I enjoyed the bonus feature mini-doc from The Children of Men. I hope you do, too.
Slavoj Zizek, Philosopher, Cultural Critic
For me, The Children of Men is a realist film, but in what sense? Hegel in his aesthetics says somewhere that a good portrait looks more like the person who is portrayed than the person himself, like a good portrait is more you than you are yourself. I think this is what the film does with our reality. The changes that it introduces do not point towards alternate reality. It simply makes reality more what it already it is. It makes us perceive our own reality as an alternate reality, like we already live in alternate reality in the sense that we didn’t do it properly and history took the wrong turn.
Naomi Klein, Anti-Globalization Activist
Really, all Utopianism is, is the impulse to dream, to dream your way out of the present. So, I’m not against utopianism at all. I think that impulse to dream, we need to cherish – we need to develop it. I think we have a very stunted ability to imagine a different world and to work towards it. But I think we do need to identify what it is about a certain ideology, certain models of thought, that are dangerous.
Tzvetan Todorov, Philosopher and Historian
It would be interesting to point to some major characteristics of the present day. One of these characteristics is the growing threat coming from individuals. What has happened with the enormous progress of technology, which allows now, isolated individuals to have as much power as a whole state. It’s called globalization. The second major change of course – the acceleration of contact between populations.
Fabrizio Eva, Human Geographer
One of the primary characteristics of human beings is that they have always moved. They started from a central point, Africa, and from there, migrated everywhere. In the last 30 years, migration has taken on a global dimension and has produced problems. Places of departure have changed considerably, and destinations have changed, too. Human mobility is uncontrollable unless you act on the main cause of mobility, especially in our days. I think the main cause is inequality – inequality of opportunities, not only socioeconomic conditions.
Saskia Sassen, Sociologist of Human Migrations
The good scenario is that the countries where the people are coming from, together with the countries where they’re going to, get their act together, creating the economic environments so that people don’t have to leave unless they want to. But that scenario has many causes. Not just that they don’t get together and do something about it, but that global warming delivers its goods, which is a lot more water in a lot of parts of poor countries, which means that people will have to leave. We can call this a kind of environmental-driven migration. Now, mind you, many of these things – the environmental question, the economic question, the civil wars, the privatization of land, the pushing-off of people – those things are happening. They’re happening all over the world.
John Gray, Philosopher and Economist
The most fundamental reality at the present time is that the human species has overshot the capacity of the planet to sustain it, both in terms of human numbers, and in terms of the impact of these human beings on the planet. This is a very challenging situation, and the first challenge it poses is of really understanding it, of accepting it, because unless we understand the extent to which we’ve already damaged the planet, the extent to which climate change is already irreversible, then whatever we do to cope with environmental issues will have no real long-term effect.
James Lovelock, Scientist and Futurologist
I look on the earth as an elderly patient. She is someone, who would be, if she were human, in her 80s. In other words, strong, vigorous for her 80s, but not as young as she once was. She has only, at the most, a billion years more to live, whereas she has lived perhaps nearly four billion. Because she is quite old, any stress she receives – it’s the same with one of us – I’m at about her age in my 80s, and if I get influenza, it’ll be a lot more serious than it would be if you get it. Well, our patient, the Earth, has the problem of humans. There are, I’m afraid, too many of them, and they are doing too much damage to her capacity to regulate her temperature and composition.
Zizek: We no longer live in a world. “World” means when you have a meaningful experience of what reality is, which is rooted in your community and in its language, and it is clear that the true, most radical impact of global capitalism is that we lack this basic, literally, world view, a meaningful experience of totality. Because of this, today, the main mode of politics is fear. The motive, how you mobilize people, it’s fear. Political groups today are bands of people who are afraid, who are mobilized by fear, fear of immigrants, even leftists, fear of too-strong state, fear of taxation. This is the definition of infertility – is that when your mobilizing principle is just pleasure and fear. This again, I think, it’s a very sad indication of where we stand today.
