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Ecology, Community and Lifestyle by Arne Naess

to support independent and ad-free ecological thinking

author
Jacques Lawinski

Jacques Lawinski

PhD candidate in philosophy and ecology at Université Paris VIII, visiting researcher in Lesvos, Greece. A writer, an activist, and an avid walker, I explore the planet and what it means to relate to nature, finding new, ecological ways of being.
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Ecology, Community and Lifestyle. 
By Arne Naess, translated and edited by David Rothenberg
Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Arne Naess was the founder of the deep ecology movement. He was a Norwegian philosopher and environmentalist who also participated in many protest movements and actions.

A collection of articles and writings by Arne Naess, the founder of the deep ecology movement. In this book, Naess discusses the different ethical and ontological foundations for deep ecology, and for a new relationship with nature and other beings in general.

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A philosophical and conceptual look into the deep ecology movement, this book is Arne Naess’ blueprint for the way that we could, and perhaps should, be thinking about our relationships with other beings.

For Naess, ecosophy is an individual’s personal approach to their place in the world and the value that they put on nature. Each person will have a different ecosophy, and at this time, we should be working on describing our own ecosophy, so that we are clear about how we should act.

Naess writes, “The intention is to encourage readers to develop and articulate basic, common intuitions of the absolute value of nature which resonate with their own backgrounds and approaches. The recognition of the problem and its subsequent study is called ecophilosophy. More precisely, it is the utilisation of basic concepts from the science of ecology – such as complexity, diversity and symbiosis – to clarify the place of our species within nature through the process of working out a total view.” p. 3

Naess places a lot of emphasis on the process of working out what we believe in, and developing a total view, rather than fragmentary parts of a viewpoint which don’t fit together well. This leads him to a lot of conceptual discussions about the value of nature, the place of ecology in politics, the problems with the current economic system, and more.

Ecological politics and ecosophy as our understanding of nature has an opinion and a position on every issue we are currently facing in our everyday lives. Naess therefore wants to create a set of principles from which we can build an opinion and a strategy for each of these issues. He writes, “The environmental movement will be strongest if it can be shown that its concise set of principles can be derived from a variety of world-views and backgrounds.” p. 4 Naess proposes a set of principles, and then asks readers to see how they can arrive at these conclusions from their own culture and standpoint on the world.

The book is definitely philosophical in nature and is not light bedtime reading. It does however provide one example of how we can radically change the way we think about everything – and a set of principles that we can use to do it. Change at a system level is possible, if enough of us are willing to accept a new paradigm and a new set of guiding principles.

Ecology, Community and Lifestyle is available at Paper Plus, or check out your local bookshop to see if they have it in stock or can order it for you. 

Sharing knowledge is also a great gift.
Let others know about this article

We need inspiration from many different sources. Reading is one way to learn more about different points of view.

All our articles are freely accessible because we believe that everyone needs to be able to access to a source of coherent and easy to understand information on the ecological crisis. This challenge that confronts us all will only be properly addressed when we understand what the problems are and where they come from.

If you've learned something today, please consider donating, to help us produce more great articles and share this knowledge with a wider audience.

Why plurality.eco?

Our environment is more than a resource to be exploited. Human beings are not the ‘masters of nature,’ and cannot think they are managers of everything around them. Plurality is about finding a wealth of ideas to help us cope with the ecological crisis which we have to confront now, and in the coming decades. We all need to understand what is at stake, and create new ways of being in the world, new dreams for ourselves, that recognise this uncertain future.

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Copyright © Plurality.eco 2024

The Flowering Wand by Sophie Strand

Cover The Flowering Wand

to support independent and ad-free ecological thinking

author
Jacques Lawinski

Jacques Lawinski

PhD candidate in philosophy and ecology at Université Paris VIII, visiting researcher in Lesvos, Greece. A writer, an activist, and an avid walker, I explore the planet and what it means to relate to nature, finding new, ecological ways of being.
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The Flowering Wand: Re-wilding the Sacred Masculine
By Sophie Strand
Inner Traditions, 2022.

Sophie Strand is a writer based in the Hudson Valley who focuses on the intersection of spirituality, storytelling, and ecology. Her website is here.

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Through exploring several myths from Western cultures, Sophie Strand looks at how masculinity has been constructed and interpreted throughout Western history. She explores how we might reconstruct ideas of masculinity using these very same myths, if we allow the men that feature to express multiple sentiments, and hold roles other than heroes and villains.

The book is structured into many small chapters, each exploring a different character or aspect of myth. The writing is fluid and metaphorical, yet is full of great turns of phrase to point out what is going wrong, or what we must change. The heart of the book is to allow men the space and the stories to realise that they can break out of the conventional narratives of masculinity. “Stepping out of dominant cultural narratives involves a process of grieving, tending to our losses, and transforming our dreams. This doesn’t happen in an hour. And it can’t be gamed.” P. 88.

In the first chapters, the difference between the sun, and the earth, or spores, is explored. Strand writes, “Sky gods think sunshine, abstraction and ascension are the answer to everything. But the problem with the sun is that if it isn’t tempered by darkness and rain and decay, it tends to create deserts instead of biodiverse ecosystems. […] Sky gods encourage linear thinking. Spore gods teach us that everything is cyclical.” P. 23. By changing where we look for our gods, we might learn different things about the world, and about who governs us.

Strand also writes about healing and the way that we have constructed a narrative of healing which rules out some of the necessary processes to true healing.

