Category: Thought provoking (page 1 of 10)

Reflections on a transformative philosophy talk that face-planted

Yesterday I gave a talk at a weekly philosophy seminar hosted by a prominent South African university. The talk was called Humanity as it has been historically constituted: what lies beyond. The first half of the talk was a short summary of Badiou and Žižek’s depiction of the role of philosophy ‘in the present’. They argue that philosophy occurs when confronted with the incommensurable; that it involves the creation of new problems; that it pertains to the redefinition of human nature. Philosophy can cut through ‘particularities’ and focus on universals and the ‘inhuman’; it changes the terms and concepts of the debate, elucidates choice, and spreads light on the distance between power and truths. That philosophy cannot confine itself to the established model of humanity, because each time that it does so, its only function becomes that of conserving and spreading the established model. I write in-depth about these ideas, as well as others, in the first half of the seventh chapter of my PhD, which can be accessed at this site.

The established model of humanity is Promethean; or, reworded, humanity as it has been historically constituted is Promethean. It does not take a huge leap in reasoning to arrive at the conclusion that if the role of philosophy is not to conserve the established model, then this role involves not spreading the Promethean. I define the Promethean attitude in my study as one “inspired by audacity, boundless curiosity, the will to power, and the search for utility”, and it “penetrates the secrets of nature… through violence” (Hadot 2008:91-98). Hadot points out that Promethean ‘man’ “demands the right of dominion over nature” (2008:95) and furthermore that the attitude “has engendered our modern civilization and the worldwide expansion of science and industry” (2008:101).

Hadot is demonstrably correct. If one does any research on the following industries – fossil fuel, petrochemical, agricultural, construction, mining, meat and fish industries, ‘bio-tech’, and fractional reserve money industry – then one will see a clear cause-effect relationship between the industries and large-scale phenomena such as loss of biodiversity, greenhouse gas and carbon emissions, anthropogenic climate change, deforestation, loss of topsoil, fresh water loss, landfill waste, associated pollution, toxic and chemical waste, overpopulation, and so on. As Hadot suggests, the Promethean attitude has driven the expansion of what I call ACID (under inspiration from the Norwegian philosophers Hoyer and Kvaloy), the Promethean writ large: ‘advanced’ (Christian) competitive consumer capitalist industrial democratic dominion. After a few years of research, I found the pieces of the puzzle I’ve just mentioned – these pieces constitute the established model of humanity. I am confident that I offered no ‘argument’ in describing the established model. Instead, I simply did the research, and compiled it into a few chapters constituting the first half of my PhD.

The first half of the seminar talk was the summary of Badiou and Žižek’s description of the role of philosophy in the present. Thereafter I pointed out that the established model is Promethean, and that the relevant industries and ecological destruction are part and parcel of the established model. I then moved on to point out, more or less, that the realm of ‘the Orphic’ is something of a counter-balancing force to the Promethean. “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). The research I did for my PhD led me to consider the following as helpful for the Orphic agenda, if indeed there is such a thing as an Orphic agenda: older cultures, Hancock’s civilization with amnesia, Sheldrake’s morphic resonance, Hawken’s blessed unrest, Eisenstein’s sacred economics, the Occupy Movement, the Zeitgeist Movement, and deep ecology.

I covered a few other things in the talk, like the fact that ACID does not ‘do real dialectical change’ (a conclusion for which I provided premises in the seminar and in my study), and that the Orphic realm in general, as well as permaculture principles, are attuned to philosophical universality, but I’ve mentioned most of the main focal areas in this post. Important to mention is what I included as a caveat: I am not throwing the babies of Promethean ‘progress’ out with the bathwater of Promethean ecocide. I fully acknowledge that there are many benefits for humans that have arisen from the reign of the Promethean. There is also a real and worrying ‘flipside’ to Promethean ‘progress’ that can be seen if one looks at the disease, discomfort, inequality, patriarchy, racism, and so on, that is demonstrably caused by the spread of ACID. These (and other) issues aside, it is clear that benefits have come at the expense of a diverse and healthy ecology, the very thing needed for human beings to survive on this beautiful planet. I also made it clear that I am not advocating a radical shift from the dominance of the Promethean to a mostly Orphic dispensation – this would be completely unrealistic, because such giant strides are prevented for various reasons, some of which I uncover in the fourth chapter of my study.
I certainly was suggesting that a useful ‘philosophical tool’ is the Orphic-Promethean spectrum, on which one can conceptually position different actions, activities, lifestyles, choices, industries, attitudes, beliefs, ventures (business and otherwise), manifestations of government, theories, and so on. I’m not sure if I mentioned this in the seminar, but there is surely no ‘purely Promethean’ or ‘purely Orphic’ manifestation of being. But ACID is definitely a form of ‘civilisation’ with heavily Promethean features, features I identify in my study and which I identified in the talk. ACID, when placed on the conceptual spectrum I have described, is weighted almost at the far Promethean end of the spectrum. My contention is that the conceptual process (of considering where between the two ‘incommensurable positions’ of the spectrum an activity or action or choice lies) is a philosophical activity. How one actualises a repositioning toward the Orphic may not be philosophical; it may be informed by a philosophical process, but the following remark by Badiou makes clear that particular decisions are not necessarily philosophical: a philosophical commitment “is foreign. And when it is simply commonplace, when it does not possess this foreignness, when it is not immersed in this paradox [of incommensurability], then it is a political commitment, an ideological commitment, the commitment of a citizen, but it is not necessarily a philosophical commitment. Philosophical commitment is marked by its internal foreignness.”

