Plasticity, Recycling and Procrastination: The Dialectic between Resistance and Change1
Climate change is arguably the biggest environmental problem society faces at the moment and it is exacerbated by greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere. Whilst there is a major focus on carbon dioxide, landfills are a major source of another greenhouse gas, methane, which is even more deadly. Methane molecules absorb 30 times as much heat as carbon dioxide molecules but last only about a tenth as long, thereby releasing the heat into the atmosphere. 2
In other words, one methane molecule is arguably equivalent to about 300 carbon dioxide molecules. In addition, leachate from landfills contaminate the water table. As a result of the aforementioned environmental pressures to reduce methane, the UK government is under a legal obligation from the European Union (EU) to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill and increase the amount of waste recycled to 50% by 2020.3
Failure to meet any of the targets means the government would have to pay a fine, which can be passed onto any local authorities that contributed to the failure. Recycling is seen as a means to reduce the amount of waste that is disposed of in landfill sites. As a result, local authorities are incentivised to increase the amount of waste recycled through the Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme and are looking at various methods to encourage their residents to recycle more, such as incentives and de facto compulsion through fines. It is clear from local authority statistics that these methods do work with regards to increasing recycling4
and UK government data does indicate that it is on course to meet its EU targets. 5
However, government data also reveals that recycling has slowly increased over the last 20 years since the early 1990s, long before incentivisation and de facto compulsion were introduced. If anything, the more recent policies only speeded up the recycling rate.. The question is, given that recycling rates were increasing, whether incentivisation and de facto compulsion were the only or most effective instruments for speeding up the process and, if so, whether there were any other implications besides protection of the environment.
This article will offer a post-humanist critique of recent household recycling policies that focus on changing habits instead of the mind, through an exploration of Hegel's dialectic and concept of plasticity, as developed by French philosopher Catherine Malabou. It will first explain the concept of plasticity and how Malabou's uses neuroscientific research to develop the plastic brain as a metaphor for the connections between people in the world. The way neural pathways are laid down, strengthened and weakened demonstrates how bonds between people are like habits that are difficult to but can be changed. What plasticity captures is our propensity to procrastinate, both individually and socially. I argue that the plastic brain represents the connections between all entities, not just people, in other words, between human beings and the environment. It is suggested that UK policies will only succeed in diverting waste from landfill by means of retraining our habitual behaviour away from throwing unwanted waster away and towards recycling. The article then considers how the work of Hegel and Malabou can be used to demonstrate that recycling is a matter of maintaining the connectivity of the whole plastic brain, whilst waste disposal disrupts this connectivity, like Alzheimers or some other degenerative condition, through being forgotten 6
. Furthermore, because the environment is incorporated in the plastic brain through a post-humanist approach, it can be argued that discarding waste can also be taken as a metaphor for marginalising people in wasted lives, because they are no longer needed or don't meet requirements anymore. The plasticity of the dialectic shows that resistance or procrastination is an essential or natural element of recycling, which is therefore naturally going to take time.
What is Plasticity?
There are now seven billion people on the planet 7
and each of us are connected to at least one other person if not more. Etymologically, from the Latin, these connections are a 'binding together'.8
Hegel calls this relationship dialectical, made up of dialects or different voices. This group of dialects, 'the several elements of the universal'9
is used to talk about or refer to the whole relational universe. That is, the dialectic between persons is reflected in the underlying dialectic of the whole universe. But it is more than a melee of voices in a global marketplace. Each dialect has its own self-consciousness that exists in and for itself in that it exists for another self-consciousness, that is 'it is only by being acknowledged or recognised'.10
On the one hand, each dialect is distinctive from the others but, at the same time, it can only be understood in the context of the others. This is what Hegel calls the process of Recognition.11
Recycling can be viewed as important because we recognise the environment as something worth protecting and other people as worth protecting from environmental pollution. Indeed, one could argue that if we don't recognise the environment or other people as worth protecting, the negative impact on them actually has a negative impact on us too, which could be seen as a lack of recognition. Furthermore, Hegelian recognition could be seen as an act of recycling in itself; the resultant bond maintains the distinctiveness of the two entities.
