The internet brings out the worst in people

I seem to have made James K. A. Smith angry. As so often happens to me in blog conversations, my perhaps over-forceful articulation of my argument has led to personal attacks — or actually, meta-“personal attacks,” accusing me of making personal attacks.

It’s the classic asymmetry: I say they misunderstand something specifically, they come back with, “Oh, you’re sooooooooooo smart, you’re the only one who understands anything!”; I forcefully state a disagreement, they come back with, “You’re an intolerant asshole who can’t stand for anyone to disagree with you!” Are you sure about that last one? Who’s the one overreacting to disagreement here, really?

Say what you will of the limitations of question and answer sections at academic conferences — the social pressures that come with being physically present to others restrain this kind of behavior, at least until we regroup with our friends and start trash-talking people behind everyone’s back.

Now you’d think that a blog setting, with its lack of space limitations and its time-delayed format, would allow for a much richer conversation than could ever be possible at a conference. In practice, though, its removal of the face-to-face element most often seems to lead to a thorough interweaving of the shallow Q&A session and the post-session bitching to one’s friends. It’s a marvel of efficiency, if you think about it — like a compressed academic conference, plus Cheetos!

It Bears Repeating…

Deleuze and Guattari are aggressively evangelical as they preach the good news of the plane of immanence. One cannot deny the evangelical tenor of their statements on Spinoza, “the Christ of the philosophers” when they say “Spinoza was the philosopher who knew full well that immanence was only immanent to itself and therefore that it was a plane traversed by movements of the infinite, filled with intensive ordinates. He is therefore the prince of philosophers. Perhaps he is the only philosopher never to have compromised with transcendence and to have hunted it down everywhere. In the last book of the Ethics he produced the movement of the infinite and gave infinite speeds to thought in the third kind of knowledge. There he attains incredible speeds, with such lightning compressions that one can only speak of music, of tornadoes, of wind and strings. He discovered that freedom exists only within immanence. He fulfilled philosophy because he satisfied its prephilosophical presupposition.” Amen. (What is Philosophy?, 48.) One has to wonder if this hasn’t turned itself inside out and become religion without vertical Being or imperial State; but only a fool woold wonder if they are pious.

Solutions

I posted a draft of this elsewhere, but Anthony chastized me for not doing so here instead/as well. So, Mr. Smith, consider it edited & cross-posted.

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The inevitable question that is raised when anybody talks about things like climate change and alternatives to the amorality of capitalism and over-consumption, as I was doing elsewhere a couple of weeks ago, is Okay, so what do we do about it? Sometimes, this question is asked in all honesty: Yes, I agree. What do we do now? Most of the time, though, it is considered the ultimate rejoinder: All you can do is articulate the problem. I’ve heard no solutions. There is nothing we can do. So, what to do when there is nothing to be done but continue to do what we have always done, but perhaps a bit more humanely?

I will concede that there is no solution in the sense that anticipates and desires a how-to list of ways to save the world. More important than the absence of any how-to, though, is the absence of will. If you talk about this stuff long enough and to enough people, most will get exasperated because you’ve not laid out the reasons and ways we can survive. What we want are ways we can survive and still lead basically the same life we’ve been leading. (For example, as I personally encountered last week, let’s applaud the slow food movement, and let’s buy organic, but let’s dismiss as a crackpot anyone who suggests we figure out a way once again to privilege agrarian communities, at the expense of industrialization and progress.) That this is fundamentally opposed to the very critique of consumption never seems to dawn on most of us. (Another example: people who talk about the electric car imagine a very happy world of zero emissions and high mileage, and a new world of economic growth and industrial expansion freed of over-consumpton. The problem with this is the amount of energy/consumption (& cost) needed to [a] completely redesign and rebuild the electrical grid, and [b] to create & maintain the new industrial market responsible for the production & distribution of millions of batteries, is so high, and so immediately necessary, that [at minimum] it will alter the playing field of who can afford to consume what is now even an average amount of resources.) If mathematics and geology are correct — who can assume these things anymore? — what is necessary is a fundamental change that not only changes the present, but in effect changes the past decisions that set us on this present path. Nobody wants to hear this, of course. It is, in short, inconceivable. Nonsense.

What is not inconceivable, however, is that there is a solution to our problem. In fact, I think the end result of our consumptive ways is its own solution. Our path has a terminus. There will be more famine. There almost certainly will be eco-catastrophes. There will be more disease. Lots of people, mostly poor, will die. The middle-class will become incredibly disenfranchised when the protective bubble of credit we’ve settled in is no longer sustainable, and will likely become even more dangerous than we are today when the reality we kept at bay seaps back into everyday life. As some have suggested, the very same rich & famous we gawk at now may actually become the targets for aggression and resentment — which, I will confess, would make Access Hollywood much more enjoyable. And where do the formerly coddled and now newly disenfranchised go for their succor but either identitarian movements that mistrust strangers and/or the awaiting rhetoric of demagogic religion & politics. All this seems unavoidable to me, and in a certain sense it does “solve” many of our problems — in an absolutely dire way.

What’s more. We are, I believe, beyond the point of stopping this. The most viable response now is to begin preparing ourselves for what comes after. In the most simple and admittedly naive of terms, we need to start learning NOW how to live in alternative, less-consumptive ways — using our hands, learning agriculture, learning how to get by w/out driving, etc. In short, we need to start re-learning things long-forgotten in the name of progress. I’m not so naive as to think or imagine a future anytime soon where people worldwide do these things, change our current situation, and reverse the course our history of (bad) decisions has set us on. But I can imagine our world being changed in such a way that we and our habits are forced to change. Making preparations now is imperative … not to delay the future, though in some measure it might a little, but to prepare ourselves for its arrival.

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