The Perspective Project

The digital domain of david anthony pittaway

Research study: introduction and background

In the year 1859 the English philosopher, political economist and civil servant John Stuart Mill saw his book On Liberty published. In it he points out the importance of “experiments of living”:

As it is useful that while mankind are imperfect there should be different opinions, so is it that there should be different experiments of living; that free scope should be given to varieties of character, short of injury to others; and that the worth of different modes of life should be proved practically, when any one thinks fit to try them.

Mill’s considered position could not be clearer: if you do not hurt anybody else in your endeavours, then you should be free to think and do whatever you like. This is indeed sums up the concept of ‘negative freedom’ or ‘negative liberty’: “One has negative liberty… when there is an absence of external interferences to one’s doing what one wishes – specifically, when there is an absence of external interferences by other people[1]. Mill was concerned that the ‘tyranny of the majority’[2] – or rather, that the tyranny of those “who succeed in making themselves accepted as the majority” – was eroding people’s freedoms in the negative sense to which I have just drawn attention. Freedom increasingly was becoming ‘positive freedom’, where “one has the opportunity and ability to do what one wishes”[3], but where the opportunities are invariably delineated by institutions or organisations such as the state. I must therefore add that one has positive liberty when one has the opportunity and ability to do what has been deemed as acceptable to do by the State or some other institution, organisation, or dominant societal, political, economic or attitudinal[4] force. Mill’s project in On Liberty was partly to situate the broad concepts of liberty and freedom on a spectrum and thereby emphasise that all liberties and freedoms are not equal – for example, that which a person does ‘freely’ under endorsement from a historically-dominant institution (such as State, Church, and economically influential entity) is not the same kind of liberty as the freedom to do whatever one pleases and be left alone so long as one does not injure another person.

It is not my intention to become reflectively engaged in the normative ethical activity of asking whether or not positive liberty is preferable to negative liberty. While it is possible to argue on the one hand that negative freedom is the freedom to starve, and on the other hand that ‘freedoms’ endorsed by specific institutions with clear vested interests and agendas are technically no freedoms at all, the answer perhaps lies in the middle of the two extremes, and this topic as ever remains a fertile one for consideration and discussion. For the initial purpose of this introduction, however, I would like to ask, to what extent is it possible to exercise freedom in its negative sense in contemporary society? By contemporary society, I mean specifically the advanced, consumer, competitive, Capitalist, industrial, Democratic, dominion-driven dispensation, an acronym for which is ACID, one I have adopted from Kvaloy via Hoyer (see Chapter 3) and adapted slightly[5].  Shortly after a person is born, he or she is given an identity number, national security number, national insurance number, or whatever the number is called in the country in which a person is born. This number ‘plugs’ one into a socio-political and economic system where invariably fiat currency intermediates almost all activity, and as I show in Chapter 2, fiat currency is debt-based and inherent to it is the need to pay back the debt created the moment money is issued. This is one reason why in ACID a person will never be allowed to exercise negative liberty: there is always a tax-person, a banker, a bureaucrat, an inspector, an auditor, or any of ACID’s henchmen knocking at the door, so to speak, to keep the cogs of a debt-based economy turning – one is never left alone to do as one likes, free from interference by other people, people who generally represent the ‘interests’ of ‘the system’. These interests (of which economic control is only one) are regurgitated in various forms via the corporate-owned mass media, as Chomsky and Herman remind one in Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988:306): the mass media “are effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function by reliance on market forces, internalized assumptions, and self-censorship, and without overt coercion” – this topic is so well explored in the academic world that I deem it unnecessary to include extensive information related explicitly to it in this study, though I refer to the role of the mass media briefly in sub-section 4.2. I have chosen to explore various other ‘ACID perpetuation mechanisms’ in Chapter 4, ones that I feel are in need of exploration in light of the broad context I establish in this study: Mill’s dangers of Democracy, Democracy in a ‘free-market’ neoliberal Capitalist system, Marcuse’s one-dimensionality, Deleuze’s societies of control, and Princen’s ‘traffic control measures’. It is clear to me (based on the research I present in Chapter 4) that this is a system that forces upon a person a narrow positive freedom but marginalises chances of exercising negative freedom, and I suspect that Mill saw this coming over a century ago.


When discussing the topic of the debt-based economic system I referred to above, interlocutors have often responded in defence of the system by saying that it works, that despite imperfections it is the best system human beings have managed to construct after centuries of ‘progress’ through previous forms of economic activity. They point out that the technology I use, for example the computer I used to type this study, is all a product of the system and that I should be grateful for it all. Strange then that the imperatives accompanying ACID – expand, consume, ‘progress’, increase, dominate, compete, accelerate, develop, and so on (see Chapter 3 for research related to these imperatives and other ecologically-problematic qualities of historically-dominant shapers of discourse) – have led the human species, as well as the ecosystems constituting most of life on planet Earth, to an unprecedented crisis. In Chapter 1, I collate information that shows unambiguously that there is an ecological crisis, and in Chapter 2 that specific human practices in the forms of specific industries are direct causes of the phenomena constituting the ecological crisis. Clearly, then, some interlocutors have very narrow definitions in mind when they claim that the contemporary globalised economic system ‘works’ and is ‘the best’ system human beings have been able to create. The computer they tell me to be grateful for, they probably do not realise, is also designed to break after a specific period of time (as is the case with all products of Technology made for mass consumption) so that the corporation that produced it can continue accruing massive profits (and also ‘play its part’ in keeping the cogs of the economy turning). This is known as planned obsolescence[6], something that engineers and scientists are employed to ‘perfect’ despite the obscene ecological impact of a world full of Technology-designed-to-break all the time for the sake of (debt-based) economic activity. In Chapter 2, I reveal some of these obscene ecological impacts of several large-scale industries now found all over the world and which seem inseparable from the broadly-accepted notions of ‘development’ and ‘Democracy’. And this links back to what I have said about system-endorsed positive ‘freedoms’, specifically that they are exclusively prescribed by a dominant institution – in contemporary Democracy (which I characterise in Chapter 4 as a globalised political and economic system – the best system “money can buy”[7]– led by the USA), freedom is the positive freedom to develop, as Konik (2015:15-16) points out via Wolfgang Sachs:

…Truman promoted ever increasing production and technological advancement as key to the well-being of all nations, regardless of their economic, political, social and cultural differences, nuances, and dreams. Sachs holds that this was the first time that a “world view” was prescribed in which “all the peoples of the earth were to move along the same track and aspire to only one goal – development”.

I started this introduction with reference to the year 1859, the year that Mill’s On Liberty was published. It is perhaps an eerie coincidence that in the same year the first commercial oil well went into production in Titusville, Pennsylvania, USA. The world’s population of human beings at that time was 1 billion. Commercial oil provided the means by which human beings would multiply their population seven-fold in an evolutionary-historical blink of an eye, but it did not provide the motive. The motive can be traced to specific human attitudes, to the kinds of thoughts that human beings entertain about the relationship between themselves and the rest of the world, because what “people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to the things around them” (White 1971:11). Christianity, having institutionally dominated the direction of human thought for well over a millennium and having persecuted, oppressed and often obliterated[8] that which was alternative to it, spread the imperative of dominion-over-the-earth, widely eliminating alternative approaches to living and thereby starting the first of the homogenisation projects in the history of Western-dominated civilisation on which I focus, which via globalisation is now all of civilisation. Reductionist Science continued the project of spreading the dominion imperative, even though eventually it would eventually abandon the notion of God. Descartes, for example, anticipating the flavour of scientific inquiry as it would develop out of the period of Christian domination, writes in the Discourse on Method (1972:119) that he looks forward to the time when the new Science will render humans “masters and possessors of nature” – unsurprisingly, Descartes was a devout Christian. Francis Bacon, a figurehead in the Scientific arena who happened also to express Christian sentiments, stated that the “secrets of nature are better revealed under the torture of experiments than when they follow their natural course” (2008:93). In light of these and other similar Scientific sentiments, Pierre Hadot (2008: 123) states the following:

What we must say, I think, is that with Francis Bacon, Descartes, Galileo, and Newton, a definitive break… may have taken place, and these scholars discovered the means of progressing in a decisive and definitive way in this project of dominating nature, limiting themselves to the rigorous analysis of what is measurable and quantifiable in sensible phenomena”.

I explore aspects of Christianity and Science regarding the consequences they have for attitudes toward ecology in Chapter 3. I include in Chapter 3 an equal focus on Technology and Capitalism as central shapers of discourse that have spread ecologically-problematic attitudes across the globe, attitudes that ‘steer’ the human actions that result in ecologically-problematic outcomes. Suffice it so say for now that in ACID, the creation and use of Technology are intimately connected with the Scientific focus on “what is measurable and quantifiable in sensible phenomena” (Hadot, Ibid) as per the use of instrumental Reason identified by Horkheimer and which I discuss in Chapter 3. In the context of this study, instrumental Reason can be thought of as the application of reason for purely and exclusively technical-pragmatic purposes – more on this in Chapter 3, but for now let me point out that Horkheimer (1947:104) does offer a glimpse of the relevance of the pragmatic and instrumental attitude in the context of the ecological crisis: “Modern insensitivity to nature is indeed only a variation of the pragmatic attitude that is typical of Western civilization as a whole”. And Heidegger’s analysis of Technology as something entangled with the process of ‘Enframing’ reveals an attitude toward nature where it is reduced to nothing but a ‘standing reserve’ of resources for human use – this too I will discuss in Chapter 3. Regarding Capitalism, the observations of only one central critic of Capitalism need be mentioned for my purposes in this introduction – Joel Kovel. He points out (2002:48) that Capital

employs purely quantitative indices such as gross domestic product (GDP) because they are convenient indices of accumulation. Scarcely a critic of the ecological crisis has refrained from commenting upon the stupid brutality of this number, which reduces the living and the dead alike to the common denominator of what can be extracted from their commodification. It is necessary, though, to see thinking in terms of GDP as no mere error, but the actual logic of the reigning power…

My analysis of the constituents of the ecological crisis (Chapter 1), the direct physical causes of the crisis (Chapter 2), the attitudinal causes of the crisis (Chapter 3), and the perpetuation mechanisms that prevent social change (Chapter 4), all constitute the problem section of this study. The focal areas of Chapters 3 and 4 paint a detailed picture of a dispensation in which the possibility of conducting ‘experiments of living’ (a concept I referred to at the start of this introduction) is marginal, even negligible, because dominant shapers of discourse paved the way for a global platform characterised by socio-political and economic homogeneity that dictates the extent and limits of ‘freedom’. To be sure, this is a very confined, limited and narrow form of positive freedom – a person will not be left alone, free from interference from other people in this system. Furthermore, this almost all-encompassing system, ACID, which is a result of certain problematic attitudes toward nature and simultaneously a perpetuator of those attitudes, is a disaster for the ecology of the planet – I focus on the ecological details in Chapters 1 and 2.

I have just argued that the ecologically-problematic, globalised dispensation of ACID is one characterised by various traits that have the impact of perpetuating the globalised dispensation of ACID, and accordingly that alternatives to ACID – or experiments of living – are thereby marginalised or negated. With this in mind, consider very broadly the philosophical notion of dialectical process. For my purposes, I will describe a dialectical process very simply (in broadly Hegelian terms) as a process consisting of three parts: a thesis, an antithesis, and a synthesis. A thesis is an idea; in the spirit of simplicity, I will use the example of ‘self’ as a thesis. In this limited example, the antithesis of ‘self’ is ‘other’. A synthesis of the two might be ‘community’. The dialectical process therefore is a model often used to describe how change occurs: change of a concept (self – other – community), a society, or any system. I wish to make only the following point about the dialectical process I have just exemplified: the process requires that the thesis and the antithesis ‘merge’ or ‘combine’ or ‘overlap’ at some point, or else a synthesis cannot be arrived at – in other words, something new cannot emerge. In Hegelian logic the ‘synthesis’ will, in its turn, become a ‘thesis’, and by being ‘negated’ provoke a new antithesis, synthesis, and so on; to pursue this is not my purpose here, however.

