Episode 10: Timothy Morton
Dr. Timothy Morton will turn your notion of ecological awareness on its head. Discarding all cozy notions of being one with nature, he has coined the term “dark ecology” and advocates for an appreciation of one’s surreal, creepy connection with all other things. He dissolves the concept of nature and sees no clear line between life and non-life. Dr. Morton is the author of Ecology Without Nature and The Ecological Thought, but our conversation ranged far beyond ecology (assuming anything can, in fact, be beyond ecology). So shake your brain out of its torpor and brace yourself for a deluge of fascinating ideas and more than a few awesome metaphors. I can safely say this was one of the most challenging, thought-provoking, sometimes-bewildering, and totally fun conversations I’ve ever had in my life.
In terms of connections with other conversations, Tim questions the teleology of progress that has appeared, implicitly, in many conversations but most notably in my talk with Max More. He also questions assumptions about nature (and our relationship with it) that pop up in Peter Warren and Jan Lundberg’s conversations. You’ll find a multitude of other connections (his timeframe is akin to Alexander Rose’s) but, one of the most intriguing is that he takes issue with both the anthropocentrism of Max More and John Fife and the biocentrism of Chris McKay and Jan Lundberg.
What do you make of all this? The comment window below is begging for your thoughts.
Also, if you like this conversation, you should check out Tim’s blog. Could that red curtain in the background be some kind of Twin Peaks reference?
Wow! You’ve got to respect the hell out of an academician with guts to quote the Talking Heads and put Nietzsche and Hegel in their respective places. More seriously, though, I think this is one of the best interviews you fellows have done thus far (not to take anything away from any the others). To get to a point that you two were mulling over: I don’t see Mr. Morton’s notion of acquiescence as being something negative. I wouldn’t define it in a loaded way, such as “giving up”; rather it seems to me as though this kind of acquiescence is much more a process of “letting go.” For example: letting go of a resistance against belonging to a system we can’t help but belong to; letting go of a self-constructed and self-imposed ignorance, which arises from the Angst (or a sense of Unheimlichkeit – or whatever German word you want to use to describe it) of being imbedded in an interrelation which lies outside the bounds human understanding; and letting go of impulsive hostility, which, for brief and isolated moments, serves as a bulwark against inconvenient and uncomfortable realities.
One piece of criticism that I would like to put forward has to do with the brief discussion of the infinite. It seems to me that the recognition of the fact that one cannot “count to infinity” falls far short of an actual understanding of what the infinite might be. The infinite, as far as my meager brain understands it, serves much more as a place holder for something that cannot be described and cannot be known to actually exist (ah, the joys of abstraction). The human mind – or at least the one writing this – seems to have an innate inability to truly grasp either the finite or the infinite. All words are constructs, of course, but the constructs of scale, whether they be temporal, spatial, or categorical, seem to be especially problematic. Trying to apply a linguistic marker to these kinds of scales, as well as applying an authentic understanding to these linguistic markers, eventually has us all running in (in)finite circles. This meditation might seem somewhat peripheral to the conversation with Mr. Morton, but as we all know (and by “we” I mean all French poststructuralists out there) the periphery lies at the very center of any good analysis. If we cannot accurately, or even satisfactorily, address issues of scale at a cognitive level, how are we to successfully locate ourselves and our species within a universal or ecological whole?
It could also be that I am thinking too much about the details, and not enough about the arguments in their entirety.
We’re all boiling in the same pot, and that does make for anxiety. All we have to do is have everyone agree that what is so, is so. Read W.S. Merwin’s poem “The Silence of the Mine Canaries” and you will get the angst but good.
He said something like “value arises out of our coexistence for no reason.” Brilliant.
I had to listen several times to get my heard around it, but I have some thoughts.
Something must quickly be said about the danger corporations pose to coexistence. If the most powerful entities on earth are intrinsically psychopathic in their behaviors (as corporations has been demonstrated to be time and time again), then ecology is totally screwed. Enough of that – moving on.
I realized that I tend to believe we’re nearing the end of history, the end of ecology, and the very near end of civilization as it has always been. This causes inspection of my value set and realization it is acquired from Christian culture, not Christianity.
Why should you care about my religious musings? Precisely put, because the majority of people on this earth derive their value set from a religious text or the culture surrounding that text, and value will not therefore naturally come from coexistence for these people. However, this is actually an advantage. Religion, especially Christianity, naturally invokes benevolence, love, and beauty, things reason and science don’t offer and coexistence requires. Moreover, it actually requires the kind of acquiescence Howell the Great describes above.
Returning to my value set, I realize Christian culture has been hijacked by three things that stand in the way of realizing coexistence that should be effortlessly natural for followers of Jesus. I believe these are Humanism, Capitalism, and Evangelicalism. Religious Humanism asserts that the world was created for man’s possession, and he is called (in Genesis) to dominate it, when actually he is called to reign over it and govern it, managing and protecting it. Capitalism ties in closely with Religious Humanism and adds that man’s domination of species and land should give unequal returns on his greed. Finally, Evangelicalism, which has piously favored proselytization and eschatological theorization over discipleship.