Racial Capitalism, The Stack and the Green New Deal ⊗ Finding the right simplifier — No.131

Read the Sentiers newsletter on technology in society, signals of change, and prospective futures.

This week → Racial Capitalism, The Stack and the Green New Deal ⊗ The righteous joy of finding the right simplifier ⊗ COVID-19 Broke the economy. What if we don’t fix it? ⊗ You might hate jellyfish. But almost everything in the ocean depends on them

A year ago → The New Wilderness.

This week the RISD Center for Complexity held Generation C, a “Hybrid Symposium Publication.” I love the format, longform articles published following an event-like schedule, centered around seven themes, and end-of-day streamed conversations. I reckon that there will also be an upcoming publications, gathering all the essays. All the texts I’ve read so far have been excellent, including the first two featured pieces below.

“The title—Generation C—is meant to evoke the generational changes needed to address capitalism, climate, community, and complexity among many other challenges.” That alliteration is a pretty good description of these times, I’ll keep it close at hand.

Racial Capitalism, The Stack and the Green New Deal

Fantastic essay by Damian White, copiously linked to many many external references, it’s one of those “I’ll have to come back to this” pieces. White looks at what design used to be able to do (be more systemic), how the pandemic has affected people unequally along race and age, at ecologies and agriculture, and at the management of space through architecture. He also analyzes three imaginaries: “Design and planning for a Green New Deal,” “The Stack, terraforming and digital design,” and “Decolonial and design justice.” Very interesting and if you only read one thing this week that should be the one, my main takeaway is when White contrasts the three and shows that the decolonial and design justice imaginary “force[s] us to acknowledge that the Green New Deal and the Stack are projects that emanate out of the Global North.” Which means the third, decolonization, is pretty much essential to the other two.

All three imaginaries connect and weave together with many of the articles I’ve shared over the last couple of months, this piece is of course not written for that purpose, but ends up being a good synthesis of those preceding articles.

Wallace argues such forms of animal husbandry and land use change, coming together with the land grabs, expulsions, the ongoing dispossession of peasant and indigenous people and the undercutting of rural smallholder production is bringing together animal agriculture and wildlife in novel and dangerous ways. […]

We have seen a resurgence of interest in mutual aid, neighborhood support, talk of the virtues of victory gardens, WWI style and the like. If this contributes to a broader sense of communal possibility, it could be beneficial. If it merely re-enforces the default of the last few decades into more localist, small is beautiful, anarcho-radical interventions though, an opportunity will be lost. […]

[I]n order for designs for post carbon energy transition to obtain any kind of public support, they need to be linked to broader hopes and aspirations for better jobs, affordable healthcare, sustainable urban worlds, viable and regenerative rural worlds. […]

The Green New Deal and the need to build effective systems of governance, coordination and transparency around the rise of planetary scale computing clearly is going to require a revalidation of planning, of competent and trustworthy public expertise, and the need for public agencies that actually function in the public interest and which are staffed by civil servants who can do their job. […]

The more thoughtful iterations of a design politics for the Green New Deal are important for their attempt to re-ground the state as a terrain of popular struggle and their desire to assert public power through a renewal and reconstruction of public agencies that can be in genuine dialogue with popular pressure from below.

The Righteous Joy of Finding the Right Simplifier

Another excellent read from the symposium. This time Bryan Boyer considers maps, how they are all incomplete because they simplify and schematize reality, thus not including things that the mappers weren’t looking for. He looks at Detroit, redlining and highways, then at Soviet Russia’s maps of foreign territories, and of course Borges’ map the size of a country. The useful insight though comes when he flips to these new maps, the digital twins of cities which are slowly coming into use to plan and prototype urban change, automation, and optimization. Those maps are of course also incomplete, carry assumptions and blindspots.

Boyer wraps all of this with thoughts on racism, black lives matter, the current pandemic, professional silos vs hesitations to trust, and finally the growing gap between our sensing and measuring abilities, and our capacity for making sense of it all. One conclusion is that perhaps a moral compass is more important than a map.

Redlining stymied the creation of Black wealth, which is problematic prima fascia, but exponentially more so when lack of access to capital holds a community back from accumulating financial wealth and political power. When viewed through the lens of a federal highway planning map, that lack of wealth and power looked like “slums,” which meant a void to be filled through “urban renewal” and an “opportunity” for locating a highway. […]

It would be nice to have a grand conspiracy or singular bad actor to blame for this history, but instead we have systemic racist bias converted into externalities that need not be considered, those biases inscribed into maps, maps used to inform policy, and policy decisions eventually carved into the earth by bulldozers. […]

Even a map the same size as the territory has only a limited nomenclature to record the highest moments of human culture, let alone the anguish of humanity’s lowest, and it should be remembered that this is the point of maps: the mapmaker simplifies the world by leaving most of it out. […]

Black Lives Matter has to be a rallying cry in 2020 because America has collectively ignored that fact, choosing to externalize the suffering of people of color in a way similar to how the industrial economy has externalized the cost of carbon. Both kill people and both are perpetuated by over-confident decisions based on dangerously over-simplified conceptions of the world.

