Sunday, November 2, 2014


Misprision:  treasonous failure to report a crime

Silver maple, western New Jersey, November 1, 2014

This morning, courtesy of the unfailing source of the fascinating and obscure -synthetic_zero blog, I watched a lecture by Claire Colebrook.  A professor at Penn State, she is the author of Death of the Post-Human: Essays on Extinction, Volume I.  I haven’t read it yet, but considering the description, I certainly will, especially because it is available for free online:

Death of the PostHuman undertakes a series of critical encounters with the legacy of what had come to be known as 'theory, and its contemporary supposedly post-human aftermath. There can be no redemptive post-human future in which the myopia and anthropocentrism of the species finds an exit and manages to emerge with ecology and life. At the same time, what has come to be known as the human - despite its normative intensity - can provide neither foundation nor critical lever in the Anthropocene epoch. Death of the PostHuman argues for a twenty-first century deconstruction of ecological and seemingly post-human futures.

Since she is also co-editor of the Critical Climate Change series, I seriously doubt she is a climate change denier, as the endeavor is presented as the frontier of new developments in theoretical and practical thinking. The world is changing so rapidly and in so many interconnected ways that theory has only begun to make the innovative responses demanded. The two distinguished editors of this series are seeking manuscripts that will respond creatively to climate meltdowns, global political and economic meltdowns, and new teletechnologies, in their complex interrelations. The series is a bold and timely enterprise.”

And after all, the publisher’s webpage is illustrated with this Goya painting of Saturn devouring his son:

Therefor I interpret her remarks as setting climate change - and the geologic era of the Anthropocene - into the context of humanity’s ongoing barbarity and exploitation both of each other, and the natural world, as opposed to a singularly remarkable outcome - a perspective I completely endorse.  If you listen to the entire lecture (embedded at the end of this post) you will find that she places the deforestation and violence of Australian aborigines firmly in this global pattern of destruction.  Below I have transcribed some of the points she emphasized in her talk (removing some superfluities).

27 minutes in, she refers to “…Walter Benjamin’s claim that every document of civilization is a document of barbarism.  This is not just to say that string quartets are written and appreciated in the same world as mass slaughter - it’s not just they contingently happen to be together - rather that some violent subjection of humans, for the sake of generating surplus production and energy is required to release the time and space of the history of Enlightenment.  Philosophy, rights, the constitution of a private self with a definitive personhood, sexuality and fulfilling life trajectory are not merely contingently placed alongside planetary and human/human violence…so in our planet, with our material conditions, those two things have not just been contingently related but because of the material composition of our planet are ESSENTIALLY related.  We live on a  planet with limited resources....

39 minutes in:

“Here’s the conclusion.  The idea of a life, life that could develop to its utmost potentiality, or purity - that you could have something like pure life, pure thinking - without incurring debt or debts to itself is what drives technological industrial investment.  The more we develop clean technology - oh you know, we can have “clean” technologies, or you could have pure thinking…I hate to say it because I really like Naomi Klein [but] that climate change is going to end up, we’re going to end up with this utopia in which you have social justice and climate justice, ultimately it’s a win-win...this notion generates the delusional idea of a life without expense, loss or misprision.  It’s the notion of generating more in the final instance than one initially takes.  It’s the dream of a pure ecology.

45 minutes in:

We are thinking of the Anthropocene as exceptional, as a volatility or destabilization of nature that has been caused accidentally by us…a sort of “oops, we went too far”…But what we know about the state of that IF the normal can be suspended - oh my goodness, we’ve destroyed the planet - then this is because what was there as the exception was always there as a potential.  There was nothing proper about humans and their relation to ecology.  This is not exceptional.  This loss of nature, this exceptional volatility - oh my goodness, nature has become volatile - it’s uncontrollable!  That’s the way most humans have always lived…Humans have always been disturbed except for a very brief moment in their history where they felt that they weren’t.

Nature appears now to be changing on us, it’s refusing to be stable.  That is not a result of anthropogenic climate change, that’s what Nature is.  It’s the condition from which what we know is the Anthropocene manufactured as a stable Nature.  The Anthropocene manufactured a stable Nature.  Volatility is the way of the world, not something caused by humans.  What we now call climate change is the re-emergence of what made climate possible.  Climate - what we think of as climate - was manufactured from climate change.  Climate change was there in the beginning, climate stability is what was manufactured.  What we are seeing is the return of the repressed.

