Protests and Aesthetics
The Fridays for Future movement, led by youthful activists such as Greta Thunberg, has sparked a pressing demand to address climate change and forced this issue into our global consciousness. This has encouraged millions of young people worldwide to demand efforts from states and businesses, holding them responsible for environmental harm and rapid industrialization, demanding reparations and pushing for a quick transition to a sustainable, low-carbon future. Their aim is to create a more just and equitable society and to include the voices of communities that have been historically marginalised, oppressed, and silenced. Much has been debated about whether addressing climate change can create job growth and economic development opportunities, particularly in the renewable energy sector. Commentators are divided on the issue, especially considering the slow takeup of alternatives, such as nuclear.
Critics of climate activists consider their demands misanthropic because they prioritise the needs of the environment over the needs of people. They argue that efforts to address climate change, such as reducing carbon emissions or implementing renewable energy, can negatively impact people's livelihoods and quality of life, particularly in the long term. Critics of climate action argue that it causes long-term harm, which is especially severe in poor countries. Although climate action may not harm poor countries much now, it will have significant negative effects in the future (by 2100). Conversely, in rich countries, the negative effects are felt in the short term, or rather soon. Poor countries will suffer the costs in terms of forgone growth, while rich countries will experience contractions in their already meagre economic growth. Although poor Africans won't feel the loss of something they don't yet have (an increasingly Western lifestyle), we in rich countries will feel the pain resulting from the loss of our former, comparatively luxurious lifestyle. Some environmental policies can lead to job losses or higher consumer costs, which they see as detrimental to human well-being. Perhaps efforts to address climate change should be balanced and centre around people's interests, particularly those of the most vulnerable.
Some groups that have echoed Thunberg's sentiment opt for more disruptive ways to draw attention. Extinction Rebellion is a global environmental movement founded in the United Kingdom in 2018. The first Extinction Rebellion action occurred in October 2018 when a group of activists blocked five bridges in central London, whereupon the movement continued to grow. In April 2019, they organised several protests, bringing London to a standstill for several days. During these protests, thousands of activists occupied significant roads, bridges, and public spaces, calling for urgent action on the climate crisis. Some of their aesthetic expressions have appeared overly dramatic, cultic and slightly apocalyptic. Whether appearing in red gowns with white makeup, staging street blocks, vandalising buildings and interfering with the day-to-day activities of citizens, their carnivalesque and doom-laden presence is unsettling and potentially so for a reason. Still, critics have deemed their demands irresponsible and wild, as with the current energy crisis and the Ukraine war, it appears that leaving fossil fuels would prove madness.
Environmental turn against children
Children become central to this debate, as they are most affected by these antics and apocalyptic language. Not only is it possible to observe in Thunberg an angelic persona, elevated to the image of a child saint of mediaeval times, venerated by the crowds and, by definition, asexual. But is it morally wrong to refrain from having children because of CO2 emissions? Some have decided to completely opt out of parenthood to combat climate change. The term for people who do not want to have children for environmental reasons is "ecological or environmental antinatalists" or "eco-antinatalists." These individuals believe that having children significantly contributes to the ecological crisis, and choosing not to reproduce is a way to reduce their environmental impact; having kids is seen as producing additional polluters of the planet who will emit more CO2. Children in these families may grow up with fewer siblings and observe their parents rejecting procreation at a young age, before they fully understand the implications of the decision. This underscores the idea that personal decisions can have long-term societal impacts, especially when it comes to environmental issues.
The imputation is that the parents made a mistake by becoming parents. The implied assumption is that procreating is a mistake, an act of apocalyptic dimensions. This may incorporate different trends and lifestyle choices, such as veganism. And it is often possible to trace certain New Age elements in some of the overall aesthetics of these sentiments. In smaller cultural circles, some may even refer to themselves as "eco fags," men who forgo the carnal temptations presented by women because it risks the birth of children. So homosexuality is chosen as a lifestyle, perhaps even amounting to an expression of modern puritanism. On a brighter note, as happens with the crowds that turn out for Bernie Sanders or the goings-on within overall leftwing associations, some men on climate protests may still have a chance to pick up women and shape their opinions and talking points to impress them. Similarly, with Bernie Bros or left-wing dirtbags, the guys are trying to pick up the girls.
