Reconnecting social-ecological systems: a metaphysical approach

By Tibor Hartel

Scientific ‘prolegomena’

The necessity and challenge of reconnecting humanity to biosphere has been addressed in various recent works (e.g. here). In the same time, traditional societies are on the way to de-couple from the ecological systems (e.g. here). To sustainably use natural resources and ‘reconnect’ social-ecological systems it is critical to understand how these systems ‘behave’ and navigate novel challenges of our times. The story and variations around this theme will probabl be endless, including sagas about incentives, competitivity, modern livelihood, governance, human rights, building social capital and so on. But let’s go back in time a bit. We may discover some additional aspects of the problem which may help us in realizing e.g. the limitations of the current way of thinking/approaching the problem.

The metaphysics of decoupling

There are a series of de-coupling events happening before the detachment of the social system from the ecosystem. The driving force of these events may be well rooted in us, humans. Ancient books and texts such are the Vedas (which are a beautiful description of a long adaptive cycle represented by the repeating yuga eras), the Bhagavad Gita, the Tabula Smaragdina and the Bible were well aware about this. These writings, beyond the dress, tone and language, have in common at least one thing: using a meta-physical perspective, they all warn us about the permanent threat of ‘de-coupling’. De-coupling happens at many levels:

De-coupling from spirituality and cosmos – the world and the cosmos become de-sacralized – as Mircea Eliade the famous Romanian historian of religion would say in his books (e.g. ‘The sacred and the profane’). Fairies and demons disappeared long time ago from nature, spirituality was closed in the church (see writings of Anthony de Mello) and later completely eradicated from the modern society as a result (and replaced with other belief systems e.g. the absolute and unconditioned belief in money and capitalism).

De-coupling of individuals from community – this can happen even if the individual is physically present in the community and result in a complete disorganization and chaos and the new mostly individualistic life forms. The slgen of the modern times is ‘realize yourself’ compared to that of the old times which was all about (or largely about) the community. The term ‘Me, I’ have a more central position in the modern life, compared to the ‘we’ of the past.

De-coupling from family – e.g. we tend to be spread all over the continent and planet.

And finally,

De-coupling from ourselves – this is the situation when our mind and our body are not anymore synchronized.

From a metaphysical perspective individuals and societies showing the above described symptoms are in a ‘death’ state. People in such societies turn in machine like insects and are caught in monotonous, boring activities. Rush increases, hope and happiness decreases. Everything is goal oriented. People don’t notice the beauty of a flower, of the birdsong anymore and forget the taste of a good wine and why not, a good kiss (as noted by Béla Hamvas). People are afraid to be alone, and because of this, probably they are increasingly attracted to noise (as noted by Konrad Lorenz). People are and expect to be directed by financial incentives and nothing else (as the European Union does, e.g. with farmers), somehow in a similar way like dogs are conditioned by a bone. People are increasingly busy with their image in the society: in this race they are unable to balance the social and personal costs of having a good image. In tradition the image and the credit were unimportant – Rene Guenon and others describes a number of artistic creations which are invaluable in our days – of which authors are unknown e.g. because they created for the gods and the eternity, and not to increase their own societal image (the opposite situation is when we ask credit e.g. for every cheap picture we provide…).

The ‘metaphysically dead’ state cannot be solved with incentives, strategies, specialized consultancy, facilitation, and creating terms and concepts like ‘ecosystem services’, ‘sustainable development’ and so on. All these ‘tools’ and concepts are the products of the above mentioned ‘metaphysically dead’ system and ‘We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them’ (A. Einstein).

To turn back to the problem: re-connecting people to nature is certainly a good way to achieve sustainability. But this is the final stage of a very complex (and in the same time very simple!) multilevel process in which we recover a number of human and societal qualities.

With this, I wish you a beautiful New Year! (the New Year celebration is also an archaic ‘atavism’ which lost its meaning today, nicely described in the book ‘The myth of the eternal return’ by Mircea Eliade)

6 thoughts on “Reconnecting social-ecological systems: a metaphysical approach

  1. Pingback: “We should give up the constant panic”: a message from a Hungarian friar | Ideas for Sustainability

  2. Pingback: Milestones in sustainability related research and useful readings | Ideas for Sustainability

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