Friday, 6 July 2012

Against Ecological Sovereignty

I've recently completed Mick Smith's (2011) Against Ecological Sovereignty: Ethics, Biopolitics, and Saving the Natural World, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press and felt compelled to heap some praise on it. What Smith develops here is a scintillating project that aims to hold ecological thinking together with politics, ethics and a sustained anarchist critique of sovereignty. Smith mobilises such figures as Agamben, Arendt, Bataille, Levinas, Murdoch and Nancy in order to promote an open radical ecological politics and a non-prescriptive, non-normative ethics that opposes sovereignty in all its forms. Some quotes from the stockpile I've garnered give a fair sense of the aims and direction of the book:
‘In opposition to a biopolitics that reduces the more-than-human world to material for resource management and political beings to a matter of bare life, [radical ecology] suggests a provisional and constitutive ecological politics as such. This ... necessitates a political and ecological critique of the principle of sovereignty in all its forms. This must include any temptation by environmentalists to champion the “sovereignty of nature,” the idea tha nature itself should be what decides our politics.’ (xvii)

‘Instead of looking for the divine in Man (the metaphysics of the anthropological machine), we might instead try to divine, sense something (as a water diviner does), the flows and depths of diverse worldly existences happening beneath their surface appearances.’ (63-64)

‘To save the whales is to free them from all claims of human sovereignty, to release them into their singularity, their being such as it is – whatever it is – quodlibet ens, and into flows of evolutionary time, of natural history, just as they release themselves into the flows of the world’s oceans. This “saving” is an ethicopolitical action.’ (103)

There is thus a real and devastatingly ironic possibility that the idea of an ecological crisis, so long and so vehemently denied by every state, will now find itself recuperated, by the very powers responsible for bringing that crisis about, as the latest and most comprehensive justification for a political state of emergency, a condition that serves to insulate those powers against all political and ethical critique.’ (126)

‘ethical and political responsibilities emerge through a realization of the ultimately unrepresentable and unexchangeable singularity, the infinity of Other beings (their continual questionability) – a recognition of Earth and its inhabitants’ excessive nature (physis) and their wildness. And this infinity is tempered only by the finitude of each being’s existence, by its mortality, the fact that their world ends, that my world will end, sooner or later. Our sharing in this world is based, then, on having nothing in common in both senses of this phrase: there are no essential commonalities that can define an ethical/political/ecological community, only differences and diversity, only our singularity and our being together in the face of nothing, of death (which is not a part of life), of ceasing to exist, an end that comes to us all’ (209).


Justin said...

[environmental crisis precipitated in part and exacerbated by the state's steadfast denial of its existence is] the latest and most comprehensive justification for a political state of emergency, a condition that serves to insulate those powers against all political and ethical critique.

And it has ever been this way, if you ever reconsider any period of history from within this lens, and entirely different interpretation comes to light. The American Revolution was thusly successfully countervailed not by the British, but by the very Eurocentric landholding elite we call the founding fathers, who very quickly took control of events and stitched up a nation state in the aftermath of throwing out the British. You can go down a similar framework of interpretation with the Civil War or fall of Rome.

I actually tend to think its not totally implausible, for all the great things states are supposedly responsible for, I see the one that is by all respectable people in the world more or less considered the beacon of freedom and human righteousnous is also the leading war making nation, with the most military bases on foreign soils, the most prisoners (and growing), and where many of the people living there seem to have health issues, lack of access to medical care, and are increasingly struggling with basic needs like food, heat, and shelter.

All the stuff people keep telling me the federal government prevents from befalling us if left to the savage mob seems like things they are actively causing and stoking in their various wars. Did you hear about that recently disclosed operation where the DEA were literally handing over firearms to Mexican drug cartels?

Who knows, its all conjecture.

Justin said...

I should add that the interpretation under this rubric of the Civil War was that it was not a fight over slavery, but a fight over how best to exploit labor; industrial wage slavery or serfdom of some variety. The northern industrialists used the abolitionist outbursts like John Brown and the south's threat to succeed to countervail the crisis of American political identity.

These are very polemical, of course.