Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Ken Wilber: on the environment...


An excerpt from "A Brief History of Everything," by Ken Wilber:


"KW: Yes, the point of a genuine environmental ethics is that we are supposed to transcend and include all holons in a genuine embrace. Because human beings contain matter and life and mind, as components in their own makeup, then of course we must honor all of these holons, not only for their own intrinsic worth, which is the most important, but also because they are components in our own being, and destroying them is literally suicide for us. It´s not that harming the biosphere will eventually catch up with us and hurt us from the outside. It´s that the biosphere is literally internal to us, is a part of our very being, our compound individuality-- harming the biosphere is internal suicide, not just some sort of external problem.

So we can have a profoundly ecological view without being merely ecological, or reducing everything to the simple biosphere. We need an approach that transcends and includes ecology-- precisely because the noosphere transcends and includes the biosphere, which transcends and includes the physiosphere. We don´t need an approach that simply privileges ecology in a regressive flattening to one-dimensional life, to the flatland web of life.

...

And the flatland web-of-life theorists simply focus on the equality of being and miss the holarchy of realization. They think that because a shrimp and an ape are both perfect manifestations of the Divine-- which they are-- then there is no difference in depth between them, which is reductionistic in the most painful and embarrassing fashion.

So we want our environmental ethics to honor all holons without exceptions as manifestations of Spirit, and also, at the same time, be able to make pragmatic distinctions in intrinsic worth, and realize that it is much better to kick a rock than an ape, much better to eat a carrot than a cow, much better to subsist on grains than on mammals.

If you agree with those statements, then you are acknowledging gradations in depth, gradations in intrinsic value-- you are acknowledging a holarchy of value. Most ecophilosophers agree with those statements, but they can´t say why, because they have a hierarchy that denies hierarchy-- they have only the flatland web of life and bioequality, which is not only self-contradictory, it paralyzes pragmatic action and cripples intrinsic values." (pgs. 38-40)




This passage connects with me and the way I have always thought about the way I live my life. I have never understood conversations with non-environmental types about why I appear to be an "environmentalist", and just as much, I have never understood conversations with environmental types about why we appear to be environmentalists. From Wilber´s words, it would seem very natural that I have felt this way. This demonstrates environmentalism to be internal to us, more than just a part of us, but our fundamental constituent parts.

The thing that gets most on my nerve is when I talk with and witness other environmental types, most of whom I consider my closest friends, not realizing this internal nature. Not realizing that their ability (or inability) to change their everyday actions is precisely and directly linked to their ability (or inability) to "save" themselves, where "save" means survival in whatever context is chosen (could be something as simple as being happy).

Perhaps I just don´t see it, or perhaps I am just too self-centered and arrogant to see outside myself. But I am constantly reminded of this lack of commitment. Here Wilber gives me direction because he suggests a reason for that lack of commitment.

So, I challenge you to try harder... and while you´re doing it, push me to try harder too.

What do you think?

26 comments:

jeff :) said...

hey kevin, i like the links back to your blog. i hadn't been there in awhile, and enjoyed revisiting :). nice posts...and very thoughtful (for me anyway). i posted some comments on a few... like daemon...before i realized i could post here too.

i struggle with some of these ideas in my life...in my personal philosophy... for example, are there gradations of depth to lifeforms (sentient vs. non-sentient) and inorganic parts of our Earth system (Gaia) or is it one great big web of life for which we should pay respect and be grateful while also accepting only gifts, so that we may live... i like the concept of a deep ecology (or ecophilosophy) vs. "flatland" ecology (as it was described in the article) but i also find value in traditions like buddhist and native american cultures too. i always feel like my personal ethic is evolving with me and the more i am fortunate to be exposed to... of course, the greatest trial it seems (and as touched on in your post) is the daily practice, especially while immersed in the mainstream of our current society... the quorum seems to be a nice (and kind) format to support each other, pay respect others, attempt to understand our differences and sameness, and start the process of change in our daily lives...

i like the way you think brother man :)...

jeff :) said...

i said "accepting only gifts"... what i meant to say is "accepting [its] gifts" (that is gifts from the web of life necessary for our own life). so i guess the question becomes (for me), what is truly necessary? this is a slippery slope in my opinion...

jeff :) said...

oh, and i didn't comment on it, but i think you are on to something... environmentalism as a part of us...a constituent part... i had always thought of it as a mindset... or outlook... or maybe as a way of being...but not as a "part." thanks for helping me see that :)... also, this idea of being "saved" through practice... are you saying to align your daily practice with your "ethics"... that totally makes sense to me... and i can see how it can make a person "happy" or "saved" depending on the word choice :)... nice...

