Friday, August 10, 2012

Ecological destruction is a spiritual issue

But not spiritual in the way folks usually use the word. "Spirit", as used in continental Europe, refers to more than just religious issues. It refers to issues and types of thinking that people sometimes see as religious but that more accurately could be labeled as philosophical. Hegel very ably looked at some uses of the word "spirit"  and decoupled them from religiousity, even though in the end he was religious himself.

Here in the West we have had a great series of technological advances, but the thing that made them possible was the de-emphasization of "Spirit" as a concern. What "Spirit" referred to was what the Theologian Paul Tillich called the "Ultimate concern", the ultimate consequences of actions, both personal and collective. The ultimate consequences were thought of in terms of theological morality, and this made them vulnerable, but they provided a brake on potentially disruptive human endeavors by forcing people to look at their long range impacts.

But with the decoupling of technological and scientific endeavor from ultimate concerns, from ultimate morality, two things happened. First, great breakthroughs took place. It turned out that many of the concerns that stopped people from exploring the natural world and its mechanisms, and from formulating technology that made use of them, were overblown. Second, those breakthroughs eventually lead to environmental and social carnage that had to be painfully corrected, if it was even corrected at all. Blake's "Satanic Mills" certainly were dark in that they employed child labor, and inhuman working conditions, while the workers lived in shit and starved. None of that would have been possible if these contributions to progress were evaluated in moral as well as practical terms, with the brakes put on it when it looked like they could be going the wrong way. Capitalism, that put the impetus of making money to use fueling the scientific and technological impulse, was and is a great way of visiting unknown destruction on the natural world without moral or "spiritual" issues being considered.

I mean, the market is always right, right? Collectively, it's far better than thousand of years of moral philosophy regarding what makes a society just and fair. Instead, it's leading us over a cliff into personal destruction in order to line the pockets of the few, so that they can buy bigger TVs, houses, and boats, and live lives devoid of meaning. How different is that than the "spiritual" mode of perception, where action is oriented towards bigger concerns that ensure the welfare of the community and the individual, instead of buying trinkets and vulgar status symbols.

The  category of "Spirit" as "Geist" or "Mind" points to some of it's finer aspects: it's a mode of perception of the greater realities that surround us, and if a person doesn't really participate in that world, they're tone deaf to those essential realities in the world. Yet, these people are the ones who are dominating our society, who get the status and the power, who are leading us off the cliff.


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