Triglav Program 22 October 2011
TRIGLAV CIRCLE Gathering 2 October 2011
MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE 03102
Hosted by Barbara Baudot
Topic for the Meeting
STATE OF THE ENVIRONMENT AND STATE OF WORLD POLITICS, or, MAN, NATURE, AND GLOBAL POLICY
Introduction to the Circle
The Triglav Circle promotes an approach to international relations and public policy grounded in moral and spiritual values that are to be expressed in ethical norms and behavior. To this end it aspires to enrich the discourse on global problems with cultural, philosophical, and spiritual perspectives.
Societal change is rapid and massive, ushering in-besides its material benefits-serious disturbances in human relations and in the natural environment. These issues call for a broadened socio-political vision that gives priority to human dignity and to the public good. The Triglav Circle believes that wisdom, sympathy, justice, and humility are universal ideals that should prevail over cynicism, violence, and selfish conceptions of individual and national interest. The Circle pursues its objectives not only through regular dialogues, edifying conversations, and in-depth research, but also through its relationship with the United Nations, its cooperation with similarly motivated organizations, and the work of individual members in their respective spheres of action.
The agenda for this meeting is prefaced by notes on the subject that participants might consider addressing in moving the discourse on this critical subject beyond the traditional debates on environmental protection versus economic growth and competitiveness of national economies. These debates in international and national forums tend to be dominated by instrumental calculations to the exclusion of other sources of knowledge and decision. And, countries seeking economic and social progress continue to be invited, even pressed, to become immersed in the “age of global materialism” now occurring in a planetary environment where fragile ecosystems are showing many signs of failure.
One of the objectives of the Circle is to try blending different perspectives on the world and its problems. Empirical and scientific observation, philosophical reflection, moral wisdom, and poetic inspiration and imagination, all offer essential viewpoints on the relations between Man and Nature. Moreover, this is par excellence a subject of inquiry for which understanding time honored traditions, cultures and spiritual insights have much to contribute.
Notes relating to the chosen subject
The reasoning underlying the choice of this subject included the following:
- Globally, the state of the environment continues to deteriorate. Since the first world conference on this issue in Stockholm in 1972, it has gained a prominent place in public consciousness and the international agenda and progress has been achieved in some domains and in a number of countries, but, overall, negative trends have not been reversed. Scientists and informed observers and militants of the cause do not hesitate to evoke the question of the survival of humankind.
- In the last few years, deteriorating conditions of the environment and spectacular catastrophes such as the Tsunami in Japan and floods in various parts of the world, have been accompanied by a surge of what might be called the capacity for denial. Particularly (essentially? exclusively?) in the United States of America, some forces have managed not only to block any new legislation at the federal level (for instance a modest bill on climate change) but to spread the view that existing regulations and institutions, at the national and international level, should be dismantled. Most of the prominent Republican candidates for the presidency in 2012 are now calling for the elimination of the US’s Environment Protection Agency (EPA), seeing it as a major impediment to “market freedom” and economic growth. The weight of the U.S.A. in world affairs clearly justifies addressing this phenomenon.
- Given this situation, it is evident that all persons of good will, in whatever position, have to do their utmost to make a contribution to what ought to be a universal and imperative duty, saving the Earth from man-made destruction. Every effort, every action matters, at all levels of responsibility, from educating one’s child, to voting and making policy, from acquiring or developing and disseminating knowledge to cultivating one’s garden organically, from buying safe products to militating in a green movement or political party. And there is considerable evidence that individual and local initiatives in the right direction are multiplying, including in the United States. Moreover, in at least one country, Germany, a green party has been and might become again in a position of power. Not to be forgotten is the strong representation of Leading Greens in the EU parliament. All these “good things” for the environment that are happening will hopefully continue and multiply.
- Will that be sufficient to stop and reverse the trend of a continuing deterioration of the planet? After all, the fiasco of the conference on climate change in Copenhagen preceded the policy of denial symbolized by the surge of the “Tea Party.” And, while global warming was “making the news,” pollution, desertification, deforestation, depletion of fisheries, loss of biological diversity and many other damages to our planet were continuing, even, in a number of cases accelerating. The protection of the environment is a domain where successes are always fragile and in need of constant nurturing, and where failures are often irreversible. Even in the absence of a demonstrable evidence that established policies, having overcome the formidable obstacle of organized denial, will not be able to avert ecological catastrophes, the “precautionary principle” suggests that these policies need to be immersed in a new and coherent vision of Man, Society and Nature.
- The point of entry is that all forms of violence are related and feed each other. Violence against the environment feeds violence in international relations and in personal relations. A public discourse justifying institutionalized violence, for instance the torture of prisoners, feeds violence in schools and in the homes, and violence against other species. Corruption is a form of violence. There is a continuum between shadow banking or tax havens and the deliberate use of pesticides or fertilizers known to be pollutants. Cynicism is a form of violence. There is also a continuum between, for instance, corporate money buying legislatures and the advertising of products harmful to their consumers. Such connections occur through the strategies of various actors on the world scene, but also, and perhaps more deeply, through what is being called the spirit of the time.
