As usual when I’m in manic mode– usually after something upsetting has happened to me and I’m trying, unconsciously, to gentrify it through the signifier (I always write to and for someone) –I’m writing too many posts today. Anyway, yesterday on Facebook I wrote that “sometimes I just want to bang my head against the desk.” My good friend Joseph Goodson expressed curiosity as to what makes me want to bang my head against the desk. I didn’t respond. But generally the answer is that I’m literally horrified by the fact that collectively we have knowledge (and I’m not making any bullshit, postmodern qualifications about this) or that an argument is better than another, and the fact that changes nothing. We know yet nothing changes. It drives me nuts. We have the better argument (and no, I’m not saying I always have the better argument, though narcissistically I suffer from the flaw of thinking I do) and it doesn’t persuade. It drives me nuts. I’m horrified by this. My horror first began with how the American public responded following 9-11 (especially in the lead up to the Iraq war). It’s grown worse and worse in the intervening years as I’ve watched growing religious fanaticism (which is mainstream Christianity in the States… Sorry Episcopals, UU’s, and UCC’s, you’re the minority), as I’ve watched mainstream responses to our economic problems, as I watch the way in which environmental issues are shuffled off the table. It drives me crazy. No matter how much psychoanalysis I learn, no matter how much ideology critique I learn, it never ceases to amaze me. I never cease to be shocked at how bad our decision making processes are; at how bad our long-term reasoning is; at how malicious we can be. Hence my love of the Stoics and Epicureans: You guys can beat me up for having a “humanistic” ethical philosophy, but in the horror and loneliness that is this life, I have to find some way to at least achieve peace of mind. I have to follow what Epictetus says and recognize what is within my power and what isn’t and let go of what isn’t. Sadly it never quite works. I still despair. And I despair even more, as the Lacano-Freudian in me is knowledgeable enough to recognize that perhaps my despair is self-serving, narcissistic, and a symptom that functions to distract me from the real problems in the immediacy of my own life. Maybe I’m just concocting a grand narrative to distract myself from life and living. What am I supposed to do with that? What are you to do with the possibility that something is both a fantasy (and therefore a defense against “castration”) and true? Halls of mirrors.
So what will we be? If the catastrophe (economico-environmental) has already happened and we’re just awaiting the manifestation of its effects, what will we be following that? Mel says to me “when you use the internet, you’re using oil and coal.” In other words, there’s no “cultural-social” world that’s outside the world of natural resources. Part of the catastrophe will consist in peak oil (and fossil fuels in general) that are no longer available to run all of this: They will no longer be available to ship things as we do now, to produce agricultural goods as we do now, to run air conditioning as we do now (a real issue here in Texas), to drive as we do now, etc. Today Aaron posts the following video clip in comments to another post:[youtube.com/watch?v=JyO0WS79Xec&feature=player_embedded]
He observes, quite rightly, that there will be no “one-to-one” correspondence between the energy yielded by fossil fuels and the alternative energies we subsequently develop. Hear that cultural theorists? This has massive consequences. When you read a book you’re not just reading a book, but are drawing on trees, all those vehicles and tools used to cut down trees (requiring fossil fuels), and all that transportation needed to distrubute books. When you use the internet you’re burning oil and coal. When you eat a sandwich you’re eating oil and coal (by virtue of the energy required to produce and distribute it). You have to drive to work. You have to burn energy to send a memo and publish an article. You have to burn coal and oil to make an environment that makes Texas feasible as a place to live as it is now (I run my AC almost year round). There’s no nature/culture distinction. Culture always opens on to nature and nature is transformed by culture. Our lives are no different nor distinct than that of beavers building dams. We just build bigger and more intricate damns. And those dams require energy. Hence my remark that philosophy/theory needs a concept of work. Work requires energy and the formation of matters that resist. Us philosopher-theorists have no concept of work. We seem to think that ideas, beliefs, ideologies, signifiers, etc., do it all. We forget these these things burn other things to proliferate. We forget that the lifeworld is not just “meaning” (Heidegger), that it is not just the signifier (Lacan, etc), that it is not just beliefs. We forget that even meanings, signifiers, and beliefs, require their pound of flesh (energy).
We are the Last Wo/Men (of this age that lasted the short period of just over a 150 years). We have become ignorant because, as Andy Clark argues, our minds are extended, dependent on our technologies, and most of us don’t know how to do anything anymore (should I get a pellet gun and start shooting the rabbits in my backyard for dinner?). And much of that’s going to collapse. The ground is going to be pulled right out from beneath us because all those things that allow “real connections” to take place, all that energy that allows relations to be forged, are going to “evaporate”. So what will us last Wo/Man be after all this? What will we be after this world falls away? Will we be like the Medievals who saw the rotting remnants of Roman greatness and knew that it was gone (for them)? What will we do with all these remnants of knowledge remaining, but knowing it’s also all gone? It will become a myth that we went to the Moon. The worldwide immediacy of the net, these conversations, will perhaps disappear while their trace lingers.
And Aaron reminds me what a rotten lot we are. As this economy collapses, as resources disappear (water, energy, food), as disease proliferates, it’s likely that the worse will be brought out in us. I’d like to believe the classical Marxist thesis that the source of all our cruelty is economic and social, but I can never quite shake the suspicion that we’re a bunch of ugly chimpanzees flinging shit at one another (isn’t that what we do now?). How much worse will it be when this ground collapses beneath us and we’re hungry? Chili’s talks about “baby back ribs”. Perhaps this will become very literal. The “other other white meat”. We’ve done worse before. Have we really changed?
And then sometimes I’m hopeful. As Mark Fisher successfully argues in Capitalist Realism, there seems to be something very toxic in this world we’ve created for ourselves. We suffer from a deep malaise as to what the meaning of all we do is. “What’s the point of it all this work and political engagement?” Anxiety and depressive disorders are at an all time high. We medicate ourselves. We’re filled to the brim with anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, anti-anxiety pills, and those who aren’t are dull with alcohol, pornography, and other drugs. Is it that we just didn’t notice these sicknesses until we had names for them, or is there something literally toxic about this world? You have to be insane to be happy in this world. Florescent lights are toxic. People packed in an office are toxic. Maybe it would be far better to plow fields, hunt, build with our hands, and know how to do things. I don’t know. What will us last Wo/Man be in this world hurdling towards us?