Hannah said...

What does KW think of the uprising in ecosystem services, its becoming a huge phenomenon, attach monetary amounts to the environment (not including humans-obviously) by how much "we" see a particular part of the environment's importance to us. i think people will take to this idea more quickly than KW's. Humans can't seem to make themselves equal to anything, not even themselves! I also am trying more and more to keep in mind that "taking care" of the environment is the same exact thing as eating/breathing/sleeping, "taking care of me".

jeff :) said...

so, i don't mean to monopolize... but i wanted to respond to hannah. yea, i think the concept of ecosystem goods and services is needed in the mainstream to help people see the connections between human actions and environmental or ecosystem effects. i think it helps to develop an appreciation for nature, especially for those in more of a business or economic mindset.

however, i wonder sometimes... does this go far enough, especially when so much change is needed. i know all journeys begin with a few steps and this is a positive start (in my opinion)... but sometimes i think it may not go far enough... how do we connect people to the web in a way that makes them feel part of it??

jeff :) said...

ie. web = web of life...

jeff :) said...

oh yea hannah... i say all of this, but i'd like to focus on ecosystem goods and services and stories of environmental history to hopefully make some ties between what we have done and what that means to the bottom line for most people...

i make most of my comments based on the underlying thoughts or philosophy that drives me... does that make sense... what drives you??

jeff :) said...
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Kevin said...

Wilber here is saying that we get to environmentalism not through the web of life concept (that which he calls flatland). The reason it is flat is because it is one-dimensional and specifically non-dynamic. It is a momentous step to realize this web-of-life idea, but nonetheless it is not what moves people to act.

Wilber wants to say that we have to realize our own true Self (capitol S). The suicide he is talking about is not suicide in a physioshpere, bioshpere, or noosphere sense, it is a suicide of our true nature, our own higher Selves.

The main point of which is that in becoming aware of our Selves, we inherently act in an environmentally sound way because the suicide is absolutely real and pertinent in this context. Acting in regard to the Biosphere alone motivates few to act in significant ways. Sure people may recycle, but I am talking about significant action... not driving a vehicle, not purchasing any goods that come from more than a few miles etc.

The small excerpt I included does not explain all this. Additionally, I think Wilber would possible object to my last little point there, but at the stage I am at now, that is the direction I take the ideas.

So, the final message, "wake up to your own true Self," for that is what will motivate real, conscientious action.

Kevin said...

As far as ecosystem services goes, I think Wilber may applaud the effort, but nonetheless could feel it is missing the point in large degree (flatland). For instance, that type of a program may really help out and make the world a much cleaner safer place etc. But it may miss the point of awakening people to their higher Selves.

But, then again, maybe it will by forcing people to think about the connections btwn the physioshpere, biosphere, noosphere etc...

jeff :) said...

i think awakening to your higher self probably involves, to some extent, connecting to the web of life and the place you live (more of a deep ecology or ecosophy). i think this is much different than the understanding in flatland ecology, and involves a personal spiritual experience that is difficult to describe. when immersed in nature, you can sense its presence. a lot of this is lost in our urban and industrial world, and as green spaces and wilderness areas disappear, the opportunities for humans to make such connections diminish. so, i guess this is the connection to the "web of life" that i speak of...connecting to the source of life... which is also the source of the "Self"... i think they are one in the same... at least for me. and i guess spending time alone in natural places helps me to understand what that "connection" is or means... does this make sense?

jeff :) said...
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jeff :) said...
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jeff :) said...
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jeff :) said...

jeff :) said...

and maybe deep ecology and ecosophy are not the words for it either... but i have read a little and borrow from it... mabye it's more like quaternary ecology :) (body, mind, soul, spirit) or something like that :)... but i'm just making this up now ;)...

