Logos of the Living Earth:

Towards a Gaian Praxecology

By Matthew Segall

 

Introduction

The word “praxeology” has been employed with various meanings in 20th century French and Austrian discourse.[1] Praxecology is a distinct, though not entirely unrelated neologism invented for the purposes of this essay. A new word is not without a history, nor a text without context—praxecology is the mutated kin of its discursive ancestors whose semiotic relation cannot be denied. But my neologism is not just a sign; it is also a materially inscribed event emerging in my life and, having been read and understood, in the lives of each of you, my audience. Words have real effects in the world of material-semiotic cyborgs[2] like us.

Praxecology is the embodied practice of a living planetary systems theory, the enacting of a Gaian way of life. James Lovelock’s Gaia theory, developed in the 1960s while working for NASA to detect life on other planets, has played an important psycho-spiritual role in the environmental movement[3], but half a century later has not been fully realized as an eco-cultural revolt against modern techno-industrialism and the alienation, fetishization, and commodification of self, society, and nature that such a system requires. The results of this Enlightenment project of disembedded rationality are well known: loss of place, self-alienation, social injustice and ecological devastation chief among them.[4] A scientific theory of Earth as a self-regulating system is not enough in itself to overturn any of these aspects of our post-industrial malaise, but the knowledge of a living Earth is compelling enough, I believe, to inspire both the aesthetic skill and religious will of humanity into a renewed relationship with the Earth.

In this essay, I will try to lay down a path in walking toward a Gaian praxecology by offering a more integral, or at least nonmodern (Latour, 1993) narration of embodied practice concerning human-earth relations. As Latour argues in his critique of modern science, the only myth is that there could be science without myth (p. 93, ibid.). I will seek a planetary (and so seemingly universal) mythos, though careful attention will be paid to nature as place, or topos (commonplace).

As Donna Haraway has written,

“We turn to this topic [nature] to order our discourse, to compose our memory …[because] nature is the place to rebuild public culture…[and] is a topic of public discourse on which much turns, even the Earth” (p. 296, 1992).

The title, “Gaia,” has been criticized for its gender essentialism and mythic connotations.[5] I will try to convey why Gaia, the ancient Greek goddess, is among the most appropriate of names for the living Earth. Her theogonic origins in the poetry of Hesiod, Ovid, and others is an apt reminder that disentanglement of science from myth, or knowledge from narrative, while logically possible, is vacuous in practice.[6] Praxecology is not theory or praxis alone, but human understanding-as-participation in the meaningful cycles and evolutions of the Earth community. Science (logos) and story (mythos) are distinct, but in no way separate expressions of the underlying human yearning for knowledge born out of a recognition of our origins in a larger cosmogenic whole. “The Earth,” says cultural phenomenologist Jean Gebser, “is nothing but an event [self-enacted/autopoietic unfolding] which in materialization has become progressively slower” (p. 541, Gebser). Matter and mind, embodied action and theoretical discourse, are not isolated influences or opposed forces, but friendly poles in a holistic process of evolutionary autobiography. As Haraway puts it, “There is no way to rationality—to actually existing worlds—outside stories, not for our species, anyway” (p. 44, 1997).

The protagonists in my story include Haraway, who reminds us that modern technoscientific biology is not life itself, but a cultural discourse about life; Thomas Berry, who evokes an original relationship to the universe by reminding us that an ongoing cosmogenesis is the origin of our existence; Bruno Latour, who demystifies science in action by unveiling the networks of relationships supporting its facts; William Irwin Thompson, whose vision of a Gaian polity helps us re-imagine the world; Francisco Varela, whose enactive cognitive science shows how worlds are brought forth through autopoietic structural coupling; and Gaia, our common ground, producer of all bodies and muse of every mind.Others, too, will lend a helping hand along the way of this logos of the living Earth.

“Ecology,” according to Thomas Berry, “is functional cosmology” (p. 84, 1999). This suggests that an adequate understanding of the universe as a whole is not at all separate from knowing how to live sustainably within one’s particular community of life. The whole and the part are mutually implicated in any “functional cosmology.” Any truly universal knowledge should also be applicable and adaptable to life at home. Such a relational approach to cognition-as-living will guide us along our journey through various philosophical holzwege, or wood paths (German: wegen– “to make a way,” wagen– “to risk”), with the hope that we emerge at a clearing revealing new, perhaps unexpected, ways forward.

Neither representational, nor constructionist epistemologies will suffice for such thoughtful and heartfelt wanderings, as I am concerned here with concrete matters of life and death, not decontextualized ideas of transcendent truth or the moral resignation of unmoored relativism. This discourse concerning the Earth is an attempt to refigure the way words relate to worlds, in part because

“humans are not the ones who arbitrarily add the ‘symbolic dimension’ to pure material forces. These forces are as transcendent, active, agitated, spiritual, as we are” (p. 128, Latour, 1995).

The following pages will record the traces of my struggle to enact a story, not about Earth, but of, as, and for an Earth personified: Gaia.[7] The clearing I hope will be discovered at the end of my praxecological textual way-making is but the beginning of our long overdue transformation from disembedded techno-industrial consumers into symbiotic participants in a flourishing Gaian polity.[8]

“The urgent task of ecological culture,” says Rosemary Radford Ruether,

“is to convert human consciousness to the Earth, so that we can use our minds to understand the web of life and to live in that web of life as sustainers, rather than destroyers, of it” (p. 250, 1992).

It is my hope that my words may participate in the Great Work of weaving Western consciousness back into the tapestry of life from which it sprang by inspiring a renewed call to situated eco-action.[9]

Praxeology Becomes Praxecology

Praxeology is a word with a mixed history of discursive use. Murray N. Rothbard suggests that: “Praxeology rests on the fundamental axiom that individual human beings act, that is, on the primordial fact that individuals engage in conscious actions toward chosen goals” (p. 58, 1997). Arnold Kaufmann defines praxeology as “the science of human decision-making,” and models his approach after the Cartesian method of logical analysis (p. 12, 1968). Both Rothbard and Kaufmann seek universal, a priori laws of human action; but unlike Kaufmann (best known for his work in computer science), Rothbard criticizes the notion that conscious human beings can be treated like “stones or molecules whose course can be scientifically tracked in alleged constants or quantitative laws” (p. 74). I am in agreement with Rothbard’s (and before his, Ludwig von Mises’) rejection of a quantitative or positivistic account of human action, but because he fails to recognize the feelings, values, and purposes of all the species sharing this planet with humanity, his narrowly humanistic praxeology falls short of enacting the Gaian polity implied by a praxecology.

Kaufmann’s praxeology is even more problematic, as his account of the human nervous system by analogy to a “combinatorial machine [i.e., parallel computer]” (p. 224) neglects the autopoietic nature of living cognitive processes. As will be discussed at length in the following section, the nervous system is not a linear “chain of perception-analysis-decision-action” (p. 228, ibid.), but a recursive and operationally closed loop of sensorimotor coordination within endogenously specified environments of relevancy (see p. 12). Construing cognition as if analysis and decision-making took place as independent steps in a causal chain between perception and action neglects the physiological fact that thinking (i.e., analyzing and deciding) is always already an embodied and embedded sensorimotor activity. Kaufmann’s praxeology re-inscribes the Cartesian dualism responsible for the metaphysical confusions at the root of the ecological crisis. Praxecology is my attempt to re-embody the human being’s conscious analytic capacities by re-imagining the way mind and body, thought and action, knowing and being relate to one another.

Autopoietic Biology and Enactive Cognition

The particular discourse of biology is one that I, like Haraway, “value, want to participate in and make better…and believe to be culturally, politically, and epistemologically important” (p. 218, ibid.). The biology of the late Francisco Varela, more recently carried forward by Evan Thompson, strikes me as especially important because it arises out of an awareness of the “unbroken coincidence of our being, our doing, and our knowing” (p. 25, Maturana & Varela, 1988). In other words, deep inquiry into biology can reveal that our ontology, praxis, and epistemology are knotted together such that “…every act of knowing brings forth a world” (p. 26, ibid.).