Some also consider how children's media environment is presented and its possible results. Are children and young people being exposed to overly sexual content? This age-old debate appears to clash with the fact that countries around the globe are undergoing a depopulation phase. So, paradoxically, even if some may suggest that children are oversaturated with images of allusive sex and sexuality early on in education and popular culture, this has not resulted in people having more sex or babies. The shift from sex understood as an adult subject to its celebration as a phenomenon with which children are familiarised may be seen as a green act of grace that discourages adults from having sex, because it sends the message that sex is for sterile children and not for fertile grownups.
The root cause of depopulation lies in the factors contributing to low birth and mortality rates. Europe has undergone a demographic transition from high mortality and high fertility rates to low mortality and low fertility rates. According to Matt Ridley in his book, "The Rational Optimist," falling child mortality is the primary cause of the declining population. When babies are less likely to die, parents have fewer children. Another factor is wealth, as having more income means people can afford more luxuries instead of having more children. Additionally, better sexual education and the availability of contraceptives also play a role.
Economic growth, rising wealth, health standards, and modern medicine contribute to falling birth and mortality rates. Falling birth rates lag behind falling mortality rates, which explains why Europe's population initially increased as it industrialised, but eventually led to low mortality and birth rates. Overall, the current crisis in Europe is due to low birth and mortality rates, which have been caused by factors such as falling child mortality, increased wealth, and improved sexual education and access to contraceptives.
And as Thomas Sowell remarks in Basic Economics (2015)
"Poverty and famine in various parts of the world have been taken as evidence of ‘overpopulation.’ But poverty and famine have been far more common in such thinly populated regions as sub-Saharan Africa than in densely populated Western Europe or Japan, which each have several times as many people per square mile as in sub-Saharan Africa. Travellers in Eastern Europe during the Middle Ages often commented on the large amount of land that was unused in this poorer part of Europe. While today there are densely populated poor countries like Bangladesh, there are also sparsely populated poor countries like Guyana, whose population density is the same as that of Canada, which has several times as large an output per capita and one of the highest standards of living in the world.” (P. 557, Emphasis added.)
"In short, neither high population density nor low population density automatically makes a country rich or poor. What seems to matter more is not the number of people but the productivity of those people, which is dependent on many factors, including their own habits, skills, and experience. To the extent that population density, as in urban communities, can facilitate the development of human capital, people in small isolated societies have tended to lag behind the general progress of others.” Pp. 557-558, Basic economics.
So, a declining population in Europe would not be a problem if productivity were rising. The reason depopulation is a problem for us is because productivity has stalled. So, it is not depopulation that is causing "a decrease in productivity and growth.” It is that decrease in productivity and growth that causes depopulation to become a problem. Even tax revenues could increase despite a declining population if we were undergoing healthy economic growth. All the gravest problems associated with depopulation are not caused by it, for they would all be quite easily overcome with a steady increase in productivity.
The relationship between population density and economic prosperity is not as straightforward as commonly assumed. Despite poverty and famine often being attributed to overpopulation, sub-Saharan Africa has experienced more of these issues than densely populated Western Europe or Japan. Additionally, travellers in Eastern Europe during the Middle Ages reported large amounts of unused land in this poorer region. Ultimately, it is not population density but productivity that drives economic growth.
Population density, such as in urban communities, can facilitate human capital development, whereas people in small isolated societies tend to lag behind the general progress of others. Therefore, a declining population in Europe would not be an issue if productivity were increasing. The stalled productivity causes depopulation to become a problem rather than depopulation, causing a decrease in productivity and growth. Even tax revenues could increase despite a declining population if healthy economic growth existed. Therefore, the concrete problems outlined are not caused by depopulation, and a steady increase in productivity could easily overcome them.
