In the Anthropocene, the future fossil record and the long-term composition of the biological world will be strongly determined by human action (and inaction). Geologist Jan Zalasiewicz pointed out at the opening of “The Anthropocene Project” in Berlin in January 2013 that there are at least 100,000 domesticated cats in the world for every tiger in the wild. This leads to the perspective that in the long run, new species of wild felines could potentially evolve from today’s housecats. Directed evolution, shaped by the tastes of early Anthropocene pet owners, may procreate neo-wild species of the future and their even more distant fossil remains.
Christian Schwägerl, Neurogeology: The Anthropocene’s Inspirational Power
Laryukovaya settlement, April 1947
Buried in the Siberian permafrost, Varlam Shalamov wrote in his memories of the Kolyma camps, the bodies of the victims of the Gulag system lie frozen, undecayed, preserved as an archive of Stalinist violence. Despite the Soviet Union’s prometheanism - conquering the northern frontier, forging the new Man from the blistering cold of the arctic - the ice prevailed, enclosing the evidence of communism’s tragic failure. The permafrost will not forget, Shalamov observed, maybe even hoped.
Yet thaw has set in. Two hundred years of extractive capitalism, only intensified after the passing of the Soviet episode, are dissolving the very condition of possibility of climatic chronology embodied in the layers upon layers of arctic ice.
This is how we know about the planet’s past: we drill into the ice of the arctic, reading its data-rich, high-resolution layers for a glimpse into the climatic and biological changes over the last eight hundred thousand years. This is how we know about the planet’s future: we extrapolate from the arctic archive, calculating predictive scenarios about the destructions to expect if we continue heating up the atmosphere and oceans.
Earth’s archive is melting. Scientists are drilling frantically, yet expect nothing less than an irretrievable memory loss. Given geological timescales, it is the planet’s short-term memory that is fading. Anthropogenic Alzheimers. The ice will forget.
Somewhere in Machinic Desire, Nick Land writes that what appears to humanity as the history of capitalism is an invasion from the future, a retrochronically acting artificial intelligence creating the conditions of its own becoming. In a less delirious reading, the idea of retrochronicity aptly captures the way extractive capitalism reworks our very ability to connect future and past. A deadly thaw erases the geological record that would allow us to anticipate the violence yet to come and act to prevent it.
Lobotomising Earth’s memory of the future, the capitalist catastrophe perpetuates itself indefinitely.
I do not know exactly what, but surely it must say something about the intellectual state of contemporary economics that customers who bought Nicholas Mankiw’s Principles of Economics from Amazon Germany’s page also overwhelmingly bought not other books, but pocket calculators.