Monsters in the Network

Measurements taken above the Antarctic are not good this year. Rare species that naturalists would like to protect are being carried off in smoke. The innocent chlorfluorocarbons of Monsanto’s assembly lines turned out to be a crime against the ecosphere. There’s starving multitudes and the fate of our poor planet is in jeopardy. Then there’s the ozone hole story, global warming and deforestation.

Modernity was a rupture in time; an acceleration and revolution in contrast to the archaic and stable past. Modernity finishes off the old regime of the Ancients and emerges as the victor. In contrast to the obscurity of the olden days, “which illegitimately blended together social needs and natural reality,” modernity characterized itself as freedom from these ridiculous constraints of the past (Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, p. 35). In other words, it gave up the delicate web of relations between things and people. Succeeding in ostensibly separating Nature and Society, the moderns truly believe they are riding the wave of progress. There are no limitations to mixing together “greater masses of humans and nonhumans” (p. 41). No combination is ruled out! While the premoderns dwelled endlessly and obsessively on the connections between nature and culture, the moderns, by contrast, do not think at all about “the consequences of their innovations for the social order” (p. 41). The premoderns, to put it simply, exercised the greatest prudence in limiting the expansion of social and natural mixes whereas the moderns show no restraint.

To put it crudely: those who think the most about hybrids circumscribe them as much as possible, whereas those who choose to ignore them by insulating them from any dangerous consequences develop them to the utmost (p. 41)

Some of the consequence of our disintegrated culture—which isolates (in name only) economics from ethics and technology from politics—are most readily seen in the irreversible damage done to the social and environmental fabric of our world. By choosing to ignore the connection between consumer choices and the social macro-context that is affected, we inhabit fragmented and dishonest lives. Of course, I could always read up on the effects that industrial agro-business is having on the global economy and ecosystem, but I don’t “know” it in the same way that I “know” the full consequences of missing a nail with a hammer in full swing.

Likewise, I am brushed up on the basics of global systems, but I still do not fully comprehend the specific causal networks that produced and transported the dried fruit and nut medley I am currently enjoying. If we are to think in a collective frame, we will begin to see that “the powers of the North and the West have been able to save their peoples and some of their countrysides by destroying the rest of the world and reducing its peoples to abject poverty” (p. 9). Put simply, the West is not more ‘progressive’ in ignoring the relation between objects and people.

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