Group Blog Post: Devin Welsh, Lilly Church, Merrill Wheeler

Global Environmental Issues: Dr. Stubberfield

4/8/21

Hybridity: in Death, Alan P. Rudy and Damian White (Devin Welsh)

The authors in this reading draw attention to the discursivity applied to the idea of ‘society vs nature.’  Historically and as a result of The Enlightenment, nature and society have been viewed as two different entities completely separate from one another.  This has been detrimental to human understanding of how the world works, and how humans influence it directly.  This idea that society is somehow separate from the world it inhabits is absurd, and more importantly dangerous.  When the two are divided then it leads people to think their actions in one entity will not, and even cannot, have an impact on the other.  This is evident within the capitalist economic structure; ignore the negative effects you wish did not exist. We see this with a willing ignorance of the subaltern or poor populations across the globe who both suffer from capitalism’s effects while also being forced to take part in it, as they are the cheap labor capitalism is built on. The authors bring us to the idea that nature is itself a construction of humanity.  ‘True’ nature by definition has not existed for a very long time, as now everything on earth has been touched in one way or another by humanity.  What we think of as nature in current times is an artificial recreation of what humans arbitrarily designate as nature.

Rudy and White in their chapter in Critical Environmental Politics introduce us to Bruno Latour, a French sociologist who used the term ‘hybridity’ to better understand the concept of ‘modernity’. Hybridity is combining different fields of study usually believed to be distinct from one another, to better understand how they influence each other.  In this sense, it is applied to combining society and nature into a hybrid to better understand how they are directly related.  Latour posits the idea that humanity does not understand its role in directing ‘society’, or lack thereof, and how that role directly influences ‘nature’.  Society is a set of norms that are hard to turn against in an effort to see change, yet nature is actually extremely malleable and susceptible to human decision making.  He claims that modernity today is built on the idea that we cannot change our politics, in the same manner that we manipulate ecosystems and our environments. Essentially humanity is locked into a social system that it thinks it cannot change, although we have altered ecologies around us.  It is an almost intentional contradiction that does not allow a restructuring of the current societal hierarchy, most likely because elites are happy with the way it is, while also maintaining their power over much of society.  He calls us to see the connections between cause and effect across multiple fields of inquiry.  Hybrids have been historically viewed in a negative light, as illegitimate combinations that should not have happened, such as unwanted animal or plant half-breeds.  But hybrids have a key role to play in the future, not as half-breed plants or animals, but by combining fields of knowledge.  The hybridity of society and nature, long previously thought to be distinct from one another, will be vital to bettering humanity’s impacts on the world it inhabits.

Donna Haraway is the next scholar introduced to us.  Her arguments are along the same lines as Latour, but she adds in other specific social elements often left out of the equation.  Her focus on hybridity is constantly laid in front of the backdrop of ‘socialist feminism.’  An interesting point she makes is how ‘modernity’ is built off social conceptions birthed in colonialism and its conception of ‘the other’.  This dualism is evident today in nearly every societal situation, where one’s situation is inherently separate from the conditions that may have caused it.  The authors point to several of her works and how they draw from multiple fields to offer a better context of social situations, while I was most interested in her article titled, ‘A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s’.  In this work she lays out a fictional scenario where cyborgs have taken the place of humans as a hyperbolic example of modernity, where humans and technology are inexorably intertwined. In this work she details the decisions facing female cyborgs in a world where technology is inherently masculine, and how the world shapes individual decision making.  Essentially, she is calling attention to the role physical situations influence decision making, and not just trying to understand decision making in a vacuum. We see how technology is used widely across the Global North as a solution to current physical situations, such as carbon capture to combat climate change, or gene-editing to combat disease. These new technologies are widely accepted because they are seen as a solution, without much contemplation on how they could influence things further down the road, it seems the era of cyborgs is already here. 

We as humans must look harder at the connections between cause and effect, and how one situation can and does affect another.  There needs to be a hybridity of nature and society as well as a hybridity across the fields of academia.  Researchers and scholars must do a better job of working together across the scientific and social fields to create a better understanding of how humans shape the planet.  We need to take accountability for our actions, unlike capitalist elites who just close their eyes and hope the negative externalities of their decisions just disappear in a magic cloud of carbon emissions.

Bio: My name is Devin Welsh, and I am a senior in my final semester here at Virginia Tech.  I am studying International Relations while pursuing a minor in German.  I love watching soccer and I really hope Paris Saint-Germain beats Bayern Munich in their first champions league matchup this week.  Bayern fans feel free to tell me I’m wrong, but I think it’s PSG’s year to win it all.

An excellent little presentation on public lands, waters, environment and social behavior.