Therefore, the essence of the Hegelian dialectic is contradiction, that is the capacity to hold different dialects or voices together in a universal, that is the interests or expressions of the environment and different groups of human beings, without any dialect losing its particularity. This essential element is what Hegel describes as plasticity, a concept that is developed further by French philosopher Catherine Malabou. When we think of plasticity, what comes to mind is something that can be moulded into a particular shape, like packaging and, at the same time, something that does not lose its shape and ends up for perpetuity on a landfill without degrading. This is pretty close to what Hegel meant. He borrowed the concept from the art world, in particular sculpture - a piece of marble is plastic because it can be shaped into a something determinate like a statue out of something indeterminate but then, having been shaped, does not lose that shape. But, it is not just the marble that is plastic or the statue, but the sculptor as well. As he shapes the marble, he too is shaped or influenced in some way by his creation. Hegel also talks about the plastic child, who is shaped by the parent whilst maintaining a certain form. The parent is also shaped through his or her relationship with the child. So, as Malabou says, the plasticity of the dialectic is characterised by its susceptibility to change and its capacity of resist.12
Each dialect seeks to preserve form whilst, at the same time, being shaped by others and shaping others. As a result, the dialectic allows the two people to shape and be shaped by each other, like parent and child. The actions of society have an effect on the environment, as can be seen with rotting waste on a landfill, but society develops within the limits of the environment. At the same time, Society's effect on the environment leads to an environmental effect on society. The plasticity of the dialectic between the environment and society is manifest in the phenomenon of climate change.
But the capacity to resist also points to another quality of plasticity - it potential to explode, as in the more modern example of a plastic explosive. 13
The explosion is the moment where susceptibility to change cancels out or negates the capacity to resist, resulting in some sort of action. Perhaps it was the cause of the original explosion, the Big Bang, which led to the creation of the universe. Or perhaps the explosion is the arousal of consciousness out of something not conscious or the arousal of self-hood. Or perhaps the explosion is the cause of love, which Hegel calls 'the most tremendous contradiction that is incapable of being solved by understanding',14
but ultimately leads to people being bound together, first as friends, then a marriage, a family, a community, a country and a global society. Perhaps the contradiction about love is that is feels so purposeful yet requires a will-to-power, which Nietzsche describes as purposeless progression.15
If love or care for the environment or others is the act of recognition or recycling that strengthens the bond and the outcome of the act, that act of recognition begins with the explosive moment when we decide that we don't want to keep doing what we were doing. Contrary to the popular use of the world, it is not products, packaging or inanimate objects that are recycled but the relationship between human beings and the environment. Perhaps talking about recycling inanimate objects is an inevitable symptom or consequence of living in a material world, where our relationship to the material is strengthened. Rather than seeing recycling as an outcome, we should see it as a relationship between two entities, much like Hegel's recognition. In that respect, not recycling could be considered a breakdown in the relationship.
So far I have referred to the recycling of the relationship between society and the environment, but these terms, 'society' and 'environment' are labels too. Citing research in neuroscience, Malabou likens the connected society or world to a plastic brain. Contrary to the traditional idea of a brain as a central, controlling authority, neuroscience shows the brain to be acentred, in that there are lots of disparate centres. To get from one synapse to another, nervous information, the dialectic, has to cross a void between synapses, like Thelma and Louise driving off the cliff at the end of the film. The act of recognition between neurons is the explosive jump across the void - it is most difficult and appears arbitrary and inexplicable the first time but it gets easier the more often that the gap is traversed. Recycling the relationship between human beings and the environment becomes easier the more we do it. Instead of one central committee, there are 'multiple, fragmentary organisations, an ensemble of micropowers'. 16
We are used to thinking in terms of a society of humans surrounded by the environment. The etymology of the word 'environment', from the French words 'en' (in) and 'virer' (to turn), simply refers to something that turns around a pivot. 17
The suffix '-ment' is the usual way of transforming a French verb into an adverb. So, the word 'environment' implies something that is only an accompaniment to the main part, which it turns around or surrounds. It is not that each 'ensemble of micro-powers' is a society or an environment but societies surrounded by or within environments. Looking at the bigger picture of a systemic brain, one could argue that the environment is inherent within society or society is inherent within the environment. So we are no longer talking about society and environment but organisations of neurons. Each organisation is made up of smaller units, down to individual neurons. A society or an environment are convenient ways of describing collections of particular types of neurons, linguistic terms for a network of neurons, called human beings, animals, plants, etc, appropriately called population or an assembly in the neuroscientific discourse. 18
Each neuron therefore is the centre of a network of neurons. Each human being has his or her own environment and each group has its own environment and what holds them together and keeps them communicating is the dialectical act of recognition or recycling. Deleuze and Gautteri described this as the 'human essence of nature and natural essence of man' becoming 'one within nature in the form of production of industry', which is 'the various elements that repeat themselves in nature and humanity in the form of processes and products'.19
Where neurons communicate with each other, the bond is recycled and the dialectic or process of recognition is reflected through the universal whole.
