Sunday Reading Part 1: Tim Morton on Disaster Ecology
by Adam Robbert
From THIS fine essay recently published:
9. The ideology and the rhetoric of ecological disaster, then, have nothing to do with actual ecology. They are “environmentalist” in the same sense as some ideas about gender are sexist. That is, they set up the environment as a metaphysical construct on a pedestal, torn down, built up, worshipped, admired as an aesthetic object, and so on. Aesthetic images of the environment are predicated on disaster: we are shown we want to avert it; we are compelled to imagine it vividly. This seems like a truism: recordings of whale sounds and Douglas Adams’s book Last Chance to See would not have appeared if human-caused extinction were not on the cards (see Works Cited). It is always unfortunate when reality coincides with fantasy. The trouble is not so much the quite legitimate wish to preserve species from dying out through human misuse. The problem is in the attitude engendered in the disaster narratives we keep telling ourselves. For at least one of these attitudes happens to provide some strong cement for the maintenance of an oppressive status quo.
10. If we are going to think ecology beyond capitalism, we shall need to think beyond disaster and beyond disaster speak. It would be preferable to refer to ecological difficulty as a “drag,” in both performative and work-related senses. Ecological difficulty will beset us for the long run, perhaps forever (whatever that means). And ecology is profoundly a view that accommodates display, performance, sheer aesthetic illusion (for example in Darwin’s theory of sexual selection), and so on (Darwin, Descent). Take the evolutionary notion of “satisficing.” A rabbit is not really a rabbit. It is not that a rabbit by any other name would act as nose-twitchy. All the way down, there is no rabbit, no rabbit flavored DNA. And all the way up: rabbits act like rabbits, and thus pass on their genome. This is called “satisficing,” a form of performativity (Dawkins 156). If a life form does its thing without dying, its descendant can keep whatever it does. The fact that homosexuals exist across a vast array of sexually reproducing life forms, for instance, indicates that evolution has no problem with them. In fact, heterosexual behavior floats on top of a vast ocean of cloning, transgender switching, homosexuality and intersexuality (Roughgarden). A genome could not care less if its vehicle acts like someone else’s idea of a rabbit. This includes having mutations that not all rabbits might have. There is no essence called race, or gender, or species—or environment. Thus there is no fixed gender against which “deviations” are measured as disastrous.
11. Ultimately, thinking ecology beyond disaster means thinking ecology without nature; and even thinking ecology without environmentalism. Looked at one way, evolution is a long history of disasters, such as extinction: which is to say, since disaster is everywhere, it is of no cosmic significance. Ecological awareness demands that we care for ourselves and nonhumans on time and space scales far in excess of the usual parameters, even if the parameters are based on modified forms of self interest that include greater numbers under the umbrella of “kith and kin” (Parfit, 355–357, 361, 371–377; Morton, “Hyperobjects” ). It just does not make sense to try and find self-interest-based reasons to care for a “hyperobject” such as plutonium 239, which has a half-life of 24 100 years: what a drag. The kind of excitement demanded by disaster tropology will not serve us well. We need something like Wordsworth with his adverse reaction to the “gross and violent stimulants” of his literary age (Wordsworth, “Preface,” 746).