Friday, June 4, 2010

Eco-Yogaddhist Manifesto

Alfredo Triff 

Nature has priority.1 It's here first and sustains everything.

The guiding principle is ahimsa. Non-violence translated into ecology, i.e, the interdependence of human and non-human life.  

Why not necessarily a "political" manifesto?  The political sphere is hostage of top-down, government-to-governed mechanisms, which depends on peoples' negotiations and conflicting interests.2 We don't need to wait for top/down policies to change the status quo. As real actors close to regional nodes of action, we can acquire the know-how to build connections and mobilize public opinion to challenge institutional anomie and social alienation.

* From the bottom ---> up: The transformation is individual, but it doesn't stop there. We are ONE: There is no emancipation without activism.3

* The aporia of human anthropocentric emancipation: We need to see non-human life under a different optic. Seeing and reaching beyond. The Greeks of ancient times didn't realize that non-Greeks were persons. American plantation owners in the late-18th Century didn't realize that blacks were not inferior brutes. The majority of Americans don't realize that non-human animals are more than just foodstuff.  

We have an obligation to treat animals with dignity.4 Animal farming in America needs to be regulated and transformed.

* The aporia of pollution vs. development: Blaming corporations in order to feel safely excluded from the pollution cycle (OR feeding the very thing we try to prevent). We are the world's worst polluters! 5

The move towards eco-conservation is a social imperative. Let's fight to stop deforestation, to protect sea life from extinction (due to overfishing), ensuring ecological diversity for future generations.

* The aporia of technology vs. emancipation: What makes us human is a result of our cultural evolution: language, rituals, arts and technology. Yet, our anthropocentric-based culture is leading us to a dead end. Let's move from an anthropocentric to a bio-centric culture!6

We must learn to curb and manage our waste: Reusing, regiving, donating, recycling! The present corporate-driven/production-intensive food paradigm needs to be turned upside down, from fast food ----> slow food. 7 Let's switch our eating habits and bring back food sacralization as potlucks, food festivals, etc. Let's turn environmental degradation and human exploitation into eco-erotics!8

* The aporia of development vs. under-development9: Our post-Capitalist global society is craft-deprived. Globalization has outsourced our manufacturing and trade/skills base. Let's get back to cooking, arts and crafts, organic horticulture,10 etc. We should balance our individualism with communitarianism!

Let's change our cities, fighting urban decay with environmental sustainability, changing ugliness into beauty. Urban crime can be fought with urban farming!

Let's become eco-Romantics!,11 engaging in heritage conservation, infrastructure efficiency, "Social Access,"12 mass transit, regional integration, human scale, and institutional integrity.

Let's transform our neighborhoods by building sustainable structures, limiting urban sprawl, reducing car dependence, promoting pedestrian friendly urbanism, etc.13

We have to change our approach to design.

What to do? 

