“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

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Seventh and Final Report on Integral Ecology: Mr. Grumpy Tones It Down

...okay. The ecosage pushed all my buttons, Adornian, Buddhist, what have you. And the prefabricated concepts made me want to barf.

But if you can look past these issues (and it's a big if), the dominant message of Integral Ecology chapter 9 is a pretty decent and detailed presentation of postmodern pragmatism. There is a variety of perspectives, and it would be very good if the holders of all these perspectives could talk with one another, frequently. This is, after all, what democratic coexistence looks like in any case.

With Latour, I'd add that there are a number of nonhumans who are speaking up and speaking good about the ecological crisis: what are their perspectives? For instance, I read today that a polar bear killed a human in the north of Norway: these bears are getting very hungry as the Arctic and glacial melt cuts off their food supply. In revenge, other humans killed the bear—I can only see this as revenge. When a bear attacks someone in Colorado, I recall that the procedure was identical. It's a reduction of a sentient being to bare life status.

Can we reach total agreement? I'm very doubtful and I'm not sure this is even such a good idea. But can humans all agree to “reign in industry” as Ken Wilber himself argues (302–303)? Well, perhaps there are structural and ideological reasons why not.

Again, I want to stick up for the eco-guardian and eco-warrior, who come at the bottom of Zimmeran's taxonomy of crisis response.  And I want to complicate the Crayola picture that an eco-warrior isn't aware that there is a “crisis of biodiversity” or a “crisis of resources.” (Keep your hair on you cantankerous Mr. Grumpy!) It might indeed be quite sophisticated to realize that you just aren't going to persuade Exxon: you might be able to persuade the CEO, but can you persuade capital to back off? Some kind of direct intervention, informed by a sense of the puzzles and paradoxes of putting it into a theoretical frame, seems highly necessary.

So much for lighting an integral fire under me. Nevertheless, the integral approach, with its almost baroque layers of information and models, is actually quite good at deflating things. For me, this is the best part of chapter 9: the point by point demolishing of primitivism (296–298). Zimmerman lays it out in a twelve-point list. Well done, I say. Since many who will be successfully interpellated by this book will identify as primitivists, this is a very helpful subsection. I'm very happy with it.

My favorite line (there many): “There is a big difference between being one with one's local bioregion and being one with the entire planet and all humans” (297).

Now Mr. Grumpy has issues even here. To divide the awareness pie into local and global is already to have conceded to a global view. On this view, the local is always a somewhat less satisfactory, even false slice of a bigger picture. What we have here is teleology on the march, always looking for bigger, newer and more inclusive phenomena. After reading Darwin, the one thing I just can't be is a teleologist.

The basic, basic issue for me is that Zimmerman sees totalization as an all-inclusive circle, whereas I see it as a radical fracturing of ontic sufficiency: the opening up of an abyss in one's “world.” That's what I mean by the term love. And since ecological awareness just is the end of the world, I think this view of totalization is what we need.

I guess that's where we just have to agree to disagree...

Couldn't the seemingly limited perspective of “being one with one's biosphere,” like just loving one whale, be a universal act, insofar as true love would disable you from scorching someone else's bioregion? To each his own bioregion, and all that...there's no accounting for taste...

Just like: I have a Tibetan guru, but that doesn't mean that I want the other gurus to fail or suffer. Far from it. I have a wife, but I won't want other husbands and wives to fail as a precondition of my love.

Well, maybe I do but that's why we have therapy, right?! Mr. Grumpy out.

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