Wednesday, August 03, 2011

High-speed through China

At 307 km/h, train G14 makes its way North on an elevated track high above rice paddies and endless suburbs as we finally take the train from Shanghai Hongqiao to Beijing South. Even if seat 61 was taken, this is undoubtedly a classic train journey, the kind that one would sit at home with a large map and plan on long November nights. At the same time, the journey brings a very concrete human scale experiential dimension to distances that previously were just abstract air miles.

Seeing China this way leaves no reason for doubt: we are truly living through the end of nature. Everywhere, human intrusion into what was once dense forests, silent lakes and majestic mountains. I cannot help feeling sad about this tremendous loss, about what we have done to the planet and its natural habitats. It may be that I believe that humanity, in the future, could reverse much of this environmental destruction and decouple itself from the natural world. But doing so will require the emergence of a global subject, an understanding that we, as a conscious species, have a unique responsibility for the future of all life on this planet and that we cannot continue along the current trajectory.

Witnessing the last weeks of political mayhem, not least the debate over the debt ceiling in the US, has been a powerful reminder of how far we actually are from the kind of enlightened cosmopolitan politics that will be needed to safely take humanity through the mid-century canyon of environmental stress. And browsing all those weblogs teeming with racism, hate and narrowly defined conceptions of "national interests", it is difficult to maintain the Habermasian hope of a new shining Republic of Letters emerging online. But let's not forget that it has always been like this, that it always has been more difficult to formulate good ideas than bad ones, and that history will always be a "race between education and catastrophe" (to quote H.G. Wells).

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Anonymous Nat said...

9:45 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

7:46 am  

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