Category: general environmental stuff

Like walking along a crumbling cliff


The thing that I keep coming back to is that self-respect and respect are two sides of the same coin, but also that respect and self-respect are attitudes that have evolved as survival tools. The comparison with Zen is because in some very important ways, Dogen’s ideas and images perfectly describe the attitude that comes into awareness and is realised when the perceiver is in a state of respect. Respect is, in fact, enlightenment. It’s as simple as that. It’s respect, not love, that we need, to deal with the ecological emergency. Respect is more impartial, and it’s possible to respect indifferent entities, like the mountains, the sea (or the ocean) and the weather, without feeling any kind of affection towards them. However, out of respect, compassion can emerge. If you respect, in the simplest sense of reflectively observe, the ways in which your entire activity is enmeshed in a system of causes and effects, none of which you have actual control over, you can begin to feel compassion emerge. It’s like watching yourself as though you were observing someone caught in some mythical tragedy, unable to do anything except obey the universal laws. The very act of watching allows compassion to emerge. You can respect the intricacy of the system of interrelationships, and you can see that these are systems, and not mechanisms, so there’s a fluidity, an unpredictability, about them. Yet there is no point at which your own activity becomes any less enmeshed when it is observed, unless in this strange sense that your observation itself creates effects and these eddy back through the system, and new patterns emerge. Compassion as a response creates more and more space for this emergence.

Respecting everything, and complete self-respect: well, that is realisation, that is the emergence of a whole new layer of possiblities. This is why respect is so important. Respect is the emergent, extravagant, ‘what if’, consciousness that creates the conditions for positive regard.

I still can’t see how to present all this material in a coherent argument and I would love some advice but it might interest the people who bother to take a look at this to know that, just as every PhD is, in some sense, a process in self-development as well as in the development of knowledge, so, this PhD is a specific effort to deal with a lack of self-respect. I know intimately how damaging a lack of self-respect is. I believe that I can show that even those who consider themselves to have great self-respect will ring hollow if their attitude to others, or to the wider ecology, doesn’t demonstrate the same level of regard.

All PhDs probably have that cartoon sense of walking along the edge of a crumbling cliff. You are looking for something new to say. The body of existing knowledge lies behind you, the unknown is spread before you. You are shoving the cliffline outwards, claiming more ground for knowledge. But much of what you have to say is instantly dismissable, and much that is left begins to look shakey and unsound when you step back a bit. What to do? Retreat to safer ground? How? This is the edge, the place where interesting things are happening, and your a knowledge junkie, looking for the next hit. But full of self-doubt. I can’t imagine I’m the first to have experienced this much uncertainty (in fact, I read Alan Watts’ The Wisdom of Insecurity at 20 and was marked to wander the unsettled ways of questioning ever since. Ho Hum. Some of the ideas here came while I was out running. I might be able to grapple with some more after a yoga session. I’ll let you know.

Responding to Eckhart Tolle


There have been some good responses to Eckhart Tolle who, along with Deepak Chopra, has made a lot of money out of telling people to live in the now. These are some of my own responses.

Eckhart Tolle says that what we perceive as physical matter is energy vibrating at a particular range of frequencies. Thoughts consist of the same energy vibrating at a higher frequency than matter which is why they cannot be seen or touched. Thoughts have their own range of frequencies, with negative thoughts at the lower end of the scale and positive thoughts at the higher (pp146-7)

How do you know this isn’t true?

Because thoughts are not physical matter. They’re perceptions. And the relationship between perceptions and physical matter is complicated. You might be able to identify on an ECG graph whether or not a person is mostly relaxed or mostly excited, but it would be difficult to tell whether they were thinking about Mona Lisa or Quantum Theory. Difficult? I don’t know much about it. But I’d hazard a guess that it’s nearly impossible.

This isn’t my area of specialisation. But I’d hazard a guess it’s not Eckhart’s either.

I suspect Eckhart of some subtle conservatism, based on the fact (entirely subconscious) that he’s interested in conserving his new found wealth. None of this is intended as criticism. This is merely observation and an attempt to analyse and understand a system of thought of one person and how it fits into other systems of thought about which I’ve pondered, given that I’ve had a particular interest in how to live from a young age.

Eckhart says autonomous cars could never work. But there are autonomous cars in existence now.

Eckhart says that Einstein is almost completely free of ego. But there is not direct evidence of this and in fact his wife and his children might disagree. These are just two ideas that appear to come from nowhere.

Monism is the idea that there is only one kind of substance.

Whenever I hear of a position like this, I am reminded of Swift’s Liliputians, arguing and in the end, killing one another, over which end from which to eat an egg.