Thursday, 15 August 2019

Geoethics, an Antidote in a 'wicked' Human Niche?


Geoethics intends to shape human behaviour "wherever human activities interact with the Earth system" [*]. Considering that ambition, geoethics should render human activities a more effective and efficient feature of the Earth system. Such an ambition requires to analyse the function of geoethical thinking from the perspective of system dynamics.

It sounds like a buzzword, ‘wicked’. Nevertheless, it describes how human agents may perceive the dynamics of complex-adaptive social-ecological systems that make-up the ‘human niche’. People are an intrinsic part of social-ecological systems. Examples of ‘wicked’ system behaviour are emergent properties, that is, outcomes of complex-adaptive systems that are more than the sum of their parts.

In times of anthropogenic global change, the Earth system emerges as a planetary network of social-ecological systems. Global supply-chains and hegemonic systems of cultural values interconnect them, and, subsequently, the geosphere, biosphere and technosphere amalgamate into the planetary ‘human niche’, blending into the Earth system dynamics also individual and collective human behaviour.

The technosphere is more than the technological ‘hardware’ of infrastructures, production system and consumption patterns that humankind has built. Human behaviour is the ‚software’ of the technosphere. Human behaviour is encompassing attitudes and actions of individuals as well as the functioning of governance systems of many scales and designs. Human behaviour is an essential feature of the technosphere because it determines what design-features the ‘hardware’ exhibits and how it is deployed and used (‘software’).

Underpinning the human behaviour are individual and social sense-making processes. These processes exhibit rational and affective features; the latter also expressing social and emotional belongingness of the agent. The objects of the sense-making processes are natural and artificial environments, groups and individual human beings, and the individual or collective sense-making agent self. The different perceptions that result from the various sense-making processes show variable, agent-depending biases. Irrespectively, in what manner the perceptions may be shaped or prejudiced, the sense-making processes feed into actions of individuals, groups or institutions. The action, in turn, targets to modulate either natural and people-made environments or human behaviour. It is done by deploying technological ‘hardware’ and economic, social and political processes (‘software’), respectively. Consecutive acts of ‘sense-making and acting’ set a feedback loop within the Earth system.

The kind of a given feedback loop, either negative (that is, damping) or positive (that is, enforcing) as well as its relative strength determines how it may shape system dynamics. The feedback loops that humans exercise in Earth systems through the design of the technosphere is a noticeable key-feature of the human niche in times of anthropogenic global change. Shaping these feedback loops is a governance / cultural task that is exercised, for example, through specifying the design features of the technology, how to deploy and use it, or what are values and world-views that guide the design and use.

Complex-adaptive systems challenge the capability of human agents to make sense of system behaviour and to act appropriately. The challenge arises, for example, because complex adaptive systems may change simultaneously at various scales, coupled with cascading cause-effects relations and constraining path-dependencies. Therefore, complex-adaptive system dynamics dwarf blue-print-like problem handling. A blue-print-like problem handling is adapted to the so-called ‘tame’ systems (opposed to what is called ‘wicked’ systems). Problem handling of ‘wickedness’ must be adaptive, participative and explorative, as experience shows. Subsequently, the issue arises how to empower human agents to act, in the absence of ‘blueprints’, in an appropriate manner across the system and in a reasonably coordinated manner.


Complex-adaptive system behaviour may arise, in a first instance, from non-linear processes and positive feedback loops within the natural environments that humans did not perturb. That is, complex-adaptive system behaviour may be a feature of pristine natural systems. In the second instance, technological systems can exhibit complex-adaptive system behaviour because of in-built non-linear processes and positive feedback loops. Subsequently, intersections of the natural and technological system can exhibit non-linearity and positive feedbacks at the interfaces. Finally, and in the third instance, as technological systems are built, deployed and altered ‘with a purpose in mind’ the iterations of human ‘sense-making and acting’ are an explicit feedback process. Complex-adaptive system behaviour may arise because of the feedback loop of ‘human sense-making and acting’ that occurs in the social sphere.

