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<nettime> Carbon-based life self-combusts, mediated by a (very brief) in
Johan Söderberg on Sat, 15 Dec 2012 16:08:03 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Carbon-based life self-combusts, mediated by a (very brief) interlude of reason


Carbon-based life self-combusts, mediated by a (very brief) interlude of reason
The wholly enlightened earth, after having radiated calamities triumphantly for 300 years, is now counting down the last seconds before ignition. To substantiate this claim, consider the two numbers presented by Bill McKibben in Rolling Stones. It is estimated that roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide can be released into the atmosphere before the planet is pushed above the treshold of two degrees. The known reserves of gas, coal and oil are five times that number – 2,795 gigatons. Those reserves are still in the ground, but they have already been calculated with in the share prices of companies, in credits given to companies by banks, and in national budgets. This insight evokes despair, of course, but mixed in with despair is a feeling of fascination. Fascination over that our lifespans are located right at the end of the cycle of life, in toto. The one positive thing to be said about this predicament is that we find ourselves in a philosophically privileged spot, something that has been denied all previous generations. We can now say with confidence: ”there was a telos, after all”. This telos can be summarised in one sentence: carbon-based life self-combusts, mediated by a (very brief) interlude of reason. That interlude is very short in comparison to the 3.7 billion years that went before. Still, it took millennia for reason to refine the slingshot into a megaton bomb. It must be granted to the same scientific rationality that it has alerted us to the danger ahead. It is through scientific abstractions, and only though those, that we can glimpse the task that mankind has set for itself, but which it seems incapable of resolving. The crux is that those abstractions fail to produce the sense of urgency, determination and self-sacrifice that a measured political act would require. Myth, by which I here mean religious superstition tout court, possesses those qualities, but rarely places the political act where it is due. No airplanes are flown into oil-refineries, no-one sets himself on fire outside the headquarters of BP and Exxon. Note to be taken, I am not saying that this would be a wise course of action. Most probably, the reaction provoked by such acts would catalyse the transition to the post-democratic society, already well under-way as the ecological foundations for bourgeois civility are crumbling. Nonetheless, that no political subject has arisen matching the approaching calamity is something that calls out for an explanation. There are the familiar ones: the vested interests, the geopolitical lock-down, the cultural-industry, etc, to which must be added the subjective side of the equation. We go on, day by day, hoping that our own being-towards-death will have run its natural course before we reach the telos of planet-towards-ignition. In other words, what we know as a political impasse is the atomist individual reflected outwards. With the passage from traditional society to modernity, the story has been told many times, the autonomous individual cut herself free from her bonds with past and future generations. Initially, this generational decoupling was formal and subjective, soon it will be made objective by the workings of chemistry and thermo-physics. The atomist, autonomous spirit, whether in its dominant, liberal-capitalist incarnation or disguised as a purported contender, have failed and continues to fail to provide the concepts and morals that are needed. A recognition hereof is already a step beyond, though belatedly so. Facing the prospect of planetary annihilation, we have finally found the exit from the self-enclosed labyrinth of discourse, of simulacra, of pragmatism and micro-politics. Any credible philosophical inquiry today must tend towards metaphysics. A dark horse for 300 years, metaphysics is destined to make a comeback as modernity draws to a close. The discoursians of yesteryear were the first ones to throw themselves on the exit, migrating en masse from the pragmatic end of the spectrum to the metaphysical under the heading of ”new materialism”. The mythical past of the arche-fossil allegedly provides them with a lever for dethroning the human being – again, thus repeating the gesture that their predecessors did with semiotics. Maybe someone can find consolation in this idea. If there ever only was an endless flux of mater, then nothing has been lost when the current constellation of carbon and oxygen-atoms, which just happens to precondition the existence of conscious beings, changes into something new and different. To whoever comes up with a palliative response to the climate crisis – engineer, economist or philosopher – there will be a funding opportunity. In contrast, old-school materialists do not locate their vantagepoint for reflection in an archaic past but in the future. This future too, incidentally, is intrinsically linked to the arche-fossil, and it furnishes thought with a temporality without any human beings. The whole body of work of the materialist historical tradition must be rethought in the light of this diametrical reversal of the meaning of the future, from a telos to strive towards into that which must be averted at all costs. It is a grim replacement, but we must do with what we have been dealt. At the very least, this narrative restores direction and purpose to our life and praxis.
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