1 Aristotle's naturalism can be seen as a forerunner of eco-thics, as expressed by his dictum that Nature "does nothing in vain." John Clearly, Aristotle and the Many Senses of Priority, (Southern Illinois University Press, 1988) p. 60. 2 We don't have to choose one-or-the-other, between markets (Welfare Capitalism) or governments, as instruments of emancipation (Communism, planned-economy Socialism). Nor is there need to eliminate markets, trade, private ownership, the welfare state, or the institution of the corporation. What we need to do is bring about new strategies and practices for each of these institutions appropriate to a balance between prosperity and conservation. This task belongs neither to corporations nor to states: They are incapable of questioning the legitimacy on which their present institutional form is based. Citizens, not big-money interests, are the ones to set the terms of the economic and political agenda.This is the force of emergence: Millions of people joining voluntary movements, discovering that the good life is more fulfilling than the endless cycle of accumulation and consumption. Professor Steven Buechler makes a similar (hopeful) point: "Movements can be crucial switching stations in the direction of history (...)  vital free spaces that promote democratization and restore a meaningful public sphere." See Steven M. Buechler, Social Movements in Advanced Capitalism: The Political Economy and Cultural Construction of Social Activism (Oxford University Press: 2000) p. 214.  Enacting Niyama at the social level can bring about a life of material sufficiency with cultural, intellectual, and spiritual abundance in balance with the environment. By osmosis, the social level can bring about needed changes in the political sphere. 3 One's embeddedness in a particular context: job, household/family, or community can lead one to recognize a problem, learn about community needs, and find a way to make life better through new -or reconfigured- social linkages.  4According to philosopher Tom Regan, animals have "inherent value" as subjects-of-a-life, and cannot be regarded as a means to an end. See, Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights, (University of California Berkeley, 2005) p. 245. 5The United States has 4.2% of the world's population and produces 24% of the world's C02 emissions. 6One must be careful not to write off culture, as if humans have fallen from paradise straight into some artificial exile of civilization. This is where the ancient Greeks can help. They understood that us humans are not completely "natural" but rather the site of a collision of nature and culture, which uniquely defines us. See Bruce Thornton, Plagues of the Mind: The New Epidemic of False Knowledge (ISI Books, 1999) p. 96.  7 "Slow food" goes against the received notion that cheap food = good food. Carlo Petrini, the man behind this movement defends the "unpolitical" idea that cheap food is really expensive, bad food, when compared with good, clean, carefully harvested food. He is right. In his book, Petrini advocates the idea of "gusto" (taste) and diversity. There is a correlation between slow food and health, which makes slow food more enjoyable. The locus for this revolucion is la osteria, a place where one can find "traditional cuisine run as a family business with simple service, welcoming atmosphere, good wine and moderate prices." See Carlo Petrini, Slow Food, the Case for Taste (Columbia University Press, 2003) p. 51-58. "Cheap food" is a Capitalist ploy to misrepresent real capital allocation and profit in the name of "abundance," hiding government subsidies for monoculture and intensive production which end up as profit for Big Business in food and energy. Take for instance American corn policies: We subsidize corn while (protect Monsanto's right to sell it to farmers as genetically modified seed). Coincidentally, corn is the foodstuff staple for raising cattle in the US (funded by whom?) and an energy commodity. Wonder why such a labor-intensive commodity such as meat is so cheap? Corn is heavily fertilized — both with chemicals like nitrogen and with subsidies from Washington. Over the past decade, the Federal Government has poured more than $50 billion into the corn industry, keeping prices for the crop — at least until corn ethanol skewed the market — artificially low. That's your Big Mac @ McDonald's, a $5 meal bargain, with 1,400 calories (more than half the daily recommended requirement for adults). 8 I thank my friend Gene Ray from Scurvy Tunes, for his suggestion. I'd like to spin his idea of eco/erotics as an embodied striving for well-being that connects us with the animal and non-animal other (life). The opposite of eco/erotics is eros gone astray, a perversion of Nishkam Karma. A desire in the form of a will-to-control that aims to secure itself by mastering all around it. Ridden with anxiety, this eros reduces other to self. In fact, there are examples of such versions in modern times: Certain "peak" historic moments, when factors motivating nations and individuals, such as the desires for profit, security, and hegemony got transformed militaristic erotics. 9 It turns out that the mantra of "emancipated" Communist development in Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean throughout the 1960's-1980's consisted in mimicking the Capitalist "anthropocentric development" model: 1- constant growth, 2- domination of nature, 3- industrialization and technologization of production and society at the expense of environmental degradation, abandonment of agriculture (land reform in this case meant very little, since arbitrary and exploitative prices were set by the bureaucrats, not by the farmers), massive migration to the cities, urban unemployment and loss of crafts skills. The deterioration of nature brought by these mistaken policies, was invoked by the communist  bureaucracies as a step in the right direction for the attainment of development. 10 Who would think of pursuing horticultural studies in Miami, now, when the expected move of disenfranchised farmers is from the rural areas to the city? Precisely! This overall migration has to do with the switch from farmer-produced to corporate-produced agriculture. How can one reverse it? By encouraging simple living. Diversifying instead of homogenizing food consumption; by making good, simple food (not gourmet food) a desired commodity, so that corporations are forced to alter their mode of production. Surely, one must be watchful of corporation's good intentions! It's all about awareness: As we become more educated in our food habits, there is gradual a move from agriculture into crafted horticulture. Are people ready for it? After the subprime mortgage crisis, the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, and BP's gulf disaster, the answer is yes. 11 The new eco-Romantic is committed to ecological flourishing, but she is neither anti-technology, nor naive in her political expectations about Messianic utopias. The traditional Romantic lived in a paradox he was blind to. (H)e deprecated technology from his studio in the industrial-brought comfort of the pre-Modern city. We must see the good and bad in technology. The Industrial Revolution cannot be simply undone (the remedy would be worst than the disease). It needs to be transformed. Technology can serve us in using the ecosystem resources more efficiently. On the other hand, there is a strong historical relationship between growth in economic output and growing human demands on the earth's finite ecosystem. We've pushed since 1950's the human burden on the planet's regenerative systems, its soils, air, water, fisheries, and forestry systems beyond what the planet can sustain. Anthropocentric "development" is not the answer. Pushing for economic growth beyond the planet's sustainable limits accelerates the rate of breakdown of the whole. It also intensifies the competition between rich and poor for the earth's remaining output of life-sustaining resources. 12An interesting example is the structural plan of Thimphu, capital of Bhutan. From the idea of the Tashichho Dzong, Bhutan's sacred urban asset, the plan proposes to reclaim the public domain through a series of steps, limiting the access of the automobile, mass transit, the enhancing of environmental zones, opening paths, heritage conservation and shelter programme (at some point the plan debates the issue of cheap labor from India, which creates a problem and displaces the labor forces from Bhutan, which goes to show that even this small landlocked country is grappling with global issues.  13 See  "Miami's Urban Mess."