So the event of the Anthropocene is exceptional, but not by being extrinsic to what we have come to refer to as Nature or Humanity.  If now we are responding to planetary destruction with surprise and wondering how we might engineer a future that would not cost the Earth, then we’re just repeating the whole Anthropocene era, it’s hardly an event…almost a non-event…nothing happening here, move on.  It’s the continuation of man, as the being who believes that he can finally be different, and transform himself to the point where he makes no difference.  It’s the very dream of a certain pure ecology that has always defined man in his essence, which is to say man in his trajectory, that is ecologically bound up with violence and depletion.


  1. wonderful re-view thanks, i'll pass it along to claire

    1. A comment from your link that really says it all:

      Robert Callaghan · Top Commenter · W.C. Eckett
      There are 6 reasons for the current mass extinction event, and climate heating is only just one of those six reasons, this is why "green" energy won't save us.
      ► 10,000 years ago humans and our livestock made up 0.01% of all animal biomass.
      ► Now humans and our livestock make up 97% of all animal biomass.
      ► Humans and livestock consume 40% of earth’s annual green land biomass.
      ► 1 million people born every 4½ days. People live longer.
      ► 50% of All Vertebrate Species have gone extinct since 1960.
      ► 50% of All Vertebrate Species that are left will be gone by 2040.
      ► 90% of Big Ocean Fish gone since 1950.
      ► 50% of Great Barrier Reef gone since 1985.
      ► 50% of Fresh Water Fish gone since 1987.
      ► 30% of Marine Birds gone since 1995.
      ► 28% of Land Animals gone since 1970.
      ► 28% of All Marine Animals gone since 1970.
      ► 50% of Human Sperm Counts gone since 1950.
      ► 90% of Lions gone since 1993.
      ► 90% of Monarch Butterflies gone since 1995.
      ► 93 Elephants killed every single day.
      ► 2-3 Rhinos killed every single day.
      ► Bees die from malnutrition lacking bio-diverse pollen sources.
      ► Extinctions are 1000 times faster than normal.
      What’s going to happen to us?
      ► Ocean acidification doubles by 2050.
      ► Ocean acidification triples by 2100.
      ► We are on track in just 13 years to lock in a near term 6°C earth temp rise.
      ► Mass Extinction will become unstoppable and irreversible in 40 years.
      ► Permian mass extinction of 95% of life took 60,000 years 250 million years ago.
      ► Dinosaurs mass extinction took 33,000 years after asteroid impact.
      ► Anthropogenic mass extinction will take 300 years max.
      ► This mass extinction is 100x faster than anything before us.
      ► Antarctic meltdown now irreversible and unstoppable.
      ► Arctic methane burst is irreversible and unstoppable within current system.
      ► It takes 10 times as much rated “green” energy to displace 1 unit of fossil energy.
      ► Efficiency and conservation only causes more growth within our current system.
      ► World Bank says we have 5-10 years before we all fight for food and water.

      World energy demand is to increase 50% by mid-century exactly when we should decrease fossil fuels use close to 80% to mitigate climate heating. To increase green energy up to 40% of total energy use by 2050, we would need 200% more copper with future ore concentrations lower than the current 0.4%. We would need 150% more aluminum and 90% more iron at the same time it starts to cost too much money to send the trucks that far down into the pits.

      Dr. Ugo Bardi explains why mining ore grades below energy break even costs leads to economic collapse.

      We can't have hi-tech green energy without producing thorium as a costly radioactive waste byproduct usually discharged into tailings (lake sized) ponds. China is planning to get carbon free energy from thorium to pay for the minerals we need to produce our information green energy dreams.

      China has produced a bit over 6 gigatons of cement in the last 3 years.
      U.S. has produced a bit over 4 gigatons of cement in the last 100 years.
      China’s banks have produced $15 trillion of debt in the last 5 years.
      U.S. commercial banks have produced $15 trillion of debt in the last 100 years.
      China plans to build 500 nuclear plants in 35 years.
      China and India are in a crash course program to produce thorium energy forever to sell us computers, solar panels and wind turbines which wear out in 25 years.

