The Variety of Integral Ecologies - Sean Kelly, Adam Robbert & Sam Mickey


Neelesh and I have decided to change the order in which we read and review the ITC papers.  In order to highlight the juiciest ones, and hopefully to encourage more engagement with them, we are focusing for now on the papers that received awards -- starting with the bottom of the list and working our way up.


So, the "first" on our list is a topic that should be of interest to members of this forum, given our recent year-plus focus on Speculative Realism, OOO, and Complex thought:  The Variety of Integral Ecologies: Kosmopolitan Complexity and the ....

I haven't finished reading it yet, so I won't post a response yet, but I wanted to start a place-holder and invite others to read and respond, too.

Here's the abstract:

This presentation explores the diverse variety of integral ecologies, showing how integral ecologies support efforts to articulate more meaningful accounts of the world and to create a better tomorrow for all beings in the emerging Earth community. Following an overview of the historical and theoretical background of integral ecologies, the presenters bring multiple integral approaches to ecology into dialogue, including the “ecologized thinking” of Edgar Morin’s Complex Thought, the “cosmopolitics” developed by Isabelle Stengers and extended by Bruno Latour and Donna Haraway, and the New Realisms, including critical realism and the speculative realist movement of object-oriented ontology.

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This is a collection of 3 papers, and comes across more as a smorgasbord rather than a single dish. 

Mickey traces the history and evolution of integral ecology as a philosopho-science and traces the pioneering work of Leonardo Boff (cosmogenesis and the Earth Charter),  Esbjörn-Hargens and Zimmerman (ecology of ecologies), Guattari (ecosophy), Morin (general ecology), Latour (STS and ANT) and a few others. The four approaches to ecology, namely environmental, social, mental and integral unfold through three processes:

  1. Complexity and differentiation: objective or exterior facets/ things (It/Its)
  2. Self-organization and consciousness: subjective or interior facets / things (NM : s-o applies to exterior things as well begs a question for me) (I)
  3. Reconnection and relation: things coming together (We)

Integral ecology is shown to avoid the false dichotomy between social construction and naïve realism. ‘Things are getting worse, are getting better, are perfect’ 

Kelly focuses on the work of Morin and dwells on three big implications:

  1. Transdisciplinarity
  2. Correlation of the True to the Good – i.e. knowledge with value
  3. The evolutionary dimension to our understanding of reality

Four relations emerge between the bios and the anthropos, which constitute the pillars of his Complex Thought

  1. Holographic (part in the whole as much as whole in the part)
  2. Dialogical (both complementary and antagonistic)
  3. Recursive (circularly causal feedback loop)
  4. Uncertain (and probabilistic)

Auto- (geno-pheno-ego) –socio-eco-re-organization, Morin's signature formulation, is explicated well, as is the theory of the noosphere, though in the latter I could not exactly understand the difference between cosmo-bio-anthropological entities such as myths and religions and logomorphic beings, theories, philosophies which form the system of ideas. And if they had any relationship with the author sees with Sheldrake's morphic fields, which is mentioned separately but not synchronized with Morin's thought.

Robbert deals with the ecology of knowledge and media, bringing out three aspects of the ecology of ideas and concepts:

  1. The concept as a thing – with a certain degree of autonomy independent of its originator
  2. The concept as a complex – infinite regress of concepts wrapped in concepts, wrapped in..
  3. The concept and its media ecology – ‘the earth is not just a ground or backdrop upon which events unfold, but a medium that constrains and conditions the energetic cascade of organismic and ecosystemic development

There is a fair bit of ground covered in the tri-paper set in terms of information, but somehow they do not come across as a compact, synchronized and cogent theoretical framework.

Well, this article really makes me want to puke. And then put a shogun in my mouth and blow my fucking brain out. And then turn around and puke all over the bloody brain chunks that are slowly sliding down the wall. Reading this was an unbelievable waste of my time. Did I significantly disagree with any of it? No. That's probably part of the reason it seemed like such a fucking waste of time. 

