While both McGregor and Varjee implicitly warned against dichotomies to define practices of sustainability (the need to incorporate indigenous and “western” notions, the need to go beyond the dichotomies rich/poor, bad water/good water) and proposed a more holistic thinking, science fiction writer Karl Schroeder decided to take a utopian turn, but a somewhat dangerous one. He proposed the elimination of agency as the big elephant in the room against the realization of sustainability. Living in a world dominated by major agencies creates dichotomies where one side is always dominant: mind vs body, software vs hardware, materiality vs abstractness are only a few. agency is “the god and the scientific principle.”
But how to overcome these dichotomies without creating new ones? relying on the principle of responsibility, evidence based design etc.., as he suggests, is desirable, but rather dangerous, as it gives room to instrumentalization. In fact, this type of thinking has been championed by neoliberalism for several decades and it has only produced–paradoxically–more divisions and dichotomies. the dichotomy people vs state has been substituted by another, possibly more oppressive, series of private, for-profit entities. Dumping the responsibility on the shoulders of individuals might eliminate the need for a sovereign entity that regulates them, but other forms of power will come to impart their control. in addition, our societies are regulated on an outcome basis, that is, any project or enterprise is always tied to a specific and carefully predicted outcome. even the most distributed and wildly growing entity, the Internet, has not been able to escape control, as protocols, the discourse on net neutrality and other projects aiming at shaping and ruling the network of networks demonstrate.
it would be really fantastic if we could eliminate sidewalks for pedestrians and bike lanes, as Schroeder suggests to provide evidence to the feasibility of this project, to see that car drivers become more aware of the road and of the people surrounding them. I have no doubt that this model has been successfully experimented in the Netherlands. however, the Netherlands is a country where an extensive education concerning road traffic is already built-in. maybe if there is anything missing in Schroeder’s otherwise uplifting speech is the role of “education.” only then, can we (maybe? but when? how?) hope to enjoy the utopian world he is so enthusiastically describing.