Notharctus | Virgilio A. Rivas

by Critical Asia

by Virgilio A. Rivas, Dec. 2021】

It was not about shame.

When the pathogens arrived, they were right to dismiss the niceties of the Summa Theologica: “The attire of the body and the laughter of the teeth and the gait of the man show what he is.”

A reading from Ecclesiastes (19:27) didn’t help the church bells parody the silence of the plants (it was the virus), though plants, too, emit sound signatures. [1] It matters to them that they flourish. [2]

The axial relations that are supposed to manifest the integration of part-objects, every detail of the facial grids, eyes, mouth, nose, and cheeks, give way to pandemic semiosis.

Even they pursue the good life. Contact zones of dependence and asymmetries,[3] plants are species-specific in their purpose: coalesce, assemble, and create.

That is the cue: in Asia, all skies have become horizontal.[4]

Asia is more than a story of a name. Half of the twelve realms of the world conjoin in this megaregion.[5]

A homo microbis “at the mercy of microorganisms’ corporeal generosity,”[6] especially where microbes found their concentration much in their coalescent form in the global waste trade, Asia is a dumping grounds of the biotic refuse of the Western world.[7]

The presence of these dumping grounds rivals the few to nothing of archaeological sites in the region to prove, for instance, that Southeast Asians branched out of a different hominid ancestry about 1.8 million years ago.

Meanwhile, the abiotic, chiefly climate change pressure of carbon trade ensures that the Western elite and their global allies would go on as much as forever can take until the Ballardian orgy of Unlimited Dream Company, its likely precursor is the defunct East-Indies, reached beyond planetary failsafe.

Time for a Martian colony.

By the day’s end, a light craft crashing into the river loses all its rhetorical efficiency.[8]

Only this time, more orbiters are in danger of falling. Where Ballard’s high-rise leaves behind humanoid colonies of concrete and steel birdcages, crashing air craft and space debris make it easy to imagine the world’s end, especially in Asia.

But is not the pandemic supposed to be a ‘portal between the world and the next’?[9] Forget the apocalypse.

Nuclear stockpiles, weapons arsenals, fisheries, and mineral extraction that goes as far as the Arctic,[10] market, and financial reach. The continent is reshaping the Carbon Liberation Front,[11] reckoning with the geopolitics of the next war.

Her poor neighbors are no strangers to conquests.

The wars on climate.

The winds brought them on from beyond the continent, even internal ones that took them against each other, raiding each other’s publics and sanctuaries, crops, livestock, fresh human bodies for the slave trade, for the same reason their nomad brethren, about 20,000 years ago, reached the “easternmost part of Russia, penetrated the Bering strait, entered the Americas for the first time.”[12]

It was the climate corrupting their yields, turning men into more vicious and scheming toads, while the women forged multispecies bonds producing organic medicine, arts, poetry, and better rearing methods for human and plant souls, animals, fungi, insects, critters, and worms.

They were the first to resist Western colonization.[13]

And the story went on.

While the rest of Europe was reeling from feudal wars, currency collapse, widespread illiteracy, and the return to barter, Asia pursued maritime and cultural trade to take advantage of the Medieval Climate Anomaly[14] (giving a long spell of droughts to Europe, warmer and wetter conditions to Asia), yielding a cross-fertilization of cultures, and boosting the regional economy that lasted for 800 years.

The Little Ice Age followed, defined by slow warming from 1800 to 1900 when greenhouse gases started to dent the climate.[15]

While Asia enjoyed the abundance of trade, climate change prompted Europe to establish colonies in her midst. But dynastic responses to climate anomalies took a sharp turn.

With a nod from China’s complacent dynasty, Europe imported thousands of Chinese workers, altering Asia’s demography, to Malaysia and Indonesia.[16]

Asia was incorporated into a world-system. Its hands were forced by the West. Only Taiwan remained outside of this system until a century later.

Since the end of the Cold War, the turn of Asia to technocratic democracy is still an evolving story.

Bangladesh and Thailand are literally sinking underwater. Across the regional spectrum, big Asian economies are encouraged to share carbon dividends.

Asia is home to the wealthiest countries in the world (Qatar and Singapore), but also the poorest (Afghanistan and Myanmar) and the smallest, threatened by climate change (Tuvalu and Palau).[17] Meanwhile, Korea and Singapore could outmatch China and India’s carbon emissions as per capita income alone.[18]

Current models of “compassion meritocracy” have defined China’s turn in the 21st century, rivaling Western meritocracy, “purging rivals but not talent.”[19]

Due to large-scale conflicts and natural disasters, Western and Southern Asia make up a little less than three-quarters of the 37 million refugees and displaced persons the world over.[20]

By any indicator, Asia has a massive share of the globe, stretching from the Sea of Japan to the Red Sea.

A butterfly effect is in order.

