A DISCOURSE :
a new morality ?...alternative choices?
This website has been developed by J.Kelvyn Richards: 1971-79, director of studies at Sidney Stringer
Community College, Coventry, UK; and 1979-2005, course leader of Community Education; and Educational
Management ; at Nottingham Trent University, UK.
The website is an open e-book, organised as a series of essays forming a discourse, revised and
reorganised regularly. Email me your corrections. Translate it for your communities, and use it as an open
This discourse is based on the facts of social interdependence, and social interaction;
three key constructs are ............
Social Ecology studies the impact of humans on the biosphere, the environment
and the atmosphere of the earth.
Social Epistemology considers the impact of human interaction upon theories of knowledge, and establishes how we
come to know anything?
Social Freedom is a construct that explains the interdependence of all humans in their search for survival and identity.
These three constructs have significant implications for our ways of life, and the education of our children.
The discourse recognises that we are living in a world in which violence is rife, and where governments tell us what is
knowledge and truth. However, the discourse proposes that Social Ecology will lead us to a new morality, and alternative
This discourse comprises a series of chapters: including
Calls for change: genetics, physics, ecology, biology; a social ecology; pollution;
social dependence; critique of meritocracy and individualism; gemeinschaft, gesellschaft; social freedom -a theory of social
relations; social epistemology; a theory of knowledge;
Conflict civil war; peace; negotiation; Education.....a theory of interactive education;
Development - capitalism, sustainability; profit,poverty; a theory of social enterprise: that attempts to formulate a new mind
set according to which human society will
not be constructed on the basis of the savage principle of the survival of the fittest; and will not be characterised by islands
of wealth surrounded by oceans of poverty.
And examines a series of issues:
Knowledge? Peace? Education? Social Ecology?; Capitalism?Development?
with the support of Web sites:
Professor Stuart Hill,email@example.com
UPDATES - web-links,hits, readers: Cooperatives/ Comments; Towards a Green Economy/Development; Crisis Watch 113/Conflict ;
Queen Elizabeth in Belfast: Syria in state of war; Water Needs/Development; Mobile Phones/Comments, April 2012;
Prosociality/Discourse 1, Feb 2012: World Population, Dec.2011/ Comments: Capital Gains, Dec 21 2011/Comments. CSR/Asbestos Feb
REVISIONS - Social Ecology/Pollution ;May 2013; Earth Action/Comments; A SOCIAL ECOLOGY: OCT 2011]: Corporate Social
Responsibility/Tobacco, April 2012/ Comments; Legacy of Slavery and Colonialism/ Development Feb 2012. Globalisation: Feb 17
2012/Comments. Austerity and future, Comments May 24. Sustainability and Unsustainability/Comments June 17
Web Log Expert reports [as from Feb 24 2008] 384,289 hits by 128,944 readers from 161 countries.
DISCOURSE 1: Social Ecology
Calls for change
Topics: calls for change [physics,genetics,ecology,biology];
a social ecology; social freedom; social epistemology.
Genetics, Physics and Ecology and recently Biology, are disciplines that have led the calls for changes in our thinking. Genetics
and Ecology have established the ways in which organisms and environmental systems are interconnected: Physics, the
relations between matter, anti-matter and solar systems. Alan Drengson suggests that
Individuals do not exist in isolation, but in relationships; and that individual existents are unique (and irreplaceable in the future)
by virtue of the special set of relationships in which only they are (and can remain) embedded. The world is therefore seen in
organismic terms rather than mechanical ones - in terms of interacting processes and fields rather than isolated things, and
socially, in terms of an extended ecological community rather than in terms of essentially
separate, competing individuals. (*Alan Drengson*, Fox, 1995)
[Fox, Towards a Trans personal Ecology, 1995]
A corollary of these communities is that humans are connected,
interdependent and interconnected, as in family groups.
The notion of the self as ' independent ' is a delusion. The
philosophy of individualism is false.
But the delusion is very strong and has led many individuals
to regard themselves as the 'centre of the Universe'. They
blatantly exploit others for their sole benefit, and
Psychologists spend a lot of time analysing individual
As long as we are subject to the delusion, we will see
ourselves as individual and independent, and unable to
take others seriously,other than as means to ends. Some
will regard 'hell as other people''. Furthermore, we will
regard ‘nature’ as part of our selfish demands and
as something to be exploited for our personal benefit.
The notion of nature as commodity is a delusion.
In the words of Murray Bookchin:
"The notion that man must dominate nature emerges directly from the domination of man by man… But it was not until organic
community relations… dissolved into market relationships that the planet itself was reduced to a resource for
exploitation . This centuries-long tendency finds its most exacerbating development in modern capitalism. Owing
to its inherently competitive nature, bourgeois society not only pits humans against each other, it also pits the mass of humanity
against the natural world. Just as men are converted into commodities, so every aspect of nature is converted into a commodity,
a resource to be manufactured and merchandised wantonly." (Post Scarcity Anarchism 1971, p. 85) "The plundering of the
human spirit by the market place is paralleled by the plundering of the earth by capital." (/Ibid./, p. 86)
This view is confirmed by Oelschlager in his book, The Idea of Wilderness. He argues that the perception of 'wilderness'
depends on the historical and cultural filters humans used in different periods. The modern historical lens obscures the idea of
wilderness in ancient times: 'Through the lens of history, human experience takes place outside nature'. Nature is seen as a
commodity. Other people are seen as commodities.
The calls for change lead us to review our assumptions, our perceptions, our cultural filters. According to David Pepper, such
perceptions function as cultural filters, determining how we perceive the environment, and other people, now and in the past.
For example, recent work, in 2008 by Mary Richardson of the University Laval,Quebec, Polycultures of the Mind, has shown how
changes in cultural values,rather than directives or orders, lead farmers and consumers to be 'organic', and reject industrial
It is important that we develop a ‘social ecology’, whereby we learn to exist in cooperation with each other, other species, and
with the environment, and accept our interdependence and interconnectedness and work together for our mutual benefit by
protecting each other and the environment in which we live ' as an extended ecological community'.
We look at our bodies and see them as bounded and solid.
But in order to understand them, we have learnt to think of them as
a collection of 100 trillion cells, made up of molecules,genes,
In 1953 Watson and Crick completed the analyses of genes and
created the double helix of DNA, the 'bar code' describing the complex
genetic network of each individual organism.
In 1976, Richard Dawkins published his work concerning
The Selfish Gene, in which he argued that the fundamental unit
of selection, and therefore of self interest, is not the species,nor the
group, nor even strictly, the individual. It is the gene, the unit of
heredity. Ever since, the 'selfish gene' has been used to justify selfish
Three decades later, in June 2007, the United States
National Human Genome Research Institute published the findings of
an exhaustive four year research project, carried out by 35 groups
from 80 research organizations across the world. These findings
challenged the view of the 'selfish gene'. To their surprise, the researchers found that the human genome might not be a tidy
collection of independent genes after all, with each sequence of DNA linked to a single function..........Instead, according to their
findings, genes appear to operate in a complex network, and interact and overlap with one another and with other components.
Denise Caruso, a director of the Hybrid Vigor Institute, in an article in the Herald Tribune, July 4 2007, noted that biologists have
recorded these network effects for many years in other organisms. She wanted to argue that these effects are only reported as
significant when observed in humans -the social genes.
This research is a significant call for change to genetic sciences, leading us to accept the interdependence and interaction of
humans and their genes within complex networks. I wish to argue that the notion of the selfish gene is mistaken.
Physics : A Quantum universe?
We look at the objects and materials of the world as bounded and solid.
The calls for change in the area of physics are perhaps the most radical of all the movements in the scientific
disciplines, questioning the nature of scientific enquiry and indicating that it is time to ‘re-seed’ our concepts of self and
others, and incorporate the implications of quantum physics into our notions of the physical world. Modern developments in
Physics are questioning our present ways of interpreting the world, and the things around us, suggesting that they are incorrect.
Albert Einstein observed :
A human being is part of the whole, called by us, universe ... We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something
separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our
personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by
widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a
human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require
a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.
Developments in physics suggest that our delusions and fantasies are not restricted to values. Our perceptions of the external
world are distorted. Whilst recognizing the dramatic achievements of science, particularly the remarkable levels of accuracy of
physical theories, Penrose (1989) has raised questions about the basic assumptions underlying the Classical approaches to
Science. He argues that just as many aspects of our physical reality require the theories of quantum physics to explain them,
this may apply also to our understanding of the social world.
"Perhaps our minds are qualities rooted in some strange and wonderful feature of those physical laws which actually govern the
world we inhabit…We must indeed come to terms with Quantum theory — that most exact and mysterious of physical theories —
if we are to delve deeply into some major questions of philosophy…how does our world behave, and what constitutes the ‘minds’
that are indeed ‘us'? Yet some day science may give us a more profound understanding of Nature than quantum theory can
provide. It is my personal view that even quantum theory is a stop-gap, inadequate in certain essentials for providing a complete
picture of the world in which we actually live." (Penrose,R.(1989)p.291)
The work of Richard Feynmann (1985) winner of the
Nobel Prize and a central figure in the changes within
Physics, links Physics with Psychology and Philosophy,
denying the existence of a reality ‘out there’ or indeed
a static/measurable universe anywhere and considers
what Physics and Mathematics can tell us about the
nature of the mind and consciousness. He explains
that the essence of Quantum Mechanics involves going
against our common sense. The questions raised by
quantum physics touch on the very deepest issues of
philosophy. The phenomenon of consciousness needs
alternatives to classical approaches. It seems that
A SUN FLOWER OR A SUNSPOT?
the things that we see and feel and manipulate as solid
objects may be particles and/or waves, and can only
be explained, measured, and predicted in terms of particles of energy, atoms.
