Friday, August 19, 2016

Bruno Latour - On a possible triangulation of some present political positions

It is fair to say that what is called globalization used to be built on the unexamined premise that the whole planet will end up modernizing toward some convergent omega point called the Globe. This is no longer the case - observes Bruno Latour in a lecture given in May 2016 at Humboldt University, Berlin.


 there exist many groups of scholars calculating the number of additional planets necessary for the development of all 8 billion humans – from 2 to 5 virtual planets depending on calculations and expected level of development – when we have only one planet. Yes, for sure, but the measure of such a reality has never been taken up inside a diplomatic assembly, the United Nations, where for the last 70 years the main idea has been that there was one common horizon for all nations, what can be called the horizon of modernization toward which they could not but necessarily converge into one Global Globe. More importantly, in early December, the very definition of sovereignty has meant that any decision to develop one way or another is not any other nation's business. ..

But in this case, suddenly, on this Saturday, 12 December 2015, it became every nation's business to realize that the ultimate goal of development of all the other States around the table could not possibly be realized inside the limits of the given planet we call Earth and that their sovereignties were so clearly overlapping that they had to bow toward an outside reality – a strange form of new Sovereign. Hence Hollande's enthusiastic salutation "Vive la planète!"...


"Without coal and colonies", Westerners would never have imagined that they could profit from the infinite cornucopia of progress and development. They would have remained prisoners on a fragile and limited Land, with the overworked soil of their tiny countries disappearing under their feet. Capitalism, to give it its name, is not characterized by its mundane, down to earth, practical and factual materiality but, on the contrary, by its extraordinary idealism – just as the res extensa is an idealist version of what matter consists of. And for the same reason: it positions the horizon outside as an ideal and pulls the Land from that nowhere into this nowhere. Nihilism in action through epistemology and economics.

The third source of such an extraordinary transmigration toward outer space is the political theology that has fused some of the ideals of religion with those of political emancipation producing the ever receding frontier of utopia – a place of nowhere for people of no place. Without this mystical appeal to the other world, neither the epistemological nor the economical flight toward infinity would have deprived the Earthbound of their common sense – that is, their sense of the commons. This is what Eric Voegelin has called "immanentization", a process that has transformed politics into a perverted form of mystique without rendering politics more practical or religion more pious!..

On a possible triangulation of some present political positions
In Reset Modernity!, the Karlsruhe exhibition we just opened at ZKM, visitors are requested to follow a series of specific procedures to reset the instruments that allow them to find their way in this highly complex question: where is modernity heading and how can we orient ourselves through its metamorphosis? An excellent way, it seems to me, to consider the theme of this year's lecture series, Zukunftswissen. Visitors were handed a precious little booklet that we call a "fieldbook" because they are invited, really, to play an active role in surveying the quickly transforming landscape. At the end of each procedure, a cryptic message is provided about a somewhat mysterioustriangle. The curators seem to be arguing that once this triangle has been understood, things will become really much clearer. It is this claim which I would like to comment on by developing a bit what this triangle could mean and how it has been drawn.

Let me start from the world historical episode of 12 December 2015 when François Hollande, the French president, famously exclaimed "Vive la France, Vive les Nations Unies, Vive la planète!", that is, "Long live the planet". I am sure you remember the unanimous approval of the treaty concluding the Paris conference on climate, COP 21. If I say that it was a "world historical episode" it is not, assuredly, because any concrete policy came out of the conference. So far, it is the catastrophic "business as usual" trajectory along which all the signatories to the conference are quickly sliding. If I say it, it is because of the unprecedented diplomatic situation that it had created: for the first time in history, all one hundred and eighty-nine "sovereign" nations realized as never before that the world toward which they were happily moving, what I will call the Globe or the Global, has no terrestrial existence.

Let me explain: in advance of COP 21, each nation had been asked by the French secretariat to describe as clearly as possible their views of the future by writing a document called in characteristic United Nations jargon an "Intended Nationally Determined Contribution" or INDC. You would be wrong to take this as one of the many boring bureaucratic chores diplomats have to complete: the result of this exercise has been stunning. Why? Because when participants began to add up the wish lists of China, India, Brazil, Europe, Canada, the United States, Philippines, Ethiopia, etc., that is, how each sovereign state envisaged its development in the years 2030 or 2050, it became clear for all the other participants stuck in the same wood-beam hall in the Paris le Bourget exhibition centre, that there existed no credible planet capable of absorbing all of those wishes.



You will tell me that such a dire situation has been clear since the early days of ecological consciousness; and surely you will remind me that there exist many groups of scholars calculating the number of additional planets necessary for the development of all 8 billion humans – from 2 to 5 virtual planets depending on calculations and expected level of development – when we have only one planet. Yes, for sure, but the measure of such a reality has never been taken up inside a diplomatic assembly, the United Nations, where for the last 70 years the main idea has been that there was one common horizon for all nations, what can be called the horizon of modernization toward which they could not but necessarily converge into one Global Globe. 

More importantly, in early December, the very definition of sovereignty has meant that any decision to develop one way or another is not any other nation's business. But in this case, suddenly, on this Saturday, 12 December 2015, it became every nation's business to realize that the ultimate goal of development of all the other States around the table could not possibly be realized inside the limits of the given planet we call Earth and that their sovereignties were so clearly overlapping that they had to bow toward an outside reality – a strange form of new Sovereign. Hence Hollande's enthusiastic salutation "Vive la planète!".

Everyone could see that the proverbial lifeboats of the proverbial Titanic were too few for everybody – children, women, captains, orchestra, cats, dogs, lions, elephants, whales, butterflies and worms – to jump into and be saved. Finally, a real politicization of the impossible world order became visible to every diplomat.

Amusingly such a realization, even though it should have been taken as a state of war, had the unexpected result of not creating panic, chaos and havoc, but, on the contrary, pushing the participants into promising to sign a declaration that aimed at keeping the Earth's temperature under an increase of 1.5° C, a goal that every expert considers to be ludicrously optimistic since temperatures having already climbed near or above 1°.. 
read more:
http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2016-08-18-latour-en.html