- To contain and hopefully eliminate violence, it is therefore necessary to at least modify, if not transform the spirit of the time, that is this vague and complicated set of ideas and beliefs, of intellectual and moral reflexes and constructions, which lead individuals and groups to think and act in a certain manner rather than in a different one. Since the opposite of violence is love, the task of those who are not satisfied with the current state of the world is to work for a more prominent place of Love in the spirit of the time. And, as Nature –what is commonly called the “environment”- is so central to humanity, or, rather, is inseparable from the human condition, Love and Respect for Nature ought to be a privileged means of transforming the spirit of the time and a dominant objective of the world civilization to be constructed. Put differently, the assumption is that a widespread Love and Respect for Nature is not only a condition for addressing efficiently and durably environmental problems and threats, but would also help building a more peaceful, more just and more creative world. For links and connections between thoughts and acts and love are as strong as they are between thoughts and acts of violence.
- The words “love,” “respect” and “nature” deserves some elaboration. As there is no love without respect, and as respect without love is formal and superficial, the juxtaposition of the two terms implies some redundancy. But it is probably still difficult to use “love” in the public discourse without a companion concept giving it…respectability. Regarding nature as well as other human beings, to love is to give. To love is to create the self by losing all selfishness and all self-centeredness. To love is to avoid all forms of instrumentalism in the relation with the Other, be it a human being, an animal, or a plant, or a “natural resource.” To reject instrumentalism, is to relate without oppressing, to use while refraining from misuse. Love excludes possession.
- Why “Nature” rather than “environment”? The “environment” is external to us, human beings. We can harm it, or protect it, we can try to ignore it, or recognize that we depend on it, but we are not part of it. We are ontologically separated from “our” or “the” environment. “Nature” includes us, human beings. Protecting it, is to protect us, the human race. Loving it and respecting it, in all its forms and manifestations, is to love and respect ourselves and our descendants.
- Obviously, love and respect for nature is not a new sentiment. And it is not a sentiment that is absent from today’s world. In all probability, it is shared by more people than fifty years ago, as the “environmental consciousness” has grown. But, again, it is a sentiment and a manner of thinking and acting that plays an insignificant, or at least an insufficient role in the multiple political and economic decisions that shape the contours of the world, and its future. The list of channels, or instruments, or means through which this sentiment could be disseminated and could become a stronger force than violence and its various manifestations, including greed and unrestrained competition, is open-ended. Every action, made with the right motives, matters. Some contend that every thought does matter. Three such channels are briefly evoked here, for the purposes of illustration and debate: philosophy, education, and the political discourse.
- As everything in the world is shaped by ideas, philosophical currents do matter very much for attitudes towards nature. It is tempting to attribute a large responsibility for the excesses and failures of the industrial civilization to the utilitarian, pragmatic and empirical ideas that are like strings attaching individuals and societies to a narrowly conceived self-interest. Productivist visions of human affairs, Marxism above all and also the offspring of liberalism— neo-liberalism, or economic liberalism, or, economic globalization today—heedless of the environment, are destructive of nature and of the multiple and delicate balances that make and keep a society reasonably harmonious.
- Humanism itself has tended to separate Man from his “milieu,” as a master is separated from his servants and tools. There are efforts at reunifying the different facets of the human condition, the material and the spiritual, truth and wisdom, beauty and goodness, morals and politics. A prominent example is the recent book by Ronald Dworkin, called Justice for Hedgehogs. It would be a very good basis for anchoring the work of the Circle in the current philosophical debate.
- These ideas that shape the world travel in many different ways, but education, in schools, colleges, universities and other places and media of learning, still plays a major role. Beyond this evidence, many questions need to be addressed. What is the place of environmental studies in the curricula of colleges in different parts of the world? How is nature presented in the first reading books of pupils, say in the United States and in China, and in Norway? What is the policy of UNESCO in relation to these matters? In a piece that is been published by the Institute hosting this meeting, John Elder speaks about the importance or arts and literature within a liberal education to foster a sense of wonder, an understanding of compassion, and the capacity to live in a community. He says that learning, and being a good citizen, should not be lived as an obligation, as a duty, but as a pleasure. The lovers of nature are joyful. A less predatory world would also be more joyful, and more peaceful.
- Recent developments could make one asks if it is still realistic to count on the political discourse to orient the spirit of the time in directions positive for the welfare of humankind. Loud voices charged with slogans, horrendous simplifications, lies and insults seem to receive more attention than voices of reason and responsibility. Has the role of leaders for good and noble causes shifted to individuals and organizations outside the realm of power and politics? If this is the case, the duty of all persons of good will is to refuse this situation and to work for the restoration of the polis that is more and more indispensable not only to the welfare but to the survival of humankind. For there is no alternative to governments and public institutions accountable and in charge of the common good. At the international level, the voice of the United Nations is not always audible and, on the question of the “environment,” it can be argued that the concept of “sustainable development” is questionable. But it is the only institution that has the legitimacy and the capacity to address global issues of that kind. A conference, Rio+20, will take place next year. This might provide the Triglav Circle with an opportunity to refocus its work.
Suggested agenda and Programme of work
8:30-9 AM: Continental breakfast9-9.30 AM: Introduction
9.30-10 AM: Brief tour de table; participants will present their overall view on the subject
10-11 AM: The Environment: An Issue Among Others or A Question of Survival for Humankind?
11-11.15 AM: Coffee break
11-15 AM-1 PM: Love and Respect for Nature: As a Moral Imperative and as the Central Tenet of a Viable World Society.
Introductory remarks by John Elder: Nature, Art ,wonder, and the meaning of life.
1-2.30 PM: Lunch and informal discussion on the future of the Triglav Circle
2.30-4 PM: Channels for a Renewed Vision of Nature and Man: Philosophy, Political Discourse, the Arts
4-4.30 PM: Break and informal discussions
4.30-5.30: Tour de table for further remarks, conclusions, suggestions
Dinner at a nearby restaurant at 6:00PM