“So much of the current rhetoric about healing is wedded to progress and to narrative. But the body is not a story. It is porous and complicated and changeable. It needs to dance and to swim. It needs to lie on the ground for days, re-regulating its nervous system to the seasonal heartbeat of the soil. The concept of “healing” has become the time-sensitive demand of a culture bent on progressing, and unwittingly taken up by wellness and new-age spiritual communities. They say we must be “integrated” and whole again; we must achieve functionality so that we can keep the narrative moving. But a body doesn’t need to move through healing. It just needs to move. And then it needs to be still. And it needs to feel safe.” P. 94.

Stillness, safety, care and attention are common themes in the book, with Strand often encouraging readers to find this time and space to consider alternative options to the stories of manliness that we may inhabit or reproduce.

One of the pieces of advice that Strand gives is to men who are ready to take a step towards letting go of these narratives. She says, “As men move into new modes of the masculine and sense that it is time to shed an old skin, to heal a wound from the bottom up, they need only step outside and request tenderly, “Please hold me during this time. Please move me slowly and lovingly into newness.” P. 89. I can imagine myself saying this, and men should have more confidence to ask for help, not from others specifically, but from all of life, to help them to change, to morph, and to reinvent themselves.

This is not a book that would interest everyone, but for those who are questioning the current narratives of masculinity, or those men who are beginning to realise that there are other ways of being a man, it is a good introduction into some of the practices and questions we could be asking ourselves.

The Flowering Wand is available at Paper Plus, or check out your local bookshop to see if they have it in stock or can order it for you. 

Sharing knowledge is also a great gift.
Let others know about this article

We need inspiration from many different sources. Reading is one way to learn more about different points of view.

All our articles are freely accessible because we believe that everyone needs to be able to access to a source of coherent and easy to understand information on the ecological crisis. This challenge that confronts us all will only be properly addressed when we understand what the problems are and where they come from.

If you've learned something today, please consider donating, to help us produce more great articles and share this knowledge with a wider audience.

Why plurality.eco?

Our environment is more than a resource to be exploited. Human beings are not the ‘masters of nature,’ and cannot think they are managers of everything around them. Plurality is about finding a wealth of ideas to help us cope with the ecological crisis which we have to confront now, and in the coming decades. We all need to understand what is at stake, and create new ways of being in the world, new dreams for ourselves, that recognise this uncertain future.

Our network

On social media

We're part of the .eco network of organisations committed to support positive change for the planet.

Copyright © Plurality.eco 2023

Technofeudalism by Yanis Varoufakis

Technofeudalism cover

to support independent and ad-free ecological thinking

author
Jacques Lawinski

Jacques Lawinski

PhD candidate in philosophy and ecology at Université Paris VIII, visiting researcher in Lesvos, Greece. A writer, an activist, and an avid walker, I explore the planet and what it means to relate to nature, finding new, ecological ways of being.
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Technofeudalism: What Killed Capitalism
By Yanis Varoufakis
Bodley Head, 2023.

Yanis Varoufakis (b.  1961) is a Greek economist and the ex-Finance Minister of Greece. He tackles economic questions from a socialist viewpoint and presents controversial but contemporary theories of the 21st century economy.

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Technofeudalism is the culmination of many years of economic thinking by the Greek economist and ex-Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis. Describing the transformation of capitalism into something completely different, Varoufakis has written a controversial book about the economic future we are entering. The book takes the form of a letter, written to his father, and answering the questions that his father posed to him about the state of the world, and the future of capitalism.

Varoufakis argues that liberal market economics and capitalism are no longer the defining paradigm of the current economy. Capitalist economies are defined by profit and a free market. Companies – producers – are in search of greater profits, and they do so within a market of exchange, where buyers and sellers can see the goods on offer, and trade money between them. However, what defines today’s largest companies (and those with the greatest power) is not profit, but rent, and not a free market, but an algorithmically-determined online platform. Amazon, Google, Apple… these companies all amass great fortunes through taking a cut of all the transactions made on their platforms. They do not offer marketplaces – buyers and sellers are not free to discuss and trade on their own terms – rather, they offer curated spaces determined by algorithms where they, the company, always have the upper hand. The market is now in the cloud, not in the material world, and all the shops, all the buildings, the streets, the lights, the signs… all belong to one person. Moreover, the company itself doesn’t really sell anything – it just lets other people sell things and takes money from them in the process. These spaces resemble the old order of feudalism, which was the dominant social system before capitalism took over in the 18th century. Hence the name of this new system: technofeudalism.

In today’s society, citizens no longer own their own identity. They must use verification measures owned by other companies, and their data that is produced is hosted, manipulated, and owned by these cloud capitalists. When you do something on Google Maps, Google owns the data that shows how long it took for you to get from Point A to Point B. It can then use this data to propose route times to other users, therefore increasing the value of the application, through using your data, without paying you. They make money from work that you do, for free.

Varoufakis presents two main solutions to this problem, which would help return power and wealth to the majority of citizens, rather than continuing to let it flow to these cloud capitalists. The first of these is to establish a one-person, one share, one vote scheme of governance for companies. Instead of having shareholders with the majority of the wealth, companies will be directed and governed by all the employees, collectively. Employees can make propositions which are then voted on by other employees, and each vote has an equal weight. Wages, new hires, expansion plans, environmental targets… everything is subject to a vote.

