Broadening the context of the ecological crisis: featuring the Orphic and the Promethean
Pittaway, David Anthony
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There is an ecological crisis, categorised by various ecological indicators, and demonstrably propelled by specific large-scale human practices. These ecologically-destructive human practices could spread and grow historically because of the 'attitudinal' components accompanying various 'shapers of discourse', namely the versions of Christianity, Science, Technology, and Capitalism (and to a lesser degree, Democracy), that have historically dominated the discursive platforms from which human beings access their assumptions, and thereby form their attitudes, regarding what are acceptable human actions within given contexts and environments. Considering that White (1971:11) says the following, “What people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to the things around them”, and also considering that the historically-dominant and dominating versions of Christianity, Science, Technology, and Capitalism all spread the dominion-imperative (where, among other 'objects', nature is that which is dominated), the current ecological crisis is to be expected. Furthermore, various forces or factors exist in 'Advanced'-Competitive-Consumer-Capitalist-Industrial-'Democratic'-Dominion (ACID) that perpetuate the 'Promethean' status-quo, forces or factors that effectively prevent alternatives to the status-quo from being able to spread and influence human attitudes (and therefore actions, considering White's comment above) in a manner formidable enough to achieve a diversity of ecologically-sensitive human systems needed to diminish harmful ecological phenomena. That said, alternative, 'Orphic' ideas and attitudes, arenas and phenomena, do exist: they offer attitudinal components working to effect radically different interactions between human beings and their environments, versus the problematic 'action-against-nature' characteristic of the Promethean. Permaculture is an example of actualised Orphic attitudes and approaches: it is a design system constituted by twelve principles (the first of which is 'observe and interact', immediately setting the scene for ecological-sensitivity) that together provide one with a flexible, context-bound approach to change human systems of all sizes, and importantly, to change the impacts the systems have on ecology in general. With the foregoing in mind, philosophy as characterised by Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek, and by Pierre Hadot, respectively, provides for interesting conceptual frameworks for the contextualisation of various features of the ecological crisis, its physical causes, its attitudinal causes, and alternatives to its attitudinal and physical causes. Badiou and Žižek, for example, are in agreement that philosophy is not a dialogue, that philosophy is the creation of new problems, that in philosophy the terms of the debate are changed; they list and discuss a number of intriguing features of philosophy relevant to the broad focal areas of this study. One such feature is the notion that each “time that philosophy confines itself to humanity as it has been historically constituted and defined, it diminishes itself, and in the end suppresses itself. It suppresses itself because its only use becomes that of conserving, spreading and consolidating the established model of humanity” (2009:74-75). As argued in this study, the “established model of humanity” is Promethean, so Badiou and Žižek do provide indirect support for the imperative to broaden focal areas in general to include, for example, aspects of the Orphic. Pierre Hadot's work on the notion of 'philosophy as a way of life' directly identifies the imperative in ancient philosophy to actualise ostensibly Orphic ways of thinking and being, with the two-fold effect of arriving at personal 'inner-peace' (which is surely valuable considering the 'worry' that justifiably accompanies knowledge of the ecological crisis), as well as the effect of nurturing 'wise' individuals (Hadot 1995:265-266) who strive for “cosmic consciousness” and who involve themselves in what Hadot calls “communitary engagement” (1995:274), which surely can be helpful in the broad context of the ecological crisis.