desert storms

We are reposting this text in fragments (as is our nature) in relation to the resurgent theorytwitter buzz. Read Part 1 here. All comments and discussion welcome.


Desert, by Anonymous

3. Desert Storms

The military looks to the future

Whilst politicians of both states and social movements repeat platitudes, smile at their constituents and face off against each other, some realists are looking to a climate changed future less as something that can be avoided and more as something that will need to be policed. In National Security and the Threat of Climate Change leading thinkers and actors from the US military investigated a wide range of scenarios. Their first finding was that “projected climate change poses a serious threat to America’s national security.” How?
In already weakened states, extreme weather events, drought, flooding, sea level rise, retreating glaciers, and the rapid spread of life-threatening diseases will themselves have likely effects: increased migrations, further weakened and failed states, expanded ungoverned spaces, exacerbating underlying conditions that terrorists seek to exploit, and increased internal conflicts. In developed countries, these conditions threaten to disrupt economic trade and introduce new security challenges, such as increased spread of infectious disease and increased immigration. [45]
As well as seeing climate change as “a new hostile and stressing factor” that will produce novel threats generally, they also saw it as exacerbating existing specific ones.
Climate Change acts as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world. Many governments in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East are already on edge in terms of their ability to provide basic needs: food, water, shelter and stability. Projected climate change will exacerbate the problems in these regions and add to the problems of effective governance. Unlike most conventional security threats that involve a single entity acting in specific ways at different points in time, climate change has the potential to result in multiple chronic conditions, occurring globally within the same time frame. Economic and environmental conditions will further erode as food production declines, diseases increase, clean water becomes increasingly scarce, and populations migrate in search of resources. Weakened and failing governments, with an already thin margin of survival, foster the conditions for internal conflict, extremism, and movement towards increased authoritarianism and radical ideologies…
Because climate change also has the potential to create natural and humanitarian disasters on a scale far beyond those we see today, its consequences will likely foster political instability where social demands exceed the capacity of governments to cope. [46]
Similar nightmares and fantasies are talked about by military experts elsewhere. [47] It should be remembered that armies plan for what could possibly happen, not what will definitely happen. Additionally, there is institutional self-interest in thinking the world is getting more dangerous if your job is providing enforced order. However, it is worth taking their predictions of strife seriously not least because when policy recommendations such as theirs are enacted, shadows of their dreams can become reality. Just as ‘generals are always fighting the last war’, so too their vision of future ones are shaped by present conflict. It should come as no surprise then that much of the military discourse around climate change is centred around hot wars, failed states and the political violence that can emanate from them. Potential cold wars, within the global north and extreme south, are given less prominence. I will follow this convention for now, though I will return to such possibilities later.
Hot wars and failed states
Looking at conflicts today there is already an obvious Equatorial Tension Belt which is expected to significantly expand. Its existence is due to a whole host of variables not least of which are the accumulated environmental impact from collapsed civilisations, the legacies of direct western colonialism, high population levels, the presence of ‘resources’ useful to capitalism and habitats that are on the margin of agriculture viability. [48] Given what the US generals describe above some governments in these regions will fall, whilst others, to varying degrees, will ‘fail’. Some states will retract back to their (maybe shifting) capitals leaving the rest of their supposed territories in a mosaic of war and peace, others will be engulfed in civil war, revolution and inter-state conflict. There will no doubt be much horror but also much potential for constructing free lives.
Unsurprisingly, there is division among military thinkers on what the great powers of today will be able to do. Some argue that they: “… may be drawn more frequently into these situations, either alone or with allies, to help provide stability before conditions worsen and are exploited by extremists.” And that they “…may also be called upon to undertake stability and reconstruction efforts once a conflict has begun, to avert further disaster and reconstitute a stable environment.” [49] Others predict a markedly reduced planetary policing role in an effective end to the New World Order declared by the US which, “lacking the means to help local authorities restore order, ‘will likely fall back on a combination of policies that add up to quarantine.’” [50]
