Tag: Respect

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
(iii)regard
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

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Schematic outline


It’s time to work on a new schematic. I seem to have an idea, now, thanks to WordPress and the feedback I’ve been getting online and elsewhere (OK, so I didn’t get much feedback online… never mind!) of how I can structure the thesis now that I have the focus as self respect and respect. I am still really uncomfortable about the gap that has developed between ‘ordinary language’ and the language I’m inclined to use when talking about the topics of the thesis. This is because it’s so important to be clear about what I’m trying to say, because the risks of being misinterpreted as some snake oil salesperson, or some jargon-laden pseud who’s saying nothing (yes, it was helpful to reread Orwell the other day) or even some frothing at the mouth ecowarrior, are considerable. The points I want to make, very simply, are:

1. that self-respect IS respect, and vice versa.

2. that perceiving the world primarily as boundaried entities rather than interacting relationships has created, among other things, the division between respect and self-respect.

3. that Dogen recognised the indivisibility of entities and the primacy of interactions, and therefore the importance of respect as an activity

4. that Darwin and the scientific understanding of evolution developed within a historical context and was understood as competitive and divisive, either/or development, until recently when more information allowed that evolution proceeds symbiotically and through the cooperative activity of systems

5. that our understanding of environmental ethics has been bound by our concern to show that we can locate qualitative measures for valuing within different loci, but that understanding ourselves as physical systems allows us to consider the environmental crisis and ourselves in terms of energy flows, facilitated or interrupted.

6. that the facilitation of energy flows facilitates the dissipation of energy whereas the reduction of flows, either through less biodiversity, or through the caught patterns of energy locked in plastics or radioactive waste, or even through the stuck patterns of reactions that fix us in resistance to relationships and create suffering, all interferes with it.

7. that this is not a moral problem: it is not right or wrong to live according to the Dao, or the Way. Suffering itself is not wrong. But if it is possible to ease suffering then it makes sense to do so, because our own suffering and the suffering of, or the locked patterns of, all existence, are interlinked, and our immediate patterns depend but also interact with larger ones. The only means we have to reduce suffering is through respecting ourselves, compassionately, and respecting the world, particularly the biodiverse world.

8. to say that we exploit the biodiverse world necessarily, and therefore cannot respect it, is to mistakenly liken ourselves to machines: we are not machines but responsive biofeedback systems that interact with ourselves and with the world around us. Respect itself creates space for compassionate, impartial activity that releases attachment.

9. So Dogen’s imagery and ideas illuminate those of science and vice versa. They are not saying the same thing and we need to contextualise and personalise our responses, so that we realise no principles can guide us. We can only practice respect and watch what happens, personally. We can actively speak about disrespect and its impact but without attachment, or emotional investment.

10. A critical mass can be created through this activity, but it can come about only through the elicitation of a response.

11. Humans can live with respect for themselves and the environment. It is not an easy way to live but it is possible. It is no more difficult than the way we live now, however.

12. This is not a choice, in the traditional sense of willing ourselves into a new understanding. It is the effort of practice-enlightenment, the willingness to become more aware of where respect is absent by drawing attention to it in ourselves.

Fifth three: a more detailed examination of respect and self respect


The relationship between self respect and the environment looks a lot like a psychological question. After all, self -respect looks like something to do with self-esteem, with an idea of how we value ourselves. It looks like it will relate in some way to how we’ve been brought up, and this is a sociological, rather than a philosophical question.

The philosophical aspect of the question is this: what if self-respect is reduced to one part of its meaning: what if we understand self-respect as the ability that consciousness has to observe itself and out of that impartial self reflection, the potential for developing self regard in the positive sense? How might that help us understand self-respect as more than a sociological or a psychological idea? And what if this idea could be linked to the idea that the respect we have for things that we look out at, as it were, also arises as a result of reflective, impartial (or reasoned) understanding?

David Middleton’s idea is that there are three types of self-respect (as opposed to Stephen Darwall’s two kinds). Darwall, and Robin Dillon, wrote extensively about the importance of understanding different kinds of self respect and I want to use their ideas as a foundation so that I can explore what it might mean to take away the moral aspect of respect (the idea that it gives us or anyone else a sense of moral value) and replace this with the idea, from Dogen, that recognising how we interrelate with other species, and, from Sampson and others, how we interrelate as energetic systems, gives us a different sense of recognition respect which is more open ended. There is still the idea of self-respect based on our actions, and this (appraisal, or self-appraisal respect) is hugely important in the context of being motivated and inclined to take one’s activities and involvement in the world seriously. After all, without any sense of having qualities that allow one to contribute positively, one quickly becomes depressed or apathetic. Nevertheless, I want to focus on appraisal respect from a slightly different angle to Middleton and I want to suggest that if we appraise ourselves in the broader context of how freely we are allowing energy to flow through the relationships and systems within which we are enmeshed, then I think we can take our understanding of self-respect to a level that encompasses a much wider range of possibilities, and which incorporates the idea of meditation, or zazen, as a means of allowing both the appraisal, and the loosening of existing matrices, to emerge. We respect ourselves by the act of meditation and we also open up the possibility of being able to respect our activities through meditation, because meditation creates an arena within which we can allow the possibility of different ways of relating to emerge.

I want to compare this with Arne Naess’ idea of self-realisation. I need to do more research into this idea, but I think that the basic concept is quite similar to that which I’m attempting to describe as self-respect. What’s important for Naess, and for me, is that self-respect gives the impetus for activity that expresses respect for the environment. If we don’t have this kind of self-respect, we can’t hope to show authentic respect for nature (I’d argue that we also can’t hope to show authentic respect for one another or the world around us).

