Pope Francis and Integral Ecology

The new encyclical by Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: On the Care of our Common Home, contains many references to “integral ecology,” including an entire chapter by that title.

It’s relatively clear that Francis is working with the integral ecology proposed by the Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff, who draws on the general ecology of Félix Guattari and the integral ecology proposed by the cultural historian Thomas Berry. Regarding Boff’s influence, consider the Pope’s allusion to Boff’s Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor“Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (# 49). The Pope’s sense of integral ecology is also clearly influenced by the ecological sensibility of St. Francis of Assisi, whose phrase “Laudato Si'” (from his Canticle of the Creatures) provides the title and opening line for the encyclical.

The following are the selections from the encyclical that explicitly mention integral ecology. There are also many other references to integral and integrative approaches, including integral development, progress, and education. Moreover, the Pope does not intend integral ecology to be an exclusively or primarily Catholic endeavor. The encyclical is addressed toevery person living on this planet” (#3).

“I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. […] Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human.” (#10-11)

“We urgently need a humanism capable of bringing together the different fields of knowledge, including economics, in the service of a more integral and integrating vision. Today, the analysis of environmental problems cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts, nor from how individuals relate to themselves, which leads in turn to how they relate to others and to the environment.” (#141)

Any approach to an integral ecology, which by definition does not exclude human beings, needs to take account of the value of labour. (#124)

“An integral ecology includes taking time to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals, and contemplating the Creator who lives among us and surrounds us….” (#225)

“An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness.” (#230)

“Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us. The Portuguese bishops have called upon us to acknowledge this obligation of justice: “The environment is part of a logic of receptivity. It is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next”. An integral ecology is marked by this broader vision.” (#159)


Whole Earth Thinking and Planetary Coexistence

It’s been about four months since I’ve posted anything here, mostly because of a demanding writing and teaching schedule interspersed with a couple of conferences and a move to a new apartment. In that time, I finished writing Whole Earth Thinking and Planetary Coexistence: Ecological Wisdom at the Intersection of Religion, Ecology, and Philosophy.

A hardback will come out this summer, and a paperback will follow in 2016. The book focuses on two areas of the environmental humanities: poststructuralist philosophy (via Deleuze and Guattari) and the field of religion and ecology (via Thomas Berry, Gary Snyder, et al.). It provides an accessible introduction to those areas of environmental humanities (for undergrads, generally interested readers, etc.), and it also indicates some strategies for synthesizing the complex chaosmos of Deleuze and Guattari with the religious cosmologies of people like Berry and Snyder. I consider how such a synthesis coordinates possibilities for ecological wisdom, which is an engaged wisdom oriented toward postsecular ecological democracy.

By “ecological wisdom,” I am referring to practices for multicultural and cross-disciplinary ways of knowing. Such practices can draw from many sources.  I consider sources in feminist epistemology, traditional ecological knowledge, environmental sciences, classical religious traditions, and the geophilosophy/ecosophy of Deleuze/Guattari. Practices of ecological wisdom energize human capacities for thinking through the challenges facing planetary modes of coexistence during an epoch marked by the inextricable intertwining of humans with planetary systems.

If “whole Earth thinking” sounds somewhat countercultural, you might be thinking of Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog. My work is in tension and alliance with the countercultural context of the Whole Earth Catalog. There was too much triumphalism and too many hasty dismissals of classical traditions in much of that countercultural milieu. Furthermore, Earth in that context was often seen as a material or biophysical ground for humans, whereas whole Earth thinking orients itself toward the mutual grounding/grounded/ungrounding relationships between humans and Earth, relationships that cannot be avoided in any struggle to coexist in the Anthropocene.

Planetary Survival: Transforming Environment, Society, and Psyche

Our survival on this planet is not only threatened by environmental damage but by a degeneration in the fabric of social solidarity and in the modes of psychical life, which must literally be reinvented. The refoundation of politics will have to pass through the aesthetic and analytical dimensions implied in the three ecologies—the environment, the socius and the psyche. We cannot conceive of solutions to the poisoning of the atmosphere and to global warming due to the greenhouse effect, or to the problem of population control, without a mutation of mentality, without promoting a new art of living in society. We cannot conceive of international discipline in this domain without solving the problem of hunger and hyperinflation in the Third World. We cannot conceive of a collective recomposition of the socius, correlative to a resingularisation of subjectivity, without a new way of conceiving political and economic democracies that respect cultural differences—without multiple molecular revolutions. We cannot hope for an amelioration in the living conditions of the human species without a considerable effort to improve the feminine condition. The entire division of labor, its modes of valorization and finalities need to be rethought. Production for the sake of production—the obsession with the rate of growth, whether in the capitalist market or in planned economies—leads to monstrous absurdities. The only acceptable finality of human activity is the production of a subjectivity that is auto-enriching its relation to the world in a continuous fashion. (Félix Guattari, Chaosmosis, p. 20-21)



