Here we might note, in America at least, the growing normalization of once-outlier activities amongst growing numbers of working-class individuals and families. Examples of this include learning survival skills, building local infrastructures (wireless mesh networks, food production, whether farming or engineering protein bars, etc.), and taking up physical fitness regimes.33 Such activities are representative of an increasingly widespread desire to decrease dependency and take back some degree of power over one’s life and abilities—to reappropriate one’s means of existence, even if the only time to do so is found during lunch breaks. Yet placed alongside the scale, vision, and material means of delinking activities of the world’s very wealthy and the force they mobilize, these scattered efforts too often seem to reflect a powerlessness—an inability to build real power or autonomy—rather than the opposite.
Life exigencies and lack of resources often mean that, at best, such practices result in an increased preparedness to survive the next Coronavirus or hurricane (no minor feat itself of course), in a time where the definition and horizon of life has become “normalizing survival.”34 Still, even prepping is often animated by important questions such as how to help oneself and others and how to not be hostage to relief agencies, FEMA camps, or governments that disdain whole populations. How to save your family from sleeping on a gym floor, like the Kims in Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite? How not to allow oneself to be reduced to scrounging for the last can of beans at the panic-ravaged grocery store? How to take care of oneself and one’s own communities—the things and beings you love? Such questions are a pragmatic and existential matter of refusing to be dependent on corporations and algorithms. Addressing them also opens up much broader horizons.Anthropocene Hubris – Architecture – e-flux
It is for this reason that we must abandon the idea of the apocalypse. Our resistance must interrupt the flow of events conjugated by the utopias of those in power. We must pierce through the state of emergency and expose the apocalypse as the perpetual reproduction of the existing order that it is. The fact is, these discourses—crisis, the state of emergency, and our unending apocalypse—are part of the same strategy: we are not governed in crisis, we are governed by means of crisis. Only when it is declared as such does a crisis properly become a crisis; and only once a problem is understood as omnipresent and pervasive does it truly become a crisis. Not only does the repetitive cry of “emergency” desensitize people, it also obscures which of all the various ongoing catastrophes might require changes that run against the grain of existing global power structures. The situation in Syria, for example, has become a perpetuum mobile of destruction for the preservation of power, a perpetual recurrence of chaos. We must ask: who profits from crisis? Why do we live in the never-ending state of emergency? And how does this influence our perception of the future?No future! Cybernetics and the Genealogy of Time Governance | Ill Will Editions
It’s always a troubling experience to realize that your life sucks, but it’s also a helpful one, because that realization makes it possible to change. If the things that make your life suck are a matter of personal choices, once you grasp this, you can make different choices. If the things that make your life suck are a matter of social, cultural, or political factors—for example, the dismal quality of US public schooling or the problematic nature of the mandatory two-income family—you have two ways of taking action: you can change your own relationship to those factors (by considering the possibility of homeschooling your kids, for example, and assessing whether your family will benefit if one of its adult members leaves paid employment for the household economy) and you can also help bring about change on the larger scale (by lobbying your state legislators to support homeschooling as an option, for example, and being encouraging to other people who choose to move into the household economy and defending them against bullies who think they ought to tell everyone else what to do).
More than sudden illness, what has been shocking is the speed with which power sheds the polite fictions of a stable democratic order. The logic of crisis always serves to excuse the deepening of control. The terrible irony is that a virus – a scientific quandary, questionably neither dead nor alive – has become the occasion for managing life itself.
But life cannot be contained or managed so easily. For each new technological ploy, there are the kids who defeat it. For each new zone of abandonment, there are those in revolt. For each measure of distance imposed, there are new forms of conviviality. Not to mention all those everyday acts of courage and compassion, as communities around the world care for themselves amid failing healthcare systems. Ensuring that the elderly are checked up on, that people have enough to eat, that there is still a communal fabric even as governments seek to tear it further – these are the small triumphs of decaying circumstances.
Power’s hold over us is equally demonstrated by emergent forms of social control and by the utter disregard with which they cast aside our lives. Our inability to survive outside their broken system is rapidly being confronted by our dwindling chances of surviving within it. To resist their control has become inseparable from the urgent need to care for one another. How to treat illness, how to care for the vulnerable, how to overcome isolation, how to reinvent presence, how to live with dignity and perhaps how to die with it. These are among the revolutionary questions of our times.
The stars are just visible. The clear cuts have ended and the forest ahead of you is thick and ancient. It seems to suck in the darkness like a deep breath, exhaling a wind filled with the sweet stink of pine warmed against granite. With every gust, the foliage of the weeping spruce shivers. Pinecones drop like dice. You stare back along the road, barely visible in the darkness—of such strange magnitude that it seems not even to have been built by humans but dropped maybe by some itinerant god who had no use for it. And you can only wonder at that obscure disaster: Did we ever really think we knew where we were going? That there was just this one path to get there?
But what of those birds that lay their eggs on bare earth? When you turn the moon is the color of ice melting into black soil, the horizon limned with it and you know that the cold, blue-fired liquid will sink into the tops of the mountains and into the forest’s many throats, channeled through branches and mycelia and finally into the million warm and ancient hearts sitting deep down in things. You know that the nightjars lay their eggs for love and love only, that without hope there is at least love in the darkness, that gamble against all odds that the eggs not be dashed apart by some passing behemoth.
And you can only cradle your lost cause for love, loving wild and desperate in the face of that determined destitution—loving as one can only love in free plummet to doom and freed maybe at last of doom in the only way possible: through loving. Loving organized. Loving aimed at that horizon, dead reckoning by the stars.
Emergency action would be unmistakeable. On the political right it might look like a Universal Basic Income; a very swift end to all fossil fuel subsidies; a lunar landing-scale investment in zero carbon technology; pushing for legal rights for nature in international negotiations; and hundreds of billions invested in new forests, rewilding and high-yield organic farming. More attractive to the left might be a four day week; sweeping tax reforms to incentivise clean tech and make fossil fuels history; climate reparations for the global south; nationalising and then investing hundreds of billions in clean, efficient, accessible and ubiquitous public transport; and guaranteed, subsidised retraining for everyone in fossil-fuel based jobs. These would represent a start. They’re old ideas.
After that we could look for new ones: a primary National Curriculum based on the permaculture principles; a moratorium on all moving-image advertising by for-profit companies; a lending library on every estate where you can borrow things you no longer need to own like tools, camping gear, private vehicles and barbecues; a ban on the private ownership of media outlets; a gradual, universal jubilee – the cancellation of all debts…
What they found was that the mice with very specific defects of mitochondrial energy production experienced profound deleterious effects from the level of the cell all the way through to the entire organism. Their organs, their axes, and the entire mouse failed to adapt to the insult of restraint stress if the right defect in energy production was introduced. Some were more deleterious than others, but the overall point stands: if you can’t produce energy under stress, whether it’s psychological or physical materialist in its nature, you fail to adapt down to the level of your lived biology.
In my speculations, though this hasn’t been shown to be the case in humans yet, there is no reason to suspect that our own responses to psychological stress aren’t mitigated in the same or similar ways, and modern life in bureaucratic, systematic civilizations is one long constant stressor of domination that strips people of their autonomy. I think on a near societal scale we are experiencing learned helplessness from chronic psychological stress, and the people who have successfully evaded state control to self-determine their circumstances not only have a desire to do so, they also have real, material, physiological advantages, if the story I’ve woven together makes sense.