From chapter "The Sociopocene"
Today I read an Op-Ed in The New York Times entitled “Building an Ark for the Sociopocene.” No, I lied. It was entitled “Building an Ark for the Anthropocene.” But can’t you imagine how the article might have read were it accurately titled?
The article begins, “We are barreling into the Anthropocene, the sixth mass extinction in the history of the planet. A recent study published in the journal Science concluded that the world’s species are disappearing as much as 1,000 times faster than the rate at which species naturally go extinct. It’s a one-two punch—on top of the ecosystems we’ve broken, extreme weather from a changing climate causes even more damage. By 2100, researchers say, one-third to one-half of all Earth’s species could be wiped out. As a result, efforts to protect species are ramping up as governments, scientists and nonprofit organizations try to build a modern version of Noah’s Ark. The new ark certainly won’t come in the form of a large boat, or even always a place set aside. Instead it is a patchwork quilt of approaches, including assisted migration, seed banks and new preserves and travel corridors based on where species are likely to migrate as seas rise or food sources die out. The questions are complex. What species do you save? The ones most at risk? Charismatic animals, such as lions or bears or elephants? The ones most likely to survive? The species that hold the most value for us?”
The article goes on to describe some of the efforts, which are of course desperately important, and some of the ways different people and organizations can make these difficult decisions. There’s a part of me that is happy that the corporate news is taking time out of its busy schedule to mention the murder of the planet. After all, these 1,200 words could have been used to cover other topics, like someone’s folksy reminiscences of gummi bears, or someone else’s analysis of how “Ladyfag is the rave of the future,” or the extremely important information that the stock market dropped sharply today over fears that the economy isn’t growing fast enough.Such is the poverty of our discourse that mere mention of the biggest problem the world has ever faced can be enough to make me, well, happy isn’t the right word. . . . Perhaps grateful, like a starving dog thrown the tiniest crust of bread.
Not surprisingly, though, my response is mixed. My first problem is that this is precisely where this culture has been headed since its beginnings: it has always wanted to play God and decide who lives and who dies. That’s a central point of human supremacism. How do we know we’re superior? Because we’re the ones who are deciding. We’re the ones who do to, as opposed to everyone else, to whom it is done. We’re the subjects. They’re the objects. From the beginning members of this culture have wanted to be God. That is, they’ve wanted to be the God they created in their own image. That is, the God created in the image of how they wanted to be—omnipotent and omniscient—and in the image of how they themselves actually were: jealous, angry, abusive, vengeful, patriarchal. It pleases the supremacists to no end to pick up the civilized man’s burden and pretend they’re being merciful in deciding which of their lessers to exterminate, and which to save. For now.
But there’s a much bigger problem than this. Did you notice who is on the chopping block, and what is not? Did you see it?
What is missing is any mention of technics, technologies, luxuries, comforts, elegancies. Sure, we’re supposed to choose whether to extirpate or save Bulmer’s fruit bats or Sumatran Rhinos, wild yams or hula painted frogs (with the default always being extirpate, of course); and we’re supposed to make careful delineations of how we choose who is exterminated, and who lives (at least until tomorrow, when we all know there’ll be another round of exterminations, complete with another round of wringing our hands over how difficult these decisions are, and another round of heartbreak; and then another round, and another, until there is nothing and no one left); but just as the Japanese energy minister said that no one “could imagine life without electricity,” so, too, entirely disallowed is any discussion of what technologies should be kept and what should be caused to go extinct. There’s no discussion of extirpating iPads, iPhones, computer technologies, retractable stadium roofs, insecticides, GMOs, the Internet (hell, Internet pornography), off-road vehicles, nuclear weapons, predator drones, industrial agriculture, industrial electricity, industrial production, the benefits of imperialism (human, American, or otherwise).
Not one of them is mentioned. Never. Not once.
Why? Because we are God and God never relinquishes power. We are omniscient and omnipotent, and we are the top of the pyramid. We are the champions, and we can and will do whatever the fuck we want.
None of these are mentioned because none of the benefits of our dismantling of the planet can be seriously questioned.