      If someone is not a doomer, they're not paying attention!

    2. Oh dear I just saw that I put the wrong link to your blog, sorry! Fixed it.

  2. I thought you might appreciate Claire's talk when I was watching it and - lo and behold - you have a post on it shortly afterwards. There is always the danger of confirmation bias, but I would say that your conclusions are pretty close to Claire's (and mine and a number of others too). I've been a fan of Claire's work for some time, but it was very interesting to see her working through similar issues about the essential relationship of human violence, humanism, philosophy and the anthropocene that have been occupying me for some time. One of the real values of these networks of blogs is that you start to find people working in disparate fields and careers converging on very similar conclusions.

    1. I was wondering if she would have my baby?

    2. So at the risk of banishment I left this comment at NBL where the debate rages over whether we could have done things any differently: “Our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.” Notice Sagan talks about our “fervent hatreds” and makes no distinction between race, class, geographical or temporal location when he describes the “folly of HUMAN conceits”. When you look at the BIG picture, at scale, we are all one species and our destructive, extractive behavior is indistinguishable between cultures and epochs. This doesn’t excuse egregious evil. But it puts it solidly within the purview of who we all are.

    3. I suspect whether "we" could have done things otherwise depends on the inevitability of the cultural/cognitive revolution when behaviourally modern humans appeared on the scene. My view tends to be that once that happened and our technological capacities were reinforced, then Dilworth's vicious circle principle starts to really kick in and the big megafauna extinctions unfold, the agricultural revolution etc., etc. I reckon we had a fair dose of violent tendencies prior to that but could probably have pottered around on the planet without any catastrophic impact for several hundreds of thousands of years.

  3. But, the megafaunal extinctions happened well before much technological advances and way, way before agriculture. They started with fire, that is what set humans outside of the prior constraints of natural selection. So...somebody was saying that exponential change looks so much like flat, no change, until the very last moments. I think that is what the human population exemplifies.

    1. Agreed on the fire use prior to the cultural/cognitive revolution, I guess what I'm trying to work through is what kind of difference that revolution actually made for our developmental trajectory. Specifically, what kind of accelerant was it? I take your point about exponential growth curves, I just wonder how much longer human overshoot might have taken without that change and how devastating for other life forms on Earth it would have been without it. That is, without urban living, agriculture and then eventually industrialism, one can imagine human overshoot being geographically constrained, sporadic and less ecologically catastrophic than now. But it's all speculative and pretty much irrelevant on geological timespans; and one doesn't need to squint particularly hard to see that humans exhibit most of the markers of a plague species.

    2. It was "less" ecologically catastrophic than now, certainly but still, (reposting from FB) humans transformed entire ecosystems around the planet (land, not ocean) with fire and deforestation and driving dozens upon dozens of animals extinct, 50,000 years ago give or take. By "transformed" I mean wrecked. Once deforestation occurs, the climate is drastically altered - precipitation changes as well as temperature...deserts are created. In the opposite direction, Ghengis Khan killed so many people that enough farms reverted to forest to cool the climate. But aside from that, I take her point not to be so much that humans have always affected global climate, but that humans have had to deal with climate changes forever, which has caused mass migrations and extinctions in the past. RPauli just sent me a fun list of lost cities - collapsed ancient cultures are everywhere with the possible exception of Australia, which to me says that it is the human way. It cannot be coincidental that the pattern of overshoot and collapse is so ubiquitous. I recommend scrolling through the list, it's impressive, and even so of course can only be some fraction of the total.

    3. Gail, I agree with all of this, so I’m only really clarifying my own position. I’m not disputing that humans have always affected climate, negatively impacted other species, engaged in deforestation and migrated for environmental reasons. There was no pre-lapsarian golden age or ‘primitivist’ utopia. I’m just interested in how much worse the cultural/cognitive revolution of 45 to 70,000 years ago made things, via the development of more precise language/communication abilities, technologies, religion and art, and this was an element of the counterfactual that Claire was exploring too. But, yes, as long there has been a “we”, in the sense of homo sapiens, we have been post-Anthropocene. I just wonder (also as a counterfactual/thought experiment), how bad we might have been without the cultural/cognitive upgrade.

