Note — Aug 29, 2021

Thresholds of Artificiality

Seen in → No.185

Source →

This short article is part of L. M. Sacasas’ “Is this anything?” series of quicker posts. I think this one is definitely something. He weaves together Ong, Borgmann, Ellul, Illich, Arendt, and Latour, in an intriguing overview of what is artificiality, how it’s separate from nature and our planet. Sacasas is already assembling quite a few things so I won’t try to summarize it too much, have a read, but there’s a spot here that deserves to be explored further: being able to contemplate the human made world, the more than human world, the usefulness of the artificial, and whether/how ‘we’ can set limits, understand where there is need, and where ‘we’ overstep.

Lastly, although used there for another purpose, it reminds me of Bratton’s distinction between synthetic and artificial.

Illich, especially, sought to encourage the development of what he called convivial tools. Illich also supplied us with the eminently useful concept of thresholds or limits beyond which practices, technologies, or institutions become counterproductive and even destructive. This seems like a useful concept to apply to the question of artificiality. […]

What are the consequences of so structuring our necessarily artificial environment that we find ourselves largely indifferent to the rhythms, patterns, and textures of the non-human world? What are the physical consequences? What are the emotional or psychological consequences? At what cost to the earth is our artificial world purchased? […]

The story of a human retreat from this world, either to the stars above or the virtual realm within, can mask a disregard for or resignation about what is done with the world we do have, both in terms of the structures of human societies and the non-human world within which they are rooted. […]
It is critical that we recognize both the distinctive features of each realm while also reckoning with their myriad points of interrelationship and interdependence.