Other species are essential workers, whose economies enfold our own ⊗ Capitalism is over if you want it ⊗ After climate alarmism — No.157

This week → Other species are essential workers, whose economies enfold our own ⊗ Capitalism is over, if you want it. ⊗ After climate alarmism ⊗ Find something to hide as soon as possible; an interview with Anne Boyer ⊗ The internet didn’t kill counterculture—you just won’t find it on Instagram

A year ago → The most clicked link in issue No.112 was The internet is a toxic hellscape—but we can fix it by Whitney Phillips.

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Other species are essential workers, whose economies enfold our own

Some might cringe at the use of “essential workers,” feeling perhaps that using the same word for plants and animals as we do for overburdened healthcare workers is a bit much. However, Didi Pershouse paints a striking picture of our dependance on the multifaceted life that sustains us. Similarly to systems of power, infrastructures, and the myriad systems we’ve created, we humans have obfuscated the work of ecosystems and too often forgotten the fragile balances we’ve broken in the course of our development and ever-expanding footprint on Earth. Respect for, and collaboration with nature could not only save more of it, but also greatly help us.

Related → I also recommend another look at Tega Brain’s The environment is not a system from issue No.142.

Many species are also frontline workers: facing huge risks while going about their daily labors. They are harmed and killed, intentionally and unintentionally, with antibiotics, pesticides, tillage, harvesting machinery, logging, construction, and more, without thought for how their work — and the systems that depend on their work — will proceed without them. […]

These large-scale collapses come from a profound loss of cultural understanding. To fail on this scale requires that many people view the living beings around them — plants, animals, insects, microbes, fungi, (and the land, forests, oceans, continents, and atmosphere that they continually regenerate) — as something quite different from what they actually are. […]

What is the essential work that ensures the viability of the critical infrastructures of soils, forests, oceans, and atmosphere, and how much of that work is done by non-human workers?

How do we design societies and governance to ensure that this work by other species — and their human coworkers — can continue? […]

Other species not only manage and maintain the supply chains on which industries and economies depend, they also manage the weather that those supply chains depend on: providing the biological materials and transport of water for clouds and rain, as well as regulating temperatures on land and greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.

Capitalism is over, if you want it.

Aaron Benanav for Logic explores how a socialist society might use digital technologies to assist in its operation. “We do not want software to substitute for the price mechanism,” which it would likely do if simply implemented for optimisation, something corporations and markets like to do. Quoting from the work of Victor Glushkov, Stafford Beer (Cybersyn), Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Otto Neurath, the author outlines a two tiered system where algorithms provide different models of optimisation, and a series of protocols allow associations of citizens to orient their collective choices along more varied axis and towards rich and varied lives.

Efficiency, whether calculated in terms of energy use, resource consumption, or labor time, would remain a concern, but it would no longer be the sole concern. It would simply be one of many. Other considerations—dignity, justice, community, sustainability—would also enter the picture. […]

Algorithms would have an important role to play. They would codify what philosopher John O’Neill describes as “rules of thumb, standard procedures, default procedures, and institutional arrangements that can be followed unreflectively and which reduce the scope for explicit judgements,” streamlining the planning process so it doesn’t become an endless series of meetings. […]

[W]e have to accept that deliberating endlessly is undesirable and doomed to failure. To function at all, a society that replaces the single-minded focus on cost control with multi-criteria decision-making must use algorithms to help clarify the choices to be made and protocols to help structure the way it makes these choices.

After climate alarmism

David Wallace-Wells isn’t known as the most positive commentator on climate, so it’s both surprising and… more credible (?) when he comes up with something like a hopeful view on the topic. The gist of it is probably this: “recent climate action has apparently lowered the ceiling of possible warming this century, long delays have raised the floor.” Meaning that through the falling price of renewable, the number of canceled coal mines rising almost as quickly, peaking oil, and serious action by a few countries, states, and cities, some of the worst-case scenarios seem to have been dodged. Through new policies quickened (made possible?) by the pandemic, low scenarios are newly more attainable, though still hard to reach. It’s a long read and it’s not all rosy (“warming in the global South, Kolbert says, will be ‘an unmitigated disaster.’”) but in a week where clouds have parted a bit, it’s on theme.

It is as if we have landed on a different planet, with a different climate, and are now trying to determine what aspects of the civilizations we’ve brought with us can survive these new conditions, what will have to be adapted, and what discarded. […]

Those models suggest unmitigated warming could cost global GDP more than 20% of its value by the end of the century; limit warming to two degrees and climate change would still kill as many people each year as COVID-19 has. You don’t do adaptation on top of that, Hsiang said. Those figures already reflect the adaptation. […]

This is what climate advocates mean when they talk about managing a “just transition,” and, in recent years, they have broached the thorny subject of adaptation through the language of climate justice: Who is protected? Who is exposed? At what cost? And to whom?

Find something to hide as soon as aossible; an interview with Anne Boyer

Seems it’s poetry week around here, while Amanda Gorman grabbed hearts and attention in Washington this week, the above is an interview with Anne Boyer who’s as eloquent and clear-sighted with her comments on the ultra-rich, public mourning, data, the organization of society, and our work lives.

This is the “get worse” part. The ultra-rich are behaving like the ultra-rich, plundering the future, grabbing up the trillions in “quantitative easing” that the Fed printed, devouring real estate with an eye on future rents, using bail out money for stock buybacks, and amassing nearly inconceivable gains since March. […]

Another start might be understanding “data” in its physicality, denying it its aura of eternity. We should know where the data centers are located, what they look like, who owns them, where and how they get power, how and by whom they were made, who maintains them, who guards them, how they might someday decay or be destroyed. […]

But we are not things. The whole process depends on a soulless world in order to become totalizing, complete. There is no such thing as a soulless world. Whatever you forgot to sell, whatever couldn’t be consumed or debased, whatever hides away, whatever can never be ground up into sellable particles of metadata, whatever exists in the relation of love against the relation of profit, whatever refuses a brand: this is the soul, the organ of refusal.

The internet didn’t kill counterculture—you just won’t find it on Instagram

I have to admit that this piece by Caroline Busta didn’t go quite where I thought it would, she goes in search of what today’s counterculture looks like and if it exists. In the process Busta finds some that look the part but aren’t, young people creating counter-futures, and some e-deologies, before settling on a topic I’ve pointed to a few times: dark forests of the internet. Because, “to be truly countercultural today, in a time of tech hegemony, one has to, above all, betray the platform, which may come in the form of betraying or divesting from your public online self.”

In an era more profoundly organized by Big Tech than our own elected governments, the new culture to be countered isn’t singular or top-down. It’s rhizomatic, nonbinary, and includes all who live within the Google/Apple/Facebook/ Amazon digital ecosystem (aka GAFA stack). […]

Despite being informed by billions, this new technological hegemony isn’t democratic; it’s a swarm-led form of para-governance programmed to maximize engagement while obfuscating responsibility for the social and environmental damage it wreaks. […]

But in terms of engendering more or less counter-hegemonic potential, the dark forest is more promising because of its relative autonomy from clearnet physics (the gravity, velocity, and traction of content when subject to x algorithm). Unlike influencers and “blue checks,” who rely on clearnet recognition for income, status, and even self-worth, dark forest dwellers build their primary communities out of clearnet range—or offline in actual forests, parks, and gardens (e.g., cottagecore and related eco-social trends)—and then only very selectively or even absurdly/incoherently show themselves under clearnet light.


Header image: Dithered Cam from the Halt and Catch Fire syllabus.