Published in  
April 18, 2024

What Simon Said

The Secretary of the UNFCCC did not address the right audience when he declared that the world - as we know it - is ending.

It seems imperative that we must always pay attention to what 'Simon says'. If Simon says it, then it must be important. Right? Right.


We are in agreement on this most fundamental premise.

And yet, when Simon (of the Stiell stock), the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the UNFCCC) declared eight days ago (on April 10, 2024) that the world has only 2 years left to address climate collapse, no one seemed to care. No one cared much for what Simon said.

Perhaps this was because Mr. Simon Stiell was addressing the wrong audience.

At some point during his passionately perfunctory delivery, Simon said, "So, when I say we have two years to save the world, it begs the question: who exactly has two years to save the world? The answer is every person on this planet." When Simon said that, I remembered those nigh-forgotten childhood moments when I would invest in a round of games with my friends, dipping and diving, chuckling and hiding, committing to the playful rules of the event, and then waiting for an abbreviated eternity in that increasingly lonely hiding place just to find that my friends had moved on to something else. Some other game that whipped them away. Simon's speech felt like that. Like a round of "Simon Says" that no one was listening to. Because there's no such thing as "every person on this planet."  

Therein lies the rub. Most appeals for solidarity today are constructed with materials furnished by a persistent liberal humanist ideology: the idea that the world is populated with persons. With rational, independent, exclusive, isolated, sovereign, free-willed, separate, individual, citizen-subjects who - when presented with the 'data' - should be able to make fair-minded, self-preserving calculations. Such a neurotypical presumption obscures the molecular, tentacular webs of relations these "persons" are entangled within - and how these milieus shape, modify, and sustain what becomes agentially possible or impossible to achieve.

The fascinating reports of our visual regimes of sight notwithstanding, we are not as neatly put together as the popular images of the proper human self would have us believe we are. We may not be physically contiguous with our phones, with the biopolitics of pandemics, with viruses and gut microbes, with weathering swirls outside our windows, with the burps of Sagittarius A, with Clotilda and the transatlantic histories of slave ships, or with the waltzing cloudy processions of microplastic atop Mt. Fuji, but a lack of continuity is no hindrance to entanglement.

Therein lies the rub. Most appeals for solidarity today are constructed with materials furnished by a persistent liberal humanist ideology: the idea that the world is populated with persons.

In short, we are monstrous assemblages, emerging in the middle, cobbled together in territories of co-becoming, tumbled into each other. We think with social media; we get aroused by flags and declarations of nationalistic pride; we are summoned into socialities by potatoes, driven to conquer by sugar, melted into compassion by the texture of furniture around us, excited by the curvilinear, infiltrated by skin-burrowing critters, and surveilled by constellations - if that Virgo-rising, Scorpio-sleeping stuff people tell me about is anything to go by.    

The interpersonal has never been an unbothered highway from human person to human person. It is littered with marauding Procrustean more-than-human others. The monsters we fear do not live under our beds or at the gates of vaunted immigration laws. We are monstrous. We are dispersed, diasporic, and postponed.

This is what Simon missed.

The game has changed. Leadership in a time of monsters may look less like Simon saying and more like Simon listening. It may even mean we relinquish the ambition to "save the world"; persons might be saved, but webs of relations that stretch across scandalous tracts of spacetime, beyond modern calculability, beyond systemic formulations, into the non-legible, require other kinds of response-abilities.

So, how do we think with the monstrous? With demise? With loss? With ambition? How do we organize at the edges of the Human? How do we think about the future? What does the leader become in a multispecies assemblage? In a world of mushrooms and fungal parliaments and rhizomatic quests and paraterranean tensions and minor gestures and invisible thresholds?

Now, now, Simon. Keep asking. And they'll come. The monsters. You might even get to see them.

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