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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 8 conclusion—tracing ahead


I began this book by arguing that to achieve sustainability, we first need to understand environment as our parent and then to establish an understanding and practice of the pre-ethical foundations of our common historical inheritance of mediational means, which are currently cultivating, guiding, and disciplining the unsustainability ecology of mind. It is worth pointing out that we have become essentially orphans in our relationship with environment, regardless of what our Cartesian inheritance would have us believe. The current pre-ethical foundation, or “bulk of life,” (Gosden, 1994, p. 125) does not need to be accepted as a historically determined and unalterable given—“many worlds are possible” (Bruner, 1986, p. 149).

Although it has nearly always formed the cultural model of the assumed-to-be-objective way the world works, it is now clear that there is never a completely objective perspective from everywhere. Any knowledge is always a situated knowledge and any mind is always a situated mind. The Western-Cartesian worldview and the relational ontology offered by Material Engagement Theory (MET) provide two very distinct perceptions and understandings of ourselves and our world, including our collective past, present, and future. Although the current globalizing worldview is built upon pretensions of access to objectivity, such accessibility to the world, even with the ←227 | 228→wonders of Western science, is simply not in the cards for the human or for any other Earthly species. Our perception, understanding, and feelings about the world are always derived from the way our minds are parented and...

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