Ana Maria said...

Triff, I don't know why I see this good effort as not going far enough. If it's true that capitalism has brought environmental destruction, we have to fix it by going to the source of the problem. How about going all the way and advocating animal rights? Your middle way falls short of what needs to be done.

miamibourbaki said...

How about going all the way and advocating animal rights? Your middle way falls short of what needs to be done.

Thanks, Ana Maria. Take this manifesto as a tentative approach to the problem. I believe in calibrated efforts. I do agree with Regan on animal rights, but it's a distant possibility.

We'll get there fast by assuming human responsibilities toward animals. Regulation and proper stewardship first, then we can discuss the issue of meat eating practices vis-a-vis deforestation and public health. We will not have a world of vegetarians if we don't change our anthropocentric views.

jehan alonzo said...

Bravo, fratello! If everyone lived by this creed, the world would be a better place. Agreed. Now, how do you explain and address the resistance to this direction? The eco-movement isn't new -- why hasn't it been able to overcome the objective obstacles (capitalist power, pushing in the other direction)? Do you see the converging crises now as a constellation in which eco-erotics and ethical sensibility will finally be able to do what it was not able to do before (restrain reckless accumulation and expansion)? I'm with you, but how to actualize this vision in the face of enjoyment/enforcement and seduction/terror?

miamibourbaki said...

Now, how do you explain and address the resistance to this direction?

Thanks, Jehan.

How? Prise de conscience!

Becoming aware takes time and effort. Resistance = ignorance. Our own ignorance. Eco-ethics is a new paradigm. It existed as a theory. Now it's a praxis.

I wasn't aware of the full extent of ahimsa until the 2000's! Yes, I'd teach it, but didn't really understand it (my half-assed meat addictions!). My personal habits (and outlook) have changed a lot as a result.

My students have a different sensibility and responsibility toward the environment than the one we (and our parents) had at that age. Eco-awareness doesn't depend on factors other than our willingness to change.

