Symbioethics.

Wye at Hay, firesmoke and St Mary’s Church tower. Photo by me.

For clarity, just in case people don’t understand this word I now use instead of Environmental Ethics in the field of Philosophy.

I contend there is no such thing as an external ‘environment’, based on new/ancient understanding of the interconnectivity of all, within and without. We are symlings among symlings, inhaling, ingesting, excreting, respiring, transpiring what is without and within. All is flow in the nagorasphere.

In a sense, environmentalism never truly reflected reality, and so was always going to fail in the long run. Evidence abounds.

Sym ~ assimilated from Greek form of syn- word element meaning “together with, jointly; alike; at the same time;” from PIE (proto-indo-european) ksun or sm meaning “together”.

Bio ~ from Greek bios “one’s life, course or way of living,” from PIE root *gwei- “to live.”

Ethics ~ from Latin ethica, from Greek ēthike philosophia “moral philosophy.”

Symbioethics 

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Water, microbes, life, climate ~ exploring Fluminism.

 

24661005390_e71ddf7187_bPhoto by me.

When water pulses through our blood vessels, and through all existence, it branches and converges with an array of forces. By hydrodynamics and changes of state, it braids sky with earth, underworld with ocean.

Seven billion human souls are dependent on water, yet we are a small measure of its flow. Beauty and complexity abounds, in the form of life, in and around it. Beings flourish in the smallest of mountain springs, among the echos of the karst underworld, in the greatest living rivers and down in the deep blue sea. When water falls as rain through a forest canopy, it soaks through the humus, and all awaiting lifeforms spring up, out and, importantly, together. A wave of nutrients flow outwards, carried by water’s own intrinsic nature, but also by the animals it nurtures. When water gathers to channels and wells, life bathes and there seems more certainty in the world.

Water gives life, and some say life made some of the water. Earth is a shiny blue dot lit up by a star, a place in space where water has gathered uniquely from within rock and deep without, pulled from a vast universe of dark matter and energy.

Zillions of microbes gathered at first in water to settle and then to colonise Earth. All other life has evolved to encompass them. They do not simply live alongside, but on us and within us, directing moods and determining the sex of some species.

Water is flow. Microbes are flow.

Raindrops fall with gravitational force, impacting various structures of leaves and soils in complex ways, dispersing microbes and carrying them afar in the bioaerosols created. I observe that evaporating snow may work in similar ways. Water and microbes are interconnected.

Life IS climate, climate IS life. There is no separation. All is flow.

A mathematician would perceive inordinate complexity in a matrix of interconnectedness. There is no single rule, save there is no single rule. Bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa and viruses all converse in chemisignals. The world is never, ever truly silent. And we are never physically separate, but wholly interconnected.

Microbes relay messages to the collective. They commune. Microbes are mind, and determined, a challenge to Darwinian thoughts of success derived from catalogues of failure. Success, it seems, is intent and attempt, rather than failure after failure. This new knowledge of microbial wisdom supports cooperative evolution. We, as humans, are an extention. We, and our genome, can determine our future in order to fairly flourish. Suffering will always be part of the matrix, though we can choose to reduce it by our own actions. There is responsibility, not administered by authoritarianism but by generous, informed self-will. I am now interested, at least, in noimetics, but flow, as dynamic and interconnected life, is a constant love, because that is the quintessential nature of the evolution of life.

Imagination is an evolved gift, we can imagine goals, articulate them in a collective consciousness, like the microbes. And with both rationale and affect, set out to achieve them. There is fluministic love in ‘doing’ these things for the promotion of life’s interconnectedness. Those that imagine and act on this better world are Fluminists. This love is a doing word.

We also know that water and microbes can be a force majeur that overwhelms and destroys. We’ve seen it across the world this last month. Some have felt it. The destruction, loss of life and loved-ones, not just human, has been traumatising. Water and mudslides have ripped into community, clawing and scraping the toxins left recklessly about, draining them into the rivers and eventually to the sea. There will be more human disease as the climate shifts and life migrates. There has always been, but we will see new forms and strengths in others, and across other species ~ animals and plants. The collective immunity will take time to adapt. The way we apply our own lives to the interconnected flow is shown frequently to be a dis-ease. We can change. It will take commitment and a collective mind, like the microbes. It will take Fluminism and Soliphilia.

To not commodify, but to sanctify.
To aid and multiply life flow, not destroy it.

These are my noimetic meanings. I can only hope they ‘affect’ you in some essential way.

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The sound of rain on leaves….

The Rainbow Serpent, Aborginal Art…

 

 

Has the world gone mad?

