Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Mussolini: Parables For Today

By William E. Connolly

Author, Resounding Events: Adventures of an Academic from the Working Class

M. by Antonio Scurati, translated into English in 2021, is a long novelesque account of the rise of Mussolini. The 773 page text is divided into a series of three or four page sharp novelistic accounts of this or that event, each followed by quotations from the key figures of the moment. 

Some critics treat the style of the text as a danger itself, fearing it might attract people to new fascist movements.  I treat that danger as real but minor by comparison to how it teaches critics of fascism how such a movement works, how it can alert those who are too casual about those dangers, how its attractions speak to real contingencies of today, and what might be done to avoid the mistakes liberals and others made about Mussolini in his own day. It challenges casualism. Organized in its episodic way, the text highlights numerous contingencies that might have broken this or that way. Sometimes a contingency breaks against M; sometimes for him; sometimes he helps to nudge it in his favor. M is thus not the master mind of a victiorious march to Rome that was inevitable; he is the mercurial leader of a movement who senses how to withdraw at one moment, dissemble at others, and strike at yet others. The text rounds out key figures such as Mussolini, who starts as a young leader of Socialism; Italo Balbo, who becomes the smiling, ruthless leader of the violent squadrista; Gabriele D’Annunzio, the foremost poet of Italy who supports Italian takeover of Fiume-a city in Croatia; Giacoma Matteoti, the socialist member of parliament who opposed Mussolini long after liberals, the Vatican, and industrialists had given up; Benedettoo Croce, the liberal who first opposes M’s advance and then concludes it may not be all that bad; Margherita Sarfatti, the upper class artist and long term mistress of M; Pareto, the renowned theorist of elite rule and secret counselor to Mussolini; and many others too numerous to be covered in this review. 

It is unwise to look for parallels or equivalences between the time of Mussolini and today. But if you read this brilliant text as a long series of parables, numerous resonances and affinities between then and now may become discernible.  Resonances that may allow antifascists better to understand the convolutions through which Mussolini came to power. A parable, as Jesus and Zarathustra knew, is a vague saying or short story too brief and circumspect from which to draw specific conclusions for other times, but juicy and urgent enough to trigger insights, warnings, and prompts from which tnew responses can be mined. Parables travel across time. They make you think. This set offers insights that might speak, for starters, to the later regimes of Hitler, Bolsanaro, Putin,  Orban, and Trump. Insights that might strengthen the backbones of those who want to think the danger of Trumpism faded or died after his electoral defeat in 2020.   Here I mostly stick to the parables themselves. Except when I cannot stop from doing otherwise.

M begins his long trek to power as a radical socialist after WWI, during a period of inflation and stress marked by the return of soldiers to a country not ready to assimilate them. Mussolini is a defender of the returning veterans in 1919 who also becomes the editor of Avanti, the leading socialist journal. He supports the quest for a General Strike to bring socialism to Europe. He also stresses the spiritual unity of a nation in the making and the need for an authoritarian leader to transfigure the surging nation into a state. He and Nicola Bombacci thus soon break, partly over the issue of authoritarianism and partly over the former’s view that timely violence is the key to gaining power.

Why do many Leftists eventually slide or run to the right while others, like Bombacci and Matteoti, remain on the Left? I suspect a virulent drive to dogmatism, violence and/or authoritarianism—either to one or all of them--often makes the difference. The right more often welcomes these things. And it has resources to offer financial and other protections. So as you face more and more opposition within the Left, you slip and slide away from it while retaining your dogmatism. This is, of course, not a law, merely a tendency, one that may chafe against other tendencies.  It is, above all, not to say that liberalism—poised as it is between Left and Right—is always the answer. Liberals, having allowed the reliability of electoral institutions to sink so deeply into their pores, too often minimize or shy away from dangers emanating from the right. They misconstrue the powers of dissembling and street violence coming at timely moments from the right sources. And they too often ignore real grievances of the working class that can open that class to the promises of fascism. And, as a recent NYT obituary on for Midge Decter shows, many liberals with authoritarian streaks eventually rumble to the right.

Mussolini, the great speaker and dissembler, propels fascist violence when his new movement is small, and he often denies he is doing so.  Fascist humor becomes the  trademark of the charismatic speaker, a humor in which vague, dark threats underwrite lighthearted denials. During a different time, for instance, he might have told the Proud Boys to stand down and stand by. In October of 1919 M writes to D”Annuzio, “”The elections are a magnificent pretext for shrill, filthy, socialist opportunism. For us, they are a means of rallying and camaflouge. We are organizing squads of twenty men each, armed and in a kind of uniform, both to demand our freedom of speech, as well as for other events…” (p.106) Pelting adversaries with a filthy vocabulary of maggots, cowardice, and vermin is a tactic M  never relinquishes. Those terms often serve as a prelude or postlude to violence, for vermin by definition are to be wasted.

By 1920, according to Scurati, “All the liberal and consevative parties  were finally coalescing into a national bloc against the socialists.., but the fascists would still be left out. Circumstances would show that they had to assert themselves through shootings, fires, destruction. Let the others grow old in the voting booth…Fascism wasn’t an assembly of voters but an order of fighters” (223). The socialists won the election that year. But the forces of anti-socialism were very strong institutionaly, particularly among industrialists, landowners, the Vatican, the fearful middle class, and rural peasants. The task of fascism is to accentuate those fears and to attack the purveyors. The police and the carbonniere are sympathetic, providing space and cover for violences the fasci enact. 

By 1920 fascism is spreading like “an epidemic”. People are suffering. The fascist ensemble of daggers, clenched fists, words as punches, guns, fires, night time attacks, fast cars, hot women, and charismatic denials becomes a tempting stew to innumerable outcasts. Sex and violence become intercoded, as expressed in the violent rapes that accompany each attack. And the famed, ruthless sexual adventurism of M, says Scurati, exudes an “erotic fury.” (272) An ugly masculinism is one of the attractions of fascism for those who relentlessly demand primacy and have been thwarted too often. 

M knows by this time that socialists occasionally call for violence. But violence does not sink as deeply into their DNA. In violent contests between fascists and socialist, the fascists will thus prevail; their numbers will grow in the countryside as they do, even if the cities at first resist. By 1921 “everyone is rushing in: big and small Landownrs, share croppers, shopkeepers, tenants.” (286) Industriallists have already begun to collude. They fear  and detest socialism and Bolshevism, while they at most merely dislike fascists. The former would take away private property, hope for big profits, entrepreneurial liberty.  M pursues an industrialism with high profits grafted onto the fascist spirituality of a nation. Neither socialist nor classical liberal, he the image of an industrial nation serves as a counter to both. In early 1921 M announces in Il Popolo d’Italia-- the defining journal of fascism of which he is is the editor—"the assembly in Bologna celebrates a year of fascist battles. It is the consecration of victory…Fascism is rampant because it carries within it the seeds of life, not those of dissolution. It is a movement that cannot fail.” (348) Violent purges, tethered to the promise of new national unity. 

