I advocate for a political concept of love—planetary love—drawing on a Deleuzian political philosophy of love (via Hardt and Negri) as well as the concept of love developed by the postcolonial theorist Gayatri Spivak and elaborated on by the theologian Catherine Keller. It’s an ecological and feminist sense of love, not a sentimental or romantic or Platonic love. It’s allied with poststructuralism, postcolonialism, and posthumanism, but it does not go postal and dwell in critique and negativity. It is a love that dwells in non-coercive, mutually transformative contact, which differentiates while it entangles.
Affirming the inseparable differences entangling the multifarious inhabitants and habitats of the planet, planetary love is non-exclusive. It’s for everybody, even for the enemies of planetary coexistence. The most agreed upon enemy of environmentalists is corporate capitalism. Planetary love includes love for capitalism, love for corporations. That idea is not agreeable to many people.
I discuss planetary love in detail in my book, On the Verge of a Planetary Civilization: A Philosophy of Integral Ecology. Last Thursday I gave a talk on my book as part of the Sustainability Café series hosted by the Environmental Studies program at the University of San Francisco. There was some great questions and discussion after the talk. My proposal for planetary love came up a few times. I realize that this is something that warrants more attention and clarification. A political ecology of love is a provocative idea.
Don’t we need to hate those who are destroying the life, land, water, and atmosphere of Earth? Instead of entering into mutually transformative, non-coercive contact, shouldn’t we enter into antagonistic relations, opposing our enemies if we need to…maybe even violently opposing them? May answer is simple. No. “It is useless,” Frodo Baggins tells us, “to meet revenge with revenge: it will heal nothing.” Here are a few reasons why.
First, fighting hostility with hostility only perpetuates the cycle of violence. Global capitalism thrives by reappropriating destruction, capitalizing on transgressions (cf. Naomi Klein on “disaster capitalism”). If you oppose the market, you situate yourself as an antagonistic outsider, which is exactly where the market draws the most value. Anti-capitalism is exactly what capitalism is fighting for. Just like the Bush administration emphasized that our freedom to protest the Iraq war is exactly why we are going to war. This always reminds me of Bill Hicks. After mentioning how evil the world of marketing is, Hicks realizes how that sounds to marketing professionals: “He’s going for that anti-marketing dollar. That’s a good market.” Buy anti-capitalism books, Che Guevara shirts, and tickets to go to a gift economy party. Or don’t buy anything: get off the grid; become self-sufficient. Either way, you situate yourself as an isolated individual–the consumer subject who either does or does not want capitalism. You are an individual who chooses: Coke or Pepsi, globalization or anti-globalization, pro-corporation or anti-corporation, on the grid or off the grid. Love names the event welcomed by the deconstruction of consumer subjectivity. If you don’t become a loving subject, you cannot overcome consumer subjectivity.
Second, it would be a misdiagnosis to treat corporations as evildoers that need to be punished. Imagine that corporate capitalism is symptomatic of a systemic pathology, not the result of evil choices made by evil conspirators. Yelling at corporations for their excessive greed is kind of like yelling at an addict. Addiction is a disease. Moralizing or criminalizing it does not seem appropriate. This always reminds me of Mitch Hedberg, “Alcoholism is a disease, but it’s the only one you can get yelled at for having. Goddamn it Otto, you are an alcoholic! Goddamn it Otto, you have Lupus! One of those two doesn’t sound right.” I’m not saying that we should have incentives and regulations for corporations, but healing the deeply destructive habits of consumerism and corporate greed is going to require a greater transformation.
Third, given the evidence of the last fifty years of environmentalism, I think it can be readily agreed upon that the main strategies of the environmental movement have failed. There have been small successes along the way, but the overall trend has been the rapidly increasing destruction of life on Earth. The small successes are like red herring successes–distractions, amounting to little more than keeping one’s doorstep clean while one’s house is plundered. The environmental movement has perpetuated a lot of us/them dichotomies. Environmentalists are like Hegel’s beautiful souls: they have the truth but the stupid world is just not ready for it. Beautiful soulism hasn’t worked. We need a new environmentalism, one that puts away the us/them dichotomies that have provided the basic operating system for the last fifty years of environmentalism. Obviously, this could easily go “meta” and turn into another us/them boundary: between us (we who understand the futility of us/them boundaries) and them (those who perpetuate us/them boundaries). Planetary love does not go meta. It stays with the trouble, stays in the fray, committed but not attached to mutually intensifying contact without violence or coercion.