Varela’s central conceptual contribution (along with Humberto Maturana) to the study of life is the theory of autopoiesis.[10] The theory is part of a larger move away from current orthodoxy in biology that understands organisms as “heteronomous units operating by a logic of correspondence”; instead, Varela offers a new biology that sees organisms as “autonomous units operating by a logic of coherence” (p. 50, ed. by William Irwin Thompson, 1987). The standard, gene-centric perspective of neo-Darwinist biology maintains that individual organisms are the puppets of their DNA, struggling to achieve fitness by way of natural selection into pre-given niches.[11] They are “other-determined” (heteronomous) because the forms of their bodies and behaviors are imposed extrasomatically by a supposedly objective world[12] and endosomatically by supposedly objective genetic algorithms. Evolutionary success is retroactively explained as the result of a correspondence between an organism’s body, instincts, and thoughts (all reducible to genetic coding) and the external world. Varela’s autopoietic view, in contrast, allows us to see organisms as autonomous and purposeful beings whose success is explained not by correct representation of a pre-given, objective reality, but by adequate structural coupling[13] with others allowing for the enaction of coherent and durable material-semiotic worlds.

Further, an autopoietic biology makes clear that self-production is at least logically (if not also temporally) prior to reproduction (p. 131, E. Thompson). The basis of living organization, therefore, is not the ability to genetically replicate, but to produce a membrane-bound, self-organizing identity distinguishing organism from environment. In this way, the ecopoiesis[14] of Gaia grants it living status, contrary to gene-centric neo-Darwinian criticisms.

Varela’s penchant for transdisciplinarity lead him to link his autopoietic biology to cognitive science, and his enactive theory of cognition to sociology. Varela has described enaction by borrowing the words of the poet Antonio Machado: “Wanderer the road is your footsteps, nothing else; you lay down a path in walking” (p. 63, 1987).

The scientific principles underlying this poetic insight have been highlighted by Evan Thompson, who offers five features central to the theory of enactive cognition (p. 13, 2007):

1.“…living beings are autonomous agents that actively generate and maintain themselves, and thereby also enact or bring forth their own cognitive domains.”

2.“…the nervous system is an autonomous dynamic system [that] actively generates and maintains its own coherent and meaningful patterns of activity according to its operation as a circular and reentrant network of interacting neurons.”

3.“…cognition is the exercise of skillful know-how in situated and embodied action.”

a.“Cognitive structures and processes emerge from recurrent sensorimotor patterns of perception and action.”

b.Sensorimotor coupling between organism and environment modulates, but does not determine, the formation of endogenous, dynamic patterns of neural activity, which in turn inform sensorimotor coupling.”

4.“…a cognitive being’s world is not a prespecified, external realm, represented internally by its brain, but a relational domain enacted or brought forth by that being’s autonomous agency and mode of coupling with the environment.”

5.“…experience is not an epiphenomenal side issue, but central to any understanding of the mind, and needs to be investigated in a careful phenomenological manner.”

One consequence of the enactive approach is that the Cartesian quest for epistemological certainty becomes but the expression of a particular “cognitive domain” (see # 1) made possible by the abstract languages of mathematics, precise measurements of machine technologies, and controlled laboratory environment. If the nervous system is operationally closed (see # 2), its function cannot be to modestly mirror an external, objective reality, even if the modest witnesses are highly trained scientists allied with powerful instruments that extend their sensory reach. The operational closure of the nervous system forestalls a representational account of its activity, as its role is maintaining coherence, rather than correspondence, between organism and environment. New techniques may open up previously hidden worlds, as when Galileo first turned a telescope to the sky and revealed the moons of Jupiter in 1610, or Hooke first recognized cells through a microscope in 1665, but one cannot speak of finally discovering the real as if it existed independently of our bodily and inter-bodily experience of its meaning.

As Haraway has suggested (p. 199, 1997), “…objectivity is less about realism than about intersubjectivity.” She yearns for us to come to see objectivity as a way of “forming ties across wide distances” (ibid.), instead of as the privileged and modest perspective of self-invisible European men who remain somehow unpolluted by their ambiguously situated bodies (p. 23-32, ibid.). If science can claim relative epistemological privilege, it is not the result of transcending culture, but of the ever-accelerating, ever-expanding mobility and combinability of the traces scientists and their cyborg surrogates have constructed within their networks. Outside of these special networks of labs, machines, shared languages, and centrally controlled policy initiatives, scientific facts have little relevance.[15]

Referring to technoscience, as opposed to just science, emphasizes the extent to which knowledge emerges out of skillful action in embodied situations (see #’s 3 and 4). Science has always been dependent upon technological sensorimotor extensions to deepen its understanding of that commonplace called by its peculiar culture “nature.” Artifacts and their articulations, including alphabetic technologies, shape the kinds of worlds scientists are capable of enacting. Even mathematics is a figurative language (p.11, ibid.), constructing analogies between otherwise unrelated domains of experience.[16]

Varela’s biology has implications not only for scientific epistemology, but also for society and human-earth relations. Echoing the sentiments of Haraway, Varela writes that:

“…biology is the source of most metaphors in current thinking…and expresses the possibility of a worldview beyond the split between us and it…what we do is what we know, and ours is but one of many possible worlds. [Enactive cognition] is…the laying down of a world, with no warfare between self and other” (p. 62, ed. by William Irwin Thompson, 1987).

It is our shared biological lineage that secures the basic structure of the worlds we can bring forth together via linguistic and empathic structural coupling. But culture is not bound by nature, or rather human nature is sufficiently malleable that diverse cultural expressions can emerge within isolated social groups. It is often only through inter-cultural confrontation and misunderstanding that members of one society come to recognize the unthought background of their enacted worlds. Varela is at pains to convey to us the message of his biology, that “…as human beings, we have only the world which we create with others” (p. 246, 1988). Unless I can encounter the differences between my (or my culture’s) cognitive domain and another’s with the willingness to make room for their meanings besides my own, I undermine the biological process of structural coupling that produces livable worlds. Meaning emerges out of difference (p. 167, Hornborg), and as W. I. Thompson suggests, “the recognition of differences [is] the consciousness of the unique that contributes to the understanding of the universal” (p. 167, 1985). Bringing forth worlds with others requires tapping into a universal substratum of empathic relation, not to erase difference, but to celebrate it.

Varela calls this willingness to forego self-certainty for the sake of enacting inclusive worlds with others love. Love, says Varela (and Maturana), “is the biological foundation of social phenomena: without love, without acceptance of others living beside us, there is no social process and, therefore, no humanness” (p. 264, 1988). Most scientists would dismiss such claims because they overshoot the objective scope of the scientific enterprise. But Varela’s biology is an attempt to break down the Cartesian divide between rationality and emotion, between what is and what ought to be. Biology is the study of life, but in the context of the recursive logic of enactivism, it becomes the self-study of our own living. Perhaps some physicists can study the mathematical regularities of measurable matter without too much personal investment, but to study the processes that birth and sustain our very being inevitably calls for profound personal and interpersonal involvement. And because of the identity between knowing and doing, the stories we tell about how life came to be and what it is doing here will determine what sorts of future worlds we bring forth together.

“Whatever we do in every domain, whether concrete (walking) or abstract (philosophical reflection), involves us totally in the body, for it takes place through our structural dynamics and through our structural interactions. Everything we do is a structural dance in the choreography of coexistence” (p. 248, ibid.).

Varela’s autopoietic biology is a critical response to the mechanistic trends of mainstream studies of living organization. He emphasizes the autonomy of individual organisms while also situating them within the eco-social environments that sustain them materially and semiotically. Varela also engages the philosophical implications of biology in a more penetrating way than most other scientists when he recognizes the dynamic unity of mind and body. Thought, perception, and action are knotted together in the process of living, and life is by its very nature a co-creative, world-making affair. Acknowledging this, a Gaian praxecology strives, not to disembed local cultures (whether scientific or indigenous) from their specific histories of structural coupling, but to expand their cognitive domains such that they begin to comport themselves appropriately in light of the knowledge of the whole Earth as a single living system—in mythopoeic fact, a person—that all beings, no matter our cultural or even biological differences, depend upon for survival. The task of our planetary age is to situate the parts in the whole (so human persons can relate to Gaia) while not forgetting that the whole is also to be found in each of the parts (humans are, first and foremost, earthlings). Personifying the Earth not only leads to renewed respect for our home planet, but reminds us of the encompassing and interconnected natural processes responsible for breathing life into individual human persons and all other earthlings. Personhood, it could be said, is granted only when beings are able to meet each other in loving social spaces.

Discursive Earth

Language is the primary instrument of human knowing, the tool of tools that opens up worlds of meaning more flexible (and reflexive) than the bio-semiotic endowments granted to most other organisms. But the virtue of human language is also its tragic flaw, as the creative power of words enable the imagination to almost entirely detach from the actuality of the body and the Earth. One result of such disengagement is what A. N. Whitehead has called the fallacy of “misplaced concreteness” (p. 51, 1925): abstract worlds of words and images restructure not only thought, but perception and action, such that the concrete lived experience of the uniqueness of individual persons, to take one example, becomes obscured by pre-conceived notions of culture, race, and class (etc.), leading to an objectification of others that short-circuits the process of linguistic and empathic structural coupling.