But there were other reasons too. Any piece of writing that features rhetorical flourishes like "(2005a)" and "auto-(geno-pheno)-eco-re-organizing beings" should be dragged out behind the integral barn and treated like a horse with a broken leg. Obviously some people (and I feel sincerely sorry for them) do not survive the modern academic training process without severe wounds and hideous deformations of the psyche and basic human capacity for communication. They feel obliged to write and think in this ugly and useless manner that is and should be utterly revolting to any sane organism. Like war veterans who are returned from the explosive horrors of the Middle East, they cannot re-adapt to normal human life and go on and on in the traumatized patterns that have resulted from their abnormal and stressful experiences.

Does the integral cause benefit in any way from people who want to summarize its various versions and histories? People who are so deeply perverted that instead of simply wanking while watching an Eastern European woman get fucked by a horse they have to get off by comparing and contrasting slightly different conceptualizations of overtly similar terminologies? Disgusting. 

Admittedly, this may be necessary in order to win over other perverts. To win over intellectual territory for the depth and expanse of an integralesque worldspace on the topic of ecology/s there may in fact be some use for the otherwise grotesque charade of "university discourse". If I wanted to garner votes from hillbillies I might throw back a bottle of moonshine and mutter some disturbing remarks about Arabs and faggots -- but that pragmatic necessity should not delude us into thinking that a fundamentally good, noble or useful activity has taken place. The medicine might even be worse than the disease. 

That said -- clearly multiple signified exist behind common signifiers. Therefore the relatively organized panoply of perspectives on ecology situations represents a set of realities which needs to be addressed strategically rather than haphazardly treating it as though it were a single well-known objective entity. And yes, fucking lots of different people have figured out that an advanced productive ecological position involves some balance of psychological, social, attitudinal, technological and bio-material systems. 

But what does it really gain us to grab the names of these people and throw in a bag together? Deleuze! Wilber! Bateson! Latour! Morin! McLuhan! Yay! Confetti falls from the sky and the people blow their vuvuzelas! Aren't we the wonderful contemporary citizens who can appreciate all these hip TV shows of the mind! 

And Kosmopolitan with a K? Really? That's a goddamn ugly spelling. It makes me think of those narcissistic assholes who design soul-killing cryptic corporate logos that they can, like, totally explain to you. Each bit is referential to their own experience and there are confused to hear that people find it obnoxious and obscure. All their symbolism makes complete sense if "symbolism" basically means "whatever the logo-designer is reminded of by his own logo design". 

I've had to coin the term philophilosophy to describe the difference between actual philosophers and people who love to think about, connect, compare, contrast and affirm the exist of philosophers. Perhaps they play a key role in networking and digesting important information? Or perhaps they are the equivalent of people watching football games on the filthy sofas, covered in congealed faux-cheese and nacho crumbles who leap up with the feeling "WE won!" Or the equivalent of people who, instead of making art, fill the galleries with banal exhibits designed to express the question "What is art?" 

Ultimately, does tracing and compiling serve an important function in the development and stabilization of integral level ecology or is merely a masturbatory indulgence phrased in a self-consciously painful mockery of contemporary "academic papers"?

We could embrace or reject or affirm or critique this essay/s. What will be of most benefit? I can't see there being much use to summarizing it and cheer-leading it. It already seems to be nothing more than summaries and cheer-leading! But perhaps there IS something to it? And if so, it may be that the first important step in digesting it is to take and aggressive oppositional stance.

Personally, I find that rejection is usually the first stage of acceptance. Or at least that's what I intend to tell the Judge at the rape trial...

