What happens when their wastelands are taken out of our proleptic ruins


Proleptic ruins treat future events as if they doomed us to our own ruin. “Proleptic” differs from “predicted” or “forecasted” in that the exact ruination has not been foretold nor has the range of possible devastation been hazarded. “Anticipated” is a close synonym, but I want to avoid the assumption that “anticipation” brings with it, namely: One can prepare for ruin, say, in ways other than flight.

Examples of proleptic ruins are common. People move out of floodplains and earthquake zones without having to experience either disaster. Since we already know of cases where people have had to move because of rising sea levels, it takes no imagination to think many more coastal residents are going to do the same.

Proleptic ruins have of course been around for a very long time. We don’t need the climate emergency to remind us of the blasted heath, i.e., that piece of land damaged or destroyed by extreme cold, heat, wind or such. More, wastelands–as barren, empty or unusable as you get–have existed since time immemorial as benchmarks to compare against.


But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Those wastelands to compare against were never ruins as such. All manner of human and more-than-human activity was underway.

Which raises the question: Take wastelands out of proleptic ruins and what are you left with?


That question turns acute, when one recognizes that “wastelands” in the popular imagination are more than geographical. TV was famously called a wasteland, and neoliberalism has laid waste not just to conventional TV but everything else considered media. “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers” etc. etc.

But to counter with the obvious, “When hasn’t it been thus?,” misses or dismisses all local and unique successes. Worse, this retort aligns itself with those who say, well, if it weren’t neoliberalism, wider forces are wasting us away, including racism, sexism, militarism, imperialism, nationalism, populism, consumerism, extractivism, productivism, along with financialization, urbanization, monetization, commodification, globalization, etc. etc. etc.


So, to cut the infinite regress short: What are we left with when taking out all such wastelands from our proleptic ruins?

Well, one thing left are the really-existing households and herds in the arid and semi-arid lands of the world that have been and continue to be called wastelands but which were never any such thing.

“Nothing there that could be or needs to be there”: When in fact the reality for those who are still there–pastoralists, farmers, others–has been the obverse: For them (and so many others on this planet), nothing is everything that doesn’t happen at this very moment and in the next steps ahead.

Try to make a government policy for that.

For a different but overlapping perspective, see: Paprocki, K. (2022): Anticipatory ruination. The Journal of Peasant Studies (accessed online at https://doi.org/10.1080/03066150.2022.2113068)

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