Research study: chapter 5 introduction

Note: this is a first draft of a section of my research. It will change considerably during the time it takes for the study to be completed (especially by way of more academic support). I post now ‘for interest’s sake’.

Introduction to Chapter 5

The previous sections of research, which together constitute approximately half of the study, all focused on aspects of what can broadly be called the Promethean paradigm. Chapter 1 focused on some of the details of the ecological crisis, while Chapter 2 looked at the broad causes of the crisis. Chapter 3 identified the dominant Promethean characteristics that historically gave rise to advanced industrial consumer society, and explored critically some links between them and the ecological crisis. Chapter 4 focused on various discursive ‘mechanisms’ that prevent social change, i.e. that perpetuate different aspects of advanced consumer capitalist industrial democratic (ACID) ideology. Chapter 5 now takes quite a radical turn in an ‘alternative’ direction and focuses on what can broadly be called ‘counter-paradigms’, or paradigms that stand in contrast to the collective characteristics of the broad Promethean paradigm focused on so far in this study.

The word ‘ideas’ is perhaps more appropriate for what is focused on in this chapter, versus the word ‘ideologies’, the latter of which may seem like a more academically appropriate term. In Blessed Unrest (2007: 16), a work that is explored briefly below in this chapter, Paul Hawken offers some insight into the distinction between ideas and ideologies. He points out that there “is a vast difference between the two; ideas question and liberate, while ideologies justify and dictate.” As has been seen in Chapter 3, the Promethean ideologies under the spotlight have historically resisted ways of thinking that threaten their perpetuation, as was seen in Chapter 4; as Hawken (Ibid) says further of ideologies, they “prey on… weaknesses and pervert them into blind loyalties, preventing diversity rather than nurturing natural evolution and the flourishing of ideas”. It is exactly for this reason that this Chapter now focuses on ideas rather than ideologies – in order to encourage diversity in a context where such diversity has been marginalized by Promethean paradigms.

The change in focus of this chapter compared to the previous four chapters can be described as a change from the Promethean to the Orphic attitude. In Chapter 3, the term ‘Promethean’ was taken from a section of Hadot’s The Veil of Isis (2008: 91 – 98). In the same section (Ibid), Hadot contrasts the Promethean attitude to the Orphic:

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.

Hadot (2008: 92) contrasts the disrespect (towards nature) of the dominating Promethean attitude with the more symbiotic character of the Orphic attitude:

If… people consider themselves a part of nature because art is already present in it, there will no longer be opposition between nature and art; instead, human art, especially in its aesthetic aspect, will be in a sense the prolongation of nature, and then there will no longer be any relation of dominance between nature and mankind. The occultation of nature will be perceived not as a resistance that must be conquered but as a mystery into which human beings can be gradually initiated.

These are important characteristics of the Orphic attitude considering the ecological crisis: not promoting any ‘relation of dominance between nature and mankind’; not directing human action towards conquering nature. Instead, the ‘prolongation of nature’ and the initiation into the mystery of nature stand out as cooperative aspects of the relationship between humankind and nature. These cooperative (versus competitive) characteristics are examples of  what is being looked for in this chapter; furthermore, a broad aim of the chapter is to add to the list of Orphic characteristics as revealed in the different sub-sections, expanding on what has already been said about the general character of ‘the Orphic’[1].

Furthermore, this chapter dares to explore a somewhat eclectic range of ideas that align with the ‘respectful’ Orphic attitude in order to challenge the view that often is punted by proponents of the advanced industrial consumer system, that ‘there is no alternative’ to ‘the system’ (TINA, as discussed in section 4.7 above). Despite the historical dominance of Promethean characteristics (Chapter 3) via their control mechanisms (Chapter 4), “a new spirit is in the air, and … the generation now maturing, thrown through no choice of their own into a world defined by the ecological crisis, are also beginning to rise up and take history into their own hands” (Kovel 2002: x). The ‘alternative’ ideas focused on in Chapter 5 are appropriate areas of consideration for this new, developing set of paradigms, and together they can be said to constitute something of a ‘response’ to the dominant characteristics of advanced industrial society that would otherwise together hold (and perpetuate the belief) that ‘there is no alternative’.

