Rabbit Holes 🕳️ #66
From apocalyptic optimism to ugly times, the zeitgeist of doom, limitarianism, and fast architecture
THIS WEEK → ☄️ Apocalyptic Optimism 🤮 Ugly Times 😱 The Zeitgeist of Doom ➕ Limitarianism 🚿 Fast Architecture
Rabbit Holes 🕳️
As always, here are three perspective-shifting ideas to rewild your mind and help you create a better world, plus some extras below. Enjoy!
#1 ☄️ Apocalyptic Optimism
When will climate breakdown lead to a mass climate action movement? This piece argues that we’ll only aggressively tackle climate breakdown when we have both severe and sustained shock (e.g. due to natural disasters), as only that will result in mass mobilization. The COVID-19 comparison here is quite eye-opening.
“I call myself an apocalyptic optimist. I believe we can save ourselves from the climate crisis that we have caused; I also believe it will only be possible with a mass mobilization driven by the pain and suffering of climate shocks around the world.
As the social effects of climate shocks grow in both frequency and severity, I predict they will motivate an AnthroShift where personal and economic risk reaches a critical threshold that leads people to alter their behaviors and force governments and businesses to transition aggressively away from fossil fuels. This process requires halting all fossil fuel subsidies and stopping all efforts to extract more fossil fuels to be burned at home or exported for use abroad.
Such AnthroShifts can open up windows of opportunity for innovative social change—but only, as I have discussed in detail elsewhere, if the risks are both severe and durable.
The COVID-19 pandemic offers a recent example of an AnthroShift where risk durability was too low for the social changes to be sustained long term. In spring 2020, we changed our behaviors overnight to limit the transmission of the coronavirus and flatten the curve. […] However, as vaccines reduced the threat of the disease, the world opened back up. Our lives shifted back to normal (or at least close to it), and the window of opportunity for big social change closed.
The social responses to the pandemic showed us that the type of systemic changes needed to address the climate crisis are possible. But they also made clear that without a sustained shock that has tangible costs to people and property, those changes will be ephemeral and social actors will regress back to a business-as-usual trajectory. […]
There are no vaccines or any other sort of silver bullets to save us from the climate crisis. […]
Studies have shown that nonviolent conflict can be successful in bringing about large-scale social transformations in a given region if a critical mass of 3.5% or more of the population participates in the activism. However, beyond responses to repressive and autocratic rule, examples of sustained activism at this level of engagement are scant. So it’s unrealistic to imagine that such a high percentage of the population would mobilize and engage in peaceful climate activism without some sort of large-scale risk as motivation. […]
The climate disaster that is coming is inevitable at this point, but it may also be our only hope for meaningful change. In the meantime, the best way through the climate crisis is to build strong ties within our communities, create solidarity, and cultivate social and environmental resilience capable of supporting one another and exploiting the windows of opportunity when the apocalypse arrives.”
*read the online version of this newsletter to zoom in on each image
#2 🤮 Ugly Times
I haven’t read stronger and funnier words than this in a very long time. What I like about this notion of ugliness and sameness is that it tackles our systemic problems from an angle that is extremely relatable across so many different types of people. Said differently, beautifying the world requires a systemic transformation that, in turn, I believe, will also tremendously boost things like sustainability, physical and mental health, and social justice.
“WE LIVE IN UNDENIABLY UGLY TIMES. Architecture, industrial design, cinematography, probiotic soda branding — many of the defining features of the visual field aren’t sending their best. Despite more advanced manufacturing and design technologies than have existed in human history, our built environment tends overwhelmingly toward the insubstantial, the flat, and the gray, punctuated here and there by the occasional childish squiggle. This drab sublime unites flat-pack furniture and home electronics, municipal infrastructure and commercial graphic design: an ocean of stuff so homogenous and underthought that the world it has inundated can feel like a digital rendering — of a slightly duller, worse world. […]
In 2020, a study by London’s Science Museum Group’s Digital Lab used image processing to analyze photographs of consumer objects manufactured between 1800 and the present. They found that things have become less colorful over time, converging on a spectrum between steel and charcoal, as though consumers want their gadgets to resemble the raw materials of the industries that produce them. […] The imagined color of life under communism, gray has revealed itself to be the actual hue of globalized capital. […]
Many of the aesthetic qualities pioneered by low-interest-rate-era construction — genericism, non-ornamentation, shoddy reproducibility — have trickled down into other realms, even as other principles, unleashed concurrently by Apple’s slick industrial-design hegemon, have trickled up. In the middle, all that is solid melts into sameness, such that smart home devices resemble the buildings they surveil, which in turn look like the computers on which they were algorithmically engineered, which resemble the desks on which they sit, which, like the sofas at the coworking space around the corner, put the mid in fake midcentury modern. And all of it is bound by the commandment of planned obsolescence, which decays buildings even as it turns phones into bricks. […]
Sitting inside a Tesla is not unlike sitting inside a smartphone, while also staring at a giant smartphone. […]
The ruling class seized cities and chose to turn them into . . . this? To our right is a place that sells wiggly candles. Past that is a boutique liquor store whose chalkboard sign proclaims, in cheerleader handwriting, that the time is Wine O’Clock, and past that is a Bank of America. Across the street, a row of fast-casual chains, whose names and visual identities insist on modesty and anonymity: Just Salad, Just Food For Dogs, Blank Street Coffee. (This raft of normcore brands finds its opposite in the ghost kitchens down the block, which all for some reason are called things like Fuck Your Little Bitch Burrito.) Up ahead is an axe throwing “experience,” and another Bank of America. […]
One paradox of the new ugliness is that it flattens the distinction between the rich, the very rich, the superrich, and the merely fortunate by ripping them all off in turn. […]
Our train car is covered in ads, all curiously alike despite marketing a staggering variety of superfluous stuff. How did workplace management systems, body-positive nutritional supplements, bean-forward meal kits, woman-owned sex toys, and woman-owned day-trading services all converge on the same three fonts? […]
The new ugliness is defined in part by an abandonment of function and form: buildings afraid to look like buildings, cars that look like renderings, restaurants that look like the apps that control them.”