It is certainly the case that ‘new things’ have emerged (and continue to emerge) in and from the dispensation of ACID, the system which I have argued is characterised by various traits of the historically-dominant shapers of discourse – Christianity, Science, Technology, Capitalism, and to a lesser extent Democracy. But the ‘new things’ to which one is perhaps able to refer are more than likely completely compatible within the confines of consumer Capitalism, ‘pragmatic’ Technology, and reductionist Science – some of the very shapers of discourse under scrutiny in this study. However, I must ask: have any of the dominant system characteristics really changed since the dominion-enforcing reign of Christianity, since the ubiquitous expansion of pragmatic Technologies, since the compartmentalising materialism of reductionist Science, and since the profit-addiction inherent to Capitalism? One might perhaps be able to refer to isolated examples where a considerable change occurred, examples like the end of race-based slavery, or when the right to vote for leaders was granted to all people. However, these remain isolated examples. I have chosen a context of considerable proportions, namely the ecological crisis, as a reminder that systemically nothing has really changed – and by systemically I mean the advanced competitive consumer Capitalist industrial Democratic dominion-‘crazed’ dispensation that continues in the same direction as it has for centuries, albeit at an exponentially accelerated pace – the ecological crisis is a severe reminder of this. The characteristics of the system remain the same ones that have been ecologically-problematic since they became dominant, and I explore some of these characteristics and their development in Chapter 3. Indeed, mechanisms exist that prevent change of the characteristics that I have identified as ecologically-problematic, and I explore some of these mechanisms in Chapter 4.

The relevance of my reference to the dialectical process should now be clear: in ACID, the dialectical process is ‘frozen’ in any large-scale sense via an intricate interconnection of dominant physical and non-physical system components characterised by competition, dominion, utility, and a variety of other characteristics I call Promethean[9] (under inspiration from Pierre Hadot), listed at the end of Chapter 3. This, of course, is a topic open to discussion and debate, i.e. the topic of the extent to which ‘ACID does dialectic’, so to speak – in this study, I clearly espouse support for the view that in any large-scale sense of the concept of dialectic, ACID ‘does not do change’, so to speak. In Hegelian terms – if these must be adopted – one might say that the system has become so homogenised that any antithesis to a thesis is an antithesis only in name, and that the synthesis (or every synthesis, in succession), has incrementally ‘ironed out’ all genuine antitheses, so that only qualitative homogeneity remains. Or, using the well-known formula for encouraging originality, coined by Edward de Bono (1970), ‘lateral thinking’, in the present encompassing system the only lateral thinking that is tolerated is the kind that does not question the system itself, but merely promises its more efficient operation. In an interview[10], Manuel Castells, author of Rise of the Network Society (2010), offers a glimpse of support for my contention here – that ACID ‘does not do change’ – when he says that “the political institutions are impervious to change”, and of course the political institutions are central in and for ACID (I explore the problematic relationship between Capitalism and Democracy in Chapter 3). Rosi Braidotti (2013:58) also speaks about the “inertia of established mental habits” in a manner that suggests a stagnation of the dialectical cycle:

I do think that one of the most pointed paradoxes of our era is precisely the tension between the urgency of finding new and alternative modes of political and ethical agency for our technologically mediated world and the inertia of established mental habits on the other.

And Foster, Clark and York refer to a “prevailing hierarchical social order” with a “commitment to stasis in its fundamental social-property relations” (2010:17), a social order where “those on top have a vested interest in blocking fundamental change” (2010:27).

So at a very superficial level I agree with the broad concept of ‘the end of history’, a concept attributed mainly to Francis Fukuyama[11] – but only in the sense that the concept highlights an ideological goal attributed to the Promethean and its contemporary manifestation as ACID, rather than as an accurate depiction of the normative (or desirable) ‘positive status’ of liberal Democracy (let alone the capacity to put an arbitrary stop to the historical process itself) , which Fukuyama[12] is clearly in favour of:

Writing in the twentieth century, Hegel’s great interpreter, Alexandre Kojève, asserted intransigently that history had ended because what he called the “universal and homogeneous state” – what we can understand as liberal democracy – definitely solved the question of recognition by replacing the relationship of lordship and bondage with universal and equal recognition. What man had been seeking throughout the course of history – what had driven the prior ‘stages of history’ – was recognition. In the modern world, he finally found it, and was ‘completely satisfied.’ This claim was made seriously by Kojève, and it deserves to be taken seriously by us.

Leaving aside the question, whether this interpretation is compatible with Hegel’s own work (which it arguably is not, considering the difference between Hegel’s ‘logic’ and actual history) Fukuyama does indeed take Kojève’s claim seriously, and espouses support for liberal Democracy, while I do neither of these things due to the inherently problematic characteristics and mechanisms of ACID I write about in this study. I show that Promethean characteristics, qualities, and attitudes result in actions that marginalise alternatives to the Promethean, and also result in the construction of dominant system ‘mechanisms’ that prevent alternatives from arising. Put differently, the Promethean is like a ruthless dictator, whose ‘success’ is attributable to his or her might and dominance (and who accordingly eliminates opposition), rather than like a meritocratic leader who facilitates any kind of promising system-wide change.

I have argued (and I present information in this study to support the argument) that the dominant characteristics of ACID are ecologically-problematic and that mechanisms exist that prevent social and economic change, hence my claim that ACID is something in which the dialectical wheel is prevented from spinning in any real manner. However, just because ACID ‘does not do dialectic’ does not mean that ‘antitheses’ are not available. I use the word antitheses very loosely here; better for my purposes would be the phrase ‘alternatives’. I turn my attention in Chapter 5 to such alternatives, ones characterised by qualities that would clearly be unsuited in the broad arenas of ACID. One example is the Occupy Movement that occurred primarily in the years 2011-12, a movement in which attention was drawn to the rule of what was referred to as the one per cent – the one per cent of the world’s population that owns and controls considerable portions of the world’s wealth and uses it to reap massive profits, usually via socially-problematic, ethically-problematic, and ecologically-problematic means. I explore aspects of this movement in Chapter 5; it is clear that some of the characteristics of the movement are entirely different to those common to ACID, something which Noam Chomsky comments on: the movement “spontaneously created something that doesn’t really exist in the country [i.e. the USA]: communities of mutual support, cooperation, open spaces for discussion… just people doing things and helping each other”[13]. This is an important observation in the context of this study: people cooperating and helping each other, i.e. not competing. The movement offers such glimpses of manifestations of alternative attitudes, alternative attitudes I am convinced are ones that need to be paid attention to when addressing the question of what to do in light of the ecological crisis. Broadly, these alternative attitudes are ones I call Orphic[14] (again under inspiration from Pierre Hadot).

Other areas of focus in Chapter 5, to differing degrees, espouse attitudes that are in contrast to the problematic ones I identify in earlier parts of the study, and I offer these attitudes as ‘suggestions’ for further exploration as a ‘response’ in the context of the ecological crisis. A certain indulgence on the part of the reader is required here: indulgence in the form of a kind of ‘suspension of disbelief’ regarding some of these ‘suggestions’. Without it, the reader would not, for example, give someone like Graham Hancock (whose important work has, despite some striking recent confirmations by other scientists, been largely sidelined by mainstream scientists), a chance to convince her or him. I will here describe as briefly as possible some of the focal areas of Chapter 5; I will comment on the ‘ecological implications’ of these focal areas in Chapter 5. ‘Older cultures’ like the Kogi, the Ik of Uganda, the Najavo, the Hopi, the Cree, Ojibwa and the San (listed by Thom Hartmann in his ‘Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight‘ (1998:154), all share the attitude of deeply respecting the interconnection of the human and non-human world, and accordingly see human beings as a reciprocal part of nature. Paul Hawken, in his Blessed Unrest, writes about an unnamed movement consisting of between one and two million organisations and groups all working toward justice in various spheres, and though disparate, these organisations and groups share the vision of an ecologically, socially, politically, and economically sustainable dispensation. Rupert Sheldrake proposes a non-reductionist scientific model he calls morphic resonance, where characteristics of a species are shaped by non-physical fields rather than purely physical and quantitative genetic processes. Graham Hancock identifies contemporary civilization as one with amnesia, where what is forgotten is a large and crucial chunk of human history where humankind reached a sophisticated level of civilisation with its own knowledge and technology; despite its sophistication, the civilisation was unable to survive a cataclysm, but survivors of the cataclysm initiated megalithic stone building projects to convey to future civilisations some important messages from vast antiquity. Charles Eisenstein identifies an approach to human economic activity he calls sacred economics, an approach that is unrecognisable in character and in social and ecological impact when compared to the debt-based and growth-focused economic system of contemporary civilisation. The Zeitgeist Movement is one characterised by a strong sense of technological and scientific pragmatism, yet manages to align such pragmatism with sustainable and ecologically-sensitive approaches to providing for physical human needs in a context of finite ‘resources’, and non-physical needs via (partly) the maintenance of healthy ecologies.

What I am not able to offer in Chapter 5 is a clear route for transition, and by this I mean a transition from an ecologically-problematic dispensation characterised predominantly by Promethean attitudes, to an ecologically-sustainable dispensation characterised by Orphic attitudes. Indeed, during my research of the focal areas of Chapter 5, I never found any convincing information pertaining to the means by which transition could occur. This is perhaps a common limitation of the different areas on which I focus in Chapter 5, and if I were to offer nothing in the form of ‘actionable’ steps toward solutions, then it would be a limitation of this study as well. However, this is where permaculture becomes an invaluable addition in the context of this study. I explore conceptual and practical aspects of permaculture throughout Chapter 6, but suffice it to say for now that permaculture is a design system motivated by the imperative for human beings to co-exist in a sustainable manner with the non-human world. Considering what I have said about transition, permaculture plays a crucial role because it offers very specific principles that can be applied by an individual, a family, a community, a village, a city, a country… and I dare to suggest even by all the countries constituting the human civilisation. There is, however, no one-size-fits-all way to implement permaculture: in permaculture, every environment is a manifestation of different natural features, and often synthetic features too, that need to be observed, and in which human beings need to interact and make small and slow changes, accepting feedback, valuing the marginal, and so on – these latter clauses are allusions to specific permaculture principles. There are twelve of them, all of which I discuss and reflect on in Chapter 6, and all of the principles are context specific. Permaculture, I contend, is a context-specific, adaptable, patient, accessible, realistic, down-to-earth, actionable approach to creating change. It is an embodiment of the awareness of the need to carefully design and construct alternatives to the systems of ACID from the ground up via ecologically-respectful means. So when faced with the question of how to transition from ACID to something sustainable and ecologically-respectful, the answer is not to be found in something as complicated and perhaps idealistic as voting for a ‘green’ political party[15], but rather in the assembly and use of a compost toilet; in the planting of fruiting trees; in the catching and storing of rain-water; in growing some herbs and edible leaf-crops near the home kitchen; in getting rid of ‘the television’; in purchasing one or two solar panels and one or two deep-cycle batteries and learning how to adapt one’s lighting and (for example) computer-powering needs to this small solar-power setup; in being creative with the ‘waste products’ that usually end up in the bin and making useful items from them; in keeping chickens for the purposes of producing eggs for protein in the diet; in sourcing local fresh produce and meat wherever possible; in learning the edible properties of ‘weeds’ and incorporating ‘weeds’ into one’s diet; and so on. These may seem like small steps, but one need not be part of some bigger social phenomenon, or be rich, or be talented, or well-connected socially, in order to take the steps – and this simplicity is part of what makes permaculture very appealing in the context of the socio-political and economic complications that underpin the ecological crisis. Remembering the opening remarks to this introduction about positive and negative freedom, I should point out that permaculture is one of the few arenas in which one can learn how to exercise negative freedom – in the implementation of small, slow, sustainable, synergistic systemic solutions that together add up, with the consequence that the need to depend fully on the homogenised and homogenising systems of ACID is thereby reduced. I am not for a moment suggesting that permaculture can feed the world – perhaps it could, but the world’s 7.4 billion people grew to that number because of the widespread commercialisation of fossil-fuels since the second half of the 19th century (when the population of human beings was only 1 billion; I discuss this in Chapter 3), but the fossil-fuel system is now unanimously acknowledged to be inherently unsustainable – something that uses a finite resource can never exist infinitely[16]. I add that not only is it unsustainable, but it is also the physical means by which the Promethean attitudes could accelerate in their historical spread across the globe – I address this process in Chapter 3. If something is inherently unsustainable then it must come to an end, so here I draw obvious attention to the question, then what?[17] And this is when permaculture can be turned to – but never in a one-size-fits-all manner, as I have already commented. On smaller scales, if one wishes to conduct small ‘experiments of living’, then permaculture is a great place to start, as it offers numerous options to put ecologically-sensitive ideas and attitudes into practice. I add in Chapter 6 ‘down-to-earth’, ‘low-tech’ examples of how I have implemented permaculture in my own life and thereby managed to exercise some level of autonomy in the face of the seemingly-overwhelming juggernaut that is ACID.

