Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘ecology as ideology

Lots of Tuesday Links

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* Steve Benen has another post with more details on the new health care compromise. There’s also more health care coverage from Atul Gawande in the New Yorker this week.

* TPM uncovers something rather interesting in its reporting on the independent investigation stemming from those ACORN videos:

The videos that have been released appear to have been edited, in some cases substantially, including the insertion of a substitute voiceover for significant portions of Mr. O’Keefe’s and Ms. Giles’s comments, which makes it difficult to determine the questions to which ACORN employees are responding.

I certainly hope more specific information on this follows; just how drastic were these voiceover replacements? My bullshitometer must be completely on the fritz; even granting the videos were plainly disingenuous, I never really considered the possibility they could be out-and-out frauds.

* Science finally explains why I’m such a terrible sibling/husband/colleague/person: It’s all my younger brother’s fault.

* James Fallows compares Climategate coverage in the New York Times and the Washington Post and discovers the Post is terrible. Weird to see Time of all places getting the story basically right:

According to PSU’s Mann, that statistical “trick” that Jones refers to in one e-mail — which has been trumpeted by skeptics — simply referred to the replacing of proxy temperature data from tree rings in recent years with more accurate data from air temperatures. It’s an analytical technique that has been openly discussed in scientific journals for over a decade — hardly the stuff of conspiracy.

As for Mann and Jones’ apparent effort to punish the journal Climate Research, the paper that ignited his indignation is a 2003 study that turned out to be underwritten by the American Petroleum Institute. Eventually half the editorial board of the journal quit in protest. And even if CRU’s climate data turns out to have some holes, the group is only one of four major agencies, including NASA, that contribute temperature data to major climate models — and CRU’s data largely matches up with the others’.

It’s true that the e-mails reveal CRU climate scientists were dismissive of skeptics, often in harsh terms, but that’s not unusual for scientists. Science is a rough arena, as anyone who has ever survived a doctoral examination knows, and scientists aren’t shy about attacking ideas they believe are wrong — especially in private communication. Still, Jones et al. could have been more open and accepting of their critics, and if it turns out that e-mails were deleted in response to the Freedom of Information request for data, heads should roll. (Jones maintains that no e-mails or documents were deleted.)

Ultimately, though, we need to place Climategate/Swifthack in its proper context: amidst a decades-long effort by the fossil-fuel industry and other climate skeptics to undercut global-warming research — often by means that are far more nefarious than anything that appears in the CRU e-mails.

* [Many] More Americans Believe in Angels than Global Warming. Both climate change and evolution edge out ghosts and UFOs by only a few percent.

* But don’t worry: ‘Forget Earth – let’s move to Mars!’ Ecological crisis solved.

* Ecology as ideology: How China uses environmental rhetoric to justify displacing minority groups.

* History as the nightmare from which we are trying to awake: Ta-Nehisi Coates on Barack Obama, slavery, and white guilt.

* Film School Rejects considers the culturally significant films of the decade. New York Magazine says the ’00s is when TV became art. More lists from Fimoculous’s annual list of lists. Kottke’s doing one too.

* How the Apocalypse Would Happen if Heaven Were a Small Non-Profit.

* LRB pans Woody Allen’s two most recent films, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Whatever Works, which we watched this week and about which I concur entirely (though Larry David almost rescues Whatever Works.)

* Whiskey Fire reviews Stanley Fish’s review of Going Rogue.

* Another 100 Greatest Quotes from The Wire.

* And Twitter is ablaze with news that Mystery Science Theater is now on Hulu.