Italo Balbo is the organizer of the squadrista, a melange of free wheeling fascist thugs and killers, eager to club and beat socialists and anybody else who disagrees with them. The members of this militia often arrive from the military or police forces. Balbo smiles a lot, conveying to his militia a sense of joy in combat and in killing scum. The killing is for the cause. It also exceeds it: it wreaks Vengeance for a lot in life its warriors did not choose.

That is why the dagger is such a potent symbol and weapon of fascists. It plunges into the enemy in an act of sexual violence, drawing blood. You clean off your dagger or wipe off your penis and walk away.


In 1921 Balbo’s force occupies the town of Pontelagorscuro; it “sets fire to the Chamber of Labor and forces the socialists to kiss the corpses’s hands”. Then they attack another village in Ferrara, soon obliterating several Socialist Leagues. Liberals, industrialists, and the Vatican do not like the violence, but they do like defeat of the socialists. They thus tolerate, and soon come tacitly to support, the fascist  violence they condemn in principle.  Often they can find a pretext to underplay the tenacity of the violence. It is for a good cause. Balbo creates a recipe that combines vicious violence with absolute disgrace of the socialists. Disgrace as a key weapon of combat.  “You seize a diehard socialist, ram a funnel down his throat, and force him to drink a quart of laxative. Then you tie him to the hood a car and drive him throuigh town while he farts and toots and shoots himself…Impossible not to laugh.” (359) Humiliation brings authority to the humiliators.

Fascist humor is a humor of contempt, disgrace, and humiliation, attached to memories and promises of violence. Violence and humiliation work back and forth upon each other, softening critiques of violence through the vicarious memories of disgrace in some, the love of disgracing opponents in others, and a visceral  fear of humiliation in yet others. The agents of disgrace, of course, feel most avenged when they humiliate those of decency and nobility. Such attacks lift their spirits, dragging those who previously ignored them into the muck. M both urgently needs Balbo and tries to rein in him from to time. Finally Balbo is given control of the squadrista when they are later mobilized to become an official force inside the Italian army itself. Hitler learns from this. 

At a strategic moment in 1922, Vilfredo Pareto, the famous theorist of elite rule, writes privately to M that the time to attack is now or never. He had publicly kept a thin veneer of distance between himself and M. But a series of contingencies have now temporarily broken in a fascist direction. Socialists are discouraged because of failure of their general strike. Industrialists and landowners need the violence of fascists against socialists and Bolsheviks to counter their electoral power. Liberals are demoralized as they preside over a gridlocked parliament. The king is tired. Luigi Facta, an old moderate nostalgic for a rural life, is on the verge of resigning as prime ministar. And Benedetto Croce, the prominent liberal theorist, now assures everyone that there is no need to exaggerate the effects of a fascist takeover. The institutions will tame them.

M prepares a march on Rome while vociferously denying in public that he is doing so, making one think today of  Putin’s “routine military exercises” on the border of Ukraine. The march is launched, a ragtag group of armed enthusiasts heading to Rome. At an untimely moment Luigi Facta tenders his resignation. And the king is neutralized. The armed squadrista enter the city. The army does not confront them. No one has ordered them to do so. If the order had been made, the militia would almost certainly have been defeated. The king now invites M to organize a new government. Scurati: “Had the prime minister resigned even 24 hours earlier, it would have enabled the country to have a government capable of confronting the fascist aggression.” (521) A fateful contingency of timing amid gridlock. The untimely death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg fits that description too.

Croce is not too worried, thinking the new prime minister will organize a fairly balanced cabinet. He reminds one of those pundits on “Morning Joe”, who first said Trump could not win in 2016 and then called upon liberals to give him a chance to assimilate to liberal institutions after he did. Doubly wrong. Always a step behind the eight ball. Instead, M forces a new electoral system through parliament, assuring a majority for him in the next election. Violence becomes extensive in the provinces. Matteoti, a former landowner turned socialist, now becomes a lonely voice in  parliament to document innumerable fascist violences. Other antifascists are too cowed. One day he disappears. A major public crisis erupts, until M promises to hunt for the culprits and to work relentlessly to create a beautiful fascist nation out of disorder and gridlock.  He is confident the people now favor order and rule over liberty. Here is what a ten year old, the only one who witnessed the abduction said: “I was playing with my friends. Close by was a car…Five men got out and started walking up and down. All of a sudden I saw Matteoti come out. One of the men went over to him and punched him hard, knocking him to the ground. Then the other four came over…So we could see that Matteoti was struggling. Then they picked him up by the head and feet and carried him to the car. We didn’t see anything else after that.” (705) His shallow grave was discovered much later, with his head bashed in.

Read the whole book front to back as you also track daily news items in America, Europe, South America and elsewhere about, for instance, militia violences, the Presidential insurrection against the state on January 6, the large number of former police officers, militia members, and war veterans who participated in it, the Republican legislators who embraced it, urban police street killings of Blacks, right wing refusals to obey subpoenas issued by the January 6 commission, grievances of the white working class that liberals try to ignore, Trumpian speeches that define his adversaries to be traitors, scum, and enemies of the people, desultory delays in bringing charges against high ranking insurrectionists by Attorney General Garland, systematic Republican Party suppression of Black and poor voters, surging inflation, the Big Lie about a stolen election reverberating with the base, Republican norm breaking to produce a right wing Supreme Court, extreme anti-abortion language of a new court decision that also forebodes rollbacks in other areas, insistent denials of climate change amid a growing climate crisis, white evangelical racist intensities and neoliberal collusions, Elon Musk’s takeover of twitter, and Trumpist plans to win and rule more resolutely the next time. Either the Donald himself or one of his acolytes. 

There is no star that guarantees the fascist movement will win the next time.  There are always unexpected contingencies, each posing new questions about how each side responds to it. There is no insitutional star that guarantees this movement will fail either. It is a gathering storm. You can start by refusing to call its leaders “populists”. M offers a series of parables for our time.

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Thursday, January 6, 2022

January 6: Giving Insurrection a Bad Name

Steven Johnston is Neal A. Maxwell Chair in Political Theory, Public Policy, and Public Service, University of Utah and is the author of, most recently, Wonder and Cruelty: Ontological War in 'It's a Wonderful Life' and Lincoln: The Ambiguous Icon.