Clearly, a dichotomy has been foregrounded: a dichotomy between ecologically-problematic attitudes and ecologically-respectful attitudes; a dichotomy between the Promethean and the Orphic. I argue in this study that the Promethean, due to its characterisation in part by dominance, its focus on having dominion over all of the non-human world, and a variety of other characteristics, has marginalised the Orphic, whose various characteristics have made it easy to be dominated. It is with this dichotomy in mind, as well as with the broad context of the ecological crisis as I explore it in this study, that I turn to the question of the role of philosophy. Two texts in particular stood out to me during my research into the role of philosophy. The first is a text called Philosophy in the Present, structural aspects of which I have already commented on in the Summary section. In the text, Badiou and Žižek offer their answers to the question of the role of philosophy in the present, and both philosophers make it perfectly clear that philosophy occurs when faced with incommensurability, or in other words, when insurmountable barriers to dialogue are encountered: Žižek explicitly says that philosophy is not a dialogue (2009:50). I list most of the characteristics of philosophy I take from Philosophy in the headings of the sub-sections of the first half of Chapter 7: philosophy as the creation of new problems; philosophy as a process of cutting through particulars to reach the universal; philosophy and incommensurability, mutual exclusivity, and paradoxical relations; philosophy and the creation of new problems; philosophy and changing the concepts of the debate; philosophy and no certainty of ‘being at home’, internal foreignness, and the breakdown of organic society; philosophy as the Elucidation of choice; philosophy as the shedding of light on the distance between power and truths; philosophy and the redefinition of human nature; philosophy as singularity participating in universality; philosophy and preconceived ideas of human nature; philosophy and humanity as it has been historically constituted; philosophy and the established model of humanity; philosophy and the ‘transformation of life’. Each of these focal areas, as well as others I have not listed here, opens up possibilities for insight on various aspects of Chapters 1 to 6 of this study. For example, “humanity as it has been historically constituted and defined” is a phrase that Badiou (2009:74-75) uses in the following: “Each time that philosophy confines itself to humanity as it has been historically constituted and defined, it diminishes itself, and in the end suppresses itself. It suppresses itself because its only use becomes that of conserving, spreading and consolidating the established model of humanity”. I have already suggested in this introduction that various shapers of discourse (on which I focus mainly in Chapter 3) have dominated historically: the attitudes of domination and dominion partly characterise them, propelling their dominance and dominion, and via their dominance and dominion, they homogenised the historical playing field, resulting in ACID, the Promethean writ large. In other words, the Promethean ‘model of humanity’ is “humanity as it has been historically constituted” (Ibid). And Badiou makes it clear that when philosophy confines itself to, conserves, spreads, or consolidates humanity as it has been historically constituted, it diminishes and suppresses itself. An obvious route, then, toward practicing philosophy in a manner where it is not diminished or suppressed, is to broaden focus and bring (incommensurable) alternatives ‘into the mix’, so to speak – and of course, I focus on alternatives in Chapters 5 and 6. In other words, the historically dominant Promethean may be positioned against the Orphic. Accordingly, the dialectical wheel can turn properly: the dominant theses of the Promethean will be posed against the ‘antitheses’ (I prefer ‘alternative ideas’) of the Orphic, and synthesis can potentially occur.

The second text to which I refer regarding the question of the role of philosophy in the context of the ecological crisis as I have explored the context, is Hadot’s essay ‘Philosophy as a way of life’[18]. The purview here is mostly different from that in Philosophy in the present, with the occasional overlapping implication. Hadot traces the notion of philosophy as a way of life as it was ‘approached’ in ancient times – an approach that I contend is of considerable value in the context of the ecological crisis as I explore it in this study. For example, Hadot (1995:254) quotes Bergson to convey the character of ‘habitual perception’:

Life requires that we put on blinkers; we must not look to the right, to the left, or behind, but straight ahead, in the direction in which we are supposed to walk. In order to live, we must be selective in our knowledge and our memories, and retain only that which may contribute to our action upon things.

This is one manner of perception where human beings retain knowledge which may contribute to our action upon things, and Hadot (Ibid) refers to it as “utilitarian perception”. I do not suggest that utilitarian perception is ‘bad’, because certainly everyday pragmatism is necessary in the pursuit of food, shelter, and so many other material needs. But the Bergson quote does suggest an exclusive pragmatism, and this is the realm of the Promethean, where the ‘objects’ of nature are valued only for their instrumental value and not their inherent value – and ACID is the contemporary ‘manifestation’ or embodiment of this hegemonic realm. I develop these and other related themes at various stages in this study, but in the second half of Chapter 7 I show that the concept of philosophy as a way of life nurtures a form of perception where the inherent value of extant things is foregrounded, where human attitudes align with an ecologically-respectful ‘cosmic consciousness’, and where human actions accordingly are aligned with qualities of the Orphic as they are identified in this study. By exploring philosophy in its ‘format’ I have just commented on, I hope to be able to offer a refreshing method that can be used to approach and address the worrying issue of the ecological crisis, a crisis which hitherto has clearly not been adequately addressed considering the extent to which the crisis is daily exacerbated.

[1] accessed 15 February 2017.

[2] I explain and explore the notion of the tyranny of the majority in Chapter 4, sub-section 4.2, called ‘Mill’s dangers of democracy’.

[3] accessed 15 February 2017.

[4] …in the sense of a force that shapes or influences attitudes.

[5] I comment on this acronym, as well as my adaptation of it, in the section called ‘Comments on some central terms’.

[6] See sub-section 5.8 on the Zeitgeist Movement

[7] …to quote Peter Barnes, as I do in Chapter 4.

[8] See the following source for an example of the Christian prosecution of the Cathars, Albigensians, and Bogomils: accessed 22 May 2017.

[9] I discuss the use of the term Promethean in the ‘Comments on some central terms’ and the ‘Aims and methodology’ section.

[10] accessed 22 February 2017

[11] accessed 12 March 2017

[12] accessed 4 April 2017

[13] accessed 20 February 2017

[14] I discuss the use of the term Orphic in the ‘Comments on some central terms’ and the ‘Aims and methodology’ section.

[15] …because, as I show in Chapter 4, there is only one party – the Business party. This is Chomsky’s remark.

[16] See Diamond 2005:490 –  “While there has been much discussion about how many big oil and gas fields remain to be discovered, and while coal reserves are believed to be large, the prevalent view is that known and likely reserves of readily accessible oil and natural gas will last for a few more decades”.

[17] Some people respond to the question by pointing out that ‘Technology will save us’ – I address this outrageous fallacy explicitly in Chapter 3.

[18] I do draw from a second essay of his as well, ‘The sage and the world’, but mostly in connection to the central ideas of the former essay. Both essays appear in the book called Philosophy as a way of life, and ‘The sage and the world’ certainly leads thematically into ‘Philosophy as a way of life’.

Research study: aims and methodology

In Chapters 1 and 2, I aim to establish broad issues and themes pertaining to the ecological crisis and its direct physical causes. Due to space constraints, the sub-sections constituting Chapters 1 and 2 will be short and ‘punchy’ and cover a wide range of issues and themes, thereby establishing an extensive backdrop for later chapters. The range of issues and themes will indeed be very wide; some of the issues or themes will often be ones to which entire fields of study are dedicated. Considering that these two chapters will be the first two of a seven-chapter study wherein the main, ‘higher-order’ academic activities will occur after Chapters 1 and 2, it will be impossible in these initial chapters for me to provide anything other than ‘glances’ of phenomena to which my attention was drawn when researching the primary constituents and causes of the ecological crisis. But what these chapters will lack in depth, they will make up for in breadth. They are not meant to be dedicated rigorously to any one issue or theme or the thorough support for any one issue or theme, but rather identify a variety of issues and themes in order to draw attention to the fact that related phenomena of considerable proportions are coalescing into a seriously worrying state of planetary ecology on the one hand, and on the other hand, that a specific systemic human dispensation is causing the ecologically precarious situation. Stated differently (and more figuratively), my intention in Chapter 1 is to support the notion that planet Earth has what Paul Hawken (2007:3) calls “a life-threatening disease”[1] and to reveal some of the symptoms of the ‘disease’, and in Chapter 2 my intention is to identify human industries and systemic mechanisms that have been instrumental in ‘making the patient ill’[2].

Having laid a broad backdrop in Chapter 1 of the nature of the ecological crisis, and in Chapter 2 of the causes of the crisis, I will in Chapter 3 shift focus to some of what I call the ‘attitudinal factors’ that historically have driven the ecological crises. I use the word ‘attitude’[3] (referred to briefly earlier) deliberately in light of observations made by a central thinker whose ideas will feature prominently in this study, namely Pierre Hadot. In The Veil of Isis (2008:91–98) Hadot identifies a dichotomy, namely the Promethean-Orphic dichotomy, and to do so he uses the word ‘attitude’ rather than ‘ideology’ or ‘discourse’:

Orpheus… penetrates the secrets of nature not through violence but through melody, rhythm, and harmony. Whereas the Promethean attitude is inspired by audacity, boundless curiosity, the will to power, and the search for utility, the Orphic attitude, by contrast, is inspired by respect in the face of mystery and disinterestedness.

This dichotomy will feature heavily in this study, so I will not comment further on it here. I will however point out that the use of the word ‘attitude’ greatly simplifies my task in that I do not have to delve into the question of whether or not certain ecological stances are, for examples, ‘ideological’ or ‘discursive’. In this early light of the Prometheus-Orpheus dichotomy, and in the spirit of simplicity, I can say that in Chapter 3 I will identify Promethean attitudes that ‘drive’ and ‘justify’ the human industries that cause the ecological crisis – I will therefore establish causal links between physical and attitudinal factors and in so doing bring to the forefront some causes of the ecological crisis that are often overlooked by parties concerned with the state of the planet’s ecology. Chapter 3 will be far more ‘traditionally academic’ than Chapters 1 and 2, mainly because the approach I take in Chapter 3 is to analyse what I call ‘shapers of discourse’[4] (which are instrumental in causing the ecological crisis) by collating some of the critical and explanatory commentary from various reputable thinkers who have analysed the shapers of discourse on which I focus in this study. In explaining the modus-operandi of the relevant shapers of discourse on which I focus, I achieve the first goal of critical theory in its broad and narrow senses of the term ‘critical theory’, as commented on by James Bohman[5]:

Because such theories aim to explain and transform all the circumstances that enslave human beings, many ‘critical theories’ in the broader sense have been developed. They have emerged in connection with the many social movements that identify varied dimensions of the domination of human beings in modern societies. In both the broad and the narrow senses, however, a critical theory provides the descriptive and normative bases for social inquiry aimed at decreasing domination and increasing freedom in all their forms.

