Monday, March 19, 2012

A Re-Enchanted Nature

Crisis. All philosophy is a response to it. Over at Larval Subjects, there is some disenchantment about environmental thought in general. It exhibits a lack of efficaciousness the author desires in political and cultural change about the environment. The solution, it would seem, is to accelerate the environmental degradation to the point that  the intertwined "government and industry" are therefore forced to change.

Now, this is the issue. We've messed things up so bad that we're having a global impact currently. Pick your poison; it doesn't have to be global warming. It could be deforestation, or ocean toxicity.

In the thread below, Mr. Bryant does wish for a proportionate response to what needs done. I concur. However, I wonder what this amounts to is the worry of another blogger that we use a market-driven solutions to fight back. Likely, Bryant's worry is that no response will be forthcoming proportionate enough if we don't do something quickly. Consumerism and capitalism are the two mechanisms through which we can effect change now, and consequently, the very mechanisms at root of environmental degradation. Therefore, let's use them.

No offense, but this sounds like saying to someone with skin cancer that they should bathe in the tanning booth a little longer. In seeking to abandon a sacredness to nature, we wind up removing all the ways that human beings esteem nature, celebrate it and revere it simultaneously. We forget that religious-spiritual orientation to the world has an impact, and sometimes for the better. Human beings seem to require a tradition that socializes and habituates a lot of their responses to crisis, and as such, we should attempt to re-weave the sacredness of nature back into our traditional spaces of meaning and spirituality. When Adam is asked to name all the animals that come before him, he is not naming to dominate them as the Protestant line often indicates. Far from it, he is participating in the creation of their essence through God's love. His participatory part in this creative process should be a hallmark of a tradition that celebrates God's majesty and likewise cultivates stewardship. Humankind is integral into this unfolding teleology of nature.

We fear this teleology of nature since it flies in the face of everything that is still modern in the philosophical sense. Ever since modernity, nature has been repeatedly disenchanted to the point that it is only a series of events happening in space-time. There is no higher notion of causality; there is no more pre-established harmony, or higher notion of form above the interconnected linkages of efficient causality. There is no final end to which all things aspire. There is only the process. Nature resembles one big clock. William Paley's 1757 argument from design is not a metaphysical argument as much as it is a reflective metaphor for a disenchanted nature yet to be thoroughly disenchanted. It gives us the idea that God designed nature, but stood apart from it as the watchmaker does his watch. After the watch works, there is no longer any reason to hold it sacred. The watch is meant to be sold in the store just as Locke's conception of nature is to infinitely supply the body with things to labor upon.

Of course, this might seem strange given how atheistic or secular philosophy can be. Indeed. However, I cannot help but notice the desire to dominate nature even through our most spiritually reverent traditions requires us to think of events as mechanistic processes. In the face of this, philosophers have tried to create an environmental ethics based on nature possessing a non-instrumental intrinsic value, a perverted Kantianism in some way. They attempt to give life a value within it. This is not taken hold of people's imagination since value integrated into life creates the anti-mechanistic rejection that haunts even Mr. Bryant's reflection. Mr. Bryant calls for the mechanistic processes to come to a crescendo that will automatically call for change. That crescendo, however, may come at too high a price that we do not want to pay, yet we need a proportionate response. One way to express that proportionate response is to overcome the cultural milieu in which such proportion is required. This is nothing more than rethinking nature as the self-sufficient physical system of cause and effect relations into that which has an end that outstrips even our knowledge of it. We must remake nature into something sacred.

Sacred spaces are inviolable. As long as lobbyists/industry/politicians can conceive of nature as something to harnessed or modified, then the problem will persist. The problem persists since there are very few sacred spaces left to us. Sacred natural spaces are the thing of pulling off the interstate or going camping into a state or federal park. At such a time, natural spaces have value on in that they provide a temporary escape. However, if we can re-enchant nature, and I am by no means suggesting there is one clear way to do this, then nature can be saved, preserved and cared for. This does require that we adopt a teleological principle hidden within how we conceive of nature. Like the Kantian idea of a suprasensible noumenal realm, a re-enchanted nature will be subsumed by threads of cultural mystification and unscientific theology. Yet, these threads of subsumption can affect people and help them reconceive of the necessity for action. Human beings must be re-integrated into the natural unfolding of nature. The process of mechanistic alienation starts with re-appropriating process language and instilling into it the purposes of harmony we so desperately need.

In Schelerian terms, we attempt to pull down higher values down to the level of either the useful, or pleasurable. We make nature into a consumable good so as to consume it for pleasure as immediately as it was manufactured. This also means we are not making anything durable or lasting to which civilization requires. As Hannah Arendt learned from the Romans, to work is to create a world of durable goods that outlasts even one's life such that there will be a durable world for our posterity whereas a world of labor creates goods as quickly as they are consumed. There is nothing to last in a world of complete labor and alienation from nature. The point is to re-instill humankind's participatory process within nature as one in which will have a long-lasting effect on its vitality, health and growth. At minimum, this requires a spiritual orientation that one finds often commonly shared with an ethical orientation (despite Kierkegaard's thoughtful separation of the two).

Mr. Bryant and company cannot exclaim shock that we continue to transgress against nature while at the same time denying to nature its near divinity/value that makes our knowledge of that transgression possible. We can conceive the world of hurt we are dishing out. The problem is that we continually create walls of justification that conceive the separation of our being from the world apart. Giving into Mr Bryant's accelerationism does not seem wise. It would only perpetuate this forced division between humankind and nature, and that's the very cause as to why nature is so thoroughly exploited; a point Mr. Bryant should have the philosophical acumen to anticipate, but doesn't.