A New Aesthetic

Return to Paradise

We will not attain true, meaningful sustainability until we stop treating the earth as a resource.
Return to Paradise

It is fitting that philosopher Arne Naess developed the theory of deep ecology on the craggy, snow-swept face of a Norwegian mountain. From this solitary perch high above the ground, the world looked different to Naess than it does to most of us. While many of us tend to see the world through an anthropocentric lens, Naess perceived nature as a vast, unbroken plane. He sensed the continuity of a single, unifying substance and subsequently identified that the problem with our culture is our tendency to think that we exist in opposition to nature. “Ultimately,” he concluded, “all life is one: an injury to one’s opponent becomes an injury to one’s self.”

It was from this monistic premise (influenced by the teachings of Gandhi and Spinoza) that Naess developed an ecological philosophy situating humans within the “larger self” of the ecosystems that contain us. On this level plane of existence humans and nature are equal – the natural world should not be subjugated to human want nor manipulated for human gain. The flaw in “shallow” ecology, according to Naess, is its attempt to address the problems of nature within an industrialized, capitalist framework. It is not until we stop looking at the earth as a resource and come to regard it as an extension of our collective self that we will attain the “deep” understanding required for true, meaningful sustainability.

When Naess passed away earlier this year at the age of 96, he died an optimist, believing that humans were slowly beginning to see the way forward. He was often corrected by journalists when he expressed hope for “heading back in the direction of paradise” by the 23rd century. “You mean the 21st,” they would reply. “No,” Naess corrected, “I am a short-term pessimist and a long-range optimist.” He predicted that in the centuries to come, people – including those in the developed West – would suffer greatly as populations continue to swell and we stubbornly cling to our faith in technology.

It is not until we broaden our narrow conception of self to include the natural world that we will be able to perceive the scope of the chaos we have caused. For that kind of vantage point, Naess believed, we have to keep climbing. We have to slowly and painfully scale the path of truth until our ecological aesthetic changes. There, on a snow-swept summit many hundreds of years from now, when we look out at the earth, we will see only ourselves.

58 comments on the article “Return to Paradise”

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Another Matt

Gandhian economics are why India is a 3rd world basketcase while nations like South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, and so forth are prosperous Western largely democratic states. Besides, Gandhi didn't free India. The English withdrew from its empire after it exhausted itself fighting back the Kaiser, the Soviet Union, the Nazis, Fascist Italy, and the Japanese imperialist. As Niall Ferguson puts it: "It was the staggering cost of fighting these imperial rivals that ultimately ruined the British Empire. In other words, the Empire was dismantled not because it had oppressed subject peoples for centuries, but because it took up arms for just a few years against far more oppressive empires. In the end, the British sacrificed the Empire to stop the Germans, Japanese and Italians from keeping theirs. Did not that sacrifice alone expunge all the Empire's other sins? " http://www.niallferguson.com/site/FERG/Templates/ArticleItem.aspx?pageid=167

Another Matt

Gandhian economics are why India is a 3rd world basketcase while nations like South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, and so forth are prosperous Western largely democratic states. Besides, Gandhi didn't free India. The English withdrew from its empire after it exhausted itself fighting back the Kaiser, the Soviet Union, the Nazis, Fascist Italy, and the Japanese imperialist. As Niall Ferguson puts it: "It was the staggering cost of fighting these imperial rivals that ultimately ruined the British Empire. In other words, the Empire was dismantled not because it had oppressed subject peoples for centuries, but because it took up arms for just a few years against far more oppressive empires. In the end, the British sacrificed the Empire to stop the Germans, Japanese and Italians from keeping theirs. Did not that sacrifice alone expunge all the Empire's other sins? " http://www.niallferguson.com/site/FERG/Templates/ArticleItem.aspx?pageid=167

Anonymous

"Gandhian economics are why India is a 3rd world basketcase while nations like South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, and so forth are prosperous Western largely democratic states." Hmmm, I didn't know India had local craft production and food production in decentralized Ashram federations. I always thought the were a Capitalist industrializing nation with a hierarchical government bureaucracy. Have you even read 'My Experiments with Truth' or the books that inspired Gandhian economic/politics like Thoreau's 'Walden', Ruskin's 'Unto the Last' or Tolstoy's 'The Kingdom of God is within You'?