3/09/2007 8:20 AM

Hannah said...

i think i need to take a philosophy class, and i need to realize mySelf. i bought a starback coffee Thursday from the union, i didn't even realize i did it when day and night i am hating on starbucks and so pro-fair trade and buying local. i just knew i "needed" a coffee and went to the place in the union where i knew it to be sold. as soon as i noticed on the cup "proud to serve starbucks coffee" or something like that, i literally felt my face get red and i wanted to get it as far away from me as possible. unfortunately this was during the incredible ESRI talk and i couldn't let it take my attention away from Mr. Dangermond for too long. why was i so unaware of my actions that day?

Kevin said...

"Q: The deep ecologists make quite a deal out of this deeper Self, this Eco-Noetic Self.
KW: Yes, and in that particular regard I am a big fan of their work. They have an important message for the modern world: to find that deep Self that embraces all of nature, and thus to treat nature with the same reverence you would extend to your own being.
But here is where I believe they get into a great deal of trouble: they take this experience of the Eco-Noetic Self, the World Soul, and they reduce it to the Lower Right quadrant, to "we´re all strands in the great web"-- empirical holism, Right Hand holism, functional fit-- which totally guts the interior dimensions. These theorists reduce the Kosmos to a monological map of the social system-- which they usually call Gaia-- a flatland map that ignores the six or seven profound interior transformations that got them to the point that they could even conceive of a global system in the first place.
Consequently, this otherwise true and noble intuition of the Eco-Noetic Self gets collapsed into "we´re all strands in the great web." But that is exactly not the experience of the Eco-Noetic Self. In the nature-mystic experience, you are not a strand in the web. You are the entire web. You are doing something no mere strand ever does-- you are escaping your "strandness," transcending it, and becoming one with the entire display. To be aware of the whole system shows precisely that you are not merely a strand, which is supposed to be your official stance.
So, "explaining" this experience in systems or "web-of-life" terms is a very poor way to interpret it. Ecomasculinists prefer systems theory terms; ecofeminists generally despise systems theory as being masculine and abstract, and prefer instead eco-sentimentalism and relationship terms: both are equally grounded in the monochrome world of simple location.
But once you´ve committed that flatland reductionsism, you start to think that the way to transform the world is to simply get everybody to agree with your monological map, forgetting the six or seven interior stages the mapmaker actually had to go through in order to get to this point where you can agree in the first place." (pg. 205)

"Q:So the experience of the Eco-Noetic Self might be very genuine, but it is unpacked or interpreted in an inadequate fashion.
KW: I think so. And we want to rescue this profound intuition of the Eco-Noetic Self and its Community of all beings by giving it perhaps a more adequate interpretation, based on all four quadrants of manifestation, and not based on reducing all quadrants to the Lower Right or "Gaia." Pushing that reductionistic "new paradigm" map as the central aspect of transformation simply diverts attention away from the Left Hand dimensions where the real transformation is occurring. As such, more often than not these approaches completely sabotage and derail actual transcendence and transformation, and simply encourage the various fragments to retribalize at their own level of adaptation, no matter how shallow. Any egocentric person can sell a Gaia-centric map.

Q: So the point would be, remember the Left Hand path!
KW: Yes, very much so. We don´t want to get caught in a holistic map of flatland. As we saw, that holistic flatland map is the fundamental Enlightenment paradigm. That is subtle reductionism. That collapses the Left into the Right. That reduces all I´s and we´s to interwoven its; collapses all interior depths into exterior span; collapses all values into functional fit; reduces all translogical and all dialogical to monological. That is the great holistic web of interwoven its, all of which have simple location! And that is utter, utter flatland.
In all of those ways and more, most ecotheorists are entirely faithful to the Enlightenment agenda. I know they say that they have a radically new paradigm, but it´s actually two or three centuries old now. It didn´t work then, it won´t work now. These "eco-holistic" approaches have been promising transformation for a few centuries now, and they have never delivered. This has got to be the longest transformational foreplay in history.
And yikes, they´re still at it. Perhaps they have a genuine intuition of this Eco-Noetic Self-- I believe some of them do. But they tend to collapse it into flatland and monological Right Hand terms, which does not promote global transformation but rather encourages retribalization and regressive fragmentation in consciousness. And so these often turn out to be very preconventional approaches that covertly encourage egocentric consciousness, which their maps do not let them spot because their maps contain none of this." (pgs. 206-207)

