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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 6 the mowed (un-) sustainability mind


This chapter begins with a description, analysis, and discussion of that aesthetic icon of suburban material culture, the mowed lawn. This icon is then contrasted with an alternative person-tool set-environment assemblage, the naturalized, or “rewilded” (Tokarski, 2019), suburban garden. Finally, the two are compared in terms of the parameters of (un-) sustainability. The point here is not to simply to equate the mowed lawn with unsustainability and the naturalized garden with sustainability. Rather, they should be considered as exemplary settings on a continuum within a larger system of a person-tool set-environment configuration. Activities can take place on a mowed lawn that could theoretically move the person-tool set-environment configuration closer to sustainability. These activities, for example, community gatherings, recreational sports and games, or family picnics never completely erase the negative psychological and ecological impacts of the mowed lawn, but might still represent intermediate steps on the shift from unsustainability toward sustainability (Dale & Newman, 2010). The smell of freshly cut grass or grass stains on clothes might contribute to a sense of connectivity and instill a desire to maintain the viability of a community. However, at a tacit level, the mowed lawn conveys an implicit meaning that is inextricable from unsustainability and the Cartesian delusion. The mowed-lawn aesthetic exemplifies a ←179 | 180→compulsion that offers a key to understanding the wickedness of the unsustainability problem.

The process of replacing a mowed lawn with a naturalized garden can, in some sense, change those rules of the game. At the same...

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