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« China Sets Sights on "Building an Ecological Civilization" »

China is taking strong initiatives to clean the soot, toxins, and pollutants out of its air, soil, and water. Given they are also pursuing growth in their economy, the Chinese state is managing conflicting aims. Nonetheless, from within these tensions, China’s 17th Communist Party Congress announced, in 2007, a goal to shape an “ecological civilization.” Details for implementing the slogan, “Building an Ecological Civilization,” are given by the Central Committee in a 2015 policy document, “Further Promoting the Development of Ecological Civilization.” No other country has yet stated an official ecological goal as broad as this one. China knows it must find a more congenial relationship between capital and Nature in order to address its multiple crises in public health and depletion of natural capital. 

The concept was quickly taken up by the Institute for Postmodern Development in China which had been formed just two years earlier in 2005, to “integrate classical Chinese philosophy with progressive forms of Western thought.” When the Central Committee announced its ecological initiatives, the Institute focuses its mission more precisely: “to find global pathways to ecological civilization.” The Institute coordinates the study of postmodernism at centers in over 30 universities. All search for solutions to Chinese and global problems. Studies proceed within frames of thought coming from Chinese philosophers, from Karl Marx, and from Alfred North Whitehead. A shared interest in Whitehead and process philosophy links the Institute closely with the Center for Process Studies in Claremont, California—the center formed in 1973, by two members of the faculty at Claremont School of Theology, John Cobb, Jr. and David Griffin.

Cobb and David Griffin recognized that the philosophical paradigm explicated by Whitehead differed dramatically from the thinking that created the problems inherent in MultiEarth thinking. The Center for Process Studies approaches the crises of the 21st century as a crisis in thinking. True to its name, “process thought” gives its primary attention to process instead of matter, to the organic and constant changing of things rather than to the things themselves. It approaches Nature as an organism with its own life-changing capacities instead of an inanimate machine with moving parts. Cobb says: 

The sciences have thus far focused on explaining organisms in terms of mechanisms. They have assumed that when one fully explains an organism, one will account for it by “matter in motion.” Whitehead’s philosophy of ecological relations, in contrast, taught that when one fully understands matter, one will account for it in terms of the “organisms” of which it is ultimately composed. 

Cobb has been quick to see how Whitehead’s thought opens up new, life-sustaining thinking about the major issues of the environment and economy, writing a book about each one.

Whitehead pushed away from the philosophies that have shaped and undergirded the Civilization Project, seeing the gaping incompleteness of their focus on matter while leaving organic process neglected. In effect, Whitehead went into the underworld of the Civilization Project and claimed process as the more significant factor. Grasping the treasure of process thinking, Whitehead guides us into topographies of consciousness where we focus on interrelationships and Earth community, on the organic aliveness of our world more than the materiality and stuff of it.  

Making an “ecological civilization” our aim, however, counters the language I use on this blog and in my upcoming book. Typically, I define our aim as transcending “civilization.” I consider civilization to be a provisional project of ego-consciousness, and make our aim OneEarth living. My logic is that a different relationship with Nature from the one that civilizes her can better be called something other than “civilization.” But the Chinese government, seeing itself as the shaper of an advanced society intent on coping with ecological crises, put the two words together. I understand why process studies see this as an opening from a major world government and have quickly picked up on it to advance ecological thinking. We can hope that the process paradigm with which the Center for Process Studies and the Institute for Postmodern Development in China frame “ecological civilization” takes it out of the paradigm of the Civilization Project and into the consciousness of OneEarth living. Process thinking certainly has the power to reframe many slogans and concepts on the interconnectivity at the heart of our Great Work to keep Earth livable.

I sensed such a thoughtful reframing going on at a conference I attended in June, 2015. The Center for Process Studies was the primary sponsor and a sizable contingent of the 1000+ attendees came from China through the Institute for Postmodern Development in China. The aim of the the conference was to change our way of thinking, to move to an Earth-size paradigm and process. The concept of an “ecological civilization” was an integral part of the sessions. If that conference, entitled “Seizing the Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization,” is indicative, then the power of a new paradigm based philosophically in process thinking will move us along into OneEarth ways, and the language of “ecological civilization” may prove to be more help than hindrance.

Both the Institute for Postmodernism in China and the Center for Process Studies show how process thought and its language, generated from within an academic discipline at an institution accredited by civilization’s standards, can contribute a lot to our understanding of the treasure we need for Earth-size consciousness. Will these centers, like yeast changes grape juice to wine, change the paradigm throughout their institutions of learning and throughout their countries? Such a yeasty fermentation happens in larger topographies of consciousness. Capacities of the new human, centered in Self, are awakened and sustained so that we are able to think and act in Earth-size ways. Though new humans are not flawless, being grasped by the powers of Self and the Wild empower us to live and think in substantially different ways, in particular, in sustainable interdependence.


I’d sure love to get your comments on this. Please leave them following this blog or send them to me at lee@jubilee-economics.org)

(This blog is an excerpt from my next book, “From Egos to Eden: Our Heroic Journey to Keep Earth Livable.” It will be released February 6, 2017.)

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