In terms of politics climate change trumps everything else. It should be our primary concern if we want to survive or live with any kind of comfort*. Therefore all design oriented thought and praxis should be oriented to survival. S&W’s book Inventing The Future is pretty dismissive of survival but that seems to be a problem of scale and tone.
In conversations I have seen people agreeing they suspect that Black Panther style “survival until the revolution” counts as a strategy of invention. I discussed this in relation to sociotechnical hegemony and the Panther’s medical activism in a recent post. What marks the difference between “mere survival” and “survival until”? The temporal dimension: the dimension of hope. This is what the left lives on.
That said survival writ large can be the only reason for a perspective capable of joining localities together in a distributed and responsive way such that would allow for an adaptive and agonist strategy of invention. Invention viewed through the lens of the catastrophic becomes a salvagepunk in which there is no pragmatic difference. Something like S&W’s strategic vision maybe the only one capable of allowing any kin of survival. There is no necessity to any of this.
The real problem is this lack of necessity. This is why it’s politics rather than physics. For instance: they describe a Spainish town as a “communist utopia”. The utopian dimension is entirely internal and depends upon several externalities driven by capitalism. It is a communist society of luxury and equality with freedom within the city limits but that nonetheless depends upon supply chains, resources, logistical networks and material infrastructures of global capitalism.
This massively distributed network of networks is marked with all those bad things that trouble the liberal progressive mind and rouse the socialist and communist to struggle. Except inside the city walls.
My suspicion is that were I one of the inhabitants of this city and I were faced with the call to generate “socialism beyond the walls” I would say:
nah, you’re alright. I’ve got it good.
This communist utopia would thus be empty of communist. The inhabitants, with their comfort and security, might even resemble those of us who have a modicum of comfort. And there is no really compelling argument I can think of that would drive the denizens to think to temporal and spatial scale, except maybe climate change. The trouble is that the motivational power of appeals to climate change are weak right now. Although I’ve read that in coming decades Spain’s olive groves and vineyards may be in jeopardy.
But faced with existential risk I can always hunker down into the local. I really appreciate the work S&W have done in Inventing The Future. But it all comes down to the motivational problem: why should anyone care? Climate change and the existential risk it poses is curiously the one thing they don’t really discuss. This is also something to be fixed “after the revolution”.
I tend to go with the more pessimistic thoughts on the likely outcome of all of this. I think one of the reasons we see ISIS emerge at the same time as we see the neoreactionaries emerge is because they both know something the left doesn’t: in times of extreme crisis and dissolution order and stability become more motivating as they (seem to) promise higher chances of survival. This is why I’m willing to guess our future might well be the return of (resilient) city states even while I insist regional bodies like the EU are required to ameliorate climate change.
Large scale bodies offer the promise of better coordination across localities and scales to maximize our capacity for action beyond our immediate potencies, a Spinozan-Deleuzian promise S&W refer to as synthetic freedom. This thought might be a symptom of the affliction of hope though- a vestigial illusion of leftism. Maybe when shit gets really bad the same could be achieved to weather the very worst through the deployment of a Confederation of Panarchist Independent Municipalities. A dystopian Bolo-‘Bolo** with umpteen internally socialist-progressive cities, and just as many monarchies or theocracies.
This would be an urban future of the city states that survive. And undoubtedly many would survive. At root then there might be a new political reflexivity being born that circumvents deliberative processes of cognition to sneak in under the radar: we’re already fucked.
The emphasis on the indigenous would thus signify the creeping sense of the inevitable disintegration of global orders, with the possible exception of those markets that pre-exist capitalism.
The peculiarity of this is that it invites the idea that indigeneity has a value wherever its found. The same reflex is shared across the political distribution from the radical left to the re-emergent reactions.
* I never assume that this is what we want. It might be what we say we want but this doesn’t mean its what we actually want. I take it this needs no elaboration.
**This text, at once utopian and pragmatic, local whilst globally aware, may be ripe for a revival of interest. It is a long time since I read it and I no longer have a version of the text to hand so I rely on a reviewer:
This is no dropout project. Rather, the local communities upon which it is founded are contingent upon global flows of information, labour, and materials. Similarly Bolo’Bolo exhibits an unflinching dedication to the present, to beginning from where we are, that differentiates it from many other utopian works.
Much of P M’s plan, therefore, concerns salvage, reclamation, reinvention, and transformation of this world full of stuff that we made (albeit as fruits of an exploitative relationship). It is an adaptive rather than a palimpsest approach. It is not, though, a project of reform or assimilation. Rather it is a revolutionary work with due attention paid to the means by which capitalism might be abolished.