The three ecologies and the techno-scientific irreversibility

by helenawesterlind


Profile of the Industrial Revolution as Exposed by the Chronological Rate of Acquisition of the Basic inventory of Cosmic Absolutes – the 92 Elements” R. Buckminster Fuller (1964)

Link to high-res version pdf: wdsd_phase1_doc3_thinking-45

Guattari presents a seemingly hopeless take on the condition of the planet by stating that the earth is undergoing an intense techno-scientific transformation that is causing an ecological disequilibrium that threatens the continuation of life on the planet’s surface.

Furthermore the deterioration of human life concerns not only man’s relationship with the natural environment, but also the social networks, and the erosion of human subjectivity itself. Guattari strongly warns against responding to these problems with merely further technocratic solutions and instead he urges that “only an ethico-political articulation – ecosophy– between the three ecological registers (the environment, social relations and human subjectivity) would be likely to clarify these questions”. He argues for a reconstruction of social and individual practices of social ecology, mental ecology and environmental ecology and writes ”The only true response to the ecological crisis is on a global scale, provided that it brings about an authentic political, social and cultural revolution, reshaping the objectives of the production of both material and immaterial assets.”.

Apart from outlining negative impacts on the current human way of life, such as the fundamental problem of profit economy and its related power relations, as well as the erosion of subjectivity caused by the ‘standardisation and reduction of mass-media’, Guattari returns again and again to the (negative/problematic) role of techno-scientific progress.

“Wherever we turn, there is the same nagging paradox: on the one hand, the continuous development of new techno scientific means to potentially resolve the dominant ecological issues and restate socially useful activities on the surface of the planet, and, on the other hand the inability of organised social forces and constituted subjective formations to take hold of these resources in order to make them work.”

“So our machines get smarter and we get stupider” (Benjamin Bratten)

While Guattari agrees that it would be absurd to return to the past in order to reconstruct former ways of living he is acutely aware that “neither human labour nor the natural habitat will ever be what they once were, even just a few decades ago” and he predicts that the acceleration and irreversibility of techno-scientific progress will lead to further ‘existential tension’.

One of the reasons for this, is according to Guattari, the increasingly apparent limit of humanity’s techno-scientific power. Because while industrial capitalism has aided our enhanced knowledge and technological capabilities beyond belief we’re still faced with massive inequalities, diseases and wars and Guattari specifically brings up examples like the Chernobyl and AIDS as warnings of what ‘backlashes’ that ‘nature’ has in store for us.

At the same time Guattari forecasts that natural equilibrium will be increasingly reliant upon human intervention, and that a time will come when drastic measures will have to be taken in order to regulate the relationship between oxygen, ozone and carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere. The prospect of the creation of new living species – animal and vegetable – appears like a highly likely scenario that nevertheless sparks the question of ethics (Guattari p. 44). Sociological, media, and design theorist Benjamin Bratton also recognises that technologival progress appears as both wonderful and horrifying at the same time, and to make them serve good futures he sees the need to talk more about preventing certain potential innovations that we do not want from happening, “innovation just isn’t a strong enough idea by itself”.

Here I would like to add another concern regarding technology formulated by Benjamin Bratton as a ‘placebo technoradicalism’, that is having to much faith in technology, and not nearly enough commitment to technology. There seem to be strong tendencies of using technology to simply reaffirm the comfortable without dealing with the hard stuff. Similar to Guattari’s ideas about transversality Bratton states, “If we really want transformation, we have to slog through the hard stuff (history, economics, philosophy, art, ambiguities, contradictions). Bracketing it off to the side to focus just on technology, or just on innovation, actually prevents transformation”. In this case the placebo is even worse than ineffective because it is capable of diverting human interest, enthusiasm and outrage “until it’s absorbed into this black hole of affectation”. “Because, if a problem is in fact endemic to a system, then the exponential effects of Moore’s Law  also serve to amplify what’s broken”.