by David R. Cole
This paper focuses on dark-theory, and explains the Anthropocene through such dark theory. It addresses a major problematic for contemporary theory; i.e., it is not dark enough. In terms of the current environmental, social and cultural situation, we are faced with a singularity, which is here termed as being at the heart of the Anthropocene; not as a metaphor, but as a dark, refracted image of what the human drives have produced, are producing, and will continue to produce in the future: the black sun. This image is in contrast to the cyberpunk notion of a technological A.I. singularity becoming intelligent and taking over from the human race at some point in the future. The naming of the singularity at the heart of the Anthropocene as the ultimate, dark expression of the human drives, works in conjunction with the action of the surrounding black hole, and as such has an event horizon we are fast approaching: it can be surmised that we will not stop entering this event horizon until the sixth great extinction event has run its course. Whether human beings as a species survive is unknown; what is certain is that we are in the midst of an enormous matter-flow encouraged by this singularity and black hole, and, as Deleuze & Guattari (1988) state: “this matter-flow can only be followed” (p. 409).
Everything that we have held close and believed in is threatened by this pan-energetic black hole. We have created the singularity in conjunction with the forces that have created us, yet the black hole has darker dimensions than we can imagine, and is certainly more powerful than us. As we get sucked ever further towards the singularity, one could say that, after Nietzsche, we are: “ … on the point of tipping over into nihilism—into the belief in absolute valuelessness, that is, meaninglessness” (Nietzsche, 1967-77, 13: 7). However, the Anthropocene is more than a negative semantic result as an absolute loss of faith in human endeavor. Rather, it shows us how meaning has started to bend, twist and inverse, as the immense forces contained by the singularity begin to bite. The black hole reaches down into our very drives, transforms them, and leaves us wondering about what has happened, what is happening, and what will occur. The experience of the singularity of the Anthropocene is therefore explained by another of Nietzsche’s notes on the anti-psychological formation of the drives: “The psychologists’ great confusion has lain in their failure to distinguish [between] two types of pleasure, that of falling asleep and that of conquest” (Nietzsche, 1967-77, 13: 14). In the precise terms of the Anthropocene, as possessing a heart as a singularity surrounded by a black hole, we will not overcome, or conquer, the singularity through pre-given technological solutions, such as global geoengineering or coordinated, large scale carbon sequestration; as these modes of fixing, are what has in unison with other actions, matter and forces through time caused the singularity (as will be explained by the cloud analysis below), and will therefore only mitigate against limited effects of the singularity and black hole. Therefore, a cluster of perspectives on the Anthropocene, which are becoming increasingly widespread, are that “we may as well just leave things alone, and carry on as before”, “we are in fact asleep”, “we will probably die through the unfolding events as we approach the event horizon”, so “we may as well enjoy whatever will occur in the future as ‘the transformational Anthropocene’”, rather than trying to futilely overcome that which cannot be conquered: i.e. the human drives. What Nietzsche is pointing out, is that external prognostication about internal reactions to extreme change, which is in our case, are being produced by the singularity of the Anthropocene, will always produce misunderstandings with respect to effects and causes, whether the effects of the realization of the singularity are mutism, inarticulation, trauma, flight, an increase in herd instinct, or simply fear & panic-responses; because the ways in which the deep drives are read, for example, by psychology, most often conform to stable, pre-designated, pre-given systems, which are unable to interpret the radically new Anthropocenic conditions of feedback induced non-linear change, on a global, unprecedented, and as yet unimagined scale. As the theorist Keith Ansell Pearson has said, in the context of Nietzsche’s politics:
What Nietzsche seeks to do as a thinker … is to prepare us for change. He shows that humanity has a history, that it has been (de-) formed in a particular way, and that the end of … [a certain] interpretation of the world, offers the possibility of another beginning. It becomes possible to navigate new seas since the horizon is now ‘free’ again.
Ansell-Pearson, 1994, p. 205.
