Interest in patchwork is moving out beyond its capture in the Landian gravity-well and as it does attention is moving from the system to the object level. The people I’m most aware of in this effort have been Justin Murphy and Michael James, as they reorient the conversation from theoretical concern with the patchwork network towards more concrete speculations on given patches. In my own thinking about patchwork I’ve stressed the need to maintain a focus on exit and the Outside rather than being tempted into the oil spills of identity and interiority.
While I’ve moved away from the principle of renunciation and thus home-leaving, I nonetheless think we should be very cautious whenever we get implicated in questions of belonging and community, even if, when we step outside a field strictly delimited as conceptual, we must ultimately confront these questions in practice. As I’ve deepened my own spiritual practice I’ve come to see my own aversion to belonging and community as symptomatic of my own anomic neuroses, and this insight is entirely consistent with more a blog post (a side effect of spiritual practice is that one finds oneself coming into disagreement with oneself more and more frequently). In this post I want to give a different set of concerns regarding the limits that reality is likely to place on any actual patches.
In the various places our fragmented and ephemeral public is enacted I’ve repeatedly said that I consider patchwork to be an impending and even imminent necessity. The threat of civilisational collapse is no longer a distant possibility or a subject fit only for deindustrial scifi. Today we have to reverse the banality of Marxist truisms: it is easier to imagine the end of capitalism than to imagine the end of the world. Yet if fractal polarization (or reality forking) proves anything it’s that the world no longer exists. The shattering of the assumptive world presages the shattering of the geoclimatic planetary normal. When we read about assumptive world we need to read this in its full Lovecraftian dimensions as the world we thought we inhabited is stripped away by a resurgent real that defies our capacity to domesticate it in thought, that deforms and perverts thought, introducing new logics and new geometries, a total phenomenological and temporal instability, accelerated by inhuman arctic awakenings. This is the familiar in and as its own breakdown, a process of xenoforming. As Mark Fisher writes,
the weird is that which does not belong. The weird brings to the familiar something which ordinarily lies beyond it, and which cannot be reconciled with the “homely” (even in negation) [— that is, as opposed to Freud’s unheimlich or the “unhomely”]. The form that is perhaps most appropriate to the weird is montage — the conjoining of two or more things which do not belong together.
Commenting on this extract from The Weird and The Eerie, Xenogothic will write that
the “weird” is a word for the dissent of the Real. It is reality dissenting against our sense of itself, alluding to the existence of alternative realities and other possible existences in the moments where that which is does not coincide with itself.
From a Buddhist perspective we could say that this weird is simply the real as it intrudes on our neurotic world-simulations, manifesting in the present context as the abrupt insistence of impermanence within and upon our essentially confused perception that there is a world and that that world is permanent. The weird isn’t really the dissent of the real because the real can only ever seem to dissent from within the fundamentally delusional coordinates of our projective reality. The real doesn’t dissent from us, we dissent from the real. There is a rich vein of speculation that I keep returning to and that I’d like to pursue, but for the present I’ll leave it aside to focus on my concerns about this patchwork psychosis, ie. patchworking within delusion.
Chief among my concerns is this process of climatic breakdown. Following Jem Bendell I think we are now in a position where we must
interpret the information as indicating inevitable collapse, probable catastrophe and possible extinction.
I’m not about to launch into an detailed analysis of the science (chiefly because I’m not qualified to). In his summary of climate science in 2018 Bendell will write that
this data is consistent with non-linear changes to our environment. Non-linear changes are of central importance to understanding climate change, as they suggest both that impacts will be far more rapid and severe than predictions based on linear projections and that the changes no longer correlate with the rate of anthropogenic carbon emissions. In other words – ‘runaway climate change.’
Bendell points out that all the evidence regarding our current situation of rising ambient temperatures, heat waves, vicious storms, impacts on ecosystems, topsoil, biodiversity loss, is consistent with the very worst predictions from the 1990s. I’m not going to attempt to summarise the findings in a blog that Bendell has condensed in his readable paper. Bendell has written a blog post that will give the briefest snapshot of why he thinks we’re heading towards runaway climate change:
The politically permissible scientific consensus is that we need to stay beneath 2 degrees warming of global ambient temperatures to avoid dangerous and uncontrollable levels of climate change, with impacts such as mass starvation, disease, flooding, storm destruction, migration and war
If the world does not keep further anthropogenic emissions below a total of 1,300 billion tonnes of carbon, we won’t keep average temperatures below that 2 degrees warming.
If we are not already on the path to dramatic reductions we will not keep within this limit.
We are not on such a path, with emissions still at around 40 million tonnes of CO2 a year and the decoupling of growth from emissions minimal.
The uncertainties on the edge of scientific consensus do not suggest a respite, with some increased carbon sequestration through increased vegetation not as significant as the methane emissions not factored into most models, and where Arctic warming is already progressing beyond even the most extreme predictions.
Therefore, we are set for disruptive and uncontrollable levels of climate change, bringing starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war.