Democracy in America may be dead. Yes, it continues to show signs of life (some competitive elections continue, for now anyway), but this does not mean that it has not been effectively killed (already). One party and one party alone—the Republican Party—in this country believes it has the sole right to rule. Anything done to prevent Democrats from governing is thus, by definition, permissible. Since democracy cannot reliably deliver the results Republicans desire, they are prepared to dispense with it.

There are some who recognize, at least to some extent, the danger American democracy faces, but most of them are incapable of considering, let alone doing, what might be necessary to save it from its domestic enemies. And make no mistake, America is beset by enemies of democracy. This is not a question of demonizing opponents. It is a matter of recognizing them—and their agenda—for what they are. This combination makes the threat to democracy twofold: its enemies will gladly destroy it; its friends will sit by and watch it happen, paralyzed by (liberal procedural) formalities.
Former President Donald Trump is the generalissimo of the American campaign to subvert American democracy. His credentials are impeccable. Trump weathered conspiring with Russia to steal the 2016 presidential election and then successfully covered it up by obstructing the official investigation into it. The Muller probe provided Trump and his treason, in the end, with an official pass. Trump tried to enlist a foreign power to subvert the 2020 election and then did his best to cover it up, too. The subsequent impeachment process, thanks to Republicans, gave him a second pass. Trump (then) orchestrated a failed coup attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election he lost, the most legitimate national contest in American history. The impeachment process, again thanks to Republicans, gave him a third pass for his treasonous conduct.

The failed efforts to hold Trump accountable no doubt emboldened him and the Republican Party, both at the national and state levels. Though they have not yet eradicated it, they are working diligently, tirelessly, relentlessly to render American democracy’s meaningful exercise null and void. (This meaningful exercise revolves around the acceptance of political defeat and the peaceful transfer of power.) They do so not just to ensure that Trump, the purveyor and beneficiary of a cult of personality, will be returned to the White House in 2024 regardless of how the nation votes. They do so in service to a radical right-wing, anti-democratic ideology that is rooted in, among other things, white supremacy, white Christian minority rule, neoliberal capitalism, an extraction-based economy, indifference to catastrophic environmental crises, the elimination of workers’ rights, a war on scientific (and other forms of) expertise,  the worship of guns, a celebration of violence, contempt for opposition of any kind, antagonism to government and the common good, unthinking patriotism, toxic masculinity, and the control of women’s bodies: in short, the ugliest version of American exceptionalism.
Trump and his Republican minions wage their fascist campaign not behind the scenes with stealth maneuvers designed to keep the public in the dark, but out in the open for everyone to witness. Pace The Washington Post, democracy does not die in darkness. Their machinations, featuring various schemes to overturn adverse electoral results in the next presidential election, are meeting with little, if any, opposition. This means that what failed in 2020 could well succeed the next time around.

Meanwhile, many of the foot soldiers who participated in the January 6 insurrection are now receiving harsh sentences for their involvement in the violent coup to keep Trump in power. The claim that they were operating on his orders and doing his bidding has not protected them from serious jail time. Rightly so, but the man who has done (and continues to do) so much damage to American democracy pursues his campaign to destroy American democracy unhindered. The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, which includes Liz Cheney, has made it clear that Trump committed crimes on January 6. He could thus find himself in legal jeopardy, however improbable that seems given the cowardice of the current Attorney General, who would be highly unlikely to make even a preliminary investigative move against Trump for the crime of treason absent pressure from a mass mobilization. For one thing, Garland would not have Biden’s backing. Biden, after all, said nothing when it was recently revealed that Trump went to the first debate having tested positive for Covid-19, a reckless act that could be construed as an assassination attempt of a would-be president.
 Trump’s January 6 crimes are specified in federal law (18 U.S.C. 1852 and 18 U.S.C. 2383): 1) “Whoever corruptly…obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.” Official proceedings include “a proceeding before the Congress”; 2) “Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.” Not all official proceedings are alike, of course, but Congressional ratification of the official transfer of power following a free and fair election for president is the first among equals, and its subversion tantamount to rebellion or insurrection.
Trump’s guilt is beyond reasonable doubt. He summoned and demanded that his myrmidons “stop the steal,” and the only way to stop the so-called steal was to stop the procedure confirming Biden’s presidential election victory on January 6. Since Mike Pence declined to participate, there were no options other than mob violence to implement Trump’s will to power. The mob did not disappoint him (lynching Nancy Pelosi would have been a bonus for Trump’s marauders), and Trump refused to call them off when  they stormed the Capitol.

At long last, what is to be done with Trump? Admittedly, no law, given its generality, is likely to fit perfectly all the cases it might cover. The laws applicable to Congress’ official proceeding on January 6 imagine fines and imprisonment as adequate responses (with rebellion or insurrection actually carrying lesser penalties). Yet Trump’s continual crimes against American democracy could be considered capital in character. After all, they entail the destruction of a people’s free way of life and the instantiation of permanent one-party domination. This country was founded on a violent rejection of tyranny (at least on one side but with the sanctification of slavery on the other.) Trump and the Republican Party want to resurrect tyranny and re-sanctify white triumphalism. It could be argued that Trump should have been dealt with years ago and the nation’s failure to protect itself from him (especially given his hold over the Republican Party, which is birthing more and more Trumps) reveals a country incapable of defending itself. Ultimately, it seems America’s democratic defenders would sooner sit by and watch their democracy destroyed than destroy, by whatever means contemporary politics might indicate and republican history might dictate, those who would destroy it.

What this means is that January 6, 2021, embodies a dress rehearsal for 2024. It was rightly condemned because Trump lost the election. The election was not in fact stolen. No amount of insistence to the contrary can alter this fact. No amount of fabricated evidence can alter this fact. The Big Lie may succeed, but this cannot make it true. Truth, however, can also be irrelevant. Lies can create their own reality. Trump may not be Hitler, but he is a pupil. The Big Lie thus may lead to an illegitimately overturned election in 2024. If so, what will democratic forces do then? Are they prepared to disrupt Republican-controlled statehouses hellbent on naming their own slates of electors to the Electoral College? Are they prepared to prevent a Republican-controlled Congress from installing as president someone who did not legitimately win the office? If so, how exactly? The John Roberts Supreme Court will be a partner in its crime. These are not fantastical scenarios. Republicans across the country are arranging them as I write. It’s one thing to condemn January 6 as a failed coup. It’s another thing to fail to prepare to take action to prevent a Republican-dominated Congress from initiating or ratifying a real coup that might take place on a future January 6. In other words, there’s potential danger in letting January 6, 2021, give insurrection a bad name. More than likely, it’s going to take democratic bodies bravely putting themselves in harm’s way in and around both state and national legislatures to save American democracy from its self-declared enemies, for those who falsely shouted “stop the steal” in 2020 and 2021 are now conspiring to execute the greatest heist in American political history. Get ready to Occupy the 2024 Election. 