The notions of a solid, static world, out there, is an illusion: an illusion that is upheld by our perceptions of solidity.
The inheritors of the quest for understanding the nature of the Universe have to come to terms with the limitations of order and
predictability at the heart of quantum physics which leads to questioning all notions of solid reality, since atoms can appear as
particles or waves simultaneously; as particles of energy. At one point atoms were thought to be indivisible. But research over
the last 30 years has shown that atoms comprise protons,neutrons, electrons; which in turn are made up of quarks. The very
latest research is indicating that quarks are divisible! Hadrons. These particles come together to create matter and anti-matter,
positive/negative. If matter collides with antimatter there is a big bang. It is argued that our universe came into being following a
'Big Bang', 15 billion years ago. After which the universe, space,and time began; matter super heated,expanded, and then
cooled to form galaxies, stars, earth, life-forms. It is thought that there has not been another 'big-bang', because there is an
excess of matter in the universe. Therefore,this universe is assymetrical, lopsided; with more matter than antimatter. Of course,
we could ask where is the antimatter ? Galaxies,stars,planets,organisms are made from matter, particles. Human organisms are
collections of particles of energy derived from a universe of particles generated by a collision of matter and anti-matter.
These theories are making it possible to think that the separation into ‘me and we’, ‘thou/I’; ‘self and others’ is mistaken.
Individual humans should be viewed as particles and waves, as part of a continuum in which ‘the one’ is an aspect of ‘the many’.
What we see as objects and organisms are specific concentrations of particles and waves amidst a universe of particles and
waves. The ‘Quantum message’ is that there is no ‘out there’ and ‘in here’, only states of particles and waves. This message
indicates that any notion of the independent self, and the solid, independent object of our experiences, is an illusion. We are
temporary concentrations of particles.
Of the environment, and societies.
Peace activists,Conservationists,and Environmentalists
have long been asserting that if we continue to seek our
individual gratification by consuming all the products and
all the global resources, then there will be no
sustainable future for ourselves, nor for our children.
Yet this has been largely ignored.
Freya Matthew argues that
The Deep Ecology of Arne Naess is concerned with
the Metaphysics of Nature, and of the relation of the
Self to Nature. It sets up ecology as a model for the
basic metaphysical structure of the world, seeing the
identities of all things- whether at the level of elementary
particles, organisms, or galaxies- as logically
interconnected: all things are constituted by their
relations with other things. Applying this principle of interconnectedness to the human case, it becomes apparent that the
individual denoted by ‘I’ is not constituted merely by a body or a personal ego or consciousness. I am, of course, partially
constituted by these immediate physical and mental structures, but I am also constituted by my ecological relations with the
elements of my environment- relations in the image of which the structures of my body and consciousness are built. I am an
holistic element of my native ecosystem, and of any wider wholes under which that ecosystem is subsumed ............
From the point of view of deep ecology, what is wrong with our culture is that it offers us an inaccurate conception of the self. It
depicts the personal self as existing in competition with and in opposition to nature .We fail to realise that if we destroy our
environment, we are destroying what is in fact our larger self. (*Freya Matthew*) (Fox, 1995)
The notion of the personal self in competition with nature is a delusion.
SOCIAL BIOLOGY: Björn Brembs, Freie Universität Berlin, Institute for Biology,2010, has recently declared
Free will as a biological trait.
Many people want to argue that ‘my actions should be caused because I want them to happen for one or more reasons, rather
than they happen by chance.’ They want to assert their 'free will'.
Until the advent of modern neuroscience, ‘free will’ used to be a theological and a metaphysical concept, debated with little
reference to brain function. Today, with ever increasing understanding of neurons, circuits and cognition, this concept has
become outdated and any metaphysical account of ‘free will’ is rightfully rejected. If neurobiologists feel compelled to write about
‘free will’, they do so only to declare that it is an illusion. Today, the metaphysical concept of ‘free will’ is largely devoid of any
support, empirical or intellectual.
‘Free will’ is a biological property. ‘Free will’ becomes a quantitative trait. More and more evidence, recently from studies of
flies, indicates that one common ability of most, if not all, brains, small and large, is to choose among different behavioural
options even in the absence of differences in the environment, and perform genuinely novel acts. The adaptive value of such
organisms consists in being unpredictable for competitors, prey or predators.
Our world is not deterministic, not even in the macroscopic world. Quantum mechanics provides objective chance as a trace
element of reality. ‘The universe has an irreducibly random character: If it is a clockwork, its cogs, springs, and levers are not
Swiss-made; they do not follow a predetermined path’.
Predictability can never be an evolutionarily stable strategy. Instead, animals need to balance the effectiveness and efficiency of
their behaviours with just enough variability to spare them from being predictable. Behavioural variability is a highly adaptive
trait, under constant control of the brain, balancing the need for variability with the need for efficiency. Without such an
implementation, we would not exist.
As was the case in much of neuroscience history, be it ion channels, genes involved in learning and memory, electrical
synapses or neurotransmitters, invertebrate model systems are leading the way in the study of the neural mechanisms
underlying behavioural variability. Evolution has shaped our brains to implement ‘stochasticity’ in a controlled way, injecting
variability ‘at will’.
Essentially, the existence of neural circuits implementing a materialist model of free will ‘would mean that you can know
everything about an organism's genes and environment yet still be unable to anticipate its caprices’. Importantly, this inability is
due to dedicated brain processes that have evolved to generate unpredictable, spontaneous actions in the face of pursuit–
evasion contests, competition and problem-solving. The concept that we can decide to behave differently even under identical
circumstances underlies not only our justice systems but also electoral systems, educational systems, parenting and basically all
other social systems. They presuppose behavioural variability and a certain degree of freedom of choice. Games and sports
would be predictable and boring without our ability of constantly changing our behaviour in always the same
What happens if I do this? The experience of willing to do something and then successfully doing it is absolutely central to
developing a sense of ‘self’ and that we are in control, and not being controlled. Thus, in order to understand actions, it is
necessary to introduce the term ‘self’. The concept of ‘self’ necessarily follows from the insight that animals and humans initiate
behaviour by themselves. An animal or human being is the agent causing a behaviour, as long as no sufficient cause for this
activity to occur are coming from outside the organism. Agency is assigned to entities who initiate actions themselves. Agency is
crucial for moral responsibility. Behaviour can have good or bad consequences. It is the agent for whom the consequences
matter the most and who can be held responsible for them. By providing empirical data from invertebrate model systems
supporting a materialistic model of free will, abandoning the metaphysical concept of free will does not automatically entail that
we are slaves of our genes and our environment, forced to always choose the same option when faced with the same situation.
We would not exist if our brains were not able to make a different choice even in the face of identical circumstances and history.
Brembs is suggesting that 'free will', 'self', 'agency', 'choice' are quantitative, biological traits facilitating our
evolution and survival.
Professor D.S.Wilson, of the Evolution Institute in New York, is concerned with
"prosociality" - any behaviour geared towards the care and welfare of others or the promotion of society.  Prosociality
can evolve in any species when highly prosocial individuals are able to interact with each other and avoid interacting with selfish
individuals - in other words, when those who give also receive. . The most caring and altruistic individuals receive the most
social support from multiple sources, including family, neighbourhood, school, religion, and through extracurricular activities
such as sports and arts. Groups that satisfy this basic condition for prosociality are likely to thrive.
Do people who are genetically predisposed towards altruism tend to flock together? Or do people become more altruistic when
they interact with others who display this trait? Or are external environmental conditions the major influence? Research shows
that all three factors play a role. Whatever genetic predispositions people have, their prosociality changes according to where
they are and who they are with. Much depends on their social environment.
February 2012. Pro-sociality - Humans are social. Biological research is increasingly debunking the view of humanity as
competitive, aggressive and brutish. "Humans have a lot of pro-social tendencies," Frans de Waal, a biologist at Emory
University in Atlanta, told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Monday. 20
February 2012. New research on higher animals from primates and elephants to mice shows there is a biological basis for
behavior such as co-operation, said de Waal, author of The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society. Human
children - and most higher animals - are "moral" in a scientific sense, because they need to co-operate with each other to
reproduce and pass on their genes, he said. Research has disproved the view, dominant since the 19th century, typical of
biologist Thomas Henry Huxley's argument that morality is absent in nature and something created by humans, said de Waal.
