Economics and Ecology

Economy and ecology are, today, in a condition of radical contradiction, which is reflected in the political struggle. In broader terms, man and nature, or the tame and the wild, seem to be in a state of war, and this struggle is coming to a head in the problem of climate change.

Fundamentally, however, the contradiction of economy and ecology reflect the problem of the mind-body schism and the subject-object dichtomisation of reality, and we know that as the problem of dualism. The conflict of technology and nature is really, at root, a reflection of the mind-body schism, for the body is nature, and it is through and in the body that we know what is called “nature”.

“Nature can’t do anything right”. I read that statement in a newspaper article, and it was surprising to me because the man who uttered that judgement was a conservation officer, and he seemed therefore to be in what we call “a conflict of interest”. The mere fact that we need “conservation officers” to defend nature from ourselves is surely a sign of the contradiction of economy and ecology as well. Of course, what he meant by that is that nature is inferior to technology.

All this is old hat, of course. In the past, various solutions have been proposed for the disquieting problem of the mind-body schism — materialism or idealism, naturalism or spiritualism, or some contrived mixture of the two. But our solutions have never proved satisfactory and even tend to generate more consequences and problems than they resolve. That the human is an “ever-living soul” or that the human is “the naked ape” are just the two forks of the serpent’s tongue. The various proposals of the so-called “transhumanists” or cyborgians to dispense with the body altogether — away with all flesh! — is just a continuation of this faulty dualistic consciousness structure.

Recently, Canada’s dreadful Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, met with Australia’s equally dreadful Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and they had this to say, “no matter what they say, no country is going to take actions on climate change … that are going to deliberately destroy jobs.” (The Guardian, “Tony Abbott in Canada“).

That pretty much expresses the deep and destructive contradiction that persists between the premises of “economy” and the premises of environmentalism, but which is at root what Jean Gebser describes as “the mental-rational structure of consciousness” functioning in deficient mode.

Ecology and environmentalism aren’t the same, by the way. It’s easy enough to confuse them. Environmentalism is often only the “object” prong of the forked-tongue. There is “the human” and there is “the environment” as two discrete and mutually exclusive realms, and so the subject-object dichotomy or mind-body schism is simply reproduced in new, disguised form. Any ecological mode of consciousness worthy of its name is more holistic. Anyone who has spent any time actually in and with “nature” knows that it is more subtle, more nuanced, than can be described in terms of “fight or flight” or “predator and prey” or “dog eat dog” or the universal competition of species for survival. All this delusion only reflects the mind’s estrangement from the body, which is itself “nature”. The Heraclitean Logos that pervades all things is also in the structure and is the form of the body.

The clash of economics and ecologics is really, at root, the emergent clash of two consciousness structures, one in the decline and one in the ascendancy. Ecology is very Heraclitean, in terms of its model of unity in flux, and it aligns with the Hermetic Philosophy in its fundamental outlook, as does quantum theory and chaos theory. If contemporary conservatism has become reactionary and denialist (which it has), it is because it feels threatened, insecure, paranoid in its identity. It is being challenged by a new consciousness structure that it does not comprehend or understand, and which it perceives as alien, dangerous, and even criminal.  “Behind” the climate change controversy is the real “clash of civilisations” — two different consciousness structures, one representing the past and the other the future.

The mind-body schism — the subject-object dichotomy — never was true. Even in its origins it was merely a methodological convention, an artifice, to facilitate thinking about things — for gaining some measure of psychic distance from things by objectifying them. In that sense, it was quite useful and necessary. In that sense, also, there is a certain irony about rationalism that seems to be lost to itself — that this psychic “distancing” or objectification was achieved through the contemplation of an illusion — perspective art and the illusion of deep space upon a two-dimensional surface. This is what Copernican heliocentric space is, what Galilean “ideal space” is, what Cartesian coordinate space is — it is the space of the Renaissance perspective artists — a ratio of spaces in terms of length, breadth, and depth.

This mentally abstract space is very different even from the sensuous space of the “unperspectival” consciousness. In much Greek philosophy, for example, it is simply taken for granted that the body and nature and the gods are seamlessly integrated in one “physis“. The soul is “air” and may be a “dry” or “wet” soul, as Heraclitus puts it. Earth, air, fire, water are the fundamental constituents of nature as well as represented in the metabolic, respiratory, nervous and circulatory systems of the body. They simply weren’t conscious of space or physis as something separate and apart from themselves. And in some ways, the difference between sensuous space and mental space is the key difference between the mythological consciousness and the mental-rational consciousness.