    4. P.S. I'll check out the lost cities material thanks.

    5. I just broke down and subscribed to New Scientist so I can read this:

      If you're interested but don't subscribe and want to read it let me know and I'll paste it into an email. I'm excited because I have been wondering about how much the switch to eating meat had to do with subsequent evolution. Great graph here:

    6. I find it interesting that "ritualistic burial" began only(?) 50K ya! I wonder if it was due mainly to some spontaneous concern regarding predation by other animals or the inception of over-powering superstitions or some other motivation. That IS a thought-provoking graph and I'm guessing the article is, as well. I'm also intrigued by the author's name AND the date of publication!! "Hmmmm!"

  4. I'd doubt that genes have philosophies or the sense of self importance that we humans have, but they'll survive the anthropocene pretty much unscathed. Genes are the principle life form on our planet and always take the shape of their physical environment (climate, solar output, geologic upheaval, chemical composition of the atmosphere, etc.) and evolve living carriers (life forms like cockroaches or humans) that are suited to that particular set of conditions of the time and space (what already exists in a specific location). Our genes will never miss us and merely take on some new shape.

    The Selfish Gene is a book on evolution by Richard Dawkins, published in 1976. It builds upon the principal theory of George C. Williams's first book Adaptation and Natural Selection. Dawkins used the term "selfish gene" as a way of expressing the gene-centred view of evolution as opposed to the views focused on the organism and the group, popularising ideas developed during the 1960s by W. D. Hamilton and others. From the gene-centred view follows that the more two individuals are genetically related, the more sense (at the level of the genes) it makes for them to behave selflessly with each other. Therefore the concept is especially good at explaining many forms of altruism. This should not be confused with misuse of the term along the lines of a selfishness gene.

    Surely Ms. Colebrook realizes the problem of scale. Worrying about the human catastrophe and how we got to it is missing the difference in scale between the needs of 7 billion genes (a drop of water) and the needs (and wants) of 7 billion humans.
    Don't worry, be happy!

    1. Haaa! That will be in my head all day, don't worry be happy - thanks, Catman!

  5. If not for industrial civilization/ science the species might have gone on indefinitely due to disease and famine. Does anyone one think we would have the numbers to alter the planet uninhabitable without vaccines, anti biotic, reduced child mortality, etc? Yes we most certainly altered the environment prior to carbon fueled industrialization, but it is a fraction of a sliver compared to the last 270 years. One has to put in some serious time studying to realize the horrendous scope of destruction in less than 300 years. Jaw dropping, mind boggling, gob smacking and all the rest. Given we all share the same cognitive capabilities, what are the chances that a so called scientific revolution leading to the use of fossil carbon for industrial scale power would have happened elsewhere if not in the west (Britain)? Why does it matter? I personally know three people who lost their children just as their kids were becoming young adults and all of them have repeatedly done the "if only" and "it did not have to happen" mental torture to themselves. It's quite like the NTE game. Sad, but very human.

    1. Of course it doesn't *matter* in the sense that talking and writing will change anything - it's just a lot of blather. A LOT. But as you point out, it's very human. Once someone wakes up and realizes we are destroying the earth and the future, it would seem to be perfectly normal to ask a number of questions such as "why?" and "what can I do to stop this?" and, once the reality that there is nothing to be done to stop this registers, "what could have been different in the past to prevent this?" I don't begrudge people the process because in a very deep emotional way it matters very much how one answers those questions.

    2. part of a sort of mourning process if nothing else, the question for me @ Syn-Zero and daily life is how to try and live a humane life in the full knowledge of our tragic alltoohuman limits and all the horrors and pressures that come with. Trying to convert people whose cognitive-biases keep them blinkered from such realities is a waste of energy/time/etc at a time when there really is none to spare and should be avoided if/as possible.

    3. "Given we all share the same cognitive capabilities..."

      Apneaman, please, will you disclose your evidence and explain your reasoning for such a statement? I have only observed a wide spectrum of cognitive function across everyone I have ever known, encountered or read. In other words, are you saying that J. Inhofe, M. Bachmann, S. Palin, etc. share your, Gail's, or my "cognitive capability?" Perhaps, in still other words, do you, me, Gail, share the "cognitive capability" of R. Feynman, C. Sagan or S. Hawking? I am genuinely curious to hear how you arrived at that summation.

