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The Gorge Plot’s off-grid shed/cabin

I made frequent references to the Gorge plot in the previous post. Emma and I acquired it late in 2014, but I didn’t mention it on this site for years because of so many things happening at once – things that required physical labour or academic attention, things that detracted from activities such as blog-post writing. One of the things requiring physical attention was the building of a shed/cabin at the Gorge plot. I built is at the initial plot I lived on first, and dismantled it later to reassemble it at the Gorge plot. See HERE for the initial construction phase. Here it is at the Gorge plot – note that the first picture is 6 months older than the rest:

Its base-frame is supported by 12 poles dug 80cm into the ground. The walls and floor are made from shutter-ply sheets, the roof corrugated alu-zinc sheets. The ceiling is knotty-pine, under which is hidden a substantial amount of insulation. The room is 3.6 by 3.6 metres, totalling 12.96 square metres. Emma and I, as well as our two cats, lived in this small space happily for a month before we headed up to Hogsback.

Two exterior walls of corrugated alu-zinc were added after the mid-year fires, which almost destroyed the shed/cabin. The logic is that metal does not catch alight as easily as wood. Initially I wanted to clad the entire structure in wood from local saw-mills, but the fire scared me off considerably, especially because the structure will be left unattended for long-ish periods of time.

The shed/cabin has one solar panel (128 watts) on the roof, which charges two deep-cycle batteries (102 amp hours each) in the cabin, which power several low-watt lights, a car stereo system I rigged up, and occasionally a laptop computer. I have added a 600W inverter so that I can charge the batteries of two extremely important cordless tools and things like headlamps and camera, as well to run a few odd 220 volt devices like hair clippers.

The small solar setup is the only power source on the plot. Alongside there being no ‘mains’ or grid electricity at the plot, there is no mains water connection. Water is caught off of the shed/cabin’s roof, as well as off the roof of a second structure I built at the top of the plot. The water situation, however, is the topic of a different post.


Filling in some gaps to the story so far


Picture: ‘Gorge plot’ car-pot storage-area and undercover water-tank structure under construction in a clearing created by the fire of mid-2017.

I started telling the story of the move that Emma and I made from the UK to South Africa in 2012, when this blog began. I managed to fill in bits and pieces of the story along the way, but ended up leaving out massive chunks of it because the rustic lifestyle we chose and the accompanying developments, combined with the part-time ‘paid work’ commitments, required of us all of our time and energy. I simply could not prioritise keeping the blog updated because of so many other aspects of the journey that needed urgent and often on-going attention.

There has been another change of chapters in our lives, and the new one seems to be affording me some space to reflect on the previous years, and my focus flowed to what I have not recorded on this blog. Perhaps a bullet-point list of central events and features is helpful in the reflection process:


  • Complete a Permaculture Design Certificate in the UK. Resign from A-Level teaching job after 4 years of teaching full-time.
  • Return to South Africa. Set up tents on a friends land in Country Gardens. String an old truck-cover (tarp) to some trees and huddle under it to cook etc. Rocket stove used for cooking and hot water.
  • Start making compost. Create vegetable gardens for annual crops. Start teaching yoga and Pilates part-time.
  • Build a small cabin to live in, with an outdoor kitchen attached to the side. Cooking and hot water all catered for by small rocket stove. Compost toilet is ‘housed’ behind tarp mentioned above.
  • Square-foot gardens and key-hole garden beds are experimented with.
  • Emma attends 10-day Vipassana meditation course.


  • Do a short contract of research work for a private education company. Continue teaching Yoga and Pilates part-time. Take on a longer academic research contract until mid-year; part-time. From mid-year, teach first year philosophy at local university; part-time. Emma begins teaching part-time contracts for two different universities.
  • Basic shadecloth+plastic nursery added to rustic abode; vegetable seedlings housed herein.
  • Plant orchard trees. Create raised beds and grow annual vegetables. Take down tarp and build under-roof sitting, food-prep and cooking area; compost toilet housed in back corner.
  • Outhouse built and old bathtub added, as well as compost toilet. Black plastic tubing coiled up on roof, connected to mains = hot water at heat of day.
  • Some trees are added to the gardens.
  • I apply for bursaries for PhD study.