Mary Harrington has written about the broader social and cultural implications of reproductive technologies, which are often associated with transhumanist ideas and aspirations, raising concerns about the impact of these technologies on the family structure, gender roles, and social equality. Specifically when it comes to transhumanism, Harrington argues that birth control has contributed to the decline of the traditional family structure and the rise of individualism and consumerism in modern societies. She contends that birth control has allowed women to separate sexuality from procreation, which has led to a greater emphasis on personal fulfilment and career advancement over traditional family roles.
ORLAN, pseudonym of Suzanne Francette Porte.
French visual artist, b. Born May 30, 1947 in Saint-Étienne,
lives and works between Paris, New York and Los Angeles.
And in the Arts, there has been a questioning of traditional gender norms for a while, but someone who first dared to push the limits is Orlan. Orlan is a French performance artist who gained worldwide attention for her controversial body modifications in the 1990s. She uses her body as a canvas for her art, and her work often challenges traditional notions of beauty, femininity, and gender. She works in various mediums, including sculpture, photography, and video, but is perhaps best known for her performance art, which often involves radical bodily interventions. In many performances, she uses her body as a site of transformation, altering her appearance through plastic surgery, prosthetics, and other techniques. Her work has also sparked meaningful conversations about the politics of the body and the societal pressures placed on women to conform to conventional standards of beauty.
Regarding Orlan's art, a scholar who has extensively covered transhumanism and technology, Paul Virilio, commented on her use of technology in her performance art, particularly in her "The Reincarnation of Saint Orlan" project, where she underwent multiple plastic surgeries to transform her appearance. Virilio saw Orlan's work as an example of how technology has come to dominate and shape the human experience, including the body itself. He argued that Orlan's use of technology in her art reflected a broader trend in contemporary society, where technology has become a primary means of self-expression and self-creation, often at the expense of more traditional human values and experiences. He also argued that Orlan's work highlighted the potential dangers of technology, mainly when it is used to convert the human body in radical ways, and questioned whether such transformations truly represent progress for human society. Many artists have been interested in exploring the possibilities and implications of transhumanism, and their work usually raises essential questions about the relationship between technology and humanity. Another artist that offers a glimpse into transhumanist aesthetics is Stelarc, an Australian performance artist. Stelarc is known for his extreme bodily interventions, which often involve prosthetics and other technologies to expand the limits of human capabilities.
Paul Virilio was a French philosopher, cultural theorist, and urbanist known for his work on the relationship between technology, speed, and social change. According to Virilio, the rise of speed and technology has also significantly impacted how we perceive and experience space and time, blurring boundaries between physical and virtual realities. In his writings on art, Virilio explores how the acceleration of technology and communications has transformed how we experience art and the role of art in contemporary society. The rise of digital technology has also led to a democratisation of art, with a broader range of people accessing artistic tools and platforms.
Virilio argues that this has led to a diversification of artistic practices, with new forms of art emerging that challenge traditional distinctions between different art forms, such as music, visual arts, and literature. This has fundamentally transformed the relationship between the artist, the artwork, and the audience and reflects the accelerating pace of technological change and how digital communication transforms our experience of space, time, and reality. However, Virilio is also critical of how technology is transforming art. He argues that the proliferation of images and the speed with which they are circulated have led to a kind of visual overload that can be disorienting and overwhelming.
Transhumanism is a movement that seeks to use technology to enhance human physical and cognitive capabilities beyond what is currently possible, often to improve the human condition. Paul Virilio saw transhumanism as an extension of the same trend towards the domination of technology over human experience and the objectification of the body that he saw in Orlan's work and in contemporary society more broadly. Virilio argued that transhumanism represented a "technological fundamentalism" focused solely on enhancing human abilities and had little regard for such enhancements' potential dangers and unintended consequences. Combined with a form of "technological determinism" that assumed that all technological progress was inherently positive and that it failed to consider the broader ethical and social implications of such improvement.
