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Paused till October 2022

Are we personally at fault?

Donna Haraway argues that

“in eating, we are most inside the differential relationalities that make us who and what we are and that materialize what we must do if response and regard are to have any meaning personally and politically. There is no way to eat and not kill, no way to eat and not become with other mortal beings to whom we are accountable, no way to pretend innocence and transcendence or a final peace.”

As soon as we participate in society for example by purchasing food in the super market or going out to eat, we cannot individually, personally choose where our food comes from and all the ways it is enmeshed in causing harms.

Asking ourselves if we are personally at fault is the wrong question.

A better question to ask in what ways are we co-constituted with causing these harms?

We are embodied beings that are relationally constituted. This embodiment makes complex ethical implications unavoidable. That’s why in my research, I use Karan Barad’s frame of an ethico-onto-epistemology — an intertwining of ethics, knowing, and being. We are, as Alexis Shotewell puts it

“entangled with the world, and thus our ontology, our knowing relations, and our ethical orientation and practice are all invoked in action. Our being, following Barad, is entangled — and so how to be in relation to our entangled world is at stake”.

What ought I do?

What ought I do?

Kant answers this question via our capacity to reason, and thus to freely and autonomously choose in accord with a moral law. Reason is collectively shared by and definitive of everyone.

In this line of thinking, the individual is the locus of ethical analysis. It is a scalable unit which Anna Tsing defines as

“the ability of a project to change scales smoothly without any change in project frames.”

The assumption is that individual ethical correctness is scalable and the result is societal harmony.

But, this is not the case. Instead, ethical thinking must change in relation to the scale of the ethical problem. Some circumstances cannot be addressed by attending to the moral responsibilities of individuals, such as climate change, species extinction or a shortage of clean water.

To address these challenges, we need to find, formulate and practice a collective ethics in the form of a joint philosophy to live by in order to examine the values we base our ethical decision on.

Non-instrumental Care

Jane Bennett argues

“to acknowledge nonhuman materialities as participants in a political ecology is not to claim that everything is always a participant , or that all participants are alike”.

If I care about the trees because they provide oxygen or the soil because it nourishes my food, I care instrumentally. What then does it look like to care humanly about nonhuman materialities? What might non-instrumental caring look like?

One way of caring is to notice and name nonhuman materialities. To recognise and value that others have their own life and sense of meaning that we can tune into for a moment. To call others by their name. Maybe even each individual. Just as we humans feel appreciated when we are seen, recognised and someone knows our name, why wouldn’t the nonhuman feel the same?

Human and Non-human People

We need to de-centre the human. We are not on top of the pyramid. We are interdependent and interrelated with the non-human world. We are made of other beings and depend on them for our survival. And yet, to include non-humans into the human without differentiation is to deny our responsibility and obligations we have due to our capacity for complex and abstract thinking that allow us to solve major social and ecological challenges.

Is it too late?

How do we change everyone in due time?

How we are going to transition to sustainable energy sources in time?

Are we going to make it?

It is 5 minutes to 12.

Yes, climate change, specifies extinction, resource depletion, atmospheric pollution and inequality are urgent matters. But I wonder, is it really a question of wether we make it in time or not? Does it even matter if we make it? Or is it about the quality of our every day life? If we fully live it, embrace it, create conditions conducive to life - as good as possible?

Being on this planet is a gift that each of has been given and to always act to the best of our ability, that is what truly, urgently needs to change.

Can we cease causing harm?

A few years ago I went to a course about “changing the frame” at Schumacher College. One sunny afternoon, we did a nature practice in which we went to a place that we felt called, asked for permission to sit there and to just listen.

When walking back I didn’t stop noticing. I noticed the grass being crushed beneath my feed, likely together with some tiny nonhuman beings that I killed with each step I took. Tears streamed down my face.

I can’t not walk.

I thought to myself.

It felt stupid, childish and ridiculous to think these thoughts. Even in an environment that is supportive of such thoughts.

By dinner, I got over it / myself.

But the experience stayed with me. I wondered how I can handle the inner conundrum that by being alive, I cause harm, while at the same time my priority was to cause no harm.

The years following this experience, I made sense of it in that to be an embodied being means that I use other beings. By being embodied, I am responsible to feed it, to provide energy for it (for example through heating) and to maintain an overall physical situation that keeps it alive. I intimately rely on others, I use them for my purpose, and by my actions I make decisions about other’s life or death. I am an embodied being that is placed, sustained and affected by the world and in turn, I affect the world. Because I am, I cause harm. Purity, peace, harmony then are impossible fantasies. Instead of not wanting to cause harm, what I since ask myself is, to what degree is it ok to cause harm? Where can I avoid it? Where is it necessary? What are my true needs that sustain this body and what needs can I leave unfulfilled in order to cause less harm?

What is our story?

When I go for a walk, I want to walk in a way that helps me to see the world differently.

I want to name and notice what crosses my paths. I want to recognize and value that hawthorns, sparrows, and ladybugs have their own life what I am just tuning into. I don’t want to care about them instrumentally - how the hawthorn is good for the heart, how the bees are necessary to provide for my food, how the earthworms nourish the soil. I want to acknowledge that we are not alike. I want to know the story that we tell together.

Why minimalism is necessary

Overaccumulation is solved through geographical expansion. We move the problems and externalities of production somewhere else. The geographical expansion reaches our oceans, soils, and human and nonhuman bodies. They are the absorbing instruments of capitalism’s excess.

While we come to the surprising realization that geographical expansion is limited and that we have reached those limits, avoiding overaccumulation is not a choice but inevitable.

May I be sealed

I shut the windows to leave the sounds and the smells.

I close the heavy curtains to hide from the heat.

I drink a green smoothie out of self-grown beetroot and lettuce.

I moisture my body in GMO-free, pesticide-free, plastic-free, fair-trade coconut oil.

I moisture my throat with spring water bottled at full moon.

I maintain a sense of control over my body and my health.

I am pure.

Yet, I am not an atomized and isolated individual. I can’t seal myself from the world. Microplastics run through my blood. Exhaust gases stream into my lungs. Pesticides remain on my self-grown beetroot, blown to my food forest from the fields nearby.

They become me.

I am interdependent with the complex ecologies in which I am implicated and through which I am formed. It is impossible to distinguish between me, the experiencing subject, and some imagined separate object that affects me.

I can’t be sealed.

What does it mean - instead of trying to be sealed - to survive and to thrive in toxicity in broken ecosystems and degraded landscapes?

To notice the world is a practice of responsibility

When I walk the park in Berlin, I see old oaks, chestnuts, and birch trees, surrounded by common snowberries and hawthorn, and the meadow covered in plantain and dandelion. While walking the meadow, I am surrounded by martins. I want to care for these beings around me, yet I don’t know how. I think they would like a glass of water. Or maybe some nitrogen and earthworms.

How am I to provide care?

All I can do is notice. To notice that the chestnut’s leaves turned brown, to notice the many dead moles beneath the hawthorn that started to carry plenty of berries. While I can’t do much for these beings in the park in Berlin, I can notice. And I came to understand the practice of noticing as a responsibility. Even if I can’t act on the world around me, my responsibility is to know the world.

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