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Statue of Sir Peter Scott, London Wetland Centre, by Ginny Battson © 2014

 

“The world has gone mad.”

I am hearing this often in my particular sprachraum (the Anglosphere, at least), off-line and on-line, an almost daily occurrence from one quarter or another. Along with a sharply rising global temperature mean, record breaking norm-shattering meteorology and ice-melt across consecutive months, we are witnessing regressive steps in socio-political relationships; intolerance and prejudice gaining traction as some kind of reactive protest against uneven wealth distribution and increasing migration of the dispossessed. The far right have their heads up for the main-chance. This is deeply worrying to those with a conscience.

Yet still, so few engage with what all urgently need to discuss ~ our relationship with Planet Earth, our home amidst a sixth mass extinction, the source of our very existence and our ultimate survival kit, regardless of who or to what our perceived moral community extends. Moreover, the intrinsic value of life, all life, and the processes and interconnections between all.

Never have we been so vast in number. Never have we, or any other living being, witnessed such unbridled ecocybernetic change. One cannot simply call this era the ‘new normal’, because it is highly dynamic. Each dataset combined appears as a new abnormal.

We exist in a falsely-assumed human realm, an evolutionary cul-de-sac, into which we are all symbolically corralled by our own global media and techno-markets. The truth is that we are so interconnected to all living beings and all inorganic phenomenon that we shall never fully understand it entirely. Humans are simply part of the whole. Despite what science and scientists may imply, the uncertainties are vast. Just to understand that we shall never fully understand the ultimate complexity is a humility. It is to inject some wisdom back into our times, when all else seems lost to our own arrogances.

The irony is that so many problems are made worse by delusional and fragmented ways a dominant Western pedagogy view the Earth, its systems and unfathomable complexities. Purely anthropocentric “utility” of nature (servitude and subordination to humans) still reigns supreme in UK conservation circles, indeed UNEP. It is no panacea, as if nature is inert and placed here for one purpose only. Sometimes, I find it is these individuals and organisations who make me more angry than the just plain greedy. Given their privileged status of being educated, they ought to know better. Some are even ecologists, studying some of these very interconnections.

I think, as others do, many are limited to a narrow field of vision, disjointed fragments of connections, encouraged by the rationalisation of Western education tied to a career-plan ~ the training of specifics, cognitive biases towards the familiar, a lack of the cross-disciplinary, rendering many blind to the peripheral vision required upon the ‘whole.’ Or is it desperation? On the frontline, they may be tired of a fight, susceptible to caving in to global financial ambitions towards exponential growth on a finite planet. Those dark forces are, indeed, strong. But giving in is not pragmatism. Giving in is simply giving in.

I have written before on the dangers of so-called Natural Capital valued by a single unit of financial measure. Now the WWT have released their latest policy document on economic value into the very heart of the neoliberal centre-line in Westminster, subjecting nature to the same volatile economic paradigm that favours the rich and acutely fails to ‘trickle down.’ How can we legitimately and morally divide into financial units that which is hugely interconnected and that we do not fully conceive? We too are nature, the moon and the stars. Where does this end?

This is on top of the widespread eco-illiteracy of even the most basic of underlying cybernetic principles of the ecosphere. WWT were, and are, leaders in voluntary environmental education. I revere them in this sense, utterly. Peter Scott’s beautifully altruistic ambitions have influenced many across the globe, ~ no mean feat. In his wake, I wish this respected organisation would expand education into the mainstream, not enter the fray on economics as if there were no economic alternatives than to subject nature to the language of commerce and government ~ the corporates, lobbyists, hedge funds and bankers. Investment in support of nature (including us), is important, that the flow of resources towards habitat restoration and integrated protection is generously provided via better understanding. But to value non-human life in packets of currency is another matter, I don’t care how desperate things may seem! A 25 year plan along these lines makes me suffer from eco-anxiety. I am imagining the abuses possible by a hedonistic, self-regulating City of London as I write. Many new Cabinet members don’t even acknowledge climate change as a real and present threat, leave alone that a sixth extinction is underway, and between them a small to non-existent understanding of functional ecology. Money is not an ecological educator. No matter how ‘regulated’ this new order may seem, entrepreneurial spirit and diligent accountants will find the gaps in order to take advantage at a profit. There can be no guarantees all will be for the good. This is the nature of free commerce right now. The whole paradigm needs to shift.

