This community profile is with our very own Sunset Duck, Shane “Sugar” Sugrue. This
philosopher has recently quacked his way back to the UK indefinitely, so we’re seizing the
opportunity for some classic mallard musings!
If you’ve been within earshot of Sugar when he’s waxing lyrical on just the right amount of tipple, you’ll know that he’s ruminating constantly on the BIG QUESTIONS (especially when it comes to all-things-burning).
So there’s lots of techy solutions to the world's problems being thrown around these days, especially by those Silicon Valley burners… Do you think that these solutions can save the world?
This is such a huge question. Can tech save the world…? Yikes.
As an avowed analog advocate, I’m probably not best-placed to answer this - I mean, we’re not even talking “vinyl-is-just-better-quality” here - think good old-fashioned choral evensong, incomprehensible chanting, candle-lit prostration, all the smells and bells - I like my transcendent augmented reality experiences in full HD, thankyouverymuch.
What would you suggest otherwise?
Well, I recently bought a typewriter in an effort to learn the art of choosing my words carefully before saying them (something I haven’t typically been terribly good at) - you know, escape the tabbed-browsing thought-tangling feedback-loop of impulse-action-screen impulse-action-screen, and so on and so forth. It’s just too much when you can edit every last detail in real-time. We’re setting ourselves up to fail. But notwithstanding the delightful “ding!” you receive at the end of each line, there are considerable detractions to writing on a typewriter in the world of computers. Before I go offering reflections on the tech industry, I would advise your readers to take note of my regression to this prehistoric writing technology as an indication of some possible assumptions and biases I might harbour. Ever the good scientist.
Okay, but what about the apocalypse?
I guess first things first - which apocalypse are we talking about here? If we’re to take on board anything the prose-producing prodigy that is Dr. Nat Osborne has told us, it’s that the present crisis is but AN apocalypse - one of many in history’s long and varied history. Catastrophes come and cataclysms go and yet, as far as we can tell, life goes on. It’s our predilection for neat reductive singular explanations of the phenomena we encounter that lead us to the strange assumption that there can only be one (namely, ‘The’) Apocalypse - and that it will occur during the course of Homo Sapiens’ tenure as Earth’s dominant predator, naturally.
Sadly, this obsession with singularity is one of the hallmarks of abstract rational thought, that cornerstone of the European Enlightenment, the infallible lynchpin of liberalism - you see where I’m going with this - that equipped a bunch of well-educated men (and yes, it was always men), carrying guns, cash, and extraordinary eloquence in the debating chamber, with the means to justify the wholesale rape and pillage of entire continents. As I write, I’m sitting in one of the wellsprings of that very mode of thought and knowledge-production and I can tell you, it is VERY hard to argue with old white men on their rational and eminently reasonable terms. But Karma is Karma, and it doesn’t take too many leaps-of-faith to make a connection between the success of the settler-colonial endeavour and the kinds of unmitigated global disasters we’re facing today - indeed, you could even argue that it is precisely our impulse to create this singular global narrative we call ‘Economic Development’ that has lead us to a situation where talk of ‘The Apocalypse’ doesn’t seem that far fetched after all, at least not in terrestrial terms.
And that’s where the old white men in Silicon Valley come in…
You're right, there IS only one Earth, and we ARE stretching its resources beyond capacity, these are facts that are hard to dispute. The paradox is this: it is only as the colonial expansion of scientific rationalism has gathered pace that our now truly global society has started to become truly aware of the interconnectedness of it all - the finite resources and the infinitely complex ecosystems, the microscopic molecules and their macroeconomic implications, in short, this whole closed-loop-system we’re living in called the Universe. And underneath it all, the Algorithms, those magical little mathematical sequences that fire off, apparently at random, in our DNA and in our internet search histories, figuring out what colour eyes to give our children and what colour leggings we are most likely to buy for our trip to Burning Man, when the time comes.