This information from Bohman about critical theory is of considerable relevance to my aims in this study considering that the shapers of discourse on which I focus in Chapter 3 – namely Christianity, Science, Technology, Capitalism, and to a lesser extent Democracy – are ones I intend to characterise partly by their dominating and domination-‘crazed’ modus operandi, and domination and the valorisation of dominion are central Promethean characteristics that will emerge in Chapter 3. With regard to Bohman’s remarks, my focus in this study will only partly be on factors relating to the domination of human beings, but also heavily on factors related to the domination of the non-human world – so I broaden the first goal of critical theory as Bohman has described it.

In Chapter 4, this aspect of critical theory will continue in a manner that does similar justice to the first aim of critical theory as per Bohman’s comments, especially considering his assertion that critical theory is partly focused on revealing and analysing forms of enslavement: the focus in Chapter 4 will become the workings of various Promethean ‘mechanisms’ that prevent social change, change away from a dispensation whose dominion-focused, Promethean, ecologically-problematic characteristics[6] I aim to reveal in Chapter 3. Chapters 3 and 4 will therefore be very similar methodologically, and both constitute a traditionally academic approach in tune with the first aim of a critical theory as commented on by Bohman, which is to say providing explanatory and descriptive means by which to view oppressive socio-political, economic, and (I will add) anti-ecological apparatuses. This approach will also be in keeping with what Inge Konik (2015:10) refers to as ‘academic transversalism’ in her PhD[7], where transversalism denotes the analysis of “political economy” and “socio-cultural” phenomena with a view toward “philosophical reflection”. In Chapters 3 and 4 I will conduct such an analytical process and begin to offer philosophical reflection on various themes, phenomena, ideas, and so on. In these chapters I will gradually refer back to focal areas (information, themes, ideas, etc.) identified in previous chapters – this process of ‘referring back’ will continue in Chapters 5, 6 and 7 – there will therefore increasingly be a sense of progressive ‘linkages’ between chapters, a sense I will cultivate with the aim of incrementally broadening the general purview of this study.

In Chapter 5 I will begin to explore alternatives to Promethean attitudes and ‘models’, which is to say that I will explore Orphic areas of focus where ecologically sensitivity and ecological respect are either implicit or explicit aspects of the focal area. These alternatives are lesser-encountered in, and are peripheral to, mainstream Promethean dominant discourse, and are perhaps ones that go against the general flavour of orthodox academia, where focal areas tend to be accepted as legitimate mainly when peer-reviewed journals can be referenced to justify the inclusion of the focal areas in further academic ventures[8]. In this regard I will again refer to Konik’s transversal approach, specifically where she comments on the importance of dialogue – dialogue, I must add, between seemingly disparate approaches: she points out that only a “grassroots transversal dialogue is capable of contesting the homogenizing neoliberal monologue in a way that builds social movement alliances bottom up and across the board” (2015:7). The neoliberal monologue to which Konik refers is part-and-parcel of what I more broadly refer to as the realm of the Promethean. It is in Chapter 5 that I will begin to look beyond the realm of the Promethean, and in in so doing I aim to begin to offer to potential interlocutors (in the dialogue referred to by Konik) heterogeneous ideas, connected by their Orphic imperatives or implications, that are potentially useful in “decreasing domination and increasing freedom”, which is the second characteristic of critical theory already identified in this section in the Bohman quotation.

My focus on permaculture in Chapter 6 will be entirely in keeping with the latter characteristic of critical theory – to repeat, where the goal is partly to decrease “domination and increas[e] freedom” – because in Chapter 6 I will aim to highlight permaculture as a flexible design system with ecologically-respectful principles that resonate with some aspects of the focal areas of Chapter 5, principles that at the same time can be applied to foster personal autonomy in a variety of different contexts. I take the liberty of being very reflective in this chapter, specifically in hindsight of several years of living a ‘low-tech’, rustic permaculture lifestyle, one in which my partner and I put to the test some of the principles enumerated by Bill Mollison (the founder and initial primary populariser of permaculture), and by the Permaculture Association of the United Kingdom. I will refer extensively to the main principles and other concepts and observations extracted from Mollison’s seminal text, Permaculture: a designer’s manual (1988), as well as from the Permaculture Association’s website, in order to guide and substantiate my reflective commentary that derives from my personal experiences with permaculture. In this chapter I will also refer back broadly to focal areas that arose in previous chapters of the study.

In Chapter 7 I will consult three well-established philosophers on the question of the role of philosophy, and I will summarise some of the key points, observations and arguments they offer with the aim of exploring these points, observations and arguments in the broad context established in Chapters 1 to 6; and vice versa, in that the broad context established in Chapters 1 to 6 will be ‘orientated’ according to the points, observations and arguments made by these philosophers. The philosophers are Alain Badiou, Slavoj Žižek and Pierre Hadot. I take Badiou and Žižek’s contributions to this question of the role of philosophy from a book called Philosophy in the Present (2009) – the book is a transcript of a public discussion[9] between the two thinkers in Vienna, where the theme is the question: “to what extent does philosophy intervene in the present”? (2009:1). My reading and interpretation of their views lead me to the conclusion that the role of philosophy in the present is distinctly aligned with an Orphic process, and is clearly opposed to aspects of the Promethean dispensation as explored in earlier chapters; it is partly my aim to evidence these points in the first half of Chapter 7. The second half is based on the notion of philosophy as a way of life as explored by Pierre Hadot. Right from the outset of Hadot’s exposition of the concept of philosophy as a way of life, it is clear to me that it is thoroughly Orphic in character and explicitly opposed to the Promethean dispensation to which I have just referred, and I aim to substantiate these points in the second half of the chapter. My method should be clear: extract central points from the different texts and orientate them within the context developed in earlier chapters, emphasising resonance and/or opposition to what I call Orphic and Promethean attitudes. Clearly this method is hermeneutic (as it is from Chapter 3 onwards) because it requires interpretation and synthesis of numerous themes, ideas, issues, theories, facts, etc. emerging from earlier outlines and critical analyses of diverse subject matter.

It should be clear that I will be taking a flexible interdisciplinary approach in this study – from the establishing of themes via facts, figures and commentary in Chapters 1 and 2, to critical and philosophical observation and argument in Chapters 3 and 4, to outlines of ‘alternative’ ideas in Chapters 5 and 6 where earlier issues, themes, and phenomena are commented upon and interpreted in light of new information, to the reflective synthesis in Chapter 7. In explanation and justification of this flexible interdisciplinary approach, I refer first to the positive praise given to it by Rosi Braidotti in her book The Posthuman (2013:155): she mentions “a wealth of innovative interdisciplinary scholarship in and across the Humanities” being “an expression of the vitality of this field”. Norwegian ecophilosopher Karl Hoyer (2012:62) provides some insight as to why ‘innovative interdisciplinary scholarship’ is praiseworthy; here he is referring to Nordic ecophilosophy, but his comment is perfectly relevant to interdisciplinarity in its broader forms:

The fundamentals of interdisciplinarity are emphasized in all Nordic ecophilosophy. The bio- and human ecology focus on wholeness, on complexities, and on the complex inter-relations between the diversity of units, that makes the whole both something more and something else than the individual parts. Interdisciplinarity is considered a basic condition for the study and understanding of these complexities.

Complex ‘inter-relations between the diversity of units’ and the whole being ‘both something more and something else than the individual parts’ are phrases that do not fit in the quantitative, reductionist, mechanistic and mechanising, dominating frameworks I explore in Chapter 4 as partly characterising the Promethean. The interdisciplinary approach I am describing and justifying here, in light of Hoyer’s observations, therefore seems to me to be an appropriate methodology due to its opposition to Promethean characteristics.

Continuing in my justification and explanation of the interdisciplinary methodology I employ in this study, I refer to Inge Konik’s PhD-thesis (2015:9), where she highlights the views of Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell:

…Connell identifies academic insularity as a major impediment. Connell proposes that sociology should expand its horizons, for instance by including work on the relation between economics and cultural transformation… Connell stresses that for sociology to remain strong, ‘it must address major questions about the social world now coming into existence’…

Connell is of course commenting from within the academic sociological arena, but her remarks are relevant well beyond that realm. A brief look at the contents page of this study will reveal ‘major questions about the social world now coming into existence’; a further look at the headings of sub-sections will show linkages between ecological degradation and economic (industrial) activity; between economics, religion, Science and Technology; between economics and politics; between philosophy and ecology; and so on. Considering that my focus in this study is partly the dominant, “established model of humanity” or “humanity as it has been historically constituted” [10], then the following observations on interdisciplinarity from Konik (who refers to several other thinkers in the following quotation) are extremely relevant to my methodology:

An inherent danger too, pointed out by the Marxist author J. D. Bernal, is that the social sciences can be ‘reduced almost to impotence through the fear that they might be used to analyse and alter the economic and political bases of capitalism’. The environmental sociologists John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York argue in direct reference to Bernal’s work, that the critical political potential of the social sciences often is neutralized by these sciences being ‘seriously circumscribed by and often directly subservient to the established order of power.’ This is all the more reason for transversal alliance building between different academic disciplines. (Ibid)

‘The established order of power’ clearly resonates with the concepts of the ‘the established model of humanity’ and ‘humanity as it has been historically constituted’ – concepts I will discuss extensively in Chapter 7, specifically with a view to showing that these concepts broadly demarcate the arenas from which the (Promethean) attitudinal causes of the ecological crisis emerge. A flexible interdisciplinary approach is therefore a suitable one considering that I aim partly to challenge aspects of the established order of power, and explore alternatives to it.

Overall, I aim to establish a broad explanatory framework in which the physical and attitudinal causes of the ecological crisis are identified, and in which the attitudinal factors are critically orientated; a framework in which the perpetuation mechanisms of the ecologically-problematic dispensation are identified and critically orientated; a framework in which examples of alternatives (and permaculture is here included alongside the focal areas of Chapter 5) to the problematic phenomena are identified; and a framework in which the role of philosophy is contextualised in light of the themes, issues and information that arise throughout earlier parts of the research process. In this manner I aspire to be part of the ‘transversal alliance’ referred to by Connell.

[1] Some of Hawken’s work is considered in Chapter 5, sub-section 5.3.

[2] Lovelock (2009:46-47) also uses the ‘sick patient’ analogy in The vanishing face of Gaia: a final warning.

[3] I comment on my preference of the word ‘attitude’ over the word ‘ideology’ in the section of this study called ‘Comments on some central terms’

[4] I give a brief indication of what I mean by discourse in the section called ‘Comments on some central terms’.

[5] accessed 6 February 2017

[6] …and by corollary, socially-problematic characteristics as well.

[7] Konik’s study is called ‘Whither South Africa – neoliberalism or an embodied communitarian indigenous ethic’. As the title suggests, Konik problematises the contemporary status quo, which she identifies as dominated by the hegemony of neoliberalism. My work in this study resonates with hers in identifying socio-political, economic and ecological ‘ills’ and in exploring alternatives in an attempt to provide an approach toward remedy. In this manner, both Konik and I are working within the broad realm of critical theory as already described by Bohman in this section.

