By Anthony Tróchez | This essay does not directly deal with desert issues. Instead it is concerned with a worldview that threatens all aspects of our environment. It will be controversial and perhaps even offensive to some. On the other hand, it represents a point of view that can not be entirely dismissed and deserves thought. It is printed here to promote discussion. – Editor
in the light of the sun we all become pure
as the sun sears away what cannot exist in this light
at the same time
in the light of too much sun
we all perish under the blazing truth
that only our hearts can understand1
This truth? That technology2 cannot, and will not, save us from the social/environmental crises that we face. We are living in unprecedented times in the story of humanity. Never before has the social, physical, chemical, biological, and climatic nature of our being changed so fast because of our actions. Yet, we largely continue to think from within the same bureaucratic boxes that only obstruct us from seeing the world3 as it truly is. There is no doubt that technology has (in many cases) streamlined, simplified, and made the act of living more convenient and efficient for people. However, to believe that technology could ever save us from the impending doom on the horizon is delusional and foolish. Why? Because technology is not neutral; it is birthed from the unquestioned beliefs that stem from one prevailing way of thinking, acting and being—one that places whiteness4 at the center of a ‘universal’ way of knowing and the human species as superior to all others we share the Earth5 with.
If we look at the ways we produce energy in the U.S., for example, we see that it has always prioritized the needs of human society without questioning why we thirst for that power in the first place. By not questioning the reasons why we produce, we actively perpetuate hegemonic forms of consumption and exacerbate the deep-rooted social and environmental injustices which underpin our production. According to the US Energy Information Administration, “In 2018, about 4,178 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity were generated at utility-scale electricity generation facilities in the United States.About 63% of this electricity generation was from fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, petroleum, and other gases) [and] about 20% was from nuclear energy.” Though there is a general belief that burning fossil fuels is bad for the environment, and many governments and industries have an expressed commitment to look for “sustainable solutions” to climate change, statistically, we aren’t there yet (as a combined 83% of our power comes from fossil fuels and nuclear energy). That said, attaining greater levels of sustainability is not the problem—the problem is in what we are trying to “sustain.”
We live in a world predicated on the need for widespread violence and oppression and no technology, no matter how noble, can address the underlying philosophy which gives life to the social/environmental crises we face. Most “first world” people have a short-sighted view that life is only about our comfort and wellbeing. We exist in a belief system that, implicitly and explicitly, tells us: “There is nothing wrong with deforesting the Congo and using Black children and their families to mine for Cobalt to power our new phones, laptops and electric vehicles, as long as it doesn’t affect me.” “There is nothing wrong with the slave-labor of undocumented migrants that grows our food in the desert fields of California, as long as it doesn’t affect me.” “There is nothing wrong in disturbing thousands of hectares of topsoil, destroying natural habits, and using hazardous materials in order to build solar power plantations in the ‘vast,’ ‘empty,’ and ‘undeveloped’ landscapes of our deserts, as long as it doesn’t affect me.” There is no technological cure for this ideological (dis)ease.
We are so well adjusted to injusticeand well adapted to indifference6 that we do not see the harm all around us. Our society is literally built on objectification, subjugation, and consumption. Decolonial thinkers and writers7 have taught me that objectification allows an oppressor to view other living beings as objects and, therefore, as disposable. Those of us who have been objectified or dehumanized know what it’s like to be treated as a thing, as an animal instead of an intrinsically valuable “human” being—as though to exist outside “humanity” means that you are, always and everywhere, subservient to whomever is labeled “human.” When we turn both marginalized/oppressed peoples and the natural world into inanimate objects, we strip them of their intrinsic worth which allows the oppressor to butcher, maim, dismember, and ultimately consume that which is being objectified. It is a process of turning what was once living and breathing into lifeless objects. In our dominant society, our food, clothes, building, homes, transportation, technology are all part of this cycle. Consumer-capitalism has designed a world based on exponential consumption.
Technology is simply a reflection and physical manifestation of our desire to control and consume with limitless appetite from constant and exponential “growth.” Technology gives us methods for accomplishing these desires; it perpetuates the worldview of its makers—a worldview anchored in imperialism, white supremacy, and consumer-capitalist patriarchy. Simply put, we live in a society educated and governed by a toxic master/slave dichotomy—one which is deeply imbedded in all aspects of western civilization. This idea of master/slave is so normal that it lives within our education, our households, our economy, our values, and our politics as though it were second nature.
