“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

“I love whales and I don't want them to die”: Integral Ecology Chapter 9

All right. Here I am again with what will be a daily blog post this week about Michael Zimmerman's and Sean Esbjörn-Hargens's Integral Ecology chapter 9.

The first post (yesterday) was about form, and this one is going to be about content. Zimmerman (I call the authors this for brevity) draws up a graph of twenty possible nature-mystical states (281). The first, I presume the lowest, is the “Egocentric (Eco-Guardian or Eco-Warrior).” A slogan accompanies each state to express its style. The slogan for the egocentric state is “I love whales and I don't want them to die” (282).

Unfortunately for Zimmerman this would be a marvelous candidate for the highest slot, if I were doing this book. It's immediate. It's unconditional. It's contingent. It is, as Levi Bryant has been pointing out to me, Badiouian—and I like that! Forget all the clumsy abstractions of the “higher” states of consciousness. This is the only position of the 5 that is truly nonviolent (read on). This is the real deal! Just loving whales, for no reason, and not wanting them to die? Bring it on!

Love for no reason is pretty close to the Kantian aesthetic, which is purposeless purposiveness. I'm writing something on causality that argues that this aesthetic experience is an unconditional tuning to an object. It's nonconceptual, it's beyond ego, it's universalizable (but I won't impose it on you), it's virtual—it seems to emanate from the object in question. What's not to like? I just love whales. Not for their meat. Not for how they pleasure me. I just don't want them to die. This to me is the highest attitude.

As far as non-ego states go, this might be one of the best. Certainly better than level 2 (282), “Whales are important to our community's livelihood and must be protected.” Now that's what I call selfishness, part 57482!

As for level 3 (283): “Whales are valued by people for many reasons: aesthetic, emotional, spiritual, economic, and evolutionary. So we should work together to save them.” This is even worse than 2. It's correlationist. And it means my reason for doing something is because of my idea about A's idea about B's idea...and so on.

Level 4 (285): “Whales have rich lives and have a right to carry on, though we must also consider how to honor that in relationship to human needs” (285). So if a lifeform has a “poor life” in my view it's okay to kill it? And I'll only let it live if it doesn't interfere with human hungrer or greed? Worse than 3.

Level 5 (285): “Whales are an amazing expression of Eros. I hope they are around for a long time.” I hope, which implies they might not be. I can agree with Paul that the stronger of the two is love. And plenty of things could be expressions of Eros, on this view, including belly button lint. I don't want to save whales even because they're a species or because they have rich lives. I want to save them as the expression of something more real than them. Worse than 4.

Yep. Looks like Level 1's a keeper. See you at the bottom of the mountain! I have no desire to venture on up. The people up there suck balls.

1 comment:

cameron.keys said...

Ken Wilber's famous "integral methodological pluralism" is more amenable to mangling and contortion than most epistemological hodgepodges are.

I once attended one of their Integral Life Practice events, on scholarship. They asked what I was there for, and I responded from what I thought was the highest level I cared about: "I want to identify the origin of the AQAL map."

You know the AQAL map with the four quadrants, it's probably all over Zimmerman's book.

You are so right on to target level 1 of the whale-care hierarchy as the most desirable and highest! In the developmental system Zimmerman is working with, higher 'altitudes' of evaluation exhibit an individuality that transcends and includes the familiar destructive egoic sense that pervades early adolescent formal-operational thinking. Zimmerman doesn't get this, apparently. For Zimmerman, an integrated highly functional compassionate thinker can have no sense of humor, no idiosyncratic preferences. Zimmerman can't understand how an enlightened environmentalist can say "I don't like the way that whale just looked at me, but I don't want it to die...not just yet, anyway."

The sobriety of most "integral" theory these days is disgusting. You will notice that Ken Wilber, one of the key actants of the movement, makes lots of jokes that strike his critics as low-altitude arrogance. Ken can be a very opinionated boyish centaur, willing to cut through layers of paper mache compassion en route to a higher view of a situation. Typically the strong indivuality of the resulting view is more robust for holding the flavor of its spontaneous framer.

So, you are absolutely right that Zimmerman misses the boat, big time, in his whale discourse analysis. The fact is that higher altitudes are not less egoic.

When Guatama reaches enlightenment, the story goes, he shows up to his disciples carrying a seed in his hand. Haphazardly he plants the seed in some soil, looks up, and says something like "I really have no idea where best to plant the seed!" The idea, as I see it, is that higher stages are characterized by individuated presence, by awareness of maximal possibility, and by profound idiosyncratic actions that result from radical uncertainty.

The integral theorists are way to focused on rational coordination and discursive segmentation to handle an earth with lots of awakened worlds inside it.