From the Series: Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen
The mode in which we humans talk to ourselves about ecology is largely taken for granted, like an old, reliable vacuum cleaner. And, like one of those old vacuum cleaners, it makes a horrible noise. The noise is the sound of data being dumped all over us. Forty! One hundred thousand! Two degrees Celsius! Fifty percent! Forget being a denier; anyone with a pulse must admit that this is a horrible mode to be stuck in. Our putatively cultural modes are no better: “It's not warming, it’s dying!” Or else, “we’re fucked!”
(I am putting these in quotation marks because they are, in fact, quotations. You know who you are.)
What is this nasty noise telling us? I suggest it is saying that to no extent have we actually started to live the data. To live the data, you need not only to be able to act and to think, but also to hesitate, contemplate, muse, puzzle, scribble, doodle, read. To dream. We need to start dreaming. This all sounds very counterintuitive in an age of ecological emergency. But it might be exactly right, even politically expedient, in an era of neoliberal shock doctrines in which the injunction to get off our backsides and work now penetrates all areas of our lives from primary school to Candy Crush. And this doctrine is just version 7.0 of the agricultural logistics that has been running in the background for over twelve thousand years. A logistics that has, by now, successfully wiped out fifty percent of actually existing animals and is doing a fantastic job of making Earth uninhabitable for currently existing lifeforms—making Earth uninhabitable in the name of survival.
So we have this mode of constant machination, not unlike Dory in Finding Nemo. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming (and damn the torpedoes). We have a mode of reacting to this machination, not unlike the scream of Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone, the hands pressed firmly to the ears, eyes wide open, rubbernecking the horror. We are, in other words, juddering along the same old path, at least in terms of our attitude. Horror might be more welcome than guilt or shame, let alone ignoring things altogether. But being stuck in horror mode isn’t going to help anyone.
I take what has been said and written here (at the AAA’s annual meeting and in this series) to be a powerful sign that humanities scholars are finally figuring out how to care about the fact that we coexist with other lifeforms on a large, but finite planet, that we are the biosphere in a sense much more complex and charged than the idea that we are the world. Right at the point at which continued carbon business as usual will result in a catastrophic temperature rise by 2100, we have started to dream. To fantasize. Ecological data beats you down so that you are unable to move. We desperately need some wiggle room.
Have a nice dream.