NOTES TOWARD A MANIFESTO FOR THE FUTURE INFRASTRUCTURALISTS!by David Brooks
I. Infrastructure is Nature! Infrastructure is alive. It is an active extension of society and, thus, is active within the living world.
II. Infrastructure is power! and is representative of power. Therefore it must reflect the desires and well being of all the human and nonhuman constituents it entangles. Though this mandate has never been realized and may be impossible, this mandate is the main principle through which all other mandates flow.
III. Infrastructure is the shape of a society's desires and ideologies! as it interfaces with natural systems or with a multiplicity of other infrastructures. Infrastructure is the mechanism of society that aligns the contours of the individual to the contours of the landscape within the contours of that society. It is an organismic network that realizes society’s collective desires and ideologies through society’s physiologies in real time and space.
IV. Our daily motions and priorities dictate the shape of our infrastructures! which in turn dictate the shape of the landscape around us, which affects the health of the larger biosphere, which thusly dictates our daily motions. One who takes these concerns seriously is an infrastructuralist. The infrastructuralist works to bridge the psychological and economic gaps between the activities of the individual and the biosphere—for they are intra-related. An intra-relation is one in which none of the constituent parts precedes another in formation, but rather in which the parts emerge into their individualized forms through their entanglement with each other.
V. Infrastructure shapes the natural world and the natural world shapes infrastructure! They are sometimes interchangeable, and their demarcations are occasionally impossible to discern—for they are intra-related. Therefore, any definition of nature is not a given, but is an ideological notion constructed by a distinct culture at a particular time.
VI. Our current infrastructures have failed us! They not only contribute to the unavailing practice of domination over the world's resources and perpetuate the marginalization of peoples, but they literally point the way and pave the roads to such. Our current infrastructures galvanize such practices through their sprawling stagnating tendrils that sever the land and its natural systems into unsustainable island bodies, segregating peoples and proliferating food deserts. Our current infrastructures underline the delusional bifurcation of “culture over here” from “nature over there”, as propagated by the failed Enlightenment project and the ensuing miasma of anthropocentrism.
VII. We may have stepped out of the food chain, but we have not stepped out of nature! We are propelled by the sobering truth that regardless of our efforts, or lack thereof, we all will succumb to the laws of metabolic existence. One day, a variety of fungi will decompose all of our bodily forms into nutrient rich soil. This should be cause for catharsis, not self-aggrandizement or nostalgia.
VIII. Infrastructure must align with unfolding evolutionary adjustments! by relinquishing the hubris of predetermination and failed attempts at stasis. The process of evolution mandates that all living things be in a constant state of flux—existing in perpetual response to relations with other subjects and their environments in the present. The living world does not emerge along a predetermined plan. It materializes and takes momentary shape through the infinite reoccurring of singular moments in the ever-developing present. Infrastructure must learn these lessons of frenetic evolutionary longevity, if infrastructure is to have the opportunity to supply a unifying platform—the bridge to togetherness. Upon this platform, the following phenomenon will never lessen: the more we know, the more we realize how little we know.
IX. With this manifesto, I have expressed nothing new! but have simply re-arranged thoughts that have been thought before with nothing new beyond context and scale. ([By scale, I mean proportions but also intensities and speeds.) Precisely because I have expressed nothing new, this must be expressed again and again, often at different scales, and always in different contexts.
X. If infrastructure cannot adapt then it should cease! Infrastructure is required to make perpetual adjustments to its form and scale as it traverses ever-changing contexts. It must resist the unchecked urge to rule. If it cannot, then it should cease to act. Neoliberal development and its imperialist tendencies do not accommodate the diversity of constituents that they entangle. The stakeholders do not solely consist of the investors. The immediate gratification of beneficiaries is shortsighted, and without exception results in a collective net loss for future generations of humans and nonhumans alike.
XI. We cannot import 20th century models of infrastructure into the 21st century! The scale and context have changed. Overpopulation is overpopulated, pollution is too polluted to notice, and monocultures form the new biodiversity. Issues of history, aesthetics, biotic and abiotic conditions, economic mobility, social justice and infrastructures are all common grounds within today’s landscape and must be addressed simultaneously, for they are inextricably linked.
