Reflections from isolation

80 years ago, Huxley warned us that we risked a cosmic revolution if we kept overusing oil, coal, and phosphorus. The world’s systems exist in a delicate balance, and there’d be consequences if we fuck with the equilibrium. He was right, of course. The climate apocalypse is here, whether we admit it or not. But as I watch three geriatric men campaign for the US Presidency—only one of whom has truly recognized how screwed we are—I wonder if the coronavirus is another aspect of that revolution, nature getting revenge on the generation that signed its death warrant. Not that I’m celebrating. I don’t want anything to happen to my family and friends who are older or immuno-compromised. Besides, all the talk of “humans being the real virus” is rank eco-fascism. We’re not viruses on the earth. The rotten system we call capitalism is. It’s capitalism that prioritizes overproduction and then institutes an ideology of consumption to mask what is happening. It’s also capitalism that requires stores never have more than exactly what they need, that has made our world so efficient that global supply chains are disrupted so easily, that produces a system where massive corporations are constantly overleveraged and at risk of collapse if forced to forgo a few weeks profit. It’s capital that pollutes the earth, capital that instrumentalizes nature, turning fossil fuels into a tool for production. And unfortunately, capital has infiltrated our healthcare and hospitals. Because of this, those who benefit the most from capital’s rapaciousness will likely be less scathed than the rest of us. Already we can see this happening in who does and does not get tests.



For all that everything’s changed, my life isn’t significantly different than normal. I am astoundingly lucky and privileged. I stay home rather than walking to some coffee shop to write, my groceries list has more canned beans and less fresh veggies than usual, and I haven’t seen my friends in person in a couple weeks, but that’s about it. My schedule hasn’t changed; my thesis still takes up most of my time and energy. Most days are spent in front of my computer, pacing up and down my apartment, and putting off movies I want to see, just not right now, instead re-watching another episode of Brooklyn 99. I watch people walk from my window, go on walks myself.

Yet at the same time, everything is completely different. Construction has stopped on the myriad of new buildings going up around me, and strangers’ eyes project a mixture of fear and hope, holding within them a desire for community. We’ve lacked community for longer than just this crisis; social distancing has simply stripped away any last pretense. This is why the state of exemption[1] we’re in doesn’t feel completely foreign. It’s why people keep going out. If they don’t they might recognize how alienated we have become from each other, how empty and facile our connections are. Basketball and bars are the only things standing between us and recognition of our atomization. Asking people to give them up is asking them to acknowledge the loneliness of our age.



            I’m sitting at my window, staring through bleary droplets. Outside, rain-soaked streets reflect light onto the ever-smaller brown snow piles in the parking lot across me. The wind throws a plastic bag around, spinning it for emphasis. It’s early March and this should be a false spring. A few days later snow will come, pointing at this weather and declaring it a trickster. But within hours it melts, and the temperatures rise. By the next day, it’s difficult to tell there had been a snowstorm to begin with.


            The sublimated terror of the pandemic comes from our recognition that it holds the entire history of climate change within it, from its origins in an industrial region. As it spread, people denied the science, and even as we grapple with the visible effects, a segment of the population continues to prioritize the stock market. Not that it matters—like climate change, the pandemic will crash the economy. The question is how many people we can save, not how much money. Of course, there’s one big difference between Covid and climate change: the virus hit the global north first, wreaking havoc on industrial nations before turning its sights on the rest of the world. Climate change, on the other hand, is destroying the poorest, most exploited nations first. This is why we’ve responded with something almost resembling vigor to the pandemic, at least in comparison to the world’s response to climate apocalypse, which has been a collective shrug. Of course, the virus won’t stop at the borders of industrialized nations, just as climate change will one day destabilize the U.S. But I fear that we’re so wrapped up in our own issues we’ll ignore the destruction the virus will wreak on those less fortunate.