Inhuman Perspectivism: A Truth of the Relative

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari distinguish between the relativity of truth and the truth of the relative in their concept of partial observers.  Unlike claims of a relativity of truth, for which truth is relative to different subject positions of human observers, the truth of the relative is inhuman, constituted by the experimental/experiential forces of the things themselves.   Consider their conceptualization of perspectivism in light of quantum physics. 

Heisenberg’s demon does not express the impossibility of measuring both the speed and the position of a particle on the grounds of a subjective interference of the measure with the measured, but it measures exactly an objective state of affairs that leaves the respective position of two of its particles outside of the field of its actualization, the number of independent variables being reduced and the values of the coordinates having the same probability. […]  Perspectivism, or scientific relativism, is never relative to a subject: it constitutes not a relativity of truth but, on the contrary, a truth of the relative, that is to say, of variables whose cases it orders according to the values it extracts from them in its system of coordinates. […]  In short, the role of a partial observer is to perceive and to experience, although these perceptions and affections are not those of a man, in the currently accepted sense, but belong to the things studied. […] Partial observers are forces. […] Partial observers are sensibilia.  [What is Philosophy? (1994) pp. 129-131]

An Animist Revival? Madness.

  “Normality” in the light of délire, technical logic in the light of Freudian primary processes—a pas de deux towards chaos in the attempt to delineate a subjectivity far from dominant equilibria, to capture its virtual lines of singularity, emergence and renewal—eternal Dionysian return or paradoxical Copernican inversion to be prolonged by an animist revival?  At the very least an originary fantasm of a modernity constantly under scrutiny and without hope of postmodern remission.  It’s always the same aporia: madness enclosed in its strangeness, reified in alterity beyond return, nevertheless inhabits our ordinary, bland apprehension of the world.  But we must go further: chaotic vertigo, which finds one of its privileged expressions in madness, is constitutive of the foundational intentionality of the subject-object relation.  Psychosis starkly reveals an essential source of being-in-the-world. 

Félix Guattari, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, trans. Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis (Indiana, 1995), p. 77.

The New Deleuze

How many books on Deleuze are coming out in the next year?  A lot.  The Deleuzian trend is far from waning.  However, the trends is transforming, growing rhizomatic offshoots.

There are a couple lines that I see developing in new Deleuze scholarship.  One is indicated by the name of Clayton Crockett’s forthcoming work, Deleuze Beyond Badiou: Ontology, Multiplicity, and Event.  Badiou’s reading of Deleuze has been very influential, yet it misses and misrepresents a lot of Deleuze’s thought (including Deleuze’s work with Guattari).  Deleuze isn’t necessarily the monistic thinker that Badiou portrays.  With the work of Crockett and many others, I think that Deleuze scholarship will continue to move “beyond Badiou,” and there is a multiplicity of directions available for such a move. 

Along with the move beyond Badiou, another growing edge in Deleuze scholarship is a turn toward the religious and spiritual folds of Deleuze’s thought, which could also be framed as an appropriation of Deleuze by fields of theology and religious studies.  Again, Clayton Crockett’s work is indicative of this turn, as he’s been using Deleuze to do political theology (see Crockett’s Radical Political Theology).  I’ve been interested in the spiritual/religious implications of Deleuze for years, and there has been relatively little written about it, with some notable exceptions, including works of process theologians (e.g., Catherine Keller, Roland Faber, Luke Higgins), the anthology Deleuze and Religion (ed. Mary Bryden), and an issue of the journal SubStance (39.1) on “Spiritual Politics after Deleuze.” 

 There are three books coming out soon that focus on Deleuze’s work in terms of theology, religion, and spirituality. 

Deleuze and Theology, by Christopher Simpson

Theology after Deleuze, Kristien Justaert 

The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal, by Joshua Ramey