However, what are we being prepared for in and by the Anthropocene, and who or what is preparing us? Is this preparation, merely an increased likelihood of death? Or perhaps it is about flight or swarming, and getting ready as a species to live in new ways, for example, ‘off world’ living or a return to pre-modern, ecological living? Or, perhaps we need to discover a new depth, and sense of readiness for the perhaps already bunkered and blinkered life we are already leading; for example, we need to prepare for the continual staving off the effects of wild fires, drought, floodings, hurricanes, starvation, economic crises and future resource/food/water wars? There are no easy answers to these questions; yet the imminent reality of extinction in and due to the sixth great extinction event, points to the fact that unsustainable human growth has destroyed, is destroying and will continue to destroy the biosphere, in proportion to the detrimental effects of this growth. What can be undoubtedly said about the facts of extinction in the singularity of the Anthropocene, is that the powers connected to death will increase in magnitude, and as such, the image of this power will become increasingly manipulated, and this manipulation will take hold as a common reality, even as we wonder, who or what is going to die first, and who decides what or who dies, as Georges Bataille has said: “The power of death signifies that this real world can only have a neutral image of life, that life’s intimacy does not reveal it’s dazzling consumption until the moment it gives out,” (Bataille, 1989, p. 49). The consumptive powers of the singularity of the Anthropocene, which could be understood as a mode of radiation from the black hole, takes the dazzling, vital nature out of life, and makes it darker. This is why the usual, extraordinarily slow time of geology in previous epochs is replaced by a ‘dark time’ in the astrophysics of the Anthropocene event. This ‘dark time’ is characterized by oscillation, contradiction, impossible choices, and the consequent continual putting off of things, the insertion and following of complicated time loops, and by reversals in previously accepted norms and actions, as we approach and become one with the Anthropocenic event horizon. In contrast to the characterization of recent ‘great acceleration’ in progress, growth and success, through which the detritus of human production was dealt with and left behind, the ‘dark time’ of the Anthropocene sees objects that were buried and forgotten re-emerge, as the forces and constraints which were holding them in place are shredded through the irradiating powers of the Anthropocenic singularity and black hole. Again, Nietzsche anticipated these throughlines, when he suggested that:
Waste, decay, elimination need not be condemned: they are necessary consequences of life, of the growth of life. The phenomenon of decadence is as necessary as any increase and advance of life: one is in no position to abolish it. Reason demands, on the contrary, that we do justice to it.
Nietzsche, 1968, Fragment 40: March-June 1888
However, the growth that we now see is no longer the expansion of human dominion through or as the Anthropocene. Rather, the ‘growth’ of the dark time of the Anthropocene is exemplified by the ways in which the singularity is now interacting with the continuum of everyday life. For example, a slow-motion film might show us the north Pacific Gyre intervening in human populations, and cause tsunamis of plastics to rein down on the beach goers; landfill rubbish sites all over the world explode through internal methane gas production; radioactive material dumps start to leak and increasingly contaminate their rocky, underground environments; large scale carbon sequestration sites prove in the long run to be unstable, and lead to unforeseen circumstances, such as massive localized CO₂ poisoning through previously undiscovered geological-weak-links. In sum, the singularity of the Anthropocene requires thinking that allows for and encourages “… in the midst of perfectly gruesome detonations, a new truth [to] become visible … [and] among thick clouds” (Nietzsche, 1979, p. 114). This bringing to visibility is what I am calling ‘dark thinking’ and the ‘black sun’, that fully takes into account the factors involved with the production of the singularity of the Anthropocene. In order to do this, we must let go of previously suggested certainties that have become close to us, before the event horizon of the Anthropocenic singularity completely takes over; things such as our ‘being’ or the importance of ‘the human’ or the power of ‘progress’; we need to create a fully realized dark cloud analysis, or analysis of the ‘unworld’ of the Anthropocene and: “In such an ‘unworld’ Heidegger could no longer expect to be understood,” (Dreyfus, 1993, p. 333), as it is unrestrained darkness, full of wholly material time-warping forces; it is anti-phenomenological non-being, containing no light.
