Interesting Excerpts

(Excessive highlighting mine.)

[...] In these dreams, there was always a wall coming—a wall of fire or a wall of smoke—and it moved with terrifying impartial finality, like the playhead on a video timeline.

The fire dreams began to mix with dreams of my own death, which had increased during the pandemic. I wrote in my journal:

The future has disappeared—I want to say over a horizon, but there is no horizon, just this smoke-fog. I have never felt more distinctly that every year will be a worse year, that every minute is a minute closer to catastrophe and unrecoverable losses. Just like how you feel about your own aging body, but applied to everythingin the world, and you don't even have the comfort of knowingthat it will flourish after you are gone, like it's actually ending.

I keep thinking about my childhood and how I grew up not even knowing about wildfires, and how I thought of myself as living in a "normal time," and now everything in my past feels like it was traveling along the surface of a folded piece of paper. And just now, we're going over the fold, and everything after this is just about survival. Everything will be different in ways I can't imagine, and there is much reason to believe it will be far worse, and the deep terror involved in that is the terror, I think, that is driving my dreams. Not just of dying, but of suffering.

reading this in the midst of another nightmare fire season—one that started much earlier than usual—I recognize and sympathize with my own sentiment. Yet I've also begun to see such nightmares as my internalization of declinism, the belief that a once-stable society is headed for inevitable and irreversible doom. As distinct from a clearheaded (and heartbroken) assessment of our situation, declinism is probably one of the more dangerous forms of linear, deterministic time reckoning there is. After all, it is one thing to acknowledge the past and future losses that follow from what has occurred; it is another to truly see history and the future proceeding with the same grim amorality as the video playhead, where nothing is driving it except itself. In failing to recognize the agency of both human and nonhuman actors, such a view makes struggle and contingency invisible and produces nihilism, nostalgia, and ultimately paralysis.

Declinism is a close relative of nostalgia, and objects of nostalgia are often atemporal, lacking aliveness. An example: say you break up with someone and many years later find yourself nostalgic for the relationship. Who is it that appears in this melancholic yearning? Assuming they're still around, it is surely not your ex-partner as they currently are, the one who has continued to age and evolve. Instead, it is a frozen, idealized version of them, like a hologram that survives within and despite the present. What's more, some relationships arguably end in the first place because the partners have stopped seeing each other in time, one partner having replaced the living, changing other with a static image that can impart no surprises, only a comforting presence. As we learned with the moss, [site owner: see pg 140-143] to think you love and appreciate something or someone is, unfortunately, not a guarantee that you can assign them their own reality or that you know them at all.

That's how it's been with me and "the environment" for much of my life. When I was a kid, my family took a few road trips up north, past the seemingly impenetrable Santa Rosa and Klamath mountain ranges. From the backseat of our car as we drove up Highway 101, I saw hundreds of miles of redwoods and Douglas fir. Admiring their unbroken density, I thought I was looking at forests immemorial. (Children can be nostalgic, too.) Even entering my thirties, I hadn't made much progress past "trees = good; fires = bad." I had yet to learn that California and, indeed, much of the world was actually in the midst of a fire deficit. I was not aware of how closely the local ecology had co-evolved with periodic fire, nor the extent to which indigenous people worldwide had used fire, nor how or when such practices were banned. In other words, I thought I was looking at natural history, not political or cultural history—as if the two could ever be separated.

Book: "an attempt to see time as something other than money" Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock (2023) by Jenny Odell, pages 156-158

I am citing these perspectives not in order to shame those, like me, whose worlds only now seem to be ending. Rather, to the nihilist who cannot imagine the future, I am highlighting a perspective that has survived, and continues to survive, the long-ago end of the world. There are many people and places that could accept neither Enlightenment Man's march of progress nor the billiard ball declinism of the Anthropocene—because that narrative was inherently premised upon their destruction, commodification, and relegation to a state of nonbeing. For those people and places, the historical past can never be an object of nostalgia, and the future has always been in jeopardy. If you don't want to kick the can down the road, look to those who never recognized the road in the first place.