Todorov: This new contact of populations is, I think, dominated by two major passions, and these two passions come out of a reaction to our inequality. These two big passions are called humiliation and fear. The humiliation is experienced by the powerless toward the more powerful. It encounters, on the other side, fear, and fear is just as powerful a source of violence. In fact, if we think of the major violences of the recent times, they all come out of fear. It is because we were so afraid of what will happen, that we accepted torture, and if you are really frightened, you get accustomed to different transgressions of the rules of normal life between human beings.
Klein: When people fall in love with what seems to be a perfect theory, a set of rules, and they love those rules more than they love people or places. In fact they begin to see the messy reality of life as interfering with the beauty, the imagined beauty, that exists only in their text, only in the sacred texts, whether they’re economic texts, or religious texts, or some dream of racial purity. I think we need to fear people who love systems more than people because the flip side of the love is the hatred for anything or anyone that interferes with the realization of that system, and this is the other thing about dangerous utopias, is that they can’t coexist with other ideas. They need the whole stage.
Zizek: When people say that 1990 was the time of the end of utopias – 1990 fiasco of communist regimes, also of welfare state, symbolized with the fall of the Berlin Wall – but the true utopia was the idea that at the end of history, “Now, okay, there may be some dictators here and there, but we have the formula: ‘global, liberal capitalism with democracy.’”
Eva: In the capitalistic system, economic inequality is acceptable. It’s the engine of production. So, the political organizations and the state have to guarantee this inequality because theoretically, inequality brings richness.
Sassen: The fact of the corruptions and the abuses of power: they are all legal! Those are our contemporary brutalities. The problem is that so many of these brutalities, of global capitalism, are not immediately legible. You need to make the connections between that which appears unconnected and to show the extent to which suffering here is a product of what we admire and consider prosperous and desirable there. And, so today, too, I think you see it happening in bits and pieces, that recognition that this global capitalism needs to be civilized. We need to tame, you know, as the taming of a wild animal, that wild capitalism.
Klein: It doesn’t have the ability to think rationally, this economic model. It thinks like a drug addict: “Where can I get my next fix?” It doesn’t learn wisely, if we think of, you know, any kind of measure of natural wisdom would be, you make a mistake, you correct it the next time around, but a drug addict feels terrible and then says, “I want more.” Unfortunately, we have an economic model that thinks like a crack addict.
Lovelock: The earth, just like a human, occasionally gets fevers, in the course of usually, dealing with an infection, or some problem that has occurred. In other words, it’s not deliberately making things hot, just to remove us, but just as you, when you get a fever, warm up, it is part of your body’s response to a problem, and it’s the same with the Earth.
Zizek: The problem is what is happening with democracy in our times. It’s no longer this old democracy focused on justice, equality, unconditioned participation of everybody in public life. Our democracy is segregation, gated communities. The practical ethic of globalization is that new walls are popping up all around – United States building walls on the frontier of Mexico and so on. That’s the reality of globalization.
Eva: Frontiers have progressively changed their meaning. Today, they are more and more functional. In the economical field, they want frontiers to be eliminated to facilitate exchange. Frontiers are an obstacle when you set out to make money especially in a globalized economics. For people, by contrast, boundaries are still kept. This is a contradiction with respect to migrating dynamics. Liberalization is incompatible with control of movements.
Sassen: Hermetic walls don’t seem to work in this world of ours. It works rhetorically for those who want to control the border – the state, some politicians. Very powerful. But it also works, rhetorically, in making those who want to come in feel that they’re violating something – that they’re violating a country – not just crossing a border informally, but violating a nation state. Hey, that’s a heavy burden; I wouldn’t want to have it.
Eva: This globalization process does not extinguish other cultures because it takes a long time for other cultures to disappear. Yet, it has repercussions between young and old people. Young people are willing to move, so they already have a preexisting conviction that they don’t have to accept their culture the way it is. When they realize that life somewhere else might be better, they move to find their own, new identities.
Todorov: We all belong to some form of culture. We absorb this culture through the education that we receive in childhood. It is related to our language, then to different landscapes that we live in. Now, what happens is that, during migrations of populations, they lose the initial culture, especially the younger ones, the children, but they don’t acquire a new culture. Now this is, of course, a huge danger, because it is the destruction of their humanity.
