“No further proof is required, since the search for proof is already contaminated by an unwillingness to acknowledge the hyperobject [anthropogenic climate change].” T. Morton, Hyperobjects.
Ascertain causality while the oceans rise, the forests burn, the floods rage? Think carefully before you rush into traffic to save the errant child? No, follow Nike’s advice, with a twist. Just do it/don’t do it.
But do what? Avoid doing what? Morton suggests an atunement to objects, a focus, a connection, an acknowledgement with which we humble ourselves to avoid being an objective observer, removed from the object. Irony is death, he says. There is no away, he says.
He provides an example of just doing it: a judge refuses to hear more evidence or statistical information regarding the hydrocarbon poisoning of people and a region of Argentina. Doubt exists, so causality is uncertain, says Chevron. The judge flipped the script: the plaintiffs did not have to prove the defendant poisoned them. Chevron had to prove hyrdocarbons were safe.
Think of how long tobacco companies denied the links between smoking and cancer. They wanted more proof of causality in an age where science is built on statistical significance. Morton says that objects are withdrawn, that we know only certain aspects of them. The rest of their character is unknowable. With colossal hyperobjects such as global warming this may be obvious: we can’t see it all, despite, or maybe because of, our crazy terabyte gigaflop computers. But Morton goes further to argue that even a pencil has qualities that are withdrawn from us. So the proof is not in the pudding, it’s hidden away from us, even if we dissect the pudding and put its molecules under an electron microscope.
The search for the molecules, the search for hydrocarbon’s signature in the cancer, or investigating whether or not the temperature today is global warming or a butterfly’s wings in Japan… all these things take your eyes off of the ball. They’re all a form of denialism. The climate is changing, species are vanishing, and human habits are terribly difficult to change.
But I can’t easily recognize what to do in the face of our collective fate. I want to fill my time with knowing more. Ideas are tools, ideas are predispositions that can mold dispositions. So while I try to envision my art, my masterpiece that will make me feel like I’ve done something, I’ll continue thinking and analyzing rather than doing. Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt, after all. It’s a human habit in the face of the unknowable uncertainty that we know is for certain.