The Plasticity of Recycling
The Hegelian dialectic between society and the environment is the relationship of dialects or voices that bind individuals and network of individuals together, represented in the plastic brain as networks of networks of neurons. It is recycled or strengthened through the transmission of neural information from neuron to neuron. But neural information is a physiological way of representing the methods of communication, the way that one neuron recognises another. In other words, the dialectic of recognition or recycling can be expressed by various methods or dialects of communication, one of them being law. The linguistic or expressive nature of recognition can be seen in the key documents of international environmental law, in names such as the 1972 Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment and the 1992 Rio Declaration on the Environment and Development. (One could also refer to documents contemporary to Hegel such as the American Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of the Rights of Man.) They were the result of Earth Summits, where the international community gathered together to discuss and express, i.e. declare, how it felt about and should be treating the environment. Undoubtedly, the forthcoming Earth Summit in 2012 (Rio + 20) will be another opportunity for the world to 'declare' its feelings. Given the conflation between society and the environment in the plastic brain, environmental law is the logical way of expressing the bond of recognition or recycling between human beings and the environment. Law describes a relationship between neurons and networks of neurons as a form of obligation. All law is environmental law. The dialectic is represented by love because we are obliged to the other no matter what. This duty is not something that comes naturally 20
but requires a conscious decision or will-to-power. Of course, obligation implies a sense of submission. The question is to what extent is recycling an obligation.
Law as a method of communication or dialect of the dialectic describes the historical diffusion of power or obligation across the network of neurons, in the form of information across the neuronal network. In the case of UK policy towards household waste collection and recycling, this can be seen in the way that the law gives authority to organisations. This is exactly how the brain works. Whilst the prefrontal cortex has responsibility for overall direction, it is not responsible for doing everything. This starts with the central authority, in the form of central government and Parliament, passing legislation. The Control of Pollution Act 1974 established Waste Disposal Authorities (WDAs) - local authorities that operated and regulated waste disposal sites. Later, under section 30 of the Environment Protection Act 1990, local authorities were set up as both Waste Regulation Authorities and WDAs but were required to keep the disposal and regulation of waste disposal functions separate, like a Chinese wall. WDAs also had to outsource the operational waste disposal functions to private companies or transfer them to arms length companies set up by the local authorities and known as Local Authority Waste Disposal Companies. In other words, the authority for waste management was spread out amongst what were in essence three organisations. WRA regulation responsibilities were transferred to the Environment Agency under section 2 of the Environment Act 1995. Local authorities are legally obliged to provide some form of household waste and recycling collection service. 21
This is done through Waste Collection Authorities and private waste collection companies that carried out waste collection. 22
Landfill site operators are liable to be taxed for disposing of waste at landfills, the cost of which can be passed onto local authorities. 23
Councils also have a limit on how much waste they can dispose of at landfill but they are able to purchase extra (or sell excess) landfill allowances under a landfill allowance trading scheme. 24
The UK government is also under an obligation to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill and increase recycling and can pass any fines for failure to meet targets onto local authorities.25
Consequently, the law on waste collection, recycling and disposal in the UK sets up a series of relationships between local authorities, public and private waste collection agencies, landfill site operators, the UK government and countries on an international level. The relationships are framed within the context that recycling is a 'good' and landfill a problematic that should be reduced over time with recycling seen as the key to doing this. It is important to emphasise that recycling is not just a manifestation of the relationship, it is also the relationship itself and that it is an obligation for the state (central and local government) through law.