So in the final few minutes of my talk, I made it excessively clear that I may be stepping beyond the philosophical ‘commitment’ highlighted by Badiou. I may have offered a commitment of a citizen, a researcher, an academic, a human being, a person who knows the value of treading softly on our home planet that has been stomped upon for so long. In one presentation slide – the final one – I pointed out that the legalisation of Cannabis in South Africa would be – in my opinion – one of the only ways to shift the general collective societal attitude slightly away from the far Promethean end of the spectrum toward the Orphic end. A brief look at the legalisation of Cannabis in the USA will show how successful legalisation has been. Economically it’s a no-brainer. Cultivation is instrumentally and inherently uplifting. Millions of meaningful jobs can be created where cultivators spend time working with plants and natural medicines. I need to write a post about just how socially, economically and ecologically uplifting I contend the legalisation of Cannabis will be in South Africa, and about how I contend the legalisation process can roll out, but for now I simply would like to reinforce what I was suggesting yesterday: that this relatively small change could go a considerable way to shifting attitudes away from the now-dominant Promethean end of the spectrum toward somewhere closer to the middle of the spectrum.

I then pointed out that very reputable experiments and research are being done at Johns Hopkins University and at MAPS (and elsewhere) on the benefits of controlled use of Psilocybin, and suggested that controlled, legal use of the substance would go quite far in initiating people into the Orphic attitude. I am not suggesting that anyone be forced to use the substance, but rather that if one wishes to have such an experience, then it could easily be incorporated into South African culture. Indeed, the dominance and growing prevalence of Promethean attitudes in our country has turned our culture into a consumer-culture, which is to say no culture at all. Huxley’s Island demonstrates what such a ritual use of Psilocybin could look like – and, to me, it looks great. The novel demonstrates a culture I would proudly call a culture. And, I contend, introducing an optional ritual affords possibilities to further create meaningful jobs in a ‘health industry’ that can have many (Orphic) side-branches. Legalisation of Cannabis, and the eventual availability of ‘initiatory’ experiences like those associated with Psilocybin, are, in my considered opinion, aspects of a society that is transforming in a manner not completely dominated by the business-as-usual of the established Promethean model.

That’s what I presented, more or less. Then I was crucified, more or less! The responses were brutal. Okay, one young man with a glitter in his eye agreed that the ‘mystical experience’ facilitated by Psilocybin were extremely helpful. But all the other responses were extremely critical… despite my caveats and explicit drawing of attention to where the ‘safe’, summarised philosophy ended and the ‘un-philosophical’ commitments of a ‘citizen’ began. I was told that I was being Promethean in ‘othering’ aspects of ACID, which is a strange response seeing as I had made the disclaimer that I am not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but rather trying to encourage a process whereby a spectrum is delineated and ‘particulars’ can be placed on the spectrum, with the hope that the imbalance toward the Promethean end is identified and problematised, and where the “distance between power and truths” (2009:8) is brought to light – which, by the way, are aspects of the role of philosophy as depicted by Badiou and Žižek. I was told that I was bundling all of the world’s problems into “one thing”, which was a surprise seeing as I identified dozens of industries and components of underlying attitudes that constitute the Promethean. ‘Stoners’, I was told, would achieve nothing in response to the world’s problems, because they would sit around and do nothing all day, except for maybe party; strange then that Silicon Valley is populated by ‘stoners’ and ‘trippers’ of all sorts who have pioneered some of the most influential endeavours of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. I was told that in older cultures humans died at age 35, so things are better now; how many times have we heard that one, and how few people know that it is at worst a complete myth (see here), or at best a complex issue that cannot be reduced into the view that was leveled at me as criticism of my argument.

My favourite criticism came when most seminar attendants had departed: there is no ecological crisis, I was told. That what human beings do with our industries and our capitalist economy is progress. When I asked what was meant by the word ‘crisis’, and when given the example of stage one cancer, the response was that stage 1 cancer is not a crisis; stage 4, I was told, is a crisis, which I take to mean that stages 2 and 3 are not seen as crises either. Stages 1, 2 and 3 are problems, I was told, not crises. This was very odd to me. It is easy to demonstrate that the planet does have early stages of cancer – maybe not stage 4, granted, but I would think stages 2 or 3 – but the situation is not akin to when a person gets cancer and seeks treatment, because for the earth, under the current Promethean regime, there is no treatment. Some very respectable thinkers have made the cancer analogy. Joel Kovel (2002:51), for example, speaks of “the cancerous imperative to expand” that is characteristic of the global economy. Paul Hawken (2007:3) suggests that we live on a planet with “a life-threatening disease”, and James Lovelock (2009:46-47) also uses the ‘sick patient’ analogy. Foster, Clark and York, in their book The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth (2010:1) all agree and argue that “a deep chasm has opened up in the metabolic relation between human beings and nature – a metabolism that is the basis of life itself. The source of this unparalleled crisis is the capitalist society in which we live”. They also add (2010:14) that 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”. Thomas Princen (2010:32) explains the following paradox: “the economy depends on increasing consumption, but ever-increasing consumption strains ecosystems, both resources (soil and water, for instance) and waste sinks (the oceans and the atmosphere). Before tackling this paradox head-on, let’s turn the question of consuming less on its head. A system that grows endlessly crashes. Think of cancer cells, debt-ridden mortgages, fisheries. It defies logic, not to mention a few well-known laws of physics (like thermodynamics), to presume that with continuing growth in consumption – that is, continuing growth in the total throughput of material and energy through our economy – the current economy will not crash.” So maybe the Promethean dispensation of ACID is only in stages 2 or 3 of having cancer, not 4, but the fact that the Promethean trajectory continues unabated (i.e. no treatment), if not at an increasingly accelerated speed, should give every sober-minded individual cause for alarm. Whether or not you call this a crisis is up to you, but it is certainly more than ‘a problem’.