The second solution is that the central bank issues each person with a digital wallet, and a digital ID. This would allow normal citizens to own their own identity in the cloud, and allow them to be paid for the services they offer to these companies, and for them to pay for other services offered to them. Instead of holding money in an account with a private bank, where this money is then riskily invested in the stock market, people’s savings would be protected by the central bank, which is not at risk of collapse in the same way that the private banks are. Everyone’s money would be safe.

 

In New Zealand, like in many other countries, economists do not stop talking about markets, profits, and growth. What Varoufakis’ thesis shows is that these theories, which failed to predict the global crisis of 2008, and whose policies have shown to be weak in the face of other crises since, might just be obsolete. They no longer explain the world around us in which we live. That creates a major problem, because we cannot accurately understand the crises which we are experiencing, and we fail to respond in adequate ways to confront the real seats of power, both economic and political, and domination.

New Zealand is a small, relatively insignificant country on the global scale. We have almost no economic, political or institutional power. We follow the United States for much of our responses, deferring to their power because we have nothing to use ourselves. Our economy is composed of major banks, many of which are Australian; we use online services where our data is sent to the United States; our two supermarket chains collude to keep prices high and rake in profits. All of our cloud capital is located with the United States – we work, for free, for Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple… all in America. And none of the returns are seen in New Zealand.

The book recognises that there are ecological problems that result from the kind of economy that we have at the moment, but it fails to properly address these issues. Varoufakis is very much focused on solving the problem of control or domination by large companies over everyday citizens, and the way that money flows through the economy. He doesn’t talk about material resources very much – after all, that is the thesis, that most wealth is generated through actions on digital cloud platforms, and not with physical capital like tomatoes and cars. It is also not clear how we might arrive at implementing the solutions he proposes, or what might happen once they are implemented. However, having the ideas is the first step towards finding a plan to put them in place.

The book is quite easy to read, and full of examples and stories from Varoufakis’ youth. I would recommend it if you are looking for something which will extend your economic horizons, and help you to understand how the economy is changing, and being shaped by cloud capital. Varoufakis is clear that his position is just a thesis, a hypothesis, which we will see, in time, the extent to which he is correct.

Technofeudalism is available at Paper Plus, or check out your local bookshop to see if they have it in stock or can order it for you. 

Sharing knowledge is also a great gift.
Let others know about this article

It took more than 30 hours of research and writing to produce this article, which will always be open and free for everyone to read, without any advertising.

All our articles are freely accessible because we believe that everyone needs to be able to access to a source of coherent and easy to understand information on the ecological crisis. This challenge that confronts us all will only be properly addressed when we understand what the problems are and where they come from.

If you've learned something today, please consider donating, to help us produce more great articles and share this knowledge with a wider audience.

Why plurality.eco?

Our environment is more than a resource to be exploited. Human beings are not the ‘masters of nature,’ and cannot think they are managers of everything around them. Plurality is about finding a wealth of ideas to help us cope with the ecological crisis which we have to confront now, and in the coming decades. We all need to understand what is at stake, and create new ways of being in the world, new dreams for ourselves, that recognise this uncertain future.

Our network

On social media

We're part of the .eco network of organisations committed to support positive change for the planet.

Copyright © Plurality.eco 2023

Ngā Uruora by Geoff Park

Nga Uruora cover image

to support independent and ad-free ecological thinking

author
Jacques Lawinski

Jacques Lawinski

PhD candidate in philosophy and ecology at Université Paris VIII, visiting researcher in Lesvos, Greece. A writer, an activist, and an avid walker, I explore the planet and what it means to relate to nature, finding new, ecological ways of being.
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Ngā Uruora, The Groves of Life: Ecology and History in a New Zealand Landscape
By Geoff Park
Victoria University Publishing Classic Editions, 2018. First published in 1995.

Geoff Park (d. 2009) was a renowned New Zealand ecologist and research scientist who made significant contributions to our understanding of the natural history of the country.

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Part travel-recount, part natural history, Park’s literary work weaves in his own explorations of the land we call Aotearoa New Zealand, as he comes to understand the way in which human presence has modified and shaped the landscapes across the country.

In less than 50 years, settlers managed to fell New Zealand’s many forested ecosystems and convert them into sectioned lots to be farmed. Aotearoa would become Britain’s farm – lacking the space for wood production and animal goods, the wood from our ancient forests was shipped off to serve the Motherland. Through the stories of several iconic ecological locations in New Zealand, Park breaks the myth of a ‘clean green New Zealand’ for good.

No longer is it possible to think of ourselves as being an untouched paradise, and no longer can we ignore the history of complete ecological destruction that went hand in hand with the forging of the modern nation that became New Zealand. This book is a great example of how colonisation and ecological destruction were, and still are, intimately linked. The same mindset, of domination, separation, and construction, continue today under the guise of economic development.

We also learn that nature is not a blank slate, nor is it something that was just constructed by itself – the natural world is intimately historical, and this historical dimension is what Park brings to the fore. Even pre-colonisation, New Zealand’s landscape wasn’t completely untouched by Māori settlement. Rather, iwi throughout the country knew how to work with the landscape in order to cultivate food sources, situating their settlements close to the frontiers of river, forest, and plain.

I like to think of this book as the ‘ecological bible’ of Aotearoa New Zealand. In order to understand how New Zealand was built, and why the land is the way it is, one must read Park’s work. Not only does he cover our natural history, but he also discusses the disenfranchisement of Māori as they slowly lost their lands, and with it, their food and life sources: the most important parts of their culture.  