If law is one manifestation of the dialectical relationship - the obligation implied with love - then individuals have not been subject to that obligation. Those individuals who did recycle were engaging in the relationship with the various authorities and in their relationship to the environment because it felt the right thing to do, although maybe the obligation was created in a different way through marketing messages, non-government campaigns and the media. Periodical research from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs over the last 20 years suggests that recycling rates have been gradually increasing.26
However, in 2009, some local authorities such as the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead have offered reward points based on how much a household recycled, which could then be redeemed at local businesses. Rewards are funded under any savings made from not paying landfill tax. The reward scheme is operated by a private specialist company such as Recyclebank or Nectar. Other local authorities, such as London Borough of Brent, have chosen to make recycling compulsory by issuing fines under existing general legislation.27
It appears that there was already a relationship of recycling without the law making it an obligation (compulsion) or at least increasing the sense of obligation. But the question is how this relationship was changed by the offer of a benefit. Of course, there is a still a dialectic. But is it still love when there is a condition of payment attached for the satisfaction of needs, does it become something seedier?
By seeing law as a reflecting the relationship across the waste management networks, it perhaps means that products or packaging can be seen as things that we do not have a relationship with. On the contrary, products are like a third Other in the dialectical relationship; it is that by which the relationship is strengthened, like a bunch of flowers. When the household is seen as the means for the local authority to obtain waste products, the relationship becomes a master/slave dialectic; the slave produces that which it alone can produce but which the Master requires. The only way to rebalance the relationship between the master and the slave is to remove the third Other or pay the slave a (fair) wage through a contractual relationship (more law) such as market mechanism. 28
So, as the third Other, products and waste are in the environment of the master and slave neurons; they are arguably types of neurons. Waste is still a part of the plastic brain and has an effect. By purchasing and consuming, neural information bursts across the synaptic gap between the household and the product. By throwing it away, the neuronal connection between the household and the waste product weakens. Instead, a new connection is created between the waste product and whoever collects the waste. And so, we see neuronal connections being created, strengthened, weakened and destroyed according to how often communication between particular neurons take place. The more we throw away waste into landfills or similar, the stronger that neural path becomes and the more effective it performs.
Citing Marc Jeannerod (Le cerveau intime, 63), Malabou argues:
If a synapse belongs to a circuit in frequent use, it tends to grow in volume, its permeability increases and its efficiency increases. Inversely, a little-used synapse tends to become less efficacious. The theory of synaptic efficacy thus allows us to explain the gradual molding of a brain under the influence of individual experience, to the point of making it possible for us, in principle, to account for individual characteristics and particularities of each brain. We are dealing with a mechanism of individuation that makes each brain a unique object despite its adherence to a common model.29
So of course, the greatest challenge is communicating with new neurons. But once that change is made, it becomes a little easier each time. In a sense, moving from the landfilling to the recycling of waste is like changing habits, which are 'neither consciousness nor deliberate but automatic, and responds to contextual cues rather than explicit instructions'.30
Changing habits is a response to the environmental factor and thus the role of the dialectic between neurons. It is the explosion that happens when susceptibility to change sublates capacity to resist. But what leads to the explosion or sublation may as well be a mystery. Malabou said that habit is automatic from the beginning; it starts off with something accidental, what could be a one-off or occasional, random act but, through repetition, becomes learned. 'What in the beginning was merely an accidental fact is changed through continual repetition of the same gestures, through practice, achieving the integrity of a form.' 31
Hegel calls habits 'second nature'32
because they have to be learnt and replace pre-existing behaviour. They therefore only appear to be fixed, but can be changed. They give us something firm to hold onto as we face that unknowable future, but can be replaced as our needs and goals change. This gradual change of habit starts with an accident, a sudden explosion or Big Bang. What I mean by accident is a reference to the notion that no-one really knows what tips the scale from resistance to susceptibility to change. An individual could be subjected to a message for sometime before eventually taking action and what makes someone take action at a given moment is unclear. It does not mean that it cannot be a conscious decision. That's why it appears to be random or accidental. In a sense, it is akin to procrastination. The individual or household or organisation knows what it has to do, that what is right to do, but for whatever reason it puts off that decision to change behaviour until there is sufficient internal momentum or explosion for a little change, often at the last minute. Ultimately, what is being put off is the development of the relationship with the environment. Of course, as every procrastinator knows, the fact of an explosion implies that that the change is not easy; if it were, there wouldn't be any need for an explosion.