Strangely, I was happy to take the criticisms. I gave the talk because I feel something of a responsibility to try and create awareness of the issues of the Promethean gone mad, and to try and suggest what remedies could look like. This was not well received yesterday, but I feel like I am at least trying to do something in the face of such overwhelming odds. On reflection, I feel that my ‘less orthodox’ suggestions were more in the spirit of the role of philosophy in the present: as I have quoted already, a philosophical commitment “is foreign. And when it is simply commonplace, when it does not possess this foreignness, when it is not immersed in this paradox [of incommensurability], then it is a political commitment, an ideological commitment, the commitment of a citizen, but it is not necessarily a philosophical commitment. Philosophical commitment is marked by its internal foreignness.” The responses I received from various members of the group highlighted the foreignness of my contributions, and also highlighted something incommensurable between us. I was certainly not offering commonplace contributions.

The group consisted mainly of analytical philosophers – they are used to knit-picking away at arguments. I have done this too, and there is value to this commonplace activity. But I spend more time these days trying to conceptualise and actualise ‘alternatives’ (for lack of a better word). I do this for my own sake, but also for the sake of others who are trying to introduce ‘alternatives’ into the mix and thereby, ever so slightly, together inoculate the Promethean pot with Orphic spores and keep hope alive that little by little we can balance ourselves away from the far Promethean end of the spectrum. I am not sure if this will amount to much, but I am dedicated to continuing this “strange commitment”: “Genuine philosophical commitment – the kind which is immersed in the incommensurable and summons the choice of thought, staging the exceptions, creating distances and, especially, distancing from forms of power – is often a strange commitment” (Badiou 2009:23). I am happy that I tried to “change the concepts of the debate” (2009:51), and I wonder how members of the group would feel when revising some of the features of the role of philosophy (as depicted by Badiou and Zizek) and thereafter reflecting on the ‘feedback’ I was given – ‘criticisms’ is a far more fitting word. Are you, as philosophers, happy to purely occupy a place in the established model of humanity, and if you are, are you a philosopher? Pure pen pushing is not an act of philosophy, unless, perhaps, the pen is pushed in the ‘transformative’ spirit depicted by Badiou and Žižek. With this in mind, I will conclude with the words of Karl Marx, and remind one that ‘the world’ in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries is characterised by a massive imbalance of Promethean characteristics: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”

7.2.2.12 Comments on the structure on this study: example of a philosophical progression

Note: the content below is all in first draft format. It will change considerably during the time it takes for the study to be completed. I post now ‘for interest’s sake’.

I would like to conclude this half of Chapter 7 by once again identifying what has occurred in previous chapters of this study, and while doing so point out where some aspects of the role of philosophy (as explored in 7.2.1.1 to 7.2.1.4 and 7.2.2.1 to 7.2.2.11) are evident simply by considering the focus of each chapter.

  • In Chapter 1, information pertaining to various aspects of the ecological crisis was compiled. In light of what has been established about the role of philosophy so far in Chapter 7, one could say that in Chapter 1 a compilation of information was offered pertaining to the breakdown of organic society, thereby creating a sense of foreignness with regard to the ‘home’ planet whose health and well-being are by default taken for granted under the established model of humanity – these are some aspects of the role of philosophy, as already established in this Chapter.
  • In Chapter 2, information pertaining to the direct physical causes of the ecological crisis was compiled. In light of what has been established about the role of philosophy so far in Chapter 7, one could say that in Chapter 2 a compilation of information was offered which displaced and problematised, and perhaps ‘foreign-ised’, ubiquitous Promethean industries and practices – these are some aspects of the role of philosophy, as already established in this Chapter.
  • In Chapter 3, information pertaining to the attitudinal and ideological causes of the ecological crisis was compiled. In light of what has been established about the role of philosophy so far in Chapter 7, one could say that in Chapter 3 a compilation of information was offered that identifies problems with the established dominant Promethean attitude and with humanity as it has been historically constituted; and sheds light on the distance between power (i.e. the spread of the Promethean paradigm, culminating in ACID) and truths (the devastating ecological impact of the said paradigm as established in Chapters 1 and 2) – these are aspects of the role of philosophy, as already established in this Chapter.
  • In Chapter 4, examples of change-prevention ‘mechanisms’ were explored, thereby explaining aspects of the means by which the Promethean is perpetuated. In light of what has been established about the role of philosophy so far in Chapter 7, one could say that in Chapter 4 a compilation of information was offered pertaining to the manner in which humanity as it has been historically constituted (or the established model of humanity) is perpetuated, while simultaneously drawing attention to the difficulties of ‘thinking the transformation of life’ in a context actively monopolised by the Promethean – these are aspects of the role of philosophy, as already established in this Chapter.
  • In Chapter 5, examples of ‘ecologically sensitive’, Orphic ‘ideas’ were explored. In light of what has been established about the role of philosophy so far in Chapter 7, one could say that in Chapter 5 a compilation of information was offered pertaining to potential processes whereby ‘the transformation of life can be thought’ via the consideration of alternatives to the established model of humanity; and pertaining to alternatives to preconceived ideas of human nature. Information was offered indirectly elucidating choices between Promethean and Orphic attitudes, emphasising the incommensurability of the Promethean and Orphic paradigms, all of which changes the concepts comprising the Promethean ‘status-quo’ debate – these are several aspects of the role of philosophy, as already established in this Chapter.
  • In Chapter 6, information pertaining to permaculture principles and practices was explored. In light of what has been established about the role of philosophy so far in Chapter 7, one could say that in Chapter 6 a compilation of information was offered pertaining to a process whereby ‘the transformation of life’ can be thought; pertaining to a series of ‘singular’ principles that can be said to participate in a universal process of the cycle of organic life; pertaining to principles that change the concepts framing the Promethean ‘status-quo’ debate; and pertaining to choices that can be made (specifically regarding how to interact in a given environment) – these are aspects of the role of philosophy, as already established in this Chapter.