Complex-adaptive systems bind human agents in a struggle for control, for mastering circumstances, or for reacting appropriately. Often different agents are not aware of each other, act non-coordinated, or react to effects of other-agents’ actions. Under such circumstance, the notion ‘wickedness’ may reflect appropriately their perceptions of their operation within complex-adaptive system, for example, when facing issues like anthropogenic pressure, environmental and technological risks or multi-level governance. This generic circumstance calls for enforcing capability that enables human agents to face ‘wickedness’ (of geo-systems). To that end, effective capability building must focus on ‘human sense-making and acting’, what, in turn, brings geoethics into the play.

The key-features of geoethics, namely ‘actor-centric, virtue-ethics focused, responsibility focused, knowledge-based, context-dependence’ should be made key-enablers. Taking a systems-perspective, it results because geoethical thinking is about sense-making and acting, that geoethical thinking intervenes directly in the feedback process of ‘sense-making and acting’. Because geoethical thinking is knowledge-based, the interventions of the actors are nourished by insights into the system behaviour (of natural, technological and human systems). As geoethical thinking is concerned about social and political contexts, the actors should be able to intervene in a value-sensitive and culture-conscious manner.

[*]
Peppoloni, S. (2018). Spreading geoethics through the languages of the world. Translations of the Cape Town Statement on Geoethics. International Association for Promoting Geoethics. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/2122/11907

p.s. This essay is a stump for a scientific article that is in the making. It draws on various talks given during the last year. The test is published to invite comments. 


Some literature:
Bohle, M., Preiser, R., Di Capua, G., Peppoloni, S., & Marone, E. (2019). Exploring Geoethics - Ethical Implications, Societal Contexts, and Professional Obligations of the Geosciences. (M. Bohle, Ed.). Cham: Springer International Publishing. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-12010-8
Colding, J., & Barthel, S. (2019). Exploring the social-ecological systems discourse 20 years later. Ecology and Society, 24(1), art2. doi:10.5751/ES-10598-240102; 
Innes, J. E., & Booher, D. E. (2016). Collaborative rationality as a strategy for working with wicked problems. Landscape and Urban Planning, 154, 8–10. doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2016.03.016;
Jentoft, S., & Chuenpagdee, R. (2009). Fisheries and coastal governance as a wicked problem. Marine Policy, 33(4), 553–560. doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2008.12.002
Kowarsch et al. (2016) Scientific assessments to facilitate deliberative policy learning. Palgrave Communications, 2, 16092 DOI: 10.1057/palcomms.2016.92
Schlüter, M. et al. (2019). Capturing emergent phenomena in social-ecological systems: an analytical framework. Ecology and Society, 24(3), art11. doi:10.5751/ES-11012-240311
Termeer, C. J. A. , Dewulf, A., & Biesbroek, R. (2019). A critical assessment of the wicked problem concept: relevance and usefulness for policy science and practice. Policy and Society, 38(2), 167–179. doi:10.1080/14494035.2019.1617971; 


Friday, 24 May 2019

Sapere Aude Europe!


“Je crois aux racines chrétiennes de la France. Il suffit de voir le long tissu de cathédrales et d'églises... Quand on ne sait pas d'où on vient, on ne peut pas savoir où on va!" (Nicolas SARKOZY, Ormes, 26/03/2012) *. 

A non-surprising statement, something like a political bottom line for many traditional European politician.

"Quand on ne sait pas d'où on vient, on ne peut pas savoir où on va!". That is a bold statement; not only in the lights of the events that happened during the night of 23rd/24th August 1572 in Paris - a faith-based mass-killing organised by the authorities. Other killings did happen earlier and later throughout European history. These events, certainly, are not a nice "racine"

However, opposing such past, modern Europe was built in the process of emancipation from these roots. That is what matters, Mr. Sarkozy and company!

Focusing European identity on "racines chrétiennes" is a much too limited view. When pointing at it, immediately an extended cliché comes up, namely the "...l'héritage judéo-chrétien...de bon nombre de pays européens...."; as a friend of mine argued in defense of Nicolas. That is a bit wider concept, although limited and neglecting the historical processes.

