The metaphor of the “storm” and the accompanying social cartography of (shit) storm categories seeks to capture the multiple, converging crises that we collectively face, but that we experience in highly uneven ways. The storm is more than just a temporary crisis that can be managed with existing tools and strategies. While there is an important role for the mitigation of negative impacts and harm-reduction, those hoping for a “return to normal” and the continuity of “business as usual” will ultimately be confronted with the fact that there is no possible way to prevent the storm nor adequately prepare for its arrival in a way that could preserve existing systems in its aftermath. Instead, the storm announces “the end of the world as we know it” (Silva, 2014; Kingsnorth and Hine, 2014). This is not the end of the world, period, but rather the end of a (violent and unsustainable) way of knowing and being in the world, which in turn enables other possibilities for existence to (re)emerge in the storm’s wake.
Throughout the cartography, we distinguish between “low-intensity” and “high intensity” struggle. We use the term low-intensity struggle to refer to communities who have benefited the most from and still enjoy the protections of the “house modernity built”. We use the term high-intensity struggle to refer to communities whose lives are put at risk in order to build and reproduce the “house”, that is, the system that gives people in low-intensity struggle comforts and securities.
The (shit) storm categories described in this social cartography are meant to support ”us” (in low-intensity struggle) to engage with the affective states and investments that have led to the current crisis and the crises that will come if we can’t compost our (historically and systemically) accumulated and now saturated “shit”. The cartography also outlines how the storm affects people in high-intensity struggle and the metabolism of the planet in ways that “we” – people in low-intensity struggle, rarely recognize.
Remember that social cartographies are pedagogical tools that are not meant to describe reality accurately, nor predict the future, but to draw attention to processes and dynamics that are often actively avoided and to expand our capacity for difficult conversations where relationships do not fall apart. In other words, this cartography draws attention to the fact that our current systems have infantilized us to the point where we may be extremely emotionally and existentially fragile, and unprepared and unequipped to deal with the mess we have created.
In this sense, the cartography offers a form of critique that is not about a competition for moral high grounds, or an expression of erudition, nor is it meant to be mobilized for self-righteousness. We are all complicit with the problems identified here (in uneven ways) and unless we focus on the responsibility for showing up differently to the work we need to do together, we will collectively fail: to face the storm together in a generative way, we will need a form of existence that, until we start to compost the shit, will be unthinkable/unimaginable. Any attempt to imagine something different from the top of a pile of un-composted shit will reproduce the stink. Therefore, the cartography is offered as an invitation for a dis-investment in the forms of politics and coexistence that prevent us from facing and composting the shit and from “growing up”.
It is important to remember that the COVID-19 may be just the “warning shots” of the real storm, as Inuit artist Taqrilik Partridge cautions. If most low-intensity struggle people feel deeply traumatized by the effects of the current pandemic, there is much work to be done in terms of preparing ourselves to face more difficult scenarios.
By preparing ourselves (individually and collectively) to face and to weather this intensifying storm, we might learn to move with it (towards the “eye” of the hurricane), instead of trying to outrun it, or to simply ignore it. This will require learning to:
- interrupt pleasurable and comfortable neuro-chemical addictions (we need an “AA for humanity”);
- disinvest from the promises of the existing system (of certainty, security, exceptionalism, social mobility, and continuity);
- connect the dots (between different challenges and struggles);
- relate wider (to both human and other-than-human beings, and with a sense of responsibility);
- dig deeper (going beyond superficial analyses and simplistic solutions);
- develop stamina (to ‘stay with the trouble’ through difficult, complex, and uncomfortable contexts, conversations and ultimately, crises);
- cultivate a sense of discernment (about where and how to focus one’s energies and resources within a wider ecology of relations and efforts to respond to a multi-dimensional storm);
- de-centre the self (and learn to centre the earth itself, with ourselves and all living beings as part of that); and finally,
- learn to activate exiled capacities (that we have numbed or forgotten, but which we might need in order to navigate and survive the storm, or if it comes to it, to die in a good way).
Social cartography of shit storm categories [download PDF]
We invite you to sit with this table and consider the following questions:
- Where would you place yourself and those around you in terms of normality interruption (or intensification of violence if your community is in high-intensity struggle)?
- Where would you place yourself in relation to affective states?
- Where would you place the planet in terms of metabolic struggle?