This blog relates to a philosophical theory that I’ve been developing called ‘realisation as agency’. Very simply, this theory proposes that ‘realisation’ is the capacity we already have to know what is happening while it is happening, but it is this, and not the traditional idea of a mental deliberation leading to a physical action, that is, in fact, our agency, or capacity to act responsively and responsibly in the world.
The traditional ‘narrative’ of our agency is a hangover from the Cartesian, dualistic understanding of the world, and without knowing that we do so, we still carry that picture of the world as the underlying structure of our understanding. We see ourselves as dualistic beings in a dualistic world and this sense of having a mind and a body, and sometimes even a mortal body and an immortal soul, colours our perception of every other relationship we have.
To shift our thinking in the way this theory suggests requires a radical readjustment of our perspective on what is ‘me’ and what is ‘you’, what is ‘in’ and what is ‘out’, and, in the context of the ecological emergency, or the environmental crisis, what is ‘it’ and what is ‘me’. The boundaries we traditionally set between inner and outer world, and even between you and me are not, in fact, as solid or as consistent as we lead ourselves to believe. You and I are not therefore entirely separate, just as I am not entirely separable from context. This has implications for how we act and respond to the context: we are the context and the context, including our relationships with other people, is also us.
However difficult it might be, we need to acknowledge this shift in how we see ourselves. It need be no more difficult or complicated than the Copernician shift, when we realised that the earth does not revolve around the sun, and we had to shift how we saw the solar system, and ultimately the universe. We can only learn about, and just as importantly, respond appropriately to, the world if we’re open to updating our view of how we fit.
The most urgent element of how we fit, in my view, is the ecological context (we normally call this the ‘environment’ but again, that gives a very ‘inside’/’outside’ view of the relationship, whereas we now know that this distinction is not a valid one). If we have to review our understanding of context, and what’s in us, and what we’re in, as it were, we also have to review our understanding of agency, because if we’re not separable in any meaningful sense (though of course in a sense we still have boundaries, but I deal with that in the thesis) from what’s going on around us, then what we do, our activity, our agency, our responsiveness, is also not separable. But we have one capacity that lifts us to a perspective, an overview, and we can call this awareness, or self-awareness, or consciousness of our place in things as they are happening (though that’s a bit clumsy), or, the one I prefer, realisation. We can call it realisation because that implies that two things happen: first, we become aware of what is happening just as it is happening. This isn’t necessarily a profound experience. It happens all the time, periodically, throughout our lives. We can practice drawing our attention to what is going on, as it is going on, and this tends to make us more aware, but this is not an effortful experience. Secondly, however, if we understand ourselves as permeably boundaried beings, beings whose inside/ outside existence and experience is constantly interchanging, and we add to that an understanding that the mind doesn’t operate in a different realm but is all of a kind with the body and the rest of existence, and we take from these two ideas the conclusion that therefore my agency, my ability to make choices and act in and on the world, is also caught up in this web of shifting interchanges, then our realisation of all this becomes our agency, because it shifts us into a mode in which we overview the potential options that could occur, and, particularly if we take a compassionate perspective on what is going on (the reasons for which I give in my thesis), we are inclined to allow the options that offer the most opportunities for the context, that are most considerate of the web of networks, that use energy most optimally for those systems within which we operate and exist, that allow systems that are damaged by exploitative practices to recover and repair, to come into being.
In other words, dealing with the kinds of urgent problems we have – deforestation, desertification, exponential population growth, pollution, climate change, and so on – using the dualistic paradigm cannot address the problem. Realisation can.
I’m interested in extending the ideas I developed in the thesis in a number of directions. I’m particularly interested in three directions: one, exploring how this thesis can help to explain and extend the theoretical basis for rewilding, which involves stepping back, in a sense, and allowing areas to recover from exploitative practices; two, exploring how this thesis can explain and extend the theoretical basis for wild therapy, which involves bringing young people, often those most marginalised, into intimate contact with wilderness, so that they can develop an understanding of themselves as being a part of the natural world and therefore learn to respect themselves as complex systems, but also respect the systems that sustain them; and finally, to explore the very difficult subject of how to bring these ideas to people who are most likely to resist them because they are most heavily invested in the status quo. That is, to bring these ideas and this discussion, in a way that does not simply cause conflict, to farmers, agricultural industrialists, aquacultural industrialists, oil industry investors, business and financial managers, multinationals and others whose thinking is likely to be diametrically opposed to the thinking outlined here.