This inversion produces guilt; as we watch Covid-19 decimate our healthcare systems, we have the unconscious realization that this violence is an echo of what we’ve done to the developing world. Images of overcrowded hospitals and makeshift morgues call forth images from post-Maria Puerto Rico or the monsoons that killed 1,900 people in India. Hence our inability to recognize the stories about dolphins returning to Venice as fake; the gullibility points to how we desperately want to believe the pandemic resets the scoreboard, wiping away what we’ve done to others. Dolphins dancing in the clear water of the Adriatic would be a miracle, God telling us we’re forgiven. It doesn’t work like that, of course. Coronovirus victims are not Christ, redeeming us through their deaths. Particularly because city pollution is being linked to worse outcomes for those affected by the disease (just as cities that burned coal had higher fatality rates during the 1918 flue epidemic). They are being killed by the very thing we want them to absolve our guilt about.


            The weather clears, and I go for a walk up to Parc Jarry. The neighborhood in between is a weird one, not quite mile-ex and not quite Villeray. It’s filled with warehouses from the 1940’s and 70’s, retrofitted to hold video game offices, upscale clothing store, and hip cafes. Except there’s no parking for customers, and it’s hard as hell wander into the area—it’s bounded on one side by train tracks, the Stade IGA (site of the Canadian Open) and Park Jarry on another, and a major artery on a third. Even when the sun is out and the park is full, the neighborhood seems empty, populated only by workers on their smoke breaks. Every warehouse is covered in “offices for rent” signs. It always struck me as a facsimile neighborhood, renovated on spec, not out of any need for more office space. This aspect now dominates, revealing the truth of the area—that it was not defined by our needs or desires, but rather those of capital. It’s a synecdoche of the world at large, where nothing is built on the human scale, because nothing is built for us. No wonder the ultra-rich are pushing for a return to normalcy, even if it kills the rest of us. We’ve let them build a world fit for capital, and they must be confused by this sudden push to prioritize the people.

A few days later, I go on a walk in the opposite direction, this time with a neighbor. We walk past abandoned construction site after abandoned construction site. Eventually, we reach a park, of sorts. On one side is a fountain area, with children playing around it. Across from it, two brand-new glass buildings squat, surrounded by dirt and grass. They seem out of place, alien structures imposed on this undeveloped area. Down the road, an old-style apartment block overlooks a dog park developers have their eye on.



            I worry about the quarantine ending. Not only because we’ll finally have to survey the damage, but because I’m scared nothing will have changed. As long as the quarantine continues, I can dream that I’ll get around to watching the movies on my list or writing the backlog of essays that laugh at me from my living room whiteboard. More than this, however, I’m worried that we’ll enter an economic depression and yet no one will admit that it doesn’t have to be this way, that we’ll all go back to our old lives, that this state of exception will be squandered. As long as we’re in it, there’s the possibility that the world might change, that tomorrow is the day we realize how we’ve fucked ourselves, that another end of the world is possible (to quote some graffiti near my house). Yet deep in my heart I know that the most we’ll ask for is some minor social reforms, maybe a UBI (universal basic income) that later acts as an excuse to cut welfare. And if a worldwide pandemic is not enough to shake us from our malaise, then nothing will be. If this does not cause a radical reworking of the system, then climate change won’t either; the day this crisis ends is the day we admit the world is over, that nothing will wake us up to the violence enacted on us and others in our name. So I’m stuck, simultaneously hoping for end, for the sickness to fade and the dying to stop, and yet also dreading that day, the moment any dream of a better future dies.



[1] I am playing off the much more common term “state of exception” here. The state of exception is when the government is able to supersede rule of law, to operate with more power than usual. But what is happening here is that the government has exempted some of us from the laws of capitalism. We are temporarily exempt from being exploited and alienated. Of course, this exemption still relies on the “essential workers” who can keep a skeleton system running, even as they are paid nowhere near what they’re worth.

On the End of the World

The world is ending, and I’m tired.