Varela suggests that human language evolved as a result of increased socialization and loving cooperation between our hominid ancestors (p. 220, 1988). The female shift from estral cycles to nonseasonal sexuality and the frontal coitus resulting from upright posture are mentioned as possible reasons for the development of such a complex and expressive behavior as speech[17] (p. 219, ibid.).

Evan Thompson points also to “…the evolution of a new stage of development, namely, childhood,” which provides developing human beings with an incredible plasticity, so much in fact that

“…individual subjectivity is from the outset intersubjectivity, a result of the communally handed down norms, conventions, symbolic artifacts, and cultural traditions in which the individual is always already embedded” (p. 409-411, 2007).

Writing may have arisen later (around the 4th millennium BCE) for economic reasons (p. 13, Jean, 1987), but the spoken word appears to have emerged originally as a result of the desire for increased interpersonal intimacy. This is, of course, a revisionist account of the origins of human language, focusing more on the evolution of consciousness than economic progress or the invention of technologies. W. I. Thompson offers evidence contrary to the standard technophilic and androcentric explanations, citing the work of prehistorian Alexander Marshack, who, like E. Thompson and Varela, argues language arose as a result of neoteny and increased social cohesion:

“If, at any point in the evolutionary process ‘language’ or proto-language was to be learned, it would not have been in the context of the hunt. It would have been learned young, before the individual was economically productive…in the context of the child’s widening, increasingly complex relational competence” (p. 91, W. I. Thompson, 1981).

A Gaian praxecology requires a novel way of relating to language as primarily communicative, rather than descriptive or representational. The meaning of our words comes not from a correspondence between them, our brains, and objects or events in the world, but from the consensual coordination of our lived bodies and their linguistic intentions.[18] Social coherence, rather than representational correspondence, produces meaningful intersubjective linguistic domains.

The communicative origins of language should make it clear that claims to establish a pure observer language free of cultural idiosyncrasy (and so capable of objective description of phenomena) are more political than scientific. Human beings speak with one another in order to share emotion and direct attention, and so any notion of descriptive or explanatory truth must include at least the potential for agreement between structurally coupled agents. If one group’s emically verified description contradicts another’s, there has not been a factual conflict but a failure to communicate. Such conflicts of description are especially insidious when political power is used to enforce “true” accounts of reality despite the resistance of marginalized social enactments of meaning.

The move away from representational accounts of language is the first step toward “…[placing] the human within the dynamics of the planet rather than [placing] the planet within the dynamics of the human” (p. 160, T. Berry, 1999). By recognizing language as a poetic product of the Earth’s own desire to know itself through autobiography, perhaps the psychological alienation and spiritual disenchantment so characteristic of our historical moment can be overcome.[19] According to Berry, “this awakening is our human participation in the dream of the Earth” (p. 165, ibid.). As I shared above, our language and the imaginative capacities it facilitates evolved because humans grew more capable of empathic structural coupling. As the cultural and symbolic systems that emerged became more complex, they began to reify differences between one another and, at least in the Western world, between humanity and nature. In effect, Western consciousness detached from the dream of the Earth and fell into its own nightmare of endless economic growth fueled by technological progress.[20]

A flourishing Gaian-polity will require rooting human imagination and language back in the body of the Earth and Cosmos, such that our evolutionary journey from protozoa to speaking primates becomes an expression of the planet’s own joie de vivre.

As Rick Tarnas has written:

“The human spirit does not merely prescribe nature’s phenomenal order; rather, the spirit of nature brings forth its own order through the human mind when that mind is employing its full complement of faculties–intellectual, volitional, emotional, sensory, imaginative, aesthetic, epiphanic…human language itself can be recognized as rooted in a deeper reality, as reflecting the universe’s unfolding meaning…Human thought does not and cannot mirror a ready-made objective truth in the world; rather, the world’s truth achieves its existence when it comes to birth in the human mind” (p. 435, 1991).

A participatory approach like Tarnas’ is exactly the kind of relationship between language, culture, and nature that praxecology seeks. Humanity, rather than the alienated dominator of Earth, can become Gaia’s most articulate storyteller and most potent dream weaver. Logos did not arrive in the universe in human form from beyond at some point in history, but has been a part of cosmogenesis since the beginning.[21]

Gaian Mythos

Humanity is unique, in the double sense of being both one with (Latin: unus) the Earth/Cosmos and undeniably alone. What it is that makes our species so special is a matter of contention. The risk one takes in defining the difference between human and nonhuman is that some group be marginalized by not being included in the favored category. History makes it quite apparent that societies become more willing to commit atrocities when they adopt antagonistic linguistic classifications (race, class, gender, species, etc.). But even to deny the difference is already to have marked the topic as a forbidden fruit. I cannot avoid this risk if I wish to tell my story (cross-cultural communication depends, at least etymologically, on munitions—on firing an opening shot). I can only provisionally offer that what makes us human is our being always already embedded participants in evolving worlds of meaning, and knowing so. Knowledge is what distinguishes humanity, but all knowing is situated within the promiscuous meanings and romantic-comedic-tragic narratives of embodied life among others, both human and non.

Our human capacity for knowledge also clues us into our ignorance, the fact that we lack, perhaps indefinitely, a complete understanding of how we came to be and how best to live. Nonetheless, as Wendell Berry has written, “…we have to act on the basis of what we know, [even if] what we know is incomplete” (p. 10, 2000). Our cultures must provide us with a flexible way to navigate the unmappable complexities of the terrain of life on this evolving planet. A renewed engagement with the mythopoeic dimensions of consciousness is one way to keep our balance while walking upon such uncertain ground.

Myth, according to W. I. Thompson, “is a state of being, analogous to music [and so] not simply a description, but a performance of the very reality it seeks to describe” (p. 6, 1996). Any knowledge we pretend to have regarding the world simultaneously participates in the bringing forth of exactly such a world. Even modern technosciences of life have deep mythological roots, and so to properly contextualize matters of fact I must invoke the poetic images of the ancient past (of at least our Western, alphabetic tradition).

Hesiod, Ovid, Homer and other Greek orators have given poetic, divinatory, or dramatic tribute to Gaia, the “mother of all [and] eldest of all beings” (Homeric hymn XXX). She is imagined to have emerged at the beginning of the world from the undifferentiated, lifeless mass of Chaos. Once her earthly foundation was in place, she birthed the sky, the mountains, and the sea, along with countless other beings, mortal and immortal. She was, for ancient humanity (on all continents, though by other names), personified as Grandmother, revered for her creative generativity and life-sustaining soils.[22]

For us, despite living thousands of years later in an age of “Reason,” it remains wise to remember with W. I. Thompson that a Gaian evolutionary theory and practice (a praxecology) “requires not simply training and data collection, but imagination” (p. 252, 1991).

Imagination, for Thompson, is what integrates perception and enacts coherent worlds of situated meaning:

“What brings forth a world is the human body as a field of metaphoric extension of the known into the unknown… [Imagination’s] ability to stabilize a world derives from…preverbal geometries of behavior we have come to cognize as the way things happen” (p. 253, ibid).

These preverbal geometries of behavior archetypally structure our unconscious experience of the Earth. In those “mythic times called the ‘Scientific Revolution’” (p. 1, Haraway, 1997), the Cartesian coordinate plane emerged to refigure the human body-mind, constructing a flattened background upon which the Western imagination could perform its world-making magic at relative distance from the local complexities and particular faces of Earth.

The re-imagining of the world I am after requires locating the supposedly universal scientific truths responsible for disenchanting the Earth and Cosmos. “[The scientific tribe], says Latour, “like earlier ones, projects its own special categories onto Nature; what is new is that it pretends it has not done so” (p. 102, 1993). This pretense to objectivity, ironically, is what allowed Lovelock to publish his first hypotheses (p. 568-570, Nature, 1965) concerning how best to detect extraterrestrial life (by searching for “order” and “non-equilibrium”). The ambiguous boundaries between life and non-life, much like those between human and nonhuman, are fraught with controversy.[23] Lovelock’s generalizations, however, seem to offer at least relatively universal characteristics applicable even to alien worlds. As far as Lovelock is concerned, life is a planetary affair[24], involving even the physiosphere in its metabolic processes of growth and evolution (through regulation of atmosphere and plate tectonics [Mann, 1991]).

