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  • Writer's pictureCrone

Going deeper

Here's the wide shot.

I was trying to see if the two holes were connected by a tunnel, but I couldn't tell for sure. This twisty stick is so appealing to look at. Maybe it's elder. I think the little plants I've seen growing in two oaks are elder.

Anyway, the post is really about depth and wonder. To set it up, read this piece by David Abram.

What he says there feels so important to me. It's what frustrated me about ethics - this view from nowhere, this objectivity, this detachment. The aspects I liked best - which most of the academic staff sniffed at or derided - were those that took seriously the often unconscious preconceptions of the philosopher. But if we are actual embodied beings with minds shaped by environment and society, who are always and already entangled in the world, we cannot take a view from nowhere or a view that is dispassionate. The dispassionate stance is itself a cultural product of the Western Enlightenment.

To imagine that we can look, as if a god, upon the world is utter irrational hubris. We are always situated.

The objective view, as Abram states in that article, assumes a 2-D world outside of us. It flattens and deadens. It turns life into data - binary code to input into machines. It turns us into robots, acting without feeling or conscience. It de-enchants the world.

Today I was listening to a discussion on the Very Bad Wizards podcast about Susanna Clarke's superb novel Piranesi. It reminded me of two things. One is that the character Piranesi has this glorious view of the world as enchanted and benevolent. He approaches everything with wonder and with no sense of entitlement. He loves and takes care of his environment (the House). The other is that he sees the House as having intrinsic - not instrumental - value.

I have taken this quote from GoodReads:

As I walked, I was thinking about the Great and Secret Knowledge, which the Other says will grant us strange new powers. And I realised something. I realised that I no longer believed in it. Or perhaps that is not quite accurate. I thought it was possible that the Knowledge existed. Equally I thought that it was possible it did not. Either way it no longer mattered to me. I did not intend to waste my time looking for it any more.

This realisation – the realisation of the Insignificance of the Knowledge – came to me in the form of a Revelation. What I mean by this is that I knew it to be true before I understood why or what steps had led me there. When I tried to retrace those steps my mind kept returning to the image of the One-Hundred-and-Ninety-Second Western Hall in the Moonlight, to its Beauty, to its deep sense of Calm, to the reverent looks on the Faces of the Statues as they turned (or seemed to turn) towards the Moon. I realised that the search for the Knowledge has encouraged us to think of the House as if it were a sort of riddle to be unravelled, a text to be interpreted, and that if ever we discover the Knowledge, then it will be as if the Value has been wrested from the House and all that remains will be mere scenery.

The sight of the One-Hundred-and-Ninety-Second Western Hall in the Moonlight made me see how ridiculous that is. The House is valuable because it is the House. It is enough in and of Itself. It is not the means to an end.

This thought led on to another. I realised that the Other’s description of the powers that the Knowledge will grant has always made me uneasy. For example: he says that we will have the power to control lesser minds. Well, to begin with there are no lesser minds; there are only him and me and we both have keen and lively intellects. But, supposing for a moment that a lesser mind existed, why would I want to control it?

― Susanna Clarke, Piranesi

Piranesi regards himself as a scientist - he keeps a record of the tides and maps the rooms, he notices all that happens in the House. But he does not seek to control it. He does not seek to take more than he needs. His job is to revere and care for it.

So. What does this have to do with anything and everything? Well, I think we have a tendency to see nature as ecological services, habitat and scenery. All may encourage conservation and that's great. But what about if we felt ourselves to be a part of it and that it had value in its own right, beyond what it does for us or even for badgers, and that our role was not to manage it but to revere and care for it.

Practically, we might well do many of the same jobs. And actually, I think that many of my colleagues, though they'd probably dismiss my terms as woo-woo, actually feel something like this.

What I think might change is, well, a few things. Those who engage others best or the times when they engage others best are when they express not data but passion. So, engagement activities might be different. An understanding that humans are part of nature might encourage different attitudes to 'the public' - in that instead of seeing them as ignorant and stupid, which can often be the case, sadly, we might see them as people seeking enchantment. At least some of the time. People seeking connection, solace, being, wonder. Then we don't give them straight tracks but winding paths. We offer a way to sink into the Reserve not walk over and across it. And when we make decisions about habitat we might be more careful in considering seriously and sympathetically what's there now and the impact of change. We might encourage less tidiness and more wilfulness. More creativity. We might focus more on the territory and less on the map.

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Mar 24, 2023

Lots to be with in this post, dear Crone. I read the piece from David Abram. And I'm going to listen to that podcast episode. Your comments are full of caring, awareness and determination. I like how you give specific, do-able examples. I like that photo and it makes me think of who might be living inside. So leave it there and don't be excessively tidy. Sounds good 😃

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