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Saturday, December 4, 2021

Race and the Anthropocene: planetary circuits of imperial power

William E. Connollyauthor, Resounding Events: adventures of an academic from the working class (forthcoming, March, 2022); Facing the Planetary: Entangled Humanism and the Politics of Swarming (2017.)

In my early work on race, I focused, along with numerous others, on ideological and social power dynamics that create degradation for Blacks and Amerindians in America. The thesis today--again in the company of others--complicates and extends such state, global and postcolonial analyses. The suggestion: you cannot dig far into global issues of race and imperialism without addressing the phenomenon recently known as the Anthropocene. As a corollary, you can’t trace the ecological course and differential consequences of the vast accumulation of carbon emission triggers generated by Euro-American states without exploring how diverse planetary amplifiers carry the most immediate and devastating consequences to regions predominately populated by people of color. Now global, and state examinations of race become entangled with the planetary; it consists of multiple nonhuman processes such as ocean currents, glacier flows, trade winds, El Ninos, volcanic eruptions, monsoon interruptions, and shifting drought zones.

One or two examples. The entire continent of Africa has released only about 4% of the world’s cumulative C02 emissions over the last 200 years. The United States alone--not a continent--has released 25%. But several zones of the African continent suffer a highly disproportionate share of the adverse consequences of these emissions, including drought, famine, wars, pressures to migrate, and so forth. Expanding and intensifying drought in north Africa and the rapid melting of mountain glaciers, particularly Mts Kilmanjaro and Kenya, are crucial instances.

Indeed, the disproportion between sources of emissions from temperate capitalist states and the distribution of effects across zones in the pacific islands, the Arctic, Africa, India and parts of Latin America are crucial.
When you explore planetary patterns that carry consequences from here to there, the picture becomes clear. Here is one example: the intensification of pacific El-Ninos during the Anthropocene curtails the strength and absorptive capacity of seasonal trade winds blowing east (the exact mechanisms are still a little hazy). During the Medieval Warming Period (900 to 1300), the result was interruption of monsoon seasons that created severe drought and famines in the Sahara, the horn of Africa, India, and parts of China. From 1897 to 1899 the same cascade of forces interrupted seasonal monsoons again, with the British Empire then neglecting the famine and strife spawned in India.

Mike Davis in Victorian Holocausts (2000) has exposed in detail the extent of the carnage. His work even stretches beyond the sociocentrism of so much of social theory of that day--and this day--to explore the planetary dynamics by which these effects were distributed. Sociocentrism--the stubborn insistence to pretend that only social factors explain social changes--is incapable of coming to terms with a key nonhuman relays in these shifts. It ignores the planetary circuits of imperial imposition. Planetary circuits are not in the first instance intentional modes of power; but as imperial powers learn about them and refuse to take corrective action they become intentional. Hence the scourges of climate denialism and casualism in imperial states.

The world is on course to repeat those earlier seasonal monsoon interruptions again, with peoples of color targeted today by the national, global and planetary entanglements much more densely populated than heretofore. The resulting civil wars, famine, and migration drives could also foster renewed fascist drives in several Euro-American states. With the latter, of course, carrying severe consequences for race, class, gender, sexual diversity, and democracy within temperate zone regimes. You might think of the processes in question as a series of cascading human and nohuman causalities, where the bumpy flows scramble the sociocentrism that still prevails in too much of social theory. A variety of theorists such as Dipesh Chakrabarty, Kathryn Yussoff, Brian Fagan, Anna Tsing, and Donna Haraway are exploring these issues. At Hopkins theorists such as P.J. Brendese, Bentley Allan, Dan Deudney, Jane Bennett, Naveeda Khan and I have been involved, probably others too.
    The favorite response to the Anthropocene of those techno-neoliberals who do admit that there is an issue is to seed millions of particles in the sky to block the most damaging rays coming in. That "solution" allows offending states to retain the systems of production and consumption now in place. But it, in all likelihood, will produce a permanent white sky over regimes in the north and block monsoons over Africa and India.

Moving to Gulf nations and the United States, some authors study the little ice age, with one of its probable sources in the slowing of the ocean conveyor and its severe impact on First Peoples and the European invaders of North America. And today, it is obvious that more intense and long-lasting hurricanes assault Caribbean states brutally, as well as southern cities in the United states populated significantly by people of color. Again, they exert devastating effects upon the very populaces who leave a small carbon imprint on the earth.
    If you turn to accelerating polar glacier melts--each marked by nonhuman amplifiers of several sorts such as the reduced albedo rate of melted ice, algae growth on surface water, and the flow of water down moulins to grease glacier flows--the immediate effects are significant for native American populations in the north and pacific islanders who, once again, both make hardly any contribution to global C02 and methane accumulations.

These planetary circuits become entangled with global power dynamics. To articulate one ironic example, today, in the midst of sporadic attempts by temperate capitalist states to create more electric vehicles to reduce carbon emissions, cobalt has become an extremely valuable metal for the millions of batteries needed to power electric vehicles. Much of the cobalt is concentrated in the Congo, where the United States once controlled many of the mines and China dominates them today. The expansion of cobalt mining has uprooted locals there, as the land underneath their houses gives way. And the dangers to workers grow by the month.

I am pleased to say that several former students in theory from Hopkins now make significant contributions to the study of intersections between vast carbon releases of temperate, capitalist states, the planetary dynamics that distribute them cross-regionally, the power dynamics that further concentrate racial modes of suffering, and the fascist dangers the whole dynamic poses within temperate states. All of these intellectuals have outgrown the assumptions of sociocentrism and planetary gradualism that previously hindered such work. As intellectuals, they follow the course of a problem where it takes them, even when it means exploring bumpy intersections between capitalism, race, empire, and nonhuman planetary processes. Besides those mentioned earlier I note in this regard former theory students from Hopkins sprinkled around the world such as Dorothy Kwek, Anatoli Ignatov, Adam Culver, Jishnu Guha-Majumdar, Stephanie Erev, Franziska Strack, Cara New Daggett, Jairus Grove, Chad Shomura, Lars Tonder, Derek Denman, Kellan Anfinson, and Nobutaka Otobe, with others to be heard from soon who are now completing their dissertation research.
    A group of Australian earth scientists recently published a report announcing that nine of the fifteen climate planetary tipping points have now been crossed. A tipping point, as you know, speeds up and intensifies the cascade of causalities that preceded it, breaking with classical conceptions of individuated causality. An accelerated cascade in turn, upon settling into a new equilibrium, is not typically reversed for centuries.