Our living planet has produced not only complex eco-semiotic webs of organic community, but also a special primate who can know the difference between sign and thing (and who surfs the mystery in between with myth). This differential knowing raises the specter of minds separate from bodies, of a noosphere over and above the biosphere using it as a means for its own elevated ends. But we need not reproduce the Sacred Image of the Same by reifying the human difference; we can instead, through a self-critical and diffractive consciousness, bring forth histories of entangled meaning where reality and idea, science and story, nature and culture mutually constitute one another (Haraway, 1997). The cosmogenesis of Earth is as much mental, cultural, and transcendent as it is physical, natural, and immanent. There is no one true and ideal copy of the world that might be reproduced culturally or technologically. Reality is not a reflected image in the human mind, but co-emerges out of the interference patterns generated by the varied material-semiotic activities of countless earthlings, most of whom are not human (p. 299, Haraway, 1992). A Gaian praxecology attempts to make this radically inter-species realization explicit in both our ecological practices and our discourse.

Imagine a world where Lovelock’s scientific narratives about the “Ages of Gaia” are tied together in a distributed and layered way (p. 121, Haraway, 1997.) with the ancient myths and mysterious organic origins of so many other human and nonhuman natures-cultures. Gaian praxecology requires not hegemonic universalism or globalization, but a shared discourse of common origins always open to interpellation (p. 49-50, ibid.). Humanity does not yet share a sacred story of creation, but our global techno-industrial activities have already inextricably linked our biological destinies. The future of our species depends upon a more integral relation between economic theory and ecological practice, myth and science, and imagination and knowledge. A Gaian praxecology is at least an opening gesture toward a more appropriate relation between these dualisms.

Earth recognized and lived with as what Ian Hacking (p. 31-32, 1999) has called an “interactive kind,” a person, would bring our species even closer to what a Gaian praxecology implies. Reconnecting on a personal level with the Earth makes evident the real ways that our ideas are actualized in the bringing forth of worlds. For too long, Gaia has been conceived of as a dead rock mutely bearing oil drills and explosives, a mere standing reserve of resources fed into the human market, and only then made valuable. The result is that much of her body (including the parts of her that we are) has become toxic and infertile. The time has come to pay respect again to the Grandmother of all who eat and breathe beneath the sun. I call for a polyphonic Gaian mythos sung by humans and nonhumans alike, “…for things [quasi-objects] too have to be elevated to the dignity of narrative” (p. 90, Latour, 1993).

Conclusion

The spiritual import of a logos of the living Earth cannot be underestimated. Unless the human spirit can begin to feel at home again upon the planet of its birth, it will surely soon become the planet of its death.

“As physical resources become less available,” says Berry,

“psychic [or spiritual] energy must support the human project in a special manner. This situation brings us to a new reliance on powers within the universe and also to experience of the deeper self. The universe must be experienced as the Great Self. Each is fulfilled in the other: the Great Self is fulfilled in the individual self, and the individual self is fulfilled in the Great Self. Alienation is overcome as soon as we experience this surge of energy from the source that has brought the universe through the centuries. New fields of energy become available to support the human venture. These new energies find expression and support in celebration. For in the end the universe can only be explained in terms of celebration” (p. 170, 1999).

The ongoing celebration of the Cosmos and Earth community, indeed, provides us with a mythos worth performing and participating in. Indigenous peoples have ritually participated in Gaia’s seasonal rhythms for thousands of generations, recognizing the celebratory significance of all life’s activities. A similar re-sacralization of life goes hand in hand with a Gaian praxecology. Ritual is the concrete foundation of culture, the source of our most fundamental habits and dispositions. Renewing our connection with the “mother of all things” can bring an end to the fragmented Chaos of post-industrial civilization, giving us the inspiration to tell the meaningful stories of creation and regeneration going on around, between, and within us. It is through such scientifically informed, mythically imbued narratives and rituals that a Gaian praxecology can be brought forth. All of our cultural institutions must seek their guidance from the roles granted them by such numinous, celebratory stories such that they perform their world-making work for the glory of Gaia, rather than for the profit of a few corporations.

My story has now reached its end, but hopefully the holzwege I have laid down in walking has provided an opening for fellow terrestrial trekkers to follow in my footsteps. Our ultimate destination cannot be prematurely known, as the mythic landscapes we must travel are dense and full of mystery.

“The landscape of myth,” says W. I. Thompson,

“…is that shoreline where the island of knowing meets the unfathomable sea of our own being…When we come to [such] an edge we have to shift our mode of thought…from rational analysis to intuitive meditation” (p. 87, 1981).

We can only hope to understand the current planetary moment by wholeheartedly participating in the multibillion-year cosmic performance of powers that produced and continues to nourish us. Science and spirituality must mutually aid us in any joint venture to enact a Gaian praxecology, because only a more integral relation between intelligence and imagination will allow the human being to dream with the Earth once again.


[1] In the next section (see p. 6), I will unpack the implications and limitations of praxeology, explaining why praxecology provides a more appropriate plan of action for our historical moment.

[2] Cyborgs are “the offspring of…technoscientific wombs—imploded germinal entities, densely packed condensations of worlds, shocked into being from the force of the implosion of the natural and the artificial, nature and culture, subject and object, machine and organic body, money and lives, narrative and reality” (p. 14, Haraway, 1997).

[3] See Weston, A. ‘Forms of Gaian ethics,’ pgs. 217-230, Environmental Ethics 9. 1987. Lovelock himself sees his work as strictly scientific, but this has not stopped others from extending the implications of his theory into ethics and spirituality via critiques of anthropocentrism and materialism.

[4] “…the intensified misery of billions of men and women [and nonhuman species] seems organically rooted in the freedoms of transnational capitalism and technoscience” (p. 3, Haraway, 1997). Another result of techno-industrialism is mechanistic biology. I explore the metaphysical substructure of this disembedded perspective in my essay “On the Matter of Life: Towards an Integral Biology of Economics” (2009).

[5] Refers to class discussion (11/4/09). Also see Richard Dawkins’ The Extended Phenotype (1983), where he argues that natural selection could not have produced a self-regulating planetary organism. Dawkins’ definition of life in terms of genetic replication is too narrow for reasons discussed on page 9.

[6] “Even Hegel, for whom the Absolute is fully grasped as such only as Concept or Idea, recognized that art, religion and philosophy all share the same substance, that in fact it is only as reflection on (or refraction through) the myths and symbols of religion in particular that ‘absolute knowing’ can arise in the first place.” –Sean Kelly, Evolutionary Panentheism for the Planetary Era, 2009

[7] This is, essentially, a move away from representationalist epistemology to participatory epistemology, where knowledge “about” a system or process is understood to be an integral part of the same system or process. Personality is not the sole possession of our species, but a refined expression of the primordial personhood of the living Earth.

[8] For more on what a Gaian polity entails, see Gaia, A Way of Knowing: Political Implications of the New Biology, ed. by W.I. Thompson. Several principles are suggested, including the move away from one-sided ideologies to an “ecology of consciousness” (Bateson) and the supersession of nation-state territorialism through a recognition of the atmosphere as our global commons. See also section X (p. 67) of my essay On the Matter of Life: Towards an Integral Biology of Economics (2009).

[9] Eco-action is action in service of one’s earthly home and all the kin who live there (oikos– household, or family).

[10] The details of the technical definition of “autopoiesis” (self-production) need not concern us in this paper, but in short, a system is generally defined as autopoietic if it is composed of a network of dynamic chemical transformations that produces its own components and the membrane that spatially defines it as a system (p. 46, M. & V., 1988). The paradigmatic example of autopoiesis is the cell.

[11] See Dawkins 1989 and Dennett 1995

[12] Lovelock’s Gaia theory allows us to see that life does not adapt to fit the fixed parameters of a lifeless planet, but remakes its host into a complex, self-regulating living system.

[13] “We speak of structural coupling whenever there is a history of recurrent interactions leading to the structural congruence between two (or more) systems” (p. 74, M. &V., 1988).

[14] “In one of his articles Lovelock uses the term ecopoiesis to describe Gaia (Lovelock, 1987). This term seems just right for conveying both the resemblance and difference between Gaia and the autopoietic cell. The resemblance is due to the ecosphere and the cell being autonomous systems, the difference to the scale and manner in which their autonomy takes form” (p. 122, E. Thompson).

[15] “…we might compare scientific facts to frozen fish: the cold chain that keeps them fresh must not be interrupted, however briefly” (p. 119, Latour, 1993).

[16] For example, Thomas Edison wove a chain of associations together to relate Joule’s and Ohm’s equations with economic principles. The result was the electric light bulb (p. 239-240, Latour, 1988).