The first line of this matter cloud of the dark Anthropocene that is being sucked into the singularity by the black hole involves tool-enhancement (see Figure 1 below). I will begin this matter-cloud analysis 2.5 million years ago, with the hominid, Homo Habilis, who started to use basic stone implements for regular tasks such as cutting, shaping and making other tools. This analysis does not recenter the black sun narrative on human emergence, or ignore the complex inter-relatedness of the singularity that we are describing, or, indeed, try to make the Anthropocenic black hole purely functionally human; i.e., another tool that enables everything in the past to seem useful and in/of a continuity; however, this matter cloud does present the scope of tool development, and how deep rooted reciprocating extensions from body, feeling and thought to actions in the world, and vice versa are, and have become. Tool-enhancement to and of the human form changed in waves for approximately 2,487,000 years, and mainly involved using stone and other implements to directly work with and in the world in a non-sedentary fashion, to perform tasks such as kill food to eat, build temporary shelter, or to practice shamanistic rituals. As different species of hominid hunter and gatherers became extinct over the course of 2 and half million years, to leave Homo Sapiens alone amid nature, the focus of the tool-enhancement changed from nomadic survival, subsistence community and shamanic worship, to sedentary power, control of the environment, and the production of surplus. This significant shift in the focus of tool-enhancement came from about 10,000 years B.C., even though evidence for the development of Homo Sapiens and the beginnings of modern human cognitive abilities dates back 200,000 years and included some small scale, fixed settlements; large scale, permanent settlement, organized agriculture, and the rearing of livestock did not predominantly occur for 188,000 of these years, making the shift in tool-enhancement from nomadic to sedentary purposes, a relatively recent change in modern humans. Agriculture and settled, hierarchical society developed in different parts of the world at approximately the same times after 10,000 B.C., as the last ice age receded, in places such as the Mesopotamia, East China, the Ganges and Indus catchments, the Nile, West Africa and in the Meso and Andean Americas. In these places, the conditions were right after 10,000 B.C. for tools to enhance the human form in terms of helping to create and maintain large permanent settlements and the structured societies that these settlements imply.
It is wrong to say that nomadic tool-enhancement in any way died out after 10,000 B.C., or that sedentary tool enhancement is better or more advanced that nomadic tool-enhancement. What happened according to this dark material cloud analysis after 10,000 B.C. is that the energy differentials and their forces between tools and their work had been altered. In the predominantly nomadic age, the energy expended making, using and maintaining the tool was approximately equal to the energy received from its use. For example, in nomadic societies, sharpened axe heads made from flint and fixed to thick branches through vine, would have been valuable weapons, carried and treasured by their makers as a vital means for survival. In post 10,000 B.C. societies, such tools would have begun to be stored or rationed to armies for specific uses in battles, or for specific purposes, such as the ceremonial slaughter of livestock by a priesthood. The energy distribution and force of the tool therefore sits dormant until called upon, creating a means to control the use of tools, and to link up with other tools, such as orders to distribute the best tools to the best warriors, or to make more or adapted tools. The next major change in tool-enhancement emerges at 3,000 B.C., with the incorporation of metal tools in the sedentary tool-arrangements of war, agriculture, government, religion and domestic life. The use of bronze added an extra force and intensity to the tool-enhancement of the human form, and made the enactment of sedentary power through repetitious acts, domination, religion and actions such as cooking, home-building, and importantly created the means for trade and exchange value through the introduction of money. Highly structured and regulated societies in Egypt, the Indus valley, Mesopotamia and the Minoans on Crete all flourished from 3000 B.C., and created many of the codes and foundations for the machinery and inter-relational flows of sedentary society to come. Nomadic society was not abolished, and also used bronze, but these uses existed outside of the controlled hierarchies of sedentary power, often on the fringes, and in-between the power centers that developed around pharaohs, aristocrats, priesthoods, bureaucrats and their retinues. Power was enacted ceremonially during this period in these sedentary societies, and all tool-enhancement was ultimately deployed at the bequest of the rulers, for example, as a mechanism to build pyramids, to improve agriculture, or to increase the chances of success at war. Populations grew around the sedentary power-centers and these populations were regulated and controlled by and for the purpose of serving their God-like leaders. The next leap in the lineage of tool-enhancement came in terms of the development of iron, and the replacement of bronze as the major source of tool-enhancement in 1,200 B.C.
