The most apparent thread found across this week’s readings (list below) is rejecting the alienation of human and extra-human nature upon which our socioeconomic structure relies in favor of embracing precarity and interconnectedness of beings.
Tsing lays out the issue of alienation succinctly:
Through alienation, people and things become mobile assets; they can be removed from their life worlds in distance-defying transport to be exchanged with other assets from other life worlds, elsewhere… The dream of alienation inspires landscape modification in which only one stand-alone asset matters; everything else becomes weeds or waste… Simplification for alienation produces ruins, spaces of abandonment for asset production. (pp. 5-6)
Kimmerer complements this description, sharing stories that illustrate the unspoken core of the issue: alienation (in particular, for a commodity economy that abstracts wealth from its human/natural sources) is antithetical to our existence - using the term “our” loosely enough to not set us apart from our environment, that which we affect and which affects us. At some point, speaking of axioms leaves little to no room for an empirical debate but plenty for demonstrations of life flourishing outside the confines of alienation.
Of all the wise teachers who have come into my life, none are more eloquent than these, who wordlessly in leaf and vine embody the knowledge of relationship. (Kimmerer, p. 140)
Kimmerer tells stories to make Tsing’s intellectual argument a sensible one, something the reader can feel beyond knowing. From the account of the interplay between corn, bean, and squash (and human) in a non-colonial agriculture, a worldview radically different from that of the dominant Western culture emerges that dignifies rather than objectifies.
Myers in a way pulls together the best of these two authors’ work, shining a light on the roots of our alienating perspective while offering an approach to challenging it:
We hack in to our cameras to disrupt the conventional ecologist’s desire to capture clean, clear, legible data… Our kinesthetic images blur the distinction between animator and animated. (pp. 12-13)
Returning to Tsing, anticipating a world post-capitalism, what are we to do? How do we exist with the precarity after contributing to and relying upon a system that prizes stasis? Imagination is surely due, and it does not seem easy.
I think back to Donella Meadow’s Leverage Points from a few weeks ago. Consistent with her ordering of places to intervene in a system in order of effectiveness, it is more effective to critique (and change) the mindset or paradigm out of which the system arises - alienation, commodity fetishism - than the system itself - capitalism, colonization. Our socioeconomic perils are ultimately the manifestation of sorely misguided philosophies. Changing minds and hearts might be a good place to start.
Anna Tsing, 2015, The Mushroom at the End of the World
Robin Kimmerer, 2015, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
Natasha Myers, 2017, Protocols for an Ungrid-able Ecology: Kinesthetic Attunements for a More-than-natural History of a Black Oak Savannah
Donella Meadows, 1999, Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System