I’m tired of the newspapers that normalized Bolsonaro wondering why the Amazon is burning.

I’m tired of pretending I have to sympathize with those that got us here, that I don’t dream of the day they receive their karmic retribution.

I’m tired of ostensibly centrist publications publishing climate change deniers.

I’m tired of hearing it called climate change instead of climate catastrophe. This is not only about global warming, but also the collapse of ecosystems and the sixth mass extinction.

I’m tired of pretending violence isn’t justifiable. They burned our planet, why can’t we do the same to their refineries and rigs and pipelines?[1]

I’m tired of that forced laugh I make when boomers talk about the upcoming apocalypse, the one that’s supposed to ease their guilt by acknowledging they’re one of the “good guys.”

I’m tired of criminals like David Koch dying before we can make their lives a living hell.

I’m tired of BDS supporters suddenly denying the efficacy of boycotts when it might affect their lives. You gave up soda stream, but steak is a bridge too far. You’d rather let the planet burn than change your lifestyle.

I’m tired of the lame excuses I keep telling myself to avoid going fully vegetarian.

I’m tired of hearing that 100 companies produce 70% of emissions, as if they aren’t deeply intertwined with the rest of the economy.

I’m tired of being told that our lives won’t have to change significantly to address these problems. The Green New Deal is a good start, but it on its own cannot confront the scale of the problem.

I’m tired of being called a reactionary nihilist for recognizing the scale of the problem.

I’m tired of eco-modernism.

I’m tired of eco-fascism.

I’m tired of seeing economic growth as inherently positive.

I’m tired of hearing about mega-cities as the answer.

I’m tired of pretending all of this is unlinked from questions of philosophy and ideology. Huxley identified climate catastrophe one hundred years ago. How we perceive the world has stopped the rest of us from seeing it.

I’m tired of denying all aspects of phenomenology, even while recognizing the falsity of immediate experience.

I’m tired of pretending industrial socialism is somehow innocent, as if the former USSR didn’t produce 16% of global emissions.

I’m not tired of the guilt I carry with me everyday for my role in the system that is destroying our planet. It constantly reminds me that we are obliged to do something. At night, it infects my dreams. I imagine situations where we’re all stuck, just waiting to be killed. When I wake up, I find myself more determined than ever to try living a different way. It’s what drives me to try to imagine a better world, one where food staples don’t have to be shipped hundreds of miles to reach the megalopolis in which we live, but rather are grown at the edges of car-free villages. The guilt makes me depressed and scared, but it also gives me hope and a raison d’être. There can be no guilt without the possibility of something better, and so it tells me that this cannot be all there is, or else that sinking feeling in my gut wouldn’t be there. It is guilt that says, “not only is this not the best of all possible worlds, but it’s not even the best of all probable worlds,” whispering that something better is equally likely if we can shake ourselves free. It is not shame, with which it is often confused. Guilt acknowledges how you have failed others; shame hides how you have failed yourself. There is no shame in participating in society, since it is inescapable, at least for the vast majority. Besides, one cannot build on shame, considering it’s an obfuscation of truth. Plenty of us live our entire lives with moments of shame we cannot even admit to ourselves, the shame driving us to find some technicality through which we can try to absolve our guilt. But guilt cannot be absolved. It is an objective fact, something there whether or not we recognize it. Doing so creates positivity through negation, and reveals the self’s position in the world. In law and religion, admitting guilt, not shame, is the first step to atonement. The sooner we acknowledge our collective guilt, the sooner a better world is possible.

I am tired, and I would not have it any other way. The exhaustion gives me belief, without which nothing is possible.


[1] I’m going to write soon on my theory of violence, but for now I should make clear that this is about violence toward things. Pre-emptive violence toward people is never justifiable.

On Southern thunderstorms and climate catastrophe

Apologies for not updating the blog in a while; if grad school does one thing, it’s make me a worse writer. Focusing on making sure each sentence is unimpeachable is a sure-fire way to ruin the whole. No matter. Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be uploading a mixture of old and new pieces.