The Flexibility of Disposal
If waste is therefore a third Other, then landfilling is essentially an act of separation. Since recycling is the relationship between neurons, then disposal in landfills is the breakdown of that relationship, not just with waste but with the environment as waste becomes a part of the environment. In the humanist view, a landfill is seen as the end of the line. But in the post-humanist view of Malabou's plastic brain, the landfill is a network of neurons where the capacity to receive and pass on information is vastly diminished. For all intents and purposes, they are anti-networks or not-networks; in reality, for reasons to be explained later, they are still networks. The whole point of the landfill network is that neurons are retired when they are no longer needed. All the municipal landfills, unofficial rubbish dumps, areas of flytipping and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch are landfill networks. The connections to the landfill remain strong but the connections away from it are weak to non-existent. So in the decentering of the brain, the diminishing of neural connections indicates a perpetuation of domination in the wider network. If neural information represents the transmission of power via a relationship, then the strongest connections between neurons develop from repeated use. The least-used neuronal connections are those that will be the weakest. In this sense, waste disposal (or other forms of pollution) is akin to psychic suffering such as depression, where that is a 'diminution of neuronal connections'.33
The neurons are cut off from their agency and disenfranchised. It is perhaps closer to an Alzheimer's patient, presented as 'errant, without memory, asocial, without recourse'.34
There is a 'thing of connections' in the brain, the accumulation of fibrils inside neurons and presence of senility plaques, which contribute to rigidification and loss of initiative. 35
Waste disposed of in landfill can be compared to these plaques, the rigidity of the network in this area of the brain, the waste disposal system. However, the connection of neurons as both givers and receivers of form is the recycling relationship; instead of neurons being retired they are retried and relate to each other.. Throwing away is akin to flexibility in the network of neurons because it means that that energy does not need to going into recycling the continued relationship with the waste. Recycling the relationship between society and its waste is more difficult, just like maintaining recycling the relationship between society and its environment, which contains the landfill waste.
The plasticity of the neuronal bond incorporates both a resistance and a desire to change, because procrastination is a part of our evolutionary make-up; it 'took a hundred million years to form and is now almost etched into our being', like a habit or second nature.36
At the same time, throwing away indicates that something is no longer any use. On the one hand, it shows that we can change our habits when we need to. On the other hand, the problem is that landfilling itself is like a habit. It is a reflection of a short-termist agenda to think that change is easy; we are either encouraged or cajoled into changing our habits in a short period of time and if we cannot or will not co-operate with that timescale, then we are marginalised and left by the wayside. A neuron is seen as flexible, with all the motivation to change without any of the propensity to resist or procrastinate. Flexibility means 'easily bent', 'being able to change in order to adapt to one's circumstances'.37
There is a sense of submission, docility, subjection, etc. By simply being flexible, human beings are unaware that they (or any other entity) are also giving form to the systemic brain.38
While the neuroscientific research indicates a plastic brain where all neurons, or at least networks of neurons, are equally important, this plasticity-lite flexibility implies some neurons are more equal than others. That is, there is a group of neurons which dominates the rest, like say the prefrontal cortex, which is the traditional, historical way that the brain has been pictured. This domination can be seen in the manifestation of the master/slave dialectic, where the slave is the means for the master to acquire the third Other, as opposed to the third Other being the means to cement a dialectic of full recognition. Recycling is full recognition in a plastic world, so if a government is trying to encourage recycling, that must be a good thing. The problem is that the relational act of recycling in the UK, with its emphasis on targets and comparisons with other countries, has itself been corrupted by the master/slave dialectic.
