This week → How to think beyond ourselves ⊗ A messy Utopia is all we might get ⊗ Storytelling and narrative anthropology ⊗ Mosses are a model of how we might live ⊗ Beyond the green smart cities, solarpunk can also be dark ⊗ Solargoth
Is homo sapiens sapiens that sapiens (wise) after all? For much or our history, we have been wholly focused on our selves, our survival, our accomplishments, to the point of naming an epoch after ourselves. But this “we,” this “us” is just one instance of humanity, one version (one colonizing part, really) of how we can be on this planet, one outlook that we’ve had for a couple of centuries. James Cartwright of Weapons of Reason reminds us of other living beings who also accomplish a lot, also collaborate, and that we humans also, once, and still in some places, valued the commons quite a bit more, shared better, respected our surroundings, and didn’t use this planet as simply a pile of resources to exploit.
Our innate gift for storytelling has facilitated unmatched societal cohesion, but our proclivity for telling stories that are wholly anthropocentric means we often forget that our success on Earth has not been achieved alone. “Survival of the fittest”, the survival of Homo sapiens sapiens, depends on the support of a complex network of fragile symbiotic relationships that is increasingly at risk. […]
Humanity’s hubris and oversimplified world view has fostered an epidemic of short-term thinking resulting in catastrophic consequences time and again. Short-term thinking has trapped us in a repetitive feedback loop, making the same mistakes, doing further damage to our planetary and societal systems and unable to find a way out. […]
[T]he story of how we lost the commons, how the Earth’s natural resources, once so bountiful, were stolen and continue to be sold back to us, and how the shared wealth of social capital passed down from previous generations has been captured by a select few.
Deanna K. Kreise weaves together the visions put forth in three books to consider perspectives beyond soft denial and soft nihilism; Bill Gates’s How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, the extended essay Ideas to Postpone the End of the World, by Brazilian Indigenous activist Ailton Krenak, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s most recent novel, The Ministry for the Future. Kreise proposes that between tech-optimism, and simple postponement of collapse, there is a third way, and that at “the very least, it’s good to have these ideas—these possible futures—in one’s pocket, a kind of psychological escape valve from hard nihilism. To have an idea of where to go, and whom to help, if all is nearly lost.”
We seem recently to have entered into a phase of climate-change soft nihilism: a kind of resigned fatalism, which cuts against our vehement exhortations to act with the welfare of future generations in mind. […]
“The world today believes that everything is merchandise, and it projects upon those goods the full range of its experience.” […]
[Krenak’s] short book takes direct aim at the deepest roots of the climate crisis: Western culture’s crippling energy dependency, born of our greed for consumer products, travel, and entertainment—the intractable nature of which is the reason he is so pessimistic. […]
First, we must try to find “a point of contact between these two worlds.” In one world, a river is necessary for life; in the other, people “consume rivers as mere resources.”
To my non-anthropologist eyes, this was quite a good read, presenting the discipline as a kind of study of stories, that then creates its own stories, narratives, and explanations on top of the original. If you like framing things as stories, seeing for example lives, the history of countries, or simply of organizations as stories, you should have a look for some useful perspectives. I’ll caveat the link with the fact that the site isn’t all that clear on what it is, and I couldn’t find much on the credentials of the author. Still, I enjoyed the piece.
When the world makes sense, it is more easily navigated. And the Ancient Greeks and Romans made sense of the world for centuries, passing their myths from generation to generation. […]
When we want to understand storytelling through the anthropological lens, we have to take into account that anthropology is a form of storytelling itself. Researchers tell and re-tell the narratives of people’s lives. […]
Stories work as a framework for how we, as people, absorb knowledge. They don’t just tell us new information, they also give such information meaning.
Mosses might have to join fungi and trees as a topic of interest that pops up here with regularity. Another fascinating type of organism that we don’t know enough about, and that is proving both highly intriguing, and full of lessons or solutions we can learn from. And, much like Suzanne Simard with mycorrhizal fungi and trees, mosses also have a brilliant woman studiously focused on understanding, and clearly sharing their beauty.