The implication is that we need to expand our climate work into a deep adaptation agenda, including resilience, relinquishment and restoration while learning why this tragedy is occurring.
He paints a bleak picture from that scientific literature. I would urge everyone to read Bendell’s Deep Adaptation Agenda – not least because I think it provides us with a good guide on the constraints placed on any future patch.
In the time between writing and editing this post Jem Bendell’s paper has made it into the news. A media platform no less mainstream than Bloomberg has reported on the emerging discourse under the headline “How To Adapt To The End Of The World”. While that wording is clickbait alarmism the article itself is weirdly calm in its introduction of the academics championing the need for deep adaptative at all scales. To get a sense of where these academics believer we’re at consider the following pull-quotes from the article:
But some researchers are going further, calling for what some call the “deep adaptation agenda.” For [Jonathan] Gosling, that means not only rapid decarbonization and storm-resistant infrastructure, but also building water and communications systems that won’t fail if the power grid collapses and searching for ways to safeguard the food supply by protecting pollinating insects.
“The evidence before us suggests that we are set for disruptive and uncontrollable levels of climate change, bringing starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war,” [Bendell] wrote in a paper he posted on his blog in July after an academic journal refused to publish it. “We need to appreciate what kind of adaptation is possible”.
[William] Clark argues that in addition to quickly and dramatically cutting emissions, society should pursue a new scale of adaptation work. Rather than simply asking people to water their lawns less often, for example, governments need to consider large-scale, decades-long infrastructure projects, such as transporting water to increasingly arid regions and moving cities away from the ocean.
“The government’s going to have to spend more money to help relocate people,” says Rob Moore, a policy expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council who specializes in flooding. The alternative, he says, is “a completely unplanned migration of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people in this country.”
The paper also quotes Guy McPherson, a fringe scientist who has been talking about runaway climate change and civilisation breakdown for years, often wrongly predicting when it’d take place, but who remains convinced that time is running out for humanity. McPherson has been called a doomsday cultist, his science has been questioned, and his conviction in near-term human extinction breeds a passive inactivity in relation to adaptation. Yet many objections to McPherson’s picture come from his use of data in relation to arctic methane. This is no longer speculative and can no longer be considered bad science. Methane release has already been observed and more is expected to be released into the atmosphere (along with more CO) as permafrost melts. The effect of this will be to accelerate climatic breakdown – although human extinction remains unlikely.
Why add McPherson to our list of voices given his fringe position? Simply because he is beginning to look like an exaggerated early warning system – like a smoke detector that tells you the house is burning down whenever you burn something. Except that consensus scientific opinion is that the “not a foregone conclusion” scenario is now a live possibility – though it’s not a foregone conclusion if we heed the need to adapt.
Mayer Hillman took the bleak prospects into the Guardian in a widely shared article. In those pages he said that
The outcome is death, and it’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so.
Hillman will add a political skepticism in his question:
“Can you see everyone in a democracy volunteering to give up flying? Can you see the majority of the population becoming vegan? Can you see the majority agreeing to restrict the size of their families?”
It’s a scepticism that seems justified by the failures (so far) of democracies and their populations to adapt. Of course, this needn’t be a problem for patchwork, and nor does it require the elimination of democratic processes from patch implementation. Regardless of the ethical and political objections we can raise against petrocultural , the more pertinent objection is that a planetary sovereignty – whether a single state or a network of dispersed regional states – is an impossibility. Our contemporary Leviathan is the petrocultural state, and its this historical formation that’s on the brink of extinction. As with geoplanetary weirding, so to geopolitical weirding.
Those who ignore the prospect of climate mediated social collapse are the ones who now increasingly occupy the fringe, as the preppers begin to look a lot like pioneering early adapters. The evidence for climate induced social collapse is also catabolic collapse by geologists. In that debate the interlocutors are concentrating on whether periods of climate change in the past caused social collapse. Some dispute that it has by pointing out that it’s only ever one variable in a multicausal network. Yet that misses the deeper point that collapse is a nonlinear process in which the various causal pathways interact to become mutually reinforcing. Climate change operates across all these causal inputs as an exponential multiplier. Consider the findings of the US Department of Defense back in 2014. That document found that the effects of climate change are
threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.
It’s worth watching the documentary ‘The Age of Consequences’ to better grok how figures in the military are responding to the risks presented by climate change. Among the problems it addresses are those that are familiar from most lists of collapse inputs exacerbated by climatic breakdown: the failure of industrial agriculture, infrastructural collapse, droughts, famines, unprecedented numbers of internally displaced and refugee peoples. All this is without any consideration of the energy crises that are still oncoming.
When the energy crisis is acknowledged it is only so it can be dismissed as a problem that has already been solved. Whenever I’ve brought up the problem I’ve been told that a mix of renewables and nuclear will provide a way out. This is despite any consensus that renewables will be able to keep industrial civilisations running and the routine refusal to acknowledge that existing renewable infrastructures require the carbon economy for their manufacture, distribution and maintenance. There seems to be the continued assumption that rising energy demand will continue to be met despite these problems, with no awareness that the multiple transitions required to exit the carbon economy will necessarily entail what Jem Bendell aptly calls relinquishment.