And common assumptions that the harsh view was promoted by Charles Darwin, the so-called father of evolution, are also
wrong, he said. "Darwin was much smarter than most of his followers," said de Waal, quoting from Darwin's The Descent of Man
that animals that developed "well-marked social instincts would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience". De Waal
showed the audience videos from laboratories revealing the dramatic emotional distress of a monkey denied a treat that another
monkey received; and of a rat giving up chocolate in order to help another rat escape from a trap. Such research shows that
animals naturally have pro-social tendencies for "reciprocity, fairness, empathy and consolation," said de Waal. "Human morality
is unthinkable without empathy." Asked if wide public acceptance of empathy as natural would change the intense competition
on which capitalist economic and political systems are based, de Waal quipped, "I'm just a monkey watcher." But he told
reporters that research also shows animals bestow their empathy on animals they are familiar with in their "in-group" - and that
natural tendency is a challenge in a globalised human world." Morality" developed in humans in small communities, he said,
adding: "It's a challenge... it's experimental for the human species to apply a system intended for [in-groups] to the whole world."
Promoting prosociality is a good idea not only as an end in itself, but because living in a caring, supportive neighbourhood
carries many additional benefits, from lower crime rates to a healthier developmental environment for children. In one ambitious
project, the Design Your Own Park initiative, the Evolution Institute is giving residents the opportunity to cooperate with their
neighbours by turning neglected spaces into parks of their own design. Most people scarcely know their neighbours, but there's
nothing like a common goal to bring people together. At the Evolution Institute they are using evolutionary science to help
address a whole range of issues in addition to neighbourhoods and education, such as risky adolescent behaviour, failed nation
states and human regulatory systems at all scales. This kind of work is what evolutionary science should be all about. Evolution
is fundamentally about the relationship between organisms and their environments.
The opening address of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in the summer of 2002 by Thabo
Mbeki, the President of South Africa, eloquently summarized the nature of the changes needed if we are to achieve
sustainability. He stated that "a global human society….characterized by islands of wealth, surrounded by a sea of poverty is
unsustainable. …for the first time in human history, society has the capacity, the knowledge and the resources to eradicate
He called for a ‘seed’ change in our attitudes.
"We do not accept that human society should be constructed on the basis of the savage principle of the survival of the fittest."
He is arguing for the alteration of our cultural filters, and mindsets, to alter the seeds of our thinking, attitudes, and beliefs.
It is clear now that such calls for change are growing in urgency and that they are coming from a wider range of different
sources. Initially it was concerns about the Environment and the debates about the impact of our use of nuclear power, of fossil
fuels, of deforestation and consequent global warming. Increasing amounts of data have been collected showing the
consequences of our continuing depletion of our natural resources — yet we continue to live in unsustainable ways.
"What we do about Ecology depends on our ideas about the Man-nature relationship…. More science and more technology are
not going to get us out of the present ecological crisis…We must rethink and re-feel our destiny…. We deserve our increasing
pollution because according to our structure of values, so many other things have priority over achieving a viable ecology."
There is a need to re-think our attitudes towards our global environment. But we must also alter our ideas about profit and
poverty. Anthony Browne in an article in the New Statesman Aug 2002 states that:
"The World Summit on Sustainable Development…is the culmination of a new theory sweeping charities, national governments,
the UN., and at least the press releases of the World Bank: fighting poverty and saving the environment are in fact the same
battle… the summit is about how we can reduce poverty and save nature at the same time. This theory is not just that it is
desirable to do both at the same time…but rather that you have to do both at the same time, that you can’t do one without the
other. It turns the old theory of trade-offs between development and the environment on its head; they are now part of the same
The common thread in all the calls for change and warnings of impending doom is the need for common action.
Joanna Macy argued :
I consider that this shift [to an emphasis on our capacity to identify with the larger collective of all beings ] is essential to our
survival at this point in history precisely because it can serve in lieu of morality and because moralising is ineffective. Sermons
seldom hinder us from pursuing our self-interest, so we need to be a little more enlightened about what our self-interest is.
The trees in the Amazon Basin; they are our external lungs. We are just beginning to wake up to that. We are gradually
discovering that we are our world. [Joanna Macy, eco philosopher, Berkeley,USA]
A SOCIAL ECOLOGY
Humans and all other organisms function in the biosphere.
Ecology is the scientific study of the relations of living organisms with each other and their surroundings in the biosphere.
Ecologists are biologists who describe and analyse the biosphere with a view to explain the evolution of animals, how they have
adapted to survive, and offer explanations of their behaviours.
Social Ecologists analyse the impact of human actions upon the biosphere, and offer explanations about the
relations between the environment, and all organic species, as well as make predictions about future scenarios.
Social Ecology is reflexive and normative, offering prescriptions and manifestos about how humans ought to behave in relation
to the environment, other species, and all extended ecological communities, so as to ensure their mutual co-existence. It
evaluates evidence so as to devise social, moral, philosophical, economic, ecological, environmental manifestos in order to
identify the principles, policies, and actions that are necessary to protect the environment and enable the survival of all
ecological communities in the biosphere in the future. ‘Social Ecology’ is best regarded a social science. Social ecological
manifestos should be available to be adopted by any organization, government, or group; from a dictatorship, or a plutocracy, or
a parliament, or a corporation, or a local authority, or a municipality, to any political party.
Nevertheless, for some reason or other, it has become associated with particular politics such as anarchy; libertarian
municipalism; direct democracy; inclusive democracy; communism or communalism, to the exclusion of all others. I suggest that
there is no valid reason why Social Ecology has been so completely tied to these political perspectives. In fact, to do so has led
it into a dead end! Today, most organisations are hierarchies. Nation States are plutocracies …even those parading as
democracies. All states and corporations are actively involved in capitalism, and state socialism has failed. Most people in the
world live in large cities with little sense of community. Most people are poor and uneducated, struggling to survive.
Does all this mean that there is no place for Social Ecology? On the contrary, it is most important that all these groups pay
attention to, and enact, a Social Ecology manifesto.
Humans have walked the earth for less than 200,000 years - a relatively short time in comparison to the existence of the
biosphere. From 7000BC to 2013AD, humans have grown more numerous, and developed tools and processes to enable them
to reconstruct the environments in the biosphere. It is true that they suffer from the catastrophes of nature: solar flares,
earthquakes, volcanoes, typhoons, tornadoes, cyclones, monsoons, ice and snow storms, floods, forest and grass fires, and
diseases like malaria, but they are better able to protect themselves and predict the events.
After 1800AD, humans began to manufacture tools of mass construction and destruction which enabled them to mine coal, iron
ore, limestone; cut down trees by the thousand; grow wheat, corn, barley, rye, rice on thousands of acres - in fact, to completely
transform the biosphere; or to be more precise, to completely destroy nature! As a result of these endeavors the global
population of humans has risen to 7.2 billion; and is predicted to rise to 9 billion by 2050, in response to the more efficient use
of water and the creation of new plants for food.
As a result of their industrial activities, humans have become a threat to the survival of all living organisms. Human communities
are no longer committed to the mutual coexistence of living organisms. They are actively involved in the destruction of other
living organisms so as to ensure the survival of ‘homo sapiens’. Nevertheless, in the near future, some humans will face
extinction because of the lack of drinking water; and others will suffer from pollution, and global warming.
Many writers have argued that in order to make an impact on water shortages and world pollution, all societies will have to work
together. If the world is to survive as an 'eco-system' and be sustainable, we will all have to act together. Every individual and
every government will have to agree to take specified actions designed to reduce pollution and global warming. The peoples
and all other organisms of the world form an extended ecological community within complex networks, and humans must pay
attention to their interdependence if they are to survive.
‘Development, Conservation and Environmentalism’ mean that we should all share the resources of the globe so that we all
achieve a satisfactory sustainable standard of life. It means caring and sharing. The nature of our interdependence is such that
the greed of some brings about the hunger of others. In order to secure the greatest happiness of the greatest number, we
must act in consideration of all others. The warnings are all around us - from scientists, activists, and, increasingly, from our
personal experiences of climate change with flooding, droughts , species extinction, and other natural disasters as well as a
multitude of unnatural disasters.
Social Ecology means that in order to protect the environment, and expect a sustainable future, we must alter our behaviour,
our lifestyles, our economics, our notions of self; our cultural filters, our priorities, our morality. These changes will require us all
to analyse our mindscapes, our cultural filters. Roszak (1973) argues that what is important in the examination of a people’s
mindscape is not what they articulately know or say they believe. What matters is something deeper; the feel of the world around
them, the sense of reality; the taste that spontaneously discriminates between knowledge and fantasy. This notion is supported
by Pepper (1989) who states that: It is of prime importance for us to study the real and tangible physical environment, how
different groups and individuals perceive that environment and the nature of the ecologically, socially and culturally based
presuppositions which colour these perceptions, or as some express it, the cultural filter. This means that we have to think
and act, locally and globally. Concern for the environment, conservation, development, and ecology are not only about
nature, they are calling for social changes: the development of a social ecology, according to which we realize that we are
interdependent and connected to each other, as part of complex networks in the biosphere. It is foolish to identify social ecology
solely with direct democracy: It is much more to do with the survival of extended ecological communities within complex networks.