Iron had been previously wrought by the Hittites as early as 2000 B.C., yet it was after 1,200 B.C., and the collapse of early trading routes that had supplied the connections between copper and tin, that the use of iron began to flourish and metallurgists learnt how to temper iron with carbon to make steel (it is interesting to note that this doesn’t happen at this time in China). The use of iron in tool-enhancement required better, centralized kilns, and an organized labor force of blacksmiths to work the iron. Larger scale cities in Europe and the Middle East, e.g. Greek, Roman and the Persians began to use iron in everyday tool-enhancement that improved the production of wheels, barrels, weapons of all descriptions, agricultural tools, shipping, time keeping devices, cutlery and chains for imprisonment. Human population steadily increased during this period, it had been stable at around 4 million for perhaps 6 thousand years, now, with better tools for survival and increasingly sophisticated means to protect and control sedentary societies, and to investigate the forces of nature, human population began to increase to around 100 million by the time of Jesus. Again, nomadic societies did not die out, but were often put under increasing threat by armies and patrolled trade routes connected to centers of power such as those of the Roman, Parthian and Kushan Empires, which were engaged in collecting every advantage to maintain and expand their power-bases. It was during this period that the tool-machinery necessary for our current global society was developed, and the singularity of the Anthropocene can be traced back to; and even though organized, absolute religion was still an important central plank in these hierarchies and sedentary modes of expansionist control; rational, rules based organization, and the beginnings of limited democratic debate, started to refashion the ways in which power was distributed. This reorganization had consequences in terms of how tools were deployed, who used them, why they were put into action, and the ability and reach of tools to refashion the environment, for example, mining activities were expanded, rubbish mounds were organized, trade routes and new connecting towns remade valleys and affected river beds and vegetation, often without replenishment.
However, it was not until 1500 A.D. that tool-enhancement took another leap, which could be said to have had a significant effect on the creation of the Anthropocene. At this time, empires across the world began to be able to effectively communicate through improvements in long range ships and their concomitant transport technologies. The invention of printing made written instructions easier to duplicate, and modern empirical scientific methods started to establish themselves in various cultures such as in Europe and China. The result was the possibility for tool-enhancement to create the beginnings of a reproducible culture and products that could be more easily traded worldwide. This culture and world interconnectedness took another step in 1800 A.D as the conditions for factories became possible through the invention of steam powered engines, and industrialization and economics started to work in unison, creating what we now understand as the foundations for modern global capitalism. By 1900 A.D. coal powered ships, and early vehicles were available to carry an ever increasing number of products for trade worldwide, telephones and electricity were beginning to transform business and domestic life, and the pace of social change increased to accommodate these technological advances. Tools were now fully integrated into large machines and factories, cities had begun to dominate the environment and polluted whole ecosystems, warfare was fought on a previously unimaginable industrial scale. By 1970 A.D. modern computers were in use, television was commonplace, enormous, global industrial powers such as the U.S. and U.S.S.R. vied for power on the cold war world stage, massive cargo ships and large numbers of people on planes travelled around the world. Sedentary domestic life had been completely transformed by consumerism, electricity, and the world trade markets, modern medicine had helped to increase the world human population beyond 3.7 billion. Today (2017), we live in an internet and mobile phone connected world; air, car, truck, cargo shipping and train travel are pan-global, there are more than 7.5 billion human beings in the world, most desiring to be sedentary and comfortable on a planet that is thoroughly crisscrossed by trade routes, roads, electricity supply and generation systems, and ever expanding human cities, all with particular but interconnected, ecological consequences.
There are disputed claims that hominids entered the carbon cycle 1.7 million years ago when Homo Erectus learnt to control fire. The control of fire is clearly an extraordinarily powerful means to start to dominate the environment, to increase one’s chances for survival, and it has always been closely aligned with tool-enhancement, as the warmth, energy and heating properties of fire encourages tool design, the social use of tools, and a consequently increased tool engineering. Evidence that Homo Sapiens had begun to use fire as part of a nomadic lifestyle goes back at least 125,000 years. Nomadic societies were not human exceptionalists, but journeyed after food in groups, developed social codes based on shamanism and movement, and worshipped as part of the seasons and environments, in an attempt to survive, and to deal with consciousness. The extraordinary speed of the spread of Homo Sapiens during this period is testament to the ways in which tool-enhancement and use and control of fire in and as part of the carbon trail, were integrated enough to enable quick, effective movement in the environment. Conditions at this time were harsh, and it was not until the end of the last ice age, at 12,000 B.C., that the carbon trail significantly developed. By that time, in the Upper Paleolithic, Homo sapiens had colonized every continent except for Antarctica, though were not present in large numbers (less than 4 million). Permanent settlements began to develop after 12, 000 B.C., and expanded through the beginnings of agricultural practices, the central control of fire, tool-enhancement and the carbon trail functioning in unison to produce the origins of sedentary culture.