[8] In this section I soon comment, by way of Konik and the academic to whom she refers (namely, Connell), on academic insularity in a manner that is very relevant here.

[9] ‘Discussion’ is here perhaps misleading. ‘Presentation’ would be better. I say so because each philosopher presents their ideas in more-or-less a monologue format – first Badiou, followed by Žižek. The transcript of Badiou’s work is 48 pages, followed by 23 pages of Žižek’s reply to the topic. A ‘discussion’ then ensues – the entire discussion is 27 pages and involves approximately 3 ‘responses’ from each philosopher.

[10] These phrases are of central importance in Chapter 7.

Research study: hypotheses

This study consists of seven main chapters, each of which works to support a different hypothesis. I do not wish to support every hypothesis equally – in Chapters 1 and 2, for example, I wish to create a very broad backdrop of themes and information that will ‘set the scene’ for later Chapters[1]. In Chapters 3, 4 and 7, a ‘traditionally academic’ approach[2] will be taken in supporting the hypotheses of those chapters. In Chapter 5 I will offer information to establish outlines of particular (‘alternative’) focal areas, while in Chapter 6 I take a more reflective turn and explore permaculture principles in the light of the theoretical basis established in Chapters 1 to 5, as well as in the light of my own experiences with permaculture. Here follows the hypotheses of each chapter:

Chapter 1: ‘Something’ is happening in the realm of planetary ecology that is cause for serious concern. This ‘something’ is generally referred to as the ecological crisis, which is constituted by various ‘ecological indicators’ that together indicate a massive overall degradation of the life-support systems of planet Earth. This degeneration is so intense that the contemporary epoch is often referred to as ‘the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth’[3].

Chapter 2: The current degeneration of the life-support systems on Earth has specific physical and material causes. Specifically, these causes can be traced to phenomena that are ‘part and parcel’ of various large-scale human industries, practices, and systems. Accordingly, this geological period in Earth’s history has increasingly been referred to as the anthropocene, which Rosi Braidotti (2013:79) describes as “an age when the earth’s ecological balance is directly regulated by humanity”[4].

Chapter 3: Several dominant ‘shapers of discourse’ exist that explicitly promote human attitudes that are unambiguously hostile towards nature and accordingly direct or drive human action toward ecologically-destructive ends. These shapers of discourse are Christianity, Science, Technology, Capitalism, and Democracy in their actual historical formats, versus their idealised forms[5]. Together they have paved the way for the ‘Promethean’ dispensation of ACID[6].

Chapter 4: Various Promethean ‘mechanisms’ have developed historically that resultantly prevent transition away from the ecologically-problematic actions associated with ACID. Awareness of Promethean characteristics (qualities such as dominion and domination) and Promethean mechanisms renders the claim, that ‘there is no alternative to the systems that constitute ACID’[7], naïve or biased. Instead, the reign of the Promethean must be situated in the context of the homogenising[8] modus-operandi of ACID and its accompanying perpetuation mechanisms.

Chapter 5: Despite the centuries-long reign of the Promethean, various peripheral (Orphic) ‘alternative ideas’ are available that exemplify what the outcomes of ecologically-respectful attitudes look like. These ‘alternative ideas’ generally, either directly or indirectly, emphasise the shortcomings of the Promethean and various aspects of ACID, and instead promote attitudes, ways of thinking, and ways of being that constitute some of the ‘ingredients’ for a dispensation in which human beings would have an entirely different relationship with the collective ecology of planet Earth.

Chapter 6: Permaculture is a design system consisting of principles, directives, priorities and ethics that direct human attitudes and actions toward actually-achievable sustainable outcomes, versus the kind of ecologically-problematic outcomes associated with the ‘greening’ of big-Business where the ‘costume’ of the character is changed but the character remains unaltered (so to speak). Permaculture offers a framework with which to reflect on some of the issues identified during Chapters 1 to 5, a framework which can also be used by individuals, groups and organisations to work to achieve a form of autonomy usually unachievable for the average person living according to the strict and homogenous rules of ACID. In other words, permaculture changes the rules of the ‘game’ ordinarily dominated by Promethean shapers of discourse, towards rules of a ‘game’ clearly ‘played’ in a manner compatible with the Orphic qualities and characteristics identified in this study.

Chapter 7: Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek characterise philosophy ‘in the present’ – or more specifically, the role of philosophy ‘in the present’[9] – in manners that depict it as ostensibly compatible with various central Orphic characteristics, as well as incompatible with various central Promethean characteristics. The same can be said for Hadot’s depiction of the older notion of ‘philosophy as a way of life’. Due to their explicitly Orphic and un-Promethean characteristics, philosophy in the present on the one hand, as well as philosophy as a way of life on the other, are very useful depictions of the role of philosophy in the context of the ecological crisis and associated phenomena and ideas (as I explore these phenomena and ideas) in the first 6 chapters of this study.

[1] I will comment more on this ‘setting of the scene’ in the ‘Aims and methodology’ section.

[2] Again, I will comment on this approach in the ‘Aims and methodology’ section.

[3] Kovel (Kovel 2007:1+2) points out that at “the dawn of a new millennium, one could observe” that species “were vanishing at a rate that has not occurred in 65 million years”. Foster, Clark, and York (2010:39) state that “Homo sapiens under the present economic and social system are destroying natural habitat, which is driving the sixth mass extinction”. Also see (accessed 6 February 2017).

[4] Additionally, Foster, Clark, and York (2010:12) have this to offer about the Anthropocene: “The term Anthropocene was coined a decade ago by the Nobel Prize–winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen to mark the coming to an end, around the time of the late-eighteenth-century Industrial Revolution, of the Holocene epoch in planetary history. Holocene literally means ‘New Whole.’ It stands for the stable, interglacial geological epoch, dating back 10,000 to 12,000 years, in which civilization arose. Anthropocene, in contrast, means ‘New Human.’ It represents a new geological epoch in which humanity has become the main driver of rapid changes in the earth system.” The same authors also point out (2010:17) that the anthropocene is “a potential terminal event in geological evolution that could destroy the world as we know it”, and they add (Ibid) that the anthropocene “may be the shortest flicker in geological time, soon snuffed out”. See also the following sources for more perspective on the anthropocene:;;; All accessed 6 February 2017

[5] See my comments, which I take from Speth (2008:31), on the difference between actually existing models versus idealised forms thereof, in the ‘Conventions’ and ‘Comments on some central terms’ sections.

[6] At no point do I argue that these shapers of discourse are exclusively causal in the formation of ACID and/or the ecological crisis; however, I identify these shapers of discourse as manifestations of, as well as perpetuators of, various attitudes and characteristics central to the ecologically-problematic state of planetary affairs.

[7] See my comments on the TINA claim in the conclusion of Chapter 5.

[8] I use the word ‘homogenisation’ in light of Rosi Braidotti’s use of it. In her book The Posthuman (2013), she uses the word homogenisation when she mentions the “homogenization of cultures under the effects of globalized advanced capitalism” (2013:49).

[9] I use the clause ‘in the present’ because the title of the book in which Badiou and Žižek describe and substantiate their views regarding the role of philosophy is Philosophy in the Present.

Research study: comments on some central terms

The ecological crisis:  In this study, the ecological crisis is taken as axiomatic, though I do spend a considerable amount of space ‘painting the backdrop’ of some aspects of the ecological crisis in Chapter 1. The information and themes appearing in Chapter 1 certainly do create the sense that something diabolically problematic is occurring in the realm of planetary ecology. However, beyond the themes and information I compile in Chapter 1, an important precedent exists, comments upon which provide some insight as to why one simply could take the ecological crisis as axiomatic, especially in an academic context. This precedent is Lynn White Junior’s essay ‘The historical roots of our ecological crisis’ (1967)[1], in which, as the name suggests, the ecological crisis is taken as a given fact. In the essay, White refers broadly to some large-scale issues such as “the population explosion[2], the carcinoma of planless urbanism, [and] the now geological deposits of sewage and garbage”[3], but one could say that in White’s era, people had generally only just started awakening to the worrying ecological situation then becoming apparent. For example, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published in 1962, and her book is generally acknowledged to play an important ‘igniting role’ in the environmental movement[4]. Lesser known is Murray Bookchin’s Our Synthetic Environment[5], also published in 1962 (under the pseudonym Lewis Herber), which as the title suggests, details large-scale, human-induced environmental changes. Bookchin argues throughout the book that the synthetic alterations in environment are the causes of widespread disease and suffering experienced by humankind – the rates of chronic disease on which he focuses do indeed justify the use of the word ‘crisis’ already back in 1962, though this is something of an anthropocentric focus. Some texts about ecological precariousness certainly can be found prior to the ones I have mentioned that were published in the nineteen-sixties, but it is particularly since the nineteen-sixties that innumerable environmentally and ecologically focused texts appear that detail aspects of the precarious ecological situation of planet Earth[6]. I do not wish to get into these topics in any depth in this section, but instead to point out that the notion of an ecological crisis is indeed well-established and is not an empty, fear-mongering claim from a fringe group in society, which is perhaps what proponents of ecologically-problematic ‘Business as usual’ might have one believe. As I have already mentioned, in Chapter 1 I work to establish information and themes pertaining to what I (based on the work of many other people and groups) refer to as an ecological crisis; I do not work to prove that there is an ecological crisis, but instead to offer some informational and thematic glimpses of why one would claim that there is an ecological crisis. I must add in closing here the personal comment that the available information I have read on the state of planetary ecology leads me to believe beyond any doubt that there is indeed an ecological crisis – in this manner I am in full agreement with Bert Olivier, who espouses exactly the same position in academic detail[7]. The information I have seen comes from various arenas in which empirical evidence is used, and in which reputable commentators offer commentary on, and interpretations of, the evidence. However, as Olivier points out, “In the final analysis… one must make up one’s mind, which is no easy task, by using as many sources of information as possible and exercising independent thinking and judgement”. In this study I collate information, themes, and ideas, and I construct and support arguments, which together assist one in the decision-making process to which Olivier refers.

The Promethean: In Chapter 3 I uncover the notion of ‘the Promethean attitude’ as employed by Hadot in The Veil of Isis (2008): “the Promethean attitude is inspired by audacity, boundless curiosity, the will to power, and the search for utility” and it “penetrates the secrets of nature… through violence” (2008:91-98). This notion of the Promethean attitude becomes central to this study after it first appears in one of the main chapters, specifically Chapter 3. I often use the term to denote a noun, for example when I write ‘the Promethean’. ‘The Promethean’ denotes a broad arena encompassing a specific attitude toward nature and accompanying ecologically-problematic actions; some or all of the various Promethean characteristics that I work to uncover throughout this study are at play when I use the term ‘the Promethean’. For now, one can approach the concept of the Promethean as more-or-less synonymous with the term, ‘ecologically-problematic’.

The Orphic: As is the case with the Promethean, I uncover the notion of ‘the Orphic attitude’ in Chapter 3, specifically in light of some of Hadot’s work in The Veil of Isis (2008): “Orpheus… penetrates the secrets of nature not through violence but through melody, rhythm, and harmony”; and “the Orphic attitude… is inspired by respect in the face of mystery and disinterestedness” (2008:91-98). This notion of the Orphic attitude also becomes central to this study after it first appears in Chapter 3. As in the case of ‘the Promethean’, I often use the term ‘the Orphic’ to denote a noun. ‘The Orphic’ denotes a broad arena encompassing a specific attitude toward nature and accompanying ecologically-respectful actions; some or all of the various Orphic characteristics that I work to uncover in this study are at play when I use the term ‘the Orphic’. For now, one can approach the concept of the Orphic as more or less synonymous with the term, ‘ecologically-sensitive’.