Let's consider two significant aspects. First, there is a lasting Arabic influence on Europe leading to an "l'héritage arabo-judéo-chrétien". Second, Europe's modernity has been built in opposition to this heritage that is about a frightening triad of “théocratie, fundamentalism, and jihad” for the benefit of those who are in power. Regarding the notion “jihad”, at the northern shores of the Mediterranean these raids of the faithful were called "crusade" or "Reconquista". They were undertaken to project power and faith. The accompanying theocracy and fundamentalism restricted the style of life and content of thought in the civil-society.

Let's draw some traits of our European "l'héritage arabo-judéo-chrétien". The three "religions of the book", Judaism, Christianism, Islam belong to this part of the world. Hence, they are part of European traditions. However, the emancipation from the "arabo-judéo-chrétien" tradition is the essential process that led to contemporary Europe. Europe's modernity is the antithesis to its theocratic and fundamentalist heritage. Only part of this is achieved, and modernity is at risk when emancipation stops.

Looking at Europe, what is the time-line of our "l'héritage chrétien"? It starts with a period of codification of necessary believes happening on both shores of the Mediterranean Sea and ending about 1300 years ago, when the balance of codification was tipped by the French kings against Arianism and in favour of Catholicism. Since then we find a variable southern boundary of European Christianity, as well on the Iberian or Italian peninsular including Mediterranean islands and on the Balkan. Christian heritage east and north of the Rhine grew only during the last 1100 years; and since less than 900 years at northern and eastern shores of the Baltic. Thus, the "l'héritage chrétien" was experienced very differently in various parts of Europe. Within this variable geographical space of Christianity, internal struggle and war were common: about the true faith, theological dogmas and power; the latter often seen given by the grace of God to his representatives on Earth. Internal cleavages opened in this historical homeland of Christianity - opposing orthodox and Catholic thinking about state and church, opposing Protestant and Catholic concepts of God's grace, contesting ecclesiastic and secular authorities by various faith-driven movements. Theocratic government, fundamentalist believes, and holy war made up a fair share of Europe’s "l'héritage chrétien". Not a very lovely heritage to live with, but on the other hand, not negligible either are the many passionate achievements and laborious technological progress people made during these times.

When looking at Europe's "l'héritage judéo" we wish to put aside the archaic believe, which possibly is typical for tribal societies, that [a] god has assigned a specific piece of land to “his” people. Nevertheless, it is a fantastic achievement of tradition among Jewish people to have kept that tradition alive. Today this archaic faith is deadly virulent in Palestine. It takes its most primitive form, namely struggle for land. However, the same believe about "assigned by God" also forms part of our European cultural heritage; and, elsewhere on this globe, people think of their “gods own country”. Archaic! These views motivated holy wars, the crusades, and thus kept virulent a tradition to make war acceptable if motivated by faith.

The historical Jewish state and people, which was sandwiched between Egyptian and Mesopotamian powers, was erased by the Roman emperor Titus. He crashed in year 77 a risk of a further revolt by the ethnic cleansing. Since then Jewish people were dispersed about vast stretches of Europe, Asia and Africa. They were in constant risk to suffer further ethnic cleansing, including its ever-to-remember climax in the Holocaust that was organised by the German state. Thus our "l'héritage judéo-chrétien" is to a very far degree a history of an oppressive hegemonic culture and threatened minority culture; only seldom inter-spaced by short periods of cooperation and transcultural exchanges. Therefore, Israel is determined that no further ethnic cleansing of Jewish people may occur and them being the hegemonic culture.