The most important question for the first two lines of flight into the singularity and black hole of the Anthropocene, is how and why did Homo Sapiens transition from nomads, who used tools and had become imbricated in the carbon trail through the control of fire; to become settled, large scale communities that began to practice agriculture, raise livestock, and developed codes and religion to regulate and control their societies. In the nomadic states, communities expended and received energy in comparable amounts, hominids lived in valleys until food ran out, or the climate became unfavorable, which led to their departures, and the consequent replenishment in the ecosystems over time. In contrast, sedentary communities stayed in the same place, sending out envoys, miners, engineers, farmers, warriors and traders to other societies, but the bulk of the population became static, therefore creating a static energy field in and around itself, that constitutes a defensive structure. Resources in sedentary society had to be replenished within this static, orbital and elliptical field; rather than being envisaged, moved to, or harnessed somewhere else, other than the initial base, and as a group. In the terms of the carbon trail, the next major development happened at approximately 3,500 B.C. At this date, there is evidence that coal had begun to be used as a fuel in China to burn in the smelting of bronze. The introduction of coal into the carbon trail is clearly a significant step on the path to the singularity of the Anthropocene, because the organized burning of resources from the Carboniferous era, constitutes an important step from the hunter and gatherer collection of recently dead wood or detrital carbon to make fire. Certainly, coal did not replace wood on any large scale as an energy source for many thousands of years, but the discovery of the increase in energy yield that coal produces, has major, cloud analysis consequences, in terms of the carbon trail and how Homo Sapiens henceforth interacted with the environment.
It was not until approximately 400 B.C. in Europe, Egypt, the Americas and Asia that technology, social organization and the centralized control of fire had developed enough to incorporate the beginnings of the importance of coal mining into the social fabric of sedentary life. At this time, tools developed to excavate, transport and deliver coal to large scale kilns, where coal could be burnt and incorporated into useful processes such as the smelting of iron, and the heating of water. In the ancient world, it is perhaps in the Roman Empire that today’s large scale burning of fossil fuel can be traced back to, because the conditions of a stable, expansionist, technologically advanced, pleasure loving society based on rational principles, produced the precise mixture for the widespread use and burning of wood and coal. The increased energy yield from the burning of wood to the burning of coal made it more likely that large scale, centrally orchestrated industrialized processes could be based around the higher energy release, and the expansion and successes of the Roman Empire were to an extent built upon on the combinations of wood, coal and iron production, and the engineering, military and trade structure this combination enabled. There is no evidence that the custodians of the Roman Empire considered the environmental effects from their carbon trail exploits, but they did produce a highly advanced, technologically sophisticated society, that properly began the march to the Anthropocene and the black hole that we see today. Even though civilizations continued to flourish all over the world in the intervening years, the next leap in the carbon trail did not occur until 1780 A.D. This is when global trade routes had been established, steam based machines had been invented, and sedentary societies were stable and developed enough to begin to fully exploit coal as a major energy source to power their systems. Thus Homo Sapiens entered into the industrial age, which we are still, arguably in today, through and by which, exponential increases in human populations around the globe have seen consistent increases in fossil fuel usage. After 1850 A.D., oil was added to coal as an energy source, though oil has many other ubiquitous uses, such as the production of plastics to make things. Since the late nineteenth century, human history could be said to be dominated by the use of fossil fuels, which has led to unequal economic development, great wealth being distributed amongst the beneficiaries of the sale and ownership of the fossil fuels supplies, and wars being fought over their exploitation and use. The recent scientific realization that the widespread burning of fossil fuels harms the environment through global warming and the release of CO₂, has to face the history of the carbon trail, and the drives which that entails, combined with tool-enhancement. These drives have been fully enmeshed in the history of modern, global, industrial society since the 1850s, and the world view that this history entails, which could be named as fossil capitalism.