Social Ecology is the study of human behavior in the biosphere; concerned with Development, Conservation,
Environmentalism, Sustainability, and Subsistence, in order to foster extended ecological communities in the biosphere. It will
study political systems, and economic issues in the municipality, the city or the factory when they challenge the viability of the
Social Ecology is the identification and analysis of the problems caused by human behavior in the biosphere; the development
of solutions to the problems caused by human behavior in the biosphere;
the formulation of social practices that will ensure that humans live in mutual coexistence with all living organisms.
the formulation of social policies and practices designed to allow all humans to survive and thrive in relation to all living
the development of systems of governance, [social, political, economic] that will enable human communities to take decisions
that promote the mutual co-existence of all living organisms in the biosphere.
the study of the ways in which humans exist in cooperation with each other, and with other species, for their mutual benefit as an
extended ecological community.
the study of biological entities, with various traits, that choose different, unpredictable behaviors in order to adapt, evolve,
survive, in the face of threats to their survival.
will be concerned with behaviors and systems in the municipality, the city, and factory, as aspects of humans in the biosphere.
Social Ecologists will study human behavior and climate change; the emission of pollutants and gases; the exploitation and
destruction of forests, and grasslands; the exploitation and mining of oils, ores and minerals; the destruction of species. They
will formulate policies and practices to help conserve the biosphere. They will identify alternative systems of economy and
politics in order to ensure that humans live in mutual coexistence with all living organisms.
Social ecologists recognize the role of humans in the destruction of the environment and the consequences of capitalist
enterprise to the exploitation of natural resources. They propose policies and practices that preserve the environment, and do
not poison the biosphere. They draw our attention to the facts that ‘we’ are responsible for the pollution of nature. They urge
governments to move towards a sustainable economy based on subsistence, conservation and preservation. They devise
models of a steady state economy which will stabilize consumption and growth. They emphasize the need to ‘care and share’,
and for communities to provide welfare for the benefit of all by redistributing wealth.
Such a manifesto would lead to significant social change whether it was adopted by local or central government, direct or
participatory democracy, hierarchical or non-hierarchical organizations.
Pollution of the biosphere arises from the actions of humans and other ecological communities.
Pollution of the biosphere is the result of choices made by human communities.
The pollution of the land, sea, water, air is caused by a multitude of toxic matter generated by human activity.
In fact, it seems that global pollution is the result of all the industrial, mining, manufacturing processes of human societies.
The overuse of fossil fuels including gas and oil and the use of diesel, which comprises 40 toxic chemicals.
Formaldehyde as used in pesticides, insulation, disinfectants.
The creation of particulate matter such as soot, which leads to the formation of smog.
Benzene as used in motor fuel, solvents, detergents, pesticides.
Ozone as formed from nitrogen oxide in reaction to sunlight.
Radioactive fallout and contamination from nuclear bombs and nuclear generators.
The noise of industrial plants, motors, as well as events using loudspeakers.
Oil pollution from oil tankers such as Amoco Cadiz; and oil wells, such as Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico.
The manufacture of plastics, and the creation of chemical sludge.
The dispersal of litter.
The presence of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, chloroflourocarbons.
Hydrocarbons, heavy metals, herbicides, pesticides, chlorinated hydrocarbons, and soil contamination.
Untreated sewage, and wastewater.
Toxic pollution arising from the mining of lead, mercury, chromium, arsenic, and the
manufacture of pesticides.
There are a range of activities that directly lead to toxic pollution problems.
Battery recycling involves handling plastic, lead, sulphuric acid, and chemical sludge resulting in water poisoning and human
Lead smelting, metal casting, uranium processing, if not done carefully cause local pollution and poisoning.
Coal mining and coal generating plants create soot and smog and directly pollute the atmosphere.
Tanneries use leather, dyes, water, chemicals, and pollute local waterways.
Electronic waste recycling is a modern process that tries to handle plastics, lead, tin, chromium and dispose of televisions,
computers, mobile phones, laptops, games consoles……all of which are indestructible!
Municipal dumps are designed to dispose of food waste and solid wastes so as to prevent the spread of litter.
It would seem inevitable that large areas of the globe are polluted, simply because human societies are busy carrying out
activities that result in pollution. The Blacksmith Institute, New York, has identified the most polluted places in the world:
China/LINFEN, smog from soot;
Dominica/HAINA, lead contamination;
India/ RANIPET, chromium poisoning of water;
Kyrgyzstan/MAILU-SUU, radioactive poisoning;
Peru/LA OROYA, lead poisoning;
Russia/DZERZINSK, chemical poisoning;
Russia/NORILSK, heavy metal smelting pollution;
Russia/RUDNAYA PRISTAN, lead poisoning;
Ukraine/CHERNOBYL, nuclear poisoning;
Zambia/KABWE, lead poisoning;
Azerbiajan/SUMGAYIT, chemical poisoning;
China/TIANYING, lead poisoning;
India/SUKINDA, chromium poisoning.
The increase in the global population to over 7 billion, and the continuing rise in urban populations in association with motor
transport and motor fuels, has given rise to major air pollution events, and the poisoning of thousands of people from the smog
of London in 1952; New York and Los Angeles in the 1960’s; to Beijing in 2012. The smog results from the effects of soot,
carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, methane, and sometimes sulphur dioxide.
Since World War 2 there have been nuclear pollution events, starting from the bombs dropped on Japan by the US. In fact,
there have been a number of nuclear meltdowns in Japan : including Tokai 1999; Kansai 2004; Fukushima 2011. However, the
first events were in Chalk River, Canada 1952 ; Windscale in UK 1957. Three Mile Island in 1979 in the USA. The most notorious
was in Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986, which remains the most toxic site today. In 1993 the Tomsk complex had a nuclear
meltdown in Siberia.
Today, oil pollution is the most common. It results from accidents between tankers, or due to storms, or leakage from oil wells.
1976, Argo Oil Merchant was broken in Massachusetts.
In 1978, the Amoco Cadiz was blown ashore in Brittany.
1979, witnessed Trinidad and Tobago polluted by the Atlantic Empress; and the Burmah Agate collided with others in
Galveston; an oil well broke in the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1989, the Exxon Valdez lost its cargo on the shores of Alaska.
In 1991 there was an act of military vandalism when the Iraqi forces set alight to the oil fields of Kuwait.
Three tankers collided in Tampa Bay Florida in 1993.
Spain experienced the grounding of the Prestige oil tanker on the Galicia islands 2002. There was an oil spill off the coast of
We have all witnessed the biggest oil spill ever recorded, with the explosion of the BP Deep Water Horizon oil well in the Gulf of
Mexico 2011, and the subsequent court actions carried out by the Gulf States leading to the award of $ billions in damages.
It is notable that these major pollution events have all occurred following the development of globalization, and the operation of
multi-national corporations. They mark an inability on the part of the corporations to recognize the causes, and the patterns of
pollution. The same mistakes are made across time and space!
http://worstpolluted.org / Pollution Report 2012: Blacksmith Institute/Green Cross.
www.dnrec.state.de.us /Tucson Arizona
INDIVIDUALISM and MERITOCRACY
VICES NOT VIRTUES
The concepts of individualism, and individual freedom, led many to believe that they had achieved everything 'on my own'. The
notions of the egoistic, self interested, independent individual have become the basis upon which capitalist societies have built
their economic prosperity. The obsession with the rights of the individual to exploit others and enrich themselves has been
supported by philosophy. The critical discourses of Descartes, leading, in later centuries, to the philosophies and
epistemologies and psychologies of self -ishness as expressed in rationalism, individualism, existentialism, and post-modernism,
as well as phenomenology, have not only allowed ‘me’ to regard ‘myself’ as ‘certain’, and at the center of the universe, but also
to see ‘hell as other people’, and possibly to consider ‘others’ as phantasms or tricks played by gods, or even by my imagination.
In societies in which there are ‘elites’, it is not surprising that ‘I’ can feel free to pursue my own interests without any regard for
others. Individual freedom, freedom of choice and free will, are regarded as ideals to be pursued by individuals for their own
aggrandizement. Philosophical discussions are based on the need to demarcate the boundaries between individuals, to ensure
that one person’s freedom is not interfered with by that of another person.
Such beliefs were given significant impetus in the 1980's when Margaret Thatcher, as leader of the Conservative Party in the
UK, declared that ‘there is no such thing as society’! and Allan Greenspan asserted the necessity of unregulated capitalism,
whereby individuals must be free to exploit and profit from their initiatives......and, of course, take the consequences!
'Individualism' is a term used to describe a moral, political, or social outlook that stresses human independence and the
importance of individual self-reliance and liberty. Individualists promote the exercise of individual goals and desires. They
oppose most external interference with an individual's choices - whether by society , the state , or any other group or institution ,
which stress that communal, group, societal, racial, or national goals should take priority over individual goals. Individualism is
also opposed to the view that tradition , religion , or any other form of external moral standard should be used to limit an
individual's choice of actions. Some argue that individuals are not duty-bound to any socially-imposed morality and that
individuals should be free to choose to be selfish (or to choose any other lifestyle) if they so desire. Others still, such as Ayn
Rand , argue against "moral relativism" and claim selfishness to be a virtue. [source: Wikipedia 2007] Freedom of will and of
choice are virtues. The vitality of these ideals has been recently revealed as part of the Health Care debate,2009, in the USA,
whereby Republicans have been demanding that citizens should not be told by the government how to spend their money, nor
how to look after their health.