At the moment, I am sitting on the patio of an Atlanta coffee shop, waiting for the rain to stop. Thirty minutes ago it was sunny and muggy, the clarity of the air belying its humidity. Fifty feet away, I can see the lines of rain, reminiscent of film grain, discontinuous droplets offering an illusion of consistency. They create a fog behind them, giving the feeling that we are not sitting below a cloud but rather in the nimbus itself, having floated upwards on a current of heat until the reconstructed gas surrounded us. Already, however, this is passing. The mixed-use apartments down the road are no longer desaturated and aged; their oppressive newness has returned. The thunder is less frequent and the air is cooler. But even once the rain concludes, there will still be occasional flashes of lightning, blinding those of us out here working on our computers. I know this because the rain has already stopped.

It was a classic Georgia thunderstorm, the type that exists in every Southerner’s childhood memory, the rain barreling in out of nowhere, catching you at a swimming hole or out in the middle of a field or on your bike, forcing you to race for cover even though you know it’s futile, having stayed out until the first drop fell, ignoring the various signs in an attempt to squeeze every last moment from those long, humid days. If it was August and finally hot enough, you’d excitedly watch steam rising off the asphalt, a science project in real time. You’d get soaked and then stand around, confident this too would pass, ready to reclaim your rightful place within the field of play. And you were almost always right; it would stop, and everyone took off their shirts, if they weren’t off already, and laid them to dry, though the moisture in the air made this a fools’ errand, and you’d go back to swimming or pitching or running around semi-aimlessly. The asphalt would’ve been cooled, allowing you to temporarily run on it without burning the bottoms of your feet, though usually by that time in the summer your sole would be so calloused that it didn’t matter much one way or the other.

Montreal, where I live now, doesn’t have much of any of this, despite the summer humidity. There are rain storms and rainy days and even the occasional bursting forth of thunder and lightning, the earth’s way of reminding us of its power, but in much fewer number than in the South. I hadn’t realized I missed them so until I returned, having forgotten how just sitting and watching the storm is an activity in itself, giving you a base from which your mind can drift. Perhaps the loss of familiarity is why the rain seems so much more common now than it was when I was young. It doesn’t help that my pre-adolescent years coincided with the worst drought Georgia had seen in five hundred years; a return to normal rainfall would naturally feel like an increase. But looking at Atlanta’s yearly precipitation for the months of June, July, and August (an admittedly poor metric for thunderstorms), something begins to emerge. The average for the data set I have is 13.02 inches over the three-month span. The average from ten years before the drought was 11.9 inches, while for ten years after was 14.4 inches. This brief analysis is obviously not scientific—the data set is too small, the periodization is arbitrary, etc. But it confirms my sense that summer rains in Atlanta are increasingly common. It also tracks roughly with a two-degree increase in average temperature over a similar period. It seems that climate change is set to produce more thunderstorms in Atlanta as our planet collapses.

There is another explanation, however, one that is intertwined with climate change but reveals it to be the symptom of our world, not the illness itself. A few years ago, a group of scientists found that Atlanta births thunderstorms like few other American cities, our concrete sprawl calling forth storms from the heavy air and sending them around the metro region. In the intervening years, the city has only gotten more myopic when it comes to development, various real estate moguls paving over the urban forest to build mixed-used monstrosities, as if the abundance of trees and outposts of nature weren’t what made the city so special. And so we can assume the rate at which Atlanta’s heat islands have created thunderstorms has increased as well. It’s a stark reminder that our insistence on dominating nature is inherently destructive, climate change or not.