The fundamental problem for the Anthropocene is not its scientific definition, or when it officially started, but how to translate the reality of the enmeshment of tool-enhancement with the carbon trail into action (see Figure 1 below). This problem touches upon and must include the imaginary aspects of the Anthropocene, which I call, after Liz Kinnamon, Jess Mach, and the SCUM manifesto by Valerie Solanas, as ‘the phallocene’. The argument here is that the millions of years that the lineages of tool-enhancement and carbon trail have been coming together has been cemented and augmented through and by the phallic imaginary. This integrated process was arguably began approximately 4000 B.C. in Egypt and Sumer, through the gradual centralization of nomadic, shamanic religions into one faith, controlled by a hierarchical priesthood, and directed at the worship of a Pharaoh or King-God. This was an incredibly difficult process, as the hunters and gatherers had been practicing their particular religions based on separate ecosystems for many hundreds of thousands of years; these animisms had been locally directed, had worshipped a range of Gods from their environments, had deployed shamans as the means to predict the future, and to help with important functions in the tribes, such as healing. Centralized religions managed by a theological bureaucracy firstly had to convince the populations of their relevance, and latterly had to replace over time the deep-seated animist beliefs in the populations with the ceremonies of Pharaoh or King directed, multi-pantheon worship. At around 900 B.C. the multi-God religions started to break down into monotheistic religions in Israel and elsewhere, as a result of the phallic directness over time of the worship towards a God-like King. Even though multi-God religions remained in place, and to this day, animism and multi-God religions such as Hinduism still importantly exist and are practiced around the world, the tendency towards one God worship, phallic monotheism, and how that relates to tool-enhancement and the carbon trail in terms of social and cultural scales, are a definite clue to understanding how we have reached the predicament of the Anthropocene as the singularity we perceive amd imagine today.
Perhaps the most important date on the material cloud analysis in terms of the phallocene is 600 A.D. Even though Christianity had begun before this date, it was with the start of Islam, in combination with Christianity, that the phallic imaginary begins in earnest, highlighted by mantras such as: ‘the father, the son, and the holy ghost’. This material cloud analysis is not anti-Christianity or anti-Islam, but seeks to understand how self-same repetitions, set up and augmented by phallic logic, and seen for example, in the inability to steer a course away from the singularity of the Anthropocene, have come to pass. We cannot go back in time and ‘unstart’ Christianity or Islam, but we can question the domination and centralization of human concerns over anything ‘un’ or non-human, and how these deep-seated prejudices have helped to create a blindness to environmental matters. The phallic logics of insertion into and exploitation of nature as an infinite resource, and not working with or reciprocally with or in nature, defines a perspective that has pushed humans forward into the black hole and event horizon of the Anthropocene. After the establishment of the great mono-theological religions of Christianity and Islam, that were transposed to most corners of the world over the next thousand years, the next deepening of the phallocene came about after 1820 A.D., and the industrial notion of work tied to economics. By this time, tool-enhancement and the carbon trail were linked to such as extent that it was possible to lock in a notion of monetary work as being entirely compatible and transposed with life. The phallic logic of the self-same is henceforth played out by work in terms of wages and payment, the working week, the organization of the family, government and companies; and all the social organization around and due to these structures, including leisure-time, travel, and in the ways in which groups interact and identity develops. After this, the development of inter-connected digital tools and their concomitant technologies such as personal computers in combination with the world wide web, and the rise of global, highly structured and capitalized corporations, and computerized manufacturing techniques, has seen the intensification of the phallocene after 1996, and a new post-work, digitally mediated definition of human life has begun to emerge. This definition, whether it concerns raising one’s profile via social media, or taking part in social, cultural and political mechanisms today, functions as offshoots of the phallocene.