ACID: This acronym first appears in Chapter 3, sub-section 3.6. It is an acronym Hoyer (2012:48) attributes to Kvaloy, standing for advanced competitive industrial democracy. The acronym ACID ‘grew’ from Kvaloy’s initial use of ‘IGS’ – industrial growth society. The attributes of ACID, which I list in sub-section 3.6, overlap uncannily with some of the ‘characteristics’ of the Promethean as I uncover them in earlier parts of Chapter 3, so I have taken the liberty in this study to add (in hindsight) some compatible Promethean ‘qualities’ and systemic ‘mechanisms’ to the acronym. Specifically, I use ACID to denote the following: advanced, competitive, Capitalist, consumer, industrial, Democratic, dominion. This is a proverbial ‘mouthful’, but it appropriately captures some central features of the Promethean attitude and dispensation I uncover in this study.

Christianity, Technology, Science, Capitalism[8], and Democracy: Here I wish only to draw attention to capitalisation of these terms – my reason for doing so is explained in the ‘Conventions’ section, specifically in the third point I make about the conventions I use. To summarise from that section: I capitalise these terms to draw attention to them as actually existing ‘institutions’ with specific histories, versus their idealised forms. See the conventions section for more details, as well as the theoretical justification (from Speth) I provide for the distinction I have drawn.

Attitude: I use the word ‘attitude’ frequently in this study in light of Pierre Hadot’s use of the word in the quotes that have already featured in this section, specifically where I commented on the Promethean attitude and the Orphic attitude. I chose this convention after having initially used the words ‘ideology’ and ‘paradigm’, which I still consider to be occasionally-appropriate synonyms for the word ‘attitude’ in the sense in which I have used it; and I do occasionally use the words ‘ideology’ and ‘paradigm’. However, the use of the word ‘ideology’ or ‘paradigm’ does open the proverbial can of worms when used in the academic context where ‘ideologies’ and ‘paradigms’ are so often central, focal points of critique and analysis. I therefore predominantly stick to the use of the word ‘attitude’ for the sake of simplicity and to keep focused on what I consider to be matters of central importance in the context of this study, rather than venturing into grey areas in which the focus might become the formal denotative aspects of the word ‘ideology’ or ‘paradigm’. Indeed, in 1992, “1,700 of the world’s leading scientists, including the majority of Nobel laureates in the sciences,”[9] chose to use the word ‘attitude’ in their collective ‘Warning to Humanity’:

A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated. … A new ethic is required – a new attitude towards discharging our responsibility for caring for ourselves and for the earth. We must recognize the earth’s limited capacity to provide for us. We must recognize its fragility… The scientists issuing this warning hope that our message will reach and affect people everywhere. We need the help of many.[10]

Shapers of discourse: I specify what I mean by this term at the beginning of Chapter 3, but I will here comment on its use to clarify what I mean by it right from the outset of this study. Shapers of discourse play a part in shaping the way people “think about themselves in relation to the things around them” (White 1971:11) – in this study I identify four dominant ones, specifically Christianity, Science, Technology and Capitalism (all of which I focus on in Chapter 3), with a peripheral fifth being Democracy (which I focus on in Chapter 4). The word ‘discourse’ is used here to denote “a formalized way of thinking that can be manifested through language, a social boundary defining what can be said about a specific topic, or, as Judith Butler puts it, “‘the limits of acceptable speech’ – or possible truth. Discourses are seen to affect our views on all things; it is not possible to avoid discourse”.[11]

[1] My research shows that the essay was first published in Science in 1967, but various republications occurred. In this section I quote from the footnoted online source, while in Chapter 3 I quote from a 1971 publication, which I list in the bibliography.

[2] In 1967, the world’s population of human beings (based on UN data at accessed 2 February 2017) was approximately 3.46 billion. At the time of writing this section in the year 2017, the number is approx. 7.48 billion, over double what it was in 1967. If a crisis in population was perceived by White in 1967, then our time is certainly marked by a heightened sense of urgency in this regard.

[3] accessed 2 February 2017

[4] See accessed 2 February 2017

[5] Available online here: accessed 2 February 2017.

[6] At, for example, a long list of such texts conveniently appears under the search criteria “list of environmental books”. accessed 2 February 2017

[7] See Olivier’s Thoughtleader article, ‘Is there an ecological crisis?’ accessed 2 February 2017, as well as his paper, ‘Nature, capitalism, and the future of humankind’, South African Journal of Philosophy 24 (2), pp.121-135, 2005.

[8] Note that I often use the term ‘Business’ or ‘big-Business’ to denote something very similar to Capitalism, hence my capitalisation of the word ‘Business’ as well.

[9] accessed 2 March 2017

[10] The quoted passage is constituted by snippets from the entire text, available at accessed 2 March 2017

[11] accessed 23 December 2014

Research study: summary

For each chapter of this study, I have asked specific questions in order to guide the chapter, and in each of the sub-sections of each chapter, I explore themes, critiques, analyses, ideas, theories, information and issues that are most relevant in light of the guiding questions.

In Chapter 1, I collate information and themes from a wide array of sources in order to ‘paint the backdrop’ of the contemporary[1] ecological crisis.

In Chapter 2, I again collate information and themes from a wide array of sources, this time to show that some specific human industries and practices are direct causes of the ecological crisis.

In Chapter 3, I focus on the non-physical, ‘attitudinal’[2] factors that historically played central roles in ‘steering’ human actions towards ecologically-problematic ends. Lynn White Junior, Pierre Hadot, Thomas Berry, Arne Vetlesen, Max Horkheimer, Martin Heidegger, and Joel Kovel all feature as the main supporting critical voices in this chapter.

In Chapter 4, I identify various ‘mechanisms’ at play in the perpetuation of the dispensation driving the ecological crisis. In other words, these mechanisms are ones at play in the process whereby socio-political and economic change is prevented. The main featured critical voices in this chapter are J.S. Mill, Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, Robert McChesney, James Speth, Manfred Steger, Herbert Marcuse, Gilles Deleuze, and Thomas Princen.

In Chapter 5, I take something of a daring dive (daring mainly in the arena of orthodox academia) into the realm of ‘alternative ideas’. These alternative focal areas are incorporated into my academic purview in this study because they each offer examples of attitudes, ideas, models, or approaches that are notably alternative to the attitudes, ideas, models, or approaches of the ecologically-problematic focal areas looked at in previous chapters. Central areas of focus in this chapter are ‘older cultures’, Paul Hawken’s ‘unnamed social movement’, Rupert Sheldrake’s ‘morphic resonance’, Graham Hancock’s ‘lost civilisation’, Charles Eisenstein’s ‘sacred economics’, the Occupy Movement, the Zeitgeist Movement, and to a lesser degree deep ecology. Various other supporting voices will be included in this chapter as well.

In Chapter 6, I identify and elaborate on the details of the twelve permaculture principles with a view to exploring the relevance of these principles in light of aspects of the broad context established in Chapters 1 to 5 of the study. I do this reflectively in two senses – first in the sense that I consistently refer to information, themes or focal areas raised in previous chapters of the study; and second in the sense that for each permaculture principle I offer information based on my own experiences from the ‘rustic permaculture journey’ my partner and I embarked on in 2012, a journey that turned into a lifestyle she and I still practice at the time of submitting the final version of this study[3]. The main ‘voices’ in this chapter are Bill Mollison’s (the official founder of permaculture), the Permaculture Association[4] (where condensed information about permaculture is available), and my own, but other commentators are incorporated into the chapter as well.

In Chapter 7, I focus on what Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek have to say about the role of philosophy ‘in the present’, and thereafter on the insights provided by Pierre Hadot on the much older notion of philosophy as a way of life. In both cases I outline what I consider to be the main features of the role of philosophy as argued by the different thinkers, and then identify the relevance of their ideas in the light of various issues, themes, ideas, information, and focal areas that arise in previous chapters.

In the final section of the study, I offer suggestions that arise from reflection of some of the issues, themes, ideas, information, focal areas, theories, and arguments in the main chapters. For the purposes of this summary section, I offer the following general suggestion, one that encapsulates a variety of themes and issues that arise in the study:

Nothing needs to be done in the light of the ecological crisis, its physical causes, its attitudinal causes, its perpetuation mechanisms, and its alternatives. Nor does anything need to be done in the light of permaculture principles and the role of philosophy as they are explored in this study. Human beings can continue their current Promethean[5] trajectory, with a very likely collapse[6] of contemporary civilisation and a variety of other support systems that hold together the fragile collective ecology[7] of this planet. But in the context of this study it is clear that this is only one direction offered to human beings; a different direction is one characterised by carefully-considered, ‘Orphic’[8], alternative, ecologically-sensitive ways of thinking and being. If, however, human beings wish to avert the collapse of contemporary civilisation, and instead transition socio-political and economic systems towards ones ‘in tune’ with the requirements of nature (on which human beings inherently depend), then options are afforded to us. Everything that people do, or organisations do, or institutions do, or corporations do, and so on – everything that is done can be placed on a very broad, flexible, context-bound spectrum, which for the purposes of this study can be called the Orpheus-Prometheus spectrum. When this name is used for the spectrum, all that I have taken into consideration in this study is implied in the background of the consideration process, but at a more basic level, one could call it a spectrum of ecological-sensitivity, demarcating at one end ecologically-harmonious attitudes and actions, and at the other end ecologically-destructive attitudes and actions. In this manner I recommend widespread discussions at all levels of the socio-political and economic spectrum in which possibilities are considered regarding how to go about nurturing the Orphic arena wherever possible – I provide numerous examples of such possibilities in Chapters 5 and 6. Philosophy ‘in the present’, as depicted by Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek on the one hand, and ‘philosophy as a way of life’ as detailed by Pierre Hadot on the other, resonate with the general Orphic attitude, with a negative upshot, insofar as ‘the established model of humanity’ or ‘habitual perception’ (both of which are Promethean and heavily inculcated in causing the ecological crisis, as I show in the first four chapters, and to lesser extents in Chapters 5 and 6 as well) are the subject of extensive scrutiny across the board here. The practice of philosophy in the specific formats on which I focus therefore immediately halts ‘Promethean’ ‘Business as usual’, and provides guidance in approaching various complex issues associated with the ecological crisis. This halting of Promethean Business as usual is unavoidable as an urgent, necessary step if a movement towards a sustainable set of socio-political and economic systems[9] is to be actualised, as agreed by Foster, Clark and York (2010:14): “If business as usual continues, the world is headed within the next few decades for major tipping points along with irreversible environmental degradation, threatening much of humanity”.

[1] I say ‘contemporary’ because there have been ecological crises in the past, for example the extinction event that ended the reign of the dinosaurs approximately 65 million years ago. The causes of the two crises, i.e. the contemporary one and the one of 65 million years ago, could not, however, be further removed from each other – I address the causes for the contemporary crisis later on in this study.

[2] I address my use of the word ‘attitudinal’ in the sections called ‘Comments on some central terms’ and ‘Aims and methodology’.

[3] I.e. late in the year 2017. The duration of living this rustic lifestyle, at the aforementioned point in time, is over five years.

[4] accessed 12 April 2017.

[5] See the section called ‘Comments on some central terms’ for a clearer initial idea of what is meant by ‘Promethean’.

[6] A deliberate reference to Jared Diamond’s Collapse, in which he concludes that contemporary civilisation is likely to collapse if current Promethean trends continue (though he does not employ the term ‘Promethean’). Consider this from him (2005:498): “Our world society is presently on a non-sustainable course, and any [one] of our… problems of non-sustainability… would suffice to limit our lifestyle within the next several decades. They are like time bombs with fuses of less than 50 years”.

