Pray for rain: on Kim Stanley Robinson’s 「Forty Signs of Rain」

I was put on to Kim Stanley Robinson and his Science in the Capitol trilogy (which I will be continuing and including in some aspect in my upcoming work on thoryvological ecology/ecological thoryvology) when Naomi Oreskes and Eric M. Conway’s The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future referred to him as the most important writer of the time, a prophet of doom, if you will (much like myself). It bore looking into. 

I suppose there may be spoilers to follow. 

Forty Signs was published in 2004. In the last 11 years, at least so far as actual climate policy and action, not much seems to have changed. Sure, the president now acknowledges, believes in the reality of, and the need to immediately address anthropogenic climate change. But actual and substantive policy change seems no more forthcoming. Even in the wake of superstorm Sandy (prophetically named in the text but only as a tropical storm), little has been done to keep our coasts from drowning. In Florida, despite being one of the most precarious of American states, climate change cannot even be officially named by government employees. Rick Scott must have misread his Derrida and become convinced that if he refused to name climate change in his ‘text’ that it would not have physical power over the state he mismanages. 

That stated, the novel offers an interesting insight into what I believe one of the more effective uses of thoryvological activism: an active misread of Kuhnian paradigm shifts. The novel posits the idea that science (or perhaps Science) and the NSF in particular needs to take on a more proactive role in forcing necessary political change for the sake of all and the future. It is specifically named as a desire to bring about a Kuhnian paradigm shift regarding the sociopolitical role of science and scientists: those who know should not be beholden to those who don’t to make necessary changes (as marked by facts that can be agreed upon by all not willfully ignoring reality). This is a consummation devoutly to be wished. However, returning to Kuhn, paradigm shifts are only brought on through and after crises. It is thus the work of thoryvology to point to and make known anomalies, to bring about a near perpetual crisis such that the deeply entrenched business as usual financial capitalism can be finally forced to release is stranglehold on the human future. 

Catastrophe and gaining understanding of the human role in and impact on ‘natural’ disasters and ‘nature’ as such (whatever such a flawed grass is greener over there construction actually means) are one aspect of this manner of thoryvological crisis manipulation. But (as Sandy shows) catastrophe is insufficient. Divestment is another method of disruption as are other numerous methods of opting out. These disruptions are becoming more commonplace (and need to become even more so).

Will it be enough? Will a tipping point be reached where the population at large is convinced to act (& vote) in their collective self interest? One can hope. Would this above articulated paradigm shift be sufficient? Unlikely. Nor, for that matter, would it necessarily be ideal. The scientific method should certainly have a greater prominence in public policy, but scientism should not. Belief is a disorder and the belief in infinite (scientific) progress, while perhaps more helpful in addressing anthropogenic climate change than evangelical fundamentalism, is equally troubling and problematic given a long enough run (or sufficient rope). 

And yet something must be done.

And so we must embody the crises.