Another interesting aspect of Park’s writings are his reflections on the conservation movements, beginning with scenic reserves of land left alone at the beginnings of colonisation, to the current National Parks. He encourages us to reflect on why we are protecting parcels of land, what they mean to us, and just what we are protecting by not allowing development in these areas.

Park’s reverence for the natural world and his never-ending wonder shine through in the book. It’s not a difficult read, either, which makes the work accessible to all those interested in learning more about their country. If there’s one book about New Zealand that you read this year, make sure it’s this one.

Ngā Uruora is available at Te Herenga Waka Press here, or check out your local bookshop to see if they have it in stock or can order it for you. 

Sharing knowledge is also a great gift.
Let others know about this article

It took more than 30 hours of research and writing to produce this article, which will always be open and free for everyone to read, without any advertising.

All our articles are freely accessible because we believe that everyone needs to be able to access to a source of coherent and easy to understand information on the ecological crisis. This challenge that confronts us all will only be properly addressed when we understand what the problems are and where they come from.

If you've learned something today, please consider donating, to help us produce more great articles and share this knowledge with a wider audience.

Why plurality.eco?

Our environment is more than a resource to be exploited. Human beings are not the ‘masters of nature,’ and cannot think they are managers of everything around them. Plurality is about finding a wealth of ideas to help us cope with the ecological crisis which we have to confront now, and in the coming decades. We all need to understand what is at stake, and create new ways of being in the world, new dreams for ourselves, that recognise this uncertain future.

Our network

On social media

We're part of the .eco network of organisations committed to support positive change for the planet.

Copyright © Plurality.eco 2023

KUNI by Tsuyoshi Sekihara and Richard McCarthy

to support independent and ad-free ecological thinking

author
Jacques Lawinski

Jacques Lawinski

PhD candidate in philosophy and ecology at Université Paris VIII, visiting researcher in Lesvos, Greece. A writer, an activist, and an avid walker, I explore the planet and what it means to relate to nature, finding new, ecological ways of being.
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KUNI: A Japanese vision and practice for Urban-Rural Reconnection
By Tsuyoshi Sekihara and Richard McCarthy
North Atlantic Books, 2022.

Tsuyoshi Sekihara is a visionary rural development specialist in Japan, and Richard McCarthy is an environmental activist and writer, championing local food systems in the United States. 

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KUNI is the Japanese word commonly used for ‘country’. It also means community or group, which is the central theme of this book: stories of community and collaboration in rural Japan. An East-meets-West approach means that the book intertwines the stories of community-building in the United States through McCarthy’s more academic reflections, with the humble and grounded practical reflections from Sekihara in Japan.

The book relates the experiences of reviving rural communities in Japan and the United States, and how previously disappearing or declining communities have been able to turn their fortunes around. It is through a central administration for the community, offering services to the citizens and acting as manager for community projects, that these groups have been able to design strategies to rejuvenate their local resources, clean up their surroundings, and re-start local industries to gain independence, and fund their social services.

The central question in community building and resilience for Sekihara is the question of population size. How big is too big? And what about too small? Sekihara seems to think that around 2,000 people is a perfect size for a community: large enough to not end up with dictators, and small enough so that everyone’s needs are felt and ideas can be realised with the resources of the group.

This is a very practical book, with Sekihara referring often to the twelve functions that he has created for a Regional Management Organisation, or RMO, that manages the community. These include welfare, education, environmental protection and regeneration, as well as economic services and promotion of the region. Community functions like these develop slowly, through long discussions about the needs and goals of the community itself, and cannot be simply imposed upon a group of people. Sekihara also tells the stories of certain communities who didn’t manage to revive themselves, and explores the reasons for this.

A great book for anyone interested in community building, rural communities, and developing a self-sufficient lifestyle, with inspirational stories and practical tips. One must remember that they are not tips to simply be implemented, but tips to guide your thinking for your own community or group.

KUNI is available at Paper Plus NZ here, or check out your local bookshop to see if they have it in stock or can order it for you. 

Sharing knowledge is also a great gift.
Let others know about this article

It took more than 30 hours of research and writing to produce this article, which will always be open and free for everyone to read, without any advertising.

All our articles are freely accessible because we believe that everyone needs to be able to access to a source of coherent and easy to understand information on the ecological crisis. This challenge that confronts us all will only be properly addressed when we understand what the problems are and where they come from.

If you've learned something today, please consider donating, to help us produce more great articles and share this knowledge with a wider audience.

Why plurality.eco?

Our environment is more than a resource to be exploited. Human beings are not the ‘masters of nature,’ and cannot think they are managers of everything around them. Plurality is about finding a wealth of ideas to help us cope with the ecological crisis which we have to confront now, and in the coming decades. We all need to understand what is at stake, and create new ways of being in the world, new dreams for ourselves, that recognise this uncertain future.

Our network

On social media

We're part of the .eco network of organisations committed to support positive change for the planet.

Copyright © Plurality.eco 2023

The Abundance of Less by Andy Couturier

Book cover the abundance of less

to support independent and ad-free ecological thinking

author
Jacques Lawinski

Jacques Lawinski

PhD candidate in philosophy and ecology at Université Paris VIII, visiting researcher in Lesvos, Greece. A writer, an activist, and an avid walker, I explore the planet and what it means to relate to nature, finding new, ecological ways of being.
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The Abundance of Less by Andy Couturier

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The Abundance of Less: Lessons in Simple Living from Rural Japan by Andy Couturier
North Atlantic Books, 2017.

