Scorched Earth and more

I wrote a couple of book review essays that I know regulars here would like to read. They are over at The Fabulist, so you’ll have to check them out there. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Scorched Earth: Beyond the Digital Age to a Post-Capitalist World, by Jonathan Crary, has a multiple-entendre title — he’s describing what the internet is doing to society, he’s describing what capitalism’s long trajectory is doing to the Earth, and he’s writing in a style that can only be characterized as a scorched-earth approach to the platitudes that dominate our contemporary lives.

In other words, it’s a blistering polemic worthy of the blistering heat waves wracking the Indian subcontinent as I write, and that are baked in to our future by our continuing inability to halt the complex machine of global capitalism.

Crary’s 120-page screed follows in “a tradition of social pamphleteering,” but in a way that has long fallen by the wayside. Rarely do authors address our common predicament with the fine-tuned anger and precise rhetorical scalpel of a skilled surgeon working on the body politic. But Crary, a Columbia University professor, has done it before in his 2013 book-length essay 24/7, where he pulled down the facade masking the insanity of our sped-up world.

In Scorched Earth he’s trying to knock the legs from under our endless narcissistic return to the screen in our hands, and proposes that if he succeeds, our tasks will only be much more daunting than even breaking that obvious addiction.


In another new book by Peter Gelderloos (The Solutions Are Already Here: Tactics for Ecological Revolution from Below, Pluto Press: 2022), which parallels Scorched Earth in key ways, he argues “The cause of the global ecological crisis is colonialism. It is no coincidence that the political, economic, and cultural institutions that were developed by the most successful northern European colonizers are the ones that are now global.” (p. 34)

Both Crary and Gelderloos are offering short but comprehensive and totalizing critiques of the world as we know it. Both take on basic categories of our lives such as science and technology, militarism, and our relationship to nature. Where Crary excels is in his directed criticism of our ongoing acquiescence to the internet. For most readers who are almost certainly seeing these words on a computer screen, it may be difficult to digest that the entirety of the internet is the target of his most potent critique:

“… as a constitutive component of twenty-first-century capitalism, the internet’s key functions include the disabling of memory and the absorption of lived temporalities, not ending history but rendering it unreal and incomprehensible… The internet complex is now the comprehensive global apparatus for the dissolution of society.” (pp. 8–9)


The authors of Half-Earth Socialism are visionaries, utopians, and planners. In a short book they marshal an argument for what they argue is a way out of the double-bind of a seemingly inevitable capitalism bent on ecocide versus a myopic Left that is stuck on either centralized authoritarianism or ineffective, decentralized anarchist cooperatives:

“The goals of Half-Earth socialism are simple enough: to prevent the Sixth Extinction, practise ‘natural geoengineering’ to draw down carbon through rewilded ecosystems rather than SRM [solar radiation management], and create a fully renewable energy system. Realizing each of these aims requires large expanses of land, which is why we will see again and again that utopia is threatened by the Earth-eating livestock industry.” (Pg. 79)

“Half-Earth Socialism” sets out the importance of and necessity to consciously plan our material, economic lives, as opposed to leaving it all to the invisible hand of the market. The authors also argue that we must accept that nature, or global ecology, is the ultimate mystery that we cannot (and should not try to) master, even though we’ve spent two centuries laboring under the hubristic assumption that science will give us the tools and knowledge to do so.

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