What I have to say about Naess too, however, is that I think the self-realisation he talks about is rather restricted by what Maslow called, the heirarchy of needs. It’s far more difficult to develop self-respect when basic needs are not met, and this is an enormous problem in the context of the environmental crisis because when people feel as though they have no control over where to get their next meal, then their ability to reflect on the broader context of their existence dissolves. I don’t think this an insurmountable problem: the whole nature of this thesis is basically concerned with creating a critical mass, and Dogen’s idea that everything becomes enlightened when just one individual gets it, sees the whole picture, sees the interrelationships and has that ‘ah-hah’ moment, is quite positive. Of course we have to work for social justice. And each context demands a particular response (which is why this thesis isn’t concerned with morality. Morality depends on inflexible principles and can actually create the very kinds of disempowering attitudes – despair, guilt, apathy, depression, and so on – that develop when people think that they can’t do enough. Every little act is important. That’s the key. That means that all of us who start thinking about this have to develop a compassion towards ourselves and what is going on, so the fear, and the sense of hopelessness that might threaten to overwhelm us are allowed to flow through as part of the free flow of experience, but that we know that whenever, and however, we can make an effort to step back and encompass our experience using the perspective of respect, we are creating, or practicing, enlightenment.

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.

Thesis outline: Reality tells us what we need to do: responding to the ecological emergency


There are a lot of us questioning current approaches to the ecological crisis. None, so far, have succeeded in altering the trajectory towards climate chaos, biodiversity destruction and mass extinction, pollution and other symptoms of the crisis.

My own view is that externalising the problem is the problem. This thesis is therefore an attempt to show how we might understand philosophy as a personal practice, what that practice might involve, and how we might combine Zen and the scientific method to understand what we realise through the activity of practice.

Practice in this context is the active process of self-reflection, along with an objective consideration of ourselves as natural, evolved beings. This process of observation creates a feedback loop that can involve compassionate non attachment emerging as a response to the realisation of respect, interdependently with self-respect.
There is no soul beyond activity, soul is animus, movement is all we are and the activity of observation is also movement, the movement into reflection.

Self respect is the activity of becoming compassionate for the state we are in. Self respect is all the agency we have. It is the capacity to realise interdependencies, to understand them, and for layers of feedback to emerge.

Emergent information flows shift the possibilities for responding. We can be motivated to act, without attachment to the outcome, in observing our interactions. This is all we can do: observe and see how observation changes things. Our activities, taking place with this awareness, incline us towards compassion: we are pitifully entangled. So is everything.

It is a huge effort to step back, observe and allow the cycles of matter and energy that make up the biodiverse ecology of which we are a part to flow freely. It will bring us no glory. We cannot control what it will change. Yet it is all we can do to reduce suffering. Reducing suffering is responding to the ecological emergency. It is also responding to ourselves.

This is a place for my thesis


I began research at NUI, Galway, in April 2010, under the supervision of Dr Thomas Duddy. After writing three initial draft chapters, presenting work on three different occasions, producing a chapter for a book on a related subject (‘Collapse or no collapse: why we need respect to survive’ in FEASTA’s Fleeing Vesuvius), in November 2011, Dr Duddy received medical information which made it impossible for him to continue in a supervisory role. From that point on, I began to consider alternative ways of proceeding and it was on that basis that, at the beginning of February 2012, I approached Professor Parkes with a request that he consider becoming my supervisor on an amended version of the project. After extensive discussion and email correspondence, Professor Parkes agreed to do so.

Given what had been undertaken to date, it made sense to consider keeping roughly to the original estimate for completion by July 2014 (extended from April 2014). Very briefly, the trajectory looks something like this:

  1. My initial outline proposed to consider how the ‘old questions’ (about how to live) might be assessed in the light of evolutionary theory. I had intended to focus on evolutionary morality and the problems posed by the ecological crisis.
  2. Dr Duddy had me read Paul Taylor’s book, Respect for Nature, and encouraged me to work on complicating a position based on his biocentric perspective. Taylor acknowledged the biological basis of human interests and agency, a commonality that led him to propose a shift in perspective from an anthropocentric to a biocentric view. I worked on this from December 2010 to December 2011.
  3. From January 2012 to June 2012, I continued to examine non-anthropocentric perspectives from which an environmental ethic might be defended, but I had, by April, also started reading Warwick Fox and other non-dualists and some short papers by Professor Parkes and other scholars. I obtained a copy of the Shōbōgenzō by Master Eihei Dōgen. Professor Parkes suggested I turn my project into a comparative study of Taylor (as a non-anthropocentrist concerned with how to live with respect for Nature) and Dōgen. In May I gave a paper in London.
  4. From June 2012 to the present, I worked to show how a non-dualistic approach is a more fruitful line of comparison, and how the development of an understanding of organisms as systems or relationships, rather than individual entities, yields a better understanding of the kinds of obligations and responses available to humans within the wider eco-system.

I envisage a thesis of seven chapters. The first two chapters are largely amended versions of previous work; I will draft fuller versions of these, and the third and fourth chapters, before January 2013. I will also work on drafting a fuller outline of the project by December 2012. This leaves me 18 months to write up the project, along with undertaking any further reading, presentation, and shorter publication requirements. If people, academics or others, have questions they want to ask me about the project, I’ll be more than happy to discuss it. That’s the idea of this blog: to put the whole thing in the public forum. Glasnost. Although, of course, this work remains both a work in progress and original thought (in as much as anything is) and I will expect my copywright to be honoured.