Infinite Summer #6: Environmentalism, Consumerism, Addiction, Johnny Gentle (Famous Crooner), and the Politics of Hope

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On the question of irony—where I left off last time, and where Infinite Zombies’ Daryl Houston starts off in his latest post—it’s a little difficult for me to know exactly how to read this week’s section on the Reaganesque presidency of Johnny Gentle, Famous Crooner. The signposts for reading this section as a satire are all there, not just in Gentle’s OCD and Howard-Hughes-style obsession with cleanliness but also in the complete vacuity of C.U.S.P.’s political agenda—but it is difficult to tell whether the narrative’s apparent contempt for environmentalist thinking is an aspect of the satire or the motivation for it. Gentle’s political party, the Clean U.S. Party—an unlikely political coalition comprised of “ultra-right jingoist hunt-deer-with-automatic-weapons types and far-left macrobiotic Save-the-Ozone, -Rain-Forests, -Whales, -Spotted-Owel-and-High-pH-Waterways ponytailed granola-crunchers” whose first platform was organized around the ingenious plan “Let’s Shoot Our Wastes Into Space”—is organized around an anti-ecological version of supposed environmentalism that understands “American renewal” as “an essentially aesthetic affair” (382). This is, then, a fairly pitch-perfect satire of ecology as ideology, the empty apolitics of the sort “we can all agree to” that looks for consumer-friendly solutions to the environmental catastrophe caused by consumerism itself. This is our moment: “a dark time when all landfills got full and all grapes were raisins and sometimes in some places the falling rain clunked instead of splattered” (382).

I can think here of nothing so much as a DFW quote on addiction Daryl highlighted in his own post:

An activity is addictive if one’s relationship to is lies on that downward-sloping continuum between liking it a little too much and really needing it. Many addictions, from exercise to letter-writing, are pretty benign. But something is malignantly addictive if (1) it causes real problesm for the addict, and (2) it offers itself as a relief from the very problem it causes.

Consumerism, I think, clearly qualifies, as Wallace shows throughout this section.

In IJ, it’s our malignant addiction to a consumer lifestyle that leads to Gentle’s experialist mandate, the outsourcing of environmental costs to Indian reservations and our partner “enemy-allies” (385) in O.N.A.N. It’s this malignant addiction that leads us to build wasteful and inefficient fusion reactors even though they have the “generating-massive-amounts-of-high-R-waste part down a lot more pat than the “consuming-the-waste-in-a-nuclear-process-whose-own-waste-was-the-fuel-for-the-first-waste-intensive-phase-of-the-circle-of-reactions part” (1029n150).

In the end it leads even to the forcible gifting of most of New England to Canada as the Great Concavity/Convexity, hollowed out and glass-walled with giant fans blowing our toxic air northward (385). There’s a fair critique of NIMBYism here, as well as the perpetually empty promise of near-future technological millennialism that has been so deftly exploited by the partisan right-wing and their corporate allies to preempt all environmentalist reforms over the decades. There’s a critique of the politics of Othering, too, the need for “some people beside each other of us to blame” (384) and the national ennui that apparently comes from a post-Soviet, post-Jihad era with no “Foreign Menace” to distract us from the problems of our own making (382). (What, we skipped China?) And there’s, yes, a critique of the left-wing, more-eco-than-thou granola set in (among other things) Gentle’s addictive obsessive-compulsive cleaniness and C.U.S.P.’s easy consumerist ethos, though frankly this critique seems much more of the strawman variety than most of Wallace’s jokes.

But is this scattershot, unstable irony all there is here? A pox on everybody’s house? Is there any place for the reader of Infinite Jest to imagine a non-hypocritical, anti-consumerist politics? Do we really have no stable interpretive ground on which to stand? History seems in this novel to have somehow calcified into an inevitable trajectory of decadent disposability, and the only suggested response for the educated observer of these trends seems accordingly to be a bitter, smug withdrawal. I want to see DFW as getting past mere smugness into something more viable, but he doesn’t make it easy. The only way out of this trap of hopeless cynicism that I can see so far lies in the unstable irony inherent in the novel’s own presentation, its cartoonish and over-the-top hyperbole. Here, it’s the fact that all this information is literally being conveyed to us through the well-respected and politically responsible medium of video puppet show, organized around Mario and his father’s penchant for the “parodic device of mixing real and fake news-summary cartridges, magazine articles, and historical headers” (391). But I’m not sure irony alone is enough to get us out of smugness—I’m just not sure yet if the novel gives us much hope for escape from the surreal banality of turn-of-the-millennium American life, hope for something after or beyond consumer culture. We’ve already seen in IJ the transcendental existential threat of the Entertainment, which clogs entirely our ability to want anything besides it. Elsewhere, as with Gately, we see that addictions can in fact be broken, that renewal is difficult but still possible—but where is that hope here?

