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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 7 tracing the absences of sustainability


My search has led me to a novel idea of human knowledge from which a harmonious view of thought and existence, rooted in the universe, seems to emerge. (Polanyi, 1966, p. 4)

That is the sort of world we live in—a world of circuit structures—and love can survive only if wisdom (i.e., a sense or recognition of the fact of circuitry) has an effective voice. (Bateson in Forge, 1973, 249)

We, within the Western-Cartesian paradigm, live in a world without sustainability, without the brains, bodies, cultural/cognitive tools, material culture, or even environments needed to guide us out of our zone of proximal development (ZPD) and to imagine, support, institutionalize, and maintain sustainability minds. To achieve sustainability, these traces must be recovered from the many absences of sustainability we experience daily and then rewoven into a more sustainable way of becoming with the world. It has been helpful for me, throughout my research and studies aimed at understanding the challenge of sustainability, to consider another very personal absence from my own life experience as a metaphor for the many absences that ultimately constitute the contemporary unsustainability.

On April 25, 1960, my mother, Martha, died at the age of 24 of acute pericarditis, creating an absence in my life that continues to this day. I was ←205 | 206→22 months and 20 days old at the time. An absence, though, is not simply a void. An absence is something more than nothing. It leaves...

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