An essay about the ongoing socio-ecological crisis - an exploration of domination and the need for transformation.
"Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;"
Apocalypse is ongoing.
Species are dying at an unprecedented rate. Entire ways of life are dying: cultures, languages, peoples. For those lost, apocalypse has already come; for those on the brink, it looms ahead.
Humanity is not to blame. Particular patterns of human activity are. Specific logics and behaviors drive the eradication of life on earth: domination, destruction, development.
Anthropocene. The term is used to refer to a new historical epoch characterized by the fundamental alteration of the earth’s ecological systems as a direct result of human activity. While the recognition of fundamentally destructive patterns of behaviour is valuable, Anthropocenic thinking is dangerous.
Anthropocenic thinking risks solidifying conceptions of humanity as master, architect, of the world. It can suggest that humans were once merely adaptive. It can suggest that there is a state of equilibrium in which levels of domination and destruction are stable. It risks casting blame uniformly.
Human activity is not uniformly damaging to the earth. Certain peoples live in non-harmful ways. People are not equally complicit in forms of domination and destruction – some groups are entirely more subject than others.
To cast climate destruction as a human issue is misguided. It is behavioral.
Certain logics and forms of social organization have driven harmful engagement with the world over the past several centuries. A particularly potent concentration of these behaviours and patterns is capitalism, the primary driving force behind ecological degradation.
Over centuries, pan-European logics have established patterns of behaviour, highly intensified in colonialism and capitalism, which rely upon extraction and the exploitation of land and life. These patterns have propelled environmental degradation and species eradication to levels unprecedented in the history of human existence.
Of course, pan-European systems are not the only drivers of domination and destruction. They are, however, the most significant structures of mass domination and destruction and bear most of the blame when it comes to the structural roots of this tailspin.
In order for meaningful change to emerge, the specific behaviours that drive the socio-ecological crisis and threaten the existence of natural systems, human and non-human alike, must be identified. The particular conditions – conceptual and material – that perpetuate harmful ways of living need to be changed.
Problematic conditions do not result from a single structuring logic but from a concentration of perpetually generating and shifting logics.
Complex networks of conceptuality, logics, behaviours, and conditions allow harmful forms of social arrangement and organization to perpetuate.
The notion of human exceptionalism is a major driver of ecological destruction. This exceptionalism is naturalized to many – a matter so present it goes unseen.
Humanity and nature are not distinct realms. Humanity exists as an interdependent part of the socio-ecological system. Interdependence means that systems merge, bridge, and overlap – that nothing is entirely distinct. The socio-ecological system is not made up of a multitude of distinct parts which regularly interact on a hierarchical basis. It is fluid assemblage of ever-changing bodies which exist, at all times, in relation to one another.
Human behaviour is not separate from non-human behaviour. There is a clear connection between the destruction and domination of the non-human world and systems of destruction and dominance that humans impose upon one another.
Logics and practices guiding social organization are directly related to the logics and practices by which humans interact with the rest of the socio-ecological system. Extractive and exploitative relationships between humans are inextricably related to extractive and exploitative relationships between human and non-human.
Harmful logics pervade the so-called left.
There is a relentless pursuit of standardization, seeking to erase all but a specific form of life, transitioning from a diverse range of social forms to a universalised standard. There is a relentless pursuit of development, taking a certain linear evolution for granted, establishing a correlation between the passage of time and a specific progression of organization. There is a naturalization of these processes, treating them as inevitable and predetermined.
History does not unfold. There is no pre-existing structure yet to be fulfilled. Conditions transform perpetually.
The evolution of socio-ecological systems and structures is reliant upon localised interaction. The nature of this evolution is incredibly complex. The process is diverse, non-linear, and non-mechanistic. Attempting to impose a reductionist, linear structure of transformation is ineffective and dangerous. Attempting to chart transformation in the same way is prone to failure.
Vast strategies of transformation are required to address the ongoing socio-ecological crisis and the conditions that perpetuate it. These strategies must account for the complexity of socio-ecological systems, and the particular conditions of any given local system.
Ecological systems can be fundamentally altered by seemingly minor and insignificant adaptations and alterations. Change does not need to be centrally structured and directed to have significant impact.
An overarching framework of transformation, imposed upon local conditions, cannot adequately account for the complexity of local conditions. Instead, transformation must emerge from within localized regions. This allows it to account for the specific relations present in any given locality.
As systems are interdependent and interconnected, localized transformation does not imply isolation.
As Bookchin writes, transformation needs to include “coherent analysis of the deep-seated hierarchical relationships and systems of domination, as well as of class relationships and economic exploitation, that degrade people as well as the environment.” It must also include widespread reimagining of the conditions of human existence to establish positive forms of organization in their place.