XII. Infrastructure is wrought with hubris! Infrastructure needs to be made humane, free of hubris, full of humanity. All societies have an infrastructure. But that does not presuppose that all must articulate their infrastructures with the scorching breath of hubris.
XIII. We reject the perpetuation of the human body as a common denominator in the landscape! The infrastructuralist must contextualize the human body as one infinitesimal constituent amongst many constituents occupying the same space at the same time. It is imperative that the hierarchal location of the human body above all other bodies is renounced in order to cease the domination of nonhumans and the surplus consumption of the world’s resources.
XIV. Our infrastructure does not relate the human body to the larger biosphere! Though our infrastructure is the link between the micro and the macro it was nonetheless made without consideration of its subject, or of subjectivity. This took place before we ever came to acknowledge what exactly the human-as-animal is in relation to the biosphere. We’ve never been human enough, which has resulted in an infrastructure that does not relate the human body to a larger biosphere – as but one of many other bodies, human and nonhuman alike. if we considered an equitable human body then we could perhaps have a truer infrastructure, and vice versa.
XV. Detail, object, and environment must be considered as one and the same in the collective landscape! This is what the infrastructuralist may refer to as the simultaneity of scaled thinking:
- Detail = the quality of intimacy and a fine-tuned focus on surface
- Object = that which can be held and therefore possessed
- Environment = a space that includes the individual within the formation of public-ness
- Landscape = that which is beyond an individual’s singular perceptual capacity; it can be perceived, but only through duration or through the aid of imagination
Individual > Species > Ecosystem > Biosphere > ∞
Species > Biosphere > Individual > Ecosystem > ∞
Biosphere > Ecosystem > Species > Individual > ∞
XVI. To think geologically is a form of simultaneously scaled thinking. Simultaneously scaled thinking is the natural evolution of our co-habitation with humans and nonhumans alike! Considering one’s awakened state in the present moment while beholding 571 million year old Proterozoic formations while also acknowledging their continued state into the distant future is a form of simultaneously scaled thinking.
XVII. When Jonah looked up, after the great storm at sea, he was enveloped within what seemed a coarse wet cave. Being thrashed about in this cave, Jonah was an object contained in an environment. As the story is told, that environment was actually an object, a whale – in which Jonah was merely a detail of the contents of its mouth (a detail from God). For Jonah, the whale was an environment. For the whale, Jonah was a detail of its mouth, an object. Here detail, object, and environment are not only indistinguishable, but merely a matter of perspective. Therefore, the predicament that Jonah found himself in was that of a detail, that of an object and that of an environment; all three of which work together to form the symbolic gesture of divine will through the varying relations of the individual body of Jonah. In this narrative, the occupant’s body is the common denominator within fluctuating perspectives and therefore the physical, psychological, and symbolic liaison between consciousness and the collective palpable landscape.
XVIII. It is not the body of Jonah that is of paramount importance to us today. It is the body of the whale! One of the humbling wonders that keeps our anthropocentric impacts in perspective is the sheer scale of possible life. In the three billion year history of cellular life, the Blue whale is the largest animal ever known to have roamed its surface, and it still coexists with us to this day. It can exceed 100 feet in length and 200 tons in weight. This scale of life competes with the scale of our own infrastructures. It would take more than 2500 people to equal the weight of a mature Blue whale—a population four times that of the town in which I grew up. The Blue whale’s scale reframes our perspective on the natural world from one in which we lord dominion over all life to one of humble celebration. We can think of the Blue whale within the entirety of its being: A.) as a detail (a detail of the oceanic abyss); B.) as an object (an object in terms of its body containing mass and mobility); C.) as an environment (it was indeed an environment for the intrepid Jonah); and D.) as a landscape (Jonah could certainly perceive the mouth of the whale as an environment, but as the entirety of the whale’s body was not in view of Jonah’s singular perceptual capacity, it therefore existed for him as a larger landscape that had to be imagined).