“On the Politics of the Anthropocene” Luke, Chapter 10 (Lilly Church)

Proponents of the Anthropocene are social warriors calling for change and trying to get nation-states to “do something”, while other groups such as scientists depoliticize and refuse to work together. The goal to depoliticize means they want to move away governments making and enforcing decisions about the environment that have political-motivated biases. This removes “the environment” as a space for democratic politics and political solutions by sequestering decisions about it to “experts” that can be under the employ of global commercial organizations and governments, such as the U.S., that have a vested economic interest in continuing business-as-usual and others with more altruistic motivations advocating for environmental protection through top-down, non-democratic decision-making. This means that “the environment” under this way of thinking, can be designed and administered by technocrats beyond the reach of democratic politics and their decisions have the potential to have global effects. A dividing question between these groups is if the products of humans are actually significant on a geological timescale, and if so, what should the response be? Many people who have studied this want the Anthropocene to be a warning and a call to action, but there have been warnings about this for over 150 years, even as far back as 1864. An important question for critics to be asking is if new concepts and terminology around the Anthropocene are actually helpful to pinpointing a problem and clearly stating how to fix them. 

Arcology is a concept coined by Paolo Soleri to describe a (theorized) compact living structure that combines natural and unnatural elements to support a family in a sustainable way. Arcology is not actually practiced anywhere, but it does provide insight into how to create more sustainable cities. As human shelters and cities arise, agriculture spreads, and arcologies are formed. Agriculture and habitat are the two indicators of human existence, and without them, we cannot exist. Obviously, food and shelter are two out of three of the absolutely crucial factors for humans to survive. When we look from a technonatural view, technology is essential to this architectural design because of the materials needed to keep such a network running.

Soleri’s claim is that shelter is the most imposing feature of humans, and the suburban home is the most consuming and wasteful shelters we can create. Only a few people actually benefit from the amount of space that humans take up, while the by-products are destructive for local, regional, and global systems. Soleri’s claim is that the only solution to saving the environment stems from the city, because the city and the environment are connected in terms of habitat. The only way to move forward is to recenter the attention on arcologies and fix the way we consider and improve them.

Soleri’s Arcology was tried nearly 50 years ago in the Arizona desert. Its name is Arcosanti and Soleri was trying to design a city seated at the intersection of ecology and architecture.

As mentioned earlier, there are many ideas as to when the Anthropocene actually began, and it again ties into the process of depoliticalization. Crutzen pins the start of the Anthropocene on the invention of the steam engine in 1780, while other anthropologists, paleobotanists, and stratigraphers argue that there are multiple stages of the Anthropocene. And still others from fields like conservation biology and physical geography want to put their own claims and characteristics on the Anthropocene, which can only be because of the political power that comes from control of the narrative over the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is politicized through “expert” scientific claims gaining power by condemning environmental crises. Earth system science (ESS) is a relatively new study for analyzing changes in the Anthropocene by multiple organizations trying to discover new ways of surviving it. ESS creates discourse of sustainable development for the purpose of policy creation. Yet with this discourse, there is little conclusion of what to do because that decision is left to policy-makers. This allows for aesthetically pleasing debates, resumes, and research without actual positive impacts on our consistently degrading environment. 

Luke makes the statement, “As long as scientific experts peer at these turbulent currents of planetary transformation through the taxonomies and terms of Victorian science, the arcologies of the earth will continue to destructively omnipolitanize the planet-state, but in strong accord with peer-reviewed Anthropocenarios from ESS labs and their panels of expert authority.” To elaborate on this quote, Luke is saying that people who study the evolution of Earth through the ESS framework are foolishly defending the science through a 19th century lens. This inevitably leads to destroying the Earth by politicizing it and using poorly researched and backed up Anthropocene critiques by other ESS supporters to defend it. Unfortunately, there is not yet an answer as to who is in control of the response going forward. The media normalizes trends of human damage to the environment by examining it only as a fascinating trend of our society. ESS demonstrates how we must impose ourselves on the future in order to move forward in remaking the world. Bu there is hope in that the Anthropocene addresses the multifaceted evolution of the world and does not assume that world solely exists for humans.

Bio: Lilly Church is a senior majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) with a minor in Theater Arts. She was born and raised in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and only left so she could spend her college years in Blacksburg. She has never left the country, leaving her entirely uncultured. For this, she would like to thank COVID-19, which cancelled her study abroad. Lilly is taking this class in order to have a better understanding of the critical environmental issues which are so engrained in all three of her major’s key subjects. 

Chapter 1: Instruments, Assemblages and Environmentality: Toward the Technonatural (Merrill Wheeler)

    In this chapter the author explores the use of instruments in assemblages, specifically relating to the Greater Sage-grouse in Wyoming, that leads to a bigger commentary on technonature. Though a study of instruments that are part of bigger capital machines, we can see a bigger pattern of an expansion of technonature. These instruments are described as causing the production of artifacts. Specifically, the animal and plant life of Wyoming is being subjected to strategies of environmentality that is only concerned with the production of commodities. The author sees technonature having historical power because it is now seen as a natural feature of the environment that’s being made and affecting the plant and animal life through social activity, thus showing the growing expansion of technonature through these instruments that are functions of machinic assemblages and further link human and non-human populations. 

