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dust storm near the Nevada Test Site, smudge studio 2009
If you haven’t heard Radiolab’s recent episode mapping the transformative journey of theorist/philosopher/teacher Eugene Thacker’s book, In the Dust of the Planet through the vagaries of popular culture, here’s the link.
The book, In the Dust of this Planet, is a heady endeavor taking up concepts and expressions of nihilism in culture (horror films, black metal etc.). As the promo page at ZERO Books explains, Thacker’s work takes up, “those moments when philosophical thinking enigmatically confronts the horizon of its own existence.”
We were captivated by the Radiolab program on many levels, but perhaps most by the provocation at about two to three minutes into the podcast. There, the program introduces what Friedrich Nietzsche suggested might be the most “difficult” thoughts: that the world around us doesn’t care about us, our existence might an “accident,” there “is no order to the cosmos,” therefore our lives are meaningless, making reality a “horror.”
Around minute 15, the Radiolab piece references contemporary planetary realities. The host, Jad Abumrad, suggests that there is an “uncomfortable shift” unfolding in how we think about climate change. It’s a shift from prevention into adaptation. A scientist on the program from the ICPP (PDF of recent report) admits that we’re now at the stage of not being able to stop it, and instead we need to “admit some degree of failure.” He continues to say that we are now “bending over backward to find ways to be optimistic,”but “the kinds of actions needed are so heroic that we aren’t going to see them on this planet.” The program also points out that 76% of people over 18 years old aren’t “confident that the future will be brighter than the past.”
We pressed “pause” around this time and made, what was for us, a conceptual leap. Based on what we had just heard, it seemed possible that many people have become so unmotivated to accept and act in response to the reality of climate change because doing so requires us to “hold the thought” that the planet is actually indifferent to our existence.
Nietzsche’s most horrific thoughts might be Eastern philosophy’s most inviting. We still have time and context for re-thinking myths of human-centered dominance perpetuated by Western philosophy. Given the geologic reality that the planet isn’t only for or about us, the fact that we are still here could be viewed as a bit of miracle. Our presence on Earth, as one evolutionary outcome of this planet’s volatile history, is a wildcard of sorts. Rather than making life seem meaningless, the precarious wildness of our very existence invites us to meet the questions and challenges of the Anthropocene by playing the wild potential we hold.
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