  • I attend 10-day meditation retreat. Return and embark on polyphasic sleeping experiment for approx. 4 months, allowing me to write the proposal for my PhD and do the research for first 2 chapters of the 7 chapter PhD, as well as do a considerable amount of reading and planning for later chapters.
  • ‘Paid work’ situation continues: I am the first year philosophy guy at the local university, and Emma teaches Environmental Impact Assessment at one university for one semester, and one term at a different university. Bursary money added to the ‘income’ stream.
  • Abode at Country Gardens continues to be developed: annual vegetables continue to be rotated; perennial herbs and plants added to the raised beds.
  • Emma and I acquire an acre of land – the Gorge plot. Begin observation process.


  • Paid work situation continues for both Emma and I. I continue PhD research and writing.
  • Country Gardens plot: focus changes from keeping annual vegetables going, to maintaining perennials and adding variety to the ecosystem. Structures maintained and small additions made, like pallet-wood kitchen unit, as well as laptop work stations.
  • The Gorge plot: most of year spent observing, which requires getting deeper and deeper into the bushy land (Coastal Fynbos biome). I purchase a brushcutter and slowly cut paths through the land.
  • Emma and I bump into friends while walking in the Mountains in Hogsback. Friends buy property in Hogsback and we make a couple of visits to see them.


  • Paid work situation continues for both Emma and I. I continue PhD research and writing.
  • Situation continues much the same as in previous years at Country Gardens plot.
  • Observation and sporadic brushcutting continues at the Gorge plot. A space is chosen for a shed.
  • Several visits are made to see our friends in Hogsback. The offer is made for Emma and I to move to Hogsback and live in a cottage on friends’ land – Emma and I are keen, but need time to think about it. Eventually we express that we are keen, but need time to conceptualise a transition.
  • In December, I start work on the shed at the Gorge Plot.


  • Paid work situation continues for both Emma and I. I continue PhD research and writing.
  • January sees me finish the shed at the Gorge plot, and I add two 2,500L water tanks, allowing for rain water to be caught and stored.
  • April sees a small fruit-tree orchard begin at the Gorge plot. By June, dozens of indigenous trees have been planted at the Gorge plot.
  • Fire hits the Gorge plot in July, but shed and over 90% of the added trees are spared. Two thirds of the Fynbos lost in fire but quickly regrows.
  • July sees the start of a double-car port structure at the Gorge plot. Structure includes a store-room and undercover water tanks totalling 20,000L. Structure finished in October.
  • PhD submitted in August. Final changes recommended by examiners made in October. Graduate start of December.
  • Various trees, plants, shrubs are transplanted from Country Gardens plot to Gorge plot from July through to end of November. Some furniture, tools, etc. stored in Gorge plot store-room.
  • Transition from Country Gardens plot to Gorge plot occurs in final week of November and first week of December. Main structures are left behind at Country Gardens.
  • Live at Gorge plot for rest of December and first week of January 2018.


  • First week of January sees the Gorge plot prepped for departure to Hogsback.
  • Arrive in Hogsback on Friday 5th January and take occupation in Hogsback cottage. The plan is to bounce between Hogsback and the Gorge plot, with the bulk of time being spent in Hogsback, and a week ‘here and there’ at the Gorge plot to do things like water trees and general maintenance.
  • My ‘paid work’ situation uncertain. Emma to teach a one-term contract starting February.

This is already quite a bit if information for one post, and it is probably for the best if I reserve commentary for later posts.

On the Green Renaissance video: No Somewhere Else

Deep gratitude goes out to Mike and Warren, as well as the rest of the Green Renaissance team, for putting together such a professional video – or rather, another professional video, seeing as the team has created several dozen excellent videos, each of which is an artwork in itself. Thank you.