And it is not by accident that our consumption-driven culture is stealing the human cumulative brain-force that could be working on better solutions. And as the shopping malls hum with either those with cash to buy or those eternally unhappy people with unrequited aspirations and no cash, the planet burns. The 1% percent skim it all off and walk away scot free. Leopold spoke of land as community to which we should belong, not chattels to be owned. Pricing nature implicitly commodifies, even if unintended, like a serious side-effect to be listed on pharma labels. And let us not forget that slavery is immoral. Ownership of all living beings follows (even domestic animals – an argument for another day).

I am being blunt here, because I feel blunt is required. “The world has gone mad?” It is the human world that is mad. The majority of Earth is probably trying to regain homeostasis despite us. There are better ways to induce care for one another, our non-human kin and the inorganic phenomenon which are integral to life. Egalitarian eco-education/mentoring has not yet been tried, not least in the corridors of the City of London and Westminster, indeed any centre of power in great force! There’s huge room for engendering respect and reciprocity, love ~ I have not and will not give up on the ultimate power of love ~ and, with a will and a way, a return to the ecosphere perceived by the majority as sacrosanct.

I will write again on the sacrosanct, the return and the sacred, soon. And with love!

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“You are forsaken,” say the anemones.

“I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

― Henry David Thoreau

I ought not to be writing this, because academic deadlines are looming. But I’m seeing many beautiful wildflowers coming into show. I feel compelled to make a note.

Imagine it is still early Spring. Picture a wood anemone in flower, if you will. And now a quivering constellation of them, and an overwhelming sense of wonder when gazing at these seemingly fragile starbursts just above the field layer of a temperate woodland. A light breeze blows in from a mild front and they sparkle in the morning dew. Ah, the glory.

“You are forsaken,” say the anemones, so penned the floriographers of the Language of Flowers. But how can I associate emotional abandonment with Anemone nemorosa? They light up my world every Spring. The Victorians must have this all wrong.

Fast forward to May. This is the time when the opportunity for pollination is done, flowers tarnish and petals shrivel to dust. The flowers are “going over,” as we say, euphemistically. Oh, the disappointment, the grief.

But I propose there’s nothing “over” about the incredible evolution of double fertilization in angiosperms (flowering plants). Why defuse this kind of beauty with a terminal phrase like “going over”? The essence of flower, surely, includes what happens next. It may not be so sensuous to the body, but it’s certainly a wonder to the mind. The process is nothing short of a miracle.

We photographers, artists and writers are culpable. Maybe it’s harder to convey this kind of radiance, the consciousness of life growing in the botanical ovary. Ah, the poetry of the dainty flower, the blousy show, the sexy colours and forms that attract us almost as much as the bees themselves! I’m unconvinced we are even any good at culturally admiring our own mode of pregnancy ~ there’s a lot of goo involved, for sure.

Wood anemones lie dormant for most of the year, spreading out slowly via rhizomes just under the surface of the humous at a rate of about 6 feet per century. I know one patch in North Herefordshire around 600 by 300 feet, so on loose calculation, these plants have been resident since the last ice-age.

Here’s the rub. Pollination fails, often, because the plant is an obligate outcrosser ~ explored not least by Charles Darwin himself, and defining the trait for pollination from spatially widespread populations in order to successfully produce genetically resilient seed. Woodland fragmentation in the UK means this process becomes less and less likely to succeed. The creeping rhizomes secure survival of the species instead. Seeds have almost been forsaken. So, it pains me to say, perhaps the Victorians were right all along.

(returns to study)

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Wolf Manoth: Reintroducing wolves to mainland Britain, an ethical dilemma.

According to the 9th Century Anglo Saxon Chronicles, key historic manuscripts written during the reign of King Alfred the Great, January was known as ‘Wolf Manoth’. This was a more stable meteorological era, with native Eurasian wolves almost guaranteed to come out of the relative safety of the woods to approach human settlements for food in harsher weather. They were perceived, not surprisingly, as an agri-cultural threat. And so Wolf Manoth was deemed the first full month of wolf hunts by the all-prevailing feudal nobility.

After the fall of the Roman Empire and before the Medaeival Renaissance, with bloody Saxon invasion and the spread of Christianity, any indigenous pagan reverence to nature was lost. There was a drive to dominate land, defend it, convert and reap it.

Britain’s native wolf, Canis lupus lupus, the Eurasian Wolf (or perhaps a sub-species), was said to be as big an animal as ever found in the Arctic. They were noted at battle scenes scavenging on the dead but were equally considered noble, courageous, persevering and tireless. As such, the wolf was often symbolized on the heraldic Arms and Crests of nobility. To kill one was a feather in one’s cap.