How to actualize this vision in the face of enjoyment/enforcement and seduction/terror?

"Released from the impulse to dominate, the imperative of survival may yet become a factor of emancipation."

Ekarus said...

Triff, you're a first! I'd never read that eating vegetables can save the world. :)

No, seriously, nice job on this one. My only point is that you take for granted that this eco movement from the bottom will change things. As an ex-sociology major I can tell you that social movements are like tides, they come and go. I just don't see this level of organization you take for granted.

Take care,


Angela said...

I find many aspects of this course to be cofronting, personally. The things we discuss shine a light on all the places where I realise I'm not living my life in a way that I'm proud of. I read "skinny bitch" and it has a chapter on animal farming that put me off meat in a pretty big way, and this class only solidifies what I learned... I also like the idea of a garden... I know a hundred places where I would like to be more responsible with the way I behave and the things I use, the food I eat, the medicine I take if I get sick - but each change seems huge and takes what seems like a large amount of effort. Its embarrassing to me that I find it difficult! But I also believe I have to walk the walk or I wont have the credibility to influence any change with anyone else. Alas, more to suffer over :)

miamibourbaki said...

Ekarus: Thanks, you don't see it, ok. But can you "see" emergence? The very notion is paradoxical, that is to say: when you see it, it means it was there already! :)

PS: No, I'm not in the business of saving anything. Nature needs no saving from me.

Francis said...

I too think that this movement must start at a social level, and slowly but surely climb its way up to the top creating a giant movement of change. Yet I am seeing something that I did not read about in the history books. Now a day’s people are resistant to massive protesting, large groups of people resistant to gathering in one spot to fight for their rights to be heard and represented, people standing up and boycotting in order to change the status quo, and people unafraid that their protest will be seen as another revolution for the government to step on. I come to believe that we live such comfortable marshmallow lives that we become wrapped up in the artificial sugar coating letting ourselves become enveloped by a system that is built on exploiting the worker, consuming and generating massive profit.
Honestly I don’t believe this can be a slow movement starting with a small population at a time, because I ask myself “how much more punishment can our planet take?” If everything in the ecosystem is destined to be born, live, and eventually through time become extinct, are we speeding up this process by not realizing that this world is bigger than ourselves? That the hamburger you can now buy for 49 cents is fueling an industry that is causing havoc on our lands and ecosystem? Or that by contributing to these monopolies we are making their position stronger, giving them the power to say we are keeping America fed and happy? This personally disgusts me thinking that one day my children will look out at the world and ask me “daddy was it always this bad?”
This country needs to realize the power that the individual holds in his hands, and the massive fore that he can have if he holds hands with someone else, starting a chain of psychological continuity and an global conscience. I don’t believe anything will be done unless we fore those who supposedly “represent us” to do what we as a nation are really thinking and what we really want. I as a person think that we have let politicians run amuck and do whatever they wanted for far too long, allowing them to falsely represent us and say they are doing it in our name and for our own good. Since when does one man or a large mostly white Anglo Saxon group of rich, industrial, capitalistic minded, congress men and senators know what the people of America want and think? I don’t trust the “surveys” they do and I don’t think they ever really took the time to ask the American people, what changes should be made? If for some reason they already know then I think we are a people are being fooled to think that those people are on our side and look after the interest of the people whole heartedly.

Francis Rodriguez

Laura Loret said...

Eco-conscientiousness is essential to the growth and preservation of stable and prospering communities. Although organic foods allow individuals to remain healthy, they are not readily available to the entire publc. Individuals in Overtown, for example, cannot afford the high prices of natural, hormone-free food. They, therefore, result to the nearby, cheap fast food restaurants, polluting their bodies and intoxicating their communities. As Triff explained in class, community involvement and the Slow Food movement can help combat crime and poverty in declining areas. In order to promote nature as a priority, we must get involved in our local community and show individuals lacking "natural" resources that nature can biologically and psychologically make a difference. Roots in the City, a small garden found on the outskirts of Overtown, was created by the I Have a Dream foundation of Nautilus Middle School. The objective of the garden is simple: promote nature and get the community involved. After two years of its implementation, the Roots in the City garden continues to receive visitors from the inhabitants of Overtown who travel there to pick fresh vegetables and herbs as well as to visit the only patch of green among a see of deteriorating concrete. Nature promotes the best in all individuals, erasing the social static we accumulate over time.

Laura Loret de Mola

Alia Almeida said...

Every time I hear speak of this paradigm shift of eco-consciousness, I can’t help but think of Thoreau and his Civil Disobedience …and then I get excited, wishing to stand up against the government via same method. It also brings to mind the idea that everything – all that I’ve made, everything I’ve eaten - I’ve taken care of. And that brings warm feelings into my heart; it also brings a certain pride and feeling of success. Just the mere thought of doing all that brings a feeling of success, could you imagine what would happen were we to actually endeavor in these tasks? It’d be phenomenal!

I like what you quoted Bruce Thorton about humans not being completely “natural” but a collision of nature and culture, uniquely defining us. I think it explains the relationships we create with animals. George Orwell suggested if you wanted to show that a character in a story is good, depict them in a room with a dog, treating it well. I think this speaks many volumes of the human psyche and animals. Despite how many technologies layer our society…how many electronic pets such as Tamagotchis, Furbies, etc… we still rely on animals such as dogs and cats to make bonds with. (And it’s funny that we look in awe over exotic animals but never realize the wonders of the domestic animal, who has made themselves a necessity for living for many people. If anything the smartest animal is your dog or cat who has evolved to make themselves indispensable in your life. They’ve even conned me into the mentality of owning dogs as imperative.) Doesn’t that say something? The fact that we can’t help but look favorably upon those who treat animals with respect. It is a social trait that wins in our (perceived to be) civilized survival of the fittest: respect and kindness to animals. Obviously, the only reason why we allow this inhumane treatment of animals to endure is because we don’t see it with our own eyes. Who travels to slaughterhouses to watch the steak they’re having next Tuesday being processed? Nobody. By not eating locally grown foods and meats, we are purposely blindfolding our eyes and putting whatever is on our plate into our mouths. It’s ironic that we chide television and movies for creating violent scenes that desensitize audiences (especially children), but we don’t think to confront our mass- farmers and ranchers.

There’s an Iroquois idea that every choice you make, you must take in consideration the impact seven generations ahead, or into the future. I think we need to stop making long-term decisions in a “carpe diem” manner. It is okay to be spontaneous, with short-term decisions but it is imperative to always consider long-term effects. I definitely think the seventh generation mentality should be added to that list of what to do.

And I tihnk I'll end with that lest I talk myself to death.

Gabe Biason the Pirate said...

I like the problem that Mr. Jehan Alonso proposes.

"Do you see the converging crises now as a constellation in which eco-erotics and ethical sensibility will finally be able to do what it was not able to do before (restrain reckless accumulation and expansion)?"

It seems to me that your response was, in essence, tautological. I think the question gives that we are more sensible to our eco-ethics and it is not sufficient to answer the problem by repeating that we are more sensible to our eco-ethics in a round-about way as it seems you did.

Of course my generation is more sensitive to ecological problems than those that came directly before us. That seems obvious. But why? Can we deconstruct and/or further reduce this idea of eco-ethical sensibility as it exists for my generation? What about the theory of subversion from within (I love this idea as it pertains to this issue, it seems very relevant)? And finally even if we all act is in a eco-ethical sensitive manner, if we finally make that change to make the earth greener et al. are we unknowingly serving a purpose that is far more evil than ecological unsensitivity?

Gabe Biason the Pirate said...

First up! Why is my generation becoming a little more eco-sensitive than those prior to us?

(I think this question is based on a premise that can't be argued, we know that it is bad to use plastic bags and we know that it is good to recycle as a whole and the examples of our sensitivity to our environment being more keen than past generations go on and on and on).