Andy Couturier is the founder and a teacher at The Opening, a centre for writing education in the United States. He has written about ecology, nature, sustainability, and more, in Japan and the United States. 

An absolutely beautiful book by Andy Couturier about the differences in ways of life between traditional city-dwellers in the West, and Japanese people who have intentionally moved to rural locations to live slower lives, closer to nature.

The book weaves its way through the stories of several Japanese people, intermixing the reflections of the author with the ideas and principles of the people Couturier is interviewing. He is careful to represent their thoughts and opinions in accurate ways, because these people all have nuanced and balanced views on the world, that are difficult to generalise or categorise. Part of their message is precisely this: to take the time to talk, and to understand the world and the other, so that we really share precious moments of true connection.

Many of the people featured in this book have been in India, or other parts of traditionally Buddhist Asia, such as Nepal, and therefore have very spiritual principles behind their ways of life. Very often, there are artistic aspects to their lives too, like pottery, painting, sculpture, or writing. Similarly, food – both the production of food in their garden, and its preparation and cooking – is equally central to their lives. These three aspects, of spirituality or principles, art, and nature through food are key themes throughout the stories.

We can learn a lot from people who have rejected the current societal system of intense pressure and stress, and dependence on money. They each have their own personal reasons, and the journeys that led them to make this choice. In almost all cases, the families described in the book have chosen to live as much as possible without money. This has been possible, up until the point where the children decide to go to university, whereby the parents have had to get small jobs or help out their children in some way, to make this possible. What allows people to live without money is to transform the way that we desire things. We don’t need everything that we purchase, and even some of the things we think we need might be more habitual than really necessary.

The book inspires reflections on our own lives, our principles, and the dependencies we have on money, the social system, work, and nature. There is a certain freedom to be found in living close to nature and being able to choose how we are going to spend all our time. For many who live in cities, this just seems impossible. However, even making small changes to the way we do things can help us to reduce our stress, connect more with others, and find happiness in everyday life and experiences.

The Abundance of Less is available at Paper Plus NZ here, or check out your local bookshop to see if they have it in stock or can order it for you. 

Sharing knowledge is also a great gift.
Let others know about this article

It took more than 30 hours of research and writing to produce this article, which will always be open and free for everyone to read, without any advertising.

All our articles are freely accessible because we believe that everyone needs to be able to access to a source of coherent and easy to understand information on the ecological crisis. This challenge that confronts us all will only be properly addressed when we understand what the problems are and where they come from.

If you've learned something today, please consider donating, to help us produce more great articles and share this knowledge with a wider audience.

Why plurality.eco?

Our environment is more than a resource to be exploited. Human beings are not the ‘masters of nature,’ and cannot think they are managers of everything around them. Plurality is about finding a wealth of ideas to help us cope with the ecological crisis which we have to confront now, and in the coming decades. We all need to understand what is at stake, and create new ways of being in the world, new dreams for ourselves, that recognise this uncertain future.

Our network

On social media

We're part of the .eco network of organisations committed to support positive change for the planet.

Copyright © Plurality.eco 2023

The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

The botany of desire cover

to support independent and ad-free ecological thinking

author
Jacques Lawinski

Jacques Lawinski

PhD candidate in philosophy and ecology at Université Paris VIII, visiting researcher in Lesvos, Greece. A writer, an activist, and an avid walker, I explore the planet and what it means to relate to nature, finding new, ecological ways of being.
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The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World, by Michael Pollan
Bloomsbury, 2003.

Michael Pollan is a writer for the New York Times Magazine as well as an author on nature and humanity. This book is the story of four plants: the apple, the tulip, cannabis, and the potato. 

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Michael Pollan is a United States writer on nature and the human relationship to nature, construction, and the place we carve out for ourselves in the world. The inspiration and original research for the book comes from his writing in the New York Times Magazine, where he explored marijuana growing and genetically modified potatoes for the newspaper’s audiences.

In The Botany of Desire, Pollan describes through the story of four plant species the human relationship with nature from a very different perspective to that which many of us currently assume. Often we think of ourselves as domesticating nature, of bringing the wilderness under our control and mastery. Pollan turns this on its head, suggesting that in many cases nature is also shaping us and our desires, as well as using human beings as a way to ensure continued life on Earth.

The book begins with the story of the apple. The humble apple likely began as a fruit species many centuries ago in a mountainous region in China, subject to a changing landscape and varied climatic conditions. Humans and other animals like bears then spread the seeds of the apple as they migrated, moving the species into new climates and new soils, which thereby created new varieties of apple. The best were chosen and saved, grafted to other trees so that their specific DNA would continue to produce the ideal fruit. The character of Johnny Appleseed ties Pollan’s narrative together with interesting stories of how we ended up with the species we now cultivate for consumption.

The second part is dedicated to the tulip, the third to the cannabis plant, and the final chapter to the potato. Perhaps most intriguing and alarming for any reader concerned about the ecological crisis is the chapter on the potato – and the extents to which companies are now modifying potato plant genes to create varieties that resist pests, and mean human beings are ingesting new compounds not previously part of our food system.

