Nature, a conversation V

Interpreta:  That seems a very coarse way to take environmental and health costs into account….

The previous post ended thus.  Continuing the three roles:  Partovo (“Humans are a Part Of nature”); Separata (“Humans have become Separate from nature”); or Interpreta (“Interpret Socially views about nature and what is natural”).

Interpreta:  That seems a very coarse way to take environmental and health costs into account.  In fact, you’re both claiming that analyses of ecological, health, and economic dynamics are too complex to be the basis of social decision making.  This appears to be a claim about how the real world works.  I know you’re not refering to nature — trees, animals, etc. — but just as I said at the start about ideas of nature,  these ideas about the “real world” build in ideas about your favored social arrangements.

Partovo & Separata:  Huh?

Interpreta:  You’re assuming, for example, that some participatory form of on-going planning and assessment is not possible.  The absence of this possibility then warrants Partovo trusting corporate and military decision makers to balance benefits and costs, and warrants Separata resorting to dramatic rhetoric — “Act now to save the wetlands!”

Separata:  And you think that such participatory planning is possible.  That explains why you point to the unspoken messages behind our statements — you want to check the power of simple accounts of the ecological and social world and counter the rhetoric of crisis management that gets associated with those accounts.

Interpreta:  Touché.

Partovo:  I’m getting dizzy.  You’re interpreting our statements in terms of social views and commitments that we didn’t state…

Interpreta:  Or, at least, only started stating when prodded…

Partovo:  OK.  And now Separata is saying that this very interpretive stance of yours is itself subject to non-literal interpretation?

Separata:  It’s even more complicated than that.  Interpreta has faith in the ability of people to understand complex processes and participate in decisions about investment and social policy.  So he seeks to undermine our approaches and their implications about social action and to boost his approach.  We’re all involved in intervening in social processes.  Therefore, we should examine empirically whether my environmentalist rhetoric, Partovo’s developmentalist rhetoric, or Interpreta’s critical interpretations of us have the most impact.

Furthermore, Interpreta, if you prefer the more complex, why do you focus on interpreting our more simple statements?  Instead you should present to us some complex accounts of particular cases.  At the very least, to help me get beyond “do not disturb natural balance” type rhetoric, I would like to know what ecological and social principles can guide our interventions with/in nature.

While I’m on this roll, I think it would be better if you — together with a group of collaborators — demonstrated on-going, participatory planning and assessment.  Or else, we would be justiied in interpreting your emphasis to date on critical interpretations as indicating your confidence in the political impact of ideas, words, and text.  Could it be that practice is secondary in your framework?

Interpreta:  I think you’re both right to challenge me.  Raymond Williams’ life’s work — and I have been taking him as a model today — focused on literature and politics.  The correlations he draws between ideas people have about social and natural arrangements — I am impressed by them.  But he does leave me wondering what people actually do so as to end up with such connected ideas.  I’d like him to say more about the social interactions and negotiations through which humans come to know the world.

Partovo:  I hate this — now you are distancing yourself from your role model.  Can’t we keep this simple?

Interpreta:  Yes and no.  Let me observe that in this discussion a Williams-type perspective has opened up questions you had been avoiding, and it has exposed assumptions you were taking for granted.  In this light, even if simple rhetoric and accounts — “(non-human) nature is in fragile balance”; “economic processes adjust investment and R&D choices to respond to costs and demands” — are sometimes powerful, wouldn’t it be better to have a more complex account to complement that?  Furthermore, suppose you were simply committed to mobilizing people to act (or, in Partovo’s case to let corporate managers act for them), I think more complex accounts would be needed to help you understand when the simple rhetoric will be powerful.  That isn’t always the case.  And, even when it is, simplicity sometimes engenders unintended, undesirable consequences.

Separata:  Hold on.  I understand the undesirable consequences of Partovo’s accounts — they help distract help corporations and the military avoid paying the full costs of their projects.  But what are the undesirable consequences of drawing attention to the environmental costs of development?

Partovo:  Let me answer.  Environmentalist rhetoric, especially of the apocalyptic kind, undermines people’s commitment to working hard to keep the economy thriving.

Interpreta:  Maybe, but that’s not what I had in mind.  I suggest that you wait for Peter Taylor’s classes on neo-Malthusians, the so-called “tragedy of the commons,” and global models to see how environmental rhetoric can have undesirable consequences.

Separata:  OK, I’ll wait.  But let me admit that I’m worried by where you’re leading us with your critical interpretations of ideas about nature.  I now doubt your earlier reassurances that I have some alternative points of reference, namely, health and ecological sustainability.  If one shifted to more complex analyses, health and ecological sustainability would start unraveling too.  We would be left without any firm handholds.

Interpreta:  I don’t think that must be the case.  But, to convince you of that, words and arguments are of limited power.  I believe that we’d have to join in and experience some participatory processes of social governance.

Partovo:  We already do — we all vote in elections, right?  I know that voters aren’t all informing themselves with analyses of “complex ecological, health, and economic dynamics” as you call them.  But voters elect representatives whose decision making takes into account the advice of those to whom they delegate the tasks of analysis.

Separata:  You must know that that is a seriously idealized picture of how decisions are made in government.

Partovo:  Maybe, but tell me: Would you be happy if we moved towards this ideal of social decision making by elected representatives following the advice of environmental analysts?  Would you — or Interpreta for that matter — accept an appointment as such an analyst?

Separata:  I don’t know.

Interpreta:  I’m afraid we’re too far from that ideal for me to make a well-informed response.

Partovo:  It’s easier to be a critical interpreter of the messy present, isn’t it?

Interpreta:  Yes, but I think there’s more to learn from our conversation than that…


One thought on “Nature, a conversation V

  1. Pingback: Nature, a conversation IV « Intersecting Processes

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