It seems the first and most basic assumption to this question seems to be that we are more eco-sensitive because the world around us is dying... Though at first glance that seems far too romantic to me for it to be true. This assumption hinges on the idea that we make decisions in our own rational, personal self interests. That we are very sensitive to what happens to our environment because it will adversely effect us (though I think I can easily refute this idea that we are good at acting rationally when our self interests arent so directly connected to our own actions, Il talk about this when I get to the subversion from within theory at a later date). Even if this is true I would still contend that the majority of us act in ways that are completely harmful to our ecology. Even easy decisions like whether to recycle or not. We *do know* that recycling is better for nature and it is not that difficult a sacrifice to recycle instead of waste but we seem to waste far more than we recycle. (Anecdotal evidence I know, but I bet the emperical data backs it up). So while it is possible that we are more eco-friendly than our prior generations simply because we realise that our planet is dieng but I contend that it is something a little more transperent.

I dont have the time right now to fully investigate other possible reasons for our current ecological sensitivity so I will simply propose a few ideas that I will investigate at a later time.

1. Why did Al Gore produce a movie about our ecology? Was it from the goodness of his heart? Was it because he can act rationally in large scale? Or is there a more sinister and basic motive?

These questions reduced is "are corporations going green because of our insistence that they do (lol) or because of another purpose?"

A.T. said...

Of course my generation is more sensitive to ecological problems than those that came directly before us. That seems obvious. But why? Can we deconstruct and/or further reduce this idea of eco-ethical sensibility as it exists for my generation? What about the theory of subversion from within (I love this idea as it pertains to this issue, it seems very relevant)?

Gabe, I see your point. There is a bit of circularity in my response. You seem to be saying, you're pointing at something that is obvious and taking it to be related to your conclusion, so you're confusing cause and correlation.

The fact is that there's a change going on: McDonald recycles! (actually the recycling is dwarfed by McDonalds' pollution, but it "plays" the game). All of a sudden Wallmart is selling organic (granted, much to be desired), universities teach eco-ethics, eco-business, we have majors in Ecological sciences.

What is that saying? There is an obvious paradigm shift here.

We're not at the point of "revolutionary" science (in Kuhn's language), but at a "normal" stage. What causes it? The brute force of the crisis (acid rain, deforestation, global warming, etc). Our old anthropocentric worldview gives gives way -as disillusion reigns. To use a marxist motto, we gain a new prise de conscience.

Shifts happen as a result of crisis. The old economic model doesn't work anymore (in the gain vs. loss, we end up generally loosing). And you don't have to be too smart to see it.

If some corporations are moving green is out of cost-benefit analysis (which works to our advantage). But we shouldn't think this is it. The damage already inflicted is dire! The fight goes on.

miamibourbaki said...

Even then, some may ask this question: What if what you take as an ecological paradigm shift is just a ploy, i.e., "an accommodation" of the status quo to keep us entertained?

This question presents an ontological problem: If we lived inside this "Matrix," how could we tell? If Adam is in Paradise how can he tell he is?

I'm more interested in taking this reasoning one step further: What if "winning" is just a make-believe, i.e., another sinister mutation of the system in its opressive function?

chrisgarces said...

Plant a tree and eat green; I think that would be cool to see. I really don't think I could live on just greens though. It's not that I agree with what is being done to animals but I need my chicken, meat, and fish. My view on the whole situation is very much like that of the Native Americans, in which the animals were honored and seen as a bounty provided by nature but that shall be revered as our equals. They were put on this earth to be nourished, not to be exploited. In the Bible it states,
"God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground. (Genesis 1:28)" Don't rulers see to the well being of their subjects? Just as we should see for the well being of our animal coinhabitants. Therefore, I ultimately do agree with you in a total reconstruction of the industry in which animals are not exploited, abused, or seen as objects for our selfish indulgences.