Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What I've Been Reading

Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Posthumanities) by Timothy  Morton.

What are hyper-objects:
In The Ecological Thought I coined the term hyperobjects to refer to things that are massively distributed in time and space relative to humans. 
  • A hyperobject could be a black hole. 
  • A hyperobject could be the Lago Agrio oil field in Ecuador, or the Florida Everglades. 
  • A hyperobject could be the biosphere, or the Solar System.
  • A hyperobject could be the sum total of all the nuclear materials on Earth; or just the plutonium, or the uranium. 
  • A hyperobject could be the very long-lasting product of direct human manufacture, such as Styrofoam or plastic bags, or the sum of all the whirring machinery of capitalism. Hyperobjects, then, are “hyper” in relation to some other entity, whether they are directly manufactured by humans or not.
Bottom line - Black Swans are random, unpredictable and uncertain future events which most of our cognition cannot comprehend and none of us can predict (of-course we can eloquently weave a narrative fallacy using hindsight wisdom). Where as hyper-objects are everywhere and currently happening (also in the past and present) but yet our cognition cannot comprehend.
Give that our brains is driven by cognitive fluency and language; I love that Morton coined the term "hyper-objects". But I was disappointed he mostly makes a case for global warming and merely brushes other issues (to be fair, global warming was the reason he coined this term).
  • Hyperobjects have already ushered in a new human phase of hypocrisy, weakness, and lameness: these terms have a very specific resonance in this study, and I shall explore them in depth. Hypocrisy results from the conditions of the impossibility of a metalanguage (and as I shall explain, we are now freshly aware of these conditions because of the ecological emergency); weakness from the gap between phenomenon and thing, which the hyperobject makes disturbingly visible; and lameness from the fact that all entities are fragile (as a condition of possibility for their existence), and hyperobjects make this fragility conspicuous. 3 Hyperobjects are also changing human art and experience (the aesthetic dimension). We are now in what I call the Age of Asymmetry.
  • That the terms are presented as choices rather than as a package is a symptom of this failure, since logically it is correct to say “climate change as a result of global warming,” where “climate change” is just a compression of a more detailed phrase, a metonymy. If this is not the case, then climate change as a substitute for global warming is like “cultural change” as a substitute for Renaissance, or “change in living conditions” as a substitute for Holocaust. Climate change as substitute enables cynical reason (both right wing and left) to say that the “climate has always been changing,” which to my ears sounds like using “people have always been killing one another” as a fatuous reason not to control the sale of machine guns.
  • The panic and denial and right-wing absurdity about global warming are understandable. Hyperobjects pose numerous threats to individualism, nationalism, anti-intellectualism, racism, speciesism, anthropocentrism, you name it. Possibly even capitalism itself.
  • All humans, I shall argue, are now aware that they have entered a new phase of history in which nonhumans are no longer excluded or merely decorative features of their social, psychic, and philosophical space.
  • On every right side mirror of every American car is engraved an ontological slogan that is highly appropriate for our time: OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR. Not only do I fail to access hyperobjects at a distance, but it also becomes clearer with every passing day that “distance” is only a psychic and ideological construct designed to protect me from the nearness of things. There is a reason why they call it “the schizophrenic defense” when someone has a psychotic break. Could it be that the very attempt to distance is not a product of some true assessment of things, but is and was always a defense mechanism against a threatening proximity?
  • A Styrofoam cup will outlive me by over four hundred years. The plastic bag in Ramin Bahrani’s movie (in the voice of Werner Herzog) wishes to talk to the woman it knows as its maker, the woman who used it to carry her groceries: “If I could meet my maker, I would tell her just one thing: I wish that she had created me so that I could die.” 9 To hear a plastic bag wish such a thing is profoundly different from thinking abstract infinity. There is a real sense in which it is far easier to conceive of “forever” than very large finitude. Forever makes you feel important. One hundred thousand years makes you wonder whether you can imagine one hundred thousand anything. It seems rather abstract to imagine that a book is one hundred thousand words long.
  • Two hundred years of idealism, two hundred years of seeing humans at the center of existence, and now the objects take revenge, terrifyingly huge, ancient, long-lived, threateningly minute, invading every cell in our body. When we flush the toilet, we imagine that the U-bend takes the waste away into some ontologically alien realm. Ecology is now beginning to tell us about something very different: a flattened world without ontological U-bends. A world in which there is no “away.”
  • Two and a half thousand people showed up at the University of Arizona in Tucson for a series of talks on cosmology. Evidently there is a thirst for thinking about the universe as a whole. Why is the same fascination not there for global warming? It’s because of the oppressive claustrophobic horror of actually being inside it.
  • Marxists will argue that huge corporations are responsible for ecological damage and that it is self-destructive to claim that we are all responsible. Marxism sees the “ethical” response to the ecological emergency as hypocrisy. Yet according to many environmentalists and some anarchists , in denying that individuals have anything to do with why Exxon pumps billions of barrels of oil, Marxists are displacing the blame away from humans. This view sees the Marxist “political” response to the ecological emergency as hypocrisy.

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