Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Whose Streets? Anarchism, Technology and the Petromodern State

Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Whose Streets? Anarchism, Technology and the Petromodern State

Article excerpt

The authority of the modern state cannot find a solution, of course, because it has come to encompass every aspect of the problem itself. In fact, disaster tends to fuel the system that generates it, which means that we must also abandon the pathetic hope that perhaps this latest horror will be the signal that turns the tide (as Chernobyl was supposed to be, and Bhopal).1

There are an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 tonnes of waste from nuclear power plants in the world, and this waste will be around for about 100,000 years.2 Almost one million cubic metres of radioactive waste have been dumped into the oceans. Almost 90% of the trash in the ocean is plastic,3 dispersed over millions of square miles, and may take a century to biodegrade. The stuff that biodegrades faster than that, releases toxic chemicals that interfere with reproductive systems.4 A 201 1 study by the International Programme on the State of Ocean (IPSO) warned that ocean life is on the brink of the worst mass extinctions in millions of years.5 'As goes the ocean, so goes life', Alanna Mitchell reminds us.6 The now-familiar effects of global climate change increasingly appear to have been underestimated, and 'weird' weather and other disastrous consequences have become common occurrences. Peak oil. Peak soil. Peak water. 'Over the next 100 years or so as many as half of the Earth's species, representing a quarter of the planet's genetic stock, will functionally if not completely disappear', writes Stephen Meyer. 'Nothing - not national or international laws, global bioreserves, local sustainability schemes, or even "wildlands" fantasies - can change the current course. The broad path for biological evolution is now set for the next several million years.'7 Scientists call this the anthropocene, a name that denotes the impact of human beings on global ecosystems. Many consider this the age of 'collapse',8 an inevitability about which the only questions one can summon concern its 'pace and consequences'.9

The horror show of global capitalism, centuries in the making, may appear to be reaching its end - what ubiquitous philosopher Slavoj Zizek calls its 'apocalyptic zero-point' -l0 with a combination of rapid resource depletion, ecological evisceration and financial meltdown. Yet any expectation that such conditions will necessarily generate the requisite revolutionary forces to transcend capitalism is far behind us. Capital has always thrived on catastrophe, drawing on its own bituminious byproduct to stimulate further economic growth and entrenchment, whereas a critical mass of revolt has mobilised only sporadically. Witness the relative timidity of popular resistance in industrialised countries following the $16 trillion bank bailouts from 2007 to 2010," or the LIBOR interest rate-rigging scandal affecting $350 trillion in derivatives. The multiple crises of capitalism, global in scale and lethal to all forms of life on the planet, have not convinced most people participating in capitalist economies to retreat from the precipice. As the tipping point for runaway climate change looms, and with the sixth mass extinction event in the history of planet earth already in full swing, substantial and prolonged public revolt is replaced by resignation, techno-optimism and reactionary retrenchment. No, this is not the End Times. This is the beginning of an attenuated disaster ensured by the material tendencies of petromodernity,12 forms of 'slow violence' such as global warming13 mass extinction and nuclear contamination, which will inhabit the imaginable future to some extent no matter what human beings do.

In the context of prolonged crises, the relationships between anarchist politics and twenty-first century technologies will continually emerge as critical elements of practice and theory. Anarchists must theorise revolutionary conjunctions with technology even as we experiment with technological invention and destruction. We hope this issue oí Anarchist Studies provides incentive for others to expand the discussion of anarchism and technology, provoking more interest in the anarchist tradition for scholars of technology, and more interest in the history, philosophy and politics of technology for anarchist scholars and activists. …

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