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How To Break Out of a Simulation
'Talking about it is simply not enough'
Last week, I interviewed Nafeez Ahmed about the interconnected grid: the possibility of building out renewable infrastructure which would allow for a massive reduction in battery storage size (the materials for which are rare and could not meet capacity for a fully renewable system), and facilitate a geopolitical situation in which countries would collaborate and share energy across borders in order to meet energy demands when the intermissions of energy production is reduced due to low solar, low wind etc. In short: When Germany is low on wind, and Greece is overproducing solar, the extra energy produced by Greece would be sent to Germany.
The geopolitics of a global interconnected grid are fantastic. Everyone becomes a collaborator in an energy system which thus mitigates conflict, war and competition. The benefits of this are obvious, so I want to explore the—bear with me—metaphysics of this according to Baudrillard’s philosophy in Simulacra and Simulation.
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Baudrillard’s text on Simulacra and Simulation identifies that the world we live in is not real. The world is, in fact, a simulation produced by simulacra. This means that “reality” does not exist as we understand it—we currently exist in a hyperreal world which is produced by, to paraphrase, our understanding of it, an understanding which does not meet biophysical reality. The example he uses in the opening pages of his book is:
“The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory—the precession of simulacra—that engenders the territory, and if one must return to the fable, today it is the territor whose shreds slowly rot across the extent of the map.”
In English, this means the biophysical reality of territory is superseded by what we create: the map. The map creates our reality of nations. This is not real in biophysical terms (or even cultural terms regarding how the Empire cut up the Middle East into “nations” which did not reflect the cultural tribal history), but it creates a hyperreal. As long as we are engaging with the hyperreal as the real, we will never be able to exit it.
The map is a simulacra. The simulacra, then, precedes and creates the simulation—in this case, nations.
So how do we exit the hyperreal? What can we create which reveals the real of biophysical reality? And allows us to engage with it? This may seems like intellectual nonsense, but when we see the reality of ecological breakdown ignored by a system which continues to invest in business as usual, the very simulation which is causing breakdown, it becomes a very real question.
The interconnected grid could be a de-simulacra in as much as biophysical infrastructure, which precedes but also reveals reality (that all beings are interconnected), breaks down the simulation. This de-simulacra provides an exit which the hyperreal will not allow. There is something poetic, and necessary, about the de-simulacra being real infrastructure which allows for the generation of a new system, and this new system reflects that which has always been real: we are all interdependent.
The reality of our biophysical nature, its interdependence, has been subsumed by ideology, which is not real. Revealing it is not simple when caught within a simulation and a hyperreal world. Talking about it is simply not enough. We need to create biophysical reflections of that reality in order to create the systems which reveal and then proliferate that reality. We need to create a real that is invested in the real, not in the simulacra which affords an ideological restructuring of the real to benefit power. If the simulacra creates the simulation, the hyperreal, then we need to de-simulate using de-simulacra to reveal the real.
The interconnected grid is one example of using de-simulacra to de-simulate. It is a biophysical reality which reflects the reality of nature, and then precedes the politics of the reality of nature: a collaborative, interdependent, interconnected world in which humankind share resources with themselves and the more-than-human world, and take up the mantle of stewardship.
We cannot survive without biodiversity, without water, without weather systems. We cannot survive without ecosystems. We cannot survive without a well-functioning planet. This is reality. This is biophysical reality. These are the real constraints. We can survive without financial systems, without economic ideologies, without political historicity. This is the hyperreal which is degrading the real, having taken precedence over it.
Exiting demands building real infrastructure which re-embeds us in our reality: We need a healthful world to be a healthful people. A healthful people shares, collaborates and takes care. A healthful world does not see its planetary limits exploited under the guise of simulated systems.
© Rachel Donald
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