The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

March 15, 2013

Back to the music where one instrument aligns itself (best) (ghichak) (violin)

with the other. memory's disservice.

Hi - Need help! I'm giving a panel talk at the Hastac Conference in 
Toronto, at the end of April; my proposal was as follows -

"I'd like to do a full talk, dealing with What is to be Done, with issues
of animal and plant extinctions, with degrees of hopelessness, with the
mass Permian extinction, with images of escape in Second Life and
elsewhere, with the damnation of technophilia and Google Glasses. I would
talk from notes and project, not read a paper (I never write papers to
read), but could turn the notes in later of course. This is a theme I've
been harping on more and more - how to deal with absolute despair and the
despair of the absolute."

I've written out (most of) an outline below, and would appreciate any
comments you might have. I realize my naivete in relation to the subject,
and I'm trying to get away from just "gut feelings" and say something
useful, with some sort of clarity. Please send me any thoughts; you can
write me back-channel (what an old expression!) and thanks,

- Alan


a. I am no expert in plant and animal extinctions; things seem complex on
the level of the species, and here I deeply find myself at a loss; there
are too many contradictory statistics for a layperson to disentangle, not
the least of which is the definition of 'species' (for example, there are
subspecies, morphs, etc.), and species' interrelationships.

a.1. I am also no expert in bio-ethics or ethics in general. I do believe
that the habitus, biome, communality, are more important than individual
saves which take on symbolic status and often lead nowhere. I don't
believe in instrumentalist arguments, that the natural should be saved by
virtue of its use-value (say, for 'new medications'); I don't think any
functionalist reason plays out in the long run. I think species should be
saved because _they are there._

a.1.a. The problem with symbolic value is that the most attractive or cute
species (in terms of human perception) are often the ones that are saved
and considered valuable, while other species that are less appealing are
left by the wayside.

b. There are three economies: political, financial, attention; each of
these vies in terms of saving species or biomes.

c. Every species has an equally lengthy holarchic history (including
bacteria, mitochondria, etc.); each history is a sign and organism
resonant with the origin of life itself.

d. Each organism has its own world-view, Umwelt, Weltanschauung. Each is
alterity and project to every other. Each possesses individual and
communal culture. Each participates in negation and learning.

e. Each is driven to extinction by the other. Each other collapses into
either grotesque anomaly (asteroid, volcano) or the human, somewhere along
the line.

f. Each is a projection and introjection of the world; each is immersive,
each is entangled, abject, somewhat definable.

g. The extinction of any species is a permanent and irrevocable loss; the
death of any individual is the same. Histories condense and disperse,
homes disappear, the world flattens.

h. Our era is not a repetition, say, of the Permian extinctions; it is
other, it is slaughter, and it brings pain from one species to many. The
death of an adult reproducer is the death of offspring, who may or may not
have already made their way into the world.

i. Our language betrays us: there are no weeds, no vermin. We define the
world in terms of our desires and their negations.

j. We are defined by our slaughters. We are hopeless, driven to the deaths
of others; the death drive literally drives species, herds, hordes, before
it; the death drive results in total annihilation.

k. What is to be done? I am always surprised how few artists are concerned
about the environment - other than creating networks and new forms of
nodes and dwellings within it. How few media artists even bother with PETA
for example, or conservation. How many artists, driven by teleology, are
always already on the hunt for new forms of mappings, new modes of data
analytics.  How we abjure responsibility, disconnect radically. How we
favor the human over other species.

l. Certainly the digital, even augmented reality or Google Glass, creates
distance between ourselves and the world around us; what's added are bits.
This distancing, which is both clever and fast-forward technology-driven,
may be more part of the problem than the solution. I think of 'Internet
hunting' for example, tv/video programs like Survivor or The Great Race
(both of which can only damage pristine environments), etc.; on the other
hand, bird-, nest- and waterhole-watches might well serve to awaken
people's consciousness.

m. How do we handle this on a personal level? If we're driven to
catatonia, we're doomed. I haven't been able to accept the Buddhist
account of suffering and enlightenment; the result is an almost constant
state of anguish, that is to say a condition that is a combination of
Lyotard's differend, a sense of helplessness, and a sense of the
destruction of worlds.


[Quote below from World Wildlife Federation]


Just to illustrate the degree of biodiversity loss we're facing, let.s
take you through one scientific analysis... The rapid loss of species we
are seeing today is estimated by experts to be between 1,000 and 10,000
times higher than the natural extinction rate.* These experts calculate
that between 0.01 and 0.1% of all species will become extinct each year.
If the low estimate of the number of species out there is true - i.e. that
there are around 2 million different species on our planet** - then that
means between 200 and 2,000 extinctions occur every year. But if the upper
estimate of species numbers is true - that there are 100 million different
species co-existing with us on our planet - then between 10,000 and
100,000 species are becoming extinct each year.

*Experts actually call this natural extinction rate the background
extinction rate. This simply means the rate of species extinctions that
would occur if we humans were not around.

** Between 1.4 and 1.8 million species have already been scientifically

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