As has been mentioned above, the time of the Anthropocene is a ‘dark time’, it is a black sun, because of the extinction singularity which we are being dragging us towards at the center of the black hole. However, it is also an atomic-time, because of the ways in which society has been progressively individualized and separated, and it has become especially difficult to act collectively (or, indeed, to act at all). Atomic-time exists at the same time as the phallocene has homogenized society away from hunter and gatherer, transversal nomadic behaviors, and towards, for example, the worship of one abstract male God, in a herd-like, unquestioning manner. Many of us therefore find ourselves in the contradictory position of being homogenized by the phallocene, whilst at the same time, separated and subjectivised by atomic-time. To understand this state-of-affairs of further, it is worth examining the material cloud, and line of flight with its origins at 500 B.C in Greece and India. At this time, speculative philosophers such as Democritus, imagined the universe made up of atoms. However, these hypotheses were not added to significantly until 1803 and the atomic theory of John Dalton. Dalton led a century of discovery and investigation into the atom that went alongside the development of electricity, which was increasingly harnessed and put to use in growing industrialized societies. By 1904, the existence of electrons had been theorized by the likes of J.J.Thomson, and the use of electricity was well-established. By 1922, quantum mechanics had helped to delve into the wave patterns and energy forms that move atoms, and Niels Bohr and others had come up with sophisticated models of atomic structure that were consistent with empirical observations. Albert Einstein had proposed his theory of general relativity, and empirical work into the structures of atoms and their energy releases in the 1930s led up to the first deployment of an atomic bomb in 1945.
The consequence of the first atomic detonations was to create an uneasy standoff between the major world industrial powers, which now possessed the ability to destroy the world many times over. In this atmosphere; consumerism, subjectivity, learning and change have all become compromised, as the false equilibrium of nuclear détente has pushed along the deadening effects of one world capitalism into and as a negative and false space, where any enduring reason to live otherwise has become harder to imagine, as the American novelist Kurt Vonnegut (1991) has said, as an example of how atomic-time and the phallocene working together: “Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops (p. 39).” Atomic-time is a repetitious dead-time, built upon sedentary behavior and stasis, wherein capital flows are capable of taking over subjectivity and thought, as there is nothing left to do other than watch TV, or to try and enjoy the spectacle of the universal, global standoff. Nuclear accidents such as Chernobyl, Long Island and Fukushima, can puncture the boredom and numbness of nuclear capitalism, yet the invisible nature of radiation combined with invisible release of CO₂ can make us shrug our shoulders, again, which is characteristic of the atomic-time of the phallocene, as Vonnegut (1991) has said: “How nice — to feel nothing, and to still get full credit for being alive (p. 105).”
Figure 1. The four-line matter cloud analysis leading into the singularity of the Anthropocene. From ‘Black Sun’ presentation, 20/04/2017, The New School for Social Research (New York).
The politics of the Anthropocene
What can be done? The arrangement and analysis of the four material clouds as lines of: tool-enhancement; the carbon trail; the phallocene; and atomic-time, as being funneled by the gravity of the black hole, and as being drawn together by the immense forces involved with the singularity, points to how difficult it is to steer away from such a prolonged, intrinsic and historical convergence of the human drives, and to consequently escape their extinctions and annihilations. It is the contention of this paper that most theorizations of the Anthropocene, including notions of how to deal with it, are not dark enough, and therefore misunderstand the politics of the Anthropocene; and that hope of social and collective progress in terms of moving to a better future in light of the singularity are doomed to fail, in a parallel manner to the hopes of the sexual revolution from the 1960s:
It is interesting to note that the ‘sexual revolution’ was sometimes portrayed as a communal utopia, whereas in fact it was simply another stage in the historical rise of individualism … The sexual revolution has destroyed intermediary communities, the last to separate the individual from the market. The destruction continues to this day …
Houellebecq, 2001, pp. 135-6
Politics today oscillates between those who have realized the extent of the black hole and power of the singularity of the Anthropocene; and those who have not, and who might carry on as before, as if asleep, or unable to act. Most involved with politics are to some extent deniers of the reality of the black hole, either through disbelief in Anthropogenic effects; i.e. thinking humans are exceptional, God-like, and that we are not subject to the forces of the Anthropocene, even though we have made them through our drives; or that ‘nature’ is more powerful than the singularity and 4 cloud analysis, so there is, in fact, no all engulfing Anthropogenic black hole and no singularity to worry about. Alternatively, politicians may labor in the faith that humans will rediscover a collective will, and tackle the singularity of the Anthropocene through agencies such as the United Nations or pan-governmental agreements, and combined action on climate action (which is only part of the solution). Anthropocene deniers are scientific fact deniers, and live in an ‘unworld’, believers in the ‘good eco-will’ of human nature, are idealists and utopic dreamers, and who take no account of the contrary, historical evidence of the human drives (Cole, 2013). The 4 cloud material analysis suggests that the only way forward is to go through the wormhole that is being created by the black hole, and to see what awaits us on the other side. One of the effects of going through the wormhole of the Anthropocene is to darkly accelerate to ‘post-capitalism’, which is different in kind from ‘green capitalism’, as Murray Bookchin has pointed out:
To speak of ‘limits to growth’ under a capitalistic market economy is as meaningless as to speak of limits of warfare under a warrior society. The moral pieties that are voiced … by many well-meaning environmentalists are as naive as the moral pieties of multinationals are manipulative. Capitalism can no more be ‘persuaded’ to limit growth than a human being can be ‘persuaded’ to stop breathing. Attempts to ‘green’ capitalism, to make it ‘ecological’, are doomed by the very nature of the system as a system of endless growth.