'Libertarians': Prof. Amitai Etzioni has asserted that libertarians actually think that "individual agents are fully formed and their
value preferences are in place prior to, and outside of, any society." They "ignore robust social scientific evidence about the ill
effects of isolation," and, yet more shocking, they "actively oppose the notion of 'shared values' or the idea of 'the common
good.'" (American Sociological Review,_ February 1996).
Washington Post columnist, E. J. Dionne Jr., argued, in his book ‘Why Americans Hate Politics’ that
"the growing popularity of the libertarian cause suggested that many Americans had even given up on the possibility of a
'common good,'’ In a recent essay in the Washington Post Magazine, he wrote that "the libertarian emphasis on the freewheeling
individual seems to assume that individuals come into the world as fully formed adults who should be held responsible for their
actions from the moment of birth."
The late Russell Kirk, in a vitriolic article titled "Libertarians: The Chirping Sectaries," claimed that
"the perennial libertarian, like Satan, can bear no authority, temporal or spiritual" and that "the libertarian does not venerate
ancient beliefs and customs, or the natural world, or his country, or the immortal spark in his fellow men." Cato Policy Report,
Tom Palmer 1996.
Such notions of individualism, liberty, individual freedom, and freedom of will, can and do lead to unfairness, injustice and
inequality when the rights of the powerful individual take precedence over others: when might is right.
For example, the annual reporting season for companies and corporations is in full swing each spring across the globe. While
many forecasters continue to worry about the onset of depression or recession, an amazing feature of the reports each year is
the enormous amounts of money that executives are being paid by boards of governors, or simply paying themselves. In the
USA, in April 2007,at the onset of the global recession, it was reported that such individuals as T.Boone Pickens, Carl Icahn,
George Soros, Kenneth Griffin, Edward Lampert, Loyd Blankfein, James Simon, all took home over 50 million dollars each for
the year, and some more than $1.5 billion. April 2010 : the New York Times reports that hedge fund managers David Tepper,
George Soros, James Simon, John Paulson, Steve Cohen, Carl Icahn, Edward Lampert, Kenneth Griffin, John Arnold, Philip
Falcone had a gross income of more than $10 billion [$1 billion each] .At a time when millions have lost their jobs and their
savings and their pensions. One must assume that this is done on the grounds that ‘I am free to do as I please! I have taken
risks, and made the plans, so I am entitled to the rewards and bonuses - if you are poor, that is your problem
One could argue that the likes of George Soros and James Simon do return significant amounts of money to others and set up
new initiatives. And it is reported that Bill Gates of Microsoft has recently been in China offering a cheap version of Windows
XP. And the Gates Foundation is offering funds to help farmers in various parts of Africa.
This ideology of individualism is fostered [a] within families, many of whom see their role as encouraging the growing
independence of their offspring: [b] within schools, where individual effort is rewarded, but where cooperation with others is
classified as cheating or plagiarism; [c] in the workplace where workers are often separated from each other, and social
interaction is restricted so as to avoid team work or ‘skiving’; [d] in religions, which assert that 'I can only know through my
worship of god';' I can know god'; 'I will be saved by god'; 'I must work for god'; 'I must sacrifice myself for god!'.
In some industries, the growing recognition of the value of teamwork is introducing some fundamental challenges to this ideology
Such a focus on the individual masks the reality of our interdependence and effectively prevents us from developing a freedom,
which recognizes, and is based, on our interdependence on others: a Social Freedom.
The delusion of independence encourages us to feel ourselves to be separate individuals, able to survive alone. The reality, as
revealed by my case study, is that we are never alone and are interdependent throughout our lifetime, and cannot survive
This delusion of individualism, and the belief in meritocracy in education, leads to a focus on individual achievements, the
identification of the elites, and their separation from the others; while at the same time talking about equal educational
opportunity for all.
Of course, it would be foolish to conclude that there are no ‘individuals’. I have a strong sense of being an individual: looking at
the world through my eyes; and devising my ideas within my mind and communicating with others, and being influenced by
others. However, I wish to support the symbolic interaction of Mead and Blumer ; that individual people exist in
relation to others; are interdependent and interconnected with all others. To believe that I can exist, independent of others is a
delusion. I exist as part of a network of others. My knowledge is based on the testimony of others. I learn the family language
that allows me to explain what is going on, describe my experiences, phenomena, events. I exist as part of a complex matrix of
particles, and genes. The delusion of the independent individual is a vice not a virtue!
In the Guardian, June 2001, Michael Young commented: “I have been sadly disappointed by my 1958 book, The Rise of the
Meritocracy. I coined a word which has gone into general circulation,especially in the United States, and most recently found a
prominent place in the speeches of Mr Blair,” Prime Minister of UK until June 2007.
“The book was a satire meant to be a warning (which needless to say has not been heeded) against what might happen to
Britain between 1958 and the imagined final revolt against the meritocracy. Much that was predicted has already come about. It
is highly unlikely the prime minister has read the book, but he has caught on to the word
without realising the dangers of what he is advocating. Underpinning my argument was a non-controversial historical analysis of
what had been happening to society for more than a century before 1958, and most emphatically since the 1870s, when
schooling was made compulsory and competitive entry to the civil service became the rule.”
As indicated by Michael Young, one has to conclude that in modern capitalist societies key assumptions are  the significance
of individualism, and the value of meritocracy, which leads us to identify the most able individuals,  by developing education
as selection of this elite, and offering a curriculum that prescribes the necessary knowledge and skills, enabling them to enter
the 'top jobs'. Meritocracy upholds that some individuals are superior to all others, and that they are independent, and have the
rights to exploit their inferiors and to receive the best rewards.
The concept of ‘meritocracy’ espouses that the role of education is to select the most able, ‘the golden people’, and give them
the best education. These ideas can be traced back to the Platonic notions of ‘gold’, ‘silver’ and ‘bronze’ individuals in which the
gold knew the truth and were entitled to lead and organize the silver and bronze people. These notions have justified the
identification of elites for grooming as the leaders of society. In the past, in the UK, for example, it was thought that the gold
people were born into that position, the aristocrats. In more modern times, testing and certification have been used to identify
that group. Meritocracy justifies elitism.
State Education, today, such as in the UK, and in Greece, is designed, both, to provide opportunities for all; and to select this
elite. Examinations, such as the 11+, or school grade certificates have been used for this selection - to grade and separate the
able from the rest and to provide an exclusive education for them. For this selection to happen it is necessary to identify
individual differences and to legitimize separate educational provisions. This has led to competition for selection, the separation
of communities and inequality.
Michael Young asserted that education provision can be easily used to engineer a ‘meritocracy’, providing the seal of approval
on the few, and disapproval on the many. Meritocracy has nothing to do with equality of opportunity, only with the provision of
the best education for the ‘most able’, and justification for their superiority in society and their elitism.
Systems of meritocracy encourage us to compete with each other through exams, declaring those with the highest marks as
superior and more worthy than all others, and classifying those with low or no marks as failures. For many years it has been
used to exclude women, ethnic minorities, and the poor, and support class divisions in any society.
Paolo Freire alerted us that
‘The elite naturally believe that they are better,and anything else is naturally inferior. We have a strong tendency to affirm that
what is different from us is inferior. We start from the belief that our way of being is not only good but better than that of others
who are different from us. This is intolerance. It is the irresistible preference to reject differences. The dominant class, then,
because it has the power to distinguish itself from the dominated class, first, rejects the differences between them but, second,
does not pretend to be equal to those who are different; third, it does not intend that those who are different shall be equal.
What it wants is to maintain the differences and keep its distance and to recognize and emphasize in practice the inferiority of
those who are dominated.’
Bourdieu (1998) describes these processes, whereby education selects, differentiates, and approves selection and
differentiation, by arguing that educational institutions whilst declaring themselves as providing educational opportunities for all,
are actually closed and discriminatory. It is obvious, as part of the ideology of meritocracy, that state and private schools are run
so as to select the ‘best’ and make sure that they become part of the dominant class, the civil service, entrepreneurs, and the
professions in the first place [the gold]; administrators, tradesmen and traders in the second place [the silver]; and then the
labourers [the bronze]. They act as agents of selection and discrimination.
Schools are organized in ways that even where ‘liberation’ may be the goal, elitism is the result. The liberation that is on offer is
that of providing a wider range of learners with the opportunities to take the exams, to enter into the meritocracy. The result of
this selection and discrimination is the classification of large numbers of learners as failures who do not see themselves as
Bourdieu (1998) explains this process in terms of ‘The Left Hand and the Right Hand of the State’:
“ the set of agents of the so-called spending ministries which are the trace, within the state, of the social struggles of the past….I
think that the left hand of the state has the sense that the right hand no longer knows, or worse, no longer really wants to know
what the left hand does. In any case it does not want to pay for it. …the state has withdrawn…from a number of sectors of social
life for which it was previously responsible; social housing, public service broadcasting, schools, hospitals, etc., which is all the
more stupefying and scandalous, in some of these areas at least, because it was done by a Socialist government, which might at
least be expected to be the guarantor of public service as an open service available to all, without distinction.”(p.2)
This unequal system is maintained through several different mechanisms, for example, what Bourdieu refers to as ‘Habitus’ :
“Habitus refers to the internalization of structures during the process of socialization. Habitus is expressed in culture by
translating structures of oppression into symbolic representations that mask their social origin; ( for instance when one blames
the destitute for their poverty). These oppressive relationships in symbolic form develop perceptions that nature and biology are
responsible for unequal power relations instead of social practice”.
