INTRODUCTION "Leading for the Earth"?

A Story of Leading

If/to the extent that we now inhabit a nieta-postmodern age, whereby the postmodern “incredulity toward metanarratives” (Lyotard 1984: xxiv) is itself being met with sufficient incredulity so that we are beginning to retell grand stories, I begin by offering one of my own. Suppose the history of humanity’s relationship to the world may be described according to categories or even “stages” (not always linear, clear-cut, and so on). Perhaps the history of the relation between the human and the rest of the Earth may be described as a history of leadership, formerly by the Earth over humanity, and now the reverse, i.e., humanity’s leadership of the Earth.

Once upon a time (and still occurring in some places), the Earth “led” the human in the rather crude sense that it dominated us, expressing its power in a number of ways (climatic forces, natural disasters, diseases, predators, and so on). Nature dictated our destiny. Radical social ecologist Murray Bookchin calls this period of human history “first nature,” “whereby humans were often subject to so-called ‘natural laws’” (1991: 83). We learned to live with nature’s brute power and within its laws and limits. One could call this learning-to-live-with “primitivity” if not for the word’s stigmatization. During this stage of human history, the Earth “led” and humankind “followed.” And there was much thriving.

However, humans eventually came to master and dominate the world. Humanity became “leader” and the world “follower.” How was the leaderfollower dynamic reversed? Various forces came into play, though perhaps an inaugural factor was the advent of farming. A number of authoritative scholars tell the compelling story that our rise to dominance appears to have been linked to our discovery of agriculture: the cultivation of crops led to the subjugation of everything beyond them (Sahlins 1967; White 1967; Shepard 1982; Manes 1990; McLaughlin 1993; Mathews 1999a; Morton 2013, 2016). Agrarianism generated food but it likely also fomented anthropocentrism, which means that we humans think and act as if we are the center and apex of Creation. This human supremacist« inferiorizes the non-human other and thus exploits or exhausts it (much more will be said about anthropocentrism as we proceed). With such anthropocentric arrogance, it’s unsurprising that our mis/leading of the Earth has led to the multipronged ecological crisis.

But “leading by the Earth” and “mis/leading of the Earth” may not be the whole story. What if there is/might be a third stage? This stage would involve humanity “leading for the Earth.” While humankind remains in power, remaining the leader, we could lead in a way that leads for all. Instead of leading anthropocentrically, we humans might lead ecocentrically, which is a leading for every existing thing, from the organic to the manufactured, from natural ecosystems to built environments (much more will be said about ecocentrism as we proceed). This would be a truly environmental kind of leadership (also substantiated as we proceed). And, as if it needs to be said, this leading would “also” be a leading for humanity: after all, we humans are a part of the Earth - something we anthropocentrists often forget.

We could thus say — since I’m telling a story - that the three stages roughly correspond with “what was,” “what is,” and “what might be” (or even “what ought to be”). The Earth led; we now lead. But what would it mean to lead for the Earth? This question and this hope take the form of a book here.

To theorize this “leading for the Earth” is an ambitious venture (if this is not already evident, it will become so). But I think the venture’s ambitiousness may be managed — even harnessed - by proceeding in a very systematic and structured manner. What is constitutive of this process or pathway? In order to cultivate a certain understanding of environmental leadership, what must first be articulated is an understanding of leadership. While my meta-narrative somewhat crudely configures it as a kind of power or domination, we shall need to be more precise about this phenomenon if we are to come to a more analytical understanding.

In the first chapter, I explain in some detail how, prior to the present research, I conducted a study into the fundamental nature ofleading. In Following Reason: A Theory and Strategy for Rational Leadership (2019), my first task was to attempt to define leading. If I were compelled to describe the way by which I came to my formulation, it might be called “quasi-Cartesian/phenomenological.” As the name implies, it’s inspired by the method developed by the famous philosopher René Descartes: as is well known, Descartes sought a secure foundation for human knowledge; in order to do so, he “bracketed” or “suspended” everything he knew or thought he knew; he proceeded “as if” he knew nothing, gradually building a body of knowledge “from scratch,” so to speak (Descartes

1960). The philosophical school of phenomenology proceeds in a similar way: the “natural attitude” (consisting of our background assumptions, common-sensical notions, metaphysical biases, etc.) is suspended as the phenomenologist attempts to describe experiences as they show themselves as themselves (Husserl 1982, 1983, 2001). (We may also parenthetically note how leadership scholarship has been increasingly drawing on phenomenology, e.g., Jankelson 2005; Ladkin 2010; Kiipers 2013; Zafft 2013; Souba 2014; McGraw 2016. While this is important work, I shall not be examining it in this monograph, given that it falls under the rubric of the phenomenology of leadership, while my work is a quasi-phenomenological theorization of environmental leadership.)

The Cartesian and phenomenological approaches informed (more roughly and implicitly than exactly and explicitly) my own method: when seeking to broach the question “what is leadership?” - or more precisely: “what does it do?” - I suspended my pre-reflective conception of it. As part of this suspension process, I did not commence my investigation by first exhaustively exploring the leadership literature, which would have colored/biased my thinking. Instead, I reobserved, as if for the first time, what we ordinarily construe as leadership phenomena, from the most mundane to the most historically significant (2019: 15-17). What I discovered/conceived was that leadership actions across time and place appear to share two basic conditions or criteria: leading involves attempts to transform given “situations” (states of affairs, from the most mundane to the most complex political-economic ones) into sufficiently different situations, or leading attempts to maintain given situations amidst competing leadership seeking to change it (2019: 17-32). Leadership thus has to do with situational transformation/maintenance. By comparing my conceptualization with existing scholarly configurations, I showed how my model seems to significantly advance our understanding of leading (some of these innovations are elaborated as I proceed). In case this extremely abbreviated summary is somewhat unclear, the first chapter systematically articulates my general model, given that it acts as a ground or foundation for the rest of the study. Indeed, as will become apparent, this introductory chapter only begins to clarify the book’s key terms, propositions, and processes; the rest of the work seeks to more fully define, develop, and refine them.

As I explain in the first chapter, my conceptualization of leadership did not only appear to provide us with a definition of leading at its most fundamental level: it also opened up a way of analyzing and contrasting specific forms of leading. It involves the following process. First of all, one requires the provision of two (roughly) antithetical categories whereby given situations may be described or classified according to either one of the categories. Expressed formulaically: there are two competing categories, “X” and “anti-X”; the relation between them is basically antagonistic and irreconcilable; situations may be (roughly) classified according to either X or anti-X. This classification process allows us to then determine whether leadership occurs: it takes place if an X situation is transformed into an anti-X situation, or when an X situation is maintained in the face of situational contestation by anti-X leaders and followers.

In Following Reason, the two basic categories are “rational” and “anti-rational” (2019: 3). So rational leading involves transforming anti-rational situations into (more) rational ones and protecting (more) rational situations from anti-rational contestation. In the present work, the two competing situational classifications are “anthropocentrism” and “ecocentrism” (which, incidentally, is the first polarity listed in Following Reason). If we’re able to gain a comprehensive understanding of them, then we would be able to ascertain whether given situations are basically anthropocentric or ecocentric; ecocentric leading would therefore involve changing anthropocentric situations into (more) ecocentric ones and protecting (more) ecocentric situations from anthropocentric contestation. And, as I indicated during my story and will begin to explain shortly, I posit that this is a rigorous way - perhaps even a fundamental way - of defining and enacting genuinely environmental leadership.

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