First – and I must address this first because I hear that several people have commented on my error – I am now well aware that the Counting Crows reference should be to Joni Mitchell. Quite simply, I am not a fan of Joni Mitchell’s music, though I do acknowledge and respect her contribution to the history of good music. Counting Crows, however, is a band I listened to extensively in my teenage years, so there we have it.

I would also like to provide some contextual information that, I hope, justifies what I consider to be a less-than-polished interview from me on the day of filming. The night before Mike and Warren arrived to do the filming and the interview, Emma and I had broken the news to our friends whose land we live on that we would be leaving. I need not reveal the details, and rather say more generally that complications surrounded the breaking of the news. After trying for a few weeks to find the right time to tell them, a pizza evening arose – Emma and I make great Pizzas – and we decided to break the news at the end of the evening. That happened to be at around 11pm, after too much pizza and wine, and it was quite an emotionally trying time for me – another story, perhaps. Mike and Warren showed up at 6am the following day, after I had hardly slept due to indigestion and over-stimulation, and after Emma and I awoke before 5am to do some tidying. The actual interview was at around 11 am, long after three cups of coffee, and I think I was caffeine-crashing at that point too.

So I thought that the interview went terribly – I am quite sure that, objectively, it did go terribly. The editing team, however, did excellently to identify a theme, and then construct a mostly-coherent articulation of that theme. In a nutshell, that theme is that there is no ‘somewhere else’. I really wish I had said there is no such thing as ‘away’, as the authors of Cradle to Cradle point out, far more eloquently than I do. Of course, there is such a thing as somewhere else: I was obviously trying to emphasise the important notion that we live in a closed system, and that each part of the system is inseparably connected to every other part of it. When a person poops into a toilet and flushes their faeces ‘away’, it has gone from somewhere to somewhere – the organic matter is still in the system of which the pooper is a part. The pooper may call the place it goes ‘somewhere else’, but doing so would raise the issue of the arbitrary ‘borders’ that human beings impose onto places that are otherwise intimately interconnected.

To simplify, one could think of the saying, which I see is attributed to Davie Bader (though I associate the first clause of it with Ram Das), “Be here now, be somewhere else later.” Obviously, when you get to the ‘somewhere else’, it becomes ‘here’. Emphasis here is placed on the relativity of time and place: when you are in one place in the present, it is ‘here’, and the place you are going to be ‘later’ is ‘somewhere else’, but when ‘later’ becomes ‘now’, the ‘somewhere else’ becomes ‘here’. And so it it with flushing your poop ‘away’. Got it? Good!

I have also been told (I am not ‘on facebook’ or other social media because, it must be said, I choose to spend what would otherwise be social-media-time doing manual tasks such as making compost) that some comments pertain to some people’s opinions about not being able to take certain matters into their own hands, matters such as what they do with their poop. Emma has read some of the comments on facebook and she says that some people from the United Kingdom say that they simply cannot conduct similar composting activities because where they live they have no such options.

Let me state unambiguously that I am not suggesting even for a moment that anyone should or should not do anything. Poop your fertility ‘away’ by all means. And feel free to claim that you cannot do anything about it. Go ahead. I also used to believe that taking certain matters into my own hands was not an option. I made statements about not having options. Fine. Then gradually I changed things. The video, I hope, is about what I do now – what Emma and I do, though I do not speak for Emma – and if people wish to justify what they cannot do in comparison to what I do, then please remember that you are choosing to make comparisons and offer justifications when I am asking for neither of those reactions. I am long past trying to get anyone to change the way they think or behave – go ahead, think and do what you like. But do not for one moment pretend that what you do and what you think do not have an impact on the world around you, a world you are intimately interconnected with, a world in which your poop is deposited in one way or another. I acknowledge that I do state in the interview that I am frustrated when I see people flushing their fertility away – again, this is a comment about me, not about you. Again, go ahead and flush fertility away – but please, remember that this action will have an impact on the world of which you are a part, just as every one of your actions will have.