7.2.2.11 Thinking the ‘transformation of life’

Note: the content below is all in first draft format. It will change considerably during the time it takes for the study to be completed. I post now ‘for interest’s sake’.

Consider what Badiou (2009:11) mentioned about philosophy in light of the philosophical situation represented by the ‘smile’ on the faces of the crucified lovers (see 7.2.1.2): “What will philosophy tell us then? It will tell us that ‘we must think the event’. We must think the exception. We must know what we have to say about what is not ordinary. We must think the transformation of life.” I wish to focus here only on the final sentence: thinking the transformation of life. At the risk of over-repetition of what is at this stage of the study a common mantra, ‘mechanisms’ exist that have prevented alternatives to ACID from arising (as shown in Chapter 4); in other words, mechanisms exist that prevent the transformation of life away from the reign of the Promethean. It follows that in the realm of the Promethean, one does not ‘think the transformation of life’; furthermore, it follows that the reign of the Promethean is not a reign in which philosophy (as it has been presented by Badiou and Žižek) takes place; philosophy would have to occur in a manner whereby the dominance of the established model of humanity is, for example, under scrutiny – and this is exactly what has partly occurred in this study, namely the scrutiny of various Promethean components of humanity as it has been historically constituted. When Orphic ideas were explored in Chapter 5, and when permaculture principles were considered, they occurred against a backdrop of (potential and actual) transformation – specifically a transformative process where ideas do not dominate but arise in cooperation with a myriad of factors that constitute a given context. Permaculture principle number twelve explicitly draws attention to the idea of transformation via the use of the word change – ‘creatively use and respond to change’.

7.2.2.10 Humanity as it has been historically constituted / The established model of humanity

Note: the content below is all in first draft format. It will change considerably during the time it takes for the study to be completed. I post now ‘for interest’s sake’.

These phrases – ‘humanity as it has been historically constituted’, and ‘the established model of humanity’ – really stood out to me as two of the most powerful phrases in Philosophy in the Present in the context established by the first several chapters of this study. In Chapter 3, for example, it became clear that the established model of humanity has a specific history with identifiable features which collectively, under inspiration from Hadot, I have called ‘Promethean’ in this study. In Chapter 4, examples of ‘mechanisms’ that perpetuate the dominant Promethean ‘shapers of discourse’ were identified and explored. To restate: in one chapter there was a focus on humanity as it has been historically constituted, and in the other chapter there was a focus on what perpetuates the established model of humanity. Now consider Badiou’s comment about philosophy, one I introduced in 7.2.1.4 of this chapter:

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. [Emphasis added]

I have shown that the established model of humanity is Promethean, and I have shown that it is perpetuated by specific mechanisms; it therefore follows, in light of Badiou’s aforementioned assertion, that each time a person (for example) ‘defends extant Capitalism’ (one of the dominant contemporary manifestations of the Promethean), philosophy “is diminished” and suppressed. In order to count as a philosophical activity – in the context established by Badiou and Žižek, at least – any talk of the particularities of Capitalism (or Christianity, Science, and Technology in their dominant Promethean formats) must occur against a ‘philosophical backdrop’ whereupon an awareness of (for example) incommensurability presents itself. Incommensurability is just one example of a philosophical ‘component’ of the backdrop I have just mentioned; other examples have appeared throughout this first half of this chapter: creating problems, changing the concepts of the debate, the moment of foreignness, etc. The examples of Orphic ideas focused on in Chapter 5, on the other hand, do indeed participate in the philosophical process identified so far in this Chapter: creating problems regarding the established (Promethean) model of humanity, changing the concepts of the debate, focusing on the ‘foreignness’ of certain aspects of humanity that, under Promethean paradigms, are taken as unquestionable (for example, the equating of the current incarnation of Democracy with freedom), etc.

I need to point out that if the Orphic were to become the ‘dominant’ model of humanity, and perpetuate itself via (for example) the focus on only mutually inclusive ‘alternatives’ (see 7.2.1.1), then one may expect that it too would become a sphere void of philosophical characteristics as explored by Žižek and Badiou. However, as I have already pointed out elsewhere in this chapter (7.2.2.2), the Orphic is inherently incapable of domination in the Promethean sense of the word. The Promethean dominates, has dominion, compartmentalises, reduces, competes, etc. (see Chapter 3), all of which exclude the ‘foreignness’ of non-Promethean ideas (see Chapter 4). Manifestations of Orphic principles, on the other hand, inherently cannot do these things lest the said manifestations lose the qualities making them Orphic. It is in light of this information that I must repeat what has been said elsewhere, but now using the appellative phrases of this sub-section: the Orphic can, per definition, never confine itself to humanity as it has been historically constituted – in doing so, it would become something other than Orphic. The Orphic therefore seems inherently aligned with the character of philosophy as it has been presented by Badiou and Žižek, i.e. as something that does not stagnate at any one view of humanity as it has been historically constituted. The Orphic is inherently open to ‘foreignness’, to cooperation, to patiently confronting incommensurability, and (to name one more characteristic of philosophy) open to the ‘transformation of life’, which brings me to the next sub-section.