Wilber is a philophilosopher, isn't he?  Very little original philosophy in his work; lots and lots of names, lots and lots of connecting the dots, lots and lots of categorical sortings and rankings of existing philosophies and philosophers.  Even some pretty ugly-looking math and superscripted indexing to connect it all together.  But I don't recall he has ever triggered such an explosive reaction from you (in public).  How would you differentiate his connecting, comparing, contrasting, historical accounting, genealogical tracing, and developmental sorting, from these authors'?  Is it his less-academic voice that helps him pull it off?

It's a charcoal area, obviously. A same-different area. When I first got interested in Wilber's work I used to call him the Wilbersaurus and draw obscene pictures of his pedantic bald head atop a long dinosaur-neck connected to a bloated reptilian body shitting out voluminous summaries. Stop it, you monster! We're drowning already!

So, as I indicated above (having a great deal of positive fun, i.e. affirming the material) the attack/teeth move should be a standard opening gesture when approaching the organic digestion of potential philosophical nutrient. 

But... if I were to take seriously the question IS Wilber a philophilosopher then the answer is a little bit Yes and a large bit No. What is the difference? Partly tone. He at least has the basic human decency to engage in egomaniacal polemics! Although his "novels" make me want to tear my skin off and choke him to death with it.

The main difference, however, might be that he produces a lot of conceptual tools. Integral algebra is a tool. The four quadrants are a tool. The expanded (trans-spiral dynamics) spectrum is a tool. The wilber-coombs lattice is a tool. So we could say that he goes beyond an exploration and survey of the material from different integral-level thinkers and tries to introduce strategic packages that integrate the summarized material. Contrast/compare/critique remains at what I've called MOA-1. Following it up with an affirmation of complementarity takes it up to MOA-2. But we don't really get going until a person tries to bind the alternatives together in a creative act of structural welding. Until then there is a tremendous danger of faux-depth associated with merely roaming through material, taking a bit of an interest, playing around with similarities. 

I think Wilber fails a bit on style (he's no Nietzsche) but overall he moves often into a creative/commanding position rather than an exploring/comparing/appreciating position. That is worth considering when evaluating him.

"I used to call him the Wilbersaurus and draw obscene pictures of his pedantic bald head atop a long dinosaur-neck connected to a bloated reptilian body shitting out voluminous summaries."

I'm reminded of this image of the Kennilingam that I conjured in this post and explained previously:

That is exactly the photo I used to employ. Something about it just screams "phallic mockery"...

I put sections of this paper into the Gunning Fog Index calculator and got scores between 13 and 40!  (Depending on the paragraph).  Ideal readability, for popular appeal, is 6-8.  A 12-rated paper requires at least 12 years of education to comprehend, and is considered already hard for many people to easily follow.  (To be fair, sections of your own post above, LP, garnered a rating of 19...)

Keep in mind this post though, on what we (IPS) are and to whom we appeal (or not):

"The topic of this site is such -- i.e, specialized and somewhat difficult -- that I do not intend for it to have broad, popular appeal, and am not seeking to create just another chat or discussion forum.  I am content for this site to be a 'safe zone' for a more specialized form of in-depth inquiry and expression, since there are already plenty of other more general forums for other kinds of conversations."

On the other hand, we can still write concisely and articulately without all the explosive academiarrhea. Fortunately my degree is in English, where Struck & White were the measure of intelligible communication, even and especially of arcane esoterica like postmetaphysics or English literature.

Btw, that last paragraph got an 18.83 on the fog index but I'm guessing everyone here understood it easily.

Now let us get a little deeper into the material itself.

I have, quite sensibly I think, begun with an attack. It was designed to fulfill two important functions. Firstly to separate the signal from the noise. Secondly to put myself in the position of being able to approach theses issues with a healthy dose of free spirit and pleasure which liberate my own vital reserves of analysis from the flat sense of heaviness and obedience which haunts the margins of so much academic prose.