On the evolutionary scale, we owe our survival to our ancestors’ opposable thumbs (inherited from the elusive ancient primate, probably Notharctus, which recent studies show, “complicates the human lineage”) and bipedalism.[21] The homo Erectus may be Asia’s most direct ancestor. But these evolutionary features are increasingly being replaced by the index finger and the collapse of the barriers of time and space prevalent in the modern age, dependent on smartphones and the speed of aircraft, sea vessels, and the internet. The Asia-Pacific alone boasts of 56% of global market share of smartphones.[22]

Current predictions indicate that the next evolution of the human species will be characterized by increased in skull size, myopia, loss of muscle mass and decreasing immunity. Considering Asia’s size, the next evolution will be a more visible trend in racial uniformity, courtesy of jetliners that make possible genetic variations to be distributed among diverse human populations across the globe.[23]

But Asia is also “more exposed to physical climate risk than any other region in the world.”[24]

And now, at the world’s end, the question is, can Asia “return the power of combustion to the burnt . . . return to the atmosphere that substance which makes combustion possible”?[25]

Is the future really Asian?

Virgilio A. Rivas, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Philippines


[1] Ryan, John. “In the Key of Green? The Silent Voices of Plants in Poetry.” The Language of Plants: Science, Philosophy, Literature, edited by Monica Gagliano, John Rey, and Patricia Vieira, U of Minnesota P, 2017, pp. 273-296.

[2] Kallhoff, Angela. “The Flourishing of Plants: A Neo-Aristotelian Approach to Plant Ethics.” Plant Ethics, edited by Angela Kallhoff, Marcello Di Paola, and Maria Schorgenhumer, Routledge, 2018, pp. 51-58.

[3] Haraway, Donna. When Species Meet. U of Minnesota P, 2008.

[4] Deleuze and Guattari’s exact words are as follows: “External obstacles are now only technological, and only internal rivalries remain. A world market extends to the ends of the earth before passing into the galaxy: even the skies become horizontal” (Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. What is Philosophy? Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell, Columbia UP, 1994, 97).

[5] Nijman, Jan, Peter O. Muller, and Harm de Blij. Geography: Realms, Regions, and Concepts. Wiley, 2020.

[6] Dooren van, Thom, Eben Kirksey, and Ursula Münster. “Multispecies Studies: Cultivating Arts of Attentiveness.” Environmental Humanities, vol. 8, no. 1, 2016, pp. 1-23. doi:10.1215/22011919-3527695.

[7] Ma, Alexandra. “The West Has Been Dumping Tens of Millions of Tons of Trash in Southeast Asian Countries for More than 25 Years — Now They Want to Send It Back.” Business Insider, Accessed 11 December. 2021.

[8] This is an allusion to J.G. Ballard’s novel, The Unlimited Dream Company. Liveright, 2013.

[9] Roy, Arundhati. “The Pandemic Is a Portal.” Financial Times, 3 Apr. 2020, Accessed 11 December 2021.

[10] Lunde, Leiv. “The Nordic Embrace: Why the Nordic Countries Welcome Asia to the Arctic Table.” Asia Policy, no. 18, 2014, pp. 39–45, Accessed 21 Jan. 2022.

[11] Wark, McKenzie. Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene. Verso, 2015.

[12] Nunn, Patrick D. Vanished Islands and Hidden Continents in the Pacific. U of Hawaii P, 2009, 79.

[13] Interestingly, in the early 16th century, the Philippine revolts against Spain were led mainly by women or female shamans (babaylan). From the 17th to the 19th century, babaylans’ resistance against Spain was predominated by male shamans or asogs. In the post-colonial era, starting in the early 1980s, most babaylans were males. See Maria Milagros Geremia Lachica, “Panay’s Babaylan: The Male Takeover,” Review of Women’s Studies, vol. 6, no. 1, 1996, Accessed 21 Jan. 2022.

[14] Anderson, Eugene N. 2019. The East-Asian World System: Climate and Dynastic Change. Springer, 2019, 140.

[15] Anderson, 18.

[16] Anderson, 195.

[17] Khanna, Parag. The Future is Asian: Commerce, Conflict, and Culture in the 21st Century. Simon and Schuster, 2019.

[18] Kameyama, Yasuko, Agus P. Sari, Moekti H. Soejachmoen, and Norichika Kanie, editors. Climate Change in Asia: Perspectives on the Future Climate Regime. United Nations UP, 2008, 27.

[19] Bell, Daniel. The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy. Princeton UP, 2015.

[20] Sari, Agus P. “Climate Change and Sustainable Development in Asia.” Climate Change in Asia: Perspectives on the Future Climate Regime, p. 8.

[21] Welsh, Jennifer. “Lemur-like Toes Complicate Human Lineage.”, 11 Jan. 2012,

[22] “Number of Smartphone and Mobile Phone Users Worldwide in 2020: Demographics, Statistics, Predictions.”,

[23] See, for instance, an article that appeared in 2010 in the Rambam Maimonides Medical Journal by Alan R. Templeton, “Has Human Evolution Stopped,” Rambam Maimonides Medical Journal, vol. 1, no. 1, 2010, p. e0006. doi:10.5041/RMMJ.10006.

[24] “Climate Risk and Response in Asia.”

[25] See Schelling, F.W.J., 2004, First Outline of a System of the Philosophy of Nature, translated by Keith Peterson. State U of New York P, 2004, p. 59.

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