I would argue that recycling in the UK has been accepted as a good thing to do. Periodical research from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs over the last 20 years suggests that recycling rates have been gradually increasing39
, even though the UK is still behind other European countries such as France and Germany40
. It is true that we are under a European Union obligation 41
to meet certain targets and we appear to be on course now. But, in 2006, the National Audit Office concluded that local authorities would not increase recycling rates sufficiently for the UK to meet its obligations. 42
On the figures alone and on the surface, it is arguable that policies put in place since that report, such the Landfill Trading Allowance Scheme, incentivisation and the use of fines to penalise non-recyclers have had a positive effect. But research from a number of environmental and media organisations, including the Waste Resources Action Programme and Channel 4, suggests that the problem with low recycling rates is not our resistance to recycling but systemic barriers that make it difficult to recycle. I think the government's own research suggests that we do have a desire to recycle and a capacity to recycle something 43
, as indicated by the the work of Malabou on plasticity. We accept that climate change is a reality and landfill emissions are a contributing factor, not too mention the other local and environmental concerns around rubbish. But, given the plasticity and recyclability of the neuronal network, the question is why we need to go as fast as the law - represented by targets, market mechanisms, fines and government pronouncements - says we should.44
I would argue that the perceived need for speed for increasing recycling rates that is implicit in the targets distorts the dialectic into one between master and slave, which exacerbates the propensity to procrastinate.
If we were to take the master/slave dialectic as the natural order, with slave producers and master consumers, I would argue that 'production of industry'45
is an apt metaphor for the production and waste management system. All individual neurons, or networks of neurons such as the household, are essentially workers for a corporation. They receive work and pass it on and have a propensity to procrastinate with regard to their tasks. The needs of each individual neuron are met by the network, but each neuron is also a part of the network of another neuron, so there is a pervasive demand to be responsive. Flexible workers are, therefore, in neo-management speak, 'employable', because they are able to instantly adapt the 'productive apparatus of labour to the evolution of demand'.46
But the demand for flexibility means that there is a distinction between what Hegel would call independent Master neurons and dependent Slaves, a consciousness which is not purely for itself but for another.47
The government and local authorities gets their recognition from the law through the achievement of targets, which depend on the work of the individuals to separate recyclables from non-recyclables. However, it is arguable that the individual does not get equal recognition from the state unless a reward is given for recycling, like a wage to the slave.48
But whatever the neuronal network requires of them, they are expected to be able to do. If they cannot or will not, for whatever reason, they are cut off or alienated from the network through punishment, lecturing or shame. This perpetuates the propensity to procrastinate so, in a sense, it is not just the waste that is disposed of or, landfilled or marginalised but also the individual. But, as mentioned before, landfills are not completely cut off the rest of the network even though it appears to be. Though there is no conscious relationship like law, these parts of the brain seem to regress to a proto-self-consciousness. There is some kind of unconscious interaction with other neurons, demonstrated by the slow transfer of pollutants, from leachate into the ground and water supply to greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Alzheimer's is a degenerative disease, not just of the neuron but ultimately of the whole brain and body - the brain and body functions gradually start to go and it culminates in death. Increasing recycling rates is not only a matter of protecting the natural environment but also the network environment. As a natural, underlying law or dialectic, the relationship between the disposed of and the disposer are inextricably linked and the degradation of the former leads in turn to the degradation of the latter. The problem is that recycling policy reflects a perceived or desired flexibility rather than the real plasticity of relationships; it comes from the position that people can be dominated through law so as to get them to adapt their behaviour to recycle instead of throwing away rather than that their habitual behaviour can be changed so that recycling becomes the new habit.
The Resistance of Recycling
The connection between the marginalised and the centre and the plasticity of the dialectic indicates that it is possible to refuse to be a flexible individual,. Resistence is a means to reject domination by the state through its use of law. It could be argued that, thus, we should accept explosions -a conscious decision to resist as opposed to a conscious decision to change - from time to time because not all of them are terrorist, even if all may be viewed as a means to repel domination (and possibly also to seek to dominate). 49
After all, the essence of the dialectic is the capacity to hold contradictory entities in synthesis. In his reading of Hegel's The Philosophy of Right, Douzinas points out that illegitimate behaviour, such as not recycling, is a cry for help from someone outside the law to be brought within the law. 'The essence of crime is the criminal's demand to be recognised and to be respected as a concrete and unique individual against the uniform coercion of the legal system.' 50
In other words, the law would recognise the individual contexts of each individual and not try and force them into a single abstract mould. Introducing fines or incentives is going to have an effect on recycling rates but it will not necessarily deal with the existing alienation that means that people have chosen not to recycle thus far. If anything, it could make things worse. In this sense, there is a blurred or no line between waste in terms of rubbish and waste in terms of marginalised people. Malabou argues that we ought to relearn or remember how to make ourselves angry against a culture of docility, amenity and effacement of conflict and that we should visualise 'the possibility of saying no to an afflicting economic, political and mediatic culture that celebrates only the triumph of flexibility, blessing obedient individuals who have no greater merit than that of knowing how to bow their heads with a smile'.51
When we suppress the contradiction of resistance, we deny the other the ability to communicate its contradiction. Failure to recognise the other is a failure to love the other, who has been pushed into the environment as a result. If the law does not accept that, actually, people will struggle with recycling through no fault of their own, it will simply marginalise them.
