Thursday, July 06, 2017

L'arche de Barbapapa

Over the last days, I have been thinking about why we take the positions we do. Internet debate, and I am afraid that neither this blog nor my Twitter feed is an exception in this regard, tends to be highly polarizing and tribal. As such, it is most encouraging when there is suddenly room for understanding and reflection. After my last post, I have exchanged a few e-mails with Sverker Sörlin and it made me regret my somewhat harsh and unforgiving tone.

Sometimes, it helps to just think of one’s own intellectual journey, of how much I have changed my own views over the years, and how grateful I am for all the people who have explained things for me so I could see them in a different light. While I have learned a lot also from people who have taken hard stances on issues, I think it is safe to say that we would all do well with a little more humility. After all, many of the issues that I tend to debate are quintessentially “wicked” in ways that make it extremely difficult to distinguish facts from values.

Convinced as I may seem about the merits of ecomodernism, I would probably be far more critical of its tenets if I were living in a world dominated by one-eyed techno-optimists. Yet, as enthusiasm over modernity has waned in the affluent world and been replaced by a hypocritical hedonism which takes one’s own privileges for granted yet proclaim that it would spell ecological doom if these privileges were universalized, I cannot retreat into the ivory tower and simply be “critical” about progress. Not only do we need to recognize that qualitative progress has been historically possible, we must also, more than ever perhaps, defend its legacy against the rising reactionary tide.

As such, I thought it would be prudent to revisit Barbapapa. As a child, I remember reading “L'arche de Barbapapa” from 1974 in which humanity pushes the biosphere to near extinction by pollution, hunting and overall toxification. In response, Barbapapa builds a space ark to rescue the remaining animals and repopulate them on another planet. It is only once they left that the humans understand what they have done and embark on what, in lieu of a better word, I would call “ecomodernism” :-)

Reading the same story for Eddie the other day, I was struck by the many similarities, how practically all the themes of the Manifesto are readily visible, as in the intensification of production (in underground factories even!), the rewilding of the planet and an biophilic ethic that makes people cherish what they have lost. In fact, this is very much how I see our present situation; that it has to get a lot worse until we wake up and fully realize our macropolitical choices with regard to nature.

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