Rob Nixon, “Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor.”
The politics of disparity has bubbled to the surface: Athens, Middle East, America. An unacceptable chasm between the uber-rich and the ultra-poor. These movements have had a profound generational dimension. Young people in particular, in particular the young and poor, have felt robbed of a dignified future.
Questions of failures on the part of the powers that be to address the emergencies of the long term. To address the long term impacts of climate change; food security; job prospects; debt burden. Acknowledgment from outside the system that the powers that be have failed. Election and dictatorial nepotism fail to address the long term violence that is felt in the bodies of the poor in the global South.
We are used to thinking of violence as immediate, explosive, spectacular. Concentrated visibility. We need to think through the challenges of slow violence. Neither spontaneous nor instantaneous. Incremental and attritional. Played out across a range of timescales. How we respond to a variety of social traumas is affected by our aesthetics of violence.
How to create stories, images, symbols that can capture the slow motion catastrophes of delayed effects. Climate change. Thawing cryosphere. Toxic drift of nitrates towards the Gulf of Mexico.
They confront us with representational challenges. Operates as a major threat multiplier. Exponential dimension can fuel human crises as the conditions for sustaining life are degraded over time.
Explosions have a visceral page turning power that slow violence can't match. Scientifically convoluted cataclysms. Public policy is shaped around immediacy, as is the media.
Disasters that are anonymous and star nobody. How can we make them dramatic enough to rouse public sentiment?
The present feels more abbreviated than it used to. Political classes surrounded by tech time savers that make us feel time poor. Rapidly eroding attention span needs to confront slow erosion of environmental justice. Speed has become a self-justifying propulsive ethic, that renders uneventful violence a weak claimant on our attention.
The electronic screen has become an ecosystem of interruptive technologies. Attempts at redefining speed. Images of unacceptably fast lost of species etc.
2012 is the 50th anniversary of Silent Spring, which grapples with some of these issues. Doesn't talk about colonialism, empire, class, race. But Carson was grappling with the power of the military industrial complex to postpone effects, damage, and to blur the narrative of heightened risk.
Carson: “death by indirection.” A sense of ricochet, oblique casualties. But also a sense of death by direction, yet unintended, structural.
What she is so attuned to are some of the challenges of narrating formlessness. Attenuated, seem to be undramatic.
Appearance of Steven Pinker's book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Is Declining. Very popular. Arithmetic trends in violence over past 5000 years. Clarifies differences with Nixon. Part of its appeal is its unexpected optimism on the question of violence. Despite popular belief, the 20th century was not very violent per capita.
The character of the species narrative. Nixon's instinct is to disaggregate communities in the neoliberal era and with this indecent widening of a chasm between the ultra-rich and the ultra-poor. What Pinker screens is the outsourcing of violence. Technological changes, widening of globalization, the great powers have far greater ability to outsource violence.
Cold War renamed Long Peace. No major conflicts between the major powers. But if you are Nicaraguan or El Salvadoran etc. etc. the Long Peace was an outsourced war. People are still living with the long-term fallout from that. Biomagnification sees the transmission of Agent Orange's violence to people not born at that time.
Pinker gets into the grand guignol spectacle of gruesome medieval violence. Sunny side up sociobiology. Who is counting the victims of genetic deterioration? Slow invisible deaths that don't fit the news cycle. They are war casualties nonetheless. Depleted uranium, unexpected cluster bombs, nuclear testing. A different kind of narrative, a disaggregated one.
Nicholas Kristof, “Are We Getting Nicer?” essay on this.
“We're getting better all the time” (me: Lennon—“Couldn't get much worse”).
“The normalized quiet of unseen power” (Said). Invisibility of poverty and of deferred effects. Ecological and human disposability.