Anonymous

"Gandhian economics are why India is a 3rd world basketcase while nations like South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, and so forth are prosperous Western largely democratic states." Hmmm, I didn't know India had local craft production and food production in decentralized Ashram federations. I always thought the were a Capitalist industrializing nation with a hierarchical government bureaucracy. Have you even read 'My Experiments with Truth' or the books that inspired Gandhian economic/politics like Thoreau's 'Walden', Ruskin's 'Unto the Last' or Tolstoy's 'The Kingdom of God is within You'?

Nati

"And harmony means that the relationship between all the elements used in a composition is balanced, is good." Karleheinz Stockausen The problem is the lack of harmony. It's easy to debate against technology while we use it in the process. It's easy to eat too much, drink too much, have too much, talk too much. Making sure all the elements are balanced implies assuming personal responsibility for our cacophony. Having the will to change our "shallow ecology" depends on the individual. When the individual is motivated by individualism well... We know the consequences of a history plague by individualism. We live to tell the story of a perpetuating individualistic tragedy. Maybe our harmony is cacophonic. Maybe the discord is our undeniable destiny. Although, there is light. I remember seeing it somewhere. I sometimes see it in me. Sometimes in you.

Nati

"And harmony means that the relationship between all the elements used in a composition is balanced, is good." Karleheinz Stockausen The problem is the lack of harmony. It's easy to debate against technology while we use it in the process. It's easy to eat too much, drink too much, have too much, talk too much. Making sure all the elements are balanced implies assuming personal responsibility for our cacophony. Having the will to change our "shallow ecology" depends on the individual. When the individual is motivated by individualism well... We know the consequences of a history plague by individualism. We live to tell the story of a perpetuating individualistic tragedy. Maybe our harmony is cacophonic. Maybe the discord is our undeniable destiny. Although, there is light. I remember seeing it somewhere. I sometimes see it in me. Sometimes in you.

Mitch Miller

The social ecology is riddled with a question of life itself. How do we sustain mankind, especially since our ability to overcome adversity has led us to become dependent on technology, while at the same time live symbiotically with our environment. "We" as a species have subverted the unrelenting chaos of nature EI disease, famine, and conflict(with other species)through the use of technology(plundering of natural resources). We are at war with nature, if life is the common value. So how do we sustain ourselves without using nature as a tool for survival? Again dependence on modern medicine is a great decision model, do we prioritize the disconnected human being over the natural world IE build hospitals over fields of daisies, create drugs with harsh chemicals, test on animals bearing the negative consequence, and plunder natural resources by using them for our benefit or do we give in to the natural process of selection and let billions die from epidemics, plagues, and disease. There is no common value that all of nature shares except for its species individual survival. (even the plants fight over land and nutrients). P.S. I'm an extreme liberal/environmentalist. Well just a little moderate on the liberal thing.

Mitch Miller

The social ecology is riddled with a question of life itself. How do we sustain mankind, especially since our ability to overcome adversity has led us to become dependent on technology, while at the same time live symbiotically with our environment. "We" as a species have subverted the unrelenting chaos of nature EI disease, famine, and conflict(with other species)through the use of technology(plundering of natural resources). We are at war with nature, if life is the common value. So how do we sustain ourselves without using nature as a tool for survival? Again dependence on modern medicine is a great decision model, do we prioritize the disconnected human being over the natural world IE build hospitals over fields of daisies, create drugs with harsh chemicals, test on animals bearing the negative consequence, and plunder natural resources by using them for our benefit or do we give in to the natural process of selection and let billions die from epidemics, plagues, and disease. There is no common value that all of nature shares except for its species individual survival. (even the plants fight over land and nutrients). P.S. I'm an extreme liberal/environmentalist. Well just a little moderate on the liberal thing.

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