Once we are able to understand the Blue whale as all of the above, we are able to employ a multitude of empathies toward it simultaneously – what the infrastructuralist may refer to as the simultaneity of empathetic thinking. [see XV.]
XIX. The infrastructuralist embraces that which defies any one person’s singular perceptual capacity! One particular variety of fungus, the Armillaria ostoyae has a single individual whose mycelium mass covers 4 square miles of seamless land area. It is the largest known organism on earth with a perpetually mutating shape delineating where it begins and ends. In terms of infrastructural networks, there is much to learn from the ever-mutating infinitesimal hyphae of mycelium. It is easy to imagine this single organism blanketing an entire landscape, or even becoming a landscape itself, all contained within the mutating boundaries of its autonomous body—albeit a body that defies any one person’s singular perceptual capacity.
XX. An ecosystem is a detail of the biosphere, and of the larger landscape! However, it is also a thing, and of course an environment, filled with an indeterminate quantity of details. This nebulous environment sustains itself and its sovereignty through the processes of its parts—its intra-active building parts. These parts generate a process and this process generates products that are a service to us: clean air, filtered water, food, climate, habitat, etc. These products, or ecosystem services, make our daily motions possible, by providing the life-sustaining elements that support us through the world. We are intra-related to ecosystem services. As above, the infrastructuralist understands that though we may have stepped out of the food chain we have not stepped out of our ecosystem.
XXI. One must employ one’s imagination to form an understanding of an ecosystem! It is impossible to witness an ecosystem in its entirety, as if simply watching a car drive by. An ecosystem is as much of a process as it is a thing; therefore to witness it requires the iterative activity of reconstructing past observations. As a result, the products of an ecosystem remain elusive to an observer looking for a discrete product to define. It is not there. It is only there through time. Our relationship to ecosystem services suffers from a delusional distance and an unconscious disavowal of our reliance on them.
XXII. The infrastructuralist does not treat the dynamics of an ecosystem as a service! Much like the theory of commodity fetishism, the service provided by an ecosystem is often taken for granted as if it magically appeared at our doorsteps and will continue to do so in perpetuity. Like market driven economies, an ecosystem’s products are disjoined from the convoluted processes that form them. They are ascribed economic value, as if intrinsic to them and apart from the ecosystem that produced them. An ecosystem reduced in our apprehension to its most obviously useful products becomes a machine perpetually at our service, disconnected from the dynamic processes of its larger operation.
XXIII. Biodiversity is part of our daily lives! The architects of The Biodiversity Conservation Network, in the UNEP Global Biodiversity Assessment appropriately define their ideology in terms of the economic patterns that govern our daily lives: “Besides the profound ethical and aesthetic implications, it is clear that the loss of biodiversity has serious economic and social costs. The genes, species, ecosystems and human knowledge being lost represent a living library of options available for adapting to local and global change. Biodiversity is part of our daily lives and livelihood and constitutes the resources upon which families, communities, nations and future generations depend.”
XXIV. We can transfer ecological principles to economic systems through cultural production. As evidenced above [XXII], this impasse cannot be resolved by political and economic trajectories alone, for the breach between the economics and ecology of everyday life is a cultural construct by origin and inevitably must be reckoned within the cultural sphere.
XXV. We are a debt species! meaning our extinction is inevitable but our ultimate disappearance is delayed. We live in a distinct moment within our extinction debt, hyper-aware of the impact of our actions on the larger biosphere even as we pummel forward with increasingly severe impact. We knowingly, if slowly, render others and ourselves extinct. Through infrastructure we finesse our interfaces with the larger environment and prepare the path for future nonhumans. Infrastructure can be that bridge to togetherness.
David Brooks is an artist whose work investigates how cultural concerns cannot be divorced from the natural world, while also questioning the terms under which nature is perceived and utilized. Often working with biologists in the Amazon basin, the artist draws parallels between a cross-disciplinary scientific process and an artistic desire to question how we engage the living world. Brooks lives and works between New York and New Orleans, is on the faculty of the Maryland Institute College of Art, and is currently a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellow. (davidbrooksstudio.com)