This book was a lot to take in, as Bruckner systematically dissects forms of power and their faults in relation to our overall treatment of the environment, ultimately placing the existing dominant form, neoliberalism and its associated policies, as the ultimate demise. In this way, he draws parallels among opposing ideologies, communism and Christianity, to a term he refers to as ecologism.
The arguments go further, in examining how forms of power have the ability to disseminate a mindset or feeling, in turn exposing this western fixation on catastrophe, and the ways in which it’s presented through the media. These ideas place society as a cog in the machine, part of an increasingly interconnected world, the results of which force us to confront our actions, as their repercussions reach further and further away from our “own little lives”, as Bruckner continually refers to them as. (No doubt attempting to mitigate our perceived importance)
Above all, Bruckner really conveys this sense of impending doom, arousing fear, something which he explains can take two forms: “a salutary one that mobilizes us, and the deleterious one that weakens us” (45). Honestly I felt myself shift from the former to the latter on multiple occasions, and I think part of this reaction is due to what Bruckner explains in saying “the enormity of the diagnosis, the absurd inadequacy of the remedies” (32). What good does recycling do when we’re told just a few pages previous that the general consensus among oncologists and toxicologists is that by 2060 there will be a “generalized sterility of male sperm” (18)? We are headed for disaster, and Bruckner scathingly proves that in examining how things are, causing the reader to defend this postmodern status quo.
- political philosophy that emphasizes liberty and equality: freedom of speech, religious freedom, free market, civil rights, democratic society, international cooperation
- stems from Enlightenment, French and American revolution (18th c.)
- Economic liberalism: Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, 1776
- free competition without restrictions
- 1980’s: Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (mentioned on p. 10)
- Rule of the Market
- privatization, means less regulation
- “individual responsibility” vs. “the public good”
- Rule of the Market
Bruckner places much of the blame on the way that the world operates in a political/economic schema, much of which has been facilitated through neoliberal policy. The ideology reflects the deregulation of companies and privatization, a method that has allowed the rich to get richer, amassing wealth from the middle class as they slowly go bankrupt. Moreover, it emphasizes individual responsibility rather than the public good, placing less hands responsible for the plight of the Earth.
“daily exercise of our powers, which makes the routine of modern civilization possible and which we all depend on, becomes an ethical problem” (28)
Bruckner is aiming this assertion directly at westerners, in that our whole society is simply not moral in terms of the obsessive materialism that has resulted in production across the globe. Not only does it cause detriment to the Earth, but also for people, a further effect of neoliberal ideology: multinational, private corporations gaining increasing autonomy and control over state power.
“colonized peoples – [are] gradually replaced by the Planet, which has become the paragon of all the wretched. The absolute outcast” (16)
I find issue with this argument, but I suppose from his perspective, or at the least the point he seems to be making, which is that humans are parasitic and shouldn’t exist altogether, it softens the blow. On some level though, I still find it blatantly rude to ignore major sources of trauma among humans that still operate today, especially in light of globalization — easily considered modern day cultural imperialism.
Bruckner challenges the idea of individual responsibility in light of globalization, in that every one of our actions has a ripple effect that extends far past our personal spheres. As communication expands, so does the brevity of our impact, to the point where we don’t fully understand the consequences of our actions, lending to this attitude of passivity. If anything, I think Bruckner is really challenging the idea of individual responsibility (a mainstay of the modern), as fixing the planet can only be achieved through collective action.
Man vs. Nature
“the earth has been partly devastated, but we have in no way tamed it” (76)
Bruckner presents the idea that the more technology we generate, the paths of communication subsequently expand. The paradox is in the fact that “space is expanding and our means of transportation are re-creating the distance that they were supposed to abolish” (23). In these efforts, we’ve caused mass detriment to the earth, but as he aptly points out, we’ve in no way tamed it – reinforcing the notion that humans lie in direct odds to nature. He furthers the sentiment though, marking our efforts towards modernization on a global scale as in vain and near sighted.
“There are only two solutions: either capitalism dies, or Mother Earth dies” (14)
This quote furthers that idea, citing an economic construct that reflects the human desire for greed at direct odds with the environment. Placing an aspect of human nature at odds with the Earth ultimately places humans at odds, not just their technology or innovations, as argued in our previous books. Bruckner really brings this home in saying that catastrophe was bound to happen “as soon as primitive humans invented the first tools and moved away from Being” (42). In essence he’s saying that the first steps towards humanity were also the first towards catastrophe.
Fear as Political Tool
“fear is injected by the repetition of the same themes, and it becomes a narcotic we can no longer do without” (29,30)
“when you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn’t really have any effect”, Andy Warhol
“the more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away”, Andy Warhol
This idea reminds me a lot of Andy Warhol’s comments and works aimed at calling out consumers on their fixation on the media, and its effect. We’re aware of catastrophe that happens all over the world, somehow crossing our experience with that of trauma. Bruckner argues that it “reminds us of the fragility of our own well being”, but I think it has the opposite effect. Though what we see on the news is contemporaneous, the screen from which we view such trauma serves to accentuate the divide. As we are accustomed, or as Bruckner would argue, fixated on catastrophe, it is presented to us in various capacities, both real and not real, all via the same device.
“Man is a cancer on the Earth […] a throwaway species, like the civilization he invented” (13)
“human beings behave like cancerous metastases, proliferating at the expense of the whole” (15)
I find this idea of comparing the mass movement among humans to metastasis really interesting, as it traces our movements to that of a parasite.
- On page 42, Bruckner discusses various opinions as to when our downfall began. Among these is the “manipulation of the atom and DNA, ‘two boundaries that man ought not have crossed.'” To me, this is the most philosophical answer, as it addresses the question of whether or not we should be able to manipulate our own species, advancing the argument towards more ethical grounds. Do you agree with this sentiment?
“That is why … peaceful industrial enterprises have become as destructive as world wars: they reawaken the unhealthy dream of being a god” (73)
I agree with Buckner in that humans are experiencing a good dose of hubris, but does it really apply to all humans or do you think that perspective is tied up in a western construct that deems itself inherently superior?
3. Bruckner continually comments on this need to commodify catastrophe, drawing a comparison with the associated guilt and potential events to the moral grounds of the Christian church — putting a postmodern backdrop to an age old ethical dilemma. With that, do you think that this desire to predict our demise is inherent to human nature?