Accordingly, the focal areas of Chapter 5 do either implicitly or explicitly focus on the established model of humanity in that they either directly or indirectly analyse and/or criticise the established model. Importantly, in all the sub-sections of Chapter 5, alternative ideas, actions, systems, etc. are focused on, thereby surpassing the limitations of the orthodoxy of humanity as it has been historically constituted.

7.2.2.9 Preconceived ideas of human nature

Note: the content below is all in first draft format. It will change considerably during the time it takes for the study to be completed. I post now ‘for interest’s sake’.

In 7.2.1.4, I quoted the following assertion from Badiou (2009:73): “philosophy really needs to be able to grasp that in truths, in new problems, there is something which is irreducible to any preconceived idea of human nature”. I have already addressed the philosophical focus on new problems in 7.2.2.2, as well as the focus on truths in 7.2.2.6; now I wish to address the theme of preconceived ideas of human nature not being compatible with philosophical commitment as explained by Badiou and Žižek in Philosophy in the Present. My argument in this regard is straightforward: the Promethean is the arena enforcing a ‘superior’ view of human nature, i.e. superior to the rest of the constituents of nature – this was seen throughout Chapter 3, alongside other rigid Promethean characteristics of the broad Promethean paradigm. Furthermore, these characteristics must be considered in view of what was shown in Chapter 4, specifically that mechanisms have arisen during the reign of the Promethean that prevent ‘social change’ in any direction other than the Promethean. Preconceived ideas of human nature are therefore crucial components in the Reign of the Promethean.

Orphic ideas, on the other hand, actively work to shatter preconceived ideas of human nature, as seen throughout Chapter 5; and permaculture (which I showed in Chapter 6 to be fundamentally Orphic in character) offers no preconceived ideas of what human nature is, but rather a series of adaptable principles (perhaps one can even note the universal flavour of these principles) that can be applied to achieve different (particular) outcomes in different (particular) contexts. Orphic ideas, in their inherent tolerance for, or receptivity to, difference and the universal process whereby organisms change over time, therefore exhibit the quality of not promoting any one preconception of human nature. If philosophy is aligned with that which is impossible to be reduced to preconceived ideas of human nature, then in this regard the Orphic is a compatible arena, while the Promethean is not.

7.2.2.8 Singularity participating in universality

Note: the content below is all in first draft format. It will change considerably during the time it takes for the study to be completed. I post now ‘for interest’s sake’.

As quoted earlier, Žižek said the following of philosophy: that it focuses on a “singularity that immediately participates in universality, breaking through the idea of a particular order.” On closer inspection, this statement reveals some Orphic qualities. Universally, existence of any part of an organic system is dependent on the existence of other parts of the given organic system – the Orphic recognises this. Co-dependence seems universal – at least for organic systems. ACID, the epitome of the Promethean, does not recognise this; it is the current order (see 2.2.10), and it actively prevents breaks in the current order (as seen in Chapter 4), i.e. it prevents breaks in itself and perpetuates Promethean particulars at the expense of the aeons-old natural processes that gave rise to all organic life forms. I am suggesting here that this process, whereby organic life unfolds and whereby organic life can unfold, is to a considerable extent a ‘singularity’ that facilitates the unfolding of particulars – indeed, in ancient Greek philosophy this process was known as physis (Hadot 1995:260). The continuation of this distinctive, singular universal process on Earth in coming decades and centuries is clearly placed into question considering the ecological crisis. Of course, it is questionable that the conditions necessary for life on Earth will ever be terminated entirely before the explosion of the sun when it reaches the end of its lifespan, because even after cataclysmic events such as comet impacts, life has managed to continue on this planet. The point I wish to make is that, in prioritising the preservation of the conditions necessary for life on this planet, rather than simply prioritising anthropocentrism and the reign of Promethean ‘man’, the Orphic attitude aligns itself with a singular universal (i.e. the universal process whereby particulars arise) and thereby with one of the focal areas of philosophy according to Žižek. On the other hand, in perpetuating the particularities of the Promethean at the expense of the conditions required for organic life on Earth, the Promethean attitude is pitched against the ‘flavour’ of the singular universal, and therefore against this aspect of philosophy as delineated by Žižek. In this light it is again the case that the Promethean is an arena void of philosophical characteristics, while the Orphic again strikes one as a realm compatible with aspects of the philosophical ‘project’ as commented on by Badiou and Žižek.

7.2.2.7 Redefining human nature

Note: the content below is all in first draft format. It will change considerably during the time it takes for the study to be completed. I post now ‘for interest’s sake’.

I would like to pick up here where I left off at the end of sub-section 7.2.2.2. There, I pointed out the following: if one takes Žižek’s example of a real philosophical question about biogenetics – “is there something in the results of biogenetics that would force us to redefine what we understand by human nature, by the human way of being?” – and applies it to the broad issue of the ecological crisis, the question becomes this: is there something in the results of the ecological crisis that would force us to redefine what we understand by human nature, by the human way of being?[1] I would like briefly to pursue this line of inquiry in this sub-section.

First, I need to make a disclaimer – Žižek never does answer his version of the ‘real philosophical question’ he identifies as relevant to biogenetics in general. Based on my reading of Philosophy in the Present, it is not the role of philosophy to answer the questions that the philosopher asks. Rather, the role of philosophy is to ask the ‘real’ philosophical questions, and ask them in a manner that achieves all the ‘philosophical criteria’ as enumerated by Badiou and Žižek, e.g. leaving room for the elucidation of choice, creating distance between power and truths, identifying incommensurability, and so on.