The use of the phrase “years right around the millennium” in the same footnote I cited above contains, I think, an important ambiguity for all this—from what point in the future, and from what cultural assumptions, are we to understand this book actually being composed? Is it a moment where this sort of perpetual-motion fusion suddenly somehow works—a time in which the miracle works? A moment in which the Entertainment, or something like it, has destroyed the culture entirely? Or, perhaps, a moment that is not “a terrible U.S. time for waste” for other, more politically hopeful reasons—a moment where, beyond belief, we have somehow managed to change?

Can addictions only be beaten when they originate in an individual’s excess? When an addiction is communal—when it is ideological and so totally normalized—what is our prescription for hope?

Clips from the Roundtable

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Okay, I think YouTube and I have reached an accord, and all of the clips from the Morton/Rudy roundtable are now up and viewable. The whole playlist is in order here.

Rudy Introduction
Morton Introduction
On Discursive Intervention in Ecology
On Ontology and “Ground”
On WALL-E, Sentiment, and Irony
On Dark Ecology and “Bambification”
On Science
On Marx and Anti-Capitalism

Written by gerrycanavan

April 21, 2009 at 7:53 pm

Tim Morton / Kathy Rudy Roundtable on YouTube

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Excerpted moments from the Tim Morton / Kathy Rudy / Polygraph “Ecology, Ideology, Politics” Roundtable are now up on YouTube. You’ll note the clever product placement of our secret sponsor, Dasani.

The poor camera angle, somewhat poor audio quality, and incomplete coverage are all functions of the device used to capture the video, but still, I think these excerpts came out pretty well.

Introductions (YouTube messed with this one. Up in two bits soon.)
Question #1 (on rhetoric)
Question #2 (on ontology and “ground”) (YouTube messed with this one. Up soon.)
An Excerpt Concerning WALL-E, Sentiment, and Irony
Dark Ecology and “Bambification”
On Science
On Marx and Anti-Capitalism (YouTube messed with this one. Up soon.)

Written by gerrycanavan

April 20, 2009 at 8:12 pm

Roundtable Event, April 17th: "Ecology, Ideology, Politics"

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Consider this the first of several reminders of our April 17th Polygraph event, “Ecology, Ideology, Politics.” It should be a really great discussion—I really hope some of you can make it.

To sweeten the pot, I can guarantee free food and drink.

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April 6, 2009 at 5:58 pm

Doomsday Tourism

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The earth is warming, glaciers are receding and oceans are changing. As a result, habitats are shrinking and species are dying–and many tourists want to see them before they disappear.

The rise of doomsday tourism.

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September 23, 2008 at 2:53 am

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culturemonkey lives! Back to Žižek

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culturemonkey has been a bit quiet this summer as its primary contributors have been flung far and wide—but I’m hoping the site will become active again as we slide back into another school year. Towards that end I’ve finally put up the second half of my long post on Žižek’s critique of ecology, trying to think through some of the issues Žižek raises. (Here, if you missed it, was Part 1.) It’s pretty long and more than a little bit sprawling—and the best stuff in it is all from Kim Stanley Robinson—but at least it starts off talking about the vast political problems of trying to terraform Mars.

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July 22, 2008 at 8:22 pm

Faith in Humanity Watch

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Faith in humanity rising: It’s been decades since anybody tried to vandalize Stonehenge. Sure, a pair of idiots just tried to, but it was decades before that.

Faith in humanity falling (and Žižek was right!): New explosives could be more powerful and safer to handle than TNT and other conventional explosives and would also be more environmentally friendly.

Now seems like a good time to mention again that I’ll be co-editing a special issue of Polygraph that among other things seeks to examine the ways in which ecology quickly comes to function as a contentless rhetoric of control…

Via MeFi.

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May 27, 2008 at 5:24 pm

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