Research study: comments on some central terms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] accessed 2 February 2017

[4] See accessed 2 February 2017

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

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

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

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

[9] accessed 2 March 2017

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

[11] accessed 23 December 2014