Social movement anarchists in these regions might want to think seriously about what practical preparations can wisely be made for self-rule, civil war, survival and the unfortunately inevitable emergence and strengthening of authoritarian forces and inter-ethnic conflict. “We must have the ability to defend ourselves, survive, and exploit crises in society including capitalist attempts to destroy us. The divided and industrial nature of today’s society has already determined the instability of tomorrow.” [51]
In the depths of crises with social demands “exceeding the ability of government to cope” the glory days of Anarchism may be back. “If climate change results in reduced rainfall and access to the natural capital that sustains livelihoods, poverty will become more widespread, leading to increased grievances and better recruitment opportunities for rebel movements.” [52] Who knows we may even see scenes as dramatic as the anarchist armoured trains of Maria Nikiforova. [53] From the steppes of the Ukraine to the sierras of Mexico and the streets of Barcelona a huge number of those who ever identified as anarchists did so embroiled in overt war.
Unfortunately, in most places, rebel movements are more likely to be statist than anarchist. This is partly thanks to the large number of established authoritarian political gangs compared to libertarian ones, but also because in extreme situations people turn to extremist solutions. In some places this might be self-organisation, decentralisation and mutual aid, but in many there will be no social solution possible, just the false promises of despots and prophets. That’s not to say we couldn’t compete with them by spreading rival millennial hopes of a new dawn, but if we are honest with ourselves, having thrown aside religion, it would be a travesty of our ethics to pick it up again in the cause of gang recruitment and the joy of trouble.
Where visible and dramatic libertarian social forces do arise it is likely that many from other parts of the world will travel to join them. As the clouds darken, some of our family will run towards outbreaks of armed resistance — wherever they may be. This comes from a deep felt love and feelings of solidarity but also because, let’s be honest, for many conflict is attractive and anti-militarists rarely get the opportunity for outright war. The nihilistic desire — amplified in an increasingly complex world — to just get out there and ‘fuck shit up’ is, if not a creative urge, definitely a strong one. That’s not to say everyone has it, but many do. Here there is an uncomfortable symmetry between our emotional drivers and that of fighters generally.
In the ex-territory of failed and fallen states inter-ethnic conflict will become ever more common, at least until populations are cut back to a level more fitting a much hotter world.
The failed states have conflict levels so high and persistent that even baseline changes forecast by the IPCC are likely to worsen livelihood conditions. The trends suggest more of a social or tribal breakdown than wars between nations. Climate trends will ignore borders, and failed states prone to conflict will spread like a disease. [54]
Peacekeepers in the graveyard of the living
Such forces of inter-ethnic conflict will be far more widespread than groups organised around European originated political ideologies — libertarian or authoritarian. They are, after all, able to provide real solutions (if only temporarily) to people’s immediate needs in areas where the basics for survival are outnumbered by thirsty mouths. This is done, of course, by wrenching resources from ‘the others’. Additionally, inter-ethnic conflicts can erupt when the ‘cause is hopeless’ but the emotional driver is strong.
The consoling belief that individuals willingly join conflicts driven only by rational strategic considerations, family narratives or historical burdens dissolves when brought into the light of the expressed desires of many fighters themselves. For a dramatic European example one only needs to read Mattijs van de Ports’s study of a community swept up in civil war. In Gypsies, Wars and other instances of the Wild, he presents voices of people who “in festive mood, took on the role of barbarians.”
How is this possible in Europe at the end of the twentieth century?’ was the question that played obsessively through my mind… What the war in former Yugoslavia forced us to digest is the fact that people proved willing to make a conscious and active choice to embrace regression, barbarity, a return to the wilderness. Take the Serb fighters who dream of a return to the Serbia of the epic poems ‘where there was no electricity, no computers, when the Serbs were happy and had no cities, the breeding grounds of all evil.’ [55]
That some modern day militias reflect romanticist desires whilst shelling towns, massacring villages and being killed in turn, should neither surprise us I nor necessarily fully invalidate romance. It does however suggest — along with the honest expressions of joy in destruction mouthed by some soldiers in every war as well as many anarchists — that there is a coupling of some sort between a generalised urge to destroy and a disgust at complex human society.
Randolph Bourne was right when he said “war is the health of the state” [56] but this other driver is at work too, especially where the ‘sides’ are no longer states. French anarchist anthropologist Pierre Clastres’ description of war among Amazonian tribes is not directly transferable to inter-ethnic conflicts involving non-anarchist peoples but nevertheless an echo does resonate:

