Solarpunk is about finding ways to make life more wonderful for us right now, and more importantly for the generations that follow us – i.e., extending human life at the species level, rather than individually. Our future must involve repurposing and creating new things from what we already have (instead of 20th century “destroy it all and build something completely different” modernism). Our futurism is not nihilistic like cyberpunk and it avoids steampunk’s potentially quasi-reactionary tendencies: it is about ingenuity, generativity, independence, and community.
And yes, there’s a -punk there, and not just because it’s become a trendy suffix. There’s an oppositional quality to solarpunk, but it’s an opposition that begins with infrastructure as a form of resistance. We’re already seeing it in the struggles of public utilities to deal with the explosion in rooftop solar. “Dealing with infrastructure is a protection against being robbed of one’s self-determination,” said Chokwe Lumumba, the late mayor of Jackson, MS, and he was right. Certainly there are good reasons to have a grid, and we don’t want it to rot away, but one of the healthy things about local resilience is that it puts you in a much better bargaining position against the people who might want to shut you off (We’re looking at you, Detroit).
… a comrade in time. An engine of will. A shaper of a black current. Stick the key in and break it off. The Voice says: It is only in making oneself a disciple of total dissolution, by waging jihad on form itself, that one can see their work completed. Tesselation is hubris. To design, to plan, is to fail: the only success is in making oneself a part of the slavering mob of time that is always waiting patiently. An architecture of patience. The entropic assault is at the gates …
The revelation forces us to confront some unpleasant thoughts about how the world works in 2017, and where things appear to be headed. As problematic as Facebook has become, it represents only one component of a much broader shift into a new human connectivity that is both omnipresent (consider the smartphone) and hypermediated—passing through and massaged by layer upon layer of machinery carefully hidden from view. The upshot is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to determine what in our interactions is simply human and what is machine-generated. It is becoming difficult to know what is real.
System-preserving power is not repressive, but seductive
In disciplinary and industrial society, system-preserving power was repressive. Factory workers were brutally exploited by factory owners. Such violent exploitation of others’ labor entailed acts of protest and resistance. There, it was possible for a revolution to topple the standing relations of production. In that system of repression, both the oppressors and the oppressed were visible. There was a concrete opponent — a visible enemy —and one could offer resistance.
The neoliberal system of domination has a wholly different structure. Now, system-preserving power no longer works through repression, but through seduction — that is, it leads us astray. It is no longer visible, as was the case under the regime of discipline. Now, there is no longer a concrete opponent, no enemy suppressing freedom that one might resist.
Neoliberalism turns the oppressed worker into a free contractor, an entrepreneur of the self. Today, everyone is a self-exploiting worker in their own enterprise. Every individual is master and slave in one. This also means that class struggle has become an internal struggle with oneself. Today, anyone who fails to succeed blames themselves and feels ashamed. People see themselves, not society, as the problem.
The subjugated subject is not even aware of its subjugation
Any disciplinary power that expends effort to force human beings into a straitjacket of commandments and prohibitions proves inefficient. It is significantly more efficient to ensure that people subordinate themselves to domination on their own. The efficacy defining the system today stems from the fact that, instead of operating through prohibition and privation, it aims to please and fulfill. Instead of making people compliant, it endeavors to make them dependent. This logic of neoliberal efficiency also holds for surveillance. In the 1980s, to cite one example, there were vehement protests against the German national census. Even schoolchildren took to the streets.
From today’s perspective, the information requested therein— profession, education levels, and distance from the workplace — seem almost laughable. At the time, people believed that they were facing the state as an instance of domination wresting data from citizens against their will. That time is long past. Today, people expose themselves willingly. Precisely this sense of freedom is what makes protest impossible. In contrast to the days of the census, hardly anyone protests against surveillance. Free self-disclosure and self-exposure follow the same logic of efficiency as free self-exploitation. What is there to protest against? Oneself?
We are living a collective illusion known as the civilized world. We feign concern for our horrendous conditions of poverty, socioeconomic inequality, deteriorating public health, and severe environmental degradation (to which climate change is merely one factor), but everything we do belies that distress. These issues comprise the largest risks to the survival of the human species, as well as the most significant amoral atrocities on the planet. Both individually and as a species, our health, safety, and ability to live a decent, dignified life have always been imperiled by these predicaments. Yet, we continue along with complete cognitive dissonance in that the crux of our lives – our jobs, our consumer culture – all contribute to, perpetuate, and exacerbate the unsustainable and morally reprehensible conditions of our existence. But while we are all marginally responsible for the multitude of calamities befalling us, the one group who bears the brunt of the blame for our social and ecological decay is the wealthy.