Rediscovering Earth



“An engaging and accessible set of interviews with key movers of the environmental debate. Will force you to rethink the ways you engage with the natural world.”
—Peder Anker, author of The Power of the Periphery

“Frightens, energizes, and gives hope that we can participate in a collective and creative response to the problems we are confronting today—and without which we will not be able to survive.”
—Hélène Mialet, author of Hawking Incorporated

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About the Book

The gap between what we know and what we do has haunted the field of moral philosophy since antiquity, and is at the center of today’s environmental crisis. Put simply: if we know that we are destroying the planet, our habitat, why do we continue to do it? The ten dialogues collected here investigate this question, and propose how we might salvage the planet and save our own lives.

Played out are the debates that will shape the course of the twenty-first century, and indeed human history. Each speaker brings unique perspectives and testifies to the troubling and often absurd crisis we find ourselves in. Among the stories in Rediscovering Earth are accounts of how: people live directly under dams, unconcerned that they might burst; abandoned household cats stalk major cities, endangering smaller species; fish are shipped from one end of the world to the other, only to be processed, packaged, and returned to their original location; displaced monkeys break into homes, fatally attacking officials belonging to governments engaged in aggressive deforestation practices; and farmers kill themselves by drinking the remnants of insecticide they can no longer afford to apply to their land, resulting in its ruination.

If common ground is to be found in these discussions, it is that the future of nature will be decided as much in the cultural realm—in philosophy, literature, and art—as in the sciences. If we want finally to bridge the gap between knowledge and action we must rediscover the earth, identify ourselves more fully as earthlings, and realize that our future and that of the planet are one and the same.

240 pages • Paperback ISBN 978-1-68219-508-6 • E-book 978-1-68219-296-2

About the Author

anders dunker author photo

Anders Dunker was born in Norway and studied philosophy, comparative religion, and literature. He has taught philosophy, literature, and cultural history at universities in Oslo, Bali, Rome, and Barcelona. He is a contributor to Le Monde diplomatique and the Los Angeles Review of Books, and is chief critic at Ny Tid/Modern Times Review. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

Read an Excerpt

From Dialogue One: “The Rediscovery of the Earth—with Bruno Latour”

Anders Dunker (AD): Historically, the age of discovery is over. Are we none the less in a new age—an age of rediscovery—that can lift our spirits and propel us past the nagging feelings of tragedy?

Bruno Latour (BL): Well, it is my way of being optimistic. It is my way of not taking part in the sense of doom. Scientifically and technically, it is perfectly rational to be a pessimist, but I don’t think it makes much sense politically. Optimism has nothing to do with technoscience—DNA plus cognitive science plus robots plus outer space. Instead it is connected with exploring the world we thought we knew. I will borrow the term from you and call our time period an age of rediscovery, even if it is grandiose. What we call local has quite a different meaning in relation to Gaia than it previously had. It now has many different dimensions. The rediscovery of a place is in some ways a cliché—since ecologists have been talking about the same thing for years—but this concept also leads to a different way of framing the world, it leads to another geometry, so to speak. Water gets another meaning. Ice gets another meaning. Industry is considered in relation to the amount of CO₂ in the atmosphere. We see things in new ways. Antibiotics have a different kind of globalization than weeds, for example.

AD: Traditionally, the concept of the local has had a flavor of subjectivity—existence circumscribed by the immediate horizon—in contrast to the scientific gaze, which purports to see everything as if from outer space?

BL: And here lies the error. The local is objective. The gaze from inside the critical zone is completely objective, it is just objective in a different way. What we see is real, but this reality only becomes visible if we learn what different parties are up to, what they need, what they want, what they can accomplish.

AD: But when we see things from the inside and rediscover our surroundings as a mesh of territories, the question arises: from whose perspective should we see these territories? There is obviously a myriad of lifeforms, both human and nonhuman, with different and potentially conflicting interests. Doesn’t this beg the question of negotiating the right to exist—to be what one is?

BL: For me, the decisive question is this: When one talks about one’s territory, does this territory contain other beings or not? If you define other beings as part of your territory, defending your territory also means defending insects and birds. So there are those who belong to society, as my countryman Émile Durkheim defined it: that is, to an exclusively human society. Such people resist an inclusive definition of their territory containing insects and birds. In this way, there is a struggle between different kinds of cosmopolitanism—or cosmopolitics, if you like—which isn’t really that different from politics as ordinarily conceived. In Norway, for instance, youth protesters are attacking oil interests drilling in the Arctic and suing the government. They are using the law to say, “What you are doing is wrong and constitutes an attack on all of us.” This is politics the way politics has always been conducted. We tend to distinguish between ecological issues and political issues, but this is both strange and mistaken—they are essentially the same.

AD: So rather than speaking about the sixth extinction and global warming in general, we must discover the battleground in our immediate vicinity?

BL: We are drowning in horrible information about global ecological disaster. The net result is paralysis. Some time ago, Le Monde published a warning about climate change signed by 15,000 scientists in big letters on the front page. But what do you do with that? Where do you go from there? People are left with a feeling of helplessness. This is where many environmental thinkers make a mistake. They preach about the end of the world but fail to understand the drama in multiple dimensions. When we only emphasize the tragic side of things, we end up instead in a kind of pedagogic tragedy. It is important to remember the comedic side of things, which is more affirmative. I have collaborated in writing a play about Gaia that is a tragicomedy. Comedy is a way to avoid the rigidity of tragedy. We don’t need more pedagogic tragedies, but rather to start lively debates and to stage possibilities for reality in new ways. Comedy, drama, exhibitions, performances—this is our only way of freeing ourselves from the sense of helplessness.

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