- A Globe of One's Own:In Praise of the Flat Earth
Today's questions of climate and climate ethics, with attendant concerns for the sustainability and viability of this life of ours on earth, present a new imaginary for political questions. It was only in the late twentieth century, with the advent of picturing the earth from space, with the possibility of nuclear annihilation of earthly life, and the speed of new media allowing for global audiences (such as the entire world viewing 9/11), that the problem of a global ethos would emerge. If there had always been a silent presupposed "we"1 in any ethical theory, then this virtual universalism would always struggle alongside moral valorizations of specified communities.2 How do we, from the particular world we inhabit, begin to think of life as such? It is the present sense of the planet as a whole—as a fragile bounded globe—that might present us, finally, with the opportunity and imperative to think a genuine ethos. Now that we have a notion of climate that seems to break with the etymology of this specific inclination or latitude of the earth, and does so by gesturing to something like a sense of the earth as a region or inclination in itself, this may open a new imaginary of the globe. We might think of ethos as no longer bound to a territory within the planet; instead there might be the ethos of this globe itself, which has no other region against which we might define ourselves or towards which we might direct our fantasies of another future. If there is something like climate change, perhaps it takes this form: not only a mutation of this climate (warming, depleting, becoming more volatile) but an alteration of what we take climate to be. One might want to suggest that as long as we think of climate in its traditional sense—as our specific milieu—we will perhaps lose sight of climate change, or the degree to which human life is now implicated in timelines and rhythms beyond that of its own borders.
The figure of the globe appears to offer two ethical trajectories: on the one hand, an attention to global interconnections and networks would expand responsibility and awareness beyond the figure of the isolated moral subject. Ethics may have to be considered beyond discursive, human and political modes (especially if one defines politics as the practice of a polity). On the other hand, the figure of the globe—considered as a figure—is intertwined with a tropology of interconnectedness, renewal, [End Page 30] cyclic causality and organicism. This traditionally theological series of motifs, with the globe's circularity reflecting a divine intentionality, is maintained today in many of the most profound and seemingly secular ecological theses, including the Gaia hypothesis and the global brain.
It is the possibility of extinction or the end of human time that forces us to confront a new sense of the globe: far from being an unfortunate event that accidentally befalls the earth and humanity, the thought of the end of the anthropocene era is both at the heart of all the motifs of ecological ethics and the one idea that cannot be thought as long as the globe is considered in terms of its traditional and anthropocentric metaphors.
The word "globalism" along with the word "biopolitics" suffers from a curious double valence. As a descriptive term, globalism can refer to the lost autonomy and difference of worlds. Once upon a time the globe enjoyed divergent timelines and worldviews. Even if it was central to the colonialist imagination to romanticize the extent to which "other" worlds were exotically untranslatable, mystical and embedded in a non-linear time, there is nevertheless a very real sense in which globalism has created an earth of a single time, single market and single polity. Globalism would be a mode of homogenization, disenchantment or rendering quantifiable that one could lament as having displaced an earlier world of different places. This has significant material consequences, since any particular country's environmental or wage policies will directly alter the day-today lives of bodies elsewhere on the...