Meritocracy and individualism are structures of oppression for the majority.
Educational Institutions claim to be widening access but exclude many from entry. Within a meritocracy, the providers, and the
successful students, agree with the special provisions, because it ensures their futures, to the exclusion of others.
Within educational institutions, the ‘habitus’ includes messages of elitism in that students are selected to gain access to skills
and certification, which excludes the many who will then be denied such opportunities. Individual achievement is celebrated and
the system of grading and differentiation is legitimated. [please go to chapter on Education]
Meritocracy and individualism are expressions of the following key assumptions:
Society is a hierarchy of the leaders and the led.
Inequality is inevitable.
Inequality is right.
Those who are able, deserve all the goods of society.
Those who are clever should lead communities.
Those who lead are the chosen, and deserve the goods of society.
The belief that those who are able are good, and deserve the goods of society, acts as a justification for the selection of the
‘chosen’. This belief is used to justify that the rich get richer, and those riches are seen as evidence of their goodness, rather
than evidence of their exploitation of others. Such beliefs develop into an acceptance of a ‘natural order’ in which some are
chosen to flourish. Those who flourish are confirming their cleverness and skill, which inevitably makes them the best leaders
and decision-makers, which in turn provides them with the opportunity to continue the cycle of exploitation and acquisition. This
state of affairs describes the mindset, or the cultural filter, embodied in individualism, meritocracy, and elitism……whether
capitalist or socialist.
As Michael Young argued, building a society upon such assumptions and beliefs impacts upon all aspects of that society.
Other learners are seen as ‘enemies’ with whom you are in competition and conflict as each strive for their own survival.
Relationships with the environment also become distorted as individuals are separated from the natural world, and they
inevitably lose sight of their own humanity as success and profit dominates thinking and decision-making.
The ethics of meritocracy and individualism have given all the ‘goods’ of society to the few, and left the majority in poverty and
ignorance. The spread of corporate globalization has meant the dominance of many national economies by a few capitalist
entrepreneurs, and their companies, such as V W, Ford, Microsoft, Intel, Dell, IBM, Caterpillar, Boeing, Esso, BP, Texaco, along
with many others from Russia, China, and Japan. Capitalism has created wealth for some but left the poor even poorer..…. All of
this is legitimized by the following assumptions:
Profit is made by discovery, exploitation, innovation, manufacture, trade, exchange.
Profit is good.
Those who make profit are good.
Profit is to the glory of ‘God’.
Those who make profit should give to the worship of ‘God.’
They are the chosen of ‘God.’
‘God’ is our father.
We must obey him in all things.
We must not question his rule
He will look after us in heaven
The disasters of today are visited on us as punishment for our sins
Inequality is inevitable.
Inequality is right.
These assumptions of meritocracy, accepted by many communities, allow some humans to see themselves as special; allow
those who make profit, and lead others, to be seen as blessed by ‘god’; as ‘not to blame’ for all the inequality and injustices in
the world, nor for the misuse of the environment; to regard disasters as punishments by ‘Gods’; and to look forward to a better
life in ‘heaven’. The link with 'god' leads many people to think that they have ‘souls’, and think that the body is not important;
their souls will go to heaven. It is not necessary to do anything about the earth. What is more, such people will suffer the
insufferable on earth in the belief that they will enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jan.2012 a contact from the USA [Emma] referred me to the writings Abraham Vereide [the New World Order], and Jeff Sharlet
[The Family/ C Street] to confirm the presence of christian elitism in the USA, based on the assumptions described above, and
designed to comfort the strong and successful and powerful in prayer breakfasts.
These beliefs can be used to allow any individual to defend all those actions that aggrandize the self to the sacrifice of others.
The religious mind set persuades us that we are not responsible, for we are in the hands of god and destined for another and
better life in heaven. For example, Curt Whitworth, Texas, USA [ 22 August 2008], in the International Herald Tribune,
commented in the Globalisation blog, that if you believe that “global warming” is a valid issue and concern, you either have a
lack of faith, or a lack of intelligence. If one believes that God exists, that He created the earth, and that He is in control, then
the entire issue becomes a moot point. Curt believes that we should be moderate and wise in the way we utilize the resources
that God placed on this earth for our benefit. He asks 'since when has man the power to create or destroy this earth? Since
when has man been in control of the destiny of God’s creations?'
This discussion highlights the tensions between individuals and groups in that the selection mechanisms systematically separate
particular individuals to form elite groups, but in doing so generates a delusion of individualism which enables individuals to
persuade themselves that they are ‘gold’ , independent of their ‘habitus’, and are the blessed of god - are the Chosen.
The delusion of god supports the delusion of individualism, and meritocracy and the delusion of elitism.
Individual freedom, or social freedom?
The Concept of Social Freedom
The concept of Social freedom describes the ways in which we are all interdependent, and exercise our freedoms in
relationships with others. We cannot survive alone. Indeed it is impossible to be alone in any meaningful way. Even in
isolation [gemeinschaft ] in a state of anarchy we carry the ideas, images and relationships of others within our
heads. We exist within a social matrix of relationships with others. We may be lonely, but not alone. The conditions of
society that have been described and criticized in this discourse are the by products of the mindsets and cultural
filters that inform the behaviors of capitalist communities, which ignore the reality of our interdependence
[gesellschaft ] They are built upon the delusion of independence which assumes that individuals can be free to
pursue their own freedom [anarchy] and greed and aggrandizement, regardless of others, and of the impact on
others: [after Tonnies]
Such assumptions have to be challenged. And are being challenged on several fronts.
Bourdieu (1998) argued for the need to analyse the work of what he terms the 'new intellectuals' whom he blames for
creating a climate favourable to the withdrawal of the state and to the dominance of the values of the economy. ‘I'm
thinking of what has been called the 'return of individualism', a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy which tends to destroy the
philosophical foundations of the welfare state and in particular the notion of collective responsibility which has been a
fundamental achievement of social (and sociological) sciences . The intellectual world is now the site of a struggle
aimed at producing and imposing 'new intellectuals', and therefore a new definition of the intellectual and the
intellectual's political role; a new definition of philosophy and the philosopher, henceforward engaged in the vague
debates of a political philosophy without technical content; a social science reduced to journalistic commentary for
election nights and uncritical glossing of unscientific opinion polls. Plato had a wonderful word for all these people;
doxosophers. These 'technicians of opinion who think themselves wise'. What I defend above all is the possibility and
the necessity of the critical intellectual, who is firstly critical of the intellectual doxa secreted by the doxosophers. There
is no genuine democracy without genuine opposing critical powers. The intellectual is one of those, of the first
Diane Swanbrow returns us to the issue of the selfish and the altruistic, exploring a new theory that selfish genes
make humans selfless. She reports that humans are altruistic by nature, according to a new theory published in the
issue of Psychological Inquiry . The theory focuses on explaining the kind of altruistic behavior that involves
costly long-term investment in others, such as parenting, caring for the sick or injured, and protecting family and
comrades in times of conflict or war. This behavior typically entails considerable sacrifice of time, effort, health, and
even life itself.
Considering the self-centered motives that are evolutionarily ancient and that continue to drive human behavior today,
it's worth considering why people make these kinds of sacrifices, says U-M psychologist Stephanie L. Brown, who
developed the new theory in collaboration with her father, Michael Brown, a psychology professor at Pacific Lutheran
Brown and Brown argue that the social bond - the glue of close interpersonal relationships- evolved to discount the
risks of engaging in high-cost altruism. They propose that social bonds override self-interest and motivate costly
investment in others. The formation of social bonds must have occurred mainly between individuals who were
dependent upon one another for reproductive success, or whose evolutionary fates were linked. This linkage would
have provided givers with a genetic safety net, making them resistant to exploitation, says Brown, an assistant
professor of general medicine at the Medical School [http://www.med.umich.edu/medschool] and a faculty associate
at the Institute for Social Research [http://www.isr.umich.edu] affiliated with the ISR Evolution and Human Adaptation
Effectively, this selective investment theory presents a striking alternative to traditional self-interest theories of close
relationships that tend to emphasize what individuals get from others, not what they give. Viewed through the lens of
selective investment theory, Brown says, the fabric of close relationships appears different. Sacrifice becomes a
characteristic feature of healthy, enduring relationships rather than aberrant, inexplicable, or diagnostic of pathology.
What makes selective investment theory distinctive not only is its focus on high-cost altruism, but also its premise that
selfish genes ultimately are responsible for selfless, other-directed behavior. Selfish genes can produce selfless
humans, says Brown, explaining that high-cost altruism helped insure the survival, growth and reproduction of
increasingly interdependent members of ancestral hunter-gatherer groups. Viewed in this way, the spread of altruism
in humans is no surprise, she says. Even altruism directed to genetically unrelated individuals is not as mysterious as
some have supposed. In support of their theory, Brown and Brown cite evidence from a wide range of fields, including
neuroendocrinology, ethology and behavioral ecology, and relationship science. The same hormones that underlie
social bonds and affiliation, such as oxytocin, also stimulate giving behavior under conditions of interdependence,
The Browns say their theory has important implications for relationship science. We do not deny that close
relationships involve selfish motivation, says Stephanie Brown, but the picture may be more complex. If social bonds
evolved to support altruism then we may need to re-think the way we view human sociality. Models of psychological
hedonism and rational self-interest may need to be expanded in order to describe our behaviors in families, at work
and even on the national stage.