My complaint about the style (the "noise") is certainly not that of a student or casual reader who is merely distressed by the fog-level that characterizes complex, well-informed phraseology. As Theurj notes, there is a distinct difference between the acrobatic skill-level of intellectual difficulty (to be heartily embraced wherever it is "fresh") and that other factor, that particular flavor, mood and set of implied assumptions that is imparted by the neo-scholastic "style" which seems so epidemic among integral essay writers who perhaps flatter themselves on living up to their listless flat concept of the university ethos of communication. That ethos does not deserve their appreciation. It is nothing to live up to...

So let us understand the complaint for what it is. And let us also consider that we have begun very well...

What comes next?

Among our first considerations (intuited by the brief turn to evaluate Wilber in this thread) must be to ask ourselves an important question: What do the horde of theorists, discussed in the three short articles, provide, if anything, above and beyond the existing model of Integral Theory? We could perhaps argue this point in either direction but it remains a key point.

Our goal -- as thinkers and free spirits turned to a meta-level ecology -- must not be the trivial one of convincing ourselves and our colleagues that an integrative trans-pluralistic ecological philosophy can exist, has existed, and has done so in complementary forms which are not limited to Wilber's model. Let us instead forget Wilber. We may as well have found AQAL carved in limestone in the forgotten tombs of antiquity. There are no "owners" of theory to be accepted or rejected. So let us ask ourselves the question that these essayists broach... but into which they do not delve:

Does the prominently existing integrative thought tool (namely an AQAL-framed ecology) fundamentally lack anything suggested by the other presented theorists of integral ecology? Or do their various speculations and stipulations fit reasonably well into a flexible version of the tool?

Our next question might be specific to Sean Kelly's presentation of Morin:

Is a "holographic" model of reality justified and/or coherent with an integrated, emergent, post-pluralistic model? Or does it contain a fundamental metaphysical sensibility which will operate as a stumbling block to the higher extensions of an integral ecology?

It is suggested among these essays that that Deleuze & Guattari posit a philosopher as a concept-creator. This is a potentially treacherous observation. Anyone who has read Deleuze on Nietzsche will recall just how far it goes in trying to stress the difference-in-origins among otherwise similar ecological and morphological elements.

For the Deleuzean Nietzshe the disastrous notion, the reactive notion, the corrupt notion, is the flatland assumption that victory is victory, that strength is strength, that quantity is quantity and new concept is new concept. This is almost antithetical to Deleuze. One is not a philosopher simply by making concepts but by making certain kinds of concepts... and in a special way.

If "philosopher" is taken as a mark of distinction (as we must assume Deleuze took it) then there is no equality among concepts, no basic category, no generic philosopher. There are more healthy, active and affirmative concepts and more reactive, listless, nihilistic concepts both in their content and their form.

McLuhan becomes philosopher when he observes that the medium is the message. But does "fully auto-(geno-pheno)-eco-re-organizing beings" reach that place which is sacred to the philosopher Dionysius? Does Richard Dawkins really become a distinguished Deleuzean philosopher with his notion of "memes" or would old Gilles D. not see that as the spirit of ressentiment come back to haunt the realm of thought from another tarantula-like priest and enemy of Zarathustra?

These issues may be off topic and too personal. Forgive me...

Concerning the latter question (below), I think the common, most-popular framing of the holographic principle -- where each thing contains "The Whole" -- would be limiting and metaphysical (in a regressive sense), but in my understanding, Morin's use of the holographic principle is subtler than that.  On one of the "Complexity"-themed threads on this forum (I forget which one), we discussed another paper by Kelly which presented Morin's qualified holism in more detail: a slippery ("wet and wild") understanding which elevates the concepts of withdrawal, excess, adjacency, almostness and alongsidedness, that we have discussed before.

Layman Pascal said:

Our next question might be specific to Sean Kelly's presentation of Morin:

Is a "holographic" model of reality justified and/or coherent with an integrated, emergent, post-pluralistic model? Or does it contain a fundamental metaphysical sensibility which will operate as a stumbling block to the higher extensions of an integral ecology?

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