Tag: agency

An aside: Gamanrad and Fir Bolg at the boundaries between myth and history

Just as an aside, I wanted to write something about why I named this site Gamanrad. Firstly, of course, it’s a word that rolls around the mouth. I’ve always liked a hard G and the repetition of two same-sounding ‘a’s is satisfying, somehow. OK, whimsy apart, here is the slightly embellished account of the Gamanrad and their place in Irish, and, in particular, in Erris history (and, for reasons only a very few might understand, I include reference to the Fir Bolg, now the name of a beer obtainable in Cork):

The Fir Bolg were the Men (people, one hopes) of the Bags, Spears of Boats, a prehistoric, semi-mythical tribe who came to Ireland perhaps as long ago as 5000-4000BC (these dates are wild guesses). What did they carry in those bags? Perhaps the indication is that they were travelling people, and they carried what they had with them, from place to place. Perhaps their name is an indication of their bravery. I imagine the name being a reference to how lightly they lived on the land. They were overcome by those who came with more, whose energy use, though still miniscule by our bloated standards, was more demanding. From hunter-gatherers, then, to pastoralists, perhaps.

The Fir Bolg were overcome by the Tuatha de Danann (spelling varies, usually translated as ‘the people of Devon’), who landed in southwest England, among other places, but probably came from central Europe, perhaps the Iberian peninsula, or perhaps originated from much further East than that. The stories about them suggest they were tenacious, tough, and as unforgiving as the conditions they had endured to get to the islands of Ireland and Britain. The group divided into three, one of which stayed in Devon and founded a cultural hub there, possibly incorporating the culture that created Stonehenge. The second landed in south-west Scotland, in the region of Galloway. a distinctly beautiful and rugged area (my own ancestors come from here!) where they erected stone circles.

The third came here, to Erris, in north-west Mayo where they came to be known as the Gamanrad, and although they were as able to defend themselves as any crusaders, they came, primarily, as pastoralists, to herd, and they brought the calves (the name Gamanrad means the people of the calves), which, along with the native deer, they walked from pasture to pasture. They lived very well in Erris for at least a millennia, and they developed a rich cultural heritage here of tombs, songs, stories, but of these only the ragged threads remain, rewoven, subsequently, into myths and these simplified and in many cases prettified for children’s stories.

Meanwhile, the remnants of the Fir Bolg took to their boats and sailed east. They got as far as Greece but there, they were enslaved. It may be that their name came from their time there: they were forced labourers, and carried bags of mortar or rocks for building work. The really interesting thing is that the same group of people returned to Ireland after a couple of generations in slavery (how many? I have no idea: enough to have only stories, but not enough to have lost the maps and directions to make the difficult journey). They returned to Ireland, where they found very few people (the Gamanrad had maintained themselves so sustainably that they had not thought to extend their range), and so the Fir Bolg are credited with having created the five provinces of Ireland.

Personally, however, I’m inclined to think that the Gamanrad were more influential than is given credit for: it is their myths that shaped the narratives of how people understood themselves in relation to one another and the land. Many of their myths cross the threshold between animism and polytheism. They understood the interconnectedness of all things (as early peoples had to do, perforce) and they developed a way of seeing from the perspectives of other animals, states of being (like waves, or rocks) and the courses of the stars. There is much to be learned from this light-stepping people whose mark on the land is limited to underground tombs, and the circles of stones that directed their ritual appreciation of the sun and seasons.