#3 😱 The Zeitgeist of Doom
While I do not agree with some of the things in the following article, I do very much agree with its main point: We need to shift from coming together based on collective outrage and victimization to coming together based on cooperation and a shared belief, vision, and hope. It’s the difference between protesting against something and protesting for something. It’s okay to be against something, to be angry. It’s extremely important to highlight oppression and exploitation. But it’s also essential to then come together based on a ‘this-is-how-wonderful-the-world-could-be’ idea and get more people excited about it!
“Whether you’re on the MAGA right or the social-justice left, you define your identity by how you stand against what you perceive to be the dominant structures of society. Groups on each side of the political divide are held together less by common affections than by a common sense of threat, an experience of collective oppression. Today’s communal culture is based on a shared belief that society is broken, systems are rotten, the game is rigged, injustice prevails, the venal elites are out to get us; we find solidarity and meaning in resisting their oppression together. […]
This mode of collectivism embeds us in communities—but they’re not friendly communities; they’re angry ones. In this culture, people feel bonded not because they are cooperating with one another but because they are indignant about the same things. […]
In this way, pessimism becomes a membership badge—the ultimate sign that you are on the side of the good. If your analysis is not apocalyptic, you’re naive, lacking in moral urgency, complicit with the status quo. […] The current culture confers status and belonging to those who see the world as negatively as possible. […]
This negativity saturates everything. As The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson noted recently, more than 5,500 podcasts now have the word trauma in their title. Political life is seen through a negative valence. A YouGov survey of 33,000 Americans found that both sides of the political debate believe they are losing. […]
The problem is that if you mess around with negative emotions, negative emotions will mess around with you, eventually taking over your life. Focusing on the negative inflates negativity. […] Moreover, negativity is extremely contagious. When people around us are pessimistic, indignant, and rageful, we’re soon likely to become that way too. This is how today’s culture has produced mass neuroticism. […]
Authoritarianism flourishes amid pessimism, fear, and rage. Trump feeds off zero-sum thinking, the notion that society is at war—us-versus-them, dog-eat-dog. The more you contribute to the culture of depressive negativity, the more likely Trump’s reelection becomes. […]
Somehow, our new communal culture needs to replace bonds of negative polarization and collective victimization with bonds of common loves and collective action.”
“We all notice when the poor get poorer: when there are more rough sleepers and food bank queues start to grow. But if the rich become richer, there is nothing much to see in public and, for most of us, daily life doesn't change. Or at least, not immediately.”
Limitarianism: The Case Against Extreme Wealth by Ingrid Robeyns
“If you’re in a product development meeting, when there’s a quiet moment, just ask, ‘How does this product end?’ It’s the simplest question. And I promise you, it will be baffling to everyone in the room. When we ask that question, we can ask it on a number of levels. How does this product end in a physical sense? How does it decay, how do we reclaim it? How does it end in a consumer experience sense?”
Meet the ‘endineer’ who helps companies design the end of life for products by Adele Peters
“One particular insight from De Meyer’s work seems very relevant. He demonstrates how actions drive beliefs. In environmental circles it is almost always the other way round – if we can just persuade enough people that something is important and that they should do something, they will act. The evidence suggests this doesn’t work, and that beliefs don’t drive action nearly as much as we assume they do.”
The Psychology of Climate Action by Jeremy Williams
A huge database of Degrowth groups, papers, policies, media, books, news, education, conferences, etc.
🚿 Shower Thoughts
Fast Fashion, Fast Food,….Fast Architecture:
That’s it for this week’s Rabbit Holes!
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