Lifestyle, Okology

Patrick Curry and ecological ethics

He defines what he does as ‘rigorous romanticism’ and has published books on a variety of subjects that the modern world has largely marginalised. His next work concerns the experience of enchantment.

Patrick Curry

Graham Douglas

This includes the history of astrology, the philosophy of divination, the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and now environmental philosophy.

Polity Press has published the second edition of his book Ecological Ethics” and his next work concerns the experience of enchantment.

He was born in Winnipeg, Canada in 1951. After living in Canada and the United States, he moved to London (maybe the first place where he really felt at home) in 1972. He is divorced but an active father to his youngest child (aged twenty).

He has a BA in Psychology, an MA in Logic and Scientific Method, and a PhD in History and Philosophy of Science.

He lectured for 4 years at Bath Spa University and 3 years at the University of Kent before deciding he preferred the life of an independent scholar and writer.

The Prisma interviewed Patrick Curry who talked about the roots of the world view that he believes has created the growing world crisis, and outlined another approach that was sidelined at the time of the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions.

Why did you write the book?

I’m not a professional philosopher, so I don’t have an investment in that identity or in that career. I wanted to write the book because I felt that something very important wasn’t being said by most of the academic environmental philosophers. They were being very timid, and I feel that the situation we’re in is extreme and requires radical thinking.

I hope radically-inclined academics and intellectually-inclined activists will find it useful, plus anyone who wants to know more about how and why we need to treat the Earth and our fellow-creatures differently.

Writing about ecology came from my existing interests in spirituality, and in the work of JRR Tolkien. I realized that apparently fluffy subjects like animism, could have very significant political implications for the eco-crisis. This is a book about ecological ethics. I reject the dominant models where you just apply a set of principles, in favour of an older tradition in Western Philosophy, called Virtue Ethics, which is about becoming a person who naturally tends to do the right thing in a given concrete situation. This and the Romantic movement of the 1800’s still matter today, because of their potential to unsettle the modernist project and its anthropocentrism, materialism and rationalism.

Who called it Virtue Ethics?

Aristotle originated it, but it was pushed aside by Kant and Bentham in the 18th Century who thought a set of clear rules would automatically be good when people follow them. In Virtue Ethics both education and community are important. Green Education is part of learning to be a good citizen. It is something that is learned socially in communities, and I just broadened that so that these communities should include non-human members.

The training we’ve had over the last two centuries is that nature is inert stuff, without ethical value, that you can do whatever you want with. If you can see beyond that you realize that nature is composed of many different  subjectivities, not simply animals, but all living things which have an interest in continuing, and feel, so to speak, that their kind is a good kind.

If you are in a two-way relationship with nature, not just dominance and manipulation, then you have to recognize and negotiate with these other subjectivities.

When everything non-human is seen as inert, then everything spiritual or intellectual becomes strictly human, or to do with god, but not material. There’s a split between the physical and spiritual, or natural and cultural, which I see as damaging and completely false. In an ecological view all matter is spiritual, animated, it has agencies and contains stories, and we are just one player in the whole context. I don’t use the word ‘environmental’, because it implies an environmental Other in counterpoint to us as the celebrity, which is both damaging and childish. Ecology sees an intricate network of relationships, in which humans are only one party, but it requires imagination because it is so different from what we know.

Who is going to put this into practice and what difference will it make?

Another point in my book is that if we want a genuinely sustainable ecological society, instead of the present eco-cidal and ultimately suicidal society, there’s no point in looking to the big boys for solutions. They have profound vested interests in keeping things the way they are. Big Business is quite openly impelled by a profit motive, not the public good at all; Big Government is too implicated in business because they depend on it fiscally; and Big Science or what I call Techno-Science is also part of the same dynamic. The only place where there is any hope, lies with local community-based citizens’ movements, which are still independent-minded. Ironically what I’m talking about is almost like the Big Society, but that is suffering the same fate as Blair’s Middle Way which was completely eviscerated by corporatism and free-market economics.

The best example of why these 3 interests of Government, Business and Techno-Science are not the solution is GM foods.

GM food is propelled by private corporate capital seeking a return on its investment, using techno-science to advance that programme, the whole of which is protected by state power: it has nothing to do with feeding the masses. Those claims are pure green washing. If there’s any hope of feeding the world, it lies in 2 things: reducing the gross human overpopulation as quickly and humanely as possible, and secondly an agro-ecological – as opposed to agro-business – approach to food growing. And radically reducing meat consumption, which is completely unsustainable, and has appalling implications for animal suffering. The agro-business model is a runaway system that will crash, because it depends heavily on fossil fuel to make fertilizers and produce energy for refrigeration and transport over long distances.

Supermarkets are also part of this – and it makes the present food system vulnerable to what happens in other countries, in contrast to using food locally grown by traditional local methods. Native food varieties are resilient because they have not been over-extended by laboratory genetic manipulations.

Food is an enormous issue, and I think that along with energy, it is going to be the next battleground for these opposing approaches.

You talk about 3 shades of green in your book

I borrowed this idea from Deep Ecology.

Environmentalism is light green, saying we have to protect the environment because it’s in our narrow human interests to do so. This view is showing up in government think tanks and in the business world. But it is too easily corrupted by short-term priorities, and assumes we understand the natural world enough to manage it perfectly well, which is a complete fantasy. In the medium to long term this kind of approach will fail in the natural world and also for our human interests.

The Mid-green approach says we have an ethical obligation to consider other non-human creatures, as animal rights movements say. Animal welfare is a good thing, but the limitation of mid-green ethics is that anything that isn’t conscious doesn’t need to be considered.

The kind of ethic I’m advocating is Deep Green, which says that all forms of life, as well as places and eco-systems, have to be morally considered.

This is the view of a lot of indigenous peoples.

Of course, and I talk about Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) in my book. Indigenous peoples are as open to making mistakes and being corrupted as anybody else, but traditional knowledge incorporates learning accumulated over hundreds and sometimes thousands of years about how to live in their environment, and that wisdom (not simply knowledge) of TEK, has to be recognized where it exists or it has to be re-discovered. There is this nice quote from an elderly American Indian:  “ If people stayed in one place long enough, even white people will eventually find out how to live there, because the spirits of the land will tell them “, – which is quite a generous thing for him to say !

(Next edition: Part 2)

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