“Everything that matters is outside.”

title is from the final page of Clayton Crockett’s Energy and Change: A New Materialist Cosmotheology, published by Columbia University Press, 2022.

I don’t really intend a review. I wrote to the author to say I enjoyed his book, that I was led to read it by my appreciation of an earlier book of his, Deleuze Beyond Badiou, that I regretted how badly subbed Energy and Change was, filled with egregious errors, including misattributing through a whole section Malabou’s work, and spelling mistakes, missing words, wrong words. I wrote to say that I really got into it in the third chapter, “Political Economy and Political Ecology.” Chapter four was OK, “Of Amerindian, Vodou, and Chinese Traditions.” And there are, particularly in Crockett’s taking up of the “tehomic theology” of Catherine Keller, some mindbendingly good moments in the last chapter, “Radical Theology and the Nature of God,” mindbending I say because of this deep, tehom, תְּהוֹם, coming right after I’d been dealing with something called a deep personal conviction, that I imagined coming from just such a deepness. Deep personal conviction is one of two conditions for the political act, I’d written, and I attached the article saying so in my letter to Crockett, the other condition being that the political act come out of time or out of the blue. There are similarities with the form of theatre practiced as Minus Theatre here. The article where I write about the political act is here.

For the first three chapters of Energy and Change, I was asking myself, and I asked Crockett the same thing, why is Bergson, as preeminently a philosopher of change, not here? I wondered if it were not the curse of Russell, who seems to call Bergson downright effeminate and say, with Morrissey, Do as I do and scrap your fey ways, Grow up, be a man, and close your mealy-mouthdial-a-cliché.

– Ivana Bašić, belay my light, the ground is gone, 2018

here’s some bits of the book I enjoyed:

…neoclassical economics takes shape around the nineteenth century concept of energy as understood in physics.

The counterpoint to the concept of energy in neoclassical economics is utility. Utility is a measure of satisfaction or value, one that measures the usefulness of economic goods similarly to the way that energy measures the work that can be accomplished in any system. If utility is analogous to energy, then the phrase that indicates entropy would be marginal utility. That is, as consumption of goods increases, there occurs a decrease of utility. This is the law of diminishing returns, which was formulated in terms of the conservation laws of physics. Overall utility is conserved, whereas there is a necessary diminishment in marginal utility.

The transition to neoclassical economics is often described as a marginal revolution. Mirowski asserts that the fundamental break in economic theory in the 1870s and 1880s is not simply a new conception of utility, understood in terms of marginal utility, but is the result of “the successful penetration of mathematical discourse into economic theory.” These mathematical theories are drawn from physics, although Mirowski points out that most economists did not accurately understand the physics and mathematics that they drew upon. Economists base their discipline on physical understandings of energy, but these are being mathematically treated in such a way as to dissipate energy as a real thing.

The difference between twentieth-century physics and twentieth-century economics, Mirowski claims, is that physicists understood that energy was becoming an abstraction with the adoption of formalized mathematical models, even as they were clinging to the idea of an integrable system. Economists, on the other hand, still maintained that they were modeling and measuring something real. One way to describe both physics and economics during the twentieth century is to say that they were caught up in symbolic mathematical representations …

— Op.cit., p. 149

During the [post-war] Great Acceleration, the world saw unprecedented levels of increasing production, based on the widespread utilization of an almost unbelievable source of energy in the form of hydrocarbon petroleum. The so-called Green Revolution in the 1960s was actually the application of petroleum products and methods to agriculture, which produced unsurpassed yields. But beginning in the early 1970s, real productive growth began to slow in per capita terms, and the dreams of utopia in First World nations as well as the hopes for development in Third World countries–not to mention the drive for communist revolution in the Second–all ground slowly to a halt.

The early 1970s constitutes a key time period in the transition to disaster capitalism or neoliberalism. According to David Harvey, “the liberation of money creation from its money-commodity restraints in the early 1970s happened at a time when profitability prospects in productive activities were particularly low and when capital began to experience the impact of an inflexion point in the trajectory of exponential growth.” This inflexion point in the trajectory of exponential growth is the first impact of a physical limit on post-World War II capitalism. As profitability begins to decline, surplus money was lent out to developing countries in the form of government debt, generating a Third World debt crisis that rages through the 1980s. Another response to this inflexion point was the development of new asset markets, including speculation on the financial system itself in the form of derivatives–futures, swaps, and collateralized debt obligations.

— Ibid., p. 144

It is in the early 1970s that, for the first time in global terms, human societies start to come up against physical ecological limits as a planet. In 1970, domestic oil production peaked in the lower forty-eight United States, not counting Alaska. In 1971, President Nixon was forced to abandon the Bretton Woods accord that established the post-World War II economic framework with a dollar that was pegged to $35 for an ounce of gold. After this gold standard disappeared, the U.S. currency became a fiat currency. Soon afterward, the OPEC oil embargo, which was a response to the U.S. support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, shocked the American economy. As a result, the United States reaffirmed its special alliance with Saudi Arabia, and the Saudis pledged to ramp up supply to fuel the U.S. economy and to sell oil in dollars. In the early 1970s, the financial economy essentially delinked from the real economy, which is why the stock market continued to grow tremendously over the next four decades while inflation increased dramatically and real wages stagnated. The early 1970s also saw the emergence of a global ecological movement, including the famous Club of Rome’s book The Limits to Growth, published in 1972.

This shift toward a new form of capitalism called neoliberalism coincides with the abandonment of Lyndon Johnson’s ambitious War on Poverty as well as the intensification of U.S. military engagement in Vietnam, the murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the 1968 insurrections in France and Mexico, the betrayal of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and the rise of what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism.” Capitalism is based on indefinite growth, but surging population levels, industrialization of remaining rural areas across the globe, and overutilization of finite resources have combined to make it impossible to grow anymore in overall terms. We are running up against real limits. If corporate capitalism cannot grow in absolute terms, then the only way that it can grow is in relative terms. That is why the rich are getting richer, and the poor poorer. This is happening both within the United States and other countries and between rich and poor countries. It’s a physical process, and we need to come to terms with it if we want our thinking and our actions to be efficacious. [emphases added]

— Ibid., p. 145 [the Great Redistribution follows the Great Acceleration]

… how we think, act, and live occurs along an open line of existence, even if this line is not linear.

— Ibid., p. 39

Leibniz is an important precursor to thermodynamics because he coins the term dynamics, although he uses the word, dunamis, that for Aristotle means potential energy. Leibniz understands dynamics to refer to what we call actual or kinetic energy. For Leibniz, actual energy is vis viva, which is a living force that animates nature. On the other hand, his idea of a dead force, vis mortua, is closer to what we call potential energy. Dead force is the propensity to motion, which can become actual force or vis viva.

— Ibid., pp. 39-40

Science is fundamentally about developing and testing ideas as empirically as possible, often in mathematical terms. Philosophical thinking is not derivative of scientific explanation; both are a distinct kind of change that “repeats” the change nature performs.

— Ibid., p. 25

Metabolism only works by means of rifts, even if the rift that is created by capitalism between humanity and the earth is one of the largest rifts in planetary history. There is no metabolic process without rift, without chance or change.

— Ibid., p. 9

… change is always exchange, because it exists in complex relationship with everything else, including itself.

— Ibid., p. 8