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Jedediah Purdy on "a democratic Anthropocene"


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As a complement and counterpoint to our earlier post about Jodi Dean’s critique of the rhetoric of the Anthropocene, Jedediah Purdy lays out what “a democratic Anthropocene” might look like in the Boston Review. Purdy’s essay is the opening remark of a forum on “the New Nature” that appears in the magazine’s January/February issue. An excerpt:

The alternative, a democratic Anthropocene, can be forecast only in fragments. To reflect on it is, in part, to reflect on its nonexistence. Indeed, though the need for a democratic Anthropocene is increasingly urgent, it may be impossible to achieve because there is no political agent, community, or even movement on the scale of humanity’s world-making decisions.

We can, however, imagine and work in the direction of what we imagine. Imagining a democratic Anthropocene might begin with a variation on Amartya Sen’s famous observation that no famine has ever taken place in a democracy. That is, scarcity and plenty—comfort and desperation—arise from political choices of distribution, not just natural facts. That process of imagination might begin, too, with the recognition that different worlds, produced by political choice and economic pattern, make possible different ways of life, different uses of and relations with the nonhuman world, different ways of seeing it and seeing one another within it.

One way to make these acts of imagining a democratic Anthropocene more concrete is to look for its potential in vital and generative areas of contemporary environmental politics, where the matter of how and why to shape future worlds reaches beyond the sorts of problems traditionally associated with environmentalism.

Image: Crossing, by Mary Iverson.