Monday, September 29, 2014

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Reflections and Review

July 4, 2012

Like the shock wave of an explosion, the coming catastrophes of global climate change empty the current world of meaning, of purpose, of poetry. Standing in Columbus circle in Manhattan after seeing this visionary film at the Lincoln Cinema, surrounded by the metropolitan beacons of this global ecocide, there is no air to breathe; it has been forced out by the shock wave of the coming storms. What light can we find for anything in the shadow of the end of everything we know? Perhaps Nero was right to play the fiddle; the most conscientious and skillful statesman could not have prevented the fall of Rome.

What is to be done before everything is undone?

The prevention of catastrophic climate change would require the most industrialized nations in the world to immediately reduce their economies, as measured in GDP, by 80 to 90%, within the next three years. This is the price for achieving a carbon emissions peak in 2015, which is the minimum necessary to prevent a catastrophic 4 to 7 degree Celsius warming by the end of the century.

This accomplished, Mother Nature would not put on a spectacular show and say thank you. People would have to simply accept and adapt to the dire necessity that the capitalist industrial system and all its amenities can never ever return again.

What possible scenario could result in this miraculous feat; the greatest collective action, in quantity and quality, ever conceived in human history? By definition none of the existing political structures could accommodate this scale of transformation. A priori it would have to be a people's revolution.

But will they do it? Will the self defined First Worlders collectively struggle and sacrifice in order to ration, to collectivize, to transform (and by their definition “reduce”) their cherished “standard of living” to one in balance with all their fellow beings, human and non human? Will they do it in the next three to five years? Will they overthrow not only their nationalist, classist, racist and sexist attitudes and institutions, but also their anthropocentric hubris? Will they turn off the coal plants (for a start) and start to ration electricity in the cities? Will they shut down factory farms and agribusiness? Moreover, will the workers in polluting industries lead the struggles to end these industries, and make the necessary sacrifices?

Alas, it would be foolish to assess it as anything other than extremely unlikely. The revolutionary political groups of the USA in particular are immature, scattered and confused, not to mention severely lacking in ecological consciousness. Perhaps they have a chance in the long term, but certainly not within the next three to five years. The picture is better in Europe, but not by much! The movements are not to be disparaged, of course they must be encouraged and supported wholeheartedly! But also assessed. And it's not looking good. We have barely begun to understand the corrupting and and corrosive force of capitalism on consciousness and so-called subjective conditions, which has saturated the so-called advanced and developed world for centuries.

So here we are in the shock wave of apocalypse. We cannot solve the current crisis by avoiding looking at it in the face, as so many do, learning the awful facts only to hide them away in an unused corner of their minds, together with guilty fantasies and advertising jingles. We must be ruthlessly honest in preparation for ruthless conditions. We must recognize the central organizing force of this apocalypse as capitalism, and understand the holistic immensity of its deadliness. We also cannot avoid looking ourselves in the face, and assess the extent to which we are unprepared and uncommitted to the necessary revolutionary transformation. (The extreme degree of our collective lack of preparation is evidenced by the fact that not a single one of the raving reviews of this film in popular media organs even mention climate change!)

With apocalypse comes revelation. They are the same word in Greek. Yet in the so-called First World we are far more familiar and comfortable with apocalypse than with revelation. It is easier to close our eyes and cry in the smoke than to summon the vision to see through it.

Like Marx said of revolution in North America, awareness of this apocalypse and revelation “appear only as vanishing moments,” in films like this one, easily enough forgotten and buried by the culture industry, lost in the raucous rush of cosmopolitan consumption, or simply immobilized in the shock wave of its own story.

What room is there for politics in this shock wave? Perhaps even more than politics, what is needed is prophecy. To see beyond the event horizon of the shock wave, into and through the coming explosion, and beyond... to speak to the future, to prepare the ground for its transformation. This seems at the moment more important and lasting than debating the sand castles of party lines while the waters rise.

This vision is not hopeful or optimistic, but it has the virtue of being at least honest. And in honesty there is meaning. It is this honesty that gives the fictional characters and plot of this film more meaning than the prevarication that is 99% of the culture industry, it is this meaning which forces this industry to acknowledge this film's high quality (even as they ignore and deny its implications), and it is this honesty alone which can give our lives meaning in this grotesquely unique period of planetary history.

Welcome to the real which is not yet a desert or under water. As Werner Herzog in his most recent film The Cave of Forgotten Dreams compared humanity in our current planetary moment to mutant albino crocodiles, in Beasts of the Southern Wild we are compared and contrasted to the Aurochs, driven to extinction by climate change. Whatever our long-term future, the whole species is at stake, and our path and choice are clear enough: apocalypse and revelation; prophecy or prevarication. 


No comments: