Thursday, 18 August 2011
On Today's Flawed Ideology of Ecology
This is where we should start feeling at home. Part of our daily perception of reality is that this disappears from our world. When you go to the toilet, shit disappears. You flush it, and it goes away. Part of you logically understands that it’s still there, in the sewer system, processing, and so on. But at your most elementary level of experience, it disappears from your world.
The problem is that shit never disappears when you look the other way. The ideology of ecology is the problem. Or rather, the way we approach it as the defining ideology of our day. I use the term ideology in the traditional sense of a collective way of thinking and perceiving reality. So why is it the problem? Ideology is not about dreaming of – or worse, hoping for – false ideas and even more false tomorrows and so on. Ideology addresses very real problems by mystifying them.
One of the elementary mechanisms of ideology is known as the ‘temptation of meaning.’ When something horrible happens, our spontaneous reaction is to search for a meaning. “It *must* mean something.” Take AIDS for example. It was, and is, a horrible trauma. Then the conservatives stepped in and decided that it is punishment for our sinful ways of life. When we interpret a catastrophe as a divine punishment, it makes it easier, because we know that it is not just some terrifying blind force...it has a meaning. When you are in the middle of such force, it is better to feel that God punished you than to feel that it just happened. If God punished you, then it is still a universe of meaning. This is currently where the ideology of ecology ends.
It is really the implicit premise of ecology that the existing world is the best possible world. In the sense that it is a balanced world that is disturbed through human hubris. I think this is problematic because the notion of ‘nature’ as harmonious, organic, balanced, reproducing – a living organism of its own – is disturbed, perturbed, derailed, through human hubris, and technological exploitation and so on. I see it as a secular version of the religious story of the Fall. The answer should be not that there is no fall, that we are part of nature, but on the contrary that there is no nature. Nature is not a balanced, sublime system which humans have disturbed. Nature is one big series of unimaginable catastrophes. We profit from them. Oil is our main source of energy today. Oil reserves in the earth are the remainders of an unimaginable catastrophe – it is composed of the remainders of plant and animal life. What kind of unthinkable catastrophe had to occur on earth to give us this oil?
Ecology will slowly turn into a new opium of the masses. What we expect from religion is some kind of unquestionable, highest, absolute authority. It’s true because God says it is, end of discussion. Today, ecology is more and more taking over this role. Whenever there is a new scientific breakthrough, it is as if the voice that warns us not to violate a certain limit is the voice of ecology. “Don’t mess with DNA, don’t mess with nature.” This is today’s ecology. An ideological mistrust of change.
Another myth that is popular about ecology – as a spontaneous mythology – is the idea that we of the west, in our technological, artificial, sterile environments are alienated from the immediate natural environment. But we should not forget that we humans are a part of the living, breathing earth. We are not abstract veneers or theorists that merely exploit nature, but rather, nature is our impenetrable, unfathomable home. It’s the greatest danger not to see it as such. Think, for example, of a dreadful paradox – climate change. Whatever else you think of it, we all know what danger we are in, the effect we are having on the planet, so why don’t we do anything about it? It is an example of what is termed in psychoanalysis as disavowal. “I know that very well, BUT, I act as if I don’t know.” So you know about climate change, maybe you read a treatise on it, but when you go outside you don’t see the nice piles of human waste and garbage. You see nice trees, birds singing, whatever. So even if you know rationally what’s going on, what do you really do about it? Go to the site of a real ecological and human horror, such as Chernobyl, and see what you take home with you. How wired are we to actually allow such an experience to change the way we live?
What we should do to confront the threat of ecological catastrophe is not some wannabe new age druidism, back to nature roots and all society, but on the contrary to cut off those roots even more; more alienation from our spontaneous nature. We should develop a much more abstract sensibility and terrifying materialism, where we see the universe as a string of scientific formulae, mathematical , and yes, the occasional catastrophes that just happen, and finding our poetry and spirituality in that. If not to create beauty in that, then an aesthetic dimension in things like rubbish, catastrophe, and pain, because that is how to truly love our world.
What is love? It is not idealisation. Everyone who has truly loved anybody knows that you don’t idealise them. Love means you accept them and all their failures, stupidities, ugliness; nonetheless the person is the world to you, and makes your life worth living. You see perfection in imperfection itself, and that’s how we should learn to love the world. True ecology loves all of this: