Environmental (in)action in the age of the world picture

Lucas, Peter orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-5391-3087 (2017) Environmental (in)action in the age of the world picture. In: Heidegger and the Global Age. New Heidegger Research . Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781786602305

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Over 20 years ago the Programme Director of Greenpeace UK identified the primary challenge facing the modern environmental movement as that of moving beyond the “struggle for proof” to generating effective environmental action. There is a mass of widely-accepted evidence to support environmentalist claims, but effective environmental action is rare, both at governmental and at grass-roots levels. Arguably, the malaise is less a political one than an ontological one. We “know” that environmental problems are “real”, but we fail to grasp them as happening here, to us. It is as if they unfolded in a “media-only reality” (Rose, 1993).
This ontological malaise can be understood along Heideggerian lines as a form of world-alienation. Alienation is often understood, following Marx, as estrangement from our true human nature, consequent on interpreting ourselves as mere resources. On Heidegger’s view, however, self and world are inextricably linked. Conscious beings are not trapped inside their own heads, never to bridge the gap to the world outside. Rather, consciousness just is the intentional reaching out to things. Heidegger’s view of the self-world relation implies a modified concept of alienation. Our alienated condition stems as much from interpreting the world around us as a mere resource as it does from interpreting ourselves as mere resources. We may understand the natural systems on which our lives depend in far more detail than our grandparents did; but where those systems are understood as brute agglomerations of objects the resulting knowledge is alienated and alienating. Our very “theory of the real” serves to make the earth unreal for us. This, I argue, is the true import of Heidegger’s concern with the world “conceived and grasped as picture”. It also illuminates his remark in the 1966 Der Spiegel interview: “It is no longer upon an Earth that man lives today.”

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