Book: "an attempt to see time as something other than money" Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock (2023) by Jenny Odell, pages 179-180

The extra heat that we trap near the planet every day is equivalent to the heat from four hundred thousand bombs the size of the one that was dropped on Hiroshima.

Life on a Shrinking Planet by Bill McKibben, The New Yorker, November 26th, 2018

DeMocker: You have talked about "climate victory speakers." What are they?

Wood: Back in World War II citizens known as victory speakers helped mobilize the nation rapidly. They were average people who would give five-minute talks at bridge clubs, movie theaters, PTA meetings — anywhere. My mother and grandmother were both victory speakers and gave four to five speeches a day, telling people how to garden and can vegetables to conserve resources for the war effort.

People listen to trusted members of the community more than they listen to scientists or academics. Victory speakers can wake Americans up to our new reality and tell them what they can do about it. Neighborhood associations are tremendous for this. Churches are already organized through their committees and membership lists. I also see a role for the Internet and social media. A league of concerned citizens has to step up and say, "This will be my purpose. I can't solve all the problems. I can't plant all the gardens. But I'm going to take on the task of waking people up."

Let there be no mistake, our government's energy policies are a threat to our collective survival. But we've faced tyrannical threats before and overcome them — by uniting in solidarity. This is an "all hands on deck" moment for planetary defense. If we come together to present this unprecedented peril, with everyone stepping up to contribute, we just might transform our present political divisiveness into a unified effort to preserve our country.

The Sun Interview Before It's Too Late Mary Christina Wood on Avoiding Climate Disaster, interview by Mary DeMocker. February 2019.

If we think about what it means to "concentrate" or "pay attention" at an individual level, it implies alignment: different parts of the mind and even the body acting in concert and oriented toward the same thing. To pay attention to one thing is to resist paying attention to other things; it means constantly denying and thwarting provocations outside the sphere of one's attention. We contrast this with distraction, in which the mind is disassembled, pointing in may different directions at once and preventing meaningful action. It seems the same is true on a collective level. Just as it takes alignment for someone to concentrate and act with intention, it requires alignement for a "movement" to move. Importantly, this is not a top-down formation, but rather a mutual agreement among individuals who pay intense attention to the same things and to each other.

I draw the connection between individual and collective concentration because it makes the stakes of attention clear. It's not just that living in a constant state of distraction is unpleasant or that a life without willful thought or action is an impoverished one. If it's true that collective agency both mirros and relies on the individual capacity to "pay attention," then in a time that demands action, distraction appears to be (at the level of the collective) a life-and-death matter. A social body that can't concentrate or communicate with itself is like a person who can't think and act. In Chapter I, I mentioned Berardi's distinction between connectivity and sensitivity in After the Future. It's here that we see why this difference matters. For Berardi, the replacement of sensitivity with connectivity leads to a "social brain" that "appears unable to recompose, to find common strategies of behavior, incapable of common narration and of solidarity."

This "schizoid" collective brain cannot act, only react blindly and in misaligned ways to a barrage of stimuli, mostly out of fear and anger. That's bad news for sustained refusal. While it may seem at first like refusal is a reaction, the decision to actually refuse--not once, not twice, but perpetually until things have changed--means the development of and adherence to individual and collective commitments from which our actions proceed. In the history of activism, even things that seemed like reactions were often planned actions. For example, as William T. Martin Riches reminds us in his accounting of the Montgomery bus boycott, Rosa Parks was "acting, not reacting" when she refused to get up from her seat. She was already involved with activist organizations, having been trained at the Highlander Folk School, which produced many important figures in the movement.40 The actual play-by-play of the bus boycott is a reminder that meaningful acts of refusal have come not directly from fear, anger, and hysteria, but rather from the clarity and attention that makes organizing possible.

Book: How to do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (2019) by Jenny Odell, page 81-82