So far, we’ve established what a messy ethics might generally look like, and why it is liberation and not simply social justice that should be the thrust behind it; we also touched upon why we must seek the liberation of all creation, not just humans. Before dealing with multiple ways of knowing (as I suggested in the last blog), we are first going to have to dig a little deeper into this inclusive understanding of liberation, because, ultimately, I want to explain a new form of liberation, one that is crucial to the functioning of messy ethics: I call this eco-tethered liberation.
Let’s be clear: it is the destruction of all creation – not simply humans, certainly those that are poor and/or oppressed – that is at stake. As liberation philosopher Enrique Dussel puts it, we live at the end of a five hundred year-old hegemonic (a fancy term for living under dominance of others) system that has reached “absolute limits,”* the ecological destruction of the planet and the destruction of humanity itself. As a result, he maintains, we find ourselves constantly searching for solutions to problems we have to think about for the first time.
This is where messy ethics (and, as we will see, eco-tethered liberation) fits in: conventional modes of ethical thinking are not helping us create sustainable and just communities. How we live in our globalized world matters; yet, as we have seen, the right action is not always so obvious.
It is for this reason that the liberation of each subject becomes vital: each subject (person, toad or tree) must become the author of her/his own story if we are to foster a just and sustainable world; and to make this happen, a communal conversation must take place (hence, multiple ways of knowing). But I am getting ahead of myself.
At this point, consider that since the environmental crisis sprouts from the same roots of economic, racial, and political oppression, liberation ought to be universal. The logic that exploits peoples for the sake of a few rich and powerful, is the same logic that destroys ecosystems; in other words, there is a causal relationship between the exploitation of humans (“Hey, let’s dump our toxic chemicals where the poor live, as they don’t have the clout to fight us”) and the natural world (“Hey, let’s dump our toxic chemicals into the ground, after all it is just matter, an object to be exploited; besides, it has no legal standing”). That’s why I love what ecotheologian Charles Birch writes:
It is a cock-eyed view that regards ecological liberation as a distraction from the task of liberation of the poor. One cannot be done without the other. It is time to recognize that the liberation movement is finally one movement. It includes women’s liberation, men’s liberation, the liberation of science and technology, animal liberation, plant liberation, and the liberation of the air and the oceans, the forests, deserts, mountains and valleys.**
So how are we to understand liberation for all creation?
It’s going to take a few blogs to fully explain this. I only touched upon it in the last one. To be sure, in discussing the impulse for liberation of other-than-human creation, a scientific cosmological perspective is helpful. As I stated in the last blog, the thinking of Thomas Berry is needed, but so is the thinking of mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme.
Here, assuming the form-producing dynamics of evolution to be the same at every place in the universe, Swimme and Berry suggest that three principles or intensions govern the universe.*** The authors identify these as differentiation, communion, and subjectivity. Only when we understand these three governing principles, they maintain, can we begin to understand the cosmology or, as Berry prefers, the story of the universe, which they portray as a cosmogenesis (to denote its constant creation or changing and developing nature).
While neither Berry nor Swimme ever proposed the word liberation, my contention is that these same principles form a basis for an evolutionary impulse to liberation.
On the subsequent blogs entries, I will explain these impulses as described by Berry and Swimme, starting with differentiation.
*Enrique Dussel, Ethics of Liberation: In an Age of Globalization and Exclusion, trans. Eduardo Mendieta, Camilo Pérez Bustillo, Yolanda Angulo and Nelson Madonado-Torres (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2013), 39.
**Peter W. Bakken, Joan Gibb Engel, and J. Ronald Engel, Ecology, Justice, and Christian Faith: A Critical Guide to the Literature (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995), 10.
***Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era: A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos (New York: Harper San Francisco, 1992).