One sided critique

In their essay “Sustainability”, Doerr & co. seek to challenge the idea of a universal concept for “sustainability”. This reminds me of Yusoff’s book we read a few weeks ago. Both tries to challenge a universal conception of the Anthropocene, and both demonstrate the unequal distribution of harm and suffering caused by the ecological crisis that disproportionately affect black and brown folks across the world. Unlike Yusoff’s book which was much more abstract, this article uses a specific and concrete example of Doña Marta to illustrate the problem. Doerr & co.’s description of “U.S corn came rushing in to feed them, family after family returned this gift with their sons and daughters”, reminded me of the wave of Mexican immigrants coming to the United States in the 1990s. After NAFTA was signed, many farmers struggled to survive due to the privatization of communal land and competition from larger U.S corn producers. As such, many sold their land and moved into the cities or up north across the border to find work. However, I do find myself disagreeing with Doerr & co. on some points. Although they present a more nuanced understanding of sustainability, they present Western conception of progress as one dimensional. For instance, they contrast Marta’s understanding of sustainability with “the destination-oriented future of modernity’s progress or the never-satisfied longing of industrial capitalism” (Doerr et al. par. 4). However, progress in modernity have not always looked the same. The classical enlightenment notion of progress is not one that is “destination-oriented”. On the contrary, it is precisely the lack of destination that makes freedom possible. This was what caused the philosopher Immanuel Kant to write “when we ask, Are we now living in an enlightened age? the answer is, No, but we live in an age of enlightenment” (par. 9). I am also perplexed as to what Doerr & co. might mean when they write “the objective is rather to care for the stratified reproductions between not-so-global global languages and the various strategies of world making”. If it is to mean that we should take the world making strategies of people like Marta as against the “global” language of sustainability, then I would disagree. From the description of Marta’s world view, it appears to me that her concern was surviving the ravages of ecological degradation and as such contains no better guide for tackling the ecological crisis than the “global” language of sustainability. This is to repeat the false dichotomy between Main Street and Wall Street. As the philosopher Slavoj Zizek once wrote “the solution is neither Main Street nor Wall Street, but to change the system where Main Street cannot function without Wall Street” (par. 5).

1. Kant, Immanuel. What Is Enlightenment. Columbia University, http://www.columbia.edu/acis/ets/CCREAD/etscc/kant.html.

2. Žižek, Slavoj. “Occupy Wall Street: What Is to Be Done next? .” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 24 Apr. 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/apr/24/occupy-wall-street-what-is-to-be-done-next.

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