In terms of natural history, events of the Middle Ages are a short hop away from our industrially farmed landscapes and sheep-shaped uplands of today. The Welsh Borders were once graced by thick native woodland, plenty of prey species and, before settlement, would have fueled good populations of Eurasian Wolf, largely out of sight of Celts, Romans and Anglo Saxons alike. But as humans warred over these Borderlands and castles were built to occupy and defend, wolves, in predating Royal game species like deer and boar, were out-competing Kings and Princes. Worse still, they posed an increased threat to commoners’ livestock, young children and as a species, were not afforded any Royal protection from them, unlike deer. Their end was perhaps an inevitability. Every last beast — male, female and cub — lost in taming the British Wild.

No-one seems to know for sure where exactly the last pure wolf or breeding pair was killed. Hybrid bones have been discovered and identified, perhaps throwing light on a more gradual intermingling of wolf genes with those of domestic dogs. There are a few locations cited as contenders, however. Somewhere and at some point, the deed was done.

There is a section of the Upper Irfon river, a tributary of the Wye, called Camddwr Bleiddiad, a spectacular place in itself, but all the more exotic when you know the translation… “Wolves’ Gorge”. If you know the Abergwesyn Valley at all, it will be easy for you to imagine wolves up among sheep on the open slopes, or calling to one another on the ridges, above the rush of water. And on Bryn Gawr, in the Desert of Wales,the Cambrian Mountains. Ecological ghosts remembered in a name.

Another place not far away and a contender for that last wolf kill in Britain (possibly as recently as the early 1700s) is the Upper Lugg Valley, also a tributary of the Wye. It rises from north of the Radnor Dome, where prehistoric burial grounds have been found on the summits. There are a few small villages alongside the river as it flows west, Llangunllo, Whitton and on to the town of Presteigne. There’s a steeper, more isolated valley to the South of Llangunllo and a lone village called Bleddfa. Settled a long time before the turnpike road was built in the 19th Century, it was surrounded by a Royal hunting enclosure, otherwise known as the Radnor Forest, the remains of which are now stewarded by NatResWales. The castle there, Bledewach, now a grassy mound, was the scene of fierce Welsh/English skirmishes, and indeed was captured from the Mortimers by  Llewelyn ap Gruffydd himself, the last true Welsh Prince, in 1262. Bleddfa can be translated from Welsh to “Wolf’s Nook or Abode”.

Now here’s my own twist. My mother’s paternal family hail from the Upper Lugg Valley. There are remnants of my ancestral DNA scattered in graveyards all around, and we’ve genealogy records relating to one particular hill farm dating back to the early 1700s. It’s not beyond reason that my ancestors may have participated in that supposed last brutal kill, and others before.

Despite my deep beliefs in non-human nature as kin, I am not filled with guilt for the actions of my Medieval ancestors. Neither do I feel compelled to put this obvious wrong right. But I do, with a biocentric consequentialist leaning*, value the moral worth and high moral standing of wolves.

According to supporters, not least author and columnist, George Monbiot, there are strong ecological arguments to reintroduce the Eurasian wolf to mainland Britain, and I would agree in theory. The wolf of the weald, of the woods, could be a strong symbol of woodland succession, self-will of the land, and a renaissance of our currently denuded shoulders of upland England, Wales and Scotland. New frontiers in ecological science tell us that apex predators, in the few areas around the globe where they are able to exist without human persecution, or where they’ve already been reintroduced, are crucial to “Trophic Cascades.” These are powerful interactions controlling entire ecosystems, where top predators limit the density and/or behavior of prey species, therefore benefiting the next lower trophic level in the ecosystem, and so on. In the case of wolves, they initiate a more natural ecosystem balance down to flora and soils, particularly through the predation of ungulates like deer.

We need to ask ourselves again, however, are we simply playing ‘God’ by restoring historical or forming novel ecosystems? Isn’t this the same old attitude of dominion which caused the demise of the wolf in the first place? What are the guarantees of success in a changing world and a changing climate? Are we not simply trying to assuage collective guilt, acting upon a sense of duty to put things right ecologically or as Monbiot suggests, acting from ecological boredom and the rewilding of our own minds?

I’ve learned recently that funds are being raised for a first major British upland rewilding scheme, in the Desert of Wales.** To succeed, advocates must bring along with them local hillfarmers, communities, estates, any potential intolerance, particularly to wolves should they decide to re-introduce them there in future. Education, particularly in neighbouring settlements but also beyond, of wolf ecology, behaviour and depredation (or deterring techniques to protect pets and livestock) as well as introducing strict regulations in their welfare, prevention of starvation and hunting are vital. We live in the 21st Century, but some still see themselves as ‘traditional country people’ with ‘traditional rights.’