Second, I must draw attention to what Žižek saw as false questions to emerge in consideration of biogenetics: “how far are we allowed to go into biogenetics? Does biogenetics threaten our freedom and autonomy?” These questions can be changed so that they have a focus relevant to this study: how far are we allowed to deforest, pollute, consume, lose topsoil, grow the population, etc.? Does the ecological crisis threaten our freedom and autonomy? It is interesting that under the reign of ACID, ‘resource management’ departments[2] in business/industry and government have asked such questions for decades, without managing to avert the ecological crisis (and contrarily exacerbating it), giving further credence to the notion that the listed questions are false questions, at least in the realm of philosophy.

Third, it is worth refocusing on Žižek’s criticism of Habermas’s general approach to biogenetics. As already explored in sub-section 7.2.1.3, Žižek says of Habermas that his “whole intervention betrays the fear that something could fundamentally change, that a new dimension of the ‘human’ could emerge and the old idea of human dignity and autonomy would not be safely conserved”. This is entirely appropriate in light of the dominant Promethean worldview – i.e. the fear that ‘the human’ could change – because it is partly defined by its own growth and expansion. While Žižek’s remark about fear underpinning Habermas’s approach to biogenetics must be seen, first of all, as a way of contrasting this approach with a truly philosophical one, Habermas’s comments/concerns are directly transferable and relevant to the potential changes that the ecological crisis implies for humanity: the Promethean worldview has, at different times since the reign of Christianity, and through the times of the development of Science, Technology and Capitalism, enforced a (dominant) view of humankind as a species that inherently has dominion over nature, a species that can forcibly extract the ‘secrets of nature’ without negative consequences[3], a species that can use its Technology to process nature for whatever reasons the members of humankind deem fit, a species that can endlessly profit from the exploits of nature. The ecological crisis is showing humankind that such Promethean views about ‘the human’ are downright wrong, and moreover, that the time has perhaps come to question the ‘old idea’ of supposed ‘ human dignity and autonomy’. After all, what does the cynical despoliation of nature and her creatures by humankind say about its ‘dignity and autonomy’? Does our species still deserve such an elevated status, or has it been irredeemably sullied by humankind’s demonstrable abuse of its ‘high’ moral station?

Take the Capitalist assumption that endless growth is possible (and even desirable) as an example of a view impacting on what it means to be human – the idea being that part of what it means to be human is to engage in the endless expansion of the human population while ploughing through increasing quantities of natural resources. The ecological crisis is a sober reminder that such an assumption is simply wrong, because the ‘endless-growth’ assumption has been instrumental in a Promethean process destabilising the conditions necessary for sustaining the myriad forms of life on Earth. Furthermore, again referring to what Žižek says about Habermas – that he fears the loss of the old idea of human dignity and autonomy – it is clear that human beings are simply not autonomous at a fundamental level: the impact of unrestrained economic growth on the ecology of the planet shows that human beings must respect their dependence on nature, and accordingly adjust and limit their actions lest they undermine the conditions for any kind of human action, never mind autonomy – thus ‘human nature’ shifts from its Promethean sense (of having dominion over everything) to its Orphic sense (of embracing its interdependence with all that constitutes an ecology, of which humans are merely one part). In philosophical terms, human ‘autonomy’ is limited by its ecological ‘heteronomy’.

All the areas of focus in Chapter 5, where the focus is on Orphic attitudes, contribute to a redefinition of human nature in that they offer instances of human actions, ideas, ingenuity, and ‘alternatives’ where the view of human nature associated with ACID – which is to say the historically dominant view of human nature – is challenged, and alternative human actions, ideas, ‘alternatives’ are proposed and/or explored.

[1] [This is where ‘extinction studies’, such as Claire Colebrook’s work and that of others, are important. Her books on extinction are free for download – she articulates the philosophical implications of the ecological crisis for our conception of humanity quite starkly. However, see the next paragraph of this sub-section, where I point out that it is not the role of philosophy to answer the questions that the philosopher asks.

[2]An appellation [so] explicitly reminiscent of Heidegger’s observations about the technological view of nature as a standing reserve of resources – see Chapter 3. Another comment here – in business/industry and government, human beings are turned into resources, as indicated by the term ‘Human Resources’, which for my purposes falls under the umbrella term ‘Resource Management’.

[3] This view is rendered immediately naïve if one considers the devastating consequences of the extraction of nature’s atomic ‘secrets’ that partly resulted in the invention and use of the atomic bomb – as already seen, in this chapter, the role of the philosopher is to shed light on the distance between such power and truths.

7.2.2.6 Shedding light on the distance between power and truths

Note: the content below is all in first draft format. It will change considerably during the time it takes for the study to be completed. I post now ‘for interest’s sake’.