And this is the crux of the issue. Even if we were to magically switch to a carbon-neutral system of construction, we still could not continue to build as we do and expect nothing to happen. The earliest inventions stemmed from self-preservation, a natural impulse, but worked through domination of the natural. But while for most of human history victory over nature was localized and tenuous—a rickety bridge, irrigation for a series of farms, perhaps the occasional dam or canal—The acceleration of technology over the past three hundred years has shifted so we no longer attempt to conquer aspects of nature but rather the entirety. It is downright suicidal to believe we can innovate our way of a mess caused by the conquering impulse inherent in inventiveness. Furthermore, no matter how much we wish to deny it, the natural is still within us. And so to destroy and dominate nature is to do the same to ourselves, even if we do not realize it.

It is now a new day, and I am sitting in a different coffeeshop. Though it is sunny out, the tables are still wet, carrying the marker of yesterday’s storm. Kids from a day camp run around on the grass in front, taking advantage of the ever-rarer blue skies. I check the weather radar. We’re surrounded; the rain will start by six, never to end.


Notes from a Bus Ride

“Well, won’t you lend your lungs to me? Mine are collapsing.”-“Lungs” Townes Van Zandt

In the distance, I see the future, burning skies and flooded forests, states swept away, leaving only the levees that enabled their destruction, bodyguards who double-crossed their mark.

“Gather up the gold you’ve found/you fool it’s only moonlight”
Around me is the now; a man on the bus takes heroin out of his pocket and examines it. He starts to nod off, opening the bus window before doing so, letting the cold air in. There are scabs across his body, capitalism’s stigmata in the form of smack side effects. The spring melt is arriving. The snow is fleeing, cold clear water surging down Mont Royal. But there is no dirt to hold it. The result is run-off, dirty water clear enough to pass as something else. A generation raised on YouTube is coming of age: the first whose learning, entertainment, and lives were lived according to capital-hungry algorithms, codes that do not prioritize profit but are only for that. Even the most greedy human is still human. As such, they can never operate as capital might like them to. Algorithms are different.

“You better leave this dream alone/try to find another”
Buildings grow more grotesque by the day. High rises are being built downtown; each time I walk by, I dream of Molotovs. Industrialization has put us in the guillotines. Capitalist rats chew at the ropes, unaware the blade will kill us all.

“Wisdom burned upon a shelf/who’ll kill the raging cancer”
Fascism is capitalism’s immune system—it becomes popular when the system is sick. Yet it offers no alternative. This is by design, for it is meant only to buy ruling class time. Unwilling to give up their position, however, the elite do nothing. We look at the 1930’s and assume fascism will pass. But then we had Germany as a potential enemy. This allowed us to position fascism as anti-American. Fascism is reliant on nationalism, and stripped of it becomes politically inert. Now we have no fascist enemies—our forever war is against the poor and Muslim, not the rich and Aryan. And so, barring a fundamental system overhaul, we will careen into the abyss wearing MAGA hats and coal rolling.


Please stay on the trail

Please stay on the trail pleads the sign. “Streambank restoration…project ReWild.” To protect nature, we must stay within the framework of the societal organization. Society, however, is the dialectic opposite of nature. Both constantly work to destroy each other, while simultaneously relying on the opposite’s existence. To stay on the path is to save nature, but only as a vanquished foe. In such a position, it loses its dialectic tension with society, and hence loses what we might call its essence—that it is inimical to us.

When starting up a mountain hike, one does not pick a spot at random. You look at where others have gone, creating a path, and follow it for some distance. In doing so, the hiker goes beyond where they could’ve otherwise reached, opening up more of nature to their gaze.


However, though positivism—particularly as it manifests in the supposedly objective sciences—asserts that more is better, this is not actually the case. To stay on the path is to protect knowledge of nature from being affected by nature. The corporately constructed trail promises the violent safety of the administered world. In this, it offers the false freedom of domination, which can only produce untruth. It says that one need not think of what is below your foot or behind the branch. This hides the fact that it makes such considerations impossible. On the trail, one can see the forest for the trees, unbiased by the nature’s dangers. But without the trees there is no forest; without terror there is no nature. It is only when thinking about where to place your foot that truth makes an appearance. One can only truly know nature when you are at its mercy. It is an autonomous totality affected by but independent of society. On the hiking trail, this is not apparent; the pathway is subtle, making it feel as though you are in nature, but one that is familiar and subject to the same domination as us. It obliterates the distance between us and the realm we left. As such it leads only to untruths.


