“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Monday, March 18, 2019

Why Oh Why Oh Why

Irritating Professor Morton, who always strives, whether deliberately or not, to say the wrong thing in public, has been wondering why he doesn't like very much the "Shock Horror: Response to Environmental Disaster Whatever-that-is Is Racist and Treats Economic Classes Differently" type of headline/tweet/opinion.

I have realized why: the statement perfectly reproduces the ideology that there's this thing called Nature, outside of social space, while on a superficial level claiming not to or even seeming to do the opposite.

I mean, we don't go around saying "Shock Horror: War Whatever-it-is Treats People Differently Depending on Race, Class and Gender" do we? It shouldn't be shocking that since wars happen in social space, and since social space is patriarchal, racist and involving of intense class hierarchies, wars tend to discriminate. Because the way supermarkets are built tends to discriminate. Because standardized testing tends to discriminate.

The shock horror phenomenology of environmental racism reporting is really really not good, because it's a symptom of and reproducer of the idea that there's this thing that happens to social space, it's called the environment or Nature, and this thing is outside of social space. It should be beyond obvious that since hurricanes happen to social space, and since social space is racist and patriarchal etc, what hurricanes do and how humans respond to them will be racist and patriarchal etc. Being shocked is an incredibly uncool symptom of the racism and patriarchy that in fact created the difference between human and nonhuman in the first place (and defined social space as human), way back in 10 000 BC or whatever.

You think, somehow, that magically people and institutions will drop the racism and behave differently when there's a hurricane? We are all about to get regular data on how that isn't ever true as long as racism persists. Why express surprise when it happens? There must be a speed bump in the discourse right there. We should get to the point where the obvious tautology makes us hesitate, instead of going "OMG! Nasty Thing Happens to Person Living in Nasty Social Conditions!"

Still don't get it? So my mum couldn't afford a car when I was little. I had to take the train to school. When the school grounds flooded because the Thames Barrier wasn't yet complete, I was fucked. It shoudn't have been surprising, and it wasn't. Do you see what happens when you say "Wow! Economically Fucked Person Is also Ecologically Fucked. Who Knew?!"

And there's this extra layer of magical thinking that I detect. Like the response to whatever is supposed to transcend or even get rid of social problems. It expresses while distorting and suppressing a truth: responses to stuff that happens should not be racist. The weird ideological magic bit is the idea that somehow the response to a hurricane will be "different" and will make everything nice. That's why this green new deal thing is interesting. Someone is realizing that making everything nice socially is exactly responding well to an environmental crisis. And I would add, since social space includes hedgehogs and cats and stomach bacteria, and hurricanes for that matter, social space was never entirely human, and the reproduction of the meme that it is entirely human, implicit in the shocking headline, is absolutely caught up in racism.

That's why there's an upside-down truth in the right wing fear that ecological language is intrinsically left wing, and that this is a way to smuggle in the "agenda" through the back door aka the one that connects the house to "Nature." Correct. And distorted. At the same time. We are trying to ram socialism down your throat, quite desperately in fact, and the only problem is the idea that there's a "stealth" or "back door" thing going on here. Unfortunately some of the left rhetoric retweets this language of stealth and all that. Getting into solar power would indeed be a way to achieve greater social justice. Just be up front guys.

See what I mean? Stop it with the headlines. We should KNOW in our bones that social space is racist and that (as my logic implies) defeating racism is exactly the same thing as responding well to an environmental crisis. And, furthermore and more to the point, vice versa.

The extra awfulness is how very very often this shock-horror phenomenology is repeated. It's the go-to way to do this kind of thing. Which means that the way we talk about hurricanes in the press is also racist. Go figure.

1 comment:

Edy said...

Hi, may be you already have some ideas about Tao Te Ching but I'm finding parallels between this post and its Ch.38. Also part of your writings about temporal undulation of hyperobjects.