Today, then, you can’t proceed far in studying the bumpy dynamics of the Anthropocene without addressing the dynamics of capital, race and empire with which it is entangled; you can’t proceed far in studying global racial dynamics without addressing the asymmetrical planetary event recently known as the Anthropocene.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Dipesh Chakrabarty, the Global, and the Planetary

William E. Connolly, author of
Facing the Planetary and of Climate Machines, Fascist Drives, and Truth
The Climate of History in a Planetary Age, by Dipesh Chakrabarty, is in my judgment the most compelling and encompassing book by a humanist on the complexities and asymmetries of the Anthropocene to date. Let me start by listing a few of its essential contributions and challenges to the humanities, and then hazard a couple of ways that it might be augmented.

First, Chakrabarty continually keeps our eyes, ears and feelings focused on the interdependencies and tensions between the global and the planetary. The global emerges as the invaluable focus by postcolonial and Marxist theories of the effects of capitalist imperialism and colonization, both on the colonizers and colonized. Attention to the global is crucial, but until recently its purveyors have ignored the ways volatile planetary forces set on deep time such as monsoon interruptions, ocean conveyor shifts, volcanic interruptions, asteroid hits, extinction events, glacier melts, drought patterns and so on become imbricated with national and global human histories.

Temporalities set on very different scales and vectors of time periodically intersect. Chakrabarty sometimes suggests that awareness of the planetary arose recently during the advent of the Anthropocene, intensified by the pandemic as the double crossing of a virus across two species. I would add that in what might be called the minor tradition of western thought a certain awareness of periodic planetary volatilities has been enunciated. I note the Theophany in the Book of Job, Hesiod’s Theogony, Sophocles, Lucretius and later Nietzsche as key cases in point. Danowsky and de Castro in The Ends of the Earth also show how this awareness is distributed in traditions of indigenous thought. What we encounter today mostly in Euro-American thought, then, is actually a form of awakening after the long period of cultural forgetting and denialism expressed most recently in theo-secular debates between Arendt, Heidegger, Tagore, Schmitt, Kant, Nehru, and others Chakrabarty reviews so compellingly. To me, the debating partners suppressed an alternative transcending their terms of debate.

Second Chakrabarty theme: extractive capitalism has played the most critical role in fomenting triggers to the Anthropocene as well as in helping to ensure that its worst early effects are imposed upon minorities within old capitalist states and upon tropical, semi-tropical and polar regions outside those states. But a focus on capitalism, while essential, is still insufficient. A large number of its critics within the old states and in decolonializing regions, Chakrabarty says, have also focused on promoting economic growth, fostering productivity, expanding classical modes of consumption and promoting mastery over the earth. These operative orientations are anti-capitalist, but they still embrace variants of a civilization of productivity and abundance, broadly construed. This means that while neoliberal capitalism, in particular, must be transformed to respond to the Anthropocene, classical ideals of socialist and communist productivism need to be reworked too. That combination poses a massive challenge. Chakrabarty’s critique of Jason Moore reflects the challenge. I will only add that, in my judgment, one source of aspirational fascist movements in so many countries today—-I note the United States, Brazil, the UK, Poland, Hungary as examples--is that many white members of the working class both sense that The Anthropocene poses a radical challenge to old projections into the future and mistrust alternative ideals advanced to respond to it. Fascism is a danger in this time tied to disavowed awareness of the Anthropocene amid adamant commitment to neoliberal capitalism under unfavorable planetary conditions. Neoliberalism both fosters periodic crises and invites fascist responses to them.

Third, in discussing the power of the Indian caste system Chakrabarty begins to explore how caste orientations are embedded not only institutionally sanctioned privileges but also in what might be called the visceral register of cultural life. It is overdetermined. The visceral register can sometimes be in tension with refined, deliberative articulations. Collective patterns of disgust, for instance, can become embodied in institutional dependence upon the Dalit mixed with a foreboding sense of the danger they impose to the health and dignity of the upper classes. We are “porous bodies” Chakrabarty insists; commitments to growth, productivity, and classical infrastructures of consumption have also become engrained in subject/object relations within the institutions to which we are habituated. I have affluent male friends, to cite one very modest instance, who tell me that the silence of electric cars distresses them. Others may find that preparing compost every day mildly disgusting. To come to terms with the Anthropocene means, in part, to retrain the visceral register of cultural life, including differential, visceral habits of attraction, expectation, and disgust engrained in us. I only add that this register of culture is also critical to the fascist dangers of today, as white working and lower middle class constituencies already pressed by job insecurities express visceral resistance to reformation of habitual practices with uncertain consequences for them in the future. I very much appreciate the attention to this issue by Chakrabarty--and now adopting the stance of the demanding reviewer—-I want to hear more. Disgust is ineliminable from life, but its cultural foci and intensities can be retrained by tactical means.

Fourth, classical notions of “the political”, particularly in western thought--but perhaps not only there—-prove to be insufficient to the obdurate challenges of the Anthropocene today. Arendt’s notion, for example, presupposes the earth as a rather stable background allowing a territorially privileged plurality of human beings to spawn a creative result under carefully crafted conditions. It does not speak closely to the volatility of planetary processes, both in themselves and in relation to triggers pulled by the history of capitalist CO2 and methane emissions. Schmitt, to me, is worse, with his drives to intensify friend/enemy conflicts in pursuit of a fascist nation compromising his late attention to the Nomos of the earth. Many others also spawn images of the political that fail to cope with the spatial scales and temporal multiplicities of the Anthropocene. I call them sociocentric.

So, four themes in Chakrabarty to be taken on board by those who seek to respond to the profound, urgent, and asymmetrical challenges of Anthropocene acceleration. They are enough to make us dizzy. And perhaps they provide hints about some sources of climate denialism and casualism today. Denialism is intense refusal to admit publicly that human induced rapid climate change is real, even when your own experience suggests it to be so. The doubling is what gives the phenomenon its intensity. It is anchored in a visceral fear of how you and your constituency would fare if the radical adjustments proposed are undertaken. That response is bolstered in some evangelical circles by insisting it is a sin against God’s cosmic governance to assert that a human civilization could alter nature in this way; it is intensified by high roller capitalist elites in a demand to project a system of profit and extreme inequality into the future anchored in fossil extraction, immense profits, and mastery of nature—-a combination the rollers themselves suspect to be unsustainable. These two spiritualities come together in the United States, at least, in an evangelical/neoliberal resonance machine that blocks every effort to respond to the Anthropocene.

Climate casualists, on the other hand, acknowledge climate change, but the acknowledgement does not sink deeply into the cultural register of belief and orientations to action. They find the topic depressing and move on quickly. Climate casualists are what Nietzsche might call passive nihilists: they acknowledge on the register of refined belief the Anthropocene; but that acknowledgement is immobilized by a series of old remnants lodged on the visceral register of cultural habit. The remnants form conceptually crude and affectively intense pre-orientations to action.