      Nonetheless, I concur that the medical breakthroughs you mentioned, as well as others, succeeded beyond any anticipations to population overshoot. However, I think equally at fault were the determinations in how/when/why they were applied. Note, I recognize that this is, at best, a conundrum wrapped in an enigma and am not advocating in any way that an "ability to pay" be the sole criterion.

      Dirk, I concur completely that "[t]rying to convert people whose cognitive-biases keep them blinkered from such realities is a waste of energy/time/etc.." having done my absolute best, over more than a decade, to present the evidence of AGW and the need to alter 'our' behaviors to a literal horde of the unaware and ill-informed. The result of which has only been ridicule or ostracism, even by those who had formerly been deemed friends. Believers will continue to believe regardless of any and all other information. In light of that, I actually renounced my membership to the species known as homo sapiens sapiens some time ago as I perceive little in common with them beyond general physical form and color of blood. :)

    4. ha yes in a kind of darwinian ironic turn of the screw we the fringe depressive-realist mutants are going to get taken down with the rest of the biosphere by the very tech-enhanced
      cognitive biases that drive the masses and so allowed the species to briefly flourish like some blooming cancer, so much for our old ideas of health, normalcy, evolutionary fitness, and all...

  6. "[I]n a kind of darwinian ironic turn of the screw we the fringe depressive-realist mutants are going to get taken down with the rest of the biosphere by the very tech-enhanced cognitive biases that drive the masses and so allowed the species to briefly flourish like some blooming cancer".

    Agreed too. I'm filing this away as a useable quote; plus I have a new label for myself: a fringe depressive-realist mutant.

    1. hey paul welcome to our unhappy little tribe, this recognition of the full impacts/scales of neurodiversity actually offers me some significant relief when i can remember it in the midst of unfortunate encounters/events involving neurotypicals plowing thru the world.
      so much life wasted on outdated theories of repression/denial that wrongly assumed that at some level the truth/reality was hitting people and than they turned away and or buried it but in fact our worlds/umwelten are mostly pre-sorted/pre-judiced (as happens in say vision and acts of re-membering), so much lost to unreasonable senses of how reason-able we are capable of being.

  7. If you want to get really depressed, watch this tear-jerker (hey, it made me cry!) and then ask yourself why they never mention overpopulation and instead promote green growth and hope...

    1. You might appreciate John Foster’s systematic attack on willed optimism, progressivism and the rhetoric of sustainability, After Sustainability: Denial, Hope, Retrieval. I’m only about half-way through at the moment, but this quote seemed especially relevant (2014: 86): ‘we don’t ask whether the attempt to eliminate hunger for an ever-growing population by either grossly overtaxing the Earth’s resources or taking huge techno-heroic risks with the biosphere does represent social improvement, or whether a better society for our children might not actually be one in which Malthusian elimination operated. Or, if this question is allowed to briefly cross our mental screens, willed optimism (so easily consonant with the illogic of progressivism…) is called forth to dismiss it as morally intolerable, and so not a real question.’ It isn't completely anti-hope, but it is a thorough critique of the myth of progress and most modes of optimism, plus there is a hefty dose of existential analysis and being-towards-death thrown in too.

    2. Thanks I will look that up! That is the predicament, isn't it - there is no morally acceptable way to curb our population...and no morally acceptable way to apply medical triage. So you have incredible amounts of resources, skill and time going towards keeping very old people or terminally ill people alive for a few extra weeks, and saving premature or otherwise damaged babies so they can have a lifetime of impairment and dependence. I was thinking yesterday that my dad, 2 of my sisters and myself, and two of my daughters all have very poor long-distance vision. How long would any of us have lasted in a world without glasses?

  8. Being right about the future of the human species, civilization, or our present environmental biosphere doesn't change much. But as you were saying... (about ozone and climate change!), THESE scientist share our opinion.


    1. Exactly although what needs to happen is for them to extrapolate out from annual agricultural crops to wild plants and trees, which are obviously even worse off since they get poisoned year over year. Grrrrrrrr!!!!!!!


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