What is the function of primitive war? To assure the permanence of dispersal, of the parcelling out, of the atomization of groups. Primitive war is the work of a centrifugal logic, of a logic of separation which expresses itself from time to time in armed conflict. War serves to maintain each community in its political independence… Now what is the legal power that embraces all differences in order to suppress them, which only supports itself to abolish the logic of the multiple in order to substitute for it the opposite logic of unification? What is the other name of the One that refuses in essence primitive society? It is the State. [57]

It is not all hubris and doubletalk when military spin-doctors describe statist invasions as ‘peacekeeping’. Ethnic diversity and autonomy often emerge both from mutual aid in community and animosity between communities. I like to think (and our history backs this up) that self-identified anarchists will never inflict such pain as the Serb nationalist militias (an example I purposely chose for its repugnance) but we should admit that our wish to ‘fuck shit up’ is partly driven by the same urge to civilisational dismemberment as can found in many inter-ethnic conflicts, and in the minds of fighters more generally. As central power is weakened in some areas, possibilities for anarchy in both its happy and its horrible meanings will open up.
From (food) Riots to Insurrection
Climate wars to come may wipe out many anarchists but is unlikely to kill off Anarchism, which as a political movement has survived significant culls of its adherents in past local apocalypses. [58] Despite all the horrors of the last 200 years, Anarchism is, as the New York Times put it, “the creed that won’t stay dead.” [59] This is heartening, but we are not ideological machines. It does matter that anarchists themselves — i.e. you, me, our families and friends we have yet to meet — keep on living — not just ‘the ideal’. It matters to me! Give or take the particularities of the local, we may have twenty years (probably more) to prepare for these ruptures, not as an alternative to other tasks at hand, but as an integral part of a long term multi-pronged strategy. For some, it will also be a matter of life or death.
While future climate wars will be an extension of the present conditions they are likely to be far bigger and more extreme. In some places peoples, anarchists among them, could transform climate wars into successful libertarian insurrections. In others the battle may simply be for survival or even death with dignity and meaning. Those in relativity stable social environments — politically and climatically — will probably be faced by an increasingly oppressive surveillance state and a ‘mass’ which increasingly fears ‘the barbarism beyond the walls’.
What actual practical stuff needs to be done will depend largely on where and who you are. While we may have some shared aspirations, climate change reinforces the basic truth that we do not have one shared global future. While everywhere the enemy is estrangement and domestication, [60] the situations in Basingstoke and Bangladesh are different in the present and will be in the future.
During his lecture at the Royal Society, Lovelock stated:

We now face the stark choice between a return to a natural life as a small band of hunter gatherers or a much reduced high tech civilisation… [61]

Rather than a choice, there is likely to be both sorts of survivor (as there is now) — high-tech industrial citizen and low-tech gatherer-hunter anarchist. In between these two extremes will lie, buried or hungry, the “much reduced” (many from climate wars) along with those eking out a possibly freer (or not) life on the margins of agricultural/pastoral viability. Let’s look then at what possibilities there may be for liberty and wildness in some of these diverging life ways.

read more here:

Part 1 :: Part 2 :: Part 3 :: Part 4 :: Part 5 :: Part 6 :: Part 7 :: Part 8 :: Part 9 :: Part 10

4 responses to “desert storms

  1. As indeed already we most probably have two types of human beings, i.e. hunter gatherer. And hi tech.

    Perhaps it is the naivety of such a view of the common human being (the singular organism defined in various ways as to Genetics and such) which is being brought to view: that no only is the ‘world climate’ changing, but indeed the very ‘climate of knowledge’ about ‘our’ position in the universe.

    Perhaps the hi-tech. Is that portion which comes to realize how the majority of the population must be used despite what ideal of ‘equality’ we might want to grant ‘all humans’. Perhaps treeating people ‘equal’ this might come to mean ‘using people’ as to their ability no capacity. The climate of knowledge changing.

  2. Aside from the simultaneity of things:

    Seems to me this guys is making an argument for the consolidation of states, strengthening of intra-state Resilliance and interstates defence to thereby become more self reliant and and hunker down for the hard times.

    Honestly; if indeed the climate is going to cause such social upheaval, the best response to this would be to lower the value of humanity. Let large portions of the population who are positioned so to be wasted by the climate, become so. Help those who we can help, which amounts to those who are ‘us’. Uphold the standards of knowledge and science the best we can.

    Is that the argument he’s making ? Or is he even makig an argument. ?

  3. Pingback: African Roads to Anarchy | synthetic zerø·

  4. Pingback: Civilisation Retreats, Wildness Persists | synthetic zerø·

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