So, four invaluable themes by Chakrabarty: the volatile relations of the global and the planetary; the penetration of ends attached to a non-capitalist civilization of productivity in some post-colonial theories; the severe limits of classical notions of the political; and the role in these debates and struggles of the visceral register of cultural life.

I would now like to propose two possible augmentations to the analysis by Chakrabarty of the contemporary condition.

First, sprinkled throughout this text are various references to the insufficiency of contending models of time and temporality to encounters with the bumpy relations between the global and the planetary. The idea, I think, is not only a dominant modern model of time is wrong, but that classical and modern debates about time also need to be reworked. There are for instance, cyclical views of time found in the western geologies of Buffon and others, as well as variants in several nonwestern regions. There are, as well, linear images of time, sometimes linked to tendencies toward progress but not always so. Within this last domain there are those such as Descartes, Newton and Einstein who focus on time as a series of disparate instants and those such as Bergson and Whitehead who do or can claim human experiences of duration give us indispensable clues, too, about viral temporalities, monsoon temporalities, ocean conveyor temporalities, glacier temporalities, and so on. The latter, however, in ways that recall Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, tend to project the automatic tendency of these diverse temporalities to harmonize over the long term, and that, therefore, that they are predisposed in the last instance to human well-being.

Theorists such as Michel Serres, Gilles Deleuze, Stephen Gould, and I, however, try to excavate and rework this last assumption. We appreciate clock time—-extending from the time of your morning shower and first class to the deep time of the earth now measured at around 4.5 billion years. Tick, tock, tick, tock. We experience duration. And we also, in ways that do not contradict the first experiences, add what might be called evental time to the list. Evental time periodically interrupts both cyclical and linear temporalities. It can interrupt cycles such as the seasons, the eleven year cycle of sunspot variations, or even changes in the wobble of the earth. And it can interrupt the very long period of advance in dinosaur dominance or the much shorter period of dominance by extractive capitalism. An event, so conceived, occurs when an unexpected happening transforms future expectations and extrapolations. Or when many freeze because they refuse to allow such turns to elicit new extrapolations, ethical stances and political efforts. Evental time turns anticipatory time.

Such turning events are not always unpredictable in principle. They might sometimes merely stand outside operative horizons of attention, as that recent double viral crossing did in Wuhan. Other events may be, however, either because they exceed current scientific capacities to explain tipping points or because they involve real moments of creativity in the world. These are interruptions in the commonly projected future of, say, capitalism, seasons, climate, glacier flows or drought zones, occasioned by intersections between two or more temporalities moving on different vectors, speeds and capacities. A few examples may be pertinent.

When the orbit of the earth intersected with another planet moving on a different pattern perhaps 4.1 billion years ago, the moon was formed and the density of the planet’s mantle became imbalanced. Theia, some geologists now believe, also deposited “carbonaceous material” on the earth, from which oceans were later formed and life became possible. The jury is still out on that last claim, but it would be a huge turning event if true.

Another: About 250 million years ago in clock time eruptions in the Siberian flats heated the earth’s atmosphere; that warming event in turn probably released massive amounts of methane in Antarctica. The collision between three temporalities—-i.e., an event--probably set off the biggest mass extinction of life on earth, turning the course of future species evolution.

About 12,700 years ago, the ocean conveyor system, set on a cyclical temporality that had been in play for a few million years, collided with other flows and was brought to a sudden stop, creating a new ice age.

About 124 years ago (1897-99) seasonal monsoons (cyclical time) were interrupted over large parts of Indian, African and Asian regions. The interruption seemed to follow an intensification of El-Ninos over the Pacific and a shift in the intensity and absorbing capacity of western trade winds. These results were followed by incredible neglect by the British Empire of the famines that resulted. Four intersecting temporalities.

The above sampling is highly incomplete. But an event may now emerge as the confluence of two or more temporalities—-the temporalities can be civilizational, planetary or both—-turning a previously projected course to the future. This all may suggest that both cyclical and linear/progressive images of time need amendment. Both can be interrupted by evental time at surprising junctures. The Anthropocene is one of those junctures.

Finally, it may be timely to speak more sharply to the issue of political activism during the Anthropocene. Chakrabarty may think, I don’t know, that there are so many cultural assumptions to rethink that this issue should be put on hold for a while. However, the truth in that point deflates a second truth: the high probability that “we” have only six or seven years to act militantly before the cascading effects of the Anthropocene overwhelm several regions, setting into motion new refugee flows, wars, civil wars, and dangerous fascist reactions by old capitalist states. So, it is now urgent to pursue a set of improbable necessities within and across several regions, improbable because so many capitalist, theological, and cultural forces resist them; necessary because of the urgency of time.

As Chakrabarty knows above all there is no simple “we” with respect to cross regional citizen strategies to put pressure on states and regions. Variations of circumstance are far too radical for that. To get the ball rolling, then, I will review thoughts about a politics of swarming to be initiated within and across old capitalist states, inviting others to extend and/or modify these themes with respect to other regions.

You move, first, through a variety of role experiments with others at work, your household, your locality, your temple, your university, etc. Such interventions both change collective practices modestly, and they work on the visceral register of culture to prepare activists for more expansive actions later. Role experiments thus perform double duty. Changes in consumption, recycling, composting, invitations to speakers at your temple or school, curriculum, establishing institutional beacons of carbon neutrality, etc. are key here. Following that, you intensify participation in elections and public demonstrations, where this is possible. And, finally, building on those energies already in play you initiate cross-regional general strikes to challenge existing practices of production and consumption now in place in old capitalist states. Such strikes will involve withdrawal from work, radical reductions of consumption by those able to do so for a period of time, and intensive lobbying of state, temple, corporate, and educational institutions. The cross-regional character of such actions would impose pressure on old capitalist states from the inside and outside at the same time. I pose such a set of improbable necessities, again, in part to encourage others to push other proposals, amid the unwillingness of many states, regions, churches, and corporations to do act. Silence on the issue is not an option. Neither is mere critique of this or that positive strategic proposal. Alternative positivities are needed, given the urgency of time…

Part of the challenge to the global and the planetary during acceleration of the Anthropocene is to devise and enact political strategies that outstrip an old set insufficient to this era. For that reason, and others already noted, I appreciate the food for thought offered by this timely book.
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Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Michel Serres, Evental Time and Cultural Denialism