Hierarchical forms of social organization generate systems of logic which serve to reproduce the same conditions of existence by only establishing structures compatible with their own logic.
Bourdieu’s theory of habitus is useful. Habitus refers to a system of guiding principles which emerge from conditions of existence to generate/organize thought and practice. These systems perpetuate by establishing a logic that is internalized or naturalized by the population so that following it no longer requires active reference or justification.
Once naturalized, the logic guiding and transforming individual bodies and minds, and their respective roles in social organization, is treated as an already-justified matter of consensus. This logic constantly guides thought and action to reproduce structures compatible with already existing structures. As a result, stepping beyond the boundaries of potentiality established by habitus becomes seemingly unimaginable.
Capitalist conditions of existence produce capitalist logics, which generate and guide further potential action to reproduce these conditions. Conditions of dominance produce logics of dominance, which generate and guide further potential action to reproduce these conditions.
Though habitus emerges as a dominant conditioning system, it is not the sole or total conditioning system.
Habitus can be undermined by recognizing the potency and credence of conceptualities regardless of the degree to which they are circulated. This means embracing decentralized, rhizomorphous methods of knowledge and being, and recognizing that life is a multi-dimensional, complex assemblage.
Tackling harmful structures requires engaging with complex networks of thought and material conditions of existence simultaneously. Potentiality must be recognized and materialized.
Society exists in direct relationships between people.
Positive society exists in every relationship built upon love and respect rather than fear and domination. The cultivation of meaningful relationships is a positive strategy of social transformation.
Positive relationships cannot blossom beneath the weight of domineering structures. The cultivation of positive society requires the eradication of harmful social structures.
Reimagination is key.
Reimagination means recognizing that the conditions under which we live are arbitrary. Conditions are arbitrary not because there is no logic establishing or legitimizing them but because there is no inherent necessity for them to take the form that they do.
Reimagination also means recognizing that the way that we conceptualize the world is arbitrary, and that dominant modes of perception serve to reproduce structures of domination.
It is necessary to reimagine our relationships and existence. This must be an active process, where alternatives to harmful structures and concepts are created. Doing so requires securing autonomy from imposing structures of domination and power, mentally and physically.
Power structures restrict the ability of individuals to detach from them. However, even if cooperation is attained by coercion or compulsion, systems perpetuate because logics are materialized via collective engagement on the part of the people.
People must secure autonomy by creating alternatives and constantly resisting the imposition of domineering structures.
This is insurrection. Insurrection is not the struggle for power. It is the struggle for autonomous life. It is the establishment of autonomy through the creation of solutions which embody and manifest local transformation, accounting for immediate conditions of existence. It is fostering mutuality and love.
Though concepts are socially constructed, conceptuality always concentrates in the individual mind for mediation and attribution. Individuals must practice insurrection of the self. Self-insurrection embodies localization. It is a rejection of domineering institutions and arbitrary structures of organization. It embraces the multiplicitous and complex natures of individuals and societies.
Autonomy and insurrection do not mean isolation.
Radical socio-spatial geographies, where emancipatory organization emerges collectively, merge spatial and temporal being – structure and process. This tackles specific structures or institutions of power as well as the conceptualities and logics which perpetuate them. This is collective autonomy.
Humanity has an interdependent and complex relationship to the rest of the socio-ecological system.
Undermining dominance-based conceptuality is a necessary step in meaningfully addressing the socio-ecological crisis at hand.
Breaching the distinction between human and non-human existence is also necessary to properly account for the ways that human-human logics of dominance relate to interactions with the non-human world.
Destruction of life is a cohesive process.
Forms of resistance and revolution which focus upon seizure of power and the imposition of new structures of hegemony risk reproducing or commandeering logics and conditions of dominance.
Autonomous, decentralized strategies of emergence can account for the mutuality of structure and process. These strategies address the unique conditions established by various concentrations of process, structure, and logic.
The potential implications of minor interactions and physical dynamics are nearly infinite.
Transformation does not need to be overbearing to be significant. Engaging in imaginative construction of new conditions of organization and existence can actively transform conditions and relations to cultivate mutuality rather than dominance.
Alternatives to logics and behaviours of domination exist and can be fostered.
The emergence of conditions of existence and patterns of behaviour based upon interdependence and love rather than domination and destruction is necessary to alter the relationship that humans have to one another and the earth.
A single state of equilibrium does not exist. Action will always render transformation in the world. The nature of this transformation does not need to be violent.
Current ways of living are apocalyptic. Immediate transformation is required.
Otherwise, the cataclysmic tailspin continues; we sleepwalk to the end times.
"This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper."