What are the connections between climate change, global capitalism, xenophobia and white supremacy? Marc Schuller does in his new book something rather unusual: He asks big questions. Humanity's Last Stand. Confronting Global Catastrophe is the name of the book that not only analyzes the state of the world but also offers advice about what to do according to an interview on the Northern Illinois University website.
There is a virtual book launch tomorrow 15.1.2021.
It is refreshing to see that Schuller - in contrast to the majority of social scientists - is not afraid of making bold statements.
Asked about the "apocalyptic" title of his book, if "humanity is truly headed toward extinction?" he answers:
Seen from an anthropological view, as a species, the warning signs are clear. This is the mandate of the Anthropocene: Ever more species are becoming extinct, including our closest relatives, primates. As the creators of this catastrophe, we can turn this around but only by taking deadly seriously the existential threats of climate change, proliferating warfare, xenophobia and racism.
Asked about the interconnections between climate change, global capitalism, xenophobia and white supremacy, he explains:
Capitalism was founded on plantation slavery, following Indigenous genocide. Capitalism requires growth at all costs; global capitalism entails colonial expropriation. Resources are taken from colonized peoples to enrich an increasingly small group, which builds literal walls, as well as walls of racism and nationalism, protecting its privilege. Following abolition, fossil fuels replaced slaves’ blood, sweat and tears, heating up the planet.
But there is hope according to him, as "in humanity’s ugliest hours, we have demonstrated our capacity for love, solidarity and justice".
He suggests cultivating "an anthropological imagination", which means highlighting the "connections we already have, despite the fog of ideology that keeps us feeling isolated":
We need to see the human beings behind our food, shelter, electricity and consumer goods. That’s the first step in building a bottom-up platform for making necessary global changes. We will never muster the courage or will while we continue to dehumanize other people and their problems and ignore the consequences of our unsustainable consumption.
In the introduction he explains this concept further:
Before we can act, we need the ability to see how issues such as the Syrian refugee crisis, the mass shootings in Parkland and El Paso, and the rising tide of ultra-right nationalism across Europe and the United States are all connected. Seeing how these global issues are lived and confronted by real, living human beings and how they are connected to other issues and people can be called an “anthropological imagination.”
An anthropological imagination also underscores that these issues are products of human action, and therefore changeable: they are particular local manifestations of the inhumanity of our global political and economic system based on in equality and private profit seeking at the expense of the collective good.
It is clearly an activist book. I am not sure if I like the activist language in some parts of the introduction, though. While I agree with his general message, there is - for my taste - too much "black and white" thinking about who is good and who is bad and too much labelling of people (although he aims for the opposite). But have a look yourself! There is also a useful website about the book with summaries of all chapters including explanations of core concepts, a very good idea!
Schuller embodies the best attributes of the contemporary engaged and activist anthropologist. Last year, he was the recipient of the Margaret Mead Award, presented by the AAA and SfAA. The Anthropology in Media Award similarly honors a scholar who effectively communicates anthropological ideas and research to broad audiences beyond the academy.
His recent project reminds me of an earlier research project by Thomas Hylland Eriksen at the University of Oslo, that I have been involved in as a journalist until 2016: Overheating. The three crises of globalisation: An anthropological history of the early 21st century that explores exactly the same questions. You can read many interviews with the researchers in the News section.