I also think that the times we’re living in are creating a longing for a connection to land and nature: what I call a longing for belonging. […]
The most primitive of plants, mosses lack flowers, fruits and seeds, have no roots, and no vascular system to conduct water internally, and yet there are 22,000 species, even if most are still so little known to the public that only a few have been given common names. […]
They are the coral reef of the forest, a microbiome in which the species of the bacteria that live in the angles of their leaves are different, say, to those on their rhizoids [the filaments found on their thallus, or plant body].”
In the last issue, I wondered about quadrants or an axis to map “climate crisis perspectives in relation to techno optimism and pessimism.” Peter very appropriately reminded me of Bruce Sterling’s Viridian design movement which, in a nice bit of serendipity, is part of the above piece. Lidia Zuin starts from a view of solarpunk as “histories of a future more ecological, sustainable and optimist,” and considers whether the movement is too naive or if it can attract “even to the most pessimistic and grim fans of cyberpunk.”
I read the next piece first, where Paul Graham Raven adds his own ideas and references to this line of thought. You need to read both together.
It was this last title that made me consider how solarpunk could have a more bizarre, mysterious approach that would be closer to the new weird rather than an optimistic narrative with some shades of “greenwashing. […]
[I]t could be a genre that poses the opportunity to criticize, resist, and address metaphors about other philosophical topics that are not necessarily related to concrete issues coming from climate change or the side effects of late capitalism. […]
viridian is a kind of fluorescent shade of green, with a more artificial aspect, and this is why it connects to themes such as innovation through design and technology, in a counterpoint to a “leaf green” traditionally used by classic environmentalism.
If you passed the previous article over, go back and read my blurb, the two pieces go together and Raven’s additional context here is what gets the pair over the “featured in Sentiers” threshold. (Sorry if that sounds pretentious but I’m sure you understand what I’m saying.)
That Zuin mentions Le Guin and Delany as possible inspirations to be drawn upon underscores my point: that this reaching toward a more gothic iteration of solarpunk is—or at least could be—a reaching toward a more critical-utopian mode for the genre.
No.179 Asides ⊕ See Note
- 🐺 🤩 I’ve gone down a rabbit hole of reading about the life of Yellowstone wolf 21, who seems to have been the wolf equivalent of the Buddha crossed with Batman. In his entire life he never lost a fight & never killed a defeated enemy. What a legend. (Too much anthropomorphism, but I like wolves ¯\(ツ)/¯ .)
- 🏡 😍 It’s not often that I link to beautiful houses but I had to for this one. 🎥 A Japanese-Inspired Home That Experiments with Interior Design, Space and Usability (House Tour) and pics at the architects’ site Harry. (Via Dense Discovery)
- 🎥 😎 YouTuber releases a simple animation of a human struggling forward, challenges CGI artists to incorporate it into a 4-second scene. Click the link to see the top 100. Just incredible talent + imagination. You wind up wishing each could be a whole movie!
- 🤑 🧵 We have a new paper out in PNAS today, in which we address the harm wrought by dramatically restructuring human communication of the span of a decade, with no aim other than selling ads. It might be the most important paper of my career.
- 🪐 🤯 Gas Giants’ Energy Crisis Solved After 50 Years. “Jupiter and Saturn should be freezing cold. Instead, they’re hot. Researchers now know why.”
- 😨 🌎 Sea level rise and coastal flood risk maps — a global screening tool by Climate Central. “Explore how different warming scenarios affect sea level rise in the coming decades.”
- 🇨🇳 🤦🏼♂️ Canon put AI cameras in its Chinese offices that only let smiling workers inside. “Tech company Canon has come up with a downright dystopic way to tackle the problem of workplace morale: it’s installed cameras with AI-enabled “smile recognition” technology in the offices of its Chinese subsidiary Canon Information Technology. The cameras only let smiling workers enter rooms or book meetings, ensuring that every employee is definitely, 100 percent happy all the time.”
- 🇪🇬 The other thing I saw at @metmuseum today that I had never seen before are these 4000 year old (!) miniatures depicting various aspects of Egyptian life… 1. brewery & bakery; 2. slaughterhouse; 3. granary.
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