Now, I mention this because some of this sensuous quality of space and time is now being retrieved from its limbo in abstract mental space and time, and because it helps illustrate a peculiar statement don Juan made to Castaneda in one of the latter’s books: “reality is a feeling we have for it”, and that is indeed a premise of the magical mode of consciousness, and that is very Heraclitean, too.  Not thinking, but feeling constitutes reality is a statement that sounds very strange to our ears, but it’s not unintelligible. It’s very pre-Socratic, in some ways. Time and space are sensuous realities, and therefore don Juan feels “at home” wherever he is, and in a way we do not feel at home in this world because for us, time and space are abstractions or descriptions, and to feel the flux of time and space as sensuous realities is what we mean by activation of the “inner senses” or “intuition”.

“Reality is a feeling we have for it” is, then, the “method” of “the man of knowledge”, and this is the basis for suggesting the possibility of empathic knowing. But this “feeling” is exactly what the mental-rational consciousness has excised from itself as unreliable, resulting in a divorce between mind and body, reason and experience.  In fact, I’ld say that it is not possible to think in holistic terms at all without this “feeling”, because the “whole” is a sensuous reality rather than an abstract or ideal one. We have been educated to believe that “feeling” is an unreliable partner in truth discovery, but the upshot of that has been the debasement of “feeling” into mere sentimentality as well as alienation and estrangement from our own lived reality. We have become, in effect, homeless and deracinated for it, which, as Nietzsche knew, was an aspect of our nihilism and self-destructiveness.

The loss of the sensuous or “feeling” is what Blake laments in those strange lines from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,

The ancient tradition that the world will be consumed in fire at the end of six thousand years is true, as I have heard from Hell.
For the cherub with his flaming sword is hereby commanded to leave his guard at the tree of life, and when he does, the whole creation will be consumed and appear infinite and holy whereas it now appears finite & corrupt.
This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment.
But first the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul is to be expunged; this I shall do, by printing in the infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid.
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narow chinks of his cavern.



6 responses to “Economics and Ecology”

  1. LittleBigMan says :

    I’m not surprised that ecological empathy is not at the forefront of issues for the leaders of Australia and Canada – the two countries that are so vast and so mostly vacant even now that many parts of the two countries don’t bear any signs of the ecological damages done by the multinationals and heavy industry elsewhere. This is where economy still trumps ecology.

    But rest assured in other parts of the world where populations are high and resources are being strained (water here in California, for example), the leaders and people are slowly but surely panicking. A water authority here in California just recently said that the state will be in deep do-do if we don’t get enough rain this coming fall. I bet we won’t. They’d better hurry building those desalinization plants. One would hope that this crisis would put a hold on the 800-mile long California bullet-train project (est. at 120 billion dollars and already approved). But nooooooooooooo…..we ought to have that bullet train as soon as possible hauling unemployed dehydrated people around.

    “Reality is a feeling we have for it” – don Juan to Castaneda

    That remark certainly bestows onto reality its infinitely many faces – or as Seth would have it – its “flexibility.” This that I can make a statement and that statement can arise different hues of the same or distinct feelings in others is in line with the infinitely many ways we experience life. As Seth mentioned, and I paraphrase, “No two individuals experience death the same way.” By extension, we can assert that no two individuals experience space-time the same way. Add to that the infinitely many ways other creatures feel or experience reality and what we find ourselves amidst of are worlds within worlds ad infinitum.

    “This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment.” – William Blake

    Robert Monroe described strong sensual enjoyment as he met female energy in his second body sometimes. I believe this was the result of a certain communication only possible between second bodies – and as of yet unknown to the vast majority of people. I suspect Blake might be referring to something similar to that.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yesterday someone told me that Palm Springs has 600 golf courses, and that they all draw their water for irrigation from one great aquifer. Keeping up golf courses while orchards die of thirst is quite insane, if that is the case.