[7] …of which human beings are a part, albeit a very influential part.

[8] See the section called ‘Comments on some central terms’ for a clearer initial idea of what is meant by ‘Orphic’.

[9] An immediate objection to this notion of halting Promethean ‘Business as usual’ might be that such action would be bad for the economy. However, such an objection would highlight the faulty assumption that nothing that is currently being done under the banner of ‘Business as usual’ is bad for the economy. I address this point in Chapter 4, in the section called ‘Princen’s traffic control measures’.

Research study: conventions

In this study I employ the following conventions:

  • I refer to this PhD text as a study.
  • I capitalise the ‘C’ and employ a numerical digit when referring to the names of chapters, i.e. Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and so on.
  • I capitalise the first letter of certain words denoting what I consider to be ‘institutions’ with specific traceable histories. I do this in light of the attention Speth (2008:31) draws to the difference between idealised models versus what actually is the case in reality. Speth draws this distinction (though he does not capitalise the word like I do) in the case of Capitalism: “I use ‘modern capitalism’ here in a broad sense as an actual, existing system of political economy, not as an idealized model”. Capitalism is one case in point; for the same reason as the one I have just highlighted, I also capitalise the words Christianity, Science, Technology, and Democracy throughout the study when I refer to them as actual, existing systems (as per Speth’s distinction)[1]; my reasons for viewing these as institutions will become clear as the study progresses. When a quotation is used, I stick to the original case (usually lower-case) used within the quotation itself, but revert back to the upper-case when ‘outside’ of the quotation. I must add that, in practice, this method of distinguishing between the two (i.e. actual existing systems versus idealised models) is not always a straightforward matter, and I request that ‘grey areas’ are tolerated regarding the use of uppercase and lowercase first letters for the use of the relevant words.
  • I adhere to the South African English standard of using the letter “s” in words such as “idealised” instead of the American English standard where a “z” is used. When a quotation is used, I adhere to the original spelling used within the quotation itself, but revert back to the South African English standard when ‘outside’ of the quotation. This is demonstrated in the previous point of this section, where I first used “idealised”, but then quoted Speth, who used “idealized”.
  • When I have used a quotation in which a term or phrase is used, and then wish to use the term shortly after the appearance of the quotation in a manner where I allude to the phrase or term as it appeared in the quote, I use either single inverted commas (‘’) or double inverted commas (“”) to draw attention to the fact that the phrase or term came from the relevant quotation. Sometimes I drop this convention when a phrase or term is used several times after it has appeared in quotation format. I occasionally italicise a phrase or term to highlight it as one that has already been encountered.
  • In this study I avoid the use of writing conventions that seem to me too formalised, to the point of obscuring the fact that, in the final analysis, statements made by authors represent their own, singular perspectives. Here it is no different: the analyses or interpretations offered regarding the many conceptual issues to be presented and clarified, as well as the overall argumentative progression of the study, is a particular, singular individual’s work, albeit through the medium of language. Language is, after all, not any individual subject’s exclusive domain, but something that pre-exists individuals and in which all share, in accordance with Wittgenstein’s famous remark, that there is no such thing as a ‘private language’ (Wittgenstein 1967). My use of the first person singular (‘I’) should therefore be seen as signifying a singular perspective on a conceptually or linguistically constituted ‘world’ that is variously accessible from the perspectives of different subjects.

[1] I often capitalise the word ‘Business’ to denote something coterminous with ‘Capitalism’.

Research study: overall conclusion

James Lovelock has written the following[1]:

It may be that the destiny of mankind is to become tamed, so that the fierce, destructive, and greedy forces of tribalism and nationalism are fused into a compulsive urge to belong to the commonwealth of all creatures which constitutes Gaia. It might seem to be a surrender, but I suspect that the rewards, in the form of an increased sense of well-being and fulfilment, in knowing ourselves to be a dynamic part of a far greater entity, would be worth the loss of tribal freedom.

Lovelock’s focus here is on tribalism and nationalism, which, to be sure, foster fierceness, destructiveness, and greed, as Lovelock points out. The focus in this study has been on manifestations of the Promethean, where fierceness, destructiveness, and greed are characteristics clearly compatible with the general Promethean modus operandi. But in response to Lovelock’s remark – that it “may be that the destiny of mankind is to become tamed” – I must ask, who will do the taming? Who will force the surrender to which Lovelock refers? Certainly, if one takes seriously the qualities, characteristics, and modus operandi of the Promethean that have been looked at in this study, then it is clear that the taming and/or the surrender will not take place as a consequence of a ‘decision’ made, or process initiated, by proponents of the Promethean attitude – as I have shown in this study, the Promethean actively negates the possibility of alternatives to it from arising. I have also shown that Christianity, Science, Technology, Capitalism – and here I must add Democracy[2] – as they have historically unfolded, have laid the way for the contemporary socio-political and economic dispensation of ACID, which I have shown is a disaster for the collective ecology/ecologies of the planet. None of these are arenas that genuinely ‘open themselves’ to anything but that which perpetuates them. It follows that the taming and/or the surrender to which Lovelock refers will not arise from the dominant Promethean arenas of ACID – Capitalist Politics, growth-focused Business[3], reductionist and materialist Science, and Technology as directed by the dominion imperative – and that a “commonwealth of all creatures” constituting Gaia will thus not be actualised from within ACID or from anything Promethean.

The taming and/or surrender referred to by Lovelock will have to occur in some other way, and two possibilities readily come to mind. The first possibility is the occurrence of some sort of large-scale disaster affecting a considerably large per cent of the world’s population, including those people in first world countries who have materially benefitted the most from the era of the Promethean. Judging by the ‘attack’ on nature that has accompanied the rise and dominance of the Promethean dispensation of ACID, a far-reaching ecological disaster induced by humankind is unfortunately a plausible scenario. This first possibility is one for which a thorough context is established in Chapters 1 to 4 of this study, i.e. the Promethean component. All that has to occur is for Business as usual to continue unabated: “We are at red alert status. If business as usual continues, the world is headed within the next few decades for major tipping points along with irreversible environmental degradation, threatening much of humanity” (Foster, Clark and York 2010:14).

The other possibility is one contextualised by the information, themes and arguments in Chapters 5 to 7, i.e. the Orphic component. In Chapter 5, it was seen that Paul Hawken has made it clear that between one and two million organisations operate throughout the globe, organisations that in one manner or another work to bring justice to where Promethean powers have caused injustice. To be sure, these are small and ‘divergent’ groups whose influence is negligible in comparison to the influence of the Promethean powers in the globalised world. Yet these organisations form ‘nodes’ on a network, a network that could perhaps be thought of as an immune system of sorts, as Paul Hawken has pointed out (see Chapter 5). The Occupy Movement raised awareness on a global scale of various issues that have been explored in this study, and members of the Zeitgeist Movement continue to advocate positive social change in meeting groups (known as ‘chapters’) all over the world. Increasing evidence supports Graham Hancock’s research into a lost ancient civilisation that predates the ancient Egyptian civilisation – school and university history books may soon be rewritten, showing the youth that ACID is not an apex in human ‘development’, and that even ‘advanced’ civilisations have risen and fallen in the human past. The world’s economy is exceedingly fragile, and with further destabilisation there is strong potential for people to seek alternatives such as the ones discussed by Charles Eisenstein. As Science provides more and more information about the physical world, but clearly does not enhance knowledge about how to live in an ecologically ‘sick’[4] world, people will have to look elsewhere for ‘scientific guidance’, and Rupert Sheldrake offers an Orphic alternative with the potential to radically change the essence of the scientific enterprise. As the Promethean attitudes associated with ACID are increasingly revealed to result in an unsustainable human ‘civilisation’ due to its neglect for, and negation of the natural world, people may seek guidance from ‘older cultures’ whose relationship with the natural world is sustainable (or, unfortunately, was sustainable, considering the phenomenon of ‘absorption’ of members of older cultures into the globalised model of ACID). As the world of academia is increasingly stifled by rigid disciplinarity, bureaucracy, and Business-concerns associated with the reign of ACID (e.g. funding issues), philosophers can play their part by foregrounding, prioritising, and integrating into their work, their teaching, and their lives some of the philosophical ideas that have been discussed throughout this study, though most appropriately the ideas explored in Chapter 7[5], while simultaneously highlighting the ecological plight of the planet, a plight that has direct attitudinal and physical causes.

Jared Diamond, despite being ‘cautiously optimistic’ (2005:521-523) “about the world’s future”,  points out (2005:14-15) that a “society’s responses [to its problems] depend on its political, economic, and social institutions and on its cultural values. Those institutions and values affect whether the society solves (or even tries to solve) its problems”. I have shown in this study that the dominant institutions are Promethean, and that the Promethean actively marginalises and/or negates that which is alternative to it, so I do not share Diamond’s cautious optimism that responses to society’s problems will proactively be arrived at. Instead, I consider myself to be ‘realistically pessimistic’ that the dominant Promethean shapers of discourse will continue ‘doing what they do’, steering the collective planetary organism toward what Diamond (2005:498) refers to as the ‘resolution’ of “the world’s environmental problems… in unpleasant ways not of our choice”:

Thus, because we are rapidly advancing along this non-sustainable course, the world’s environmental problems will get resolved, in one way or another, within the lifetimes of the children and young adults alive today. The only question is whether they will become resolved in pleasant ways of our own choice, or in unpleasant ways not of our choice, such as warfare, genocide, starvation, disease epidemics, and collapses of societies. While all of those grim phenomena have been endemic to humanity throughout our history, their frequency increases with environmental degradation, population pressure, and the resulting poverty and political instability.

However, despite my pessimism regarding large-scale, institutionalised steps toward solving the world’s ecological problems, I have shown in Chapter 6 that a person can take matters into their own hands and, by applying permaculture techniques and by applying permaculture principles, can design their own systems. This is grounds for some hope, because a person can work toward being part of the proverbial solution rather than the problem. This may not solve the world’s ecological problems, but it does give one the chance to create an environment in which respect for nature’s inherent value can be nurtured and foregrounded, and in which one can ‘let things be’, and where one breaks free (to some extent) from the pattern of perpetuating ‘humanity as it has been historically constituted’ by the dominant Promethean shapers of discourse. Along the way, individuals who have embarked on the journey of Orphic discovery can spend time in rare contexts unhampered by the Promethean attitude, and opportunities to nurture ‘peace of mind’ or ‘inner peace’ can increasingly be incorporated by individuals who make concerted efforts to do so. I agree fully with Hadot when he says that (1995:274) “inner peace is indispensable for efficacious action” – efficacious action by committed individuals, such as the individual persons or movements considered in Chapter 5, is in my view a more realistic means by which broader socio-political, economic and cultural change can be instigated, rather than placing hope in inherently Promethean institutions, who resist change (as I have shown in this study). It is in this regard that philosophy as I have explored it in this study also plays such a critical role in the context of the ecological crisis. My focus on some of Hadot’s work has revealed philosophy as a way of life to be an Orphic project where nature is actively allowed to ‘let be’, and where the individual who practices philosophy as a way of life must to some extent engage with their communities, potentially slowing the spread of the Promethean agenda and instead working to create opportunities to nurture Orphic ideas, attitudes and actions. And as seen in my focus on Badiou and Žižek’s take on philosophy ‘in the present’, defending humanity as it has been historically constituted (which I have shown is Promethean) is not the job of the philosopher – the philosopher must, to some extent at least, dabble beyond the restrictive realms of the Promethean, and Orphic attitudes can thus be incorporated into the philosophical remit.

