“Climate change is an unintended consequence of human actions and shows, only through scientific analysis, the effects of our actions as a species. Species may indeed be the name of a placeholder for an emergent, new universal history of humans that flashes up in the moment of the danger that is climate change. But we can never understand this universal. It is not a Hegelian universal arising dialectically out of the movement of history, or a universal of capital brought forth by the present crisis….Yet climate change poses for us a question of a human collectivity, an us, pointing to a figure of the universal that escapes our capacity to experience the world.”
–Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Theses”
“Who’s they?” the skeptics wanted to know, when they saw me on the edge of Zuccotti Park, displaying the message BECA– USE THEY’RE TRYING TO DRIVE OUR PLANET OFF A CLIFF. I might have responded, accurately if mysteriously enough, by saying, “Well, actually, I should have written ‘WETHEY ARE TRYING,’ but ‘THEY’ sounded better.” Chakrabarty (in an extraordinarily thought-provoking 2009 essay that has received a lot of attention) suggests that we can’t experience this strange new sort of collective agency “we” are exercising, but I want to know: why not? Surely the Hegelian dialectic is an imaginative construct, and I see no reason why “we” should not devise other images, figures, philosophical Just-So Stories to help us understand and experience as “real” the unintended effects of the complex interactions between innumerable instances of individually purposeful behavior.
“It’s wethey that did it” was finally all I could think of to write in expression of my feeling that the Fukushima disaster was the “unforeseen” outcome of actions taken by groups of powerful people the likes of whom I feel irretrievably alienated from–and at the same time, the catastrophe seemed like something predictably produced by a collectivity I belong to.
Never to let go of the simultaneity of alienation and complicity. Wethey is the subject of this history that has erased the border between human self-organization and global-scale natural processes.