I mean, no sooner had scientists put forward the notion that the Earth was round than Christopher Columbus was petitioning the Spanish crown for cash, guns, and well-educated men to go prove the theory right. The result was the New World - a place of seemingly unlimited possibility and unlimited booty. Five hundred years later, at the far end of that New World, Stewart Brand swallowed some blotter paper and watched the sunrise from a San Francisco rooftop and decided that the world needed to see The World - by the end of the decade, the first photographs of Earth from space finally gave us proof of Galileo’s heretical hypothesis and inspired the contemporary environmental movement. But it also paved the way for satellite-assisted remote prospecting, mass surveillance, and long-range weaponry...
Is this the price we pay for freedom of thought? That people must be free to think greedy, destructive, apocalyptic thoughts? Do our hippie dreams of peace, love, and rock’n’roll just leave us with the dusty distractions of Headspace, Tinder and Spotify, while those in power continue their delusional neglect of humanity?
Before we get into full blown (consensual, safe and sane) self-flagellation, could you please at least try to answer the question - can tech save the world?
The simple answer is no. I don’t think the tech industry is even trying to save the world, and I think by suggesting as much, we’re giving our tech bros and sisters in Silicon Valley far too much credit. If tech entrepreneurs are indeed proposing technological solutions to the problem of apocalypse, then that suggests apocalypse is something that can be 'solved' by technology. This implies a kind of blind faith in 'innovation'. Now, I might be wrong, but I thought that blind faith was the polar opposite of rational thinking - the avowed enemy of scientific, evidence-based scepticism. So no, I don't think tech alone can save the world.
What would I suggest otherwise? I don't know. Art? Fire? Firey art? I'm not very responsible.
Right. A lot of our rituals involve burning big things. In our new bushfire-and-other-crises reality, do you think this takes on any new meanings?
Absolutely. What are those meanings? That's up for grabs.
I would certainly echo Ellie Bird in saying a response of NEVER BURNING ANYTHING EVER AGAIN would not only be sad, but actually quite foolish. If we are living an epoch where the world is literally burning all the time, then it seems sensible to suggest that we should be learning as much as we can about fire.
When we repress the inescapable facts of life, they inevitably come back to haunt us - with my catholic upbringing, I have personal experience of this. The worst thing we could do now as a culture would be to run away from fire - then, within two or three generations you have a society that lives in fear of something it fundamentally does not understand. Instead, we should integrate fire-based practices more deeply into our cultural practices, educate people not only of the physical power and danger of fire, but of its regenerative capacity, its role in the very birth and death of the universe. By teaching people to safely create, manage, and suppress fire, to understand its fundamental properties, and by (re)integrating this practiced knowledge into our stories and songs, we can equip ourselves not to fear and hide, but to treat with due reverence, understanding and respect.
You recently held a participatory project, Future Histories, in a derelict lot in East Brisbane. Together, we made some new myths and rituals for living well in the New World City. Why is prefigurative fun important? This comes back to those Silicon Valley camps out at the Gerlach regional burn. The evidence suggests that it is precisely our faith in technological progress - and the militant money-making schemes that drive it - that has landed us in this unholy mess in the first place. Sure, the programmers of Google might be manifesting the future in real-time, but they do so in the name of profit, not humanity - the future their bosses imagine is one of exponentially favourable returns, not one of balance and ecological harmony - maybe that's where Fly Ranch comes in...
Happy geothermal accidents aside though, if the tools we use to build the future are broken, then the future will be broken. Quite simply, without changing the means, how can we expect the ends to change? This is the basic premise behind pre-figurative politics - live the world you want to see, act it out in real-time. Create an alter-reality enough times in enough places and maybe, just maybe, it will start to resemble reality, or the other way around. This is exactly what projects like Modifyre are - not a utopia, an impossibly perfected vision of an unattainable world - but a heterotopia - a real world that exists simultaneously, if momentarily, within and beyond the limitations of the present. It is a contestation of the norms and expectations of our everyday reality, a provocation to dig a little deeper and question those assumptions.
I guess with Future Histories I was trying to see whether it is possible to do this on an even smaller and shorter timescale - instead of a week on a paddock, with months of preparation for the journey, is it possible to create the same kind of imagination-inducing space for just three hours, on a vacant lot in the middle of the city, with a couple of weeks preparation? I don't know if it was successful, it's too early to tell I think, but it sure as heck was fun!
We’re globally going through a portal, how do you want things to look on the other side?