Breakthrough Dialogue 2021: Ecomodern Justice
August 4-6 | Cavallo Point & Virtually | Sausalito, CA & Global
What is justice? What does it mean in the context of ecomodernism? Global modernity was both built upon histories of conquest and oppression and gave birth to traditions of liberal universalism, political enfranchisement, and cosmopolitan empathy upon which contemporary demands for justice and equity rest. Modernization has likewise brought long-term improvements in the human condition while not benefiting all equally and leaving many behind.
At the heart of all discussions of modernist politics lies a paradox. The modern era marked a continuation of violence, oppression, inequity, and subjugation that go as far back as we have been human. It marked an intensification of our proclivities toward violence and cruelty, as the social and technological machinery of modernity allowed for the manifestation of those tendencies at previously unimaginable scales. And it marked a gradual and ongoing break from those histories, as the shift from feudal and hierarchical to capitalist and democratic societies produced new economies, new publics, new institutions, and new values that have slowly and incrementally ameliorated or eliminated manifestations of human cruelty.
To recognize this modernist paradox does not absolve modern societies from accounting for the injustice in their own histories and remedying them. Nor should it obscure the great accomplishments of the modern era. But it should inform how we think about our responsibilities to each other, to the past, and to the future.
Critics of modernization, too often, judge it against either romanticized conceptions of the past or utopian visions of the future. Both framings do a disservice to the extraordinary improvements in living standards, human rights, and democratic inclusion that modernization has wrought and to the practical challenges and struggles associated with assuring that modernist promises of universal enfranchisement, equity, and justice are kept.
Any discussion of justice within the framework of ecomodernism must likewise account for both the promise of modernization and its failures. How best might we recognize histories of violence and oppression without mistaking them for the entire history of modernization? How might we express a commitment to justice in a way that emphasizes assets, the ways in which our extraordinary social and technological powers and wealth might be dedicated to addressing inequality and exclusion, rather than fixating on deficits — the notion that ongoing inequity and injustice demonstrate the futility of universalizing commitments to freedom, prosperity, and inclusion? How might notions of sovereignty and self-determination support communities to pursue development and modernization on their own terms, rather than situating those processes as external impositions by a globalizing, corporate, western and eurocentric capitalism?
Too often, discussions of climate and environmental justice have bundled standard environmental framings of risk, technology, modernity, and nature together with commitments to social justice while failing to interrogate the underlying environmental claims inherited from a movement born of affluence and privilege, steeped in neo-malthusian catastrophism, and prone to primitivism and romanticism of agrarian poverty. In this year’s Breakthrough Dialogue, we open up that black box and ask how growth, development, technology, and decoupling can advance the cause of social justice.
The 2021 Breakthrough Dialogue, Ecomodern Justice, will be held August 4 – 6 in person and virtually. For more information on how we plan to safely gather in person, please click here.