As seen in 7.2.1.2, Badiou (2009:8) states that between “power and truths there is a distance… Philosophy’s mission here is to shed light on this distance”. In the specific example Badiou was exploring, ‘power’ was symbolised by General Marcellus – power in this sense denotes the standard definition: “the ability or right to control people or things”; “political control of a country or area”; “a person or organization that has a lot of control and influence over other people or organizations” . ‘Truths’ in the context of Badiou’s example were symbolised by Archimedes’ interest in an objective process unimpeded by power; in Archimides’ case, a mathematical calculation, but ‘truths’ need not be confined to the realm of mathematics. The same ingredients are applicable to aspects of this study: on the one hand, the Promethean attitude/ideology/paradigm/model/ etc. has been shown to have manifested itself as the dominant world power for many centuries, culminating in advanced competitive consumer Capitalist industrial democratic dominion (ACID); on the other hand, demonstrable facts (i.e. ‘truths’) about what constitutes the ecological crisis exist, and more importantly for the focus of this sub-section, facts about what causes the ecological crisis also exist. There is a massive distance between the power of the Promethean (which is to say the power of ACID) and the truths of the ecological impact of this power. This can be seen in a brief revisit of the example explored in 2.1.2 of sustainability – there it was seen that an awareness of the need for sustainability is often incorporated into Promethean endeavours, but always in a manner whereby the systemic cogs of the Promethean edifice must keep turning as a priority. The edifice is the Promethean power-structure of ACID. The extent of the demonstrable need for radical change in order to achieve real sustainable human practices is an example of a faint glimmer of truth; but this ember of truth is extinguished by incorporating an unrecognisable fragment of it into the ‘growth engine’ of ACID, because as already discussed extensively, ACID (as the contemporary manifestation and culmination of the Promethean) is inherently unsustainable. In other words, power is perpetuated when an inherently unsustainable structure incorporates ‘the sustainability mandate’ into its remit, and any sight of ‘the truth’ (in this case, the real need for sustainable endeavours, or the causes of problems surrounding sustainability) is obscured or lost. Part of the role of philosophy is, as discussed in 2.1.2, to draw explicit attention to this kind of problem, but now in light of what has been explored in this sub-section, part of the role of philosophy is also to shed light on the distance between power and truths, which I have worked towards doing at various stages in preceding parts of this study. The Zeitgeist Movement, the Occupy Movement, Sacred Economics, and Blessed Unrest, via their analyses of ACID’s systems, all reveal the distance between power and truths.

7.2.2.5 Elucidating choice

Note: the content below is all in first draft format. It will change considerably during the time it takes for the study to be completed. I post now ‘for interest’s sake’.

This sub-section picks up from where I left off in sub-section 7.2.2.1. I pointed out there that in this study a philosophical activity has occurred simply in the highlighting of incompatible characteristics of the Promethean and the Orphic respectively. But Badiou also said that “a philosophical situation consists in the moment when a choice is elucidated”. The issue here therefore is the extent to which consideration of the broad categories of the Orphic and the Promethean presents one with a choice.

At a very basic level, the incommensurability of the Orphic and the Promethean paradigms obviously does present one with a choice whereby one can align herself with the Orphic agenda, or alternatively with the Promethean agenda. Stereotypical symbols of these two extreme choices come to mind: the ecological activist who rejects ACID as far as it is within his power to do so and actively works to pursue sustainable means by which to live, versus the profit-crazed industrialist who dismisses any criticism of her Promethean endeavours as ‘conspiracy theories’ inhibiting humankind’s climbing of ‘the ladder of progress’. Less extremely, one may recognise the issues arising from the dominance of the Promethean, and instead align himself as much as possible with Orphic endeavours. The act of ‘elucidating’ such a choice is an aspect of the role of philosophy, as stated by Badiou.

I think it is safe to say that these two extreme stereotypes I just described are not often encountered in everyday life. The average citizen of ACID might feel that they have little choice when it comes to acquiring food, water, and building materials, or when it comes to transportation, fiat currency, and electricity (etc.). They might feel as if they are born into a world in which they have few real choices, and that they must live according to the established model of humanity. This phrase – the established model of humanity – is one I will explore in sub-section 7.2.2.10, where I will reiterate that the established model of humanity is Promethean; suffice it for now to confine my comments to what has already been said about the average person’s belief that they do not really have real choices regarding food, water, buildings, transport, money, electricity, etc. It is in the dominant Promethean context (the established model of humanity) where a person tends to believe that they do not have the kinds of choices to which I have alluded. It is in this context that the following assertion is made: the Promethean paradigm does not ‘offer’ choice in the philosophical sense of the word. I make this remark in the light of what has already been explored about the role of philosophy partly arising when the mutual exclusivity of ‘positions’ arise. The Promethean agenda, as extensively established in this study, is notoriously rigid in its modus operandi (see Chapters 3 and 4), and ‘choices’ are confined to that which is commensurable within the framework of the Promethean and its contemporary manifestation as ACID. Further to this, it was seen in Chapter 4 that ‘mechanisms’ exist that have prevented alternatives to ACID from arising. Here is the crux: if part of the role of philosophy is to elucidate choice in the philosophical sense of the word (i.e. choices between mutually exclusive positions, choices between incommensurable stances, choices arising out of changing the terms of the debate, etc.), then the realm of the Promethean negates the possibility of philosophy as argued for by Badiou and Žižek because the Promethean perpetuates only its own dominance; accordingly superficial choices arise (for example, the choices available in a consumerist society), while real choices (for example, a non-consumerist lifestyle altogether) are marginalised or negated.