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 Greater Sage-grouse in Wyoming: The Technonatural Condition: Synthetic and Organic Imbrications of the Machine

    Machinic assemblages use instruments with organic components to further industrial activity leading to a concern of a hybrid of infrastructure between human and non-human economies. There has been an evolution of both humanity and non-humananity through tehonology, as they develop together there are human-non-human assemblages that create the production commodities in technonaturalism. This can be seen through technoatural lifeforms, topographies, environments that were previously autarkic but are now part of the technonaturalization system. Technonature as concerned by the author is simply the continuance of civilization through means of technological infrastructure and commodity production. When we add organic components to this equation through geo-engineering, we are headed to a what the author calls a “megamachinic consciousness.” We can’t escape geotechnic hybridity because it is deeply ingrained in the creation of our civilization. Things like the carbon cycle have been commodified, by the instrumentalization of previously autarkic organic things through, for example, the global production and trade of carbon credits or offsets. Instrumentalization means that organic systems have been used as tools and instruments to further the advancement of some agency. 

More Power to the Machine: Strategic Control of Synthetic Flows

     Synthetic assemblages employ the formation of technonature and environmentality – environmentality being the materialization of the organic and synthesized – further cementing technonatural history in the material and the concept of human-non-human history. The author describes this as a Megamachine: “Megamachine is a planetary life support system for one formulation of culture that rules over and dominates global flows of energy, humanity, and infrastructure.” This is key to understanding that technonature is humanity’s movement away from the autarik and can be seen in organic assemblages assimilated to the Megamachine.  The Megamachine is a tool to move away from harsh economies of nature and into harsh economies of the Machine because we are ruled by artifice inside the most “advanced” industrial economies as a matter of social material reproduction. Technonature is then an artifact of the Megamachine because it is a manufacturing of synthetic assemblages that display their global connections thus revealing more how the human experience is manipulated technocratic management. 

Technonature and Environmentality: State-of-the-Art as Art of the State

     To maintain the power of the Megamachine hybridization and synthetic environments, technocrats designed and utilize enviornmentalities. As stated, “Environmentality, for my purposes, is a socio-techno-environmental process that organizes the relationships of living, and non-living through the production of knowledge/power regimes such that they create administrable environs.” It is explained through an analysis of Michel Foucault’s ideas of governmentality which is referenced as the ‘conduct of conduct’. At its core it connects to the idea of environmentality that government and non governmental actors can and will turn environmental crises into commodities and profits. This creates a biopolitical regime that instrumentalized ‘nature’ and humanity within synthetic assemblages for the Megamachine.  The people who create and profit from the Megamachine should be free but really not because the deployment of environmentalists leaves us all in a geotechnical hybridity of infrastructures that we can not separate from our civilization. Therefore, based on the logics of capitalist modernity, the tools used for social reproduction and the imperatives of continual capital development within organizations, even the CEO of any given commercial organization is ruled by and administers artifice itself.  

From Instruments to Technonature: A Conclusion 

     As reviewed in this chapter the there are major problems with using the ‘conduct of conduct’ market as to talk about conservation discourse. The market is the governing discourse for the environment, as seen through the production technonature. According to specific operationalizations of governmentality, Technonaturialization works to separate organic things from their autarkic nature and create synthetic assemblages that exhibits the movements of, and creation of capital through an instantiation of governmentality. Instruments of technonature turn ‘the organic’ such as found reserves of oil into artifacts for a greater scheme of environmentally, or the commodification of humanity and nature. Technonature is a result of instruments and instrumentalization of ‘nature’. This can specifically be seen in an example of the Greater Sage-grouse in Wyoming showing this cycle of technonature, explained in later chapters. 

Merrill Wheeler: I am a senior who is set to graduate in May 2021 from Virginia Tech. I am a double major is PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics) and Psychology. I am from Mclean Virginia and love to take advantage of all the great parks located on the Potomac River. 

Editor’s Note: Technonaturalization is directly inspired by the Starcraft series. I was able to get a handle on the idea of instruments dominating space and recreating life in the image of capital and technology by thinking of how technological frontiers might be formed and advance. I used “the Creep” necessary for infrastructural advancement of the Zerg army from the aforementioned series to help conceptualize the advance of The Megamachine through the instrumentalization of life and territory. The video below displays how “the creep” is formed and extends through Starcraft‘s virtual environments. As I said at the start of class, inspiration can come from anywhere. For those of you familiar with the Starcraft lore, the Zerg Army is a technonatural army run-amok displaying the fragility of technological systems and the inherent risks of technonaturalization.