In contemporary times, Harrington raises concerns about the impact of reproductive technologies, such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and surrogacy, on the family structure and the social bonds between parents and children. She argues that these technologies can create new forms of inequality and exploitation, as those with the financial means to access them can manipulate and control the reproduction process. Harrington argues that using advanced technologies to enhance human abilities could create a new class of "superhumans" who are more intelligent, robust, or longer-lived than the rest of the population. This could lead to further discrimination and marginalisation based on genetic or technological differences. In addition, Harrington has raised concerns about the impact of transhumanist ideas on gender roles and the concept of human identity. She suggests that pursuing technological enhancement could further blur the boundaries between males and females or between humans and machines. This could have profound implications for social norms and cultural values.
Shilpa Gupta, Speaking Wall
These artists, and many others, use their work to explore the possibilities and implications of transhumanism; their work raises important ethical and philosophical questions about the relationship between technology and humanity. India-born artist Shilpa Gupta is one of them. Gupta's installation "Speaking Wall" consists of a set of microphones that hang from a ceiling in a circular pattern. The microphones are programmed to play the sound of crying babies, but only when people approach them. Gupta's work addresses themes of fertility and overpopulation by juxtaposing the sound of babies with the presence of people, calling attention to the fact that even as the world's population grows, many people still cannot have children. Moreover, Mariele Neudecker: German artist Mariele Neudecker's installation "The Air Itself is One Vast Library" consists of miniature dioramas depicting landscapes transformed by climate change. The dioramas are housed in glass jars filled with a unique gas mixture that simulates the atmospheric conditions of the landscapes depicted. Neudecker's work addresses themes of overpopulation and environmental destruction by highlighting how human activity impacts the natural world.
Gender Medicine and Sterility
Not usually ascribed to climate change activism, issues of sterility and procreation also arise from the transgander issue, The Trans Movement, which effectively sterilises children and adults. Some of the medical interventions that are commonly used to affirm gender identity can have an impact on reproductive function. Gender dysphoria (the distress or discomfort accompanying a mismatch between one's gender identity and assigned sex) should be treated with therapy. In contrast, others believe that gender-affirming medical interventions, such as puberty blockers or hormone therapy can improve the lives of these kids. The long-term effects of medical interventions on children's health and well-being are debatable , but it appears evident that these are irreversible procedures.
For example, hormone therapy is often used to help individuals with gender dysphoria develop physical characteristics that align with their gender identity, affecting fertility. Testosterone therapy, which is commonly used to support transgender men in developing more masculine physical features, can cause a decrease in ovarian function, which can lead to infertility. Similarly, oestrogen therapy, commonly used to help transgender women develop more feminine physical characteristics, can suppress sperm production in transgender women who have not undergone gender-affirming surgery. Gender-affirming surgery, such as mastectomy or genital reconstruction, can also impact fertility. For example, some types of genital reconstruction may involve the removal of reproductive organs, which can cause infertility.
It is important to note that many transgender individuals may wish to have children in the future and that many options are available. For example, individuals who want to preserve their fertility may be able to do so by freezing eggs, sperm, or embryos before undergoing medical interventions. Still, such cases are not that common. Specifically when it comes to children, what is debated here is whether they should be supported in their expressions of a gender identity that differs from their "assigned sex at birth." The adults who encourage this either believe that children should conform to traditional gender roles or they view gender identity as a choice or a mental illness. Increasingly, a process has emerged : so-called de-transitioning, or the decision to cease identifying as transgender and to return to one's assigned gender. This has become a topic of increasing interest and concern in recent years, particularly in connection with young people who have undergone medical interventions such as hormone therapy or gender-affirming surgery. Several individuals experience regret or discomfort with their transition and seek medical treatment to reverse the process. In some cases, young people may have been rushed into a gender transition without fully understanding the long-term consequences. This may appear paradoxically as we have established that there is no turning back.
Media & Sexualization of children
There have been some famous cartoons that have featured transgender characters, such as "Adventure Time," "The Loud House," "Steven Universe," "She-Ra and the Princesses of Power" and "The Owl House." And these depictions were largely innocent and humour-based . Still, some denounce how the LGBT movement embraces certain sadomasochistic and overly provocative aesthetics. Much is being debated over the controversial Drag Queen Story Hour , which started in 2015 by author and activist Michelle Tea, in countries such as the USA and the UK. Arca is an excellent example of an artist bending gender norms and incorporating futuristic and transhumanist themes. The body becomes fully customizable and interchangeable with its hyper-futuristic environment.
