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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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Chapter 1 situating the traces of (un-) sustainability


When things go wrong, it is generally important to understand how and why they do so. Our understanding of any given situation forms the basis for any plan to get ourselves back on the tracks. However, it is also important to understand that any such understanding is always incomplete. Not only is it often very difficult, if not impossible, to discern whether things that seem to be going badly are secretly creating the context for things to go much better in future, but our understandings are also always limited to a kind of partial map, or a trace of the actual situation, in the past, present, and future. Ignorance is a normal part of the human condition, regardless of how heroically we struggle to overcome the inadequacy of our maps and our more-or-less (in-) adequate knowledges.

Any given knowledge, like any metaphor, represents the trace we choose as our Ariadne’s thread to guide us forward, but each choice necessarily means forgoing other threads that would guide us in different directions. Some maps are clearly better than others, and they are better because they improve our situation and allow us to get out of the immediate trouble that induced us to seek out a map in the first place. However, maps are not necessarily better because they are more accurate or objective, rational, or evidence based. They are better if they help us get to, and stay in, a better place—if, we might ←1 | 2→say, they can...

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