Thursday, June 19, 2008

Zizek and the Ecological Crisis

In the midst of slightly misrepresenting Heidegger, Zizek brings up an interesting point, which he then critiques. I shall offer a critique as well. This is from his book The Ticklish Subject; I'll quote the passage here in full:

"...the moment we reduce it [the ecological crisis] to disturbances provoked by our excessive technological exploitation of nature, we silently already surmise that the solution is to rely again on technological innovations: new 'green' technology, more efficient and global in its control of natural processes and human resources.... Every concrete ecological concern and project to change technology in order to improve the state of our natural surroundings is thus devalued as relying on the very source of the trouble" (The Ticklish Subject, pp.11-12)

Alberta, the province in which I live, is rife with oil and, consequently, carbon spewing, forest destroying oilsands development; the problem Zizek addresses here is quite pertinent to my place of residence. I think there is both an element of truth and falsity in this claim. Zizek is right that most of us think the solution to a greener world is through cleaner technology; this is the main line that governments, etc are pushing to combat 'climate change' (Incidentally, I like how the rhetoric has changed from 'global warming' to 'climate change'). Greenpeace et al, presumably push a harder line; in Alberta, for example, they are pushing to cease oilsands development altogether.

I would take issue with the notion that the project of moving towards greener technology is (or rather, should be) devalued merely because it makes use of the (prior) instruments of destruction. I think the Greenpeacers would perhaps engage in this sort of argument. Technology is neither good or bad, only our relation to it and use of it is good or bad. Zizek moves down a Heideggerian path (though, perhaps ultimately to critique it given this is part of the project of the book) in the critique of the devaluation of technology. What should be at issue, which the devaluers pass over, is not technology itself, but man's relation to it: this is the decisive space where technology becomes 'good' or 'bad'. The ontological relation underlies the ontic manifestation of technological endeavors; they are shaped based upon the ontological 'mould' they are cast in. Thus, it should be the underlying stratum that is critiqued: it is this that is decisive.

Moreover, the pragmatic implications are hard to overlook. It seems the alternative to a shift towards greener technology is being a Luddite. In this case the best way to overcome the problem is from within, the same way Heidegger or Nietzsche purported to overcome metaphysics. This is also perhaps a quasi Derridian move; there is no outside system, thus, we are always forced to work within it for there can be no other way. In order to escape it we must work within it, and, in doing so, we never escape it. Technology shall never be transcended by us; the ecological crisis shall never be overcome without technology.

I'll perhaps expand on my ramblings later.

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