The post-transition and post-petrocultural worlds will not be able to resemble industrial civilisation as it exists today. If it was ever going to be able to the moment for that is long behind us, as what energy reserve we have are being augmented by fracking, tar sand extraction, and ethanol production (the equivalents of shooting up methadone). To think otherwise is to believe in magic, or, what is the same, that cold fusion will save us. None of this is to suggest that renewables and nuclear power won’t play any role in the future and nor am I trying to suggest an abrupt collapse, a scenario in which we wake up on the day after tomorrow to find we’re all living in caves. However, as time presses forward and weirding escalates, it’s likely successful patches will be the ones that have already done the work of relinquishing in order to enact continuous adaptation. This will take the development of real time analytical tools that are able to respond to rapidly changing conditions rather than elaborate theoretico-utopian preferences.
Successful patches will be the ones that take catabolic collapse into account and work within the deep adaptation agenda according to ecologistical clinical evaluation processes. In effect successful patches will be those able to ride the collapse using anticipatory responsiveness and through constructing the means of survival most adaptive for their ecological niche. Xenogoth has said that patchwork is post-punk. That may be so but I suspect that successful patches will be some combination of solarpunk and salvagepunk, a balance of retrofuturism and an explicit retrofuturism.
Michael also stresses the local, and rightly placed it into the context of the translocal. An early adoption of the translocal will be important for successful adaptation. The translocal is a rethinking of the relations between locations, a rethinking of the local/global axes, in the light of actual practices that undermine the coherence of these conceptual distinction as rigid designations for orienting thought. Translocal interrelations describe ecologistical networks that render localities porous to one another in a way that cuts across the question of scalability. These practices are seen in p2p (person-to-person and people-to-people) networks that connect various local/municipal platforms to coordinate and share resources and best practices. While Michael’s post addresses common objections to the local by reference to the translocal, I want to stress that adaptation to catabolic collapse requires the adoption of translocal approaches. This is for no other reason than the fact that collapse entails the arresting and reversal of globally convergent processes, like projects of political unification.
The point is stressed in the prescient anarchist text Desert. It was this text that first shook me out of my anarchist complacency. The anonymous author(s) of Desert explore the future as an unfolding and uneven collapse. The need for a sensitivity to the local is stressed throughout the text. For example, the author will write that
Given our obvious inability to re-make the entire world the way we might like it to be, some replace the myth of ‘global revolution’ with a belief in imminent ‘global collapse’ — these days usually some mix of climate change and peak oil. As we shall see later (both in the next chapters and our future years) global heating will severely challenge civilisation in some areas and probably vanquish it in others. Yet in some regions it will likely open up possibilities for the spread of civilisations rule. Some lands may remain (relatively) temperate — climatically and socially. As for civilisation, so for anarchy and anarchists — severely challenged, sometimes vanquished; possibilities for liberty and wildness opening up, possibilities for liberty and wildness closing. The unevenness of the present will be made more so. There is no global future.
It’s this unevenness that entails the need for sensitivity in potential patchworkers as local islands of salvage and construction in networks of variable interconnection. The author will go on to suggest that there will be lives of liberty and lives of slavery in this new unworlding when they write that
Possibilities will emerge as the cold deserts retreat for those who wish to settle/invade/resist/work. Who will populate these new lands? Physical landscapes and the social terrains of struggle frame what we think is possible and thus what we do. In Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century North America, Individualist Anarchism (especially that influenced by Henry David Thoreau) was framed directly by the idea and existence of frontiers and thus the real ability to build some level of autonomy and self-sufficiency — admittedly on stolen land! In crowded Europe at the same time there was less ‘outside’ available, and so despite strong currents with an ecological and anti-civilisation perspective, many individualist anarchists turned to bank robbing, insurrection, assassination and art. We can expect the opening up of new lands within Europe and North America to have a significant impact on both those who wish to desert civilisation as well as those who wish to expand it. There will be many possibilities for lives of liberty on the expanding frontiers, though drop-outs and renegades may themselves lay the foundations for a wider ‘gentrification’ of the wilderness.
It would be lovely to think that a thousand anarchist log huts will bloom but more prevalent are likely to be workcamps and farmlands resembling something between Dubai’s modern gulags and the new Chinese farming and logging colonies of Siberia. In the UAE desert migrant workers live in horrific conditions and are bussed in and out of Dubai daily to build the new super city. They have no rights of citizenship, no rights to stay beyond a fixed term contract, almost no spouses (or right to marry or co-habit), families rarely exist, no official unionisation. Frightened by an ‘Indian Demographic Time-Bomb’ Dubai’s rulers have initiated a complex immigration quota system where migrants are brought in from diverse countries to keep workers socially divided. In Siberia 600,000 Chinese workers cross the border in seasonal migration every summer to work the new fields.