Looking for "l'héritage arabo" of Europe or possibly better "l'héritage islamo" of Europe, we may put aside the somewhat recent episodes of "Türken vor Wien" (1529 and 1683). These events belong more to a post-medieval Europe and its transition to modernity, although it triggered a well-trained reflex to defend Europe on the grounds of culture and faith. A significant contribution to our heritage seems to be the design of lasting ethical-religious cleavages established in south-eastern Europe, which hinders prospect and development still today. Compared to that, the well referenced Islamic cultures of ruling Berber and Arab clans on the Iberian Peninsula are part of our "l'héritage islamo". It had helped to arrange a transfer of knowledge and philosophy from the classical past of Europe's Mediterranean cultures, from Arabic cultures in Mesopotamian and northern Africa. However, it also included traditions of theocratic or autocratic governance structures and fundamentalist civil society. A similar process, although of lesser influence, has happened on the Italian peninsular including Sicily; being there modulated by ruling Norman clans and German emperors of the late dynasty of "Regis salicin". Little of the knowledge and thinking that finally gave birth to Europe's modernity, could have emerged without these transcultural transfers, including transfers into ecclesiastic circles. Likewise, Europe's determination to take up struggle and war for motives of faith possibly would be lesser without its cultural experience of a "Reconquista".

The antithesis to any "l'héritage arabo-judéo-chrétien" is Europe's emancipation from theocracy and fundamentalism. Historically this process succeeded as the antithesis to its hegemonic medieval trait, Christianity. Europe's emancipation has succeeded to a certain degree only. Neither are the consequences of the archaic believe in "land assigned by God" mitigated nor are the theocratic or fundamentalist constraints on our civil societies well confined.

Europe's process of emancipation from its "l'héritage arabo-judéo-chrétien" emerged in the civil society with the age of enlightenment, the modernity; first in France, England and Germany and finally all over Europe. However, before René Descartes could publish his famous "Discourse de la Methode" in 1637, which by many is seen as marker of the begin of the enlightenment, much had happened already that reshaped thinking of European elites. The thinking of classical Mediterranean times, which had been transposed by savants of Arabic origin, was reworked; the depths of Christian thoughts how to narrow the gap between dreadful daily life and promises of the script were pondered, and a scientific understanding of the world was built by trial and error. Even more had happened before Imanuel Kant published in December 1784, in response to competition, his most famous essay on emancipation “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity". Emancipation, thus enlightenment "ist der Ausgang des Menschen aus seiner selbstverschuldeten Unmündigkeit. Unmündigkeit ist das Unvermögen, sich seines Verstandes ohne Leitung eines anderen zu bedienen. Selbstverschuldet ist diese Unmündigkeit, wenn die Ursache derselben nicht am Mangel des Verstandes, sondern der Entschließung und des Mutes liegt, sich seiner ohne Leitung eines andern zu bedienen. Sapere aude! Habe Mut, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen! ...[dazu] aber wird nichts erfordert als Freiheit; und zwar die unschädlichste unter allem, was nur Freiheit heißen mag, nämlich die: von seiner Vernunft in allen Stücken öffentlichen Gebrauch zu machen"**. 

Thus, modern Europe is the freedom to exercise reason in all public causes.


This is what Europe has put in place instead of the frightening triad of théocratie, fundamentalism, and jihad/crusade: freedom, to exercise reason in all public causes. Sapere Aude!

Five years after a German philosopher, who lived most of his life in a remote town far east, summarized the emancipatory program for Europe's modernity in 2569 words, the French revolution put the cultural emancipation on the political stage. Fifty years later the industrial revolution put on program the social emancipation. Hundred-fifty years later the end of World War II sparked global emancipation. And here we go! Since some centuries Europe struggles to put modernity into reality, with much success, under constant attack and with failures. Europe is shaping the concepts of human rights, of the autonomy of human thinking, or of the true value of each and any human individual. 


That's Europe, that's our Promethean heritage - if heritage must be. 
In that sense, Nicolas S. was quit right when saying: 
“Quand on ne sait pas d'où on vient, on ne peut pas savoir où on va!”


* I believe in the Christian roots of France. Just look at the long fabric of cathedrals and churches ... When we do not know where we come from, we can not know where we are going.

** Enlightenment is the outcome of man from his self-inflicted immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's mind without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-inflicted if the cause of it is not the lack of reason but the lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. Sapere Aude! Have the courage to use your own understanding! ... [for which] nothing is required but freedom; and, indeed, the most harmless of all that may be called freedom, that is, to make public use of its reason in all its parts.

p.s. An initial version of this text was posted in 2012. It deemed interesting to republish it with minor editing.