Baer (2012:294) offers some broader insight into why one would undertake the task of offering alternatives to the ecologically insensitivity of Promethean paradigms:

Obviously, eventually the human species, like so many other species that have inhabited this planet, will become extinct, if not due to developments of our own making then due to natural events over which we have little or no control. Yet it seems that we as a species can exert some degree of agency or control over our fate during the course of this pivotal century with respect to our some 5 or 6 million years on this planet.

The proclamation of the ability to “exert some degree of agency or control over our fate” is much-welcomed optimism considering the depressing picture painted in Chapters 1 to 4 of the state of the planet’s ecosystems, and socio-political and economic entities. Furthermore, Baer extends the context of the ecological crisis well beyond the relatively short period in human history where Promethean paradigms and ideologies have dominated discourse; his reference to “5 or 6 million years” hints at a view of the passage of time that positions human beings somewhere in the slow unfolding of earth and all the life that arises and passes away on it, rather than as the epitome of life in the short period of ‘civilised existence’ typically associated with advanced industrial society by proponents of Promethean paradigms.

Important note: the sections in this chapter are constituted by an eclectic mix of topics that are united, somewhat at least, by the common characteristics that some aspect(s) of the topic has/(have) positive implications for ecologically-sensitive action or alternative thinking; and that they all resonate, at very least, due to their opposition to Promethean paradigms. In this way, it is hoped that a truly interdisciplinary context can be elucidated in response to the ecological crisis; not merely an interdisciplinarity of traditionally academic subjects, but of a variety of completely different types of paradigm. Hoyer (2012: 62) comments on the relevance of such a vast interdisciplinary approach; he is referring to Nordic ecophilosophy, but his comment is perfectly relevant here:

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.

In the spirit of this kind of research prioritised by Hoyer, then, this chapter needs to be approached somewhat differently to the ‘usual’ academic approach of Ph.D. studies. The usual approach would be to offer a wide range of academic support for a given position or topic, which has been the approach taken in Chapters 3 and 4. Such an approach is typically seen taken in the academic fields of eco-socialism and eco-feminism, two examples of areas that seem obvious contrasts to Promethean ideology. There is much academic work in circulation that explores these ‘eco-sensitive’ fields, and will therefore not feature in this study so as not to ‘reinvent the wheel’, so to speak. However, many of the ideas and topics that are explored below are not explicitly academically inclined in the same way that the examples just listed are, and the ones below do not typically feature in the academic realm due to their marginalisation by, and novelty to, established orders – the Academy being one such established order. Traditionally ‘academic’ information pertaining to the ideas and topics has therefore unsurprisingly not surfaced during the course of their investigation. By exploring them and commenting on them in relation to what has been seen in previous chapters, this Ph.D. aims to make (or at least start) a large contribution to the academic realm – in a sense, the attempt in Chapter 5 is to widen the metaphorical playing field from which ideas can be accessed in order to strengthen intellectual responses to the ecological crisis. The hope is that such a process can help contribute further to a way of thinking that could play a part in the development of a new way of living[2]; Kovel (2007: ix) comments on this as follows:

As the ecological crisis grinds on irrespective of capital’s propaganda system and its massive apparatus for fixing the environment, so does capital’s legitimacy begin to fray. With this, the possibility of new thinking emerges and begins to flower. On one side, a predictable inevitability, that the system will collapse; on the other, no more than a hope, grounded however in reality, that a new form of society may emerge no longer dependent upon accumulation and its progressive breakdown of ecosystems.

[1] Note that throughout this chapter, as elsewhere in previous Chapters, the terms ‘the Orphic’ and ‘the Promethean’ will be used as nouns to denote broad paradigms. It will be clear when ‘Orphic’ or ‘Promethean’ are used as adjectives, for example, in phrases such as ‘the Orphic attitude’.

[2] Here for the first time explicit reference is made to ‘ways of living’; this idea will be expanded upon in detail in a following chapter, where Hadot’s exploration of Philosophy as a way of life will play the pivotal role.