Notes, acknowledgements and references
I can’t recall now where I first heard the name Gamanrad/ Gamhanradh but my husband, Joseph, is very interested in local, particularly oral, history, and he first told me the story of the myth of Flidias, and of the great battle that took place on the coast near Belderra, where there was a ‘lake of blood’. I run along the headland very close to the mound which is said to be entirely composed of the skulls that are all that remain of the hacked off heads of those who were slaughtered in that battle.
Flidias, with beautiful hair, had a white cow. I had just returned from oral testimony collection among the Dinka among whom cattle are reverentially respected, in Turkana, and I had bought a gift of a painting of a Turkana woman milking a white cow that hangs over our bed. I liked the links. I contacted
Padraig Ó Macháin, Professor and Head of Modern Irish at UCC. He sent me a link to a paper by
Margaret Dobbs, ‘Who were the Gamanrad?’, in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland vol. 83 (1953)
I also read extracts from
A. H. Leary, ‘The Heroic Legends of Ireland’
James McKillop, ‘Dictionary of Celtic Mythology’
Prof Ruairí Ó hUiginn has just published a paper entitled, ‘The Gamhanradh’ which I have not yet managed to get a hold of, but hope to read soon

Revised Schematic

Self respect and the environmental crisis: a philosophical response

Two line abstract: This comparative study proposes that respect and self respect are identical, necessary and sufficient in response to the environmental crisis

Chapter One: Respect, Self Respect and the Environmental Crisis
A introduction and overview of main themes
(i) Respect and self respect as mirrors of one another
(ii) respect as a perspective that extends beyond the species
(iii) the implications of self respect as a response to the environmental crisis
B Introduction to the four fields that itersect at the mirror of respect/self respect
(i) dualism
a) introduction to dualism (dualism and the self, dualism and others)
b) dualism versus non-dualism: Zen, memes and non-memes
(ii) Soto Zen and Dōgen: respect, self-respect and ‘how to live’
a) comparing philosophies: how to live versus ‘what is it?’
b) moral philosophy versus pragmatism
(iii) The philosophical implications of evolutionary theory
a) life and the second law of theormodynamics
b) the myth of evolutionary morality
c) symbiogenesis and systems theory
(iv) Environmental philosophy
a) philosophical responses to the environmental crisis from the global North
b) the view from elsewhere: philosophical responses from the global South
c) inside the box: enculturated Nature
C respect and self respect at the intersection of the four fields
(i) respect and self respect as non moral and non dualistic
(ii) the relationship between respect, self respect and compassionate non-attachment in the work of Dōgen
(iii) respect as action and the spirit of self respect in evolutionary theory
(iv) respect, self respect and realisation: a particular understanding of agency in the environmental crisis

Chapter Two: a detailed overview of the history and literature at the intersection of the four fields
(i) dualism
a) the Greek divide
b) Judeo-Christian chronology
c) Descartes and the scientific method
d) the scientific method and the modern view
e) respect, self respect and dualism
(ii) the history, development and key ideas of Soto Zen:
a) the Vedas
b) Buddhism at its inception
c) Chan in China
d) Zen in Japan
e) respect, self-respect and Soto Zen
(iii) contextualising life: a chronology of the shifting perspective of evolutionary theory
a) Darwin, Wallace and the origin of the theory
b) evolutionary theory and the complexities of co-evolution
c) symbiogenisis and systems theory
d) physical systems and the activity of life: information, entropy and the second law
e) biodiversity and energy flows
f) human agency and rigid coherence: interfering with the flow
g) respect, self respect and reframing human agency
(iv) the chronological development of ideas in environmental philosophy
a) key figures, ideas and approaches in the nineteenth century
b) key figures, ideas and approaches in the twentieth century
c)shifting patterns in approach: an assessment of current theories
d)respect, self respect and a philosophy of the environment: freedom from the meme of ethics

Chapter Three: Context is Everything
A Idiosyncracies of history
(i) dualism and the dominance of the global North
(ii) Dōgen’s Zen and the delinkage from established patterns
(iii) evolutionary theory and the resistance to a decentred approach
(iv) the context of ethics as a response to the environmental crisis
B Shifting context
(i) respect and self respect in non-dualistic thinking
(ii) non-memes and paradoxical non-patterns in the flow of Soto Zen
(iii) respect, regard and reflection on agency in self-aware evolutionary consciousness
(iv) pragmatism and realisation in the biofeedback process: a motivation to compassionate, impartial effort in the environmental crisis

