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Traces of (Un-) Sustainability

Towards a Materially Engaged Ecology of Mind

Peter Graham

Persons only develop in relation to environment, much in the same way we develop psychologically in relation to our parents and caregivers. Neither child nor parent is properly conceptualized, modelled, or understood without the inclusion of the other in the map or model of psychological/ecological development. Likewise, we perceive, think, and feel with and not just about environment and material artifacts. The achievement of sustainability then implies making changes to minds that are mediated, extended and distributed across brains, bodies, and the materiality of one’s environment. Our inherited world, however broken, guides our individual and collective becoming much as a parent guides the development of a child.

The traces of (un-) sustainability perspective refutes the economistic conceptual model whereby rational economic actors are misperceived and misunderstood to have the moral right, if not the duty, to actively participate in the destruction of our collective future with ethical immunity. The presumed intelligence and naturalness of the market-based economic system is exposed as primarily a historically inherited culture-based delusion. If values and attitudes can be at least partially transformed by transforming the mundane materiality which is co-constitutive of our social mind, then an important milestone will have been achieved in our understanding of (un-) sustainability.

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The theoretical framework of a materially engaged ecology of mind, as set out in this book, is quite obviously an amalgamation and remixing of many others’ ideas. I have had the very great good fortune to have been able to sample such ideas widely, taking the choicest bits from here and there, integrating, filtering, and synthesizing as I went along. The contributions of some, such as the writings of Gregory Bateson or Lambros Malafouris or the generous conversations with Mick Smith or Rena Upitis, for example, were massive and irreplaceably constitutive of the finished work. Yet, who could say with any degree of certainty that even the turkeys I always looked for, and usually found, from the bus window during my weekly commutes between Pointe Claire and Kingston, were not, in some sense at least, the prerequisite inspiration that caused the final pieces of the puzzle to fall into place for me? Where I grew up, wild turkeys made their incredible comeback during my teenage years. I was walking with Toby, our Brittany spaniel, when I first encountered a wild turkey sometime in the early 1970s. The experience was magical and indelibly set in my psyche ever after. My affection for turkeys in the landscape continues to inspire me, so does an entire world of ideas and material things, some dangerous, to be sure, and others so contagiously vivacious and inspiring that it is difficult to imagine even the possibility of life without them.

In truth, my own...

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