[1] Accessed 6 March 2017 at

[2] This addition is made upon reflection of the content of Chapter 4, sub-section 4.3., where ‘Democracy’ in a ‘free-market’ neoliberal Capitalist system is heavily inculcated as a prominent perpetuator of the Promethean dispensation. Democracy in its Promethean format is something to which I ascribe a capital letter, i.e. Democracy as it has historically unfolded versus democracy in its idealised form. This is based on Speth’s distinction (2008:31) apparent here: “I use ‘modern capitalism’ here in a broad sense as an actual, existing system of political economy, not as an idealized model” – something I have commented on several times in this study already, as early as in the ‘Conventions’ section.

[3] Which I capitalise for the same reason I capitalise Christianity and Capitalism, a reason I have discussed several times in this study already.

[4] Here I invoke the analogy of a sick patient, discussed at the start of the Aims and Methodology section.

[5] On this note I hold up Bert Olivier as a shining example of a philosopher and academic who has throughout his career brought ‘Orphically-aligned’ issues to the forefront of academic discussions, grounding such discussions on ‘matters of ultimate concern’ (to quote Vetlesen – see Chapter 3), proactively resisting the bureaucratisation of the university by Promethean powers who wish to model the university on that of a Business.

Research study: recommendations and suggestions – specific actions

Based on the permaculture research I have done for this study, I have identified several specific practical actions that the average person can work towards taking in their own home and workplace, things that would work to take the proverbial ball out of the Promethean court and instead help in exemplifying something more of a horizontal Orphic dispensation:

* Stop flushing fertility (human faeces and urine) down the toilet immediately. Find a way to get it composted and return the compost to the system, along with all of the organic materials produced in the household. * Catch rainwater off the roof and store it in tanks or barrels. Accordingly, use water sparingly, changing the frequency of showers, baths, and clothes-washing. * Use ecologically friendly soaps for washing, and return the water into the garden. * Plant trees wherever and whenever possible, both indigenous and fruit-bearing trees. * Grow some food, at whatever scale is manageable. * Purchase a small solar-power system and monitor how much electricity is generated with it, and how quickly a person uses the electricity, adjusting power-usage in an attempt to match the power-output of the small solar-power system. * Purchase food grown locally, with the least amount of packaging instead of gratuitously packaged food, and insist ‘in-store’ that food packaging is reduced. * Stop purchasing new things, and instead ‘up-cycle’ wherever possible. * Build a ‘solar cooker’ and install a solar water-heating system (as simple as a coil of black pipe on the roof), and align cooking and hot water needs with the cycle of the sun.

Apart from the practical actions just suggested, I will now refer to some general practices that can cultivate an inherent respect for nature:

* Spend some time each day ‘simply being’, without distractions such as entertainment, not doing anything involving practical outcomes. * Prioritise spending some time (as one’s schedule allows) outdoors in a natural place, observing nature. * Limit exposure to the mass media, social media, and advertising. * Observe non-human life without judging or analysing it. * Exercise thrift.

I am not suggesting that these actions will solve the problems of ecology I have identified in this study, but certainly the steps are ones that a person can easily take without relying on a large-scale system change. Remember, I have shown in this study that a large-scale system change is unlikely to occur considering that the system at large, ACID, the Promethean ‘writ large’, perpetuates itself while marginalising alternatives (or ‘changes’) to it. A person wishing to take action must therefore do so oneself, seeking guidance from other individuals who have dared to take actions toward implementing alternatives. I have offered some suggestions in this section that may be helpful as the initial steps in proactively retaliating against the Promethean, and in nurturing the Orphic, but certainly much more is needed from a very large per cent of the human population if we are to prevent ecocide “in pleasant ways of our own choice” (Diamond 2005:498). If, however, the human race cannot collectively step up to the challenge of radically altering the Promethean dispensation of ACID, then in implementing the small steps I have suggested, people will at least be afforded one small measure of self-reliance when the system changes “in unpleasant ways not of our choice” (Ibid).

Finally, I suggest active and outright rejection (as far as possible) of purely Capitalist attitudes and agendas, as well as active and outright rejection of those aspects of Christianity, Science, Technology, and Democracy that exhibit purely Promethean attitudes. Capitalism, also known and the ‘free-market’, must be rejected entirely, because as Jensen and McBay (quoted in Foster, Clark, and York 2010:1) state: “Industrial capitalism can never be sustainable. It has always destroyed the land upon which it depends for raw materials, and it always will. Until there is no land (or water, or air) for it to exploit. Or until, and this is obviously the far better option, there is no industrial capitalism”. Christianity, Science, Technology, and Democracy, on the other hand, are not necessarily inherently Promethean (as shown by St Francis of Assisi’s embrace of all creatures and things in nature as ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ in the late 12th and early 13th centuries), but as I have shown in this study, they have historically unfolded in their almost exclusively Promethean formats. This active rejection is motivated by the awareness that to not reject the listed shapers of discourse (i.e. Business as usual) is to ‘drive the final nail into the coffin of life’: as Foster, Clark and York (2010:14) point out, “We are at red alert status. If business as usual continues, the world is headed within the next few decades for major tipping points along with irreversible environmental degradation, threatening much of humanity. Biodiversity loss at current and projected rates could result in the loss of upward of a third of all living species this century”. If one wishes to lessen the severity of the crisis, one must act immediately, and one’s actions must occur beyond the realm of the Promethean, which entails a rejection of it and the dominant shapers of discourse that are a result of it and simultaneously perpetuate it.

Research study: recommendations and suggestions – on the paradoxical need to discriminate

The Orphic arena is inherently one in which tolerance for difference, and tolerance for heterogeneity, are key ingredients. However, I have argued in this study that the Promethean characteristics of dominion, competition, growth at the expense of an environment, etc. are the very qualities that have resulted in the Promethean project that is historically dominant. Accordingly, Orphic manifestations of being have been persecuted and marginalised by the broad Promethean agenda. Nature does not ‘do homogeneity’, so it is unsurprising that an anthropogenic ecological crisis has developed under the reign of exclusive and homogenising Prometheanism.

It therefore is the case that, if a turn away from problematic Promethean attitudes and actions is to be taken, exclusive Promethean endeavours and attitudes need to be discriminated against. Note that I do not use the word ‘discrimination’ in the sense implied when one speaks about racial discrimination, where one is entirely denied access to, for example, a job, based on one’s race. I use the word instead to denote a more nuanced process of evaluation, where the Orphic/Prometheus spectrum is used as a tool to identify the attitudes and assumptions at play, as well as the ecological impact of those attitudes and assumptions. Where a viable and workable Orphic alternative is available, then the proposed Promethean idea might need to be ‘put on the shelf’, so to speak, in order to give the Orphic a chance to recoup after centuries of ‘side-lining’ by the Promethean. At very least, what initially was a decision made from a purely Promethean perspective can be ‘toned down’ by the inclusion of some aspects of an Orphic perspective.

A very quick example will illustrate my point. I have successfully used a ‘humanure’ compost toilet system for almost five years at the time of writing this sub-section. I have taken the necessary steps to process the human manure appropriately, and the final product – compost – ends up in the garden beds, in which my partner and I grow food and trees. I consider the system to be rather Orphic in character: the hardware of the system is constituted by recycled materials; there is no cement sewer or drainage system; no water is used to flush the toilet; no artificial chemicals ever enter the system, so accordingly such chemicals do not need to be produced. However, when I first proposed implementing this system, I was literally laughed at by more orthodox members of ACID; I was told explicitly that the method would make me sick; I was told that there are good, logical ‘hygiene reasons’ why conventional toilet systems must be part of one’s lifestyle. The Business-as-usual response was to discourage and to prevent my ‘divergent’ activity, to the point that I was told I would never get planning permission for such a toilet system – not that it ever was my intention to ask for ‘planning permission’. Despite ridicule, I implemented the system, and (to repeat) I have been using it for five years – not only have I experienced none of the problems ‘predicted’ by orthodox members of ACID, the system has also been a resounding success.

This is the kind of discrimination against the Orphic inherent in the Promethean arena, and is completely divorced from the need to do things like make soils from human waste in an urgent attempt to reclaim some of the top-soils destroyed or lost during the reign of the Promethean. So even though it seems contradictory to call for the Orphic to discriminate, it does at least seem necessary for discrimination (in the manner I have described here) to occur in favour of the Orphic, and for Promethean agendas to be ‘shelved’ or ‘filtered down’ to allow for the nurturing of a different, literally non-toxic dispensation. This is of course a matter for further consideration, discussion and debate.

Research study: recommendations and suggestions – general points

First, if one is considers the context of the ecological ‘situation’ on Earth to be of any importance, then it is crucial that s/he remembers that human actions and industries have consequences for ecology. Human beings, in our current numbers and with our current Technology, have a notable (negative) impact on planetary ecosystems. It would be very useful if one carefully considers the outcome of their individual actions, and of the collective actions of socio-political and economic groups of all sizes, making adjustments on the spectrum where the ‘strictly Promethean’ and the ‘strictly Orphic’ are the far extremes. These adjustments would occur in the context of flexibility (Mollison 1988:3) that was seen in my outline of permaculture theory and practice:

It has become evident that unity in people comes from a common adherence to a set of principles, each of us perhaps going our own way, at our own pace, and within the limits of our resources, yet all leading to the same goals, which in our own case is that of a living, complex, and sustainable earth. Those who agree on such ethics, philosophies and goals form a global nation. [Emphasis added]

Second, to look carefully at the context(s) into which one has been born and raised, and acknowledge the default (historically dominant) Promethean assumptions and attitudes at play in the given context(s). These assumptions and attitudes mould people in the sense evident in this comment (to which I have referred more than once in this study already) from White (1971:11): “What people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to the things around them”. The Orphic/Promethean spectrum allows one to position certain discursive ‘qualities’ at different points on the spectrum; a good example is the assumption that humankind occupies a higher rung on the evolutionary ladder than all other forms of life. This assumption can then be identified for scrutiny, as Rosi Braidotti does in The posthuman (2013), and the impact of the assumption can be considered versus perhaps a different and more Orphically-aligned idea. This evaluation process seems in accordance with Badiou and Žižek’s depiction of the general role of philosophy as focused on in Chapter 7.

Third, to consider carefully the extent to which one’s socio-political and economic environments (for examples, one’s workplace and government) keep the cycle of Promethean action spinning. I am not suggesting that one immediately acts upon the knowledge that, for example, Capitalism “is the uncontrollable force driving our ecological crisis” (Kovel 2002:vii), but certainly to look honestly at, for example, the way in which the Capitalist system is structured to perpetuate itself at the exclusion of alternatives to it. The tendency of the Capitalist system to reward certain Promethean actions with monetary remuneration – for example, the externalising of costs, which is accompanied by heavily detrimental ecological impacts – can then be positioned on the Orphic-Promethean spectrum.

Fourth, to seek out attitudes and ideas, movements and projects, etc., exhibiting qualities and outcomes that have been identified as Orphic in this study, remaining aware that the character of the Orphic must entail a heterogeneity of attitudes and ideas, movements and projects, instead of the dominance of only one. Chapters 5 and 6 contain examples of such Orphic alternatives.

Fifth, it is important for one to begin implementing permaculture principles. This can be done on various scales. On a small scale, and as a start, one might arrange the objects in their bedroom according to the principles in order to gain a rudimentary understanding of the way that energy flows through a given system. On a bigger scale, one might abandon their neatly-mowed lawn and establish a set of garden beds for the growing of a few seasonal vegetables, and plant fruiting trees on the perimeter of their abodes, paying attention to the way that nature’s energies flow through the environment and how s/he can most harmoniously synergise with the energy – and in the Orphic view, human energy is included here. This careful approach to design, as well as the outcome(s) of the approach, can then be compared to other systems where people were not cognisant of permaculture principles or the natural factors constituting a given environment.

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