Chapter Four: integrating a response to the environmental crisis

A Non-dualistic response
(i) context
(ii) relationship
B Selective Zen
(i) reflective rites
(ii) practice enlightenment
(iii) the effort of awareness
(iv) compassionate non-attachment
C Science and empiricism
(i) the historical method
(ii) information as exchange
(iii) entropy and energy
(iv) agency and observation.
D Environmental pragmatics
(i) discrimination
(ii) compassion in context
(iii) the scale of individual agency
(iv) cradle to cradle

Chapter Five: Acting naturally

A Non-dualism and Zen
(i) patterns
(ii) memes
(iii) compassionate non-attachment
B Zen and evolutionary theory
(i) agency
(ii) observation
(iii) going beyond cause and effect for a response
C evolution and human extravagance
(i) the activity of reflection
(ii) realisation in action
D Dualism and environmental pragmatics
(i) responding non-dualistically
(ii) realising potential
(iii) compassion

Moving beyond the cultures of the global North: Zen

To understand ourselves and our potential to respond sufficiently intelligently so that the conscious decisions we make about how to live reflect our current understanding, we have to move beyond a dualistic account of ourselves as pitted against nature, at least in terms of our biology. Dealing with the interstice between our understanding of human agency and natural biodiversity requires that we focus instead on how we understand the relationship in cultural terms if we are to see whether alternatives are available. To do this, I will have to move beyond the cultures of the global North, and beyond dualism.

So far, then, I’ve attempted to describe how human agency both emerges from, and yet is firmly located within, nature, or, more accurately, natural biodiversity. I have attempted, too, to show that since decisions on how to live, while only gradually differentiating ourselves from the rest of natural biodiversity, nevertheless provide, through the medium of culture, a means of evaluating our decisions and responses. 

We can only decide what makes sense for humans, since humans are the kinds of things we are. Nevertheless, our (cultural) ability to reflect on our intricately interwoven Naturalness de-centralises the notion that only humans deserve consideration. It is precisely because we are human artifices that we have developed the ability to displace ourselves and see that we are part of a larger unit of interest – non-human Nature – that we can also respond to when considering what kind of life to lead.

In a sense, Taylor was subject to the limitations of his own time: more recent work on the interactions between organisms (Foulkes’ recent paper is a case in point) suggest that the DNA-identified boundaries of living entities are somewhat porous. Indeed, on close examination, it’s clear that “individuals” within the environment, while they have the status of entities in Taylor’s sense of having “good”s of their own, nevertheless also have deeply intricate and intimate relationships between them which require acknowledgment. Thus each living cell is itself consistent of not only one, but, as Grahame Parkes points out, several sub-parts, including mitochondria, whose evolutionary ancestry can be traced back to their independent existence as proto-bacteria. Part of the problem with individualist biocentrism is that it relies on a “human-sized” conception of what matters.

Humans and organisms at human scale are, to human eyes at least, quite evidently individual. No such inevitability exists at the microscopic or microbial level. If a non-anthropocentric approach is to be viable, it must be flexible enough to take into account the very small. It must also take into account the characteristic transience of our experience.

 Human agency requires an extravagant investment in imagination so that we can hold the dual conceptions both of human agency as a self-reflective awareness creating biofeedback systems, and the potential that this feedback offers in its empathetic application beyond the human. Individual living organisms don’t make good loci for conscious consideration. They are too transient, on the whole, and most are microscopic. If we are to include Nature within our sphere of consideration, then we can look for both a more contemporary understanding of non-human living entities that includes their relational character, and a more ancient one to compare it with, like the one painted in the metaphors and images of a particular view of Zen.


Consciousness, intelligence and decision-making

‘we must decide how to live’ (Taylor: 48)

It is not indisputable either that humans ‘decide’ how to live in a way that is distinctive from other species, or even that humans ‘decide’ how to live in any meaningful way at all. In the first case, strong arguments have been made to show that a broad range of organisms make clear choices, and thus ‘decide’ in a way commensurate with our understanding of human ‘decision-making’.

