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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 2 the materially engaged (un-) sustainability mind


Yet, despite the great flurry of activity around sustainability and the large number of actors now engaged in the sustainability mission, we still find ourselves in an increasingly dismal ecological position, one that holds out little promise for economic and social advancement. In fact, ecological systems are more fully understood now in the era of international global climate change research than they ever have been, but evidence indicates that our systems are more, not less, degraded each year. (Farley & Smith, 2014, pp. 2–3)

Farley and Smith’s (2014) critique is characteristic of a broad-based discontent, within academia and across much of society, with the term sustainability. That discontent encompasses both the ambiguity of the term and the lack of measurable success in attaining it. Sustainability, simply put, seems to be unworkable given the current tools available to us for organizing and structuring our relations within environment. The blueprints and solutions imaginable from within the Western historical inheritance, even if plausible in theory, are often simply not feasible from a political standpoint, to say nothing of the social psychological obstacles they would encounter. There would seem to be simply no way out of this conundrum. And yet, sustainability has certainly been achieved by other societies in different times and places. It does not seem that the human organism is itself inherently unsustainable by ←45 | 46→nature. How then, might we account for and overcome these very considerable difficulties.

Perhaps concepts of mediated action and mediational means...

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