The book is an easy read, due to its narrative structure, and often discusses Pollan’s own thoughts and opinions throughout his journey in discovering the relationship between human beings and these four plants. Although at times we might not agree with his reactions or sentiments, Pollan seems to try to present both sides to the story, his investigative journalism background perhaps benefitting the nature of the research in the story.

Thoroughly recommended to anyone who wants to reconsider their place in nature, or who is looking for a book that will change the way we look at our natural world. Learning the history of our domestication of nature, or the history of nature’s domestication of us, allows us to better understand the workings of the natural world, and see more clearly just what our place might be here on Earth.

The Botany of Desire is available at Paper Plus NZ here, or check out your local bookshop to see if they have it in stock or can order it for you. 

Sharing knowledge is also a great gift.
Let others know about this article

It took more than 30 hours of research and writing to produce this article, which will always be open and free for everyone to read, without any advertising.

All our articles are freely accessible because we believe that everyone needs to be able to access to a source of coherent and easy to understand information on the ecological crisis. This challenge that confronts us all will only be properly addressed when we understand what the problems are and where they come from.

If you've learned something today, please consider donating, to help us produce more great articles and share this knowledge with a wider audience.

Why plurality.eco?

Our environment is more than a resource to be exploited. Human beings are not the ‘masters of nature,’ and cannot think they are managers of everything around them. Plurality is about finding a wealth of ideas to help us cope with the ecological crisis which we have to confront now, and in the coming decades. We all need to understand what is at stake, and create new ways of being in the world, new dreams for ourselves, that recognise this uncertain future.

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The Cabaret of Plants by Richard Mabey

Book cover the Cabaret of Plants

to support independent and ad-free ecological thinking

author
Jacques Lawinski

Jacques Lawinski

PhD candidate in philosophy and ecology at Université Paris VIII, visiting researcher in Lesvos, Greece. A writer, an activist, and an avid walker, I explore the planet and what it means to relate to nature, finding new, ecological ways of being.
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The Cabaret of Plants: Botany and the imagination – Richard Mabey

Profile Books, 2016.

Richard Mabey is a British writer and broadcaster on the relations between nature and culture. This book is a story of plants, and their incredible place in our imagination.

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If you’re remotely interested in plants, or the history of plants and human beings, this book is for you. Through numerous chapters each dedicated to a different form of plant life, Mabey takes us on a journey of our relationship with the natural world. We’re confronted with obscene and quite frankly bizarre habits of bygone eras such as the Victorian times, as well as fascinating stories of research and scientific observation which cause us to question what we know about plants.

There are several standout stories in the book, for me. The story of the apple tree is fascinating – how they evolved in a very small mountainous area in China, were selectively bred by bears more than 7,000 years ago, and then were gradually spread by human ancestors across the continent. Another favourite is the story of the orchid, how Victorian growers and plant enthusiasts would travel to the other side of the planet to find orchids to bring home and sell at extortionate prices. They would create false maps to lead others off the trail, and ensure that they collected all the species they could find to preserve the rarity and ownership of the orchids.

This relationship between humans and plants has evidently been one of interconnectedness and dependence. We rely on plants for our food systems, but also so much of our cultural references. New Zealand, for example, is not mentioned in the book, but one need only look at our significant national symbols, such as the silver fern and the koru, as well as the mānuka used to sell honey, and the giant rimu and kauri trees that used to populate the country, as examples of how closely we are linked to our vegetal life.

The book is poetical and brilliantly written, and reads like a voyage into the life of plants and their relations. Relatively easy to read, yet also incredibly informative, this book is a great way to remind ourselves of the way we think about plants, and challenges our view that they are inert and inactive beings.

The Cabaret of Plants is available at Paper Plus NZ here, or check out your local bookshop to see if they have it in stock or can order it for you. 

Sharing knowledge is also a great gift.
Let others know about this article

It took more than 30 hours of research and writing to produce this article, which will always be open and free for everyone to read, without any advertising.

All our articles are freely accessible because we believe that everyone needs to be able to access to a source of coherent and easy to understand information on the ecological crisis. This challenge that confronts us all will only be properly addressed when we understand what the problems are and where they come from.

If you've learned something today, please consider donating, to help us produce more great articles and share this knowledge with a wider audience.

Why plurality.eco?

Our environment is more than a resource to be exploited. Human beings are not the ‘masters of nature,’ and cannot think they are managers of everything around them. Plurality is about finding a wealth of ideas to help us cope with the ecological crisis which we have to confront now, and in the coming decades. We all need to understand what is at stake, and create new ways of being in the world, new dreams for ourselves, that recognise this uncertain future.

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Copyright © Plurality.eco 2023

Another World is Possible by Geoff Mulgan

Another World is Possible book cover image

to support independent and ad-free ecological thinking

author
Jacques Lawinski

Jacques Lawinski

PhD candidate in philosophy and ecology at Université Paris VIII, visiting researcher in Lesvos, Greece. A writer, an activist, and an avid walker, I explore the planet and what it means to relate to nature, finding new, ecological ways of being.
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Another World is Possible: How to Reignite Social and Political Imagination – Geoff Mulgan

Hurst Publishers, 2022.

Sir Geoff Mulgan is Professor of Collective Intelligence, Public Policy and Social Innovation at University College London. His latest book discusses social imagination and how we can create societies that are more able to imagine their futures, in a positive way.

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Another World is Possible is a book about social imagination. Mulgan’s idea is that we are in a crisis of social imagination, unable to reimagine what the world might be like, and how we could adjust or adapt our societies and our lives to face the other crises that are present.

