Eco-lnstrumentalism

Before we articulate eco-instrumentalism, we first briefly recall its antithesis -what Plumwood calls “strong instrumentalism” and I’m calling here “hyperinstrumentalism”: the constant and often-complete reduction of non-human things to the level of the instrument or utensil. This phenomenon is easily confirmed by posing the following question: how often do we anthropocentrists pick up “mundane” objects like a pen or a sandwich and conceive them strictly/mostly as a writing utensil or a piece of food? Almost always; automatically, unreflectively. The noninstrumental dimensions of these entities (e.g., the original matter or objects from which they are constituted) are either completely unrecognized, forgotten, or ignored. Now, in contrast to our anthropocentric hyper-reduction of things to implements, ecocentrism recognizes how non-human entities are more than their instrumental dimensions - a recognition or awareness with accompanying practices, which are discussed as we proceed.

Various environmental thinkers refer/allude to this kind of ecological instru-mentalization. The following remark, which appears at the beginning of A Sand County Almanac, testifies to Leopold’s endorsement of a measured instrumentalism: “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect” (1989: viii) - we observe that Leopold explicitly refers to the “use” of land (“land” in Leopold’s expanded ecosystemic sense) but with the important caveat that we use it with a certain affective disposition (we recall our discussion of eco-emotions in the previous chapter). Next, we recall how Plumwood differentiates between “strong/intensive instrumentalism” (1993: 141-142) with a moderate variant. In a long important footnote comparing the two modes of use, she explains how “[Strong] Instrumentalism implies that there are no constraints imposed by the telos of the instrumentalised class, which is subject to ‘arbitrary use,’ that in moral decision-making, the good, welfare, or telos of those outside the respect boundary does not have to be considered except as it contributes to that of those inside it” (1993: 211, n. 4). Plumwood describes the moderate variant in the following way: “even where the other’s agency is overridden by the user’s own in the process of bringing it into use, it is acknowledged as more than a means to these ends, as an independent centre of striving which places limits on the self and on the kinds of use which may be made of it” (1993: 142). As already noted, we shall elaborate how this “acknowledgment” - which, we recall, I identified/constructed in the previous chapter as ecocentrism’s basic/“bassline” orientation-affect - may be concretely manifested.

We may also now be able to nuance/correct the following statement from Plumwood: “We must distinguish instrumentalism in this strong sense from the sort of use of the other which does not reduce that other to an instrument for use” (1993: 142). Whenever we ecocentrically “use” the other, the other is somewhat (not drastically/wholly) reduced to an instrument; as we humans strive to survive—flourish, this reduction is necessary - the same way that capuchin monkeys reduce stones to nut-cracking implements that allow the monkeys to eat the contents. Instrumentalization is a necessary part of creaturely survival-living. So there’s nothing wrong with the reduction of the other to an instrument for use - as long as this is not a total reduction, with its attendant behaviors (such as simply discarding used objects). Hyper-instrumentalism is a totalizing reduction; moderate ecocentric instrumentalism is completely consistent with ecological philosophy and practice.

Let’s also briefly turn to one other important remark from Plumwood regarding instrumentalization: “In practical terms, respect requires careful or respectful use, where there is use, and sometimes no use” (1993: 212, n. 4). By briefly unpacking this statement, we shall be on the way to articulating how eco-instrumentality is realizable. To begin with, Plumwood recognizes that there will be some use, but that it should be “careful or respectful” (once again, certain environmental affects accompany/inform the use). But then she adds that there should also be “sometimes no use.” This “no use” is precisely the “letting-be” that was discussed in the previous chapter. Whenever possible, we should not use things. I’ll recall and elaborate this point as we proceed.

We may also briefly turn here to some remarks by prominent eco-phenomenologist Bruce V. Foltz (1995), who is a brilliant expositor of the thought of towering twentieth-century philosopher Martin Heidegger (a key exponent of letting-be, and referenced in the previous chapter). Foltz expounds Heidegger’s understanding of schonen or use, explaining that it “does not mean to refrain from using something or to set it aside, but to use it in such a way that harm is not inflicted upon it; used reflexively or with regard to things, it means ‘to look after,”’ and “to use it while nevertheless keeping it sound and intact”; hence, “using must be sharply distinguished from mere utilizing, exploiting, and using up - all of which represent degenerate kinds of using” (1995: 161; cf. Manolopoulos 2009: 125-127). This exposition nicely captures the meaning and practice of eco-instrumentalism.

In order to provide more specificity to this concept-practice, we may briefly address three questions: what, how, and how much to instrumentalize? (These three questions also guide our expositions of eco-consumption and eco-production). First of all, what entities are we required/allowed to utilize? We may use those things that facilitate the satisfaction of reasonable ends (from basic material needs to “higher” ones). And when we’re required to use things for reasonable ends, how should we use them? At this point, the pertinence of the various affective states described in the previous chapter comes to the fore: what we use is accompanied by any number of feelings - care, respect, love, etc.; the nonhuman other is utilized carefully, respectfully, lovingly. Recalling Heidegger and Foltz’s emphasis on care, we note certain effects of these kinds of affects: the used thing lasts longer, allowing it to perdure, thus also minimizing the number of other entities required for utilization. In “Letting the Earth Grow Old,” Mathews eloquently foregrounds the ecocentric fondness for the familiar and long-standing: “From the viewpoint of letting things be, we would be most pleased, not with our brightest and newest things, but with those that were our oldest and most well-worn, things which had long figured in our lives, and mingled their identity and destiny with ours” (1999a: 127). An eco-ethos therefore rules out the utilization of most cheap mass-produced items that quickly end up in landfills or waterways (there might be some use for some of these items). The questions of endurance and obsolescence are elaborated as we proceed, and I’ll have more to say about these affective states when we consider the subject of ecocentric consumption below.

Next, how much may we utilize the non-human other? In the first place, we should utilize the minimum amount of things to obtain our reasonable ends. This ensures that the maximum amount of entities are left alone and allowed to unfold naturally. Eco-instrumentalism therefore entails minimal production, consumption, etc., as will be elucidated in the ensuing sections. We also note that a kind of paradoxical imperative implies: on the one hand, each item that’s used to accomplish our reasonable goals should be used as minimally as possible so that it can endure for as long as possible, given that instruments wear out due to use; on the other hand, rather than hastily replacing one instrument with another, we should use the original implement for as long as possible to minimize the process of replacement. In other words, the original tool or appliance should simultaneously be used as little as possible and for as long as possible. The aim, here, as Mathews puts it, is that “the ways in which we utilise matter must not conflict with, but enhance, our intersubjective engagement with it” (1999a: 130).

But what should be done with instruments once they’re no longer useful? There’s a variety of options. For those that survive our use (after all, some of them will be destroyed during the process of utilization), they should be allowed “to grow old” and decease: the expended instrument should be allowed to unfold without further human intervention, defiantly existing or eroding away. Natural/unplanned obsolescence is ecocentrically positively reconceived as the time when tools “retire” from their human utilization. But this is not to say that there’s absolutely no room here for recycling and re-fashioning (these themes are developed as the chapter unfolds).

 
Source
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >