Where does the trouble start?
We are currently approaching what many have referred to as the sixth mass extinction, also known as the Anthropocene extinction.[i] While species extinction is certainly a fact of life, it has been argued that species are dying faster than the normal rate. Species are currently threatened because of capitalist overproduction and colonialism, led by anthropogenic climate change, habitat destruction, and the introduction of foreign species into their balanced ecosystems.[ii] As it will be argued in this paper, the trouble starts when human beings see themselves apart from the environment, as well as when the perception of time, space and matter are put apart from each other.
In “Encountering the “Ecopolis”: Foucault’s Epimeleia Heautou and Environmental Relations” Petra Hroch addresses an interesting term, the ‘ecopolis’. She sees polis as a political sphere in which she includes not only human subjects and the human-made spaces, but also non-human subjects and spaces. Her political perspective puts the environment and Humankind together, arguing that both are part of a pluralistic and sustainable polis.[iii] It doesn’t mean that to care about the environment represents another way of imposing human orders, but rather she recognizes one’s role concerning the political sphere, and the inter-connectedness with the existence of various others.[iv]
When putting apart the Human species from the environment, we split not only the understanding of being but also that of time and space. By doing that, we assume a homogeneity, or rather an absolute state of things. Two examples of how time and space are being understood in its homogeneity are the ‘Doomsday clock’ and the ‘Peace Watch Tower’. The first is a symbolic clock, synchronized moments before midnight depending on how close the world is to global catastrophe.[v] At first synchronized to the prospect of nuclear apocalypse, and later including climate change as a significant threat to the survival of our planet. More than time, the clock synchronizes global politics and technological progress.
The second example is the ‘Peace Watch Tower’ from Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, a digital clock synchronized to peace instead of war, and every time there is a nuclear test, it resets back to zero.[vi] But still, either when time is getting closer to midnight or resetting back to zero, by calling it a ‘global catastrophe’ we assume homogeneity of the circumstances all around our planet. Therefore, to re-understand the circumstances one must also trouble[vii] the understanding of time and space itself.
There is a certain abstraction when universalizing perceived realities. This problem is acknowledged by Donna Haraway when she argues that it might be true that we are fighting for change, but it might not affect everybody at the same time, or in the same way, it is indeed not for everybody’s benefit. As she points, the “evidence for rapid anthropogenic climate change, shows that 7-11 billion human beings make demands that cannot be borne without immense damage to human and nonhuman beings across the earth.” It is often the case that in the name of ecojustice, we seek for some other ‘not us’ to blame for the ongoing destruction, like Capitalism, Imperialism, Neoliberalism, Modernization, etc. Haraway defends a demand for taking ‘response-ability to engage with unexpected others.’[viii]
“Staying with the troubles does not require such a relationship to times called the future. In fact, staying with the trouble requires learning to be truly present, not as a vanishing pivot between awful or Edenic pasts and apocalyptic or salvific futures, but as mortal critters[ix] entwined in myriad unfinished configurations of places, times, matters, meanings.”[x]
What does it take to stay with the trouble? How to embody change in our diverse realities, and acknowledge diverse perceptions? In Germany, a recent protest is taking place under the umbrella of the activist group Extinction Rebellion using the hashtag #rebellionofOne. This action consists of people blocking the traffic alone in the name of climate despair. The protesters sat down alone in the middle of the street and persevered there until they were removed by the police. Carrying signs around their necks they manifest their fears with messages such as: "I am afraid of more pandemics because of the climate crisis" or "I am afraid that the livelihoods of my children and grandchildren will be destroyed because of the climate crisis". The point they raise is that we alone have a responsibility to future generations and to learn that more species are becoming extinct and the climate crisis has already and will have fatal consequences to all of us. As one participant desperately quotes: "If it takes putting my body on the street to draw attention to this, I am horrified enough to do it."[xi]
As the example above, the use of the body as a way to perform a manifest, to embody it, is a way to understand the inter-connectedness of macro and micro contexts and the influence one has on another; as well as the entanglements of past present, and future through the idea of here and now; and last but not least, the relationship between self and others.
[i] Scientists refer to the current time as the Anthropocene period, meaning the period of humanity. They warn that, because of human activities the Earth might be on the verge of—or already in—a sixth mass extinction. The big question is that if Humankind is passing through a mass extinction, what and how will new forms of life replace us? (Geographic)
[ii] (Greshko, 2019)
[iii] (Hroch, 2010, pp. 1-2)
[iv] (Ibid., p. 6)
[v] Created by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Doomsday Clock - Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (thebulletin.org)
[vi] (Barad, Troubling Time/s and Ecologies of Nothingness: Re-turning, Re-membering, and Facing the Incalculable, 2017, p. 59)
[vii] Here I will borrow the definition of trouble given by Donna Harway, as follows: “Trouble … derives from a thirteenth-century French verb meaning “to stir up,” “to make cloudy,” “to disturb.” ... The task is to become capable, with each other in all of our bumptious kinds, of response … [our] task is to make kin in lines of inventive connection as a practice of learning to live and die well with each other in a thick present… In urgent times, many of us are tempted to address trouble in terms of making an imagined future safe, of stopping something from happening that loom in the future, of cleaning away the present and the past in order to make futures for coming generations.” (Haraway, 2016, p. 1)
[viii] (Ibid., pp. 208-9)
[ix] Haraway mentions that the use of the term `critters` refers to microbes, plants, animals, humans and nonhumans, and sometimes even to machines.
[x] (Ibid., p. 1)
[xi] Information took from the Instagram account of @xrberlin from a post made on 15.05.2021(free translation)