Sassen: I’m not so concerned about this question of identity. I am much more concerned about membership, the notion that you belong to some political community. When it comes to migrants, to asylum seekers, to refugees, if you’re miserable, then you are, in fact, robbed. Your identity doesn’t translate. You become invisible. You become a number. You become a problem.
Klein: I think we’ve abandoned a notion of development that is about steady progress that involves building infrastructure, putting in electricity, phone lines, water, building schools. You know, more and more in my travels, what I see is what I call the Global Green Zone, where you have a sort of bubble where the internationals are, and their local partners, right, working with NGOs. So instead of infrastructure, you have an absolute, kind of, apartheid system of the people with the generators, the bottle water, the cell phones, an expensive, totally privatized infrastructure, and then surrounded by this chaos. This is, maybe, the future that we’re seeing here, the Global Green Zone.
Sassen: Cities have always had walls, but they were invisible very often. What is interesting today is that the walls are deeply perforated. The walls are not working. So the next step is, of course, all kinds of securitizing, the weaponizing of urban space, the weaponizing of luxury buildings. The gated community is, in a way, the most extreme form, but the weaponizing of urban space is in full..you know, it’s totally there now. I see this also in a future scenario. I think that the real walls are going to be invisible walls, but if you cross them, you will know it, and they will know it, and that to me is a much scarier scenario.
Lovelock: The fever has already started. The intergovernmental panel on climate change that was issued in 2001 warns of all the bad things that are going to happen during this century. If, for example, you live in Iceland, you’re in a very fortunate position because that part of the Earth is going to warm up but it’s very cold there, so it’ll just get better and better. Eventually, it will be tropical.
Gray: The scientific consensus is that climate change can’t now be reversed. We can perhaps prevent it from accelerating, but even if the whole world stopped using fossil fuels tomorrow, even if the whole world stopped further destruction of forests and rainforests and so on, there’s 100 or 200 years of climate change in the works.
Klein: And more and more, we see the progression of this economic model through disasters, so we’re now in a cycle where the economic model itself is so destructive to the planet that the number of disasters are increasing, both financial disasters and natural disasters. But if we think about hurricanes, earthquakes, they’ve increased dramatically in recent years. In the past 20 years, the number of market crashes has also increased.
Lovelock: If you live in the middle of Europe or here in America, things are going to get very bad indeed. It’s going to get so hot in the summer the crops won’t grow, so you won’t have food, and you won’t get it from the rest of the world, either, because they’ll all be under the same kind of drought conditions. What will happen, I think, is there’ll be mass migration.
Klein: We’re looking at a system of climate apartheid. The waters are rising, and some peoplea re going to be left to drown, a lot of people. There will be people who will be able to drive out. Not everyone will die. And those people will build their Global Green Zone where, Alaska? But this isn’t a joke, you know, land in Alaska is getting more expensive, and I think that that’s clearly the direction we’re going in. I wouldn’t say of human extinction, but it is going to be a genocidal logic. I suppose a survival of the fittest, but more what it’s about is, “Me and my friends are gonna be fine. We have SUVs. We have generators. We have air conditioners. We have bottled water, and we bought land in Alaska.”
Sassen: There is a large number of brilliant accountants, brilliant lawyers, and brilliant economists, all totally creative, whoa re trying to map the ways in which global warming is going to create new opportunities for profit-making. But if we think of the melting, the water, you know, the raising of the water level, that will produce refugee flows because there will be environmental refugees, actually.
Gray: Those parts of the world that have strong states will attempt, in various ways, to control the impact on themselves of issues of migration from parts of the world which are very badly affected. However, it’s far from being the case that the advanced world will be immune to large eruptions.
Sassen: And I think that this environmental catastrophe is going to make quite a few states, especially now we’ve had a proliferation of states that are not…they cannot survive. They’re not sustainable. And it’s going to again, demand from us thinking and innovating in terms of how this legal notion of political membership…What community do you belong to? Because there is enormous reluctance to take in asylum, to take in seekers, to take in refugees.
