Luke, Chapter 6: Searching for Alternatives: Postmodern Populism and Ecology

I discuss Luke’s conception of postmodern eco-populism as an alternative to Megamachinic urbanity as the mode of global civilization. I present his view of the state of things through corporate capitalism and technocratic domination within the production of environment. I then move to his views concerning eco-populism grounded in Ecotechnics as his alternative to fossil fueled, extractive ecosystems produced by and through megamachinery and discuss the possibilities of community-driven, rather than society-driven modernization. Keep an ear out for the Cards of Doom if you’re in the PSCI/UAP 3344 courses. Apologies for the length, but this was out maiden voyage and I needed to shore up some uncertainties and misunderstandings.

Property of Dr. Alexander T. Stubberfield
Luke, and others such as Wolfgang Streeck take the United States as an economic, political, and cultural global trendsetter. For Luke, the expansion and homogenization of Second Nature environments is accomplished through the production of a global material culture linked to megamachines via global commodity chains. The Commodity, its circulation, production and consumption is central in his analysis of Second Nature ecosystems and environments. Rammstein’s “Amerika” captures the globalization of American culture through the circulation of objects as the globe itself is reifed into a consumable territory ripe for civilizational expansion though Megamachinic social organization.

Luke draws from theories of postmodernity relying on concepts such as “fragmentation” and the failure of connection and coordination within a seemingly weightless system of communication producing a disembodied and alienated subject. The Self within postmodernity becomes a void caught in a swirl of signs purporting to give meaning to the void through their consumption. The signs themselves are objects embodied as commodities and hawked to Selves caught within the Great Swirl. This is supported by mass advertising designed to provoke desire by quietly critiquing and disciplining the consumer into patterns of the mass consumption centered around The Image used to produce regulative ideals about what it means to be human, healthy, wealthy, wise, attractive, or otherwise desirable. The globalization of these consumptive patterns that rely on insecurity and nothingness reproduce fractured identities as the Self tries to form through an ever-accelerating swirl of objects sold to make it whole as it recoils in shock from recognizing the void within itself.

Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden in “Fight Club” delivers a monologue about meaningless, placelessness and ahistorocity formulated within the postmodern condition.

A key logic in the organized disorganization of postmodernity is the continual search for and expansion of capital through the establishment of frontiers. New consumer markets open as demographic marketing becomes more precise through platforms such as Facebook, Tinder, Amazon, and Twitter that co-modify information and subjects through adjustments in user milieux that both extract information about the user while presenting more consumables to them through ever-sophisticated algorithms. The algorithm is an abstract machine designed to chop up users into consumables for the expanding machinery of corporate capitalist “civilization.” When using online platforms, the user is potentially at once everywhere as their actions are dispersed through placeless cybernetic networks, and nowhere as the user is merely collections of data and meta-data that present “the user” to corporate scanners. Speed realizes and actualizes power within the postmodern cybernetic network by allowing remote control of subjectivies produced and presented as ways of being, forms of life, or lifeforms as the placeless, and self-less consumer enters into the productive circuitry of global telemediated capital. The consumption of “authenticity” becomes a status marker as the notion is circulated and marketed relative to the consuming self. The ghostly presence of the Self is only the ephemeral glow of a manufactured sign within Second Nature ecosystems mediated by the metabolic requirements of the machine and the technocrats who are its extended bodies.

Our environments in postmodernity are characterized by the constant stimulation of desire for objects and power. Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 shows the constant projection of desire through the advertisement within hyper-urban environments built by and for commercial activity rather than the living.

The culture produced through the swirl of commodities inculcates a fetishistic subjectivity that values the constant chase for meaning and comfort through the objects presented to it. The Commodity Fetish buries the systems of relations mediated by the Commodity Form through the expanding swirl of the Image promising relief through the fetishization of individualistic identity formed through the consumption of mass produced objects. This exhibits a subject in the constant search for meaning through the consumption of signs inscribed with the Commodity Form that becomes the omnipresent logos and drive for living within a system of consumption based on its own disappearance and reappearance within the postmodern environment. Fetishes always put fantasy before reality and the attainment of a fetishized object leads to feelings of inadequacy and more hunger as the Self is transformed in the expanding systems of domination and capital circulation. This means that the fragmented Self is doomed to frustration within postmodernity as it is constantly stimulated by the circuits of desire to consume that which escapes its grasp as production and consumption are unified within the fragmented Self by the Commodity Fetish and the Commodity Form. In this instance, the Machine and the Self become indistinguishable as capital circulates, accumulates, and expands linking both to the productive/consumptive circuits of Second Nature ecosystems and global civilization.

The above changes nature from the First Nature ecosystems that ruled over much of humanity through the majority of its evolution to a de-natured sign of itself within the consumptive circuitry of industrialized Second Nature. De-nature is captured and alienated from its conditions and circulated through representations promising more satisfying lifestyles and happier selves through its consumption. The extractive logic underlying commodities mediated through Megamachinery makes the perceived progression towards an authentic “Self” and “Nature” mere illusions at best, and, more cynically, fake carrots dangled in front of rabbits in simulations designed to spur but never satiate appetites created through those simulations. “Nature” is at once dead as her corpse embodies the resource curse leading to further extraction and biospheric desecration, while she is zombified through representations of pristine naturalness that presents some spaces as “untouched” by humans while failing to recognize that the biosphere itself has become an embattled system technologized through the system of systems of machines reproducing Second Nature and the postmodern condition. In the final analysis, then, the user is incorporated into and as The Machine as humanity, huddled within the bubbles of machinic urbanity struggles for grip in the world they continually make and reproduce psychically and materially under the illusion that they are in control of the machines that make their environments.

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep questions the line between the human and the machine in its postmodern dystopia.

To their constant and unrealized frustration, however, it is the machines upon which their lives depend as the structure of centralized production and the constant search for market advantage robs them of individual autonomy in the reproduction of environment and Self. The machine quietly becomes the model for society and incentivizes the production of subjects for that model in its own image. “The Environment” becomes a machine of planetary scale to be controlled as our spinning orb becomes as technological project for technocratic managers feeding the biotic to the machinic in the constant drives for power and profit. Luke’s solution to the ephemeral, fetishistic cultures of hydrocarbon civilization is to counter its Megatechnics with Ecotechnics explored in the podcast embedded above.

What would it take to recapture the self? How can we fight the circuitry of postmodernity? Remember that the consumption of an image is the consumption of a tacit “ought” alluding to reality, instilling insecurity and telling you how things “really are.”

For other resources and takes on postmodernity please see Stephen West’s Philosophize This podcast and Rick Roderick’s lecture on Philosophy and Post-Modern Culture.

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