Of course, it is clearer to us that humans decide than, say, that grass ‘decides’ which way to put out roots or shoots, but that may well be because we are human, and therefore human decisions (conscious as they are) have a particular resonance for us. Matthew Hall, Daniel Fouke and Charles Cockell, in a number of separately published and otherwise unrelated papers, all put forward strong arguments to suggest that organisms as apparently ‘simple’ as microbes (bacteria, fungi, and the like) or as structurally bounded as plants, nevertheless show clear signs of choosing through directional growth and other evidence ‘how to live’. There is evidence to suggest, for example, according to Hall, that a variety of species of plants clearly avoid directional growth which would lead the plant to encounter toxins, for instance, or other obstacles to growth. Hall goes so far as to label this level of agency “intelligence”, given that intelligent behaviour is, by his definition, behaviour which leads an organism to act to avoid certain harms (the definition of a stupid action, so they say, is one that is conducted in the same way repeatedly, with the expectation of different results each time).

In the second case, while it is claimed that human agents are the only entities we know about which have the capacity to rationalise, and to recognise and reflect on their own good, this claim is also open to dispute. All we can legitimately say is that some, perhaps most, humans, reflect on their own actions, while the vast majority, but not all, other natural biological entities, do not. It seems likely that it is difference in degree, and not in kind, which separates our agency from that of other biological entities.

Taylor points out that our ability to deliberate consciously on what kind of life to lead sets us apart as a species. Consciousness might well be considered a part of Nature (see Philos-L 15 March 2010) but, as Berry argues, consciousness is effectively enculturated, and it is within the artifice of culture that consciousness gives us our responsive domain. Conscious humans, more or less alone amongst living agents, “give direction to their lives on the basis of their own values” (Taylor:33). But surely these values are derived from our cultural understandings of ourselves and how these, in the crucible of our individual moments of self-reflection, allow us to locate ourselves in the physical, biological domain? A culture, for instance, that embraces a recognition both of the cultural and of the natural human would consider that in acting harmfully towards natural biodiversity we are acting harmfully towards ourselves. This holistic attitude might be misinterpreted as implying that “harm” is avoidable. But harm is no more avoidable than pain, or suffering, when these are understood as experiences within our self-awareness. Simply to be aware, let alone to move, eat, grow, reproduce or sense, are all replete with opportunities for suffering, even as they are all processes of our own survival which depend, more or less, on limiting or arresting the survival or survivability of other living individual organisms. It is meaningless, surely, to suggest creating a culture that promotes the avoidance of harming Nature, since our own survival depends upon such harm. What is important is to recognise that the self-reflective feature of our own consciousness gives us the potential space to create biofeedback loops that anticipate and extend possible responses to include those which minimise this harm, even as they acknowledge that the excision of such harm, like the excision of pain from life, is impossible.

Moving the golden rule: from anthropocentrism to allocentrism

The view that we consider every living organism by virtue of its having what Paul Taylor called ‘a good of its own’ raises so many questions of practical implication, it is argued, that the view has largely been rejected altogether. Instead, the alternative – anthropocentrism – holds sway. We are self-interested and we can only consider interests that support or, at the very least, don’t undermine our own. This is the basis of the rule, “do as you would be done by,” the so-called Golden Rule that I discussed in yesterday’s post. Today I want to show how we can shift the focus, and shift the golden rule so that it really shines.

If biocentrism is the idea that we consider ourselves and others from the point of view of being living organisms, ecocentrism is the view that we consider the interests of communities of organisms. This is based on the idea that every community of living organisms and even the non living backdrop upon which that community is established and depends, systematically avoids annihilation as a central character of its identity. If human avoidance of annihilation is no different in character from the activity of any and all other systems and processes, then what basis have we to conclude that we take an interest only in our own avoidance strategies?

