May. 4, 2018

Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist

I read an article by Kingsnorth this week. It was on the nature of how we measure time. Modern time keepers insist that time is linear, constantly moving forward just like the constant forward motion of progress in a mechanical world. It reflects a world view of the onward pressing needs of industry and commerce. An indigenous view sees time as being cyclic as it is occurs in nature.  “These are nature cosmologies, developed by peoples who lived closely with the cycles of subsistence agriculture or hunting and gathering. Nature itself is cyclical—it is a cycle of flow and interconnection, with no obvious start or endpoint. Hence, most of the world’s human cultures from the premodern period—which covers 99 percent of human history—believed that time itself could be best understood in the way that nature presented it to them: not as a line but as a circle… Life is endlessly dying and being reborn, there are no beginnings and no ends, and each individual creature, human or otherwise, is a temporary part of a greater unfolding.” The cyclical nature of cosmology is mirrored in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Aboriginal Australians, Inca, Mayan and Hopi cultures. Kingsnorth claims modern men have broken the circle which requires us to believe that the line, not the circle, is the framing image of our journey through life. “We are slaves to linear time and the march of mechanization and standardization. Mass extinction and climate change represent the collateral damage of linear progress.”

I found Kingsnorth’s article insightful and intriguing so I did some web searching to find out more about his worldview. The first thing I found was his publication: Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist. Here he talks about issues he has with the politics of calling for sustainable practices and the focus on carbon reduction, while maintaining our current lifestyles. “This is business-as-usual: the expansive, colonizing, progressive human narrative, shorn only of the carbon. It is the latest phase of our careless, self-absorbed, ambition-addled destruction of the wild, the unpolluted, and the nonhuman. It is the mass destruction of the world’s remaining wild places in order to feed the human economy. And without any sense of irony, people are calling this environmentalism.” He claims that the issue of the environment is a spiritual matter, not just a material matter and that human beings have become desensitized to the natural world beyond human needs and wants.

I think central to Kingsnorth’s perspective lies in his idea of reimagining the sacred through subjective experiences in nature. To him, the sacred goes beyond religion or romanticism, it is a sense of connection to something greater than ourselves. Wild nature is an awe inspiring experience that facilitates an experience of the sacred. He asks, “How can this culture give nature its soul back and reclaim our own in the process”?

Many have come to believe that human ingenuity, science and technology, will provide solutions to the environmental problems that humans have caused. Kingsnorth claims this is not sufficient. The real issue is the human relationship with the non-human world. Science and technology cannot deal with the qualitative aspects of our lives; it can’t tell us what matters or why we feel what we feel. Science cannot address the irrational sacred feelings of the importance of nature to our psyche. The objective, mechanistic view from science cannot deal with subjective feelings that the earth is alive and its preservation matters even if I cannot rationally explain why. It is human chauvinism, hubris to believe that the same mindset that created the problems can fix them.

“We believe that what we can measure we can control; and in the end, the concept of linear time—of linear progress—is a project of control. Progress adds up to attempting to exert human control over the levers of nature itself.” Control is an illusion.