Hannah said...

6 or 7 interior stages?

jeff :) said...
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jeff :) said...

hmmm...very interesting about the Deep Ecology and the Eco-Noetic Self... yea, i agree there are several dimensions to deep ecology lacking for me... but i think it moves in a direction that includes recognition of a Higher Self.. and have borrowed from it in my personal philosophy on "things"...

i was just making it up, but maybe that's why the term quaternary ecology came to mind... a ecology of things that transcends flatland and deep ecology to include other quadrats of experience and understanding...

"body" (or matter) might relate to flatland. "mind" might include ecopsychology and/or deep ecological thinking, including the eco-Noetic self... soul and spirit might be related to the Higher Self and ultimately to spiritual understanding of interconnectness and ultimately Oneness... perhaps a transition from personal soulful experience to a more cosmic, universal spiritual understanding... anyway, quaternary ecology is probably just another name for KW's description... i think nature is a place that can awaken transformational experiences for many, especially those less prone to play in their mind :)... and hopefully can create sympathy and understanding for the environment and conservation before an a full "awakening" to soulful or spiritual experience is achieved... i guess that was my reason for emphasizing "nature experience" and "sense of place" as important to environmentalism...

jeff :) said...

i am also curious about the inner stages...

jeff :) said...

and hanner, i know just enough philosophy to be dangerous, so don't feel bad :)...

i know what you mean about being "conscious" everyday... i do stuff like that and wonder why... but ultimately it's all a transition, right? both personal and social... and we just do the best we can in each moment to be conscious... when we forget, we just try to remember better next time :)... and hopefully the choices will improve too :)...

Kevin said...

I think you´re thinking along the right lines. It just takes a bit of care though because this things flips a few times in unsuspected directions.

We all want the environment to be saved and we see the path to this as getting more people to be environmentalists or environmental types or at least conscientious about the environment. Well, most of the ways we go about doing this (educating, talking, what have you) are through using scientific reductionist claims that demonstrate this concept of web-of-life or Gaia. It takes so many developmental turns just to get ourself and others to this point, where we respect nature and understand the interrelatedness of our actions and the environment. And so, we think this is the last step. What I think Wilber is fighting so hard against is resting here. In contemporary work, he would call this the green meme people. The problem arises when we get to this point, but we are not happy and we have not saved the environment etc... This stage is sort of a developmental plateau, or a mirage of sorts, where we think we´re at the top of the hill, but we´re only a third of the way up.

In sum, I think he is actually fighting against most environmentalism, not because it is not good, but because it is not The answer. Its foundation is shaky at best.

Your right, in nature we may have and do have profound experiences. But, if those profound experiences are witnessing and realizing what is "out there", or how everything (out there) in the world connects, then for Wilber, and I think for me, they are ultimately missing the point. This is dangerous because it is precisely what is derailing us.

I am going to post more of his thoughts shortly. This argument he is making is quite a big one, and as it turns out, quite a controversial one. So, there is plenty of room for argument, whether Wilber allows for it or not.

Hannah said...

jeff, you do prove to be dangerous, thanks for relating.

Kevin said...

“Q: But you can have strong spiritual experiences in nature. This is very common. And I think that is what the nature Romantics meant by Spirit.
KW: Yes, indeed you can, but the source of these spiritual feelings is not nature itself. You might stare for hours at sunset, and suddenly disappear into the World Soul, and feel yourself at one with all nature. This is well and good. But nature is not the source of this intuition. Worms and rats and foxes and weasels do not stare for hours at the sunset, and marvel at its beauty, and transcend themselves in that release—even though their senses are in many cases much sharper than ours, even though they see nature more clearly that we! No, nature is not the source of this Beauty; nature is its destination. The source is transcendental Spirit, of which nature is a radiant expression.

