Socialism or Barbarism: the slogan presents itself as if it were describing a moment of decision, a fork in the road. The decision cannot be deferred any longer, the slogan insists: it must be taken immediately. But nothing seems easier to believe than that there is now no choice: barbarism is what is, to an already frightening and intensifying degree, and it is even more what is to come. We have gone too far down that road, impelled along it by all that seems most intransigent, most unalterable, about our “nature” or our “condition”. Once it seems that the moment has passed when things might have turned out otherwise, does not the slogan lose its cogency? ...
The conventional form of the urgent call to action, in the face of some existential menace, is “no future, unless…”. Unless we reduce our emissions, eradicate global poverty and disease (good liberal conscience version); unless we do something about the massing barbarian hordes (bad hysterical racist version). But at least one plausible model of climate change asserts that all the emissions needed to change the climate irrevocably have already been emitted, and the effects of this change are even now ineluctibly unfolding: we pass from tipping-point to tipping-point. HIV/AIDS has already killed millions across the world, making orphans of millions more. None of this can be undone, and there is no possible future world unmarked by these catastrophes. The future designated by the “unless”, the future hoped for by the Western environmentalists and NGO workers of the 80s and 90s, cannot now come to pass. It “has already ended, and we are persisting in its degrading memory” - how many of the narcissistic disorders of our culture can be attributed to this awareness?
We should acknowledge that our world is doomed, that it has no future; but also that it is not the only possible world, that other worlds have been and will be.
K-punk disagrees, arguing that the impossibility of imagining an end to capitalism means the impossibility of imagining different worlds (worlds without capitalism); capitalism is that which persists in all possible worlds (perhaps a nice version of the claim that capitalism is Real). So, he counters by extending Dominic's pessimism. Poor Dominic is not pessimistic enough--and his own reflections suggest as much. K-punk writes:
If it is increasingly difficult to imagine alternatives to capitalism, that is because the world has already ended. In this condition of mors ontologica, the world goes on, but nothing new can ever happen; what remains is a mechanical permutation through options that have already been fixed.
What Dominic points to is a situation that is that is even more dire, where it is perfectly possible to act, but any action is now irrelevant. The time to act was in the past; the damage is done; all we can do is await consequences which can no longer be averted...
K-punk then quotes Dominic's observations regarding climate change and concludes:
It's worth pausing here to reflect that, in the debates over climate change, it is no longer the apocalyptic potential of current trends that is disputed; what is doubted is whether any effective action could be taken to deal with it. Questioned about whether they will give up flying in order to combat climate change, people will often respond that there is no point, because others will continue to fly: thus runs the fatalism of capitalist realism. If Dominic is correct, of course, then they are not fatalistic enough.
Do I have anything to add to this discussion? A little.
First, I agree with Dominic on "other worlds." It is precisely because other worlds have been that there remains a glimmer of hope for other worlds to come. The traces of past hopes remain. At one point somewhere Zizek mentions that our political duty today is to keep these past traces alive, to recall past aspirations. Perhaps a way to say this is that ghosts matter and that as we linger in a world that has already ended keeping these ghosts alive is the only thing we must do. Or, we are responsible to the lacks in our ended world.
Second, I am taken by Dominic and K-Punk's emphasis on the pointlessness of action insofar as it is already irrelevant. This makes me think of Children of Men and the continuation of struggle even at the end of the world. Maybe, contra Zizek, simply persisting as dead, simply preferring not to act and remaining/becoming an obstacle, is actually not enough. Isn't it the case that once we recognize that we are chosing the worst, that we are not grounding our acts perversely in the service of a future history, that we are precisely then actually free? Differently put, perhaps only irrelevant action is free. (Of course, we need to be clearer about relevant to what--the operative notion here is relevant to a future; but, it may be that in a world already ended, the notion of relevance changes completely such that we have to think of it in terms of relevance to a past, to ghosts, and to lacks.)
Third, at one point K-punk writes:
Oddly, apocalyptic dread - so omnipresent during the Cold War - seems to have been extirpated from the popular unconscious.
Maybe because he's English, Mark doesn't attend much to apocalypticism among pentecostals and some Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists, but I thought Mark went to the movies. If he did, he might notice that Apocalypto and Children of Men are playing and getting attention. I read in yesterday's NYT that Will Smith is currently filming a version of the novel that became The Omega Man; deadly virus turns people into bloodsuckers (they aren't vampires because they are still alive). He thinks he is (and may be) the last uninfected human on earth. So, it seems to me that apocalyptic dread is alive.
But what does this mean? If apocalypticism is present, does that mean that the world hasn't already ended? I don't think so. Here's why: pentecostals and evangelicals are waiting for the Rapture. That they haven't been raptured means, for them, that the world hasn't ended. But, if one doesn't expect a Rapture, then it's easy to recognize that these poor souls are persisting in a delusion so as to avoid facing up to the brutal reality of an ended world. Apocalypto imagines past apocalypse--not future. And, Children of Men imagines present apocalypse.
I finally saw the film over the weekend. What struck me the most was how present it is--the images from Abu Graihb, the presence of Homeland Security, the zones and gates and quadrants controlling people, forcing them into spaces, the filth and breakdown. I came away overwhelmed by a cliche (which says nothing about the movie per se, in other words, don't blame the movie)--if Guantanamo is in the world, then all the world is Guantanamo.
Although this is a cliche, it may apply more than we think. A parent is proposing a solution to problems in our middle school: he wants all 'trouble makers' to be isolated in their own classes, away from the other kids. He makes the 'argument' with claims like--there is no alternative, we have to do something, it's destroying the possibility of learning for everyone. The 'solution' of containment zones for troublemakers just seems obvious.