Dark Ecology, Hyperobjects, and the New Materialism

I recently wrote a piece on ecology, spirituality, and philosophy entitled “White Baby Jesus Vs. Dark Ecology” for my Aroma of the World blog.   Our comrade Matt, aka Bypolar the Toxic Cherub, turned it into a piece of youtube video art:

This is one manifestation of my recent engagement with the philosophical work of Timothy Morton.  Morton is part of an emerging movement of radical philosophers who academics are calling the “New Materialists”.   Like Marxists, these materialists emphasize there is a reality outside of our individual thoughts, and that we are shaped by social, political and economic forces.  Like Marxists, they emphasize humans have self-activity;  we shape ourselves and other objects through our creativity, which is alienated into labor under capitalism.  However, like many radical ecologists, they also emphasize that non-human beings have agency to shape each other and us; hence the universe is a rhythm of various objects imprinting themselves on each other.

Morton locates human subjectivity as one form of inter-objective activity among many.  In other words, our thoughts themselves are physical because they are happening in our bodies, and in the interactions between our bodies and other objects.

In his most recent book, Morton focuses on the historical agency of very large objects like the universe, the planet, and climate – what he calls “hyperobjects.”  But he is part of a broader trend called Object Oriented Ontology, which argues that even smaller objects engage in forms of uncanny, weird, aesthetic causation.  He talks about that in his (free) book called Realist Magic, a play on the literary tradition of magical realism.

Morton is attempting to develop a revolutionary aesthetic, artistic, and political response to the ecological crisis.  He wants to encourage us to take the partial, impure, impaired actions that are possible now to slow the destruction of the planet’s climate.  He wants us to  do something, however limited and hypocritical, instead of waiting in pure despair for the end of the world.  He argues that the end of the world has already happened because the concept of “world” implies the planet is simply a backdrop to our grand historical biographies, our world-building.  And that concept has already been destroyed by hyper-objects.  Global warming collapses the distinction between foreground and background, between humans and our environment, which destroys many of the philosophical underpinnings of BOTH western religions AND 19th century scientific rationalism.

In this sense, Morton’s thought stumbles right through some of the limitations of the Marxist humanism, postmodernism,  anti-humanism, and new-Ageism that are so popular here in Northwest radical communities.  He calls his perspective “Ecology without nature” or “dark ecology” because he thinks that truly overcoming the nature-human divide requires jettisoning the concepts of “nature” and “humanity” altogether.  Instead of going out to the woods to find nature, we can develop an ecological perspective right here in the middle of our polluted metropolis; it will simply be an uncanny, uncomfortable one.  We can meditate on the fact that the styrofoam cups we are using will last hundreds of years, and that the casual conversation we just had outside the grocery store about the weather is actually a conversation about global warming.

Like a Zen (martial) artist, Morton aims to provoke uncanny experiences of encounter with other human and non-human beings, encounters that can lead to ethical commitment, compassion, and radical action rather than apocalyptic waiting, cynicism, or  games of theoretical one-upmanship (the trap of acting “more meta than thou”).

I’m finding all of this very helpful in breaking out of some of the cynicism and demoralization that set in around here after the collapse and repression of the Decolonize/ Occupy movement.  I also think it’s very uncanny  how myself,  Morton (a celebrated professor) and Bypolar (a revolutionary artist from the ‘hood facing trumped up riot charges) are coming to some of the same conclusions. Maybe we are all becoming more attuned to the planet we are living inside.  Or maybe the planet is breaking its way into our thinking.


About mamos206

Mamos is my pen name. My writings can be found at these sites, along with the thoughts of friends I collaborate with: https://blackorchidcollective.wordpress.com http://creativitynotcontrol.wordpress.com http://overthrowingilluminati.wordpress.com
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5 Responses to Dark Ecology, Hyperobjects, and the New Materialism

  1. carol isaac says:

    Three of us who are given to talking about more than the conventional, spent the afternoon doing that today. The one friend had a magnificent take on the 12th man phenomenon. They see it as a ‘called’ meditation wherein the fans were collectively brought to bear mental caring energy in a form that would create something as mundane as a win on the Super Bowl field, followed by a physical manifestation of the physical collection of the mental team in the form of the Super Parade. English doesn’t have the right words for this, but I think enough people know what is meant. This is an opportunity to begin to recognize the form of a power stronger than apathy, but not requiring ‘body’ presence to manifest.

    • mamos206 says:

      Yeah, you could argue the 12th man/ Legion of Boom involves the collective production of a hyperobject – the fans create a large sonic field that is an actual physical object – airwaves rippling strongly enough they effect the bodies of the players on the field and even shake the ground. In that sense, the 12th man is an example of what I’ve been calling a “material spirituality” or “spiritual materiality”. It’s not politically neutral though. I think it’s contradictory – on the one hand, it expresses people’s desire for collective belonging, for collective self activity that “makes history.” That’s potentially a good thing. But on the other hand, it involves us alienating our powers, projecting our collective energy into our idols, the players, and living vicariously through them instead of taking the field and the streets ourselves. That makes it possible for Paul Allen, the advertisers, etc to make use of the experience as an ideology, an “opiate of the masses” that helps them make money off of us, and allow us to blow off some steam without threatening the system. It also opens up potentials that rebellious fascist movements might try to make use of. Fascist rallies often involved people merging their individuality into a mass collectivity, and focusing that power on The Individual, the Superman dictator they live vicariously through. I hope we can create experiences together where the best parts of the 12th man can reemerge in participatory and active ways, and the idol-worship aspects can be overcome and dissolved. In terms of meditation practice, I think this might involve a balance between compassion mediation and detachment meditation. Some forms of meditation can help us project compassion outward through physical actions; others can help us detach ourselves from our attempts to reify objects (reification = freezing objects in space and time, not letting them change). When we reify objects like the Legion of Boom/ 12th man, that’s where there’s a danger they can become idols we become addicted to, instead of simply one activity among many we realize we are capable of doing together.

  2. carol isaac says:

    All is so. This is what I see as a baby step. Babies learn from all steps, missteps included. The combination of attributes in this situation is a lesson to be worked with: enormous numbers enlisted by one person through the use of a few words. This is a clear demonstration of words being stronger than ‘swords’ (top demonstrated physical/mental preparation in the history of the sport). (Subcomandante Marcos: “Our words are our weapons.”) The precision is also not to be missed. The incredible replay of #15 moving like butter around two defensive players who seemed to have lost the ability to even extend a foot to trip him had the look of impossible. It shows a potential of magnitude not experienced before by that many collectively ‘wishing’ people, all from the tiniest economy of words that is inherent in what you are calling “material spirituality”. All the powers I can think of that we humans et al have are at any time up for grabs and, of course, fascist rallies are just as probable as anything. The trick now is to take them to a better place. The example left the bottle. You can bet that this is not the only place this idea is being explored as a result of the example, so it is incumbent upon us to talk to this and create something from it.

    • mamos206 says:

      Definitely. It is a good reminder that words have material effects, they’re not just abstract. In fact, words ARE material – they emerge from the movement of our mouths and throats, inspired by the flow of energy through our neural networks, and they vibrate the air between us. Without the climate all around and inside of us, there would be no words at all, which is one more reason we need to care for that climate. The space between one person’s mouth and another’s ears is not empty. It is part of a giant object we are all stuck to.

  3. Pingback: Dark Ecology, Hyperobjects, and the New Materialism |  SHOAH

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