Archive for August, 2010

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has recently released a report entitles State of the Climate 2009, which is downloadable in its entirety as a pdf from here, with a web page summarising the report available online here.

The findings of this report, which involved over 300 scientists from 48 countries around the world are further corroboration of the evidence that ‘t the past decade was the warmest on record and that the Earth has been growing warmer over the last 50 years.’ What is interesting about the report, is that it uses a methodology which is well suited to examining a broad range of climactic indicators to build a fairly comprehensive overview of numerous ecological systems and so to be able to map the changes these systems are currently undergoing.

Based on comprehensive data from multiple sources, the report defines 10 measurable planet-wide features used to gauge global temperature changes. The relative movement of each of these indicators proves consistent with a warming world. Seven indicators are rising: air temperature over land, sea-surface temperature, air temperature over oceans, sea level, ocean heat, humidity and tropospheric temperature in the “active-weather” layer of the atmosphere closest to the Earth’s surface. Three indicators are declining: Arctic sea ice, glaciers and spring snow cover in the Northern hemisphere.

By utilising a broad range of indicators, and finding such broad agreement between them the NOAA report provides a good example of the way in which the science behind anthropogenic climate change is based on a vast array of observations which corroborate with the physics behind the greenhouse effect, which gives a causal mechanism to the observations seen in these global climactic systems.

As John Cook from SkepticalScience points out in an article for the Guardian, this kind of rigorous scientific research which seeks to give a good overview of global systems by combining and comparing the observed data for numerous global systems is diametrically opposed methodologically to the kind of material promoted by most climate change skeptics, who seek to prevent meaningful action being taken to reduce the severity of ACC by entirely ignoring the bigger picture – the enormous breadth of data from global systems – instead focusing on minute details such as the choice of proxies used in decade old papers on paleoclimatic reconstructions (the repeatedly vindicated Hockey Stick paper published by Mann Hughes and Bradley) or the choice of wording in private emails between climate researchers (such as Phil Jones’ phrase ‘hide the decline’ to describe the divergence between one particular set of trees used as as a climate proxy and the observed temperature record, which was covered in the published literature on that proxy set).

As the NOAA report highlights, when you look at the big picture, rather than concentrating on minute details, the evidence is that the planet is heating up, that human activity is largely the cause, and that the medium to long term ramifications of these changes will make life far harder for hundreds of millions of people as well as causing the extinction of innumerable other species less capable of adapting to a changing climate. As time goes by and more research is being done, that evidence is only getting stronger as more and more datasets which confirm the findings of the IPCC emerge. However despite this mountain of evidence, the political action that would make meaningful action to mitigate the worst of the potential consequences is still a long way off, with the US Senate’s decision not to even try to get a massively compromised bill through following in the wake of the inability of the world’s political leaders failure to reach any deal at COP15 in Copenhagen last December to succeed the emissions cuts of developed nations agreed under the Kyoto Protocol. With the US seemingly steadfast in its refusal to make any kind of cuts to its emissions, it seems unlikely that other developed nations are going to volunteer further reductions to their own emissions, no matter what the science says, as politicians are too fearful for their own careers, which are largely dependent on short term economic success rather than longer term sustainability.

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Franco Berardi was a key member of the Italian Autonomist movement, alongside the likes of other authors such as Antonio Negri, Christian Marazzi, Mario Tronti and Paulo Virno, and was a close associate of Felix Guattari, the French philosopher. Berardi’s work has only recent been translated from Italian into English, and Soul at Work was published in 2009 as part of the semiotext(e) foreign agents series.

The central themes of the Soul at Work are that the human faculties which in previous eras would have been considered to be constitutive of the soul, our capacities for language, creativity, emotion, empathy and affect, have now become central to the economy of digital capitalism (Berardi’s term is Semiocapitalism)

Putting the soul to work: this is the new form of alienation. Our desiring energy is trapped in the trick of self-enterprise, our libidinal investments are regulated according to economic rules, our attention is captures in the precariousness of virtual networks: every fragment of mental activity must be transformed into capital. (p24)

This is contrasted with the situation under industrial capitalism, wherein the labour of the working class was largely confined to an eight-hour day in a factory, where for a portion of the day their bodies functioned as cogs rented to maintain the production of gigantic machines. While their bodies laboured their minds or souls were still perceived as free. But as economic production became increasingly based up intellectual rather than physical labour, Berardi argues that a fundamental change has occurred, which requires a reconceptualization of the political field.

