Roy Scranton

Roy Scranton is the author of the novel War Porn (Soho Press, 2016) and the philosophical essay Learning to Die in the Anthropocene (City Lights, 2015). His journalism, essays, fiction, poetry, and reviews have been published in The Nation, Rolling Stone, the New York Times, LIT, Boston Review, Prairie Schooner, Los Angeles Review of Books, Contemporary Literature, The Appendix, and elsewhere. He is also one of the editors of Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War (Da Capo, 2013). He holds a Ph.D. in English from Princeton, an M.A. from the New School for Social Research, and will be joining the faculty of the Department of English at the University of Notre Dame in the fall of 2016, where he will teach creative writing.


16 February 2016

Choosing War

On Nancy Sherman's Afterwar and Michael Putzel's The Price They Paid...

Whatever one might say about the corrupt boondoggle of Afghanistan, the war in Iraq was an aggressive power grab executed with astonishing idiocy, enriching companies such as Halliburton, DynCorp, Bechtel, and ExxonMobil at the cost of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives and ongoing, almost incomprehensible human suffering. Anyone doing the moral philosophy of war needs to make sense of what it means to know you have committed evil, not as a victim of “moral injury” but as a perpetrator, and anyone talking about morality and the Iraq War needs to account for the gross irresponsibility, outright lies, and pointless waste of human life that characterized that conflict. What kind of “moral healing” is appropriate for Specialist Lynndie England, who tortured prisoners in Abu Ghraib, or Sergeant Frank Wuterich, whose Marines killed twenty-four civilians in Haditha? What about for Colonel Michael D. Steele, whose soldiers testified that he ordered them to “kill all military-age males” in their area, or General George Casey, who, as senior commander in Iraq from 2004 to 2007, oversaw the country’s descent into civil war? What kind of community expresses gratitude for such behavior? Who is the “we” that ought to “integrate” such vile acts? 

(Read more at Dissent)

The New Nature

Nature has always been political. The human-nature binary has shaped politics for centuries,
centuries that saw a handful of Western European nations and the United States (read, “human”) dominate the rest of the world (read, “nature”) through resource extraction, fossil-fueled industrialization, slavery, genocide, and war. That domination hasn’t ended, but the Manichaean ideology behind it has been unsettled by climate change and undermined by the idea of the Anthropocene: that 
Homo sapiens is now a geologic force. “Humans” are radically reshaping “nature,” whether we like it or not. What this means for human agency is perhaps the most urgent challenge the Anthropocene poses.

23 December 2015

We're Doomed. Now What?

There is little reason to hope that we’ll be able to slow down global warming before we pass a tipping point. We’re already one degree Celsius above preindustrial temperatures and there’s another half a degree baked in. The West Antarctic ice sheet is collapsing, Greenland is melting, permafrost across the world is liquefying, and methane has been detected leaking from sea floors and Siberian craters: it’s probably already too late to stop these feedbacks, which means it’s probably already too late to stop apocalyptic planetary warming. Meanwhile the world slides into hate-filled, bloody havoc, like the last act of a particularly ugly Shakespearean tragedy.
Accepting our situation could easily be confused with nihilism. In a nation founded on hope, built with “can do” Yankee grit, and bedazzled by its own technological wizardry, the very idea that something might be beyond our power or that humans have intrinsic limits verges on blasphemy. Right and left, millions of Americans believe that every problem has a solution; suggesting otherwise stirs a deep and often hostile resistance. It’s not so much that accepting the truth of our situation means thinking the wrong thought, but rather thinking the unthinkable. (Read more at the New York Times)

22 October 2015

What I Learned on a Luxury Cruise Through the Global-Warming Apocalypse

To see the Arctic death spiral firsthand, and to see the Arctic before it melted, I took a 17-day “adventure cruise” and learned an inconvenient truth: We can’t make it stop. Read more at The Nation.

29 September 2015

Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization

Just published from City Lights: Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, my book-length expansion of the New York Times essay "Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene."

"In Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, Roy Scranton draws on his experiences in Iraq to confront the grim realities of climate change. The result is a fierce and provocative book."—Elizabeth Kolbert, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

"Roy Scranton lucidly articulates the depth of the climate crisis with an honesty that is all too rare, then calls for a reimagined humanism that will help us meet our stormy future with as much decency as we can muster. While I don't share his conclusions about the potential for social movements to drive ambitious mitigation, this is a wise and important challenge from an elegant writer and original thinker. A critical intervention."—Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

Coming home from the war in Iraq, US Army private Roy Scranton thought he'd left the world of strife behind. Then he watched as new calamities struck America, heralding a threat far more dangerous than ISIS or Al Qaeda: Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, megadrought—the shock and awe of global warming.

Our world is changing. Rising seas, spiking temperatures, and extreme weather imperil global infrastructure, crops, and water supplies. Conflict, famine, plagues, and riots menace from every quarter. From war-stricken Baghdad to the melting Arctic, human-caused climate change poses a danger not only to political and economic stability, but to civilization itself . . . and to what it means to be human. Our greatest enemy, it turns out, is ourselves. The warmer, wetter, more chaotic world we now live in—the Anthropocene—demands a radical new vision of human life.