[http://www.umich.edu/~regents] Ann Arbor, MI 48109 USA 1-734-764-1817.
Can we reconcile the models of hedonism and self-interest [gemeinschaft] with those of social bonds and
interdependence [gesellschaft] ? All the evidence of our personal lives as children, and as adults; as pupils, friends,
brothers, sisters, parents, teachers, family, workers, employers, and so on, indicate that we exist within various social
networks, providing mutual support. However, despite these facts of dependence and interdependence, many
individuals disregard this evidence, and construct personal visions in which they are free to do as they please, and
exploit others for their own aggrandisement.
The concept of Social Freedom is offered as an alternative to hedonism, self-interest, and individualism. Social
Freedom involves an epistemology of social interaction, dependence and interdependence. It is not communist in the
modern sense, according to which each person is subject to the dictates of the leaders of the commune, or the
political party. Nor is it communitarian whereby individuals have to do as the community demands. Nor is it to be
regarded as any type of nationalism, which claimed to develop social freedom as exclusive, fascist and racist,
fostering the freedoms of the national society. Some of these doctrines were the most extreme forms of elitism such
as Nazism. Our Social Freedom, or as Murray Bookchin described it, Social Ecology, recognizes the actions of
individuals by drawing attention to the social networks in which they are enacted. It means that we become free by
learning and interacting with others. We cannot be free as one, only as many. This means that we have to develop a
philosophy and a morality that sees others as significant, not just figments of our imaginations or as lesser people.
We act and interact together. What we do, we learn from others; and impacts upon others. Once we accept our social
interdependence, we can work together to secure the freedom of all.
The notion of individual freedom is a delusion. An individual human cannot exist, nor survive, nor thrive, alone.
Whether we recognize it or not, our social interdependence is a social fact. Our social lives are a continuum in which
the actions of all affect all. So there is a moral responsibility for the one, and the many, to realize their
interdependence. Ignoring our interdependence has drastic consequences particularly on the environment.
Conservationists assert that if we continue to seek our individual gratification by consuming all the products and all the
resources, then there will be no sustainable future for our children.
The nature of our interdependence is such that the greed of some brings about the hunger of others; that in order to
secure the happiness of all we must act in consideration of all others. Humans are responsible for all the damage and
destruction, the inequality and exploitation. They are responsible for conservation and renewal; and have to accept
that this world is the only home...not a temporary stop on the way to heaven . All people are responsible for each
other, and need to care and share; not disregard and destroy others because they have different beliefs; or look
different; or speak different languages. It is necessary to adopt a different mind set, to use another cultural filter.
Nelson Mandela, after 27 years in prison, and his walk to
freedom in February 1990, and the final collapse of Boer
apartheid in South Africa, emphasized the truth of the ancient
Bantu adage: numuntu ngumuntu ngabantu;
(we are people through other people).And he saw the
inevitability of mutual interdependence in the human condition:
that the common ground is greater and more enduring than the
differences that divide.
If we consider humans as problem solving, tool using animals
that live in communities, then the dilemmas set by environmental
issues, poverty, capitalism, globalisation, and others are another
set of problems that may only be solved by social action based
on our interdependence, and recognition of the need to gain
social freedom through this social interaction. Kofi Annan, in
his acceptance speech of the Nobel Prize states that:
We have entered the third millennium through a gate of fire.
If today, after the horror of 11 September, we see better, and we see
further, we will realize that humanity is indivisible. New threats make
no distinction between races, nations or regions. A new insecurity has
entered every mind, regardless of wealth or status. A deeper awareness
of the bonds that bind us all in pain as in prosperity has gripped young
and old. Researches into environmental changes have indicated that
some actions have global impacts. The use of certain chemicals;
the widespread use of coal and lignite; the combustion of oil products; the discharge of sewage into the sea, and
lakes; have catastrophic effects upon the atmosphere and the lithosphere of the earth. Environmental studies, and the
development of ecology, have revealed that the actions of humans in one part of the world impact directly upon those
in other parts. We can no longer pretend that what we do locally has no impact globally. Ecology has indicated that we
are all embroiled in environmental networks, and that we have to think of all humans as part of our global societies,
and as active elements in the environment.
Social Ecology leads us to see that we are a global community, able to act and think locally and globally. Once I see
that I am socially interdependent on everyone, and that I gain any freedoms in unison with others, then I can see the
moral imperative to care and share for others. I must look after my 'sisters and brothers'. Once I give everybody else
'value' and recognise that they are 'worthy', then I must look after them. I do not need any belief in a 'god' to give me
the authority to care for others: only to believe in the value and worth of all others.
A Social Epistemology: Knowledge
Facts are socially independent; truth is socially mediated.
Social dependence, social interdependence, Social networks, Social interaction, Symbolic interaction, Social
freedom, Social knowledge, delusions, illusions; Sociology; Social Ecology, Social Epistemology.
The science, philosophy, morality of Social Ecology, as developed in this discourse, can be regarded as significant,
only if one believes that the facts of our social interactions, our experiences, experiments, and observations, provide
us with knowledge, and lead us to truths, which guide our lives, actions, perspectives, and relations with other organisms:
that is, the analysis of facts and events leads us to identify truths.
'Idealists', from Plato, Kant, Berkeley, Hegel, asserted that you can only know 'the truth' by deductions from the contemplation,
reflection, and analysis of the concepts and ideas in your mind. The worlds of objects and experiences were regarded as too
unreliable to provide knowledge, and are best regarded as shadows: therefore social ecology is illusion. 'Rationalists' such as
Socrates, Descartes, Liebniz, Spinoza, proposed that one may have bodily experiences, but they are not sufficiently reliable to
lead to knowledge or truth. If you want to gain knowledge, and identify truth, you exercise your reason, the mind, using the
constructs and concepts as expressed 'a priori' by intuition, deduction, and the laws of logic to organise your experiences into
knowledge, and find the truth by dialectic and analysis. Therefore, social ecology is mistaken.
‘Theists’, the philosophers who place god/s at the centre of their contemplations, assert that knowledge and truth are
expressions of the laws of god. God and his prophets are the source of all truth. For them, any analysis of our social relations or
social ecology is irrelevant nonsense.
Social ecology is based on realism [ there is something outside the mind that causes mind to know objects];
materialism [the material world, that is outside of consciousness, is primary to thought]; empiricism [sense
experience is the ultimate source of all concepts and knowledge]; social dependence, [resulting from interaction with
others]; social constructions [the products of words and categories, languages devised by others]; and social relativity
[ that different communities give different significance to different objects].
We have to accept that Social Ecology, as an expression of empiricism, realism, and materialism, is in opposition to
the values of most peoples in the world, today. For example, it is estimated that out of 6.86 billion people, there are
2.1 billion Christians, 1.5 billion Muslims, 900 million Hindus. These communities believe that knowledge and truth are
given in the scriptures, prophecies, or dictates of some god, priest, pope, prophet, archbishop or oracle. For these
people, the events in the world are experiences leading them to heaven or hell, salvation or damnation. They uphold
that to know the truth is to know the laws of God. Knowledge and truth are given, a priori, not discovered!
Social ecologists, on the other hand, belong to the school of 'empiricism' according to which sense experiences,
based on facts, observations, investigations, experiments, evidence, are the ultimate source of all concepts and
knowledge and truth. We know, a posteriori. We do not come into the world already equipped with constructs and
concepts, knowing facts and truths. We discover them by experience. We learn them from others. We are not born
with a conceptual and language framework, we have to learn it from other adults. Knowledge and truth are not given,
they are discovered. Truth is not universal; it is temporary; dependent upon the current state of our knowledge. Social
Ecology, along with many other sciences, finds support from the field of social epistemology.
Social epistemology postulates that knowledge is factive, and truth is 'socially mediated'. We learn the facts from
others and from our experiences: 'a posteriori'. Social Epistemology is the study of the social dimensions of
knowledge, based upon the validity of social experiences. Alvin Goldman defined it in the following way in a paper he
presented for the Philosophy of Education 1995: as veritistic epistemology....... that is, propositions can be verified
by evidence. Social epistemology studies the social or interactive practices of multiple agents in order to see how
their interactions encourage or obstruct knowledge acquisition.
