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<nettime> Broken World: Steerage and Steering Mechanisms
Alan Sondheim on Mon, 26 Jan 2015 05:11:46 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Broken World: Steerage and Steering Mechanisms


Broken World: Steerage and Steering Mechanisms


We are steerage. We do not arrive.

*/Properly, the space in the after part of a vessel, under the
cabin, but used generally to indicate any part of a vessel
having the poorest accommodations and occupied by passengers
paying the lowest rate of fare. [1913 Webster]/*

The ship is steered. The ship wanders. The world's broken.
Don't misunderstand: nothing will save us; there is no land or:
the land is damaged, or: the land is exhausted: blank, the land
is blank: anguish. Anguish on our part. We're the ship. Our
world.

Or: We're all marooned. It is no longer a question of hope, of
the human project, of plans or structures, of capital or
capitalism, of late capitalism, of neo-liberalism, of inerrancy
or the absolute. It is no longer a question of ideologies, of
common language, of the commons: it's over.

It's steered, and it's steered over, the steering's over.

The mechanisms at work are simple and fundamental. They are
abject; they grind the rest, whatever was tottering through
modernism - they grind the rest down. The world's a world of
dust and radiations. The world does not crack. Our project's
broken.

Some of them:

The first intractable mechanism: Overpopulation. The planet is
close to its carrying capacity, and there's no end to population
increase. The demographics are skewed towards young reproducers;
exponential growth lumbers on. The result is more mouths to
feed, more strains on the environment, more slash and burn, more
hillside slums, more bush-meat, more overcrowding, less jobs,
more local war.

The second intractable mechanism: Environmental degradation
which has reached the point of no return. Consider the
plasticization of the oceans, the post-tipping point of animal
and plant extinctions, the increasing desertification
world-wide, the loss of biological diversity. The anthropocene
is not the usual planetary rise and fall; it's the greatest, the
fastest, the most violent, extinction. The world is already
destroyed; Gaia or its equivalent, is over. Something will
remain, future adaptive radiations, but it won't be us: every
species will be invasive, and the world, for the foreseeable
future, will swarm.

The third intractable mechanism: Global warming which is also
global redistribution of currents and weather flow. This is also
irreversible, past the tipping-point. The results are harrowing:
record-setting droughts and floods, enormous hurricanes, tornado
swarms, irreversible sea-level rises, and so forth. This is the
classical catastrophe (Rene Thom): the fragility of the good
descends to chaotic phenomena, and practical measures, theory,
containment, is always after the fact.

The fourth intractable mechanism: Increased violence and local/
global warfare: again, with limited resources, this will only
grow worse. Territories split and compete; the lines are
religious, ethnic, geographic, historic etc.; brutality
increases as humans turn more and more to the rigidity of
absolute/inerrant ideologies, and fortified binary oppositions -
classical logics - gain strength as ideological instrumentality.
This turn to the right, where the free press, women's rights,
science and self-critique etc., are all viewed with suspicion;
the left (if these binaries still exist at all) is an endangered
species.

The fifth intractable mechanism: The vast sea of weaponry and
the nuclear arsenal available to all; it is only a matter of
time before a dirty bomb or nuclear device is detonated, the
equivalent of over-fishing, trawling, the sea bottom. Scorched
earth returns to scorched earth; there are no longer resources
for rebuilding as poverty and social chaos increase in the
world. History, archaeological sites, villages, nations, records,
are erased; history is no longer visible, readable; reading
itself becomes suspect.

The sixth intractable mechanism: Enclaving of the rich and
income disparity exponentially increasing; the result is
hoarding of resources and increased poverty as noted. This
enclaving extends, crudely, to nations; the U.S. for example
uses far more resources per capital than almost any other
country; the U.S. prison system is itself a flux of pure
capital, privatization, the largest in the world. Prisons are
less efficient than pure disappearance; even so, population
growth more than makes up for the violent loss of life around
the planet. Think as well of local militias, including police
forces that, first and foremost, look after their own, by any
means possible.

The seventh intractable mechanism: Antibiotics and spread of
disease across varying species; as sludge and clutter increase
world-wide, the opportunity for endemic disease increases.
Disease vectors are driven by population vectors, by poor health
practices, by hunger and poverty. Understand that overpopulation
is behind all of this, a developing horizon, just like hacking
and criminal gangs are a developing horizon of violence and
seizure. There's no more living off the grid; off the grid is on
the grid, within mechanisms and horizons. We're all in the ship,
we're all marooned.

The eighth intractable mechanism: Global communication networks
granting power and encrypted communication among activist
groups, including local militias and extremists. populations.
These networks are temporary, because the Net and its cousins
are subject to hacking on a inconceivable scale; security simply
can't keep up without infringing on the rights of others -
without replacing one ideology by another, far harsher. The Net
and privacy are porous, and subject to the seven mechanisms
above. With so much data and control in the cloud/s, with so
much control and personal information in the hands of
monopolistic corporations, gangs and governments, there's no
doubt that we're seeing the tip of a cyberwar iceberg that will
do violent damage far beyond the Sony fiasco - damage that will
extend to (for example) power, health, military, and financial
grids as well.

We must begin to think of these mechanisms as both interlocked
and environmental - i.e. constituents of a global and
catastrophic horizon: much as the Club of Rome developed a model
of interrelated flows in their relatively doomsday scenarios, we
have to see this horizon as a holarchy of entangled mechanisms.
The difference is that the mechanisms today are chaotic and
unpredictable: there are events (primate extinctions, violent
storms, the rise of violent fundamentalism, hacking of financial
institutions, etc.) that are both destructive and fissured into
any (ideological or instrumental) coherency that might have
appeared as "explanatory" in the heady days of modernism which
still inform us.

What fascinates me is the global appearance of these mechanisms
in the large: there's a kind of simplicity in their
phenomenology that dissolves quickly upon closer inspection. But
the simplicity isn't contradicted by the details; global
warming, for example, doesn't reverse because the north-east
United States is having record cold spells. The overall
configuration of the world is based on strange attractors, which
proceed, literally, in any case; we're steerage, not steering.
(The technophilic ideology of progress, paradigm shifting, and
cleverness does a disservice here, promising techno-utopias just
around the corner - or already here - while in reality the
beheadings and bush-meat continue to ravage.)

(I think, at the least, of a curriculum focused on these
mechanisms - but to what end? Past the tipping-point, things
will continue to deteriorate until the anthropocene extinction
does final damage. I can imagine the very rich escaping at some
point, but to where, with what rockets, with what supplies? We
are living in the ruin of a total institution called the global;
we go down with the ship, in steerage. And steerage is now the
corrosion of the dream of the West at the very least, as Plato's
cave becomes the hold of a ship floundering on polluted waters.)


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