Start › Forums › Courses › Current Debates and Themes in Global Environmental History › Oct 20: Kenneth Worthy Seminar
|October 21, 2014 at 09:17 #15134|
Oct 20: Kenneth Worthy Seminar
|October 21, 2014 at 09:29 #15135|
My analysis after the Kenneth Worthy seminar on Skype:
I though his book Invisible Nature was very interesting to read, with particular chapter 8, whic gave some obtainable solutions to how to solve diffrent ecological crises, and how to change policy etc. Where many others of our lecturers or readings have solutions which in my mind will never work because of bureacratic or legal problems, I found Worthy’s more realistic. Even though some of them were quite complicated when considered, they seemed more plausible than I have heard so far. I think for many of us, especially who are researching policy his book would be helpful.
One of the discussions; about the East and the West made me think though. It seems often that Christianity and the loss of religion in the Westis a precedent for many of our ecological nature. However, as I htought about it, I think that religion is just another tool to dissociate ourselves from nature, and is not actually protecting our environment. Parts of Asia are highly religious, but they also have considerable environmental problems (of course this is also because of Western demand for products; I am aware). However, I think that religion gives us a reason to think we are being good, even though we are not watching out for the environment, mostly because religion is aimed on primarly the family.
In the end this sense of religion takes away the responsibility of the individual; which should be the one in control. Too often we blame other agents from the problems we have. TO come back to chapter 8. Worthy shows great examples of how some of our actians can take in immediate effect, and how we can help start a process of raising awareness and turning around our ecological state. He acknowledges that ti will take ages before we can turn around the damages that are already done, but he gives us hope for today, which is quite important.
|October 21, 2014 at 12:59 #15147|
Kenneth Worthy seminar 20th of October 2014
I will reflect on the question posted by Sarah on how to cope with dissociation in my daily life
|October 21, 2014 at 18:01 #15150|
Reflection on Kenneth Worthy’s book Invisible Natures and discussion with Kenneth
I think it is good to be honest when writing these reflections; it’s not like we are writing a paper for a journal, right? While I enjoyed reading the book in a sort of a detached way, the philosophy student in me was cringing when I was reading Worthy’s book. Why? First: the assumption that everything we conceive under the title Western can be equated with the birth of philosophical inquiry in ancient Greece is far fetched, historically very weak, unfair towards philosophers (like they wielded that kind of power anyway), yet sadly very common. I asked Kenneth whether we ourselves are risking writing a teleology when writing intellectual history, in other words writing history backwards. It seems like we are writing from the assumption of modern dissociation as Worthy formulates it and trying to follow the strand of this dissociation in canonized philosophy. He answered that he would risk “objectiveness” in order to gain political momentum with his work; I agree with him on this one to some degree, yet I sense two problems with this approach: first is the assumption that ideologies can affect material conditions as easily as he supposes and the second one is that hasty scholarship can simply denigrate past thinkers. For example, how many times have we during our studies heard how Descartes is the milestone when the sharp division of mind and body, subject/object has crystallized in it most obvious form? Who of us would now turn to Descartes or Plato to look for inspiration? Not many, I guess. We have received this very narrow interpretation of history of philosophy, which saddens me, since most of my colleagues will probably not delve deeper into this and will leave this programme with this view of philosophy. Now to the first issue (strange order I know); how can we claim so confidently that ideas transform material conditions? Kenneth himself criticized Lynn White’s approach of explaining grandly how Christianity is to blame for the Western attitude towards nature, without grounding them in the materiality. But I think that most of his book actually does the same; the competitive individualised and stratified society of the Greeks is explained via a hasty explication of competitiveness between various Greek polis. The Middle Ages are as usual dealth with in a veeeery hazy manner; you know, yes the medieval world-view was more organicist, but then comes the Renaissance and colonialism and Enlightenment and we have this separation again as the Greeks. I do not know, I am kind of fed up of these kind of explanations. Also Worthy’s brief mentioning of the relational logic of Eastern philosophy is not convincing, the Hindu school of logic called Nyaya does not differ that much from Aristotle’s syllogistic logic. In the end Worthy’s treatment of everything that is “Eastern” risks being an essentialisation.
|October 22, 2014 at 11:44 #15174|
|October 22, 2014 at 15:25 #15199|
Reflection on Kenneth Worthy’s seminar and book, October 21, 2014
|October 22, 2014 at 15:42 #15205|
This reflection on all reflections so far ended up as a critical comment on some of Worthy’s and your guys’ arguments. I hope that you can still find them constructive – otherwise tell me back 😉
I will start with Ellen and her mindful engagement with the question of how we moderns feel not attached to nature, each other, probably ourselves as well. I know your feeling well and think it’s essential to turn a culture of relatedness over to not only your children but everyone you encounter. At the same time I had a bit stomach ache while reading Worthy’s book because his solutions to a disassociated world-view and lifestyle frame nature as something that has a very essential meaning. I don’t remember if he reflects on that at some point but I would argue the following: if perception and cognition of the world need to be “re-assocatied” to a certain state of human-natural existence, then Worthy asks us to go “back” and “find”, “revive” or whatever “do” with a neglected entity called “nature”. I would argue against that and rather pose a post-modern argument: first, there can be no “healing of the planet” as there is no pure meaning behind the concepts of “humans, “individuals”, “artifices”, “nature”, or the “planet”. I can just quote the comedian George Hardin at this point: “The planet is fine – the people are fucked”. Although it is true that humans have been changing the world tremendously, nobody can claim the absolute truth about the reasons of these changes and the necessary steps against them. Not surprisingly, my argument is based on a post-structuralist ontology in which all identities and knowledge are contingent, fluent and under constant change. This whiy I think that we can not go back or relate to “nature” anymore, at least not to an existence that we left a long while ago. Nor do I believe that we have to move forward and transcended ourselves into a god-like state of complete disassociation from our body or nature. What I would suggest is to accept the openness of socio-natural relationships and scrutinize how individuals and societies constantly reimagine the lives they want to live and the world in which these are situated – always right NOW, in present time. That does not entail ignorance of environmental impacts but rather the opposite: to strongly reassociate people with their consequences but also with the contingency of their and future lives.