But what does it mean to resist? I do not agree entirely with Malabou's argument that resistance is about opposing the pressure or urge to give up a habit and learn a new one. That is true of course, but I would argue that resistance is not solely about saying 'no' to change; it involves an element of saying 'yes' too. Perhaps the problem is not that we are not recycling enough52
but that the law is being used by a political ideology to recycle an unnatural environment beyond what we can bear. The plasticity between resistance and change, which is our propensity to procrastinate , is manifest at the very point of le voirvenir (To see what is coming). It is like standing on the edge of a cliff and deciding whether to jump or not, to take the risk. The law is continually being used to push us off, through compulsion, or cajole us into jumping, through incentivisation, when we really just need a little bit longer. Individuals will jump in their own time, at different times. .
This is the decision that faced Thelma and Louise at the end of the film. They were on the run, in more than one sense. At first, they were trying to escape, even if temporarily, from the limitations and suffocations of their existing lives and relationships. Then, they escape from the hands of a rapist. After Louise shoots the rapist, they are trying to escape from the authorities. So, for the whole film, they are on one sort of cliff edge or another. On the one hand, their choice is between submitting to how the law was telling them to be, whether it was the limitations of their existing lives, the force of rapist and the authorities, and living free of the law. And yet, there was uncertainty and fear about what lay ahead. They could easily have submitted to the fear, turned round and submitted to the status quo. For them, going forward was the act of resistance to what was keeping them back, which meant it was also an act of resistance to the future of uncertainty. Le voirvenir reflects a moment between resistance and adaptability. But that decision-point never goes away because it exists at all moments. That is, le voirvenir is time. So when Thelma and Louise drive off the cliff, it was both an act of resistance to everything behind and ahead of them that said they could not change their situation. Indeed, adapting to their situation would have meant giving in. So when Malabou says that we have to learn that we can say 'no', she means that we can say to 'no' to forward or 'no' to staying where we are or going back. It is like the households who recycle but have not opted-in to receive reward points. 53
It can pull or push us back when we want to change but it can pull or push us forward when we want to stay where we are. Le voirvenir is the moment of the unfired synapse, the moment before the explosion. Whether one neuron recognises another will depend on whether the synapse fires and this act of crossing is recycling. Given the plasticity of the dialectic between society and the environment, every change, no matter how small, is going to change the outcome in 2020 or 2050. 54
There is a dialectical relationship between human beings. The dialectic is plastic, which means that each human being, and therefore each group of human beings, is susceptible to change and have the capacity to resist. This means that actions and behaviour change takes place with an explosion, when the susceptibility to change sublates one's capacity to resist. In this way, the process of recognition that takes place between two people is like a connection between two neurons in the brain, with the dialectic represented by neural information. In the neuroscientific discourse, therefore, there is nothing at the centre of the universe; each human being can be viewed as the centre of its own network or environment. But by going beyond the human to the neuronal, one can argue that humans are only types of neuron and that there is a dialectic between all entities, including animals, plants and between society and the environment as a whole. Given this, waste management policies are an essential feature of the dialectic between humans and the environment and humans within the environment because traditional landfill degrades at the expense of the whole system including the humans within it. Because of targets, there is a current shift in policymaking regarding recycling towards an approach that favours incentives and penalties provided for by law. However, in this article it is argued that the more powerful position would be to harness the plasticity of our relationship to each other and the environment and use this as a means to assist those who wish to change their waste disposal behaviour to do so, as individuals and as a whole network so as to improve the health of the personal neural network and society and the environment more generally. This means seeing the resistance towards recycling as procrastination. Rather than trying to achieve a long term goal, it may be more effective for policymakers to just focus on the general goodness and a more short term benefit of recycling.