Ken Wark (Anthropocene)

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INTERVIEW WITH Ken Wark (Anthropocene) 
(Professor of Culture and Media – The New School for Social Research)

Premise

Recently the term “Anthropocene Era” has conquered the pages of many newspapers and scientific magazines. The fact that Mankind, with its technological progress, has the power to change the destiny of planet earth is without doubt. If our planet is now at risk, the problem does not lie in technological progress itself. The problem is the way technological progress is used.

In that perspective, Capitalism is considered by many economists and ecologists as one of the main causes of Climate Change and the ecological crises. What is Anthropocene? Is capitalism dangerous for humankind? What shall we do to survive in the Anthropocene Era? Ken Wark, Professor of Culture and Media at The New School for Social Research, author of the book Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene, answered to these and other questions.

 

McKenzie Wark (born 10 September 1961) is an Australian-born writer and scholar. Wark is known for his writings on media theory, critical theory, new media, and the Situationist International. His best known works are A Hacker Manifesto and Gamer Theory. He is Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at The New School in New York City.

 
 
INTERVIEW - (November 2016)
The interview was made and published in November 2016.
Subject
: Anthropocene – definition, causes and consequences


 
 

Highlights 

  • The consensus seems to be that if you are a mammal or a bird or a fish or a tree or coral, and quite a few other things besides, it’s a very, very bad thing. The Anthropocene is an era of mass extinction.
  • The rise of capitalism is the rise of fossil fuel extraction. Capitalism has so far proven entirely unable to change course and stop destroying its own conditions of existence.

  • Well we know that Soviet civilization failed. Our own capitalist system was supposed to be the victor in the cold war. But clearly it has failed as well. It might help to adjust our perspective and think not about a winner and a loser from the cold war, but two systems which failed, one after the other.
  • Anthropocene is either accelerated transformation of our social and technical being, or we just keep doing what we’re doing till it falls apart.

 
 
 
Question 1: Welcome Prof McKenzie Wark. You’ve recently written a book entitled Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene. In that book you strongly point to capitalism as a primary cause of Climate Change. But before talking about that, can you explain to us what scientists mean with the term Anthropocene?
 
Answer
There’s a lively debate among earth scientists about the term Anthropocene, and a formal procedure as to whether it should be adopted by the field to designate a break from the Holocene. The thing to pause over there is why geologists and earth scientists, of all people, would want to name a temporal unit after the human, given the extremely long time scales they deal in. That should really give us reason to reflect.
 
 
Question 2: Why the title is “Molecular Red…”?
 
Answer
It’s a book about what developments in the earth sciences, and in particular the proposition of the Anthropocene, might mean for Marxist social thought. One of the key discoveries of the last forty years is confirmation of an older theory about the effects of increasing levels of atmospheric carbon on the climate, and the now certain climate disruption that results. So how can Marxist social theory, or any social theory, adapt to new facts ‘on the ground’ as it were, from the earth sciences?
 
 
Question 3: According to your view, is Anthropocene a bad or a good things? Can you give us some pros and cons of Anthropocene?
 
Answer
The consensus seems to be that if you are a mammal or a bird or a fish or a tree or coral, and quite a few other things besides, it’s a very, very bad thing. The Anthropocene is an era of mass extinction.
 
 
Question 4: One of the main concepts you focus on in your book is the role of Capitalism and its relation with climate change. Why do you think Capitalism is the main cause of Climate Change?
 
Answer
Well, the correlate as time lines, for a start. The rise of capitalism is the rise of fossil fuel extraction. Capitalism has so far proven entirely unable to change course and stop destroying its own conditions of existence.
 
 
Question 5: Must Capitalism be cancelled or reviewed? If it must be reviewed, how that must be done?
 
Answer
Nobody knows. Capitalism is destroying its conditions of existence, and there’s no other way of valuing all the inputs and outputs of social existence that anyone has tried yet that might not prove fatal. We have a lot of work to do.
 
 
Question 6: Your theory and your tools to manage Anthropcene are based on some Soviet experiences (Bogdanov and Platanov) and science fiction (Kim Stanley Robinson). Can you better explain what influence had these on your work?
 
Answer
Well we know that Soviet civilization failed. Our own capitalist system was supposed to be the victor in the cold war. But clearly it has failed as well. It might help to adjust our perspective and think not about a winner and a loser from the cold war, but two systems which failed, one after the other. But speaking of perspectives, perhaps we need to stop taking capitalism be quite as ‘realistic’ as it pretends to be. It’s a fantasy bubble inflated out of fossil fuels, an unreal and very brief moment in time. Science fiction is just one way of bracketing it with other imaginative ways of thinking about what the world is and could be.
 
 
Question 7: More in details, In Molecular Red, you lay down some philosophical tools for the Anthropocene. What are these tools?
 
Answer
Well, philosophy might be part of the problem, but we might need some theoretical tools. Ways of forming concepts out of experience and sharing them, rather than depending on top down metaphors and narratives.
 
 
Question 8: If the role of humans in affecting the planet increases over time, who (Politicians, companies, people) must lead the change for a better way of managing economical and societal activities in a more sustainable way?
 
Answer
Nothing so far has worked very well, so let’s keep trying everything: global treaties, financial instruments, design solutions, social movements, cultural habit-changing.
 
 
Question 9: In conclusion, will Anthropocene be our way to evolve or to decline?
 
Answer
It’s either accelerated transformation of our social and technical being, or we just keep doing what we’re doing till it falls apart. Our great cities will join the pyramids and the great wall as ruins. But then maybe it’s some other species other than us who will adapt to the rising seas and temperatures and make another, nonhuman world. 
 
 
 
 
 

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