The crucial question here is, just how connected, and more, just how dependent, is the human process on the larger systems within which it is nested. More, if evolutionary biology has found that the modus of information transfer is exclusively DNA replication, then there is no inherent justification for considering interests beyond the human. Only if we can show that evolution proceeds using other processes than simple DNA transfer can we acknowledge that our evolutionary survival is dependent upon wider consideration of interests, and we need, therefore, to take them into account as a matter of self-interest.

Biocentrism, as I am sure you will recall, proposes that considering the interests of other entities (or, as I have suggested, clusters of, or closely correlated, entities – including information exchange between them) is supervenient upon a recognition that all entities are teleologically driven “ends in themselves”, to use Kant’s famous phrase. From cillia-driven microbes to climate-dependent rainforests, and including forward-planning humans, the common element among all these systems and processes is that they avert annihilation – not all knowingly, of course, but not mechanically, either – by responding and reacting to hold ground, to hold a space through which information can be exchanged. Information, in simple physical terms, is exchanged and energy is dissipated in the process. More complex, human informational exchange also dissipates energy (talk is cheap, but never free). Living systems are dynamic systems of energy that temporarily holds itself in patterns that dissipate and distribute more complex layers, wavelengths, combinations, than would be the case were they not there. Yet this does not imply that there was some grand plan to create life in order that this dissipation came about. Instead, we can imagine the beginning of this process as a chance event. Nothing designed life, yet life, especially as it occupies increasing numbers of niches, as organisms differ and relate in more and more complicated ways, becomes a distribution system for energy. Matter, a form of energy, cycles through processes of replication and reproduction and at every interaction, energy is redistributed from the solar flow, outwards.

If living things can be understood in this way, it is helpful to reconsider the character of avoidance of annihilation, of holding ground. DNA (and RNA) are the ultimate holding grounds, patterns of information that alter only slightly each generation. This stability fluctuates, however. It is dynamic and many factors interact to ensure that there is not only one way that a gene can be expressed. The relationships between organisms are an extremely important stratum of the process of information exchange of which DNA and RNA are elements. So which Dawkins et al are right, to the degree that they argue for the supremacy of the gene in transferring information along a time continuum, to play down other factors (virally derived RNA and its interaction with DNA in its phenotypic expression, for instance) is to lose sight of the complexity of the process.

Arguing for ecocentrism is difficult: there are no features of information exchange that correlate between entire communities of varied species. However, because communities of diverse species have evolved in parallel, and through exchanging information, influencing one another in the process, there are good reasons to believe that whole communities of interacting organisms are at least somewhat inter-reliant. And that, therefore, they need to be considered as wholes, and not just as single species.

James Lovelock famously suggested that communities, including the entire ecosphere, have processes that maintain its integrity. Evidence for this is controversial: reconciling this with evolutionary theory is not easy. However, it makes sense to consider both entities and relationships when deciding what interests are to be weighed in to a picture of how the human agent is to respond. Biocentrism, therefore, is somewhat incorporated within ecocentrism, on this view. We could call this bio-ecocentrism, but the word is ugly. More pleasing, and more accurate, is Ronnie Hawkins’ word: allocentrism. This is the idea that we view interests impartially, using our (humanly exclusive) empathetic imaginations to extend our rational understanding of what ecosystems and the species within them need for their functioning, and nesting human interests within the wider sphere.

I mentioned Stephen Jay Gould’s article on The Golden Rule yesterday. He made the point that we protect and preserve other species on the grounds that we are dependent on their continuing survival for our own, and that therefore we do to others as we would have done to ourselves. This, it seems to me, is inaccurate as a portrayal of the rule in question, because the minute we consider doing unto others what, in their situation, we would have done to ourselves, we require of ourselves that we step out of the values and benefits of being human, to a consideration of the values and benefits that accrue to other species, from their point of view, when particular conditions prevail.

Therefore I have challenged the contention that the golden rule is anthropocentric since it seems allocentric in every regard.

