Ethics and Nature


         Safe for those who benefit from it, contemporary ecological chaos does not escape anyone’s attention. It refers to what is immediate, as a determining cause, to a specific economic model – one which turns nature into its supposedly inexhaustible warehouse. All logics thin out within this bigger and more powerful logic that feeds the unlimited consumption metaphysics. This is precisely how post-modern, “developed”, contemporary societies have been developing, despite some discourses diverging from such growth pattern. In ecological terms in this late century, what is actually determining is the saturation from the biosphere’s natural possibilities of regeneration under strictly global terms. In other words, one cannot expect the earthly tissue, from the sea trenches to the stratosphere, to be able to only reconstitute itself from aggressions and acts of violence thereby imposed in each and every level and environment. The old “vengeful nature” cliché takes a post-modern connotation, clearly observed in bulletins issued on a daily basis throughout the European summer about the ozone layer. Helpless human beings’ skins and mucosae are at the mercy of something so invisible and as dangerous as potentially threatening. Rays’ diaphaneity does not associate with harmlessness: either a natural element or the lack of one can pose a threat to all. They are no longer “chemical preservatives”, “poisonous acid rain” or “exhaust gases from automobiles”, for these are sub-product from human product and, therefore, apparently manageable. We are actually surrounded by nature itself, which vengefully threatens humankind, as a sinister veil that breaks into sun-exposed tourists’ tranquility, henceforth subjected to the resurface of primal fears. Such fears do not hide in a nuclear night, but rather spread through the bright, luminous, sun-at-its-zenith daytime-like atmosphere. What could be more “post-modern” than this?
         Yet, the infinite accumulation’s universal mechanism is not restrained. Inner tensions from the world capitalism on the brink of an ecological catastrophe yield from a series of delaying mechanisms which do nothing but follow the general and totalizing system logic. The palliative arrangements flourish as fungi, without even questioning the minimal aspect pertaining to the true ecological matter: the phatic unsustainability of capitalism as the infinite accumulation metaphysics.
         However, understanding this abstract level within an extremely concrete matter such as logic is not obvious at all. So usually imbued of romanticizing and softening elements is ecology; so usually understood as detached from the concrete world is ecology; that nature concreteness itself ends by floating in a sham ideologizing abstraction on this matter. In this level reflection does not usually base on facts: rather, it tends to create a softer world for itself, where it reigns as sovereign, where nature is contained by the word it designates, and where, despite of it all, certain inconvenient elements – remains from a “pre-ecological” world, such as social matters – do not claim too much space. Current environmental solutions, usually fruits of a philosophical tradition that is also mother to the ecological crisis in a way, do not usually allow its inner metaphysics to disarray. What stems from that is a totalizing, apparently healthier vision of nature. It is a broad mix of elements (among which is the human being) that would shape into an egalitarian wholeness comprised by inanimate elements: fauna and flora, each of these universes gifted with own active voice. One great panel is then composed; one in which everyone speaks the same language; where the expression “respect for nature” takes meaningful centrality and it is at the well-meant’s disposal; and where attempting to implement such respect soothes conscience and does not allow one to self perceive as that who makes use of flawed outlines on the very idea of Nature. This does not even touch on non-strictly ecologizing instances, such as artificial spaces, emerged precisely from an interaction with Nature that does not analyses itself in its deeper sense. All cats are still grey and indistinct or, in other words, Nature has never been accepted in its own colors. These would be colors that did not end up being assimilated by a domesticated rainbow comprised of moderate significance, and ultimately made way for a much broader range of interpretation and significance. Among this range is the trifflingness of the matter as a whole and its reduction to an inner matter about the development project of the occidentality infinite development, in the sense of a converging union at the peak of the late capitalism delusion.