William E. Connolly

Time, says Michael Serres, neither consists of a uniform, singular flow nor a linear repetition of instants that curve under the influence of gravity, as Einstein had insisted. Both images are too streamlined, too invested with eagerness either to commune with a benign world or to master a unilinear one. Break, break, my friends the obdurate hold of both images. They are killing us. Commitment to them today fosters cultural rage in the face of events that rattle them.
You might, Serres says, start by beginning to appreciate how time “percolates”. That image turns us first to think about the turbulence and steam emanating from boiling water. But Serres extends it to ponder the bumpiness of streams and rivers. Indeed, when first encountering the metaphor I was drawn back to the stick races I used to stage with my children on this or that bubbling creek. One well designed stick would take a lead and then find itself whirling around in an eddie. Then it might turn with the flow and be blocked by a pile of rocks and branches before, if the youngster rooting on the bank were lucky, it pulled out. It might even flow back upstream for a while in the midst of a subcurrent or sink into a whirlpool only to pop up somewhere else soon. The winner of the race was not always the one with the stick best fitted to move with a stable current by weight, length, volume and density, though those features induced some advantages. Many other contingencies entered into the fray. Time percolates, even if you start with a river or a stream as the image to inform your thinking. Suppose, too, downstream there is a waterfall, pulling the water at an increasingly rapid rate until it pours over the precipice.
Here are a few things Serres says:

“Time percolates more than it flows.”[I]

“Sea, forest, rumor, noise, society, life, works and days, all common multiples…I am trying to think the multiple as such, to let it wash along without arresting it through unity…I am now trying to rethink time as a pure multiplicity.”[ii]

“…like the percolating basin of a glacial river, unceasingly changing its bed and showing an admirable network of forks, some of which freeze and silt up, while others open up.”[iii]

“I am disquieted, therefore I exist.”[iv]

“…time flows in an extraordinarily complex, unexpected, complicated way…; it folds or twists; it is as various as the dance of flames in a brazier—here interrupted, there vertical, there mobile and unexpected.”[v]

“For whatever praise you may hear, whatever love you may profess for the sea and mountains, the desert or marshes, plants and animals, nature doesn’t behave as a friend to humans or even their symbiont. By means of waves, fire, typhoons, poisoning, or devouring, it kills as calmly as bodies fall and eagles eat lambs.”[vi]
Serres tries to break the existential hold old images have over binary logics in general and the primacy of the mastery/organic debates about time in particular. The logics depress attention to messy processes of becoming; the debates block exploration of another alternative. Serres teaches us to master the will to mastery, first, because it cannot succeed and, second, because it fails to respond to the grandeur of that of which we ourselves are an intrinsic part. The nihilism with which many respond to the last sentences quoted here from Serres is, to Serres, a sign that they have not gotten over the profound disappointment that their favored images of time do not fit well rocky experiences they have themselves encountered. Confidence in eternal salvation or the indefinite advance of capitalism may hang in the balance. It is this disappointment that we are ethically enjoined to overcome so that our thinking and responses to the world become more decent and in-formed. For existential disappointment, unless it is overcome, can morph into ressentiment, and the latter can morph into bellicose cultural dispositions to aggressive nihilism.
Let us distinguish three dimensions of time, each christened by some to crown time: clock time, lived time, evental time. Clock time is indispensable to life in highly organized capitalist societies. You get up at 7, eat breakfast at 8, arrive at work by 9, if you are a privileged member of the middle class. The big meeting is at 10, and the day winds down by 5. Newton and Einstein loved clock time, the latter indexing it to the speed of light and showing how light bends in response to every gravitational pull. Clock time thus generates its own puzzles. And its own dogmas. Punctualists in science and political economy sense that only if it receives singular priority can they hope to construct a precise, verified, sufficient science tethered to mastery of the world. Lived time involves experiences of duration in which, say, new thoughts, ideas or projects bubble up and a creative dimension of becoming folds into life. William James and Henri Bergson found it to provide a better basis for philosophy than clock time, and both extended the compass of lived time beyond human beings to other animals, plants and bacteria.
Evental time involves the intersection of two or more previously separated temporalities, each on its own speed, capacities, and vector. Bumpy intersections between viruses, pangolins, and humans set on different temporalities illustrate evental time. Also, rising, salty ocean, the slow pace of sand formation, and established construction practices can meet to usher in a high rise collapse in Miami. Evental time, I suspect, is consistent with clock and lived time, though not reducible to either. We date key events, for instance.

Consider, then, merely a few galvanizing, planetary instances of evental time:

Perhaps between 4.1 and 4.5 billion years ago a planet, now called Theia, crashed onto the earth, which then was still covered with molten seas. A rocky meeting of two cosmic temporalities. The result seems to have been formation of a moon around the earth, with effects (later) on tides; it also may have created the tilt of the earth. Billions of years later adventurous sailors deployed the light of the moon and its orbital course to help guide them at sea. Adventurous Polynesian migrations to numerous Pacific islands were thus enabled by that collision. Another event. What if the planet hitting the earth had been much larger? The von Trier film, Melancholia, explores such an event, set in contemporary times.
About 250 million years ago (clock time), eruptions from the Siberian flats heated the earth’s atmosphere. Then, (clock time), the warming atmosphere probably activated methane sediments in Antarctica (another event), heating the planet so high that 90% of life was lost. If the methane release had been higher life might have been destroyed totally, waiting many million years before it became activated again.[vii]

About 66 million years ago a massive asteroid following its own trajectory hit the earth on (what is now) the Mexican peninsula. It was followed by a huge volcano in India, the second event perhaps triggered by the first. Almost all large land life was extinguished, including notably large dinosaurs. They had been exquisitely adapted to the settled environment for 130 million years (clock time). Now they could not survive. The new rules for flourishing and survival set the stage for small mammals to accelerate their own evolutionary development. Millions of years later, the event finally began to percolate into western philosophy and the human sciences, setting the stage for a belated focus on evental time. [viii]
About 12,700 years ago, the world-wide ocean conveyor system--which had only followed its cyclical pattern for millions of years--suddenly stopped, with profound effects upon climate. The Gulf Stream, a small part of the conveyor, was thus halted. The impetus for the stoppage is still under investigation and it itself was not discovered until the 1970s. A couple of thousand years later, the current was renewed and the Holocene stuttered into being, perhaps over a period of less than ten years. That latter event, of course, set the stage for the rapid expansion of agriculture and the human population.[ix]