Bookchin, 1990, p.54.
The politics of the future must involve a post-capitalist landscape that works with and takes account of the drives in the 4 cloud analysis. This will only be reached once the pathway through the Anthropocenic wormhole has been navigated, and the sixth great extinction event has passed, or its extent has at least fully understood. This pathway will cause untold disruption, reorganization on every level of human life, and it is questionable whether or not we will indeed survive. Uppermost, one of the necessities for survival in and through the wormhole is the development of an entirely new politics, one that takes into account the 4 cloud analysis, and is of a profound, immanent nature, as Alberto Toscano (2009) has suggested: “… we can speak of a politics immanent to philosophy as a Kampfplatz, [or] as a battlefield …” (online). On this battlefield, the material analysis performed as 4 lines entering the singularity, helps us to realize the truth of our situation, and against the odds, to rise against this non-linear history and crescendo of ‘unworld’ building that has gone before us through the convergence in the human drives. This ‘rising’ is also a redirecting towards following the material analysis in the clouds, in feeling and thinking through and in a post-capitalist context, which includes, for example, the end of money; as Vonnegut has suggested:
Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.
Vonnegut, 1991, p. 129
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate,
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.
There they were, dignified, invisible,
Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,
In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,
And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,
And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.
There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.
So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present
Eliot, 1935, online.
Ansell-Pearson, Keith (1994). An Introduction to Nietzsche as Political Thinker: The Perfect Nihilist. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bataille, G. (1989). Theory of Religion, trans. R. Hurley. New York: Zone Books.
Bookchin, Murray (1990). Remaking Society: Pathways to a Green Future. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.
Cole, D.R. (2013). Traffic Jams: Analysing everyday life using the immanent materialism of Deleuze & Guattari. New York: Punctum Books.
Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1988). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia II, trans. B. Massumi. London: The Athlone Press.
Dreyfus, H. L. (1993). Heidegger on the Connection between Nihilism, Art, Technology and Politics. In C.B. Guigon (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger (pp. 289-336). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Eliot, TS. (1935). The Four Quartets. London: Faber & Faber, online at: http://www.coldbacon.com/poems/fq.html
Houellebecq, Michel (2001). Atomized (trans. F. Wynne), London: Vintage.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. (1967-77) Sämtliche Werke, Kritische Studienausgabe in 15 Bänden, ed. G. Colli and M. Montinari. Berlin: de Gruyter.
Nietzsche, Friedrich (1968). The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage Books).
Nietzsche, Friedrich (1979). Ecce Homo, trans. R.J. Hollingdale. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
Toscano, A. (2009). Against Speculation, or, a Critique of the Critique of Critique. Online article at: https://cengizerdem.wordpress.com/2009/09/30/alberto-toscano-against-speculation-or-a-critique-of-the-critique-of-critique/
Vonnegut, K. (1991). Slaughterhouse 5, Or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-dance with Death. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group.
David R. Cole was born in Ilford, Essex.
He received various degrees of philosophical education at the Universities of Liverpool, Bath and Warwick.
Writes about educational and philosophical matters from a non-normative, non-reductive perspective.
Wonders why anybody would want to be told what to do.
Will never write a 'how-to' book.
Keeps asking difficult questions.
Spent a nefarious period of his life organising free parties in the UK.
Was supervised by the Warwick Mephistopheles, Nick Land (a very long time ago!).
More info: http://uws.academia.edu/DavidRCole
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