However, the sign does not lie. Walking off the hiking trail offers the possibility of understanding nature as fundamentally different, as well as revealing that we were once subjects within that realm, before administration turned us to objects. However, we are no longer subjects—enlightenment’s march has stripped us of our humanity, replacing it with the “objective spirit” that rules society. As soon as we step off the path, we bring the administered world into nature. Nature struggles to free us from it; in this struggle there is a glimpse of truth. But it comes at a cost. The grass dies, the flowers do not regrow. In learning about the earth, we attack it. Nature responds by showing us the untruth of our system. It does so at the cost of its life.

Empty Gestures

“The house I built is burning”

The Turnpike Troubadours’ lyric echoes in my ear as I walk, the original stuck to the corner where I heard it, its copies mutating and shifting as the real becomes more distant. “The house I built is burning… the house I built burnin…the house we built…burnin…” It’s sunny and warm here in Providence, but the remnants of the bomb cyclone that stormed away weeks ago still liter the corners. Across the country, my sister’s town is covered in the scar tissue that fills the void burning brings. In Atlanta, there’s still ice on the ground. Before I left, I watched as fire failed to melt the snow around it, my understanding collapsing with each flicker. In between these coasts sit proud mountains stripped of their cold coverings, the snow refusing the peaks’ plea for modesty.
Down in Southeast Atlanta, there’s a park centered around two ponds. The ponds were created by The South River Brick Company, who used the area as a clay quarry. They weren’t the first diggers though—the area around the park had been a quarry as far back as 3000 BC, mostly for soapstone. After SRBC closed down, an African-American family homesteaded there, only for white neighbors to burn their house and chase them out, turning the location into a dumping ground. Years later, after a billionaire philanthropist gave Dekalb County the money to turn the land into a park, local artists started using the remaining trash to create installations. Dolls’ heads and broken brick dot the hiking trail, sitting in old TV’s and playing tricks on the local copperheads. Geese land on the lakes, flapping their wings until they have a readymade whitewater ride. The dead trees have ornate tattoos, the product of termites’ artistic ambitions. Occasionally otters appear, messing with the floodplain in unexpected ways.
Yet something is off as you walk through, a palpable tension independent of the lifeless eyes that track walkers or the greedy poison ivy that reach for your legs. It comes from the nagging suspicion that though we gave this land back to nature, it didn’t forgive us. Huxley writes that English forests and marshes are “only there on sufferance, because we have chosen out of our good pleasure, to leave them their freedom.” But the truth was these wilds did not accept their enslavement peacefully—it is only now that we begin to see their vengeance manifesting, and so we desperately return what we never actually conquered. What good is a million dollars for a park, when the money came from the system that destroyed it in the first place? Our house is burning; even our most conscientious leaders are doing little more than throwing cups of water on the ever growing flames, knowing damn well it’ll change nothing. They’re in collusion with the fire, just like those in the back dumping gasoline and laughing as the flames grow. They don’t feel the heat, at least not yet. Cotton and linen, the make-up of currency, are mighty fine at cooling.
“And all that trouble you’ve been looking for is easy in the finding
Well the devil’s into fine detail” The Turnpike Troubadours sing. Oh how I wish they were right! The devil Huxley found in nature, the alien distance that fills the tropics with dread, that asserts there is world outside of us we cannot know, is gone. With it is inimical goodness; the devil cannot exist without God to cast him out of heaven. Those details the devil loved—the ice on the corner, the burned out tree, the rock strewn peak—reveal nothing but his retreat. Climate change is the manifestation of capitalism, of our society. Every tree we plant is already dead, stripped of its essence and power.