Klein vs. Klein -> Queer perspectives on ecology

by scholastress

These themes culminate in the last full chapter of the book, “The Right to Regenerate”, in which Klein draws parallels between her own fraught attempts to conceive a child amid the stress of modern urban life, and humanity’s wider inability to value nature or emulate its gift for life. “As a culture,” she claims, “we do a very poor job of protecting, valuing, or even noticing fertility—not just among humans but across life’s spectrum.” This conviction leads her to ask: Is “it even possible to be a real environmentalist if you d[on]’t have kids?” While many environmentalists in fact fall into a similar, opposite, trap by morally abjuring natalism, this argument of Klein’s expresses reproductive futurism—a myopic focus on producing (proper) children and thus a (proper) future for humanity—a politics of the baby’s face.

Reproductive futurism devalues the queer and the now, including the potential desire to refuse to reproduce—or at least, to have a conversation about how and what is reproduced. It denies the intrinsic and equal worth of, as minor Klein puts it, “exiles from nature.” Major Klein’s reproductive futurism leaves the private form of the family largely unquestioned, the essentialism of the term “Mother Earth” almost unscathed, and the primacy of “fertility” intact.

Major Klein’s reproductive futurism also reflects a romanticism hinging on a “natural” life-domain somehow separate from capitalism. But capitalism is not, unfortunately, purely a logic of “short-term economic growth” that has been imposed by some (predominantly) middle-aged white men upon a separate, rich biotic world whose fundamental logic is long-term growth, circular regeneration, or life. In fact, in so many ways both capital and reactionary thought are premised on forms of “regeneration”; from razing public housing under the guise of “urban renewal,” to “right-to-life” activists opposing abortion, to the UN-led “carbon offset” forests that Klein critiques, where indigenous people are driven from their homes so that industrial activity elsewhere can be counted as “sustainable.” Capitalism is not something antithetical to nature but, to steal a phrase from Jason Moore, a way of organizing nature. Nature cannot express, in any unsullied way, what we are fighting for. We cannot simply affirm life, but must always ask: What forms of life? For whom?

Again, there is a minor Klein who is on the cusp of exploring such a “monstrous” conception of a nature by naming a “kinship of the infertile,” which we read as solidarity with non-reproductive lifeforms. This Klein’s openness to the complex desires of the dispossessed—including the desire for consumption, collective luxury, safety, “development,” and freedom from “shitty” work—show an occasional attunement to the already technological, entangled, human-nonhuman character of nature: a cyborg Earth. Recognizing the cyborg Earth does not condemn us to technofixes like geoengineering, but instead decenters maternity and makes room for the “unnatural,” the technological, and the nonfertile among the “we” coming into being in the struggles in Blockadia.

Cyborg Earth is not a foregone concession to evil technoscience but a site of struggles over the “commons” just like any other. A cyborg everything-ism reorients us towards practices that repurpose existing technologies and organisations of nature through bricolage—the art of making do with what is at hand. The minor Klein hints at a more hybrid, anti-austerity sensibility of this kind, that does not recoil from these “monstrous” entanglements of human, nonhuman, and technological natures. This Klein is doubtful about her desire for pregnancy and implies that if ecological crisis changes everything, surely it changes the institution of the family too. Disappointingly, the priority of incorporating a non-reproductive politics into the “regenerative” struggles of anticapitalism vanishes at the very moment in the narrative when Klein, at last, conceives a viable baby.

– an excerpt from the Out of the Wood collective’s review on Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, over at the New Inquiry. Please do read the whole piece. It is perhaps the best analysis on contemporary ecological thought that I’ve encountered, and happily avoids the whole lite/bright/dark green categorizations.