[17] W. I. Thompson (p. 21-26, 1981) similarly links the evolution of language and sexuality, pointing to, among other things, Alfred Kinsey’s studies in the 1950s showing the intelligentsia (those who have mastered language), unlike the working classes, tended to revel in oral sexuality.

[18] See Maturana’s Biology of Language: The Epistemology of Reality (1978), where he points to structural coupling as the origin of language. This is in contrast to denotative or representational theories of language, where words stand for things independent of consensual coordination between human organisms.

[19] “The governing dream of the twentieth century appears as a kind of ultimate manifestation of that deep inner rage of Western society against its earthly condition as a vital member of the life community” (p. 165, ibid.).

[20] See section VIII of my essay On the Matter of Life: Towards an Integral Biology of Economics (2009) for a possible account of why Western consciousness became so detached from the ecopoiesis of the Earth.

[21] “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through [the Word] and without [the Word] was not anything made that hath been made” (John 1:1-1:4).

[22] See James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (3rd ed., 1915). Frazer points to the common origin of all modern religions in the ancient goddess worshipping traditions of the world. Especially significant in the context of my essay is his statement that “…imagination acts upon man as really as does gravitation, and may kill him as certainly as a dose of prussic acid” (ch. 22).

[23] Autopoiesis has been suggested in an earlier section on Varela’s systems biology as a possible scientific definition of “life” that recognizes self-production and self-regulation (rather than genetic replication) as essential to living organization, thereby granting Gaia living status. The economic implications of the controversy over what counts as “life” are central to my essay On the Matter of Life (2009), where I argue, with the help of Whitehead and Varela, that all actual occasions are autopoietic organisms.

[24] While Lovelock was working with NASA to detect life on Mars, he had “a gentle discussion with Carl Sagan, who thought it might be possible that life existed in oases where local conditions would be more favorable. Long before Viking set course from Earth I felt intuitively that life could not exist on a planet sparsely; it could not hang on in a few oases, except at the beginning or at the end of its tenure. As Gaia theory developed, this intuition grew; now I view it as a fact” (p. 6, 1988).

 

Works Cited

  1. Berry, Thomas. The Dream of the Earth. 1988. Sierra Club Books: San Francisco.

2) Berry, Thomas. The Great Work: Our Way into the Future. 1999. Bell Tower: New York.

3) Berry, Wendell. Life is a Miracle: Essays Against Modern Superstition. 2000. Counterpoint: Washington D.C.

4) Hacking, Ian. The Social Construction of What? 1999. Harvard University Press: Cambridge.

5) Haraway, Donna J. Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouse™: Feminism and Science. 1997. Routledge: New York.

6) Haraway, Donna J. The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others. Printed in Cultural Studies. 1992. Eds. Grossberg, L., Nelson, C., Treichler, A. Routledge: New York.

7) Hesiod. Theogony. 1953. Bobbs-Merrill: New York.

8) Hornborg, Alf. The Power of the Machine: Global Inequalities of Economy, Technology, and Environment. 2001. AltaMira Press: Walnut Creek.

9)Jean, Georges. Writing: The Story of Alphabets and Scripts. 1992. Abrams: New York.

10) Kaufmann, Arnold. Transl. from French by Rex Audley. The Science of Decision-Making: An Intro to Praxeology. 1968. McGraw-Hill: New York.

11) Latour, Bruno. Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society. 1987. Harvard: Cambridge.

12) Lovelock, James. The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of our Living Earth. 1988. Bantam Books: New York.

13) Mann, Charles. Lynn Margulis: Science’s Unruly Earth Mother. Science 19 April 1991. Pgs. 378-381

14) Maturana, Humberto and Varela, J. Francisco. The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding. 1988. Shambala: Boston.

15) Rothbard, Murray N. The Logic of Action I: Method, Money, and the Austrian School. 1997. Edward Elgar Publishing: Cheltenham, UK.

16) Ruether, Rosemary Radford. Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing. 1989. Harper: San Francisco.

17) Segall, Matthew. On the Matter of Life: Towards an Integral Biology of Economics. 2009.

18) Tarnas, Richard. The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View. 1991. Ballantine Books: New York.

19) Thompson, Evan. Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind. 2007. Harvard: Cambridge.

20) Thompson, William Irwin (editor). Gaia: A Way of Knowing, Political Implications of the New Biology. 1987. Lindisfarne: New York.

21) Thompson, William Irwin (editor). Gaia 2: Emergence, The New Science of Becoming. 1991. Lindisfarne: New York.

22) Thompson, William Irwin. Pacific Shift. 1985. Sierra Club Books: San Francisco.

23) Thompson, William Irwin. The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light. 1981. St. Martin’s Press: New York.

24) Whitehead, Alfred North. Science and the Modern World. 1925. The Free Press: New York.

The following is a series of emails exchanged between Mat Wilson and I over the course of the last several months (my messages will be in bold, Mr. Wilson’s not):

———————————

Mat,

First, in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that just yesterday I watched a video where an objectivist read something Rand said about the encounter between European colonists and the many indigenous populations who originally inhabited North America. Basically, she tried to justify the genocide by saying the natives had no concept of individuality, rights, or property, and so it was somehow moral for the colonists to just take the land and kill them all in the process. I find this absolutely appalling, both because of how she seems to ethnocentrically apply the idea of non-aggression, but also because of how she conceives of the earth as something to be “owned” and only valuable when produced and sold by humans. This kind of anthropocentric attitude has lead to the largest extinction event in 65 million years (approx. 20,000 species are going extinct every year; the background rate is about 1 a year) and caused a forthcoming change in climate that could very well spell the end of civilization as we know it. So even though I am rather unsettled about her perspective, I will try to approach Rand’s philosophy “objectively”, as they say.

I just read Rand’s epistemology on Wikipedia. I know, not the best source, but its good enough for an introduction, eh? I have a few issues:

1) While I reject the extreme relativism of post-modernism, I think there are some very important insights it has provided that any serious philosophy today needs to take into consideration.

a) there is the issue of logic. There are many kinds of logic aside from the Aristotelian. There is no one absolute and correct Logic, as philosophers once thought. Logic is normative, in other words. So long as all involved agree on the kind of logic to be employed, it is ‘objectively’ true. In a similar sense, there is no longer one kind of geometry. Euclid’s geometry is now only one possible form of geometry, next to Riemannian, projective, etc. geometries. This is important considering how Rand dismisses the necessary/contingent distinction. We can say that there are many possible space-time manifolds because we know there are many possible geometries. So our particular space-time manifold is not necessary, it could have been otherwise.

b) there is the issue of multicultural sensitivity, which obviously Rand does not understand, as her opinion on the colonization of NA shows. Her “rationality” is not Absolute. It arose out of a particular cultural and historical context and is not necessarily objective for all people. There are many ways of knowing, each valid in its own sphere. Again, I’m not a relativist, but nor am I an absolutist or objectivist. I think there is truth, but we must always be careful to remember that truth can be approached from a whole variety of perspectives.

2) I think Rand’s epistemology neglects the importance of emotion for cognition. fMRI scans of the brain in action show the limbic system (associated with emotion) and the prefrontal cortex (associated with rational thought) are always active together, mutually dependent one on the other. This is true even when subjects are evaluating the truth of statements such as 2+2=4. This is true for us not only because it is logically correct, but because it is somehow pleasurable for us emotionally.

I could go on but I’ll stop now and wait for your response. Thanks for your interest in engaging me in all this, by the way!

take care,

Matt

——————————–

Dear Matt,

I’m so sorry I completely forgot about this. Take a moment to review what you wrote as I rightfully reply now:

The only race we should care about are each other.. human beings. What value does nature hold apart from man? There is none. Animals and insects (among countless other organisms including plants) do not have rights. They do not have rights because since time immemorial they never formed rules or laws or demonstrate that they could be reasoned with and understand and have empathy.

Only until recently were females and non-whites recognized as human-beings.. finally. We should not worry about extinction of all these species.. extinction has been going on for a long, long time without humans.

Isn’t it kind of arbitrary to say that everything and every organism is “sacred”? Just because it exists we must become slaves to ensure its protection and make sure it continues to reproduce?

Besides.. if you really like a certain species.. you will go out and study engineering and biology and eventually re-invent that animal or organism.

The natives that originally inhabited America may or may not have been reasonable. Likely they were unconscious brutes operating on the god-level of consciousness in an immutable state of hypnosis taking commands from the tribal consciousness or the gods directly. Who knows? I do not know the conditions back then.