Frederik Heyman & Arca, Arca kick iiii Cover Art
This contributes to the growing societal perception, pushed by all sorts of outlets and media, that sex is appropriate in a school or for children to engage in. It breaks down boundaries, not for humour, because it is not humorous. It may appear transgressive to older generations, but it normalises the idea or pretended fact that sex is part of childhood and those who have not yet reached the legal age of maturity - which is something adults like to think and emote about because they can vicariously experience the vigour of burgeoning youths and their sexual prowess, something the adults are no longer capable of. Harrington's work emphasises the importance of maintaining traditional values and social norms in the face of cultural and technological changes that can have negative consequences, such as the sexualization of children. She advocates for a return to a more community-oriented society that prioritises the well-being of children and the broader social good over individualistic pursuits.
Indeed there are critics who denounce a media and mass culture for sexualising children and have posed essential questions.Sherry Turkle, for instance, is a professor of social studies of science and technology at MIT who has written extensively on the impact of technology on human relationships with a focus on the use of social media platforms by children and teenagers through which they sexualize themselves. Moreover, Gail Dines, a sociology and women's studies professor at Wheelock College and a cultural critic, has written prodigiously on the pornification of culture and its impact on young people. She criticises the mainstreaming of sexualized images of children in popular media.
The movement of sexuality to ever younger ages progressively cancels out sex's procreative qualities. It makes sex infertile without the need for castration; it makes sex something childish one may grow out of; it makes sex something familiar to children, taking the forbidden spice out of it; it teaches sexualized children that sex is not productive of offspring, which may make children think twice about having sex once they are old enough to suddenly have to worry about children. Meanwhile, sexless adults can get off, get a vicarious thrill from sexualizing children and watching them have sex with each other - which is where this is presumably going. When kids are sexualized so early, their rebellious nature when they grow into puberty will lead them to reject sex as an act of rebellion. It used to be the case that sex and the subject of sex was forbidden for kids - and they rebelled by embracing sex as they grew older. In future kids will be sexualized so early that their rebellion will consist in rejecting sex in their rebellious phase.
The work of Paul Virilio provides a reminder of the importance of critical reflection and ethical consideration in the face of rapid technological change. He warned that pursuing transhumanist goals could lead to new forms of social inequality, erosion of human values and experiences, and catastrophic technical failures. Rather than blindly following technological enhancements, society should reflect more about the impact of technology on the human experience and our future. Virilio's critical view of transhumanism evinces his broader concern with the role of technology in contemporary society and his belief that we must carefully consider the ethical and social implications of our technological progress. The idea of introducing children to contraceptives at an early age carries the dangerous implication that becoming a parent is a mistake. This perspective portrays kids as a catastrophic event, leading them to internalise a rejection of procreation before they even understand its meaning. While the over-sexualization of children may seem to be a form of liberation, it often has the opposite effect of making young people shy away from sex due to its association with the status quo.
This new sexual revolution primarily occurs online, leading to fewer physical encounters and a rise in de-transitioners. By the media’s portrayal of children as sexual objects, society brushes off the deleterious effects of this trend and excuses it as art or comedy. In addition, the sexualization of children can cancel out the procreative qualities of sex, leading young people to view it as something familiar and childish that they may grow out of. This, in turn, may make them think twice about having children due to environmental concerns, as their adult responsibility comes to centre around safeguarding the world’s climate, abandoning the production of the next generation. The sexualization of children can be argued to negate sex's procreative purpose, rendering it sterile without the need for castration. It can also encourage children to view sex as something childlike and familiar, removing its taboo and potentially causing them to question whether sex is worth the risk of having children later in life. This attitude is also related to environmental concerns, as having children is seen by some as contributing to overpopulation and pollution.