An thus when, in nature, you can relax your egoic grasping and stand as an opening or clearing in awareness—and nature is an inviting place to do so—then through that clearing might come pouring the power and the glory of the World Soul, and you are temporarily struck perfectly dead by the wonder and beauty of it all—a beauty that takes your breath away, takes your self away, all at once—a beauty that bestows new splendor on the setting sun and renders nature insanely vivid in its display.

But if you are committed to interpreting this spiritual experience in a completely Descended pattern—if the industrial grid is having its way with you—then you will ascribe this Spirit to simple nature itself. You will mistake the effect for the cause. You will fail to see that you got to this World Soul intuition precisely by developing form sensory-biocentirc to egocentric to sociocentric to worldcentric to World Soul, each of which transcends and includes.

Thus, struck by the beauty of the World Soul that you have mistakenly reduced to sensory nature, you will recommend—not that we go from nature to culture to Spirit—but that we simply get back to nature, even though the weasel sitting next to you doesn´t seem to be seeing the same thing in nature that you are—wonder why that is?

And because you now think that the World Soul or Spirit is a simple sensory impact—is nature itself—you will then start to think, not that culture is a necessary part of an evolution on its way to a conscious apprehension of Spirit as true Self, but rather that culture hides and distorts this mononature in which your “real self” supposedly resides. Culture is not on the way to the true Self, it is simply a crime against the “true self” of your biocentric feelings.

In short, you will start recommending, not that we move forward to fulcrum-7 and the Eco-Noetic Self, but that we move back to fulcrum-2 and the biocentirc or ecocentirc or ecological self.

So you will start to sing the fervent songs of yesterday, and awail at the travesty that is today, and lament the present tense in which you walk, and condemn it altogether, and weep at the thought of the horrible crime that your generation has perpetrated on the innocence of yesterday´s wonders. You will rage against modernity, and root for the mindless world, and secretly gloat when natural disasters kill humans left and right, their anguished cries enrich your sensory soul, enjoying in your hidden heart the revenge of a pure and simple nature against the horrors of humanity: let viruses eat at the flesh and send blood spurting from every orifice, and isn´t that just what humanity deserves?

In other words, you become retro-Romantic.” (291-292)

Ken Wilber "A Brief History of Everything"

genjamon said...

Jeff, some post-structural geography has been dealing with some related questions. I'm especially reminded by David Harvey's "Spaces of Hope" book, where he talks about the need to be true to ourselves by acting on our "species being". His discussion of the internal dynamics of beings may be somewhat clumsy compared to Wilber, especially as he's deriving much of it from references deep within Marx's "Capital", but the important contribution is relating individual dynamics to broader constructions of space.

The task of ordering one's internal and external self simultaneously seems to be point at issue. It is a dialectical process, and it is dynamical. We have to be able to embrace dynamic ways of being instead of seeking an ideal order. Harvey speaks of these projects in terms of utopias. He argues that most utopias are merely spatial utopias, static in time and not able to counter the dynamism of global capitalism. He advocates spatio-temporal utopianism as a necessary agenda for countering the spatial projects of global capitalism with spatio-temporal projects well-suited to our species being.

I feel like part of the frustration of environmentalism is that it is so focused on advocacy in terms of changing hearts and minds. We join clubs, we write letters, we protest, we create culture by reading and suggesting books, by recommending music and even performing it ourselves, we go camping, etc. We form cultures through these activities, and perhaps they do segment and degenerate to tribalisms and factions. Yet, so much of the work of environmentalism avoids the important tasks of creating order in the spaces around us, as expressions of our inner selves. Capitalism has been exceedingly successful in these kinds of spatio-temporal ordering projects. Environmentalism must find ways of succeeding on this front as well.

My 2 cents,
Ben

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