On the other hand, the arena of the Orphic, wherein respect for the diversity and mystery of nature is prioritised, does cater for choice. I have argued (based on Hadot’s work in The Veil of Isis – see Chapter 3) that the Promethean is defined partly by its characteristic tendency to dominate. As I have said, domination comes at the expense of ‘alternatives’ to that which dominates. The Orphic is opposite in the sense of being an arena in which cooperation is paramount – this implies the impossibility of excluding a plethora of real choices, choices that would result in radically different ways of being, different physical systems, different ‘experiments of living’, etc. Permaculture is an excellent example of such a system (as seen in Chapter 6), where the first ‘action’ recommended in the design-approach is a kind of non-action – specifically, this first ‘action’ is the process of observation, which requires a halting of ‘business-as-usual’ (a halting of ‘the established model of humanity’ – see 7.2.2.10). A human being engaging in such a process will eventually have to make a decision, but it is one ‘dictated to’ by the details of the environment observed by the human being. The ideal permaculturalist would make choices impacting on the well-being of the area’s ecology in a manner beneficial for the ecology and the person. The observation process reveals to the human being that whatever she does is indeed a choice, and that some choices are radically different to others.

www.crocssa.co.za review

Summary: great product, but expect huge delays, complete incompetence,  boiling-of-the-blood indignation, no call-backs, and even blame for the company’s fuck-ups.   

I love my Crocs – by this I mean the brand of slip-on sandal I have been buying for about 12 years. Each pair lasted me four years. I wore each pair everywhere. I walked over numerous mountains with each pair too. One pair completed the final day of the Amatola hiking trail TWICE due to blisters I developed on both occasions of the epic six day trail, and the sandals are still usable.

So of course I was always going to purchase another pair. In fact, two pairs, because increasingly I have been battling to find the slip-on style I like. I had always bough straight from shoe stores, but in January I ordered three pairs online from www.crocssa.co.za – two pairs for me, one for my partner. I placed the order on the 11th and paid for it via electronic bank transfer immidiately. There were no online offers or specials when I placed my order.

The website is very clear about dispatch and delivery details. “Please allow up to 24 hours for processing of your order once payment has reflected prior to shipping.” And “Once the parcel has been dispatched, it will be delivered in 4 working days…”. Okay, I thought, worst case scenario is one week. My old pair was falling to pieces, but I’d manage one more week.

But 7 days passed. No delivery. I checked my order history online but nothing had changed since I placed the order. With the exception that a crocs sale had started. I could have saved R150 I had placed the order 7 days later than I did. Oh well, my bad luck.

Okay, this is Africa, so I decided to give it another week. 14 days in total passed, and nothing was delivered. Weird, I thought, so I logged on again to get the customer ‘care’ number (and by ‘care’ I mean absolutely nothing denoted by the actual dictionary definition of the term). A different offer was now on – a Valentine’s Day special where orders over a certain amount get R200 off. I would have qualified for this.

I called the number given at the site. Straight through to the lady who deals with online orders. My order, it turned out, had not even been processed yet, never mind dispatched, due to a stock take. A stock take that was not yet complete. I asked her to call me back to tell me when I could expect delivery. She took my number.

The day passed and no call-back. I became really angry. I called again. Same lady. No excuses, just blasé disregard at my indignation. She will call me back, she said – what is my number, she asked. I replied, saying she already has it from the day before – please read it back to me. She read me the wrong number. I calmly cracked and said please cancel the order and refund me immediately – remember, a special offer was on for R200 off – I’ll just re-order, or so my thinking went. Okay, she said. Keep in mind that this is 15 days after I placed and paid for the order.

Day 16. I received an email to say my order has been processed. Processed, not cancelled, and that the parcel will be packed and shipped on 30 January. I was flabbergasted – 19 days to dispatch the order??? Lesson learned – never use crocssa.co.za again, but at least I was to be getting my crocs. Had I waited a week, I would have saved money due to the online offers, and presumably have received my crocs around the same time, but damn, some battles are not worth fighting.

But 12 minutes after the first email, another one came through saying that the order will be cancelled. No mention of when or how a refund will occur. I couldn’t trust this company to refund me, I thought, so 36 minutes after the second email I typed the following reply from an old Nokia dumb-phone that has rudimentary internet access:

Hi, can you still make this order happen? I’m desperate for new crocs despite being super angry with the company, would be nice if you charged the brown cloggy pair at the special rate. Thanks, david

Okay, said the person in a reply.

31 January came and no word. Surprised? No. Angry? Yes. I emailed, asking what is happening. Two days passed with no reply. I emailed again, no reply again. Two days later, the parcel arrived.

Yes folks, that’s a TWENTY-SEVEN DAY wait.

I remained indignant, so I emailed with the following, which I am sure you will agree is completely reasonable:

Hi there

I ordered 3 pairs of crocs from the online store on Jan 11th, almost a month ago. They arrived today, after I was messed around a lot and ignored by employees who I spoke to via telephone. The website clearly describes a much, much quicker dispatch and delivery time, hence my indignation and desire for some kind of ‘making-of-amends’.

For the inconvenience of having to wait almost a month for the crocs and the disappointing service I was exposed to, could you please be so kind as to refund me R200 as per the valentine’s special, seeing as I could have waited before placing my order and bought all my crocs on special a few weeks ago or now on the valentine’s special. Now the valentine’s special is running, and considering I spent well over R750, this seems just and fair to me.

My bank account details are XXX:

Thank you for your understanding…

The reply came quickly this time:

We apologize for the delay in reply.

We cancelled your order because you said that you wanted a refund and then u asked that we rather send you the parcel instead of refunding you, then only we re [sic] dispatched your order and this is the reason as to why it took longer.

I believe that your parcel has been delivered after a long wait and once again we do apologize for that.

So, folks, the delay, apparently, is my fault. Not-a-flying-fuck-it-is. Thirty-six minutes out of 27 days, and it’s my fault? A bigger red flag could not have been waved at this bull.

So I replied and said either you refund me with the money I would have saved via the Valentine’s offer, or I will write a review on my blog. No reply. Hence this review.

Hope it helps. Certainly helping me – very cathartic.

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