1 April 2010
It is tempting to declare that there is not a single system, flow or relationship that doesn’t need revising or ‘redirecting’. Virtually every institution and practice is outmoded and obsolete— not fit for purpose. A new planetary metabolism is required, one that not only revises human-to-human relationships, but the
relationship of all things.
This idealistic statement is simplistic and fraught with problems. Yet there does seem to be just ‘one’ project, the final project at the end of history— better still, the project that might recover history. How do we prevent mass die-off and resuscitate the notion of an equitable future? How do we overwrite our capitalist selves and constitute alternative modes of being?
Post Copenhagen and there is a fractured consensus, vested interests have manipulated the chaos and either through choice or ignorance we are all happy to ‘process’ the planet. We will not relinquish our fossil fuelled lifestyles or engage in energy descent. The spectre of ‘mutually assured destruction’ is back as the system of production-consumption-destruction continues to roll on.
(One gets the sense that neo-liberalism is adopting an ‘accelerationist’ strategy, agitating the natural-cultural system to the point of collapse. Preparing for a Northern Rim de-camp and a post-apocalypse ‘reboot’.)
Planet earth can no longer run a post-Fordist operating system. We have hit ‘carrying capacity’. Like Ouroboros, capitalism is about to eat itself. The peak-everything perfect storm is brewing and various co-dependant and co-evolving systems are about to wreak havoc. Capitalism has to go.
We cannot continue the course of relentless accumulation and exponential growth. The planet will no longer support the cradle to grave system that underpins our so-called wealth. Bluntly, turning natural resources into products and burying them in the ground is not sustainable. We are hitting a limit.
This crisis is debilitating. It induces chronic inertia. How does one design in the now without curtailing the future? We’re moving into the situation where even thoughts have a carbon footprint and the internalization of eco-surveillance seems inevitable. How do we curtail the violence of design or at least steer our making-unmaking into a more sustainable territory?
Currently I am interested in the ‘ethico-political’ potential of mapping and intervention, how these two activities work together and constitute a ‘redirective practice’. Design corrals energy and matter and visualizing these flows reveals possible sites for intervention. In effect, the map starts to question the things and relationships we bring into being. Certain patterns and constellations have become toxic and it is these that will have to be adjusted or rearranged. Re-designing how we design has political ramifications, as the things we make are intimately associated with: consumption, value, growth and profit.
In ‘Capitalist Realism’ Mark Fisher talks about invoking the Real(s) underlying the reality that capitalism presents (3). The system is challenged by the facts it seeks to suppress. So although environmental catastrophe is already included within corporate narratives, the notion of a planetary limit is not— the concept is too traumatic to be assimilated (4). Mapping and intervention translates these insights into design, identifying, irritating and amplifying the sites of dissonance. It is classic ‘critical design’ territory, an opportunity to engage in some ‘hostile reconnaissance’, map the post-Fordist landscape and open-up the contradictions for debate.
Finally, in this essay, David Harvey makes a number of important points. Essentially intervention can start anywhere— a simple but liberating observation. There is no singular pressure point or privileged site of engagement; one is released from the angst of scale and ontological domain. The trick is to keep the political movement moving from one moment to another in mutually reinforcing ways (5). Multiple interventions and liturgies need to be networked and persistent, as with the ‘Red Queen Principle’, co-evolving systems that are connected and in motion.