The golden rule has often been cited as the common ground on which is founded every religious system humans have ever invented. Recognising and putting the Other in one’s place is fundamental to acting with due consideration for Other interests. The reciprocal element (‘as you would be done by, if someone or something else was acting on you’) is at the heart of the debate about whether or not we evolved a ‘moral sense’. Yet this is nothing to do with morality, if we look more closely. The reciprocal relationship this rule characterises is entirely self-interested. It is the fundamental element of Game Theory: I act considerately; the Other acts considerately back.

That Other has, for most of human history, been confined to the consideration of members of our own species (a tiger doesn’t act considerately back, does it?) But this is based on the mistaken idea that restricting our thinking to other humans (or, more traditionally still, to humans within our clan or family) will ensure our survival. If we review the golden rule we can see that it must have evolved from conditional thinking: what if? What if the tiger is hungry? I will avoid the tiger, I will find a way of escaping it. Not, do as you would be done by, then, but do what you can to think like a tiger, in order that you maintain your integrity as a human being. There is a pragmatic imperative in shifting perspective. Our recognition that we are not the centre of the universe, that we are not alone in the struggle to avoid annihilation, and that therefore, supervenient upon that fact, we are not alone in meriting consideration when it comes to that avoidance, adds an extra dimension to the onus to view the world allocentrically. When we think like a tiger, we appreciate non-judgmentally the tiger’s motivations. We do not kill unless we have to kill. We appreciate the space that each of us needs to hunt, to maintain life. Where this becomes intolerably close (as in some Indian villages, or the Life of Pi), we think like a tiger in order to destroy it, or reduce it to manageable submission. When this is achieved without judgement, without invoking hatred or fear to justify the action, then we are thinking allocentrically, creating grounds for our own survival while working to minimise the unnecessary cost in energy dissipation to ourselves or the other.

The second reason anthropocentrists sometimes give for protecting the environment is that they see themselves as its custodians, or stewards. We can call this position, Stewardship, and amongst moral reasons for protecting the environment, it is undoubtedly the most accepted position at present. The problem with stewardship is that it assumes a) that we are in a unique position with regard to the environment, in the sense that we alone of all species have the capabilities to shape, manage and protect the rest of the living world. Certainly we have the capabilities, long proven, to shape and manage large tracts of the rest of the living world. However, we have yet to show ourselves adequate custodians – most of our management of the living world has taken the shape of reducing natural biodiversity, destroying natural ecosystems, introducing alien ecosystems, degrading the environment with pollutants and, arguably, changing the entire climate pattern with consequences for the survival of vast numbers and populations of species whose evolutionarily adaptive mechanisms simply are not capable of adjusting to the current rate of change. And b) that we are in a position to ‘know’ what is good for the rest of the living world when we are a mere blip on the surface of life and have very little idea of what, if anything, the meaning of existence, human or otherwise, actually is. To consider ourselves stewards, then, is to give ourselves credit both for a capability we have so far failed to show, and for a knowledge we simply don’t have. This undermines any attempt to shore our position up as something that deserves the label, Ethics. Instead, it is the advocation of humility in the face of our condition, that we are indeed natural clusters of organisms, and that we have, do and will destroy other clusters of organisms and relationships, sometimes consciously, sometimes without awareness. Reflecting on this is the only means we have of stirring different possible reactions to light: we can become conscious of some of the occasions when, before, we were unaware. We can examine the possibility of compassionate activity, of reducing the suffering that is created.

Agency and Responsibility: a shift in perspective

Is human agency, in some qualitative sense, different from the agency of other organisms? If it is, can we view the relationship between humans and other living systems from the perspective of agency? If we can, do we need to take more than one perspective, and also be prepared to view the relationship from the perspective of humans as living things, or even as simple elements (or relationships, energy flows, matter cycles) of a larger, more comprehensive whole (the universe, the planet, the ecosphere)?