Let me also say that if you have watched the video and taken from it a sense that I am suggesting that you too should now go and create and use a compost toilet system, then you are imposing this message into the equation. As I have said, I am not suggesting that you should or should not do anything. I tried rather to emphasise the theme of interconnection, and my apologies if I did so in a manner you do not find particularly palatable. If, however, the theme of interconnection resonated with you, and you feel like you should do or should not do something (which would be an interpretation you have created), then let me point out that the use of a compost toilet could be seen as an example of taking matters into one’s own hands and implementing a system built due to the awareness of interconnectivity. There are many other examples of things that people can do, and I’ll leave this to you as an area to look into.

Finally, I have also been told that some comments in response to the video are from people who think that Emma and I can do what we do because we are lucky enough to live like we do. Let me state that luck has nothing to do with it. To be able to do what we do first required that we figure out what to do, which we did after many years of working in fairly orthodox work environments. While in these orthodox work environments, what-not-to-do became clear to us, and the imperative to live differently arose. We then took a leap of faith to go and try experiment with an alternative lifestyle, without knowing if it would work or not. The experiment is on-going, and it does require constant physical and mental input, which I find all deeply satisfying largely because the experiment is in the spirit of interconnectivity, but certainly luck is completely irrelevant when talking about what we do. I have much more to say about the experiment, because whether or not it has been successful depends on the different contexts from which judgements about success can be made. I will leave such an evaluative process for a different post.

Humanure how-to: helpful links

Long version:
Short version:
From the handbook:
humanure handbook girdlok

Pictures: basic shed/cabin construction

Tour of 5 year old rustic abode

A brief tour (19 minutes) of the rustic abode that my partner and I have lived in for 5 years. There was nothing but an empty lawn when we arrived, and now it is bursting with plant-life. No added cement or concrete, no sewer system, no fridge or geyser/boiler or dishwasher etc. To quote Paul Hawken from his book, ‘Blessed Unrest’, “[T]he way to change the world is to change one’s own practices, including one’s home, source of energy, method of agriculture, diet, transport patterns, and communities. … [Y]ou can’t get there from here by any mechanism that depends on support from institutions that benefit from the status quo. …[P]eople [must] re-examine how they behave and consume in their own lives. The movement can be seen as weak when measured against large institutions, but its goals are more important. The goal is to create a more resilient social and economic understory in what is basically an oligarchic world, a powerful act that restores a measure of autonomy and power to citizens.”


Thermal Mass Rocket Heater

This was built in preparation for last Winter, and it’s been working a treat this Winter as well. Would definitely work in a much bigger room. This one cost about R1200 to make. That’s including the base-layer of fire bricks; the fire cement, and the steel flue and brackets.

Takes about 20 minutes to feel a nice amount of heat emanating from the chimney. 90 minutes to get all the bricks real hot. When the fire dies, the bricks keep their heat for 4 to 5 hours, hence the thermal mass part of the appellation. Uses minimal wood. Wood burns horizontally at the bottom of the burn chamber because of the air suction created by the chimney and flue. And no, no smoke comes up from the burn chamber… unless, it seems, when gusts of gale-force wind push smoke back into the chimney, but this has been rare.

Here it is unlit, kinda being used as a bedside table. The glass bottle is on the 3mm steel plate that seals the brick chimney; the little essential-oil burner (sitting on a rock/shell display) is here moved onto the part of the mass heater into which the wood is fed:


Here it is in use; the stone/shell display at the top also heats up, no problems (but don’t forget your cell phone etc. on the plate when the fire’s going!!!):


Here it is being christened; note the side access point for lighting and cleaning; this side access point is also used as a throttle:


Here it is under construction:

No more need for the small gas burner noticeable in the above picture!

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.

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