Christopher Glen / ecologies building blog 5: so…um… The Future is Friendly

The Telus tag-line “luxuriates” in the public sphere. I have come across only one instance of hesitation. It was in Discorder, the CITR 101.9FM flag/rag in Sept 2005. David Ravensburgen equivocated at its tone setting, as a “reassuringly benign slogan,” to Bruce Mau’s Massive Change itself a complaisant view of the use of technology to enthrall, improve, and fix. Mau’s optimism air-brushed away critical thinking. I don’t doubt that the Telus tag-line has taken flak elsewhere, but still it holds its ground in the “infoscape” and Telus presumably remains content with the aura that it settles around the corporate identity.

Is it indifference, that such a blandishment should be read as unproblematic in the briefest of “brochures” to the future? No sign of a public commentary clamoring to explain, say more, equivocate, and yet it pronounces on something very close to the IPCC heart. The Future is Friendly. Who would have thunk? It’s that simple.

Years ago, I was a peripheral member of a group, The Popular Memory Group, which had previously published a book, Making Histories, which addressed the immensely contested terrain of histories that find a place in public culture. “Luxuriates” is a trace word from that involvement, and was used then of the powerfully mobilized versions of history, often problematic to the core (Thatcher’s versions of England/Britain taking on Argentina, or Rupert Murdoch’s “tabloid press” kind of “history” writing) that have a privileged place in the “sphere of public representations” and so in public culture. There is a major fault line in “histories” as one moves from serious, “peer reviewed” to the array of histories that are serviceable to different publics, useable histories. National histories /nationalisms are a “subject” in themselves and sit in uneasy relation to the more critical histories. The enabling fictions of good, strong, proud peoples needs somehow to find a way through the problems of war, conflict, population exchanges, forced collectivization, class conflicts, racialized politics, forcible removals, ethnic cleansings, class conflict, genocide, round ups, incarcerations and on. This is not a simple world of Telus-enabled un/friending (see for example, the real world unfriending Muammar Gaddafi, his family too). The controversies that the Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg has produced are symptomatic. The unfinished business of Aboriginal-ness and Canadian-ness is symptomatic. The policing of territories, the complexity of boundaries, the criteria for inclusion and exclusion where so many forms of migrant movement are enacted within and between polities, regions, “areas,” continents are an important part of our histories, our ongoing present (Bill C 31) and unfolding futures. Climate has long been a possible part of the push and pull of migrations. Various states roles in this demographic “management” are of course centrally important.

I have just finished reading Jacqueline Rose, Proust among the Nations (2011) and the predicaments of personal and public amnesia are at the heart of what she writes into. France of the Dreyfus Affair, (French-ness and Jewish-ness in question, in Proust’s writing, in public culture), Vichy France and the Holocaust, the Naqba for Palestinians in emergent Israel, French-ness and Islamic-ness, and at the heart of Rose’s work is an exploration of the cauterizations that produce usable histories. Le Pens history, or Sarkozy’s and the privileging they get. Amnesia is her strong term. Sometimes forgetfulness, and for the unwitting, it can mean obliviousness. It is right there in the nub of what gets remembered, what gets told.

Somewhere between “Imagined Communities” (Benedict Anderson, 1983), “Interpretative Communities (my usage follows Edward Said) and Expectations of Modernity” (James Ferguson, 1999), one can intimate “Imagined Futures.” We all live with them. There are public versions too; a myriad of them, and at the more expansive scale, the Govt/State also imagines futures. Pretty much every election campaign is about the good thing/bad thing for say, Canada, if the other lot gets to hold the reins of State power for the foreseeable future. As it happens, the Canadian State is currently in one of its most expansionist phases since the supposed last spike. For anyone with their eye on “territoriality,” the carve-up that is been enacted in the circumpolar regions is quite extraordinary, and low and behold, it is part of the narrative of climate change. We are seeing a lot of “photo shoots” from our refashioned north. When you see the image of the polar bear on an ice flow, under the sign of melting ice cap/endangered species, you may see what you are cued to see. Others will see the free flow of water, passage, the fishery below and the now possible resource plays. Get used to the Coast Guard red and white exercising State capacity, the mapping, the ordinance survey, the treaty processes that are all part of further “producing” Canada for “now” (the shipbuilding contracts etc) and the foreseeable future. Anthropogenic Impact 11 in Canadian colours is just relishing the opportunity to extend its reach. An event like the Macondo blow out wasn’t enough to stall northern drilling. Capital, with Cando science and technology at its beck and call wouldn’t hear of it (which is as good as any “event” to register the privileging of the lobby in politics over public disquiet. How can we be so easily reassured and ruled over?). So we have intimations of a future that is gung ho and predicated in large part on the continued trajectories of climate change. The Climate Change file is being sat on because the State probably fancies its chances. Needless to say, the fossil fuel business remains the part of the opportunity, and the never light “cat tracks” will produce the expanded grid that modernity requires. The pipelines, Enbridge, Keystone, are part of the infrastructure of climate change, part of the infrastructure of Anthropocene.

UBC had an event in the fall of 2010, “Visualizing Climate Change.” In passing I’ll note the disciplines lined up on the poster – Climate Science, Conservation, Forestry, Geography, Landscape Architecture, Engineering, Visual Media, and Social Studies. It’s the kind of complexity that this “Future is Friendly” drivel needs to be confronted with. Without paying to go into the web site one can get a sense of what the “visualizing” project is about. Iconic landscapes around the world can be treated to sea level changes, and “visualized.” One can do the same for less iconic landscapes of course, our own Delta, for example (“locally iconic” perhaps). The UBC team did and there it is, much of it under water. No more bike trial on the perimeter of Mud Bay. Reifel Bird Sanctuary, on an already anthopogenicaly modified Pacific fly way will have to relocate. Vancouver will have to find some other route to the “Peace Archway.” No doubt there’ll be a lot of hand wringing about property values which will see their own sea change. The Fraser delta predicaments barely sketch those that are projected for the Bangladesh’s Ganges-Bramaputra delta. The visualizing project has produced a useful tool, whose images make more recognizable the implications of IPCC scenarios.

My own visual predilections take me to a figure probably familiar to many TCR readers, invoked by Walter Benjamin, “The Angel of History” (Benjamin’s “use of” Klee’s Angelus Novus). Benjamin was, to say the least, alert to the less friendly aspects of history. The consanguinity of progressive triumphalism and catastrophe moments are historically complex. Since 2005, (I’m simply using my Discorder marker, not writing a history of the Telus tag) there have been enough events, futures to 2005 but now histories, to have one hesitate. What has to be left at the door when one takes on “producing” a tag line? History, in Benjamin’s imaginary, and for most in the twentieth century had not really realigned with earth science and natural history. That climate change, and basic biological productivity would enter into the “picture” is a late recognition, and one that only compounds the predicaments of imagining futures given the record of pasts. Biogeographers anticipate extinctions in part because of the compromised, degraded and fragmented ecologies that species on the move under climate pressure will face, i.e. broken food webs. Human populations, the IPCC anticipates, will of course see the same stresses. Who is who, and where in the world, with what degree of food and water security, with what expectation of modernity will remain as fraught as ever and at the heart of history. Need one invoke this to take on a tag line? It seems so

The Future is Friendly. Imagine that. The tag line, seems to me offers a broad cultural predisposition to an always already amnesiac future.

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