         An alternative to the proposal of both converging unification and totalitarian union of opposites must originally surmise a relentless separation between uneven realities. In particular, even disregarding the endless discussions about the nature-culture pair, one must consider a human being as one being who, very uniquely and characteristically, does not belong to nature. Justifying this assertion should be clarified in advance according to the hitherto developed argument: the deciding human being decides Nature’s fate and, by choosing the unifying convergence, he also chooses his original “non-entirely-natural” status.
         Notwithstanding, a more complex outcome within the matter takes shape as following: how can one assume Nature as Other in the sense of absolute relentlessness, while they cannot perceive language from Nature in the sense that, ultimately, language polarizes the substance of Exteriority from the Other around a dynamic and alive alternative core?
         We hereby present to this question an answer based on the “ethical twist” of the notion of space, which by its turn surmises a deepening of the very notion of Exteriority in the levinasian sense of the term.
         The idea of Exteriority’s core consists on the relentless Concreteness of Other, namely on the fact that by preserving the other as Other, such cannot by all means let itself abstract, generalize. The essence of the Alterity of the Other is its own absolute singularity. Such singularity does not let itself subsume in another understandable whole in the omniscient logic of ontological totalization. Its meaning is presence to the world indeed, a presence that is an offer and an invitation to the ethical relationship. The reality of the Other pulses in its presence, and neither the presence-concreteness nor the evident reality subject themselves to the endorsement of the same in order to exist. The Other coincides with his concreteness, is not reducible to a phantasmagoria of the same – it resists to the totalization of the Same. Its separation is referenced by its resisting, concrete, external reality.
         At this point another matter shall be introduced: where is the Other? Such matter can be approached firstly in negative terms: where is the Other not? He is not in the space of the Same, otherwise in a way he would be the same. And the reason for this is that the ontological reality of the Same precisely cannot bear anything in itself – in its own place – but itself or its reflections. The Same, due to its unified, totalized nature cannot withstand the sharing of spaces. In the place of the Same, only the Same shall be: ultimately, this place is nothing but the ordinance or the spacial determining of the Same’s reality. Totality can only, as Totality, occupy space in a “totalitarian way”, that is the original space from its unfolding. The space occupied by Totality is the original conquest of Totality in its totalizing process.
         However, Nature, as a possibility of conquest to the determining, converging, totalitarian, in potentia space Totality, does not belong – since the beginning of time – to the realms of this first totalitarian conquest. Not in any way does Nature belong to the same. Its concreteness does not depend on the facticity of the Same. But Nature is concrete. It is concrete in another way, made of a concreteness as relentless as coveted by Totality.  It is another space, although immediately close to the Same’s energetic center, and subjected to the Same’s inflows.
         Thus, we have arrived to the possibility of understanding that Nature – without its original indetermination to the logic of Totality – is the original spatiality of the other as Other. The concreteness of the other leans in a concrete way on the space still outside of the Same’s determining.  The Other lives in Nature while Nature is the substrate of its own concretion.
         At this point one can dare to establish a certain “convertibility” between Nature and Alterity.
Nature can only be the Other’s original spatiality if it does not share the nature of the same. Thus, Nature is prone to the categorical Alterity and, through such categorical Alterity, one can see a conception of Nature not contaminated by ontological totalizing determinations and classifications. Hence, there is a theory of Nature not subsumed in the totalizing exploitative practice.
         However, one cannot remain theoretical within the strict concreteness of facts. Nature cannot be only understood as other by the convertibility aforementioned, since it is rather, at the end of this century, the absolute necessity of this very convertibility. In the present context this is what the levinasian formulation of Ethics as first philosophy means; that is to say, a reference to all the other philosophical disciplines. Thereby Nature, in which the Other’s Alterity can remain Other, can only be considered ethically “intelligible”, which means to be perceived in its deepest and most concrete sense, if it can no longer be understood by all means an accomplice of Totality. (A parallel could be drawn to the Ancient times, when one would let himself be spellcast and divinized by theologies and pagan magic. Incidentally, currently one lets himself be spellcast by the domestication and transformation in unlimited store of feedstock, or by the naive and palliative discourses – which are totalization artifices.) So is the way of Nature, such as Alterity itself, which Totality attempts to devour. Nature can only be conceived outside of the conveniences of infinite accumulation ideology, only as absolutely Other – namely, it can only be conceived ethically. All other utterances, which incline towards the softening of this Alterity, are nothing but delaying strategies on the basic matter – the existence itself, despite the Totality, of a reality that does not depend on such Totality.

         The previous considerations can only be entirely understood if at the root of this reflections the real meaning of establishing Ethics as prima philosophia can be present. Only if one can perceive that Ethics carries an outside rationality, beyond the ontological rationality, that an assertion which states Nature as absolute Alterity can then make sense. The meaning of establishing Ethics as first philosophy is the assumption that the Earth, and by extension, the Universe, should be understood as an immense stage, where an ethical drama must unfurl: ethics as theory of knowledge, the deepest foundation of reality and the meaning of every search. This is the foundational rationality of existence, rather than exploring quarks or quasars and distant galaxies, the chase of “infinity” and the violent seizing of the future. Here is a difficult lesson to humanity; but even more difficult is having to deal with the reckoning of immediate consequences of an ecological hecatomb.

Translation: Adriano Bier Fagundes.

[1]Full Professor at EH/PUCRS.

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