Perspectives 2010

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What We’re Reading

Instead of a book review column written by one person, we invited several folks to review their favorite recent books. Three responded: Cindy Crabb, author of the 'zine Doris, John Dudda of Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse, and Joshua Stephens from the IAS board.

All Power to the People: Energy Production and the Climate Crisis by Lara Messersmith-Glavin, for Parasol Climate Collective

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A review of Sparking a Worldwide Energy Revolution: Social Struggles in the Transition to a Post-Petrol World, edited by Kolya Abramsky. (Oakland: AK Press, 2010).

One of the most intimidating aspects of climate change is its scale. When we imagine it as a thing in itself, it becomes monstrous, far out of proportion to our ability to stop or even slow it in its path of influence. We cannot petition or strike against it. We cannot use rocks or molotovs or even guns to slow it down. It is already happening: the earth is warming, little by little, and with that shift we witness a seemingly endless chain of results, from catastrophic storms and droughts to changes in human and animal migration patterns, disappearance of species, and altered ocean chemistry. In the face of these effects, it is easy to feel overwhelmed, and to turn one’s attention to those problems which seem more solvable, and less apocalyptic. Yet it is important to remember that the engine behind this global dilemma is human activity, and is therefore human in scale. The better we are able to break the issue down to its parts, the closer we will be to understanding how we can fix it, and thereby confront the enormity of the issue in a manageable, intentional way. In the process of examining the sources of climate change, we find the sources of many other human issues as well. Not only does this effort trace a map of the way out of ecological disaster, but it may also lead to a more just and equitable world order.

Between Social Ecology and Deep Ecology: Gary Snyder’s Ecological Philosophy by Paul Messersmith-Glavin


Gary Snyder is not a philosopher, nor does he “consider himself particularly a ‘Beat.’”(1) Snyder is a poet, an essayist, an outdoorsman and a practitioner of Buddhism. But despite his reluctance to identify with the Beat title, he has been an undeniable influence on the Beat generation and its writers. He was fictionalized as the character Japhy Ryder in Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums(2) , and helped initiate the San Francisco Renaissance by organizing poetry readings with his close friend Allen Ginsberg, among others, thus ushering in the Beats as a recognized social force. Although not technically a philosopher in the traditional or academic sense, his writings contain a very complex treatment of modern society’s relationship to the natural world. Snyder’s chief concerns are protecting nature from the ravages of civilization, putting humans back in touch with our “wild” selves and returning us to a sense of self-contemplation, community and embeddedness in nature.

Snyder puts his philosophical views into practice in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where he has made his home since 1970. Eschewing publicity, he sits za zen every day, and is a life-long proponent of ecological thinking. Snyder also draws from Mahayana Buddhism, bioregionalism and social anarchism in developing his perspective and philosophical orientation. Snyder most clearly spells out the beliefs he conveys through his poetry and practices in his essay work and interviews.

Call for Submissions: Perspectives: Building a Movement

The Fall 2010 print issue of Perspectives, Vol. 12, No. 2, The Politics of Climate Change, is now available.

It includes an Introduction by Maia Ramnath; Atmospheric Dialectics: A Critical Theory of Climate Change, by Javier Sethness; The Climate Crisis or the Crisis of Climate Politics? by Andre Pusey and Bertie Russell; All Power to the People: Energy Production and the Climate Crisis, by Lara Messersmith-Glavin, for Parasol Climate Collective; Movements for Climate Action: Toward Utopia or Apocalypse, by Brian Tokar. Also included is What We’re Reading, replacing What’s Happening, featuring the best of new books from Cindy Crabb, John Duda, and Joshua Stevens; a Call for Submissions for our next issue on Movement Building; an announcement about the Anarchist Interventions book series between the IAS and AK Press; and the Mission Statement of the IAS. Also featured is artwork from JustSeeds.

The following issue will have as a theme Building a Movement. Deadline for submissions is April 15th, 2011.

What's Happening, by John Petrovato

“Anarchism is grounded in a rather definite proposition: that valuable behavior occurs only by the free and direct response by individuals or voluntary groups to the conditions presented by the historical environment. It claims that in most human affairs, whether political, economic, military, religious, moral, pedagogic, or cultural, more harm than good results from coercion, top-down direction, central authority, bureaucracy, jails, conscription, states, pre-ordained standardization, excessive planning, etc.” So writes Paul Goodman, one of the most important social critics as well as anarchist thinkers of the 1960s, in “The Black Flag of Anarchism.” His work, whether in the form of social and political criticism, fiction, poetry, literary criticism, or psychology, always stressed how modern society and its institutions hindered human creativity, freedom and non-violence. His 1960 best-selling book Growing up Absurd was one of the major philosophical works of the decade that critiqued the absurdity of American society and which influenced and justified youth rebellion.

