The naming crisis in Anthropocenic study is not only an argument over cause but also effect. The project now before us is synthesizing the myriad causes and effects groupable under the rubric of “Anthropocene” into a coherent set of questions that allow us (and this is the crucial part) to materially intervene into a failing world.
I will lay all my cards on the table: I think the naming crisis in Anthropocenic study is fundamentally tiresome. I do not care if we call it the Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Cthluthucene, the metabolic rift, whatever. This is not because I am fundamentally apathetic to it; I take very seriously the contention that “anthropos” over-generalizes the cause of this crisis. But I am uninterested in the same reason that I am uninterested, for example, in multiplying the discourses around queer identity: it seems to me a symptom of an academic logocentricity that imagines that if we can name the thing under question, then we will achieve a perfect understanding or a solution will appear.
I also have a working theory that the proliferation of names is tied to the need to make original contributions in order to get tenure, but that’s another axe to grind.
One of the issues is that we are presented with multiple cross-hatching (to use a word from Chakrabarty) “crises” (aware of the nuances from Chun) that seem under the rubric of “Anthropocene.”
- Rising global temperatures, extreme weather events, ocean acidification, and loss of biodiversity caused by carboniferous capitalism (the classic definition)
- Geological interventions into the planetary skin caused by fossil fuel drilling, nuclear weapons testing, and non-biodegradable waste (the stratigrapher’s definition)
- widening inequality, political unrest, and the disruption of democratic norms caused by REDACTED (the Twitter definition)
- the technological operationalization of every day life and the attendant sense that “everything’s getting weird all the time” (the least clearly defined, and to my mind most interesting definition)
It should be clear by now that while we can lay the blame at techno-capitalism’s feet for many of these effects, there’s still no one easy way to group these together or construe them as a unified “crisis.” I don’t have any easy answers here but I am inclined to agree with Haraway and others who construe the “Anthropocene” less as a geologic period and more as a boundary or threshold event, thinkable as an “extinction event” but also as a call toward sociocultural and political transformation. If, qua Haraway, “it matters what ideas we use to think other ideas,” then thinking with the Anthropocene is to construe our scholarship as deeply embedded in an ethical and political project of world-transformation.
This is an uneasy place to inhabit.