In this bracing response to climate change, Roy Scranton combines memoir, reportage, philosophy, and Zen wisdom to explore what it means to be human in a rapidly evolving world, taking readers on a journey through street protests, the latest findings of earth scientists, a historic UN summit, millennia of geological history, and the persistent vitality of ancient literature. Expanding on his influentialNew York Times essay (the #1 most-emailed article the day it appeared, and selected for Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014), Scranton responds to the existential problem of global warming by arguing that in order to survive, we must come to terms with our mortality.

Plato argued that to philosophize is to learn to die. If that's true, says Scranton, then we have entered humanity's most philosophical age—for this is precisely the problem of the Anthropocene. The trouble now is that we must learn to die not as individuals, but as a civilization.

Order it today!

08 April 2015

An Iraqi Band's (Semi) Happy Ending

Marwan Hussein, Faisal Talal, and Moe Al Ansari of Acrassicauda
Yosimar Gomez/Courtesy of Acrassicauda
Fifteen years ago, Marwan Hussein, Firas Al-Lateef, Faisal Talal and Tony Aziz were teenage headbangers in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, learning to play Metallica and Slayer off bootleg cassettes. They named their band Acrassicauda (after Iraq's ubiquitous black scorpion, Androctonus crassicauda) and joined a small but active heavy-metal scene in Baghdad.

Then, in 2003, the U.S. invaded, and life became a hellish cycle of checkpoints, explosions and murders. Marwan Hussein and Talal were almost killed by a car bomb, Aziz's house was damaged by a mortar, and the band's rehearsal space was blown up, probably by a rocket. "We've seen some shit, man," says Hussein. "You see stuff that makes you question your existence."

A few years later, Acrassicauda fled to Syria. Meanwhile, a Vice documentary, Heavy Metal in Baghdad, helped make them media darlings — and high-profile targets for extremist groups, who often attacked Western-style musicians. A flicker of fame turned Acrassicauda into permanent exiles.

Feeling responsible, the filmmakers who had made them famous helped them get refugee visas to the U.S. in 2008. The bandmates eventually wound up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and started grinding it out on the local metal scene, scoring an opening slot for industrial-rock vets Ministry (frontman Al Jourgensen called them his "favorite metal band in the world"). They finally made it into the studio last September to cut their debut, Gilgamesh, a Kickstarter-funded heavy-metal tour de force named after an ancient Sumerian legend.

(Keep reading at Rolling Stone.)

'We Need Hope and Fear in Equal Measure': An Interview With Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein / Christopher Wahl
Ever since she released her the anti-globalization manifesto, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, 15 years ago, Naomi Klein has been progressivism's most visible, most charmingly articulate spokesperson. In her gripping and dramatic new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, Klein turns to climate change, writes of a decisive battle for the fate of the earth in which we either take back control of the planet from the capitalists who are destroying it or watch it all burn. We caught up with her near her home in Toronto to discuss the challenges ahead and how she has willed herself to be optimistic about the fate of the planet.

RS: In This Changes Everything, you argue that global warming is both a crisis and an opportunity, on a scale we've never seen before. Bigger than the Great Depression, more momentous than the threat of nuclear war, and more hopeful than Civil Rights and the anti-war movement. What do you mean?

NK: The original title for the book was "The Message," but we dropped that after enough people told me that it was too weird and Biblical. But the idea was that climate change isn't an issue, it's a message. It is a message, telling us that our system is failing, that there's something fundamentally wrong with the way we're organizing our economy and thinking about our place on the planet.

The Right understands this better than most Liberals, and that is why they deny climate change so vehemently. The more hardcore Conservative you are, the more tightly identified you are with defending the interest of capital as an interest of the system, based on hyper-competition, the more likely it is that you vehemently deny climate change. Because if climate change is real, your worldview will come crashing down around you.

It just comes down to this core question: "Is hyper-competition going to rule our world, or is cooperation going to rule our world?" And the truth is, if hyper-competition is going to rule our world, we have no hope. None. This, I think, is one of the reasons that climate change is particularly challenging to Americans. Americans can't solve this on their own. The growth in emissions is coming from the developing world. So if we are going to get out of this, it's going to come out of a process of cooperation and collaboration. That's why it really requires a paradigm shift.

Keep reading at Rolling Stone.

26 January 2015

The Trauma Hero: From Wilfred Owen to Redeployment and American Sniper

My latest, "The Trauma Hero: From Wilfred Owen to Redeployment and American Sniper," in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

EVERY TRUE WAR STORY is a story of trauma and recovery. A boy goes to war, his head full of romantic visions of glory, courage, and sacrifice, his heart yearning to achieve heroic deeds, but on the field of battle he finds only death and horror. He sees, suffers, and causes brutal and brutalizing violence. Such violence wounds the soldier’s very soul.

After the war the boy, now a veteran and a man, returns to the world of peace haunted by his experience, wracked by the central compulsion of trauma and atrocity: the struggle between the need to bear witness to his shattering encounter with violence, and the compulsion to repress it. The veteran tries to make sense of his memory but finds it all but impossible. Most people don’t want to hear the awful truths that war has taught him, the political powers that be want to cover up the shocking reality of war, and anybody who wasn’t there simply can’t understand what it was like.

The truth of war, the veteran comes to learn, is a truth beyond words, a truth that can only be known by having been there, an unspeakable truth he must bear for society.

So goes the myth of the trauma hero.