Ecological Philosopher Timothy Morton on Saving the World, Sour Patch Kids, and Versace Shirts

By
Illustrations by Joana Avillez

Published March 14, 2019

Among his circle of academic rock stars in the Object-Oriented Ontology movement, the philosopher Timothy Morton describes himself as the George Harrison of the group, a freewheeling wanderer with an appetite for hallucinogens. In his books such as Ecology without Nature (2007) and Humankind (2017), the 50-year-old British expat has set out to change the way we consider ecological catastrophes by helping us shed our civilization-centered world view. Morton instead encourages us to think of crises such as global warming as “hyperobjects,” entities that stretch so far into time and space that they cannot be discussed on a human scale. The term was inspired by a 1996 song called “Hyperballad” by Morton’s friend Björk, with whom the philosopher has a longstanding e-mail correspondence that verges into telepathy. What follows are his gut reactions to nine semi-random topics.

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AL GORE

“You mean the man who flies on planes too much? I go through this a lot, because I’ve done 36 lectures this year, which involves a lot of air travel. The way I rationalize it is that the amount of carbon that you are responsible for by being on a plane is nothing compared to the merit of persuading even a few people to be more passionate about caring for non-human beings. No ecological politics are perfect—being good to bunny rabbits can often mean being bad to bunny rabbit predators. I would rather be a hypocrite than a cynic.”

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BJÖRK

“I know she would blush, but on a number of levels her arrival into my life transmogrified my life into something great. We got to a point during our correspondence when we achieved a sort of telepathy. She knew where I was, I knew where she was, and we began to be inside each other’s minds. My friend Arca said to me once that Björk is a wounded healer, and it’s absolutely true. She is the best person at giving emotional advice, because she doesn’t say things like, ‘Don’t worry, it’s going to be okay.’ She says things like, ‘First, you’re going to feel this. Then this will happen. And then you’re going to face this obstacle.’ She can express, through every single detail, how you will get through horrible things in your life. As someone who has been through horrible things, I value that.”

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BREXIT

“In the 1970s, we had this breakfast cereal in England called Ready Brek. Aside from the fact that Brexit reminds me of the name of this great cereal, I can’t think of anything nice to say about it.”

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MAGIC MUSHROOMS

“Magic mushrooms make me very keen on having nice life insurance, looking after myself, and looking after other people. A friend of mine invented a mushroom suit made of paper that contains mycelium, which you can train to eat little bits of your skin and hair. Then, when you die, you can be placed inside of it and the mushrooms will digest you, including all of your mercury, in two days. As far as I’m concerned, turning into a box of mushrooms is a very polite way to die.”

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STORMY DANIELS

“I think that the poet William Blake got it right in his narrative of heaven and hell when he said that the future will come through an increase in sensual enjoyment. I’m one of those people who thinks that the problem with our world right now—consumer capitalism or neo-liberalism or whatever—is not that there’s too much pleasure, as many say, but that there’s not enough. I’m into anyone who is interested in fermenting and finessing modes of pleasure into the public. That’s my only thought about Stormy Daniels.”

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SOUR PATCH KIDS

“I remember the first time I had Sour Patch Kids in a cinema, in the 1990s, and thinking about the experience of eating these mouthwatering people. They might be my favorite snack food because of this. Sour Patch Kids acknowledge the implicit sadism of actually killing something. And from a psychoanalytic point of view, feeling murderous is much better than feeling suicidal. But when push comes to shove, what could be better than biting the head off a Sour Patch Kid instead of actually murdering someone?”

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ACCELERATIONISM

“I think that accelerationism is about rubbernecking and watching the world collapse from the vantage point of a 20something-year-old boy. Accelerationists are so hopeful about automation, but an automated thing is going to have the thought processes of humans coded into it—you’re going to have patriarchy coded in there, racism has to be there, class division, all of those things. When I think about utopia, for me it’s much more about jamming on the emergency brake than accelerating. Our old pal Walter Benjamin once said it as well: socialism is not about rushing toward the future.”

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STAR WARS

“I have my suspicions that Star Wars is a serious version of The Muppet Show, and that the way the Star Wars universe will resolve itself is that they will all realize that they are in fact muppets. In general, I think that muppets are the future of us. They are genuine post–human beings, and should not be confused with puppets, because they are their own people. Muppets are made of felt, which is called that because it is a thing you feel. Also, if you put the word ‘muppet’ in front of anything, it becomes nice. Muppet Brexit. Muppet Ledge. Muppet Suicide.”

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VERSACE

“I have indeed lectured in a Versace shirt. As someone who grew up on bare floorboards with my mom spending $15 per week on food for three kids, I must say that it’s nice to have money. This thought makes me evil according to my peer group of left wing-y scholars, but if the world is going to end, you might as well be wearing an amazing shirt.”