Crumb Trail
     an impermanent travelogue
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Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Last Saturday Norm Geras commented on my post Aesthetics, Ethics and Ecology . and says:

He's discussing a book by Paul Wapner which looks, from Gary's account of it, more postmodern-friendly than is to my own taste ... But if I haven't misunderstood something here, Gary's response to the book's argument ends up philosophically in the right sort of place."

Norm's prior post was a reading assignment for us, a Dennett essay deriding postmodernist truth. There's been a lot of mischief done in environmentalism using postmodern ideas and arguments. The happiest warrior against this sort of mischief is Thomas DeGregori. has taken up arms to fight fashionable nonsense too and has published the Dennett essay as well as ones by DeGregori.

I'm not sure about DeGregori but the others mentioned seem to be in broad agreement with Alan Sokal's objectives in publishing his Sokal Hoax in Social Text; " defend the Left from a trendy segment of itself. Like innumerable others from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, I call for the Left to reclaim its Enlightenment roots." Perhaps Norm agrees with this too.

I wish the Left good luck but my purpose is to rescue environmentalism from a segment of itself and the postmodern critique, though ungrounded and incomplete, has helped in that task by dissolving some of the rigid beliefs of modernists, especially those on the Left. Good science can do the same thing but the Left is too often weak in science and deaf to scientific arguments. A DeGregori essay that has been widely published called Shiva the Destroyer? refutes postmodernism taken to extremes to the detriment of people and environments. Though the postmodern critique has uses it can also be misused. I really do wish the Left good luck in its reform efforts because both the modernists and postmodernists who have harmed environmentalism are factions of the Left.

To be good environmentalists, to live on this planet while caring for it, we need to see ourselves in context. We are part of nature rather than separate from it. We are a consequence of natural processes and we alter those processes by simply living. We must choose how we want to live in the world and what kind of people we want to be but not all choices will result in good outcomes because physical reality constrains the range of aesthetic and ethical choices we might make. Somewhere beyond the modernist rigidity of viewing nature as Nature - a given which is submitted to with near religious awe - and postmodern relativism which sees nature as an illusory construction, there is an informed view that has elements of those earlier views but is more realistic and complex. A scientific path - ruthlessly honest, empirical, pragmatic and open to revelation - can arrive at this same destination but not all environmentalists can travel that route.

posted by back40 | 9/02/2003 11:41:00 PM


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