Yes, it was absolutely immoral if the natives made no threat and came in peace and were negotiable. They could even say, “Please leave us.. this land is ours.” and that would be fine too. Again, I don’t know what happened and more and more I’m finding quite-a-many bad things about many of the founding fathers themselves.. One instance: what a hypocrite Jefferson was to have slaves?? And then I heard he not only impregnated the one.. but made his children become slaves too!?

Today we have much more knowledge. If we came across land and found a primitive colony.. we could likely form empathy with them through communication skills and demonstrating authority. We could systematically learn there language and show them the world and even possibly trade or just learn with them.

There is no excuse now for the same acts of what you described several hundred years ago.. except for imminent danger of a native putting a spear to one’s throat.

Onwards elsewhere:

1)

a) I must go forth and learn about these other geometries as I only ever formally learned Euclidean. I have read a couple hundred pages of Aristotle through his various books.. but it was scattered and I did not systematically study any of it.. only soak it in for pleasure and to ponder it on a walk. I must go and take a look at his logic v.s. others. I’ll make that an assignment this weekend at the library.

b) But we should have no sensitivity for the psychos in Iran and North Korea. We must show them no mercy. Our ideals are better than there’s because we love life. They, on the other-hand, hate the now and will do anything by means of force to destroy us.

c) Nope. Ayn Rand actually believed that emotions are powerful forces that give one instant results like a computer about how their beliefs, actions, and mode of living are sustaining there life. Even in the Fountainhead, Katie Halsey (Peter Keating’s original darling), for example, starts to take Uncle Ellsworth’s every word and accepts faith and service to others to the point where her emotions are so overwhelmingly negative and clearly telling her that this isn’t right.. she starts to fight them and continue doing what she was taught..

I don’t remember exactly what happens to her after that but usually a person eventually becomes so numb, after while.. they just can no longer feel.

Also, Atlas Shrugged has many instances where especially Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart have strong epiphanies and ‘revelations’ and great insights that triumph or even heed them of imminent danger.

But, still.. regardless of how anyone feels.. 2+2=4. A is always A. Given that a is defined as a particular thing and immutable.

It is true once one gets good at math, you can perform all sorts of operations and you know you made a mistake because “something doesn’t feel right”.. but that is exactly true (what you said).. as humans logic and emotion often does practically work concurrently during cognition and actual information assimilation and comprehension. But, when righting rules and laws of logic.. they must be formulated and based off principle alone and a proof must not consist of, “2+2=4 because I had a profound and exaltant revelation from the Lord Jesus Christ”

No.. 2+2=4 because 2 is defined as two of something.. like ** (2 asterisks) and the operation of ‘adding’ means to join those group of things so ** + ** = ****.

In reality, 2+2=4.. but indeed, what the hell does it matter if we are dead or never existed?? Logic is supposed to serve our Ego. 😉

(but of course, we must come to realize that we cannot manipulate reality through wish alone.. otherwise we will live short and horrendous lives!)

Ok, I promise I will respond much sooner! (like within 1-3 days from now on)

If I feel I would like to respond later, I will let you know and approx. what time or we can move onto another topic. Again, sorry about this!

– Mat

(P.s. I’m sure there are some spelling, grammar, and semantic errors in all this.. I don’t care to proof-read though… this is just conversation for the most part! So if you are confused on anything, let me know.)

———————————

Mat,

Thanks for the response, even though delayed (as is my response to your response!). I’ve not got much time (writing term papers), but I want to recommend a book to you about industrial capitalist economics. It is my feeling and understanding that human beings are not the only makers or possessors of value and meaning on this planet. We are one species in a vast community of life, but our dominant economic ideology obscures this (along with many other things). I’m familiar with Rand’s economic philosophy mostly because her (or a nearly equivalent version) “free market” ideology is taught in American schools as the only natural way. I’m wondering if you’ve read any of Marx’s work? The book I want to recommend takes a Marxist perspective, but expands it in light of ecological concerns and the 2nd law of thermodynamics. I promise it will make you see the world from a different perspective, at least if you give the arguments an open-minded chance. The book is called “The Power of the Machine: Global Inequities of Economy, Technology, and Environment” by Alf Hornborg.

Yours,

Matt

——————————

Matt,

I will definitely check it out for the weekend. It’s funny you messaged me today as I was driving this morning on my way to McDonald’s I had a flashback, after seeing a golden retriever dog, of when I was very young (maybe 4 or 5) I questioned the nature of animal consciousness.. I was told they had no soul and had limited memory.

I tried to imagine what that would be like.. unable to have words or concepts or thinking in terms of prepositions (on, off, through, against, et. al. .. all in relation to space.. as if there was some sort of “space” “in” the mind… whereas the mind is not physical and is not the brain.. it is just a process)

I don’t know how accurate that is though that all animals are only instinctual and largely unconscious.

In regards to government though, it would be incompatible to our existence (since we are the ‘rational animal’) to try and provide protection of rights to animals and other species.. as you cannot negotiate with them. We have incompatible interfaces beyond voluntary adoption to take them as our ‘pets’ or to the zoo.

Last night, too, I thought as I fell asleep on how the fact is that I perceive the entire world as me and other people… ignoring all other forms of life and the source of it.

I suppose it’s easy to unconsciously fall into that belief as we have intertwined so tightly into our transference of communal thought.. just because the rest of the world isn’t thinking (i.e. other life-forms), doesn’t mean they are (i.e. exist)…

It’s easy to think that man is the center of the universe.. just as they thought the earth was the center a long time ago.

This is largely a good thing though.. as it gives us Identity. It can also be a bad thing, too, when we have the wrong identity and self-destroy.

Do not confuse “capitalism” with “free market” and economics. Capitalism is often defined as when resources, values, money, energy, etc.. is privately operated.

That definition is only a surface definition.. a result of the actual moral principle. Capitalism, in the sense of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, is a political treaty across all individuals (conceptual beings only.. that can understand and abide within a written set of laws and think and act for themselves) that each individual is an end-in-himself and has a right to their life and property (as naturally claimed from the environment (read John Locke)).

It is very anthropocentric or man-centered. But if we are to blindly start extolling the sacredness and divinity of the environment AND that it must be left untouched and protected at all costs to not be disturbed from its ‘pristine’ and intrinsic state of nature.. that consequently turns us into a self-sacrificial animal as reality has already dictated that we need to exploit the environment in order to survive. We have physical bodies and they need energy like any sort of machine in order to produce our very existence.

Just because we live comfortably now in industrialized nations and not always in a constant, direct threat of our survival.. doesn’t mean that we must redirect that energy back into the very ground in order to ‘save’ nature and all the species.

We are at no fault that reality made us to eat and exploit other beings and forms of life. We cannot control that. We have governments only because our most dangerous enemy is each other.. not other species as they aren’t so sly, clever, and conceptual.

I will take a look at this book though! I read almost all of Communist Manifesto..

“It is my feeling and understanding that human beings are not the only makers or possessors of value and meaning on this planet.”

Yes, qua other beings can consciously appoint value and meaning.. we don’t have the same ‘interfaces’ in order to share those values. They are irrelevant in large part. I would need to give specific examples:

E.g. A basic organism gives immediate value to acquiring energy or food. If a human had ONLY this process.. she could not survive if an alternate condition came by and she needed to protect itself to avoid death.

Now, exponentiate the countless possible situations that can arise from a simple goal such as acquiring something of value… such as food. No other organism was ever to come up with the idea of a ‘constitution’ or even a ‘farm’ in order to preserve their life beyond the immediate moment.

We have different interfaces and are incompatible with sharing and/or respecting other beings’ values.. qua they can attribute values. (which I believe some animals can.. but most species.. like a ladybug… I don’t know…)

———————————–

Mat,

The philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead has helped me conceive of how animals are thinking and conceptualizing beings despite the fact that they do not speak. Whitehead writes (in “Process and Reality”) that propositional thought does not require language. Dogs, for example, DO think spatially about object relations. Otherwise they would not be able to catch a frisbee. The pervasive Cartesianism that separates mind from body in our modern culture prevents us from understanding how bodily motility (human or not) is already a form of cognitive articulation. Language is simply a further development of the silent propositional logic of the body; it allows us to reflect upon our own meanings, to reframe situations and so define more appropriate and complex behaviors in a way not accessible to non-speaking animals. Obviously, as you go backwards down the chain of complexity, organisms become less conscious and more instinctual. But there is no sharp line separating humans from animals. Dogs are conscious, in my opinion. Insects are not, though certainly they are still experientially-aware in some limited sense (not blind machines or mere automatons).

