12.10.2007

Sustainable Post-Humanity

Has it really been almost a month since my last post!?? Yargh! Things have been hectic adjusting to a heavier teaching load, winterizing the house, celebrating Ruby's birthday, organizing UNI's Focus the Nation events, plus coordinating Thanksgiving and Christmas festivities! I've still got to write the test for Native American Rhetoric & Literature, but the papers for my writing courses are done and I am just waiting on portfolios.

In the meantime, I have been moving slowly on my sustinability article for Writing the Earth. While much of it is a trimmed-down chapter from my dissertation, I am contextualizing it in critical takes on sustainability like Luke's (2005) critique that "for ecological debates [sustianability] is now being used, and perhaps abused, in webs of questions to refocus national economic prosperity as well as reposition present-day cultural identity in a corporate material culture of more efficient, but still unsustainable, consumption" (228). I just wish he wouldn't mince words...

Still, how might we reconcile this with being post-human or cyborg? If we are and have been contiguous or co-terminus with our technologies, can we keep those technologies and still remain sustainable? We can't simply glorify the web and computer technology without also recognizing the systems of briefly containing bio-hazards and dumping them on Third World and developing nations. While these technologies are affordances for first world capital, communication, and social organization that sometimes spills over to those privileged people in developing nations or that sometimes is harnessed by people living within what we would call less technological systems (remember Sting's posing with the Yanomami to save the rain forests?), it seems to me that it is more often an affordance for cancer, poverty, and ecological devastation among the least privileged of our species.

Ulrich Beck (1995) might argue that the market will work itself out here since I raise here a pretty classic example of distributing away the poisoned cake. But how many have died or been diseased since Beck argued this? How many more motherboards are destined to kill those who have little recourse other than to sift through a pile of toxins?

Of course, I write this at my Macintosh, knowing that Apple Computers has resisted market pressures to be more green. So, it's not an option to simply resist and say "Well, I'm going to make smarter purchases [or have my University make them for me] and therefore add my two cents to the marketplace in an effort to steer it in a way of my own choosing." I already do that by riding my bike to work, eating local and/or organic foods, conserving energy [passive solar, layering in winter, some wood heat, lower hot water temps, higher freezer temps, etc.], recycling, composting, and a fifteen year-old TV, not to mention other older electronics. Even with all that, I'm not perfect. But then, who is? It's not a matter of being "perfect" according to anyone's standards -- even your own. That's just an awful lot to live up to.

Still, we can do better and I'm trying to understand if there could be a sustainable post-humanity. It may even be the case that there can be no sustainability -- no concept of it at all -- without occupying a post-human position or consciousness. As N. Katherine Hayles argues, simulation is a binary to "nature" and cannot be divorced from it. However, if we follow her in locating the self "neither contracted inside the body nor unproblematically projected outside it, but at the cusp between the beholder and the world" (1995, p. 412), then these vast networks of technology are mere extensions of the body -- just prosthetics that we, in their novelty, use clumsily, just as my two-year-old daughter spills her cup of water on herself or on the table.

These prosthetics are not just cups of water, though. They are far more deadly -- even more deadly than cars and airplanes. Yet anyone can use these prosthetics. Of course anyone can have as many children as they want, too, which has its own impact on sustainability (sorry for the Malthusian interjection...). Like birthrates, though, we can affect them with out resorting to Malthus. We know there are economic and cultural influences on birth choices. Just as women and their partners learn to use their bodies to bear more children or not, what conditions might it take to affect the choices we make about technological prosthetics?

9 comments:

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Not always theoretical... not even always academic.. but always written..