Environment featured

Building Strength

June 29, 2023

One’s body is a center of action whose activity extends into “external” objects as it functionally conjoins with them.  Thus, standing on the ground my body is functionally conjoined with it as they each press upon each other.  In the same way, as I grasp an object with my hand, it manifests the solid shape which permits me to do this.  I grasp; the object is grasped, and this is the model for all interactions, in which the subject and the object participate equally in a conjoined function.  Through such functions my life or essence is extended into objects, while their essences are extended into mine, for things in the world are functionally both individual and continuously conjoined with each other, as I have fully explained in Being Alive: A Guide for Human Action and elaborated in From Minimal to Maximal Self .

The actions of essences are driven by desire: as I desire to wave my arm in the air I also desire to reach out and grasp some thing which invites me, that is, desires me to do so.  Fundamentally, essences desire to exist in their nature, such as to be a living, as opposed to a dead organism or a rock as opposed to a pile of crushed stone, which is to say that they desire to function in conditions of health and strength.

Because all interactions are reciprocal it is seen that some are immediately of mutual benefit, as illustrated by the normal carbon and nitrogen cycles.  Things however have multiple identities such as the deer which is both a living animal and food for the wolf.  The functional conjunction of the wolf killing the deer is beneficial to the former, not the latter, but it further supports the health of the ecosystem in which they coexist.

When humans nurture and serve natural things they strengthen them, and to the extent that those things serve humans they strengthen us, so indirectly, as we serve and strengthen them, we serve and strengthen ourselves.   We experience such reciprocity as mutual love between ourselves and the things as well as spiritual awareness of their support for us which Ted Andrews calls their “medicine.”*  The practice and experience of such reciprocity are exemplified in intensive actions to rescue and restore nature as well as regenerative agriculture and organic gardening.  In contrast with these broadly uplifting activities, harming the things that support our lives harms our own, and we experience such adverse relationships at a minimum as alienation or despair as the blowback becomes manifest.  While our actions strengthen or impair ourselves and other things, the effects are compounded as we and they go on to beneficially or harmfully affect additional things.

Things support each other through the variety of their identities, thus insofar as they are both parts of the ecosystem the wolf population supports the deer population by keeping it in check to protect the herbivores’ food supply.  Although all things strive to live or exist indefinitely, they come into being and pass away principally by each other’s agency, for they are all finite beings.

Yet as individual essences are spatially extended into others with which they interact, so they are temporally extended into them as well.  While I stand on the ground its action on me becomes part of my history, that is, my ongoing life.  Action in the world is continuous, so there are no separate causes and effects: as I move from the ground on which I stood, my body carries the interaction away as a memory.  On the larger scale, all of my interactions with things are similarly retained by them, conditioning their ongoing lives.

This is our immortality: our natural striving for health and strength is literally extended beyond our lifetimes in the things that persist and to which we have imparted our striving.  We ourselves continue the lives of our antecedents, who might have quite failed to achieve maximal fulfillment.  Still, success in that endeavor is the telos of every new generation which can yet muster fortitude and appreciation for life.

In this time of environmental, social and political crises we are tempted to surrender to despair or indifference, but we must heed the words of John Lewis: “…we must never, ever give up. We must never give in. We must keep the faith and keep our eyes on the prize.”  Our prize, the goal of our actions and our lives is to achieve the ecological civilization in which, as far as possible, humans interact with each other and nonhuman natural things for maximum mutual benefit.

Attention to, and consciousness of human relationships with natural things is presently surging, as the condition of those things deteriorates.  Increased awareness of our dependence on them further coincides with a marked decline in the quality of human relationships.  The latter have in the modern age acquired a particularly mechanistic character that contrasts with the preceding more communal forms, and we are now watching the former type of human solidarity fail on a spectacular scale.

By nature things reach out to one other and functionally conjoin to sustain and strengthen each other and ultimately everything in the world.  The primary human capacity to do this is their political nature: to act as citizens in a polity to secure the well-being of all the people and their natural environment.  Modernity’s political ideal of individual liberty has brought us to the brink of global collapse of nature and society, forcing some response.  At this moment nature is screaming for our help: we must overcome our pathological condition by mustering the strength to repair our own lives, those of other humans and nonhumans – all of which actions deliver reciprocal benefits.

Our understanding displays the same character as our bodily functions in being the continuation of the past directed at the future and therefore includes our cultural heritage.  As our history is dialectical, so is our understanding: cultures run their course and are then superseded by their negations.  Accordingly we see that the ancient classical secular culture was succeeded by the medieval religious culture; feudalism has been succeeded by democracy, socialism and communism, and these now face the rise of fascism.  The latter’s success is not inevitable, as the alternative of a culture opposed to materialism and dedicated to life is presently gaining traction.

Individual things or essences are configurations of the universal life which aims for universal justice.  As finite parts of the universe individuals move themselves according to their particular natures and are further moved and conditioned by other things in ways that may diminish their integrity, autonomy and strength.  Such other forces can be internal as well as external, for in fact nothing is a perfect instance of its kind.  Still, by nature all things strive, insofar as they are able, to achieve such perfection.

Degradation, however, can be extreme and systemic, and this is the condition of humanity and the whole world at this time, with dominant cultural and material forces continuing to worsen the decline.  Yet, as configurations of universal life, we by nature strive to achieve the good of ourselves individually and the world.  Though impaired, this drive is not extinguished, especially insofar as our understanding that arises immediately from universal life now grasps the truth.

This is that we are finite beings whose full, not degraded, life consists of forming functional conjunctions with other things to attain maximal mutual benefit for ourselves and the rest of the world, and we do this in all of our capacities, natures and identities.  Thus we act as individuals, members of families and communities to simultaneously serve ourselves, the others plus nonhuman nature.  As we serve and strengthen these we serve and strengthen ourselves, functions which require that we also care for and enhance our own personal health and strength.

The principal means for achieving the goal, which is the ecological civilization, is government in which people come together as citizens to ensure the well-being of them all as well as the environment, acting for their mutual good that includes reasonable individual liberty.  Hence the people must restore democratic governance with participatory local government and robust representative government at higher levels including the global.  Still, there is work to do on every front – within families, between neighbors and on all aspects of the economy.

At every point the model is the same: individuals connecting with other persons and nonhuman natural entities to form multidimensional functional conjunctions that, as far as possible, provide mutual benefits to them and the rest of the world, in the present and the future, all in support of the ecological civilization.  I am delighted to now see activism increasingly proceeding in a multidimensional direction that provides dearly needed motivation, depth and breadth to our movement.

*Ted Andrews, Animal Speak: The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small, (St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 2004).


Teaser Photo by Monica Leonardi on Unsplash          

Phila Back

Phila Back is an issue and electoral campaign organizer and independent philosopher.  Issues that she has worked on include land use and preservation, water, air, energy, mining, endangered species, public lands, climate, education, fair trade, healthcare, campaign finance reform and voting rights.  She has participated in an anti-poverty commission, revitalization plan committee and community garden project in Reading, Pennsylvania. In 2015 and 2016 Back published a series of articles on neoliberalism in The Lehigh Valley Vanguard. This work is the product of decades of training, experience and thought about how to get large numbers of people engaged in the democratic process.  She was a candidate for delegate to the 2020 Democratic National Convention pledged to Bernie Sanders. Back has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Reed College.

Tags: building resilient societies, ecological civilizatiion, more-than-human world