      It’s just another one of those examples of the pursuit of rational self-interest becoming coincident with the irrational pursuit of self-destruction. It’s not sane behaviour, and that fact that some narrow economic calculus or philosophical principle can make it seem like sane behaviour is only a commentary on what Gebser calls the mental-rational consciousness having entered into deficient mode of functioning.

      Ditto for fracking, which has all the characteristics of a delirious desperation and panic.

      Sensuous consciousness (as contrasted with generalising or abstracting consciousness) corresponds to what Seth calls “inner touch”, so it doesn’t have much to do with the physical senses directly. “Feeling” and “emotion” here are treated as separate issues, with the former corresponding more to what we call “intuitive”.

      This sense of “inner touch” or sensuous consciousness does indeed suggest that consciousness actually extends beyond the boundaries of the physical body. Empathy assumes this — there is no real division between “in here” and “out there” at the root. As the Hindus also say “thou art that”, which is the basic principle of Hinduism — tat tvam asi. It is also the premise of shamanistic consciousness and is really quite evident in the pre-Socratic philosophers too.

      This is why Blake speaks of man having “closed himself up until he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern”.

      Basically, though, any kind of “field theory” approach presumes that consciousness is extended. There is even some scientific evidence for this in the early research of Harold Saxton Burr (see “The Fields of Life”) and more recently again in the theory of “morphogenic fields”. For some reason, Burr’s research wasn’t carried on, which is unfortunate. To some extent, his views were validated by the experience of Jill Bolte Taylor in her book My Stroke of Insight. Consciousness does, indeed, extend well beyond the boundaries of the body.

      The philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty argued as much in his classic book The Phenomenology of Perception. So, when we speak of “sensuous consciousness” it is very much the issue of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy as well, although his book is quite thick and involved.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        The economic wealth that circulates (or circulated at one time) in the three states of California, Arizona, and Nevada has led to some really dumb mistakes in planning and decision making in these states. You should see Phoenix from above (as I saw it when flying into the city at one time). It’s just ridiculous how many golf courses they have there – given that the state is in the middle of scorpion and Joshua Tree country. It’s big money poured into insane ideas. And we can’t have the entertainment industry elite not to play golf twice a year when they visit their vacation homes in Palm Springs, of course.

        In America, where fracking took off faster than anywhere else, growing evidence is emerging that the activity is the main cause of earthquakes in locations where there were no earthquakes before. When will these people not to evaluate decisions based on economic benefits alone:

        Yes, Seth’s “inner touch” phrase is such an appropriate phrase to describe sensuous consciousness – since it really feels that way. It is in this way that at times I have felt the eternal flux (panta rei) tapping me on the shoulders. It is an unmistakable feeling of sorts.

        Those two books that you have mentioned are very interesting to me. I have added them to my list. I can’t believe that “The Fields of Life” was priced at over $290 (used) and over $480 (new) on Amazon – which means I will one day request it through the Inter-Library-Loan through the library I have a membership with.

        • Scott Preston says :

          That price for “Fields of Life” is unbelievable! I didn’t realise it was so rare now. I guess I can retire on the proceeds of selling my paperback copy.

          It was originally published as Blueprint for Immortality, which was a bit over the top for a title, and quite premature as a conclusion to his studies of the electro-magnetic fields he measured surrounding and extending beyond the human body. Nothing in his research suggested immortality, necessarily.

          Blueprint for Immortality is available at a cheaper price, I notice, but still is expensive. Rupert Sheldrake’s study of “morphic fields” or “morphogenetic fields” follows on the work of Burr, so it might be a cheaper route, and also of interest in connection with Merleau-Ponty’s earlier philosophy of perception. I still think of Phenomenology of Perception as one of the great works of philosophy.

          • LittleBigMan says :

            LOL…..I think it was in the movie “Waterworld” where “paper” had become a very rare and valuable commodity, too. Although, it may have been one of the Mad Max movies. I can’t be completely sure, though. By the way, a new Mad Max movie is due to come out sometime in May 2015. It was filmed in Namibia deserts.

            At just under $30, used copies of “Blueprint for Immortality” are definitely reasonable. Thank you for mentioning the work.

            I don’t believe I had ever heard of Rupert Sheldrake, but the topics of his books are certainly very in tune with the wavelength of things I’d very much like to read. Thank you.

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