Lovelock: I think it would be a selection of survivors. Whenever there is something bad that happens, like a war, like a big accident, or a tsunami, or a giant storm, or anything like that, you find there are people that almost freeze on the spot and get killed and there are others who recognize the warning signs, take action and move and save themselves and they get selected. And in the course of the warm-up of the Earth, this is going to happen. The ones with a sense of survival will migrate and move to. The others will just stay put and hope that something will save them, and it won’t.
Gray: There is certainly a profound tendency in human beings, which, in evolutionary terms, was probably very useful to them, to struggle on blindly. Hope against hope. Optimism, I’m sure had profound evolutionary advantages, but in our present situation, realism is more useful.
Zizek: Let me ask you a simple question: Why do we…even now, with all these reports of global warming, why do we still not take it seriously? We take it seriously, rationally, but nonetheless, we cannot act, because we know that it’s true, what scientists are telling us. But, we don’t really believe them. You know, it’s like you read about global warming, then you go out and see, “My God, the sun, the flowers. Wait a minute, this cannot disappear. This is here.”
Lovelock: There is always a risk, for any species, that it will go extinct. I don’t think this will happen to humans. They’re one of the toughest of all animals. It’s not just a matter of people surviving. It’s a matter of civilization surviving, and I’m thinking of civilization in the broadest terms here. I’m not thinking of high technology or great art or things like that. I’m thinking of ways of living together, of ways of living decently as communities. That’s civilization, and that is the thing that is most threatened by this change because it can too easily degenerate into a Dark Age again with nothing but warlords running warring tribes – that sort of scenario. It’s quite possible that that will happen.
Zizek: Hope is only where despair is. Something truly new-beginning happens only when you are in such a deep shit that, within the existing coordinates, you can find no way out, and then in order to survive, you have to invent something new. The magic is to turn a desperate situation into a new beginning.
Eva: My only utopian vision is what I would call a-spatial. Create multiple borderlines. If we have multiple borderlines, they will lose their meaning. We have to conceive the space as a global entity. The space has to lose its value as guarantor of rights. Let’s bring the conception of rights to an international level. This means that every state should then guarantee rights to everybody, not only to its citizens but to any human being, and this is the real utopia. We have to actively move to balance this inequality.
Lovelock: It’s too much to expect humans to pull together in that way for the sake of all humanity, but they would do it for their tribe. It sounds regressive to think of it in that sort of sense, but I think that is what is needed at the moment. And if they all respond in the right sort of way, the kind of combined effect of all tribes pulling together like that is a positive and a good one.
Gray: Well, it’s important to have hope that something can be done at some level to protect what’s of value in the world, and I think something can be done, but such hope must be informed by a realistic understanding of human beings as they are. There’s a type of hope now which I think is very harmful, which is essentially a form of blocking out reality because it’s too difficult to contemplate. Now, I think, actually, that’s a much more hopeless view.
Todorov: If we have reason not to be fully pessimistic, it is because of the basic features of human beings. The human child only becomes independent after something like six or seven years. This means that, during one tenth of our lives, we are dependent on others, which is not true of other mammals, so for a long time, we all know that our small ones are completely helpless, and we have to protect them, to nourish them, to take care of them. This attitude, of which every single human being has been the beneficiary, is inscribed, if not in our genes, at least in our minds. This means that we, in some instinctive way, know that we can only survive if we take care of the weaker ones, of the baby.
Zizek: What I like is that the solution is the boat (referring to the film). What is the definition of the boat? It’s that it doesn’t have roots. It’s rootless. It floats around. That’s the solution. We must really accept how we are rootless. This is, for me, the meaning of this wonderful metaphor, boat. Boat is the solution; “boat,” in the sense of, you accept rootless, free floating. You cannot rely on anything. You know, it’s not a return to land. Renewal means you cut your roots.
Lovelock: Well, I have nine grandchildren, so, to be absolutely honest, I don’t know what to tell them, except the truth, what will be happening, and the options as I see them, but it’s really going to be up to them. The best thing I can do is to encourage them, and get them to regard it with the sense that not only is it awful and terrible, but it’s also...There’s an adventure there and a chance of improvement, and that they should continue to have their children. They shouldn’t say, “Oh, what’s the point of giving birth to children now with a world like that ahead?” The whole point of natural selection will be spoilt if they do that because they are the very people that should be having children.