I have been brewing one last rant for the year. We are at an important inflexion point in history where we have stopped regarding the present as a time period moving away from and advancing towards past and future landmarks. Rather, we are coming to collectively accept that the status quo is change.
Well, this is only half-true. For the better part of the last two centuries, we have believed ourselves to be in a state of linear change called development. We became progressively unshackled from the natural physical limits to growth as capitalist cycles of expansion and accumulation meant that currencies inflated, more spaces were integrated into the market and new perceived wealth was generated. The underlying argument fuelling this system and locking in more supporters is its promise that things will continuously get better. It appears to guarantee the capacity to progressively accumulate more wealth and means to access it over time. Your access to its benefits depends on where you are in the market pyramid and embedded is the idea that wealth trickles down. These beliefs have dominated as long as market expansion has operated independently of its externalities in nature or as long as it has stayed ahead of political and social forces that might emerge as limiting factors. There have been kinks along the way, but the world we live in today is indelibly guided by western experiences of rapid justified economic growth, particularly that which occurred in the post World War II era. For our current generation of world leaders born in the midst of these circumstances, this period likely protrudes in their minds as a time when things went as they should.
Today though we are all conscious that the expansion of human presence over the planet has setup patterns of transformation of natural systems at every scale. Some effects have proven so systematic that we have identified global level ecological cycle interference associated with their combined magnitude. We are causing change in the planet’s climate, its water cycle and ocean circulation, biodiversity, and in the cycle of nitrogen and of other basic life-sustaining elements. In parallel, the proliferation of information and the means to access it have created a renewed multi-faceted perception of the world, no longer mentally confined to and structured by the predominant political and economic hierarchies. In simpler words, we have become aware again that there is a lot more going on and a lot more to live by than the market. Therefore a double consciousness formation process has taken place: we have come to see the world as structured by more than economic and political forces and we are also more conscious than ever of these forces’ nefarious properties. We could let them restructure and homogenize the entire planet, but we also agree that there is too much to lose.
Sustainability is a false concept which I recommend that we all stop using. If you wanted to stop damaging the natural systems you wish to see persist, you would know what to stop doing. Sustainability refers to a way of allowing capitalism to continue by reducing its externalities, but we have already seen that capitalist expansion is from its root flawed and hegemonic towards nature. In the context of our species’ emerging global awareness, we should also question the new lexicon developing to express it. As much as the term ‘climate change’ can be considered a recognition of planetary-scale impacts, I would argue that its popularization stems closer to its ability to crystallize our fears about the pace of change guiding our lives today. It exists with very few of us understanding the actual processes climate change refers to, and we accept it because we recognize that our species is now able to provoke changes in the planet’s order at the global scale, but we use it to refer to events of much shorter temporal scales than the phenomena it stands for. Thus a flash flood, or even an unseasonal cold that can be linked to climate change comes to reflect and make us externalize a subconscious uneasiness about what the future is set to bring. Reading about a bomb going off at a market in Afghanistan and Europe’s debt crisis in the newspaper, and then crossing an immigrant from a place you know nothing about when stepping outside of your door, then combine to accelerate a generalized spiral of anxiety. We must stay critical and rigorous about how we build our worldview, spatially and temporally.
We in the west have our basic needs so dependably taken care of that we allow ourselves to contemplate an alternative mode of existence, but any stumbling contemporary initiative to develop new systems is being, comparatively, stifled by the rumbling economic growth engines below us. As the leading countries of the so-called developing world fulfill the capitalist growth utopias which they have been queuing to launch, they stand as new bastions for the system’s pure capacity to promote the betterment of life. We have so far found no way to organize ourselves as well as the market or counteract its pervasiveness and rhythm. We continue to build up our consciousness though of just how complex the world we live in is, whilst our innards feel out the emerging realization that the existence which would actually value the elements of nature which we are terrified to lose will have to be radically different. None of the constants we hold true today will count.
At some point after I turned ten, I became aware of the fact that in my lifetime I would very likely witness our civilization’s first major collapse. These words might provoke a feeling of doom in some of you, but to me it’s always been a source of hope. It means that we’ll arrive at the point where our folly is unquestionable, where the only way to survive as a species is through a radical reconfiguration of our mode of existence, lest it already have been forced upon us by the state of things. My point with this essay is that we should never be detracted from the fact that we live in an incredibly complex world, in which our actions entail consequences at multiple levels and between a diversity of spheres. Our bodies, communities and ecosystems function as evolving continuously rebalancing complex systems. We need to each come to grips with the reality that we are in a state of flux, nonlinear and heterarchical, that makes the present more valuable than ever, and the future a source of unexplored happenings rather than uncertainty.
Our increasingly chaotic ripples through time will have to be faced with the rational ability to still segregate moments and actions for analysis, and a non-rational predisposition to let our hearts instinctively tune in with the experiences that matter and elements we need to conserve. We should confidently build over lives upon that which we truly value and search for ways to do things differently rather than live in denial propagating derelict models on damage control. There exist no ways of finding out about the future, but let this be both a stimulus to find out as much as you can to see where it’s going, and to appropriate your role in shaping it. Unpredictable change, chaos, unmeasurable diversity and the unknown, are positive.