About 1120 years ago (900 CE), a new warming period hit Europe, parts of Africa, Asia and the Americas, perhaps occasioned in part by intensification of the ocean conveyor and massive deforestation campaigns in Europe. The differential results extended the range of European agriculture, encouraged Mongols on the Russian Steppes victimized by new drought to invade Europe, and helped to destroy the massive Mayan Empire in the Americas.
About 124 years ago (1897-99), seasonal monsoons (cyclical time) were interrupted over large parts of India. The interruption seemed to follow an intensification of El Ninos over the pacific and a shift in the direction and intensity of western trade winds. The British Empire refused to respond to the massive famine and disease that followed. Conjunctions between the El Nino, shifting wind currents, a monsoon interruption, and the policies of the British Empire manufactured a devastating event.[x]
More recently, Hitler arose after defeat of Germany in World War I, soldiers wanderings aimlessly at home, and severe inflation, soon creating a holocaust before the Russian winter slowed him down. A conjunction of six events. American scientists invented a nuclear bomb at warp speed that was dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima; a racist American evangelical-neoliberal resonance machine was created that dominated that country for decades; the Anthropocene—underway for centuries under the hegemony of extractive capitalism—was finally discovered by scientists; and a devastating pandemic was spawned (perhaps) by the double crossing of a virus, first, from bats to a pangolin and then from the pangolin to humans. Clock time kept ticking to its two-step rhythm during each event.
This sampling of events is incomplete and arbitrary. Many more, of diverse sorts, could be added. Even the limited sample, however, identifies some characteristics of evental time. Each event emerges from the confluence of two or more temporalities, previously set on different vectors, speeds and capacities. The conjunctions throw heterogeneous forces and beings into contact, as they intersect through collisions and ingressions. The resulting event turns or twists the vector of time that preceded it, now making a linear projection or “extrapolation”—to use Darwin’s favorite word--based on processes that preceded it out of touch with the turn actually taken. The tendency to refuse to adjust extrapolations into the future in the face of new events provides one source of the recent turns to fundamentalism, denialism, and fascism across the world. Each refusal might involve a desperate desire to save an old faith, to preserve an old image of time, or to protect the assumption that the progress of capitalism on a linear track can proceed indefinitely. Or several of these, re-enforcing each other. Hence, the need to develop a philosophy of evental time.
To give evental time its due physicists, philosophers, theologians, humanists and social theorists must become more familiar with bacteria temporalities, viral temporalities, fungal temporalities, civilizational temporalities, capitalist temporalities, planetary temporalities, climate temporalities, geological temporalities, asteroid temporalities, scientific temporalities, and theological temporalities, noting how any of these can intersect with one or more of the others at any time.

Evental time disorients expectations; it unsettles cultural assumptions and temporal extrapolations already in play. To broach the phenomenon of evental time is to disrupt several theological and scientific views in Euro-America. So many hopes and demands are anchored in the other images. To refuse to consider evental time, however, is to court even worse dangers, including the return of fascism and devastating climate change.
There are a few other lessons brought into relief by a focus on evental time. First, each previous event—each turn in time—continues to carry implications today. The shape of seasons, the current hegemony of homo sapiens, the organization of the ocean conveyor, the shifting monsoons, the current conditions of indigenous peoples, the insistence on white triumphalism, the current trajectory and pace of climate change, and the continuing danger of nuclear war, all find expression in part because of events that turned the course of time. And indeed, conjunctions between a Covid viral crossing and autocrats in the United States, India, and Brazil who refused to cope with them continue to find expression as new variants proliferate. Events periodically percolate together.
Second, when an event occurs, previous extrapolations into the future must be adjusted. This recurrent condition suggests that more of us should cultivate a double orientation to extrapolation. During periods of reasonable regularity in a domain—such as regular seasons, a settled civilizational pattern, the confinement of viral crossings, the slow pattern of species evolution, the consistency of climate patterns, the reliability of monsoons, the long aftermath of indigenous conquests, etc., etc., it may be reasonable to extrapolate forward probabilities and goals from the recent past. Thus, I as a young democratic socialist in the 1970s, extrapolated a possible future in which more and more people in the world achieve material abundance, while neoliberals projected a probable future in which the mastery of nature accelerated, wealth distribution within and between regimes became more extreme, racial hierarchies corresponded roughly to the old hierarchies within and between capitalist states, and so on. But upon the advent of the Anthropocene, modified extrapolations of possibility, probability and desirability need to be made. Indeed, the recurrent pressure to make such turns in extrapolation helps to explain cultural denialism and/or scapegoating in many circles with respect to such things as the failure of Christ to return, holding Jews responsible for the Great Depression, blaming Blacks for their own exploitation, the failure of communism, the inability of capitalism to thrive into the indefinite future, and the advent of the Anthropocene. Those who accept the prominence of evental time are thus encouraged to adopt a double entry orientation to extrapolation. Extrapolations into possible futures are always needed, but with each major turn of event adjustments of extrapolation are needed.
Third, the periodic prominence of evental time also means that entire cultures are called upon to fight off the existential disappointment--or even cultural rage--that can arise collectively when reassuring images of time no longer so confidently control the cultural terrain. The task for many now becomes how to overcome the assumption of progressive time, how to appreciate the grandeur of bumpy time, how to affirm a world punctuated by events that turn time. Doing so to encourage struggles against the worst things when a bad turn occurs without seeking racial, religious, scientific and theological scapegoats to hold responsible for that turn. This is the most difficult existential issue posed by evental time. For several religious and secular constituencies are rattled by it.

In the western traditions, broadly defined, noble struggles with this issue can be discerned in Hesiod, Sophocles, the Book of Job, the Book of J, Heraclitus, Lucretius, Nietzsche, Kafka, James Baldwin, Catherine Keller, Jairus Grove, and Michel Serres himself. None of those existential struggles is apt to suffice today. But several are pertinent to those who acknowledge the significance of evental time, seek to affirm a world in which events turn life, and struggle against the worst effects of temporal turns or accelerations without seeking scapegoats who must be made to suffer for them.

[i] Michel Serres, branches (London: Bloomsbury, 2004), p.

[ii] Serres, Genesis (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1995), p. 5.

[iii] Serres and Latour, Conversations on Science, Culture, and Time (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995), p. 105.

[iv] Serres, branches, p. 125.

[v] Serres and Latour, Conversations…, p. 58

[vi] Serres, The Incandescent, p. 161. I should also note two other books that have helped me to come to terms with Serres. The first, Michel Serres: Figures of Thought (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020, by Christopher Watkin, explores the development of Serres’s orientation to nature, logic, and time across several decades. The second, Time and History in Deleuze and Serres, edited by Bernd Herzongenrath (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2012), helped me to compare Deleuze, a figure more familiar, with Serres. Jane Bennett and I have an essay in the latter volume, “The Crumpled Handkerchief,” pp. 153-172.

[vii] Michael Benton, When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time (London: Thames Hudson, 2005)

[viii] Wally Broecker, The Great ocean Conveyor: Discovering the Trigger for Abrupt Climate change (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010.

[x] See Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts (New York: Verso, 2001). Davis, at odds with most western social theory of the day, combines a history of the colonial holocaust with an account of how the intense El Ninos were formed and altered the wind patterns over India. A social theorist who refuses to succumb to sociocentrism.
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