For Tsing, metaphors like system or community imply narratives of progress, overemphasize intentionality and chains of cause and effect, and obscure the role that precarity and indeterminacy play in the conditions of life. Both precarity, the state of being vulnerable to another, and indeterminacy, the unplanned or unpredictable nature of the encounters, are downplayed when the world is viewed as a system.
Technologies profoundly structure our understanding of complex systems, informing the analogies and metaphors we think with. For example, it is common place to say we live in eco-systems, depend on food chains and our brains store, compute and recall information.
By seeing the self not as an individual hero, but as one among many — human and non-human — a new kind of tentacular, multi-kind, multi-species politics of care might emerge. A politics which does not rely on oppositional, binary, artificially constructed world views, one that is not obfuscated by the right and left or the neoliberals and communists, or whatever it is that you choose to follow. A politics that gives us a new kind of relational agency to help us imagine alternatives for living with and through global warming. A politics which allows us to invent new practices of more-than-human care, humility, imagination, interdependence, resistance, revolt, repair, and mourning.
Today the constructs that form our understanding of the world are being continually out-paced by the sheer force and speed of technological, political and social change. Modernism’s methodologies of mapping, designing, planning, for controlling and changing deeply complex systems may not be the answer to the challenges we face. Maybe we need to go underground — working in networked, symbiotic companionships, like mycelial arrangements, to generate infinite micro-revolutions.
This column, called Information Ecology, will explore the structural changes necessary for weathering future storms, as well as what each of us can do in our own networks to start helping right now. The name reflects environmentalist Barry Commoner’s assertion that everything in nature is connected to everything else. The same rule holds online: Big things and small things are fundamentally entwined. Journalism, algorithms, bad actors, influencers, the everyday actions of everyday folks—each feeds into and is fed by all the rest. There are no wholly separate things.