Empire is No More or: Give up “Nature” and it Will Be a Hundred Times Better for Everyone

by jdavidcharles

This is a response to two other blog posts, one by my roommate Kevin here, and the other by my dear friend Brett here. Both deal with the notion of “the” environment or “Nature”—this notion of a pure, virginal, giving earth-mother. And, to quote Slavoj Zizek, I would like to disagree and say, “Nature is a crazy bitch.” That is to say that the boons of Nature are equally a catastrophe—i.e., oil. Nature is a chaos. Which begs the question, is the notion of “Nature” even a helpful one then? Kevin, and I am with him here, argues emphatically “no.” Brett, however, argues for a sort of chimerical amalgam of society and nature that, to me, ends up looking like a socialized-Nature.

Now I have a few problems with this. Granted, although a more complicated, more nuanced depiction of Nature, a socialized-Nature still is this sort of top-down metaphysics Kevin’s post seems to be arguing against, namely, a direct and knowable lost (or able to be lost) Utopia. It seems just as tautological as “Nature” or “the” environment. And, as much as I love me some Czeslaw, this seems to be his problem as well as Brett’s to me—Czeslaw may recognize the chaotic, the Moloch, in the “social” world as well as the “natural” world, but these still seem to be opposing worlds even to him no matter how you choose to reconcile them or shove them together. In other words, Nature+Society=World is as bad of a formula as Nature=World or Society=World.

To conceive of a whole that is the sum of its parts and therefore in some way a greater object as such, therefore submitting the parts to the whole, is, in short, totalitarian. Aristotle wouldn’t do this—this is what teleological thinking avoids and, I believe, it was here Kevin was intending to get us. Namely that if we can speak of a world that is a whole it is not a holism which the parts are submitted to in anyway but a whole strictly speaking as regards its telos (which, given Kevin’s leanings, I am to assume is the Kingdom of God—which is to say those parts realized as themselves, people as truly fulfilling their ethical desires as authenticated people, the earth no longer groaning, lion lying down with the lamb, etc.). In other words, if we can speak of any great “whole” we are floating around in it is 1. always tentative and conditional given our finitude and situatedness and 2. not a top-down metaphysics (ie Nature is the Good/holism so we all must make sacrifices, as its parts, to appease her).

My final critique for this notion of a socialized-Nature is the same one I have with Heidegger’s conception of Welt (world), namely it’s rank anthropocentrism (and therefore tacit racism, sexism, et al). We immediately must ask whose society socializes? I get that one could respond societies as such or an amalgam of social systems but at some point we in our finitude are establishing a hierarchical whole (a “top”) from within that very system (pretty much near the “bottom”). I immediately want to ask, when faced with this notion of a socialized-Nature, what sort of “socialized”-world do, say, amoebas or sea slugs inhabit then? They equally have an ecological world that has a vast impact and, in ways, conditions our very social world as well. Point being is vast amounts of our world have facets which our society does not come in contact with yet still function socially and presumably have vast effects on us (just think of global warming for one example).

It seems to me that this way of constructing existence breaks down on itself. I think what is so profound about the Tim Morton Ecology-Without-Nature “movement” which, I think, is what all our posts are tacitly about, is that it attempts to radically abandon this top-down, whole>parts discussion as involves worldhood. There is no Nature rightly speaking as regards this top-down hierarchical structure (fallen mother, etc). However, ecological worlds are very real and we happen to be in one that is very real, namely, “our” society. These worlds all interact (touch, elide, collide, withdraw) within… what we call a world for lack of a better term—whatever our sharedness and otherness floats around in. But rightly speaking this isn’t a more true locality or world, it’s just the amorphous fluid all of our worlds happen to be mis-communicating in. It’s just as much of an object as say the world of rabbits, the world of east Indian botanist-missionaries, or the world of mice who I am convinced are hiding in our walls. Just as much of an object as my laptop too. There is no Nature because there is no “system” that is an inherent “top” system.



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