Clive Hamilton, a professional academic, has released “The Defiant Earth: The Fate of Humans in the Anthropocene,” in his native language: classical post-structuralist philosophy. This arcane language, established in the postwar academy at the cost of comprehensible communication, is replete with antiquated neologisms and impenetrable high-flown references. Hamilton is to be commended for his attempt to get down and dirty with the likes of social nihilism and near-term extinction, but his writings are those of a private school of monastic devotees, and need to be introduced to the vernacular of, well, regular-type one-view wordpressians.
Hamilton’s points are to be credited as essentially rational- 1. climate change is not another isolated topic, but a rupture,” in the branding term he employs a thousand times or two. 2. Climate change is not just a western phenomenon, as putative “Capitalocene” fellow prof academic Jason W. Moore wants to re-brand it, but an increasingly Sino-Indian production affair as well. 3. A social world that wants to ignore climate catastrophe to focus on verities of art, sports, family doings is in preposterous “denial.” 4. Going the geo-engineering or Mars escape route is pure fantasy.
This is strong and dedicated sociology, taking on the academy’s heavy hitters, but Hamilton wastes far too much of this intellectual capital on re-invigorations of inherited Christian concepts and terminology. Religions are thoroughly defunct, specious traps for the social critic, and need no further considerations – their concepts of “sin” and “redemption” are without evidence as social realities, and to chase these irrational concepts as applicable to our human global predicament is as false and vainglorious as trying to drive into traffic on the wrong side of the road.
Hamilton also posits an erroneous “indeterminacy” to our ecological predicament. This is he default “The future is unknowable” position of the professional check-casher, the parent’s obligatory folkish optimism, the evader’s hopeism. The future is all too unknowable – the numbers have all been rising these post-war decades, and not one political scenario augurs a humanity-saving retreat into the immoral postulates of the long-since obliterated nostrums of the 350.org fantasists. Hamilton, despite his basic scientific knowledge of impending catastrophe, will let loose the kind of vaporous, monstrously deluded triteisms that mark his species:
Equally, technology is the means through which humankind may release the full bounty of the gift of nature, and therefore represents the opportunity to respect that gift, while conscious of the ever-present danger of its domination over economic and political life. (88)
Technology is not, not, not even close to being the “means” to respect the “gift” of nature – it is its killer. Murder is murder – not the “means” to “respect a gift.”
To attack the critics he imagines as his opposition, he attacks nihilism:
A conception of the responsible cultivation of the Earth fends off the dragons of nihilism that stalks every society once it attains a moderate level of affluence and peace.” (145)
Nice try, but the dragon wins. There is no “responsible cultivation” of the Earth -by humans – this is destruction of Earth as a place for humanity to continue, and that is how science depicts analogues to the human condition – witness William Catton’s seminal yeast in a vat formulation, or all of our hominid relatives, or any other process of growth and death. Contrary to Hamilton’s naive fundament of “free will and human intellectual ability to collectively will self-restraint, we are social animals acting out our imperiled destinies in circumscribed roles of fear and self-valuation.
The French may have set humanity on a course towards the nostrums of “democracy” and “fraternity,” but human history went the other way, in the suicidal direction of the counter-revolutiuonists, whose heirs are in gathering and occluding power across the world, determined to hold to their investments and advantages and avenues. Hamilton sees this conundrum fairly clearly – he has no time for the delusionists of voluntary simplicity or the micro-resistance of anarcho-primitivists, and he abjures the more fevered dreams of techies and Haraway. Yet he cannot, cannot become a social nihilist, and will go to tortured lengths to promote “meekness” as the correct response to the obvious fatalisms engendered by properly appreciated Earth Science.
Our lives will end in death. The human experiment of a bucolic life on a hospitable planet will end in mass immiseration and then extinction. That much is known, and cannot be avoided, even even nearly all of humanity wishes to do so, and thus cannot look at social nihilism without immediate recoil and antipathy. If you, the accurately-informed citizen of this crises-riven social world, want to adopt “meekness” as your preferred gaze, then that is your business and Facebook meme, but that is not how a reason-saturated super-agent goes about his or her livelong day – how about living proudly and defiantly, grabbing some of Earth’s special qualities for one’s own limited-duration trail run, within the irreducible parameters of inherited social reality?