Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 13, No 1 (2017)

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Atmoterrorism and Atmodesign in the 21st Century: Mediating Flint's Water Crisis

Dean Dettloff, Matt Bernico


According to Peter Sloterdijk, the 20th century begins in 1915, in Ypres, France, where German soldiers unleashed chlorine gas on their enemies. Weaponized air ushered in a new type of warfare, what Sloterdijk calls “atmoterrorism,” aimed not for enemy soldiers, but the atmosphere surrounding them. Ypres made explicit what was implicit, the atmosphere where humans are situated, leading the 20th century to develop along three trajectories: the practice of atmoterrorism, the rise of design, and the discovery of the environment.

In 2015, it came to light that residents of Flint, Michigan, were drinking water with toxic lead levels. Resulting from a complex series of actors and histories, Flint reveals the utter failure of 20th century design. Like Ypres, Flint makes explicit what is implicit: the technical apparatus on which humans depend. Employing an analysis of explication and a theory of the accident derived from Sloterdijk and Paul Virilio, this project argues that Flint’s accident is the beginning of the 21st century.

 Following the wave of explication started by the accident, Flint problematizes and reveals three domains of human experience: ontology, responsibility, and social exclusion. Moving into the next century, this project suggests a theory of “atmodesign” as a way forward.

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