In order to remedy this, we need to design our societies around imagination, and include more opportunities to imagine new things in our everyday lives. Time, space, resources, creative networks, imaginative processes, collaboration, diversity, and more, are all tools that will help us to achieve this.

Geoff Mulgan is a Professor at University College London, and has worked with many organisations and governments to design and implement solutions to change societies the world over. This shows in the book, with an impressive array of examples to support and negate ideas related to social imagination. The text is very practical, and prefers to remain at the level of example and implementation, rather than delving too far into theory and abstract thinking.

The main perspective of the book is that of top-down implemented solutions to large populations. Even in cases where bottom-up approaches are recommended or favoured, Mulgan still seems to believe that it is up to the Government or businesses to enable people to do these things. Designing experiences is key to Mulgan’s solutions, which could raise fears among some that the spontaneity of human experience ends up being ‘designed out’ of our lives, because all the spaces, experiences, and interactions we have are designed and set up with specific outcomes in mind. The individual loses their autonomy to the other, who provides them with all possible experiences.

This means the text is steeped in a certain kind of thinking, which we see often with people who work in the social policy or innovation space. This same kind of thinking is key to ‘design thinking’, a design and innovation methodology developed at Google to solve problems collaboratively. All the principles of design thinking seem to be present in the book. Mulgan seems aware that this whole ‘ecosystem’ of thinking is but one way of viewing the future, viewing imagination, and viewing human possibilities, but doesn’t demonstrate how to actually get out of this.

Many people who are in financially disadvantaged situations don’t need particularly large imaginations to determine what would help them in life, and what they need to get from where they are, to where they want to be. Large-scale policies have little effect on helping people with individual stories, histories, and problems. With the right help, and the right resources, these financially disadvantaged people often thrive – only if we let them determine the pathway they want to follow, and be autonomous in their decisions. This requires listening and offering, and not people in power to have imaginative solutions to help others. Letting others help themselves is a massive yet underrated solution.

This got me thinking. Would these people in poverty also claim that there is a lack of social imagination? I doubt it, I think rather they would focus on a lack of help, a lack of resources; rather than lack of imagination regarding their own lives. They know what they want, and what they dream of. Jacques Rancière demonstrated this very clearly in his PhD thesis about the dreams of the working class in France. They dreamt of poetry, literature, and a better life. Similarly, Mulgan does discuss the fact that workers in the US factories would often read during the 20-second intervals between each car they would produce. It would seem to suggest that we don’t lack social imagination, rather that certain people are too attached to certain social structures and power regimes in which thinking differently is not needed, because that would mean changing something that works well already, in their eyes. Through this reading, the book is for those people who are stuck and attached, to realise that there are other ways of doing things.

The book is also very English-centric, with little reference to the developing trends in places like France, with a large social imagination that isn’t yet translated into English, or lies on the margins of texts we often read. We can’t of course expect every author to know about other countries who speak other languages, but Mulgan’s point seems to apply to a certain kind of society.  The problem in France (and perhaps in other countries) is that power structures mean that the ideas that could help the most are not heard or adopted by those in power, who often have their own agendas. Despite this, many books are being published with new ideas, videos are being made, ideas are being generated: they just don’t fit the models that the current society is projecting, and they don’t fit the models that Mulgan seems to want to follow. More design, more technology, more intervention, and a certain view of progress isn’t the dream for everyone.

The book also doesn’t focus on ecology and climate change nearly as much as it perhaps could. Reducing emissions and developing a circular economy are by no means sufficient responses to the ecological crisis; rather, real social imagination is necessary to develop new societies, ways of being, and ways of relating that lie outside our current ways: and Mulgan knows this. If we take the conclusions of the IPCC’s sixth synthesis report seriously, we have to dramatically change our societies within a short time frame; small, experimentally-designed solutions might to some extent work, but at the same time, radical and perhaps uncertain decisions need to be made, because we do not have the luxury of time.

I think most people know what they need to succeed, they’re just not empowered to be able to get there. Power relationships underneath the tools that Mulgan suggests are often unaddressed, and certain views dominate when ‘fringe’ ideas are not given the chance to flourish or be tested, which reinforces the lack of empowerment among certain classes of people. Mulgan’s book is a good read for anyone new to social imagination or design thinking, but seems not to offer a lot to those who already know a bit about these topics, besides a summary of one perspective on the issue. If you’re looking for an ecological read, I don’t think this will be it, but if you’re looking to include imagination in your company or organisation, Mulgan’s book could be a good place to start.

Another World is Possible is available at Paper Plus NZ here, or check out your local bookshop to see if they have it in stock or can order it for you. 

Sharing knowledge is also a great gift.
Let others know about this article

It took more than 30 hours of research and writing to produce this article, which will always be open and free for everyone to read, without any advertising.

All our articles are freely accessible because we believe that everyone needs to be able to access to a source of coherent and easy to understand information on the ecological crisis. This challenge that confronts us all will only be properly addressed when we understand what the problems are and where they come from.

If you've learned something today, please consider donating, to help us produce more great articles and share this knowledge with a wider audience.

Why plurality.eco?

Our environment is more than a resource to be exploited. Human beings are not the ‘masters of nature,’ and cannot think they are managers of everything around them. Plurality is about finding a wealth of ideas to help us cope with the ecological crisis which we have to confront now, and in the coming decades. We all need to understand what is at stake, and create new ways of being in the world, new dreams for ourselves, that recognise this uncertain future.

