of supply and demand, killing off interest in local flowers for the pruned porno version of flowers, I wondered about the health of Pinderhughes under her contract. Was she yet another artist being strangled by a thanatogical system? What would have been her creativity in these past 5 years if she had been enabled rather than constrained. If she could have been free to be all the different versions of herself, and stumble and evolve along the way?
As Bloomburg reported: “The crash of the $8.5 billion global trade in cut flowers shows how quickly and distinctively the new coronavirus is disrupting supply chains, even in places where it isn’t yet pervasive.” People lost their professions and tens of thousands lost their jobs in Africa, because of a pandemic that had yet to hit them. This is how global capitalism works – it takes away home markets and instead of creating interdependence, creates global fragility, where the poor are contingent upon the whims of the rich and there is no more self-sufficient local economy. It’s like dating: if you have nothing to offer, you’re going to look for your second half because you’re not complete. And no person can ever complete an incomplete person. That’s why the sacred marriage spoken of in alchemy has to do with self-sufficiency, becoming both man and woman to oneself, to not have to need the other. Only then does interdependence actually exist. Because then you can depend on each other; otherwise, its co-dependency.
A different example of a child prodigy which has worked is that of Jacob Collier. He turned town controlling contracts, even by Quincy Jones, and instead handled things on his terms, getting the best of both world. Perhaps with Pinderhughes her being a woman has played into the traditional misogyny of the music industry, the idea of women being “managed” by music firms, as the pressure for women in our society to present in particularly sexualized and stereotyped ways is far greater than men. As a fan of her work, I can only wish her freedom, creative license, and the respect of all those who she works with – because she deserves it.
I’ll be giving a webinar lecture Friday May 8th for the International Federation of Medical Students’ Association – the Netherlands as part of their Youth Delegate Programme masterclass series in collaboration with the Dutch ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports (VWS), and the Ministry of International Affairs (BuZa).
I’m excited to share my research in their series on Global Health amidst the COVID-19 crisis.