The ecological thought is the idea that everything is interconnected, and has to do with society and our coexistence in the world. It has to do with music, culture, philosophy and literature. This thought process includes the ways we imagine ourselves living together, and everyone’s relation to each other and all other beings. An ecological thought process sees everything in the big picture: “[t]hinking in totality,” as Timothy Morton describes it.
All of our actions affect the planet and every other being that inhabits it. Thinking about these actions in totality, you can imagine what the impacts of them will be in the future, hundreds, thousands or even millions of years from now. One way to illustrate an ecological thought process is thinking of it in relation to the nature that surrounds us. In our modern society, nature has already served its purpose to us.
Time spent in Nature has long been seen as an essential element of human existence. We often view Nature as a tangible thing with the ability to bring us back to “a time without industry, a time without ‘technology’, as if we had never used flint or wheat” (5). It is our escape from our boring, confining, mundane lives of school, work, or anything else making our lives less than we think they should be. We idealize Nature and place it high upon a pedestal; so high in fact, that we are unable to ever reach it. Somehow, we have made it pristine in our minds; all clear blue skies, green fields, and singing birds. It is widely thought that true Nature is untouched by man and civilization, making it the perfect place to go when our rough and overly industrial lives become too much.
It is imperative to examine ecology without the romanticized notion of nature looming over its discourse. There are numerous instances of environmentalist movements that are primarily focused on preserving this idealized “nature” instead of considering what is actually best for the environment. For example, solar and wind farms are often rejected by communities because they don’t look “natural”. Instead of being concerned about energy preservation, the public is wary that these large industrial farms with “spoil their view.” Morton writes that this “is truly a case of the aesthetics of Nature impeding ecology” (9). It’s because of instances like this that the human race will not be able to truly address the environmental realities of the planet without first eradicating this ideological perception of what is “natural” and “unnatural”. Industrial facilities are a part of the modern society in which we all exist.
Morton argues that in order to have a more honest, holistic perception and grasp on “the ecological thought,” we must reframe and accept the seedier sides of ecology. He calls for a new aesthetic called “dark ecology”. Dark ecology is the antithesis of the bright, sunny, straightforward rhetoric often found in environmentalist spheres. The classic rhetoric in environmentalism is counterintuitive in that it is incomplete. We must see the whole picture; the good, bad and the ugly.
Morton writes on dark ecology: “A more honest ecological art would linger in the shadowy world of irony and difference…The ecological thought includes negativity and irony, ugliness and horror.” We must not shield the ugliness inherent in ecology from our view, but rather, acknowledge, or even celebrate it. Oil spills, windmills, landfills and road-kill; these are some examples of dark ecology. If we are thinking in the totality called for by the ecological thought, we need the whole picture.
The concept of “posthumanism” is also introduced under the umbrella of ecotheory. Its main idea is that a “human” as we understand it is much more complex than we think at first. Morton quotes Donna Haraway’s statement that human beings are “cyborgs.” The logic behind this idea is that humans are eternally reliant and therefore interconnected with technology.
This cyborg identity can be seen in the earliest humans using fire and spears in order to survive, to current day, where humans are so connected to screens that it seems we’re slowly biologically adapting to our coexistence with them. A phone is an extension of a person that offers different versions of one’s self. Body alterations are commonplace in today’s society. Breast enhancements, lip rings and tattoos challenge our original (if that ever existed, that is) human state. Even practical, helpful medical advancements push us further into the realm of posthumanism – hip replacements, prescription pills and braces- they all make you a little less you.
Another consideration in the realm of posthumanism is humans’ role in the universe; in what ways should we wield our power? Does our invention of GMOs, artificial intelligence, and alternate reproductive technologies jeopardize our position as humans? Posthumanism seeks to critique and alter the way we define human, and proposes a radical view of our existence.
Two of the concepts within the ecological theory are: the mesh and strange stranger. In the broad world, the more we know something, the more ambiguous it becomes and we understand it less. Morton defines the the mesh as the interconnectedness of all living and non-living things. He recognizes that the mesh is jumbled and tangled and is not easily navigable. “It is a vast, sprawling mesh of interconnection without a definite center or edge” (The Ecological Thought 8).
The other tenant of ecotheory is the idea of strange strangers. The idea of “strange strangers” bases its legitimacy on the inner logic of knowledge. It suggests that the more we understand our connection to each and every life-form, the stranger they become to us. Morton uses the logic of learning about WW1 to illustrate his point: “The more you know about the origins of the first World War, the more ambiguous your conclusions become.” This is just like our relationship with the most seemingly distant and insignificant life form. Much in the spirit of the Uncanny, these “strange strangers” are distantly familiar, yet our understanding of them becomes less clear the more we inspect them and our relationship with them.
Ecotheory depends on the “ghost of Nature” being acknowledged and analyzed in such a way that we gain a whole new perspective on our lives, as well as humanity and nature as a whole. Rather than focus on one singular thing or event, ecotheory presses for humans to think about the bigger picture and look at the darker side of beautiful or “natural” things, allowing them to be scary or “unnatural”. With this perspective as a tool, we can begin to unpack the deeper meaning behind things as simple as roadkill, or as complex as cyborgs and other mind-boggling technological advances.
Morton, Timothy. The Ecological Thought. Harvard University Press, 2012.
Morton, Timothy. “Guest Column: Queer Ecology.” Http://About.jstor.org, 2010, http://www.sussex.ac.uk/webteam/gateway/file.php?name=pmlamorton2010.pdf&site=58.