Secondly, what kind of degree of agency might we, humans (or rather, persons), be said to have? How might we be said to be able to respond to the situation within which we find ourselves? We can wonder what we might be doing in three weeks’ time (and this seems a capacity unique to the species, or at least some members of it) and we feel as though we might be able to decide, to some degree, what we might do in three weeks time. However, can we really weigh up between plans? In anticipating, can we avoid?

Linked to this degree of agency is the notion that we have a certain amount of responsibility for our situation. If we have avoided the demise of our own species, for instance, it has been at the cost of biodiversity loss, pollution, species extinction, climate change and other human-induced changes to the biosphere. Yet much of this destruction has come about through either ignorance, or through an attitude which justified the exploitation of the environment as ‘other’.

What would it mean to respond from within a different framework to the one we now operate in? What would it mean to act in acknowledgement both of the constraints under which we operate (the realisation that natural laws apply to us just as firmly as they do to all other forms of existence) and of the ability we have to reflectively consider our situation, to the degree that this consideration itself emerges as a feedback process that influences which possibilities open as potential actions?

Paul Taylor’s thesis is a clear example of a fundamental quest for a re-examination1 of the origins of our attitudes. He addresses a major problem that continues to haunt the predominant cultural attitudes of the global North and, by extension, that dominates as an impetus for action globally: the vast majority of the values and beliefs held by human individuals still echo pre-Darwinian understandings of ourselves and our relationships with other living existence. Considering ourselves as agents whose agency lies in our self-awareness requires us radically to expand the framework of the scientific revolution, the ‘paradigm … of discrete, individual events obeying absolute, universal laws.’ (Alexander: 373)

Interestingly, the notion that we are agents in this way is, empirical evidence suggests, more enabling of that concept than the notion that there is no such thing as agency2. Moreover, accepting just this degree of freedom in action implies accepting a corresponding degree of responsibility for that action. The rational argument concludes that this limited level of choice – the choice to actively self-reflect – is free, and therefore that conscious awareness does allow for some deliberation over how to weigh up certain interests. If, in the past, we have, as a species, failed to take into account interests beyond those of our immediate human ‘clans’ or communities, it is because we have not been in a position to realise, or wake up to an awareness of, this degree of choice. Many of the myths that have dominated our cultural thinking have been precisely those that have, by accident or by design, described a different kind of freedom, one that applied, first, only to human activities vis-a-vis other humans, and second, one that required more than any individual could possibly give in terms of autonomy, since no individual is autonomous to the degree required by the former myths.

This work is worth doing precisely because the research suggests a re-examination of who or what is taken into account when interests are being weighed up. If the range of systems that demand our response is much broader than we had previously realised, and yet our own voluntary activity is constrained to self-reflection, or reflection on the process of conscious activity, then it might be argued that we have no freedom to do what needs to be done. However, a little effort will show that this cannot be the right conclusion: all the freedom that we require is contained in the activity of realisation, of self-reflection, of awareness of the state that we are in. It is precisely this activity that loosens the inevitability of our reactions and gives space in which are created other possibilities. Both a recognition of our interconnected interdependence, and an acknowledgement of the role of conscious activity in shaping our responses, is required for us to open up to the altered potential that exists within a meditative awareness. This can then form a highly comprehensive basis for a strategy to tackle our ecological emergency.

1A second problem is that those of us prepared to take Evolutionary Theory seriously are not necessarily in a majority. Even if a reasonable case is made for a change of attitude, those whose beliefs are informed by their faith will still outnumber those who might be prepared to consider a shift in perspective.

2See for instance Robert Kane, who makes a slightly different but nevertheless related point in his Chapter in Gary Watson’s Free Will: ‘Yet if you concentrate and solve the problem nonetheless, I think we can say that you did it and are responsible for doing it even though it was undetermined whether you would succeed. The indeterministic noise would have been an obstacle to your solving the problem which you nevertheless overcame by your effort.’ (Kane: 308) And Susan Wolf, in the same volume, argues that all that is needed for responsible agency is that our ‘deep self’ be ‘sane’ (see Wolf in Watson, Free Will: 382)