Our network

On social media

We're part of the .eco network of organisations committed to support positive change for the planet.

Copyright © Plurality.eco 2023

Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth

Cover of Doughnut Economics book

to support independent and ad-free ecological thinking

author
Jacques Lawinski

Jacques Lawinski

PhD candidate in philosophy and ecology at Université Paris VIII, visiting researcher in Lesvos, Greece. A writer, an activist, and an avid walker, I explore the planet and what it means to relate to nature, finding new, ecological ways of being.
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Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist – Kate Raworth

Penguin Random House, 2018.

A leading British economist explores the reasons why current economic thinking doesn’t work, and proposes a way to rethink our economic theory.

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Described by the many reviews on the book’s cover as a revolutionary and necessarily radical book, Doughnut Economics doesn’t disappoint. Acting as somewhat of a magnum opus for Raworth, the book covers her economic ideas and the journey that led her to developing a new model for economic thinking, which she calls ‘the doughnut’.

Despite sounding un-institutional and lacking the sense of credence we expect from terms such as capitalism and liberalism, Doughnut Economics offers an alternative future that doesn’t lose sight of the big picture goals of our economic and political ideologies; whilst at the same time recognising that we cannot continue these levels of environmental damage and increasing social inequalities.

Backed by serious data from global organisations and scientific studies, Raworth leads us through her seven principles as if the goals and aspirations she has identified are obvious and necessary. Many young liberals and the ‘woke’ class when reading this book will feel as if they have finally come across a viable alternative to the systems that are oppressive and unjust. Any recognised economist or respectable investor/business owner/politician would probably call the book ‘interesting’ and leave it at that. One must beware, however, that throughout the book, Raworth poses more avenues for future research than she does draw conclusions or offer ideological alternatives to the current reality. The first chapter describing ‘the doughnut’ is perhaps the only clearly transformational idea we have been looking for: which one could expect to be sitting at the centre of the book, given the title.

What is ‘doughnut economics,’ then? Raworth proposes to create a representational space within which humanity should live, which is guided by an inner social limit, where each person on the planet is provided with their basic needs and an acceptable standard of living (based on the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations), and an outer limit representing our influence on the environment and the degree of regenerative processes we use. By adopting a sense of the ‘cancel culture’ we have seen of late with racism protests to the economic theory that was developed in the 20th century and carried over into the 21st, we could develop new economic concepts, goals, models and structures to be able to reach 2100 in a sustainable manner, and minimise the drastic effects of climate change.

This book is absolutely a must read for anyone who thinks they know something about economics, and for those who are searching for political alternatives to the current systems. I am sure that Raworth was watching closely when ouor current Government introduced their ‘Wellbeing Budget’ and began to measure the country’s success in ways that complement GDP, as this is one of Raworth’s main points.

I cannot help but be slightly disappointed by what I read, however. As someone with a strong background in philosophy, I look for rigorous thinking and well-developed arguments, which Raworth has aplenty. What the book seems to ignore however is the biggest question facing economists who chose to follow her path, for politicians who want to adopt these ideas, and those who are considering her beliefs. That is the question of ideology.

The term ‘capitalism’ doesn’t appear in the book’s index, and from memory is only directly mentioned once throughout the book’s 293 pages. It is clear that taking Raworth’s approach would be to denounce most forms of present-day capitalism and take another route, yet Raworth avoids this question directly and one must read between the lines to figure out the implications of new economic ideas on the capitalist ideology. One question we must ask, and that I feel is not answered by Raworth, is whether we want to continue to allow yet un-valued items such as natural resources, care done within households, and others, to become a type of ‘capital’ to be bought and sold, and to have monetary value placed on them. Can we continue to measure by giving things in the world a monetary or trading value? Alternative currencies, as Raworth suggests, do not avoid the hungry and devouring teeth of capitalist appropriation; they simply direct our attention elsewhere.

Ideological questions run so much deeper than just the models, and the theory that we use. If economics is about resource distribution and social development, it must not ignore the fact that politics, ideology, ethics, and many other qualitative disciplines play just as much a role in the way we think and the goals we have. Ideology matters, regardless of whether you want it to, or you’ve given it a seat at your dining room table. It’s in the wallpaper and the pictures, the cutlery and crockery: we would be wise to keep this in mind.

Doughnut Economics is available at Paper Plus NZ here, or check out your local bookshop to see if they have it in stock or can order it for you. 

Sharing knowledge is also a great gift.
Let others know about this article

It took more than 30 hours of research and writing to produce this article, which will always be open and free for everyone to read, without any advertising.

All our articles are freely accessible because we believe that everyone needs to be able to access to a source of coherent and easy to understand information on the ecological crisis. This challenge that confronts us all will only be properly addressed when we understand what the problems are and where they come from.

If you've learned something today, please consider donating, to help us produce more great articles and share this knowledge with a wider audience.

Why plurality.eco?

Our environment is more than a resource to be exploited. Human beings are not the ‘masters of nature,’ and cannot think they are managers of everything around them. Plurality is about finding a wealth of ideas to help us cope with the ecological crisis which we have to confront now, and in the coming decades. We all need to understand what is at stake, and create new ways of being in the world, new dreams for ourselves, that recognise this uncertain future.

Our network

On social media

We're part of the .eco network of organisations committed to support positive change for the planet.

Copyright © Plurality.eco 2023