Atmospheric Dialectics: A Critical Theory of Climate Change by Javier Sethness

“To provide for the permanence of life of the population of each nation of humanity that inhabits the planet Earth is the primary and essential function of politics.”
-- Enrique Dussel [1]

“The bourgeoisie live on like specters threatening doom.”
-- Theodor W. Adorno [2]

It would unfortunately not be entirely absurd to claim climate change to be the greatest social problem of the twenty-first century. Short of the historical development and proliferation of nuclear weapons, nothing else seems to pose such a dire threat to human welfare as do the projected consequences of climate change; a recent report released by The Lancet, [3] for example, claims it to constitute the greatest threat to human health in this century. The dialectics of dangerous anthropogenic interference with the global climate and the greenhouse effect—which itself dialectically has allowed for the emergence and evolution of life on Earth for nearly four billion years—represents a problematic that, in Dussel’s view[4], joins the mass persistence of global material poverty in constituting the final limit to the age of modernity, the capitalist mode of production, and political liberalism.

Movements for Climate Action: Toward Utopia or Apocalypse? by Brian Tokar

There is little doubt today that we are living in apocalyptic times. From mega-selling Christian “end times” novels on the right, to the neoprimitivist nihilism that has captivated so much of the antiauthoritarian left, people across the political spectrum seem to be anticipating the end of the world. Predictions of “peak oil” have inspired important efforts at community-centered renewal, but also encouraged the revival of gun-hoarding survivalism. A 2009 Hollywood disaster epic elaborated the myth, falsely attributed to Mayan peoples, that the world will end in 2012. A cable TV series featured detailed computer animations purporting to show exactly how the world’s most iconic structures would eventually crumble and collapse if people ceased to maintain essential infrastructure. Numerous literary genres have embraced the apocalyptic mood, from Jared Diamond’s detailed histories in Collapse, to Margaret Atwood’s current dystopian trilogy, which began with the darkly satiric biotech nightmare, Oryx and Crake.

The prevalence of apocalyptic images is not at all limited to literature and popular culture. Disaster scenarios stemming from the accelerating global climate crisis look more severe with every new study of the effects of the rising levels of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere. Steadily rising levels of drought, wildfires and floods have been recorded on all the earth’s continents, and people in the tropics and subtropics already face difficulty growing enough food due to increasingly unstable weather patterns. Studies predict mass-scale migrations of people desperate to escape the worst consequences of widespread climate disruptions. And the diplomatic failure of the 2009 UN climate talks in Copenhagen raised the profile of several new studies forecasting the dire consequences of temperature increases that may exceed 15 degrees in the Arctic and in parts of Africa.[1] Bill McKibben’s latest book, Eaarth, elaborates the view that we are now living on a far more turbulent planet, one that is already strikingly different from the one most of us grew up on.

A Flowering of Subjectivities: Rethinking Antagonism in the Desert of Crisis by Ian Paul

How the G20 demonstrations in Pittsburgh prefigured new models of resistance in North America
Over the last decade, we have experienced the collapse and disintegration of broad-based resistance movements within the United States. The antiglobalization movement largely dissolved in the tides of repression following the emergence of post 9/11 security apparatuses. Soon after, the antiwar movement preceding the invasion of Iraq that had animated social machines across the globe crumbled under the weight of its failure to prevent the war.

The collapse of economic and political models which have defined the first breaths of the 21st century have been accompanied by this collapse of our capacity to be antagonistic and act against such systems. Two basic models continue to be activated by antiauthoritarians and anticapitalists in the U.S. despite this – that of the organizational model (which draws its structure from the collectives of civil-war Spain) and that of the summit protest (which pulls largely from the autonomous movements of the 1980s and 1990s). As capitalism stumbles and stutters and its structures globalize and transform, the radical left has continued to operate within these same failed models which have become increasingly ineffective.

Kropotkin, Power, and the State, by Sam Haraway

Anarchist political theory is perhaps one of the most neglected traditions in contemporary political science. In a world created by the existence of the state, this makes sense. Nonetheless, thinking beyond the state paradigm is essential. Here we explore a work by one of the most influential anarchist thinkers, Peter Kropotkin, looking at the argument presented in Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal, in terms of its sweeping rejection of capitalism and state. We examine interpretations of Kropotkin’s argument by notable poststructuralist anarchists—postanarchists, for short—Saul Newman, Todd May, and Uri Gordon. We also consider Ruth Kinna’s attempt to revise Kropotkin, in light of the postanarchist critique, and conclude with a brief commentary on the strengths and weaknesses of Kropotkin’s argument and its interpretations.

Words and Radicals by Alexis Bhagat

Are you at risk? “At risk of what?” you may ask, but the specifics are hazy. Tsunami. Eviction. Influenza. Does it really matter? Disaster threatens—any disaster will do: “Risk has become an intellectual and political web across which thread many strands of discourse related to the slow crisis of modernity and industrial society.”1 A discursive web of risk sensitivities enshrouds the term. “Systemic risk is an issue that requires fuller understanding;”2 but understanding is complicated by proliferate use. An examination of radicals calls me.

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