Chemophobia is a real problem among environmentalists. I’m not against organic agriculture, but I’m not against chemicals either. Chemicals are not bad. On this, I side with Paracelsus, who was one of the first to introduce chemicals into occidental medicine. Just like chemicals can have a healthy role in medicine, they can have a healthy or at least ethically justifiable role in agriculture.
I disagree with chemophobic environmentalists, and I also disagree with free market environmentalists who argue that the unjustifiability of chemophobia entails that government regulations on chemical use should be loosened, as if current government regulations are too strict in their application of the precautionary principle. Such an attack on chemophobia appears in the anthology, Crop Chemophobia (2011), published by the conservative think-tank, the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.
Of course, the chemophobic and free market environmentalist both frame their arguments in terms of an apocalyptic either/or morality. That’s disappointing, to say the least. Equally disappointing is that so little attention is given to the chemicals themselves. Some people dissociate from chemicals in favor of unadulterated organic “nature.” Others assimilate chemicals into relations of economic “development.” Paracelsus might have come closest to a concern for chemicals themselves, but even in his philosophy, individual chemical substances are undermined and reduced to a few underlying elemental principles. If we can’t pay attention to the chemicals themselves, how can we possibly learn how to use and develop ethical relationships with those chemicals? We should wonder more about what it’s like to be DDT or atrazine, or alachlor.
Cognitive Liberty UK posted an excellent comic stip on the history of LSD HERE.
Here’s a link directly to the comic: http://phocks.org/stumble/lsd-history-comic
Comics are an effective way to disseminate truth, especially about a controversial topic like psychedelic drugs. Like the saying goes (from Chaplin? Shaw? Wilde?): “If you’re going to tell people the truth, you better make them laugh; otherwise they’ll kill you.”
The New York Times has an interesting opinion piece on social Darwinism, mainly showing that social Darwinism has far less to do with Darwinism than it does with Herbert Spencer’s idea of “survival of the fittest.” Commenting on this piece HERE, Adam Robbert sums it up nicely: “There has never been any validity to social Darwinism and the very fact that Darwin’s name has been attached to such nonsense is a historical travesty to say the least.”
Levi Bryant makes a related point in a recent post HERE, where he likewise discounts the idea that evolutionary theory is fundamentally about survival of the fittest. “It really ticks me off when people characterize the core idea of evolution as “survival of the fittest“. That’s not true at all.” Is there are better phrase available than “survival of the fittest”? Yes! ” The core of evolutionary theory is survival of the sexiest!”
Exorbitant sexiness is the name of the game. Levi gives the great examples of birds of paradise, who clearly expend more energy on sexiness than on survival. “If survival is a value at all within an evolutionary framework, then it’s because it allows critters to stick around enough and get fat enough to get it on. The important thing is getting it on.”
This reminds me of Elizabeth Grosz, especially her recent work, Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics, and Art. Using Irigaray, Bergson, and Deleuze alongside Darwin, Grosz highlights the importance of sexual selection in evolution, according to which evolution is about becoming otherwise through the exorbitant manifestation of sexual difference, which is to say, getting it on. I like the phrase “survival of the sexiest.” It’s definitely been around for a little while (as a glance on any search engine will indicate). It’s a quick and helpful slogan for evolutionary theory, and I can also see it becoming the title for a TV show, something like The Bachelor meets Survivor.
Along these lines, it could be helpful to think of ecology as the study of relationships not simply between organisms and environments, but between orgasms and environments. Object-oriented ecology becomes orgasm-oriented ecology. I think I remember Roland Faber writing on the orgasm-organism in terms of Whitehead, Deleuze, and apophatic theology. I’ll try and say more about this orgasmic ecology another time, because it’s funny, true, and sexy.
I’ve been enjoying Ian Bogost’s new book, Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. It’s another great contribution to object-oriented ontology. One of the problems I have with it so far is that it misrepresents holistic approaches to environmental issues. I generally appreciate the object-oriented critique of holism, but it’s important to accurately specify what holism is involved. To paraphrase Bogost, all holisms might equally exist, but they do not exist equally.
Bogost says the following: “In every conception of environmental holism from John Muir to James Lovelock, all beings are given equal absolute value and moral right to the planet–so long as they are indeed living creatures. One type of existence–life–still comprises the reference point for thought and action” (p. 7).
Every conception? I don’t think so. A bunch of conceptions? Sure. The majority of conceptions? Maybe, depending on whose conceptions get counted. In any case, not every conception of environmental holism in the last hundred years has made life the reference point for thought and action (nor have they all assigned “equal absolute value” to everything). There are plenty of environmental holists who have arrived at their metaphysics like Bogost arrived at his, “by way of inanimacy rather than life” (p. 9).
Consider Aldo Leopold or Baird Callicott. They are most certainly holistic, but their reference point is the land, which includes but is not defined primarily in terms of biota. Leopold and Callicott have been very influential on a lot of the environmental holism running around these days. You cannot give a very relevant critique of environmental holism if you don’t critique the land ethic. Another kind of environmental holism that eludes Bogost’s critique is the ecology and environmental ethics based on Ken Wilber’s Integral theory (of which Michael Zimmerman is a leading proponent). The holism of Edgar Morin’s complex thought harbors a planetary environmentalism that is also noteworthy here. My point is simply that some holisms are closer to Bogost than he indicates, and that environmental holism can be a partner in creative dialogue instead of a quickly dismissed straw man.
I’ll have more to say after I finish the book. Regardless of any shortcomings it might have, it’s a fun and engaging book. The Latour litanies alone are worth the price of admission.
I’m always inspired by Keith Wayne Brown, a friend, teacher, and philosopher. He follows the philosophy of Karl Jaspers, and like Jaspers, he reminds me of what is best in philosophy. He reminds me of what it means to philosophize as a way of life. Keith has a wonderful blog, Reason and Existenz, and he recently began posting a vlog series, “Whatever, Etc.” He just posted episode 3 (on youtube here). His thinking resonates with existential phenomenology and what he calls anarchocynicism (which I fully support).
Philosophy as a way of life…. It reminds me of something I heard from another companion along the philosophical way, Steven Goodman, for whom philosophizing is a vital and most excellent practice: philosophy as if life depended on it. I don’t know if Steven says that in print anywhere.
Philosophizing for life, Goodman and Brown have a common colleague in Pierre Hadot. I don’t know much about Hadot, but I know enough to recommend Hadot’s Philosophy as a Way of Life and, on the topic of the philosophy of nature, The Veil of Isis.
On the way to loving wisdom, philosophize as a way of life, as if life depended on it.