I want to move on and agree with Nisa on two points: the way we sometimes try to write environmental history back and always find Aristotle or Plato as the philosophers to blame for the dissociation between mind and body, human and nature. Although I have never been a student of philosophy I have the feeling that it could not have been that easy. Developments of ideas do not follow a straight road, that is my belief – they always happen to be the end of struggles, domination and uprising. Another similar thought I got by reading Worthy’s book is his distinction between “Western” and “Eastern” thought and how one is more prone to wreak havoc on the environment than the other. I don’t want to cite reports about environmental problems in China but rather raise the question that even if there is a “strong group of Eastern thoughts” that turn into practices – why should we assume that they stay the same? Maybe I have already delved too much into poststructuralism but I am so fed up with essentialisations and even more: with the intellectual fights over what “truly” is Western, Eastern, nature, culture and so on. In the very moment people open their mouths to defend their standpoint, ideas and the material world have change everywhere.
This points to an argument of Nisa which I would challenge: it is not the material world that is fundamental to our thoughts or the other way around but through BOTH. The same applies to the question if it should be the multitude of individual actions or a strong societal movement who should contribute to a more livable environment: BOTH are sides of the same coin. I always get a bit frustrated when I see slogans like “What can I or YOU do to save the planet?” but also when rather marxist voices shout that we have to change the mode of production completely because everything else would just maintain an exploitive system. The thing is that I don’t want to wait for every consumer to buy organic products in the supermarket nor do I want to wait until everyone goes on the street to overthrow the old and establish something like green communism. I rather take my shovel and dig up some potatoes I grew and share them with my flatmates or a group during a harvest party.
This goes in line with Kenneth Worthy’s phenomenal approach to the diagnosis and solution of the planet – and the point I found most fulfilling during the reading. You don’t have to be a psychologist to realize that we are probably most detached from the consequences of our actions than any generation or civilization before us. And as long as our brains are rather structured to respond to immediate local threats and direct needs, the best solutions will be the ones which take this “neurological limits” of our subjectivity into account. I write this as someone who studied political science for four years and who has lost almost all faith into large-scale environmental policymaking which can just subsumed under the agenda of one ministry that has to fight for funding and space with others. If you ask me there will never be an “environmental subject”, guided by “environmental policy”, who will turn around the planet. Rather it is a subject that cultivates its relatedness with everything and reflects, deliberates and acts towards that. In fact, if we want free powerful individuals, communities and societies in balance with their more-than-human environment we have to work on very different sites than the classic environmental. Worthy’s suggestions might not be radically new (at least for me who already works in a community garden) but they are, as Nick emphasizes, a good start and give hope.
|October 23, 2014 at 13:38 #15215|
First of all I would like to apologise to everyone for my late reply; as you all probably know I was busy with an event yesterday.
Sarah I’m very interested in the unpublished, “unknown” sides of thinkers; I know it’s not popular in postmodern theory to think about biographies and it’s just the text that matters, but as the case of Newton shows, we have to think about his preoccupation with the occult to actually understand him. Or another example, Worthy mentions Copernicus revolution, when he posited the heliocentrical system and how that affected that the universe lost its centre. But I’ve read a book by Koyré where he discusses how it was Copernicus’s neoplatonic belief in the Sun as the embodiment of the Idea of good and beauty that made him think about the Sun as something else than a celestial body accompanying the Earth. So, Copernicus was in a phenomenal relation with the Sun and even though this intentionality with the Sun might not have been scientific, it is valid as a relation. But for example when I look at the sunset, it does seem to me that the Sun is circling around the Earth and it is still a valid experience, even if I know it’s false. Now, a lot of you mention phenomenology of the natural world and I think that it is a valid mental experiment to try and relate to a certain object, say a pencil and try to see how you relate to the pencil, whether you can see it as something other than just a tool, how do you know it’s the same pencil when you turn it around etc. To me that is a phenomenal experience I just don’t see how I might feel this other kind of relation that many of you obviously do feel, this feeling of Oneness (on a side note, Freud has interesting points on this, he calls it “the oceanic feeling”). But here I go again with the class; there cannot be an authentic, primordial relation to Nature, it’s just not happening, the relations are mediated by social constrains.
|October 23, 2014 at 13:44 #15216|
Oh and Sarah I’m intrigued by your statement “To conclude, what I would deem to be at the core of the problem is the fact that our minds, constantly absorbed in thoughts, prevent us from simply being here now”; to me it seems that I am most present with and in the world when I am thinking. And also such a statement kind of implies that being absorbed in thoughts is somehow separated from the bodily experience. Or am I getting this wrong?
|October 24, 2014 at 06:43 #15217|
From Maria: I find Nik’s discussion about the role of religion for our environmental awareness and the actions we take or not take, interesting. Although it seems more or less obvious that it is probably part of the modern human intellectual to consume. With modern I mean from the time we could communicate and have mental ideas of who and why we are and how everything around us was created. I agree that religion could have a tendency to make us less prone to take actions ourselves instead of trusting something else to take the responsibilities. He comments that “Western demand for products” is an important fact for the environmental destruction, but I do not think that the Asian people are less prone to buy if they have the opportunity, unfortunately.
|October 29, 2014 at 01:06 #15261|
Reply from Sarah
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