Robert B. Talisse of Vanderbilt University argues that social epistemologists maintain that the cognitive individualism associated
with the Cartesian tradition is a flawed-- or at best incomplete-- model for thinking about knowledge. A full analysis of knowledge
must involve an examination of the deeply collaborative and interactive nature of knowledge seeking (Goldman 1999 ). Hence
social epistemologists are concerned to evaluate the social processes by which information is gathered and transferred, the
social institutions responsible for disseminating knowledge, the reliability of accepted experts and epistemically esteemed
institutions, the social norms governing dissent, and so on. The aim is to acknowledge and examine the ways in which social
institutions and relations influence, constrain, and enable knowledge-seeking. The argument is a social epistemic one insofar as
it emphasizes the moral and prudential risks to which we are all subject in virtue of the fact that each of us is profoundly and
unavoidably dependent for true beliefs upon social institutions. That is, each of us is individually, epistemically, dependent
upon others for many of our factual and normative beliefs. This dependency consists not only in the fact that many of
our beliefs ultimately have their source in the testimony, experience, research, and expertise of others, but also that
our epistemic habits are socially derived. Our epistemic habits include not only the ways in which we form, revise, and
maintain our beliefs, but also how we select those to whom we show epistemic deference and the extent of that
deference. The exposition of a social ecology has led us to explore the evidence and reformulate the basis of our
relationships with each other, with nature, and the environment, and the universe, including genes, particles and
waves. We have already seen how it is not possible for an individual human to exist or to know in isolation. A key
institution for the acquisition of knowledge is the family. The new born baby is able, naturally, to cry, hold, suckle, excrete,
sleep. S/he learns words, names, categories, constructs, concepts, the language of their cultural community, from their parents,
siblings, friends, and relatives, over a long period of time. The language structures, whereby children express themselves, and
which are used to describe the world around them, and identify knowledge, are learnt from others. They know as a result of
social interaction. They are epistemically dependent upon others. Their knowledge filters are learnt, not given. We come to
acquire knowledge and truths from the testimony of trusted others, such as our parents, and family. We know a posteriori from
others. Knowledge is socially mediated by symbolic interaction. Individual organisms are not independent of all others. They
exist as part of nature, a matrix of extended ecological communities [not a complex of commodities to be destroyed.] Humans are
not to see themselves in competition with nature or the wilderness, but as part of nature. Individual genes, and the individual
organisms that they create, are not only selfish, but cooperative, altruistic, contributing to all ecological communities. The
universe is not a product of the efforts of a god-architect, but made up of particles that oscillate as waves, and come together at
random to form all the various objects, from suns, planets, moons, mountains, volcanoes, water, oceans, animals, plants, and so
on. Organisms are collections of particles, and genes, formed at random by evolution, over millions of years. The particles are
centres of energy enabling the organisms to function. For many people, this summary of social epistemology, and the
development of a social ecology, is seen as a fantasy at best, and a collection of lies at worst.
How do we come to know ‘the truth’?
DAVID BROOKS, writing in the International Herald Tribune, and New York Times, 2009, proposed that the Socratic method of
dialectical analysis may well be the rational, deliberate identification of principles, but has had little influence over behavior. He
agreed that there are times when we do use reason to override moral intuitions, but often those reasons along with new
intuitions come from our friends, not our dialectics. He argued that people are not discrete units coolly formulating moral
arguments as in the Socratic dialectic. They link themselves together into communities and networks of mutual influence. For
humans, as Darwin speculated, competition among groups has turned us into pretty cooperative, empathetic and altruistic
creatures at least within our families, groups and sometimes nations. Humans have long lived or died, based on their ability to
divide labor, help each other and stand together in the face of common threats. We don’t just care about our individual rights,
but also the rights of other individuals. We are all the descendents of successful cooperators. These statements recognize the
social nature of moral intuition, knowledge, and truth . This social, or what Brooks calls, emotional approach to philosophy is an
epochal change. It challenges all sorts of traditions. It challenges the bookish way philosophy is conceived by most people. It
challenges the Talmudic tradition, with its hyper-rational scrutiny of texts. It challenges the new atheists, who see themselves
involved in a war of reason against faith.
SOME KEY POINTS
First, in the discourse, I described how some groups are subject to delusions and illusions. For example, it is argued
that humans in nature are all interdependent. But I live in a society where many believe that individual independence is
more significant than interdependence. This has led to the philosophy of individualism and the morality of selfishness,
and the economy of capitalism. According to social ecology, these people are subject to the delusions of
Second, when outlining the experiences of John, I wanted to make it clear that his personal interpretation of events
was partial and incomplete. It was only when he became aware of the complete picture of events that it was possible
for him to acknowledge the truth of his interdependence.
Third, these discussions have led me to distinguish between different categories of facts, knowledge and truth: that is,
between a personal interpretation of events, an observational one, and an explanatory interpretation. Social
epistemology as developed by Alvin Goldman, and others, proposes that truth is factive, and that facts are socially
independent. He wishes to emphasise that facts are observed, not phenomena constructed, by society. For example,
a river is a river whatever the society. It exists before, and after, observation. We can regard facts as socially
independent: that is, they exist 'waiting' to be observed, experienced by individuals in their communities. A planet, at
the edge of the universe, observed by the Hubble telescope, existed before it was observed. Astronomers will tell us
that it has been there for millions of years. Facts are socially independent, and are not social constructions. And are
certainly not shadows. But observations do not necessarily lead us to the truth. For example, we live on earth and
everyday we observe the rising and the setting of the sun and the moon: these facts of observation lead us to
conclude that the sun and the moon revolve round the earth; and that the earth is flat: possibly, a stationary disc
suspended in space. But these observations, although sufficient for every day, are not the truth. The truth will be
revealed by explanations provided by hypothesis and experiment. Facts of explanation indicate that the earth, along
with other planets, revolve round the sun, and the moon revolves round the earth, and by implication these planetary
bodies are circular and in orbit. Communities accept this testimony, even though it does not accord with what they
Another example: the facts of explanation show that animals are made up of genes which combine together to create
the different organs and species; whereas our observations lead us to see them as solid bodies. What is more, we
see humans and animals and nature as gatherings of solid bodies. The quantum world tells us that they are
collections of particles and waves. While we are able to consider science as factive, and knowledge as factive, we
have to accept that truth is socially mediated. What is considered truth will vary from community to community, at
different times. The important aspect of both social epistemology, and social ecology, is that phenomena and
experiences are socially independent facts. But different communities pay attention to some facts, and not others.
Facts are socially independent, and truth is socially mediated. What is regarded as truth by a group will be based
on the values and assumptions of that group [community, tribe, nation, society.] It may be possible to identify absolute
truth as embodied in the explanations of facts, but this may not be sought and recognized by communities whose
truths are relative to their social group. For example, while our experiences and observations and experiments reveal
facts such as clouds are in the sky; rivers flow in valleys; rain falls from the clouds, earth revolves round the sun, other
facts can be used to support the opinions and the dreams of communities. The existence of the bible, and other such
books, are facts. The stories told in these books are regarded by many communities as statements of fact. The
stories form the basis of various religions amongst communities looking for salvation and relief from their struggles of
living. Such facts can be used to support the beliefs of these peoples. Facts are socially independent; truth is
socially mediated. The discourse on social ecology suggests that these communities are deluded and suffering
illusions. But I want to suggest that statements of facts can be used as part of these delusions and illusions. Goldman
would protest that stories and dreams are not verifiable, nor veritistic; and cannot be used as facts, only as fantasies.
The biblical stories would only form part of a truth if they were factive. But for these religious groups, faith is more
important than fact. We are left with the possibility that a collection of facts, verified and veritistic, may be used as part
of a religious, divine philosophy e.g. deep ecology, and the gods of nature. The debates would be about the
interpretation of the facts, not the facts. This is not to say that there is no truth. It is to say that what is seen as truth is
filtered according to the values of multiple agents - the family, community, tribe, village, religion and so on, and may
change over time. There is not a fixed truth: it alters according to the facts and values of the communities at the time.
For example, at one time, in industrial UK, and elsewhere, the amount of waste and effluent and emissions that were
produced by the factories was not considered of any material significance - they were all escaping into the air! or
dumped into the ground. No thought was given to the effects on the biosphere of the earth. This is no longer the case.
More and more communities are struggling to reduce pollution and environmental destruction. There is not one truth,
there are many, and their relevance varies over time and space from community to community. In this open e-book, I
am applying the arguments of social epistemology - that we know from others, a posteriori; and that we learn how to
interpret nature from individuals, groups, and institutions; - to the constructs of social ecology and social freedom. We
are born with abilities, attributes and aptitudes. We have the ability to speak and learn languages: but the exact
language depends upon where, and to whom, we are born. Our abilities and skills are determined culturally. We are
epistemically dependent upon others. We become free in association with others, a social freedom. Social
Epistemology, by recognizing that knowledge and truth are factive, makes it possible to develop social ecology as a
science and a philosophy. Social Ecology arises from the growing awareness amongst those of the natural sciences,
the Green Movement, ecology, environmentalists, animal welfare groups, development agencies, peace
organizations, and world trade organizations, that the nature and the future of the animals and plants on the land, in the
seas, and in the atmosphere are subject to the actions and priorities of humans across the world. The range and
diversity of animals and plants is subject to the actions and decisions of human groups. Nature is not independent of
humans. It is dependent upon humans to survive and thrive, and so are humans dependent upon nature. They are
interdependent. We are nature. Daily, there are reports of the extinction of species of plants and animals due to
clearance of forests, as well as increasing temperatures in critical zones. Ecology studies the nature and distribution
of the bio-sphere, and Social Ecology the impact of human priorities upon that bio-sphere. It provides explanations
about our knowledge of the environment, and all species. It offers prescriptions about how we ought to behave in
relation to these species so as to ensure our mutual continuation. Social Ecology is a philosophy and a morality.
with reference to: Social Epistemology: theory and applications, A. Goldman, Rutgers University.