Once digital technologies made possible the connection of individual fragments of cognitive labor possible, the parceled intellectual labor was subjected to the value production cycle. The ideological and political forms of the left wing, legacy of the 20th Century, have become inefficient in theis new context. (p29)

After tracing a pathway through some of the Workerist ideas of the 1960′s, and particularly the role of alienation labor within this context, Berardi moves  on to analysis of how the

decisive transformation of the 1980′s was the systematic computerization of the working process. Thanks to digitalization, every concrete event can not only be symbolised, but also simulated, replaced by information. Consequently it becomes possible to progressively reduce the entire production process to the elaboration and exchange of information. (p95)

And how this change to the system of production and consumption accumulates as an ever-increasing torrent of information which he argues is conducive to conditions of mass panic (in the sense that the word stems from the etymological root pan – or everything) and depression.

If in modern society the vastly prevalent pathology was repression induced neurosis, today the most widely spread pathologies assume a psychotic, panic driven character. The hyper-stimulation of attention reduces the capacity for critical sequential interpretation, but also the time available for the emotional elaboration of the other, of his or her body and voice, tries to be understood without ever succeeding. (p183)

Searching for ways to approach these changes in social context, Berardi draws on Deleuze and Guattari’s work in arguing  that

Ethical conciousness cannot be founded on the binomial of Reason and Will – as during the modern period. The roots of rationalism have been forever erased, and rationalism cannot be the major direction of the planetary humanism we must conceive.

Today the ethical question is posed as a question of the soul, that is to say of the sensibility animating the body, making it capable of opening sympathetically towards the other…A new conceptualization of humanism must be founded on an aesthetic paradigm, since it has to take root in sensibility. The collapse of modern ethics needs to be interpreted as a generalized cognitive disturbance, as the paralysis of empathy in the social psychosphere. (p133).

It is interesting to contrast and compare Berardi’s vision of a revised humanism here with the various schemas of posthumanism proposed by the likes of Katherine Hayles, Donna Harraway and Robert Pepperell. The logic of basing ethics on feeling and connectivity with other(s) certainly has resonance between these authors despite their respective stances on whether humanism is a project in need of reconceptualization or a patriarchal, bourgeois, historical phenomenon which has led to the epistemological errors and artificial separation of nature and culture, humans and other living creatures and body and soul – many of the problems which Berardi examines.

Beradi goes to to present an interesting analysis of Baudrillard’s work around simulation, and contrasts this with the desire-based radical analyses of Deleuze and Guattari. Berardi argues that

The semiotic acceleration and the proliferation of simulacra within the mediatized experience of society produce an effect of exhaustion in the collective libidinal energy, opening the way to a panic-depressive cycle… Baudrillard sees simulation as the infinite replication of a virus that absorbs energy to the point of exhaustion. A sort of semiotic inflation explodes in the circuits of our collective sensibility, producing effects of mutation that run a pathological course: too many signs, too fast and too chaotic. The sensible body is subjected to an acceleration that destroys every possibility of conscious decodification and sensible perception. (158/159)

The problem, according to Beradi, is that the explosion of information leads to a paralysis and subsequent depression as the pace and scale of information flows expands far beyond what the human brain is capable of processing. The field of desire, which for Deleuze and Guattari possesses liberating potential, collapses in on itself and is confined to desiring the ever-increasing number of consumer fetishes that permeate upgrade culture. This leads to a contemporary scenario Beradi describes as the poisoning of the soul, as desire no longer reaches out for connectivity with the other, but instead is restricted to focusing on the self and personal accumulation. Looking for potential ways out of this situation, Beradi contends that

Perhaps the answer is that it is necessary to slow down, finally giving up on economistic fanaticism and collectively rethink the true meaning of the word “wealth.” Wealth does not mean a person who owns a lot, but refers to someone who has enough time to enjoy what nature and human collaboration place within everyone’s reach. If the great majority of people could understand this basic notion, if they could be liberated from the competitive illusion that is impoverishing everyone’s life, the very foundations of capitalism, would start to crumble. (p169)

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