Freedom in the Anthropocene (Corvallis, 1.16.20)
//Rich Daniels, Emeritus Associate Professor of English, member of Radical Philosophy Association
//Ken Ward, Extinction Rebellion
//Max Wilbert, Deep Green Resistance
The Dutch atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen recently characterized the period marked by the start of the industrial revolution in the 18th Century to the present as a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. This periodization is meant to capture a change in the history of the planet, namely that for the first time in history its course will be determined by the question of what humanity will become; the question of freedom.
For many on the Left freedom appeared as a positive guiding force through the first half of the Anthropocene. Before steam engines and the industrial revolution, freedom was the rallying cry for the newly inaugurated Left in the French Revolution. The struggle for freedom also found expression in the new mass social democratic parties, which appeared in the wake of the industrial revolution and understood themselves as organizing the propertyless proletariat to take up “tiller of social life and become the pilot to the goal of its own history”.
But does freedom still motivate discontents in the 21st Century? It seems reasonable today to consider the goal of human emancipation as either hopelessly impractical, as something that needs to wait until pressing issues are dealt with or, even, as hubristic, dangerous and undesirable. Also, being on the Left today seems more defined by defending the gains of the past, rather than advancing history. Moreover, efforts to move beyond the Anthropocene appear defined by its history. For example, the Extinction Rebellion’s Declaration of Rebellion call to rebel against “corrupted, inept institutions” recalls the democratic revolutions of 1776 and 1789 and the Green New Deal appears to resurrect the tradition of social democracy.
We asks panelists to regard the history of the last 150 years and what it means in terms of any future to the project of transforming humanity in a conscious and free direction.