T2B31: Cliden 4
Arjun Jayadev, a friend from both Boston and Bangalore has written an op-ed in the NYT on why patents are an obstacle to resolving the COVID19 crisis. The same challenges are going to arise with the climate crisis: should there be ‘planetary emergency technologies’ that can’t be patented? What kind of funding and licensing regimes should they have?
I hear it in some form or the other every single day (what I hear is filtered through my bubble): we need to reconnect with nature. It’s easily reduced to a cliche, but ‘reconnecting with nature’ has got to be the single most important thing we can begin to do this century.
But how? What does ‘reconnecting’ mean?
The typical answer has a primordial ideal: give up on civilization and go back to a past when we worked the earth with our hands and the simplest of tools. You can see this romance in YouTube channels such as Primitive Technology which has over ten million subscribers!
There’s a certain irony in hacking away at a hut for months and then gaming YouTube’s algorithms to get 10 million subscribers…
I admire that back to the past ethic but I also worry that we have so many layers of forgetting to wipe away that even attempts to reconnect might become forms of alienation. Coming to which, the Marxist conception of ‘alienation’ might be an interesting locus of transformation.
It was formulated by Marx in a human context, i.e., the alienation of labor from its fruits, but what if that’s just the tip of a deeper alienation: of alienating human labor from nature as a whole, which is seen purely as a resource to be worked upon.
These hybrid concepts, i.e., concepts such as alienation that can take on both a social and a natural hue are going to be key. They are dialectical lens through which we can reshape our connection with nature.
Looking backwards from the Anthropocene, it’s not just labor that’s alienated, but our entire mind-body complex, with the Cartesian distinction between mind and body being the philosophical sign of an already alienated human. In this context, 'Embodied Cognition' is perhaps the most important development in cognitive science in the last thirty years. It's a field that borrows heavily from the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty.
MMPs ideas are particularly relevant while we're spending much of our waking life in front of a screen, which is simultaneously a deepening of our alienation from nature and from each other - making both Marx and MMP roll in their respective graves . Favorite quote from the essay:
philosophy is not a particular body of knowledge; it is the vigilance (emphasis mine) which does not let us forget the source of all knowledge
MMP stresses philosophy not as a specialized pursuit of knowledge, say creating mathematical models of nature in the manner of physicists, but as a quality of vigilance that one brings to all knowledge pursuits. It’s his twist on the Heideggerian theme in the phenomenological tradition that phenomenology is fundamental ontology.
In this vigilant reading of philosophy, it’s primary concern doesn’t lie beyond other forms of knowing (which is the usual interpretation of the prefix meta- in metaphysics, and would be alienation sitting on top of alienation) but as a form of knowing that layers smoothly on top of other knowledge practices.
However, vigilance doesn’t happen on its own. That’s why Indian and other contemplative traditions developed technologies of vigilance - various meditative techniques and interventions - starting from simple breath awareness to more complex meditations.
One task of philosophy is the design of vigilance of prototyping and perfecting technologies that help us keep the source of all knowledge in awareness even as knowledge proliferates in the sciences and elsewhere.
Philosophy as vigilance design isn’t about the past. It’s very much anchored in the future, but a future in which ecology plays a bigger role than society or economy. The only way we we are going to get there if we understand the limits of our current efforts to organize nature.
If you have been wondering what this has to do with the Biden transition, it’s because Biden’s approach to climate is likely to be an organizational response. If you recall, I said that the organizational approach and the ecological approaches are separate streams of response. What if we combine the two? The organization of society will have to give way to the organization of ecology, but we won’t understand how until we probe the limits of social organization.
Enough abstraction; I will be back to the details of Cliden tomorrow.