The physicist Wolfgang Pauli famously derided those with whom he disagreed using the insult, “you’re not even wrong.” This stinging reprimand was meant to imply that a proposed idea was so illogical that it didn’t even enter into the spectrum of falsehood. An idea that is “not even wrong” does not qualify as information, simply noise. We live in a very noisy time.
In the wake of the 2016 election and subsequent moment of ‘reflection’, there has been much scrambling to parse information from noise. Twenty-first century information circulation has manifested a porous Rorschach reality (Adam Curtis’ latest BBC documentary presciently spells this out in conspiratorial grandeur). Rather than another attempt to tourniquet the hemorrhaging of reality, perhaps the fluidity of this moment affords an opportunity to reassess prevailing narratives about rationality, reason, and logic. Rather than paragons of knowledge, perhaps these traditions of thought have merely served to suture over the enduring ignorance of patriarchy.
Judith Butler has written that “resistance is the mobilization of vulnerability,” arguing that precariousness animates action. This suggests that rather than a state of docile subjugation, vulnerability is a source of empowerment. A particularly revealing example of this relationship between power and vulnerability is evidenced in the current status of federal climate science data. This data is increasingly vulnerable, as it is now maintained by an administration that has openly disavowed its credibility. At the same time, its vulnerability is directly tied to the potential power it wields in upsetting the authority and legitimacy of this administration. The power and vulnerability of climate data are positively correlated.
On its first day in office, the incoming administration ordered all mention of climate change removed from the official White House website. This, and the new president’s vow to eliminate Obama-era environmental policies, suggest a broad mistrust of science (climate science particularly) among the executive branch and its supporters. Suspecting that this could endanger decades of accumulated scientific data and research, UPenn’s Environmental Humanities program and Penn Libraries have initiated the DataRefuge project (#DataRefuge, @DataRefuge), facilitating a series of DataRescue events around the country designed to ensure that federal climate and environmental data remain publicly available under the current administration – a clear illustration of resistance stemming from the mobilization of vulnerability.
The following is an email conversation with one of the initiative’s organizers, Patricia Kim (@lowerendtheory) – Ph.D. candidate in Art History and Program Coordinator and Graduate Fellow at the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities (PPEH).
The City University of New York (CUNY) is the largest urban university system in the country and ranks alongside the California and New York State systems for total enrollment. Until 1976, CUNY was entirely tuition-free. While remaining significantly cheaper than other private universities in New York, CUNY has increasingly pursued a neoliberal business model reflective of for-profit institutions. This is hardly surprising. The financialization of CUNY has occurred in tandem with the financialization of New York City itself, and indeed much of the nation and world economy. Today’s confirmation of Betsy DeVos as the new Secretary of Education promises to continue and exacerbate this trend.
In the summer of 2015, in collaboration with a diverse collective of artists and ecologists known as Chance Ecologies, I was invited to help perform an excavation of a street in Hunters Point, Queens. The peculiar aspect of this excavation was not that its existence was dubious, plenty of archaeological excavations fail to uncover the artifacts they pursue. Rather, the uniqueness of this project was that we knew the artifact we sought did not exist, and this is precisely why it was chosen as the subject of our investigation. The intention was explicitly to destabilize the notion of ‘existence’ – is it bound to material realization, or does simply conceptualizing something activate its existence? (See Nick Land’s portmanteau, hyperstition, at your own risk.)