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Coup de Planète

Photo by Jim Mattis | CC BY 2.0

There has been a military coup in the United States and nobody noticed, least of all our president. Just when we were following the MSM down the Russian rabbit hole convinced that the deep state would eventually pull us out of this nose dive and perhaps even collude in the impeachment of the apricot-hued one, along come the Generals – Kelly, Mattis and McMaster – to join the other adult in the room, Rexxon Tillerson, to right the ship of state and navigate it back on track towards the end of the world.

This voyage has been long ongoing, certainly since the middle of the nineteenth century, but has mostly been traveled just outside of our range of consciousness. Starting in the 1990’s, however, the science became clear: the warming world represents an existential threat to humanity and many other life-forms – the planet, as we had come to know it, was heading for extinction.  Governments throughout the world have colluded in its incipient demise but none until now, as willfully as the Trump administration.

It is Bruno Latour, the French philosopher, anthropologist and sociologist who situates climate change as the pivotal socio-economic-political event of our time (Europe alone – only Europe). He links our awareness of the event directly with the collapse of the trente glorieuse (those thirty postwar years when rising wages and the welfare state in the West flattened income distribution and contributed to a buoyant middle class) and the subsequent rise of massive income disparities in exactly those places most responsible for the carbon emissions driving global warming.

He suggests that global elites have been aware of our planet’s trajectory for some four decades and have prepared alternate navigational strategies. They have encouraged deregulation by which they could consolidate their share of global wealth at the expense of the other 99% to whom they had sold the vision of a unified, globalized community or, alternatively, they have denied the reality of climate change. The genius of Trumpist politics (what Latour calls “one of those rare innovations”), is that it combines the two.

The global elites have been busy making plans, ahead of the emerging reality that the habitable portions of the planet will no longer be big enough for everyone, for the protection of its most privileged people and places. This has not gone entirely unnoticed. Many folks understand that they have been abandoned by these predatory, solipsistic cadres who have no intention of sharing the world and its remaining wealth with them. The populist reaction to this abandonment is a retreat behind national boundaries and under the blanket of traditional culture, in a total renunciation of globalization.

Latour sees in Trumpist politics the perfect storm of low pressure moving over warm water – personified as those grappling for the spoils of extreme capitalism colliding with those heading for the exits – towards the perceived protections of ethnic separatism, reactionary conservatism and racial violence (viz. Charlottesville). This combination of extremes – predation by the elites and the profound chagrin of those whose dreams of affluence in a globalized world have been snatched away from them – now comes under the protection and management of a military junta nominally headed by an impotent, narcissistic, borderline sociopathic president; all this against a background of denial of its precipitating circumstances – of climate change and its attendant science. Oh, happy days!

It is only possible to fuse globalization (with its inherent financial rewards to the elite) with a return to blood and soil if one denies the connection between modernization (and its handmaiden neo-liberalism) with the deleterious condition of the planet. This, Latour suggests, is the first time a political party has been organized around ecological circumstance, if only by dint of its strenuous denial of a connection between the health of the planet and climate change. Trump’s rise to power on the back of this contradiction indicates an abandonment of the will to create a world order, so evident under Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama. The rise of the Generals will likely change that, if only to return to the field of battle for the enrichment of the military industrial and services complex whilst simultaneously increasing the global insecurities necessary for the imposition of fascist (or as Latour has it, Trumpist) policies.

Latour further argues that a united Europe was shielded by a moral umbrella because it represented “the greatest institutional invention for exceeding the limits of state sovereignty”. Now the umbrella under which this benign construction sheltered has been shattered by Brexit. In the U.S., we might similarly suggest that we have harbored a great institutional invention for the sequestering of benighted populations fleeing the old aristocracies of Europe and their colonial dependencies. That historical project is now cast into disrepute by our current actions, and with our own moral umbrella in tatters; the goal of global hegemonic rule by the U.S. now fully delegitimized too, by our government’s refusal to accept the climatological realities of the day (viz. Hurricane Harvey, the gargantuan, invisible storm).

Latour sees opportunities for a still mostly united Europe to become an example for the ordering of the world, but only he warns, if it heads the ship of state (the European Parliament) in the opposite direction to the USS America (being alert, it should be noted, to the possibilities for a collision). Such a direction would entail a navigational understanding of the fundamental antagonism between the health of the planet and modernization and that climate change transcends all other contemporary social, economic and political issues. As Latour writes, “the modern world is just not possible. Either you have a world – and it will not be modern. Or you are modern, but without a real world”.

The retreat from modernity may legitimately precipitate a reduction in global population flux, a staying put, if only because the infrastructures of travel are highly vulnerable to the vicissitudes of climate. What Latour argues for is not a global re-ordering – as we scamper towards our ethnic homelands – but quite simply, and logistically more plausibly, a return to our common home, to the earth, wherever we happen to be situated upon it.

That must now be the utopian goal: a return to our homeland – not by some heroic trek over the hinterlands, but by a zen-like acceptance of where we are now – to a patch of earth that is neither national nor global. A place where no allegiance is owed to a political construct that exists uneasily in a patchwork of others such, and certainly where there exists no global project. To a place, in other words, of intentional occupation and stewardship. Or, a place where we might be content, as William Blake has it,

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour….”

Will our Generals understand that a moral umbrella is more powerful than a nuclear shield and that their modern world of warfare guarantees nothing in a world threatened by far greater natural processes of planetary change……and will they ever see “a World in a Grain of Sand”? The only thing less likely is that their notional leader might become so enlightened.

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John Davis is an architect living in southern California. He blogs at Urban Wildland

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