We like to think of ourselves as the rational animal, but I think this is largely a future aspiration and not a current reality. Our current global socio-economic situation is about as inefficient and irrational, not to mention morally egregious, as I could imagine. Inefficient because it (industrialism) is thermodynamically unsustainable, morally egregious because it (capitalism) is feeding off the poor periphery (global South) to accumulate wealth and resources at the industrialized, “developed” centers/cities (in the West). One of the things Hornborg discusses at length in his book is how money/wealth is never “created,” but is rather part of a zero-sum game in which any gain for one party comes at the loss of another. Capitalism is inherently exploitative and based in unjust social relations. Money is fetishized (as Marx recognized) and obscures inequitable personal relations by raising a veil of abstract exchange value between us. We think some invisible hand, or intrinsic goodness of “the market” maintains fairness, but this is just ideological medicine for a deeply rooted psychological sickness alienating us from one another and the earth which birthed and sustains us. Human beings and their economy do not produce anything but new symbolic/cultural relations–the only true producer is the Sun, or perhaps plant life, which converts light into food and air for the rest of the biosphere to eat and breath. Until we recognize that ecological relations trump any contrived “economic law,” we will continue to pillage the planet and exploit the labor and resources of “undeveloped” people. The logic of capitalism requires that there be a class of poor people and cheap resources to be exploited by a class of rich owners. We will never live in a just and equitable world until we totally re-think our economic relations.

Another thing that needs critiquing (in my humble opinion) is the Anglo-American (since at least Locke) tendency to abstract the “individual” from the society/culture in which they are embedded. Individuality does not come before society. Everything you as an individual know and do is provided for you by a cultural matrix of relations. Your “individual rights” arise from and are protected by “collective responsibilities.” Your identity is at least partially constructed by those you interact with on a day to day basis, as well as by the language you happened to be born into. Don’t get me wrong, individuality is a wonderful thing. But it is not an end-in-itself. We cherish individuality because of the expression it affords us, and expression is a communal value. We individualize because we want to share our authentic selves with everyone else. Autonomy is always in communion.

————————————-

Great point on the dog.. how could it calculate the proper steps to catch a frisbee? I was actually thinking of the dog when writing that there is evidence that it does have a ‘ghost’ in its ‘shell’.

“We like to think of ourselves as the rational animal, but I think this is largely a future aspiration and not a current reality.”

Yes, the unique part of of being rational does imply volition. And each person must choose out of their own volition to operate through reason (i.e. concept formulating and hypothesizing and testing). It seems the average person, though, lives in ignorance and happily lives passively never pondering on philosophy and just hoping good luck or fate will continue to provide them of their wants and needs. They don’t care about history, or what makes things works.

“Inefficient because it (industrialism) is thermodynamically unsustainable”

What is your definition of, “industrialism”? And I hope it’s not something to do with factories or cars.. that is technology. (including the waste it may produce. All organisms produce waste of some sort. Humans just happen to have ugly smoke come out of their cars. But cows fart grass and deteriorate the ozone.. or so I’ve heard!)

“morally egregious because it (capitalism) is feeding off the poor periphery (global South) to accumulate wealth and resources at the industrialized, “developed” centers/cities (in the West).”

Capitalism doesn’t do anything. Capitalism doesn’t even exist. It is only a word to describe the interpersonal interactions among people as traders (not just monetary trade either.. but any sort of relationship where each party has the intent to make a mutual-benefit that will further enhance and/or sustain his life.. including love, conversation, etc…).

So, if we break it down: I take what you’re saying as, ‘It is morally egregious to use one’s mind and live as a human being through free, rational thought and trade amongst one’s self and others.’

You must be more specific. Who is committing a crime against whom? In a politics that recognizes and upholds the individual.. it is only the individual that is prosecuted and not his neighbor that had no part in it.

“Money is fetishized (as Marx recognized) and obscures inequitable personal relations by raising a veil of abstract exchange value between us.”

Money is a unit of credit remunerated to a person for his contribution to a society’s economy and livlihood. We cannot eliminate money and say, “You scratch my back, and I’ll scracth yours.”

If we relied on that bromide.. it may be that simple in certain cases but it’s just like arithmetic v.s. algebra. We can deal with simple, direct addition and multiplication of known, simple numbers but when several other ‘factors’ (pun intended.. think polynomials 😉 comes into play and exponents and unknown exponents, etc…. No one can control what is beyond their mind’s direct, perceptual capacity so we must resort to “abstract exchange value between us” because properly-formed concepts are valid pointers of what exists in actual reality. It all has to do with ‘unit-economy’ or what Ayn Rand called, “crow epistemology”.

“We think some invisible hand, or intrinsic goodness of “the market” maintains fairness, but this is just ideological medicine for a deeply rooted psychological sickness alienating us from one another and the earth which birthed and sustains us.”

That “invisible hand” is your mind’s [volitional] power of abstract reasoning and ability to form concepts. You cannot know everything.. no one can know ‘everything’ (at least directly/perceptually ;). The market does maintain fairness as long as a gun (or any form of force or fraud) is NOT involved to acquire value. We are far from that though and politicians are currently trying to take over the medical industry in America.

The Earth, as a planet, is an unconscious piece of rock (if I may be so crude ;). The sun has no consciousness either. It is true that they have given us our existence, but they are not dieties and did not volitionally intend to create us. We cannot ‘thank’ them.

“Human beings and their economy do not produce anything but new symbolic/cultural relations–the only true producer is the Sun, or perhaps plant life, which converts light into food and air for the rest of the biosphere to eat and breath.”

Yes, but aren’t those “symbolic/cultural” (and material formations, too! 😉 wonderful and grand!? And like I said, the Sun has no volition and is not some kind of diety. It is not a producer.. it’s just a great resource that happened to be put in the right spot. ;P

(Some people like to get nice tans, too, with it. Others think about how they’ll make a solar panel out of it to power their entire city. But we don’t give it thanks or money.. it demands none.)

“Until we recognize that ecological relations trump any contrived “economic law,” we will continue to pillage the planet and exploit the labor and resources of “undeveloped” people.”

These “underdeveloped people” are humans, right?? Or are you referring to plants and bugs? There are no “underdeveloped” humans (unless the person has down-syndrome or similar.. then you’re missing a chromosome or whatever and really missing out on major qualities of life). There is really only irrational cultures that have psycho dictators or politicians leading them.(actually.. ‘forcing’ would be a better word)

“The logic of capitalism requires that there be a class of poor people and cheap resources to be exploited by a class of rich owners.”

I hear that argument all the time. It always lacks the context of volition and current reality. The latter, reality, argument: The poorest people in America today, are farrrr richer than some of the richest kings and tribesmen in history… Those bossy monarchs sure as hell didn’t have internet, tv, heating and air, running water, grocery stores, sugary goods, microwave and fast foods, etc. etc. etc.. even a couple hundred years ago!)

And volition: Success is not an accident. Anyone that is willing and determined to, can become rich beyond what they dreamed possible. It doesn’t mean everyone will make several hundred million dollars.. but pretty much anyone willing to refine their studies, work, and discoveries and maintain it.. will do something tremendous (or even small!) that will reward them justly.

But when politicians start pointing the guns for pursuing one’s own interests.. that’s when jobs and poverty start pouring down.

“We will never live in a just and equitable world until we totally re-think our economic relations. ”

I absolutely agree! (just not in the same way you do 😉

Alright, this will probably be my last letter for the night. Write me a short reply on whether or not you still disagree and if I cleared up anything or confused you…

I still have yet to respond to your last paragraph. I will do so tomorrow but I do agree that identity and autonomy is largely inherited and “is provided for you by a cultural matrix of relations.”

I think that statement is written eloquently! (namely, “cultural matrix of relations”)

Btw, I think we could get away with some animal rights. I think it’s absolutely horrific when these weirdos scrape fur off of *living* animals and leave them in pure agony… I also don’t like when people allow their dogs to get in dog fights and bet on the dogs….

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Well, I wouldn’t want to say the dog “calculates” the proper steps to catch the frisbee, as if it projected a Cartesian grid onto the world in order to decipher its coordinates and direction. Rather, the dog’s knowledge of the frisbee’s spatio-temporal arc is implicit and embodied: a “know-how” rather than a “know-what.” It is much the same for you and I when we, say, encounter a flight of stairs. We don’t need to logically analyze each movement of our legs in advance in order to walk up the steps; instead, our legs do the “thinking” for us in real time.