Outlanders imposing new ideas may not be warmly welcomed. Broadly, attitudes may have changed since Tudor times, but in some rural areas, not as much as you might think.

Three hundred wolf heads, five wolf tongues a year, three hundred wolf pelts in exchange for gold coins, property, lands, even freedom was bought by the extirpation of magnificent British wolves. And those individuals forming packs were as social as any human community at the time, with senses and sensitivities even beyond our full comprehension today. We are still naive of the fullness of their being, but we are learning. The wolves that once were, or the wolves that are to be, have moral worth in themselves and rights to exist for their own sake. I suggest we have to look carefully at the potential consequences for them, and indeed, for the hillfarmers and communities. Hopefully these consequences will be positive. For now, I am heartened there will be no wolf killings in Radnorshire this Wolf Manoth, neither by Nobility nor Commoner alike. Sadly, I cannot say the same for foxes.

* More on Prof Robin Attfield’s Biocentric Consequentialism http://doingethics.com/Blog/2008/08/biocentric-consequentialism.html
** Cambrian Wildwood Crowdfunding, Sustain Magazine http://sustainmagazine.com/can-crowdfunding-help-rewild-wales/

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Environmental ethics: Prioritizing nature.

Image   I often hear this, and sometimes with a dismissive tone: What relevance does environmental ethics have to me and what I do at home, work or at play?  Answer: everything! The term ‘environmental ethics’ is the study, thoughts and explorations of the moral relationships, values and statuses we extend to our surroundings and non-human life. It is part of the study of Philosophy…. Just thinking, but with rigor!

To put it another way, if you exist on Planet Earth, you’ll have a relationship with nature. Our survival depends on it, we need sustenance, water, fuel, even if we buy them at  the co-op, even if we just turn on the hot tap or take a breath of fresh air. But we have responsibilities. Understanding environmental ethics helps to focus our relationship with nature, reason, to set out priorities  (individually and socially), and to be deliberate about our choices.

Newsworthy science is informing us everyday that our environment is changing: Climate, diversity of life, drought, flood. Underlying all thought, including scientific thought, there is philosophy. There should be no prejudice between science and philosophy. The two are bridged by organisation of thought, logic, deduction.

But sadly I see much misconception about Philosophy.  It tends to fall down a deep chasm between science and policy formation. You only need to look at the ongoing furore surrounding biodiversity offsetting. To philosophise is deemed wistful, impractical, whilst Rome (or Sumatra) burns and the planet falls about our ears. Forget philosophy, action is what is required, realpolitik, economics, hands on, realism, pragmatism! Philosophy is deep, organized thought, taking in all these aspects, on which basis… if action is instead based on thoughtlessness, then God save us all!

I would agree that to philosophise can be a waste of time if, for instance, it lacks coherence, logic or is too dogmatic, but not the general subject itself. The fact is the more we understand about the basis and attitudes of people to the environment, the better.

Most people get on with their daily lives making judgments based on intuition, experience, or influenced by those that pay them. To purposefully prioritise ideas into a value system, an ethic, rather than a foggy muddle, will no doubt help to clarify arguments, strengthen debates, policies, society.

Anthropocentric, non-anthropocentric

Anthropocentrism is human-centredness, an ethical framework that grants moral standing solely to human beings. Western philosophy is dominated by anthropocentrism, but environmental ethicists have provided alternative thought. As part of nature, humans are interdependent on nature, not separate. So how can we have a framework for living our lives based simply on human need, or human dominance over nature singularly for our own sake? It seems to me this type of thinking, actions and policies resulting, is what is causing climatic and ecological upheaval in the first place, from the Industrial Revolution onwards. A species selfishness.

So ethics MUST be extended beyond human need. But what of moral standing, that we must be mindful, compassionate and considerate of the needs of entities other than our own kind. Should it be offered to sentient animals or to all individual living organisms? Some feel we should extend moral standing to systems such as rivers, mountains, flood plains, landscapes, ecosystems. Determining whether our environmental obligations are based on anthropocentric or non-anthropocentric reasoning, of course, will lead to different accounts of what our responsibilities and obligations are. With a bit of luck and a fair wind, being more decisive may even move us towards a good, sustainable life here on spaceship Earth.

I also hear: Why can’t we individually hold multiple views? Because pluralistic ethical thought adds to the fog and the muddle. If we set goals, we need to be heading towards them with clarity, not deviating between ideals and changing the goal posts. So please, if you care at all, familiarise yourself with, at least, the basic enviro-ethical spectrum of thought, decide where you stand and act accordingly. We need to be more mindful, deliberate. We owe this to nature, for all that we take from it.

For further reading, try starting at Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Environmental Ethics