In the light of the desert sun we see the beauty of the Earth—the Earth as she8 is, not as we have made her to be. Whether it’s the blazing sun of day or the vast moonglow of night, the desert’s light touches us, guides us. The desert, like the Earth as a whole, teaches us how to slow down and experience the essence of this moment, the essence of life, as we commune directly with the natural world. The desert’s light is not the artificial light offered to us by technology. Technological light is an imitation made possible by destructive industrial practices which created the technology in the first place. Technology will not (and, indeed, cannot) end our oppression of each other or of the Earth because it’s a tool imbued with the colonial legacy of a world built of slaves.
Intuitively, we know this. We are all peoples born of the Earth. Every single one of our ancestors knew that the wisdom in living comes from the teachings of Earth, herself. By no means were all our ancestors the same, they were infinitely diverse in their ways of being, speaking, and interacting with the Earth. However, the main difference between the ways our ancestors lived and the way we live today, is that most of us live in a world dominated by hate, materialism, hyper-consumption, and individualism. And, as a result, we do not see or understand how much we are nature, or how much nature is us. We live in a techno-fantasy9 driven by desires to create, without asking, “What are we creating for?” We are constantly trying to develop without asking, “What are we trying to achieve?” We even live our lives without asking, “What are we living for?”
Anthony Tróchez, Ph.D.studies the intersections of race, gender, class and nature. He is inspired by educators and scholar/activists whoenvision a world where education heals the traumas of imperialism, colonization, and consumer-capitalist patriarchy. He proposes that cultivating a philosophy and practice of education rooted in simplicity creates restorative paths towards re/learning how to live in, and with, the Earth.
1) This is a poem I wrote on June 4, 2014
2) The term “technology” in this article is an aggregate of all forms of technologies that have been created since the industrial revolution—especially applicable to all those created in the digital age.
3) “World” and “Earth” are not synonyms; the term “world” is social construct commonly used to describe an earthly state of existence. As such, I use the world to describe the ideological understandings of where we live and how we might want to live in these places (think ‘worldview’).
4) Whiteness is a term used to describe white privilege and the implicit, systemic advantages that white people have in relation to people of color—and, I suggest, the whole of the Earth—who are objectified and dehumanized by racism and oppression at large. Whiteness makes invisible the needs and plight of those who exist outside of it, by only centering the needs and desires of those in power.
5) Likewise, “Earth” and “World” are not synonyms; I use the term “Earth” to describe our home which we share with all the wondrous, living, breathing, feeling beings we share place with. When I say “Earth” I am attempting to recognize other species as people, as teachers. They teach us about interdependence and coexistence, they teach us about rhythms and seasons. Earth is not an “it” To refer to the Earth as an itrobs the Earth of selfhood and kinship.
6) I borrow this phrase from Dr. Cornel West.
7) Aimé Césaire (1955, 1972) Audre Lorde (1984), Aurora Levins Morales (1998), bell hooks (1981, 1994, 1999, 2000), Chandra Talpade Mohanty (2003), Eve Tuck (2012), Frantz Fanon (1952), Gloria Anzaldúa (1987), Juanita Nelson (1988), Linda Tuhiwai Smith (1999), Patricia Hill Collins (1990)
8) In my own cosmology, Earth is my source; the mother of all creation. This comes from my ancestral lineage of being both African and Latinx. When I speak of the Earth as she/her, I am attempting to invoke ancient and indigenous cosmologies of the Earth as mother, for it is she who makes possible the existence of all life. That said, I am fully aware of how the conception of Earth as woman has been abused and exploited through patriarchal, gendered and sexist language that reinforces stereotypes and hierarchies. Men, like me, have a vital role to play; not to oppress, subjugate or dominate, but to honor and rekindle the sacred, matriarchal nature of life.
9) Term by co-originator of permaculture concept, David Holmgren in his four scenarios for the future. Permaculturalist and author Toby Hemenway (2010) also used this term in a lecture entitled “How Permaculture Can Save Humanity and the Planet – But Not Civilization” at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.