I should point out that even this formulation (“our legs do our thinking for us”) seems to suggest a dualism between “you” and “your” legs, as if there were some metaphysical chasm separating one from the other. It is more ontologically honest to say “I am a body” than “I have a body,” for who is this “I” apart from the body-as-lived? You are the active attunement of your body to others and the world. Your volition is a function of your biological constitution: animation-from-within, will, purpose, etc. are not exclusively human possessions. Rather, they are part and parcel of being alive. Every organism is in this sense ensouled. Even the biosphere as a whole constitutes a living system with its own intrinsic telos. In fact, human purposes are best described as derivative of the primary directionality of the cosmos at large (which are diverse, ranging from creativity to cataclysm). The human being is quite unique, I wouldn’t want to deny that. We are the leading edge of a 13.7 billion year cosmogenesis, leading because we are the first species, not only to know (to be self-conscious) in the general sense, but specifically to know transcendent love. Ironically, self-consciousness is only possible if we have internalized otherness. Internalizing otherness is synonymous with loving another selflessly, giving oneself to an other for the sake of something greater than either of you as individuals.

All this is directly precisely against the Randian ethos of enlightened selfishness. To my mind (as they say), such a doctrine ignores the discoveries of modern depth psychology (Nietzsche, Freud, Adler, Jung, Lacan, Hillman, Tarnas, Rozak…) concerning the various reasons and ways in which the ego is not the master of its house (the psyche). The notion of acting out of rational self-interest is a tautological platitude. It’s meaning is always self-referentially defined, and so the ego can perpetually convince itself that it is in control, even if in actual fact its life remains largely unpredictable and mysterious. The philosophical or reflective life is not the norm, not by any stretch of the imagination. It involves what I mentioned above, an incorporation of what initially appears foreign or other (in the case of philosophy, this is Wisdom/Sophia) by way of loving cognition. Philosophy is quite literally the love of wisdom.

Industrialism is the use of machines (both technological and social) to transfer extropy (negentropy) from the global periphery to “developed” centers of capital accumulation. In the process of thus transferring highly ordered energy and materials (i.e., extropy) from resource rich localities to technologically sophisticated cities, industrial machines produce tremendous amounts of entropy (waste, pollution, etc.). The net gain in “productivity” and “profit” for those at the center is at the expense of the ecosystems, peoples, and cultures surrounding them (for example, the US imports Ecuadorian oil in exchange for the exported weapons their government needs to secure the resource from rebellious peasants). Economics is a zero-sum game. There is no growth in one sector without the destruction of another. This is the main lesson we learn by applying thermodynamics to the global marketplace.

All organisms produce waste, it is true. But unlike global industrial capitalism (GIC), nature reproduces itself differentially, in myriads of forms and niches. This provides for long-term stability (evolutionary stability, no doubt… stability is here defined not as static conservation, but as the continuous movement toward diversity and mutuality). GIC reproduces homogenously, turning the whole planet into English speaking, McDonalds eating consumers because it is built atop a logic of general-purpose money whose value is so abstract that it can substitute for almost any cultural meaning. Hence the rapid commodification of EVERYTHING, from food to friendship, so typical of the waning years of the industrial system. Marx was right about at least one thing: capitalism is invincible to outside ideologies, but inevitably tends toward its own self-destruction (because of ecological inefficiency leading to biospheric crisis and moral egregiousness leading to class revolt).

I have nothing against mutually-enhancing relationships between people. In fact, I think they are our only hope! I’m arguing that GIC requires a general-purpose monetary system, and that such a system necessarily trends toward the commodification of all facets of life. If you define capitalism differently, that’s fine. But as I (and the economists I have read) use the word, it means a specific social arrangement predicated upon the use of abstract, general-purpose money not tied to any concrete social or material reality other than what neoclassical economists call “use value.” The result is alienation from oneself and one another, as the only valid way of relating to the world becomes instrumentalism (i.e., how am I to best use other people and nature to get what I want?).

We do have perceptual capacities limiting our interaction with others and the world, but such limits are also possible gateways. Relating to others (and even ourselves) via abstract use-value closes the door to the many other ways of being-towards-others and being-in-the-world. We should be careful not to naturalize the ideology implicit in GIC, that which turns the human subject into a disembedded consumer.

The earth is best seen as a dynamic whole, but for the purposes of analytical understanding we can divide it into a core with several spheres. The core is (to the best of our scientific knowledge) liquid iron. It is spinning rather quickly and produces an electromagnetic field that protects the earth from solar radiation. Without the electromagnetic membrane produce by the activity of the core, life would not be possible on the surface. The lithosphere could be described as rock, but it is not of a single piece but 12 major plates. I don’t need to bore you with a lesson on plate tectonics, I’m sure you’re familiar. It suffices to say that the movement of these plates represents a sort of self-healing wound. The lithosphere is constantly remaking itself, keeping its surface fresh. The process occurs at speeds so slow relative to human life that it is no wonder we have trouble recognizing it for what it is. The biosphere is the thin film of organic life surviving between lithosphere and atmosphere, an atmosphere whose composition the biosphere created and maintains. The noosphere is hard to describe exactly (because it provides the very possibility of description), but most certainly includes the conceptual meaning you and I are exchanging here as language-speaking humans. All of these spheres of activity unite to birth a single living earth. The sun, of course, is the source of it all. We are basically inside the sun, surrounded on all sides by its heliosphere. Its multi-billion year process of dying supplies earth with the energy it needs to live. Perhaps you do not feel a sense of awe and reverence for these heavenly bodies. I can’t help it. Even if I understand rationally/scientifically how it all works, the mystery as to why it should be at all leaves me spellbound and mystified. The only authentic reaction I can muster is of a spiritual sort.

Sorry I have written so much, but I wonder if you’d mind if I posted our conversation on my blog? It is too interesting and poignant not to share!

Yours,

Matthew

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Actually, I was planning on publishing this elsewhere later on and asking you that… (why rewrite the same stuff over and over.. and why have to re-await another opportunity to express and consolidate ideas??) But not as soon you probably will.

I give you explicit permission to post whatever and ALL of what I e-mail you unless I explicitly note otherwise.

I will definitely say you did get very close to the source of your beliefs. I.e. I now understand much more your underlying cognitions and beliefs.

I will respond more tomorrow or this weekend. (including that last paragraph of your last e-mail)

For now, I want to make one comment: If the entire world was ‘Americanized’.. i.e. industrialized and materialized and everyone was motivated to find work, keep moving, and motivated to have material wealth.. we would not have such poverty and exploitation that exists all elsewhere in the world. And there would not be soo much of a gap of ‘socio-economic classes’. For instance, 15%-18% of the world’s wealth (possibly a bit more.. I can show you how I figured this out if you are interested.. just a quick calculation) are from people that are millionaires and above!

The global GDP per capita is $8,100 (directly from Wikipedia 😉 ). While $8,100 per person is pretty damn good…. I’m sure hundreds of million make only a few hundred a year at most. Is this because they are so worthless? I think not. It’s because their oppressive nation that they have no choice but to stand around idly wondering what to do with themselves. Also they were not born into a culture like you or I where there are so many ideas and fields to explore. Many have no concept of individual liberty like the wackos in North Korea… Many of them love their leader despite what a bastard and psycho he is!

And you totally refuted me (which I was prepared for as hinted in last letter) that the Earth is far more than a ‘rock’! I would have to agree. Also, it is quite bizarre that how old and BIG this universe is most of us still seem to think we are the center.

And how many thousands of galaxies exist without any evidence of sentience or consciousness beyond Earth.

More later.

– Mat

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Look forward to your longer response. I’ll just say, in response to: “If the entire world was ‘Americanized’…” that most estimates suggest we would need 5 earths to provide the resources necessary for everyone (all 7 billion) to have an American lifestyle. Regardless, I think the very logic of industrial capitalism is such that a majority of earth and humanity must be exploited in order to sustain the continual enrichment of a few. There simply would not and could not be “development” and material prosperity in the Western nations without systematic destruction of land and people elsewhere (South America, Africa, Asia). Again, economics is a zero-sum game, no matter the ideologically-driven rhetoric about economic “growth.” No energy can be created or destroyed, and all dissipative structures (whether organic or techno-industrial) survive by importing extropy and exporting entropy. The difference between natural organisms and the techno-industrial machine is like that between healthy cells and cancer. Organisms generally do not destroy their own habitats/biomes. The techno-industrial machine, on the other hand, is the most efficient destroyer of ecosystems ever to grace the presence of our planet.

BTW, from Wikipedia: “A study by the World Institute for Development Economics Research at United Nations University reports that the richest 1% of adults alone owned 40% of global assets in the year 2000, and that the richest 10% of adults accounted for 85% of the world total. The bottom half of the world adult population owned barely 1% of global wealth.”

Wealth redistribution from the poor to the super-rich is the primary symptom of global industrial capitalism.