Moar C

If you want to keep reading the excellent pieces from the Generation C hybrid symposium, Sentiers favourites and regulars like Ingrid Burrington, Dan Hill, and Indy Johar are good places to start.

COVID-19 Broke the Economy. What If We Don’t Fix It?

At Vice, Shayla Love looks at our current moment and wonders why we would even want to fix the economy, perhaps it’s the occasion to rethink it and angle towards greater human well-being, not towards an ever rising GDP. Via multiple quotes from Jason Hickel, she makes a good case that I agree with, as previous issues of the newsletter might have made clear.

However, I’m including the article in part because it brought to mind the movement to defund the police. There is perhaps a common framing here; dismantle existing systems and rebuild them in a more inclusive, respectful, humans-first manner. Boyer in the essay above also alludes to this when he talks about how we externalize the suffering of people of colour like we do the carbon from the economy.

What if, instead of going back to work full-time, we decided to work less, buy less, make less, and not fight to raise GDP at any cost? […]

”What kind of a daft system means that if we put the brakes on and calm down for a few weeks the whole thing implodes?” […]

Along with robust other policies around healthcare, housing, and education, degrowth would mean that people can work and earn less without a massive blow to quality of life. It also calls for more progressive rates of taxation, so that wealth is more evenly redistributed. […]

”Degrowth is not about degrowing the entire economy indiscriminately, but rather growing some sectors that are important and degrowing others that are destructive.” […]

More → This by Hickel from a few years back; Basic income isn’t just a nice idea. It’s a birthright is one of the most interesting ideas I’ve seen for the financing of a UBI, which is of course very adjacent to degrowth.

You might hate jellyfish. But almost everything in the ocean depends on them (and we do too)

This is the type of piece I often simply put in the asides but it’s worth a closer look because a) it contradicts the quick takes I’ve seen on the “scourge” and growing numbers of jellyfish and b) it hints at something I’ll be paying more attention to, i.e.: “[I]ncreasingly, we understand that the ocean is made up of moving forests. Unlike land or coastal habitats, the ecosystems of the open ocean can travel. Protecting the oceans means reimagining conservation in three dimensions.”

Polyps live mostly on hard underwater surfaces (including the ever-increasing number of docks and human-made structures). They produce jellyfish only when conditions are right. You wouldn’t know from reading the news, but in some areas jellyfish numbers are actually decreasing. People notice jellyfish at the beaches or near the coast. […]

Humans may be shocked by the many ways in which jellyfish now interfere with our lives, in one way or another. But other animals depend on them and will suffer from a declining jellyfish population. […]

A study published last year documented more than 86 fish species that live at least part of their lives with jellyfish – more than 2/3 of these species are commercially important. What jellyfish lack in substance, they make up for in quantity.


  • ? ♳ Plastic Rain Is the New Acid Rain. “Microplastics are blowing all over the world, landing in supposedly pure habitats, like the Arctic and the remote French Pyrenees. They’re flowing into the oceans via wastewater and tainting deep-sea ecosystems, and they’re even ejecting out of the water and blowing onto land in sea breezes. And now in the American West, and presumably across the rest of the world given that these are fundamental atmospheric processes, they are falling in the form of plastic rain—the new acid rain.”
  • ? World has six months to avert climate crisis, says energy expert. “The next three years will determine the course of the next 30 years and beyond, [I]f we do not [take action] we will surely see a rebound in emissions. If emissions rebound, it is very difficult to see how they will be brought down in future. This is why we are urging governments to have sustainable recovery packages.” I doubt it’s this cut and dry in terms of timeline but the bad news and urgency keeps piling up.
  • ?? ? The New York Times Admits Key Falsehoods That Drove Last Year’s Coup in Bolivia: Falsehoods Peddled by the U.S., Its Media, and the Times. “In sum, when it came to the 2019 Bolivian coup, the U.S. media played its decades-old, standard role whenever the U.S. wants to depict a military coup against a government it dislikes as a victory for democracy: Namely, it blindly and dutifully adopted the State Department’s view and uncritically waved the flag.”
  • ?? ? Ghosts at the museum. “Sometimes it’s a sudden drop in temperature, like the unnerving patches of cold air that linger next to the winged, human-headed bull of Nimrud at the entrance to the Assyrian galleries. Sometimes it’s the sound of footsteps, or music, or crying, where no obvious source can be found.”
  • ? ? ? IBM/MicroscoPy. “An open-source, motorized, and modular microscope built using LEGO bricks, Arduino, Raspberry Pi and 3D printing.”
  • Like all conferences, 99U was streaming this year. The talks are now online. “[A]n event about creative careers. Watch the replay of the conference livestream or explore talks, workshops, and more on-demand.”
  • Dark Matter Experiment Finds Unexplained Signal. “First and perhaps most exciting is the “solar axion,” a hypothetical particle produced inside the sun that would be similar to a photon but with a tiny amount of mass.”

Header image: Photo by Zetong Li on Unsplash.