I’ve seen the future, brother: it is murder.
Leonard Cohen, The Future
In the time of our disaster, our waste directly kills us by the millions (i) and extinguishes the flora and fauna of all environments upon which all life depends.(ii) And those who seek to protect the later are murdered.(iii)
In the time of our disaster, the living earth slips away, and what we inflict upon the creatures of this world turns back upon us in the man-made “natural” catastrophes and the violence of racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, religion: every one of them, our murderous children. And to forget, to escape, we sever and separate emotion, thought, reality, so that by the end, nothing makes sense except the senseless flow of spectacles.
In the time of our disaster, when reality is replaced or becomes what is measurable, profitable; when the commodity becomes our master and our utility is measured by our ability to serve it, the majority of humanity falls into irrelevance. (iv)
In the time of our disaster, we have become and have been made superfluous, disposable, in a desert world ruled by objects.
In writing from the charred landscapes and cemeteries of carbonised bodies of once forested hills and villages in Portugal, one might be forgiven the tendency to apocalyptic ramblings; but then in greek and latin, apocalypse referred to revelation, illumination, a kind of sight not possible in “normal” circumstances. In this sense, our disaster is also the time of seeing. And it is in this context that we must think and act.
From the histories of violence project, the heterogeneous testimonies of the reign of disposable life …
“To be disposable is to be nameless in somebodies eyes. It is to have no recognised history.” Cynthia Enloe
“I think poetry is still possible…This kind of fiction is a way of teasing out certain tendencies in the present in order to function perhaps as a tiny little alarm clock that might wake people up.” Simon Critchley
“Disposable lives or wasted people are those for whom there is no room or place in that good society and social order…But why is this so? Why is it that modernity continues to produce redundant people?” Zygmunt Bauman
“What is this unthinkable nature of mass murder or enslavement which leads to an attrition of lives through starvation, torture, overwork, emaciation, through being reduced to what Primo Levi called a walking corpse?” Griselda Pollock
“What has emerged in this new historical conjuncture is an intensification of the practice of disposability in which more and more individuals and groups are now considered excess, consigned to zones of abandonment, surveillance and incarceration” Henry A. Giroux
“Their struggle is our struggle, everywhere, in every city, in every country of the world. We are in a very difficult moment, in a terrible moment of humankind, but there is hope, the Zapatistas illustrate that hope. We can build something different with that hope in our hands” Gustavo Esteva
“What comes to my mind when thinking about disposable life is a set of dynamics that are marking a difference in the current period. It is the multiplication of expulsions. For it is in the drama of being expelled that invisibility sets in” Saskia Sassen
“We have become less and less aware of the changed environment in which disposing of lives takes place and the forms that disposability takes, so that we no longer recognise what is staring us in the face” Max Silverman
“If you disregard all humanitarian problems and look at what would be ideal for the functioning of the system, basically the idea is that sooner or later 80% of the people are disposable – of no use” Slavoj Zizek
“If you think of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia there were war crime tribunals set up because of atrocities in those places. Those atrocities were absolutely no worse than the atrocities perpetrated in Latin America, and the hand behind the perpetrators was the United States” Jean Franco
“Disposable Life is a problem without an obvious solution. The cliché doing more with less means doing more economically with less humanely” Richard Sennett
“One sees the ways in which racisms are being extended in the name of and in the wake of the erasures of any terms of racial reference, it is as if racisms are being extended in the denial of racism itself” David Theo Goldberg
“there is a kind of sovereignty that makes the world disappear, producing disposability, yes, but having acquired the means to destroy worlds, to make wordlessness” Gil Anidjar
“Violence reaches extremities inasmuch as it remains or is pushed back into the realms of the invisible or it is staged; rendered extremely visible” Etienne Balibar
“My question is how do human lives become disposable? When there is social attention? When there is international attention? When there is humanitarian attention?” Carol Gluck
Throughout the Twentieth Century, violence was ceaselessly waged against targeted populations deemed to be “disposable”. The years 2014-2016 offer a poignant moment to reflect upon the historical significance and contemporary meaning of these mass atrocities. The period began with the 20th anniversary of the Zapatista uprising which provided a contemporary frame on the history of indigenous and racial persecution. April 2014 marked the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide which exposed to a watching global community the horrifying legacy of colonialism, along with its lasting and unresolved implications. June 2014 bore witness to the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I which remains one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history. Onto January 2015, we confront the historical memory of the violence of Auschwitz which taught us the shame of being human. The year also witnessed the 70th anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima & Nagasaki that still serve as a horrifying reminder of the devastating potential of weapons of mass destruction and the capacity to reason widespread destruction; the 100th anniversary of the Armenian “genocide” which remains a source of contention and passionate debate in terms of its definition and political vocabulary; the 65th anniversary of the start of the Korea War that continues to have profound impact upon global ideas of security and peaceful co-habitation; the 60th anniversary of the official start of Vietnam War (from United States perspective) whose targeted violence against local populations and biospheres in particular fundamentally challenged claims of Western superiority and enlightenment; along with the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the “killing fields” in Cambodia which remains one of the most violent experimental episodes in the history of human existence.
There was no doubt a need to collectively memorialise these traumatic events and remember the devastating loss of life. Any attempt to create more just futures must have an appreciation of these histories of violence. There is also a need however to move beyond the historicity of memorialisation to critically question their contemporary significance in terms of providing a more honest and somber reflection of the present conjuncture. This requires us to move beyond the dominant Western tropes for conceptualising such violence as either exceptional in history or the result of a failure of liberal modernity. Disposability may take many different forms. It cannot be reduced to simplistic explanations. Nor can it be properly understood without engaging its underlying causes that may be of a political, economic, cultural, social, psychological and identity based nature. Only then might we start to rethink the terms of global citizenship in the 21st Century. With this in mind, the initiative is compelled to ask: Are there, for instance, aspects of contemporary global society that make it possible to think and act in ways that render specific populations disposable? How might we commemorate these tragic events in ways that will cultivate a deeper understanding of the conditions that give rise to extreme violence? Is it correct to argue that we now live in a post-colonial and post-racial moment? Or are there continued remnants from the brutality of colonialism that shapes relations amongst people today? What challenges does the notion of disposability pose for the integrity of social research? How should we engage the broader public in critical education and discussion around the various forms that violence has taken in the past and continues to take in the present? And how might we forge a truly trans-disciplinary pedagogy that connects the arts, humanities and social sciences such that we may engage more critically with the meaning of violence and the disposability of populations in the 21st Century?
ii) http://www.lemonde.fr/planete/article/2017/10/24/la-disparition-des-surfaces-boisees-mondiales-a-augmente-de-51-en-2016_5205004_3244.html; https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/oct/27/world-on-track-to-lose-two-thirds-of-wild-animals-by-2020-major-report-warns; http://www.lemonde.fr/biodiversite/article/2017/10/18/en-trente-ans-pres-de-80-des-insectes-auraient-disparu-en-europe_5202939_1652692.html; https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/23/ocean-acidification-deadly-threat-to-marine-life-finds-eight-year-study; https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/10/earths-sixth-mass-extinction-event-already-underway-scientists-warn
iv) To cite but the humanly created plagues of malnutrition and starvation: http://www.lemonde.fr/planete/article/2017/11/04/la-malnutrition-n-epargne-plus-aucun-pays-dans-le-monde_5210018_3244.html