Citation
A natural rhetoric

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Title:
A natural rhetoric can language heal the broken relationship between humans and the non-human world?
Creator:
Titheridge, Leslie Ann
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
viii, 166 leaves : ; 28 cm

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Rhetoric ( lcsh )
Nature -- Effect of human beings on ( lcsh )
Language and languages -- Philosophy ( lcsh )
Language and languages -- Philosophy ( fast )
Nature -- Effect of human beings on ( fast )
Rhetoric ( fast )
Genre:
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 158-166).
General Note:
Department of English
Statement of Responsibility:
by Leslie Ann Titheridge.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
320079117 ( OCLC )
ocn320079117
Classification:
LD1193.L54 2008m T57 ( lcc )

Full Text
A NATURAL RHETORIC: CAN LANGUAGE HEAL THE BROKEN
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HUMANS AND THE NON-HUMAN
WORLD?
by
Leslie Ann Titheridge
B.A., Colorado State University, 2002
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
English
2008


This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
Leslie Ann Titheridge
has been approved
by
Michelle Comstock
Ian Ying
10'9'OK
Date


Titheridge, Leslie Ann (M.A., English)
A Natural Rhetoric: Can Language Heal the Broken Relationship Between Humans
and the Non-human World?
Thesis directed by Assistant Professor Michelle Comstock
ABSTRACT
Hierarchical, dualistic language use by literate, Western cultures is one
contributing factor to the broken and destructive relationship between humans and the
non-human world in the 21st century. Because language influences human thought
and action, dualities such as humans versus non-humans, subject versus object, and
abstract versus concrete have allowed humans to privilege humans, abstraction, and
absolute truth while denigrating the earth and its non-human inhabitants, the
physical environment, and the concept of multiple truths. Some contributing
factors to this dualism are alphabetic literacy, Platos philosophies, monotheism, and
Enlightenment science.
The proposed language solutions that follow are based on the idea of
inter subjectivity, the dynamic interplay of every physical entity on earth in creating
meaning. A multiplicital lens or worldview, holistic metaphors that unite the abstract
and the concrete, and the elevation and celebration of oral storytelling are three
healing remedies that return meaning to the non-human world by replacing simplistic
dualisms with complex and physically embodied unities and multiplicities. Examples


of such language uses come from oral, indigenous cultures, from scientific
philosophers in the areas of biology, physics, geology, and psychology, and also from
science-fiction and poetry.
There is not one answer for the world; instead, individuals and communities
have the potential to construct their own lenses, metaphors, and oral stories through
interaction with their local human and non-human communities to create their own
truths and relationships that harmonize with and heal the planet. Language alone is
not enough, but is one of the many areas of human thought and behavior that can be
re-imagined to help heal ourselves and our world.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
its publication.
Signe
Michelle Comstock


DEDICATION
I dedicate this thesis to my husband, Simon, who loves and supports me in everything
I do; to my parents, Liz and Charlie, and my sisters, Emily and Joanna, who are all
always there for me no matter what; and to all my pets throughout the years from
Thumper the rabbit to Clyde and Cricket the cats and everyone in betweenyou are
the ones who first inspired me to love nature. Thank you allI am very lucky to
have you!


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
I want to thank my thesis advisor, Michelle Comstock, for being an inspirational
teacher, an encouraging mentor, and most of all, for helping me to challenge myself
and open my mind. I would also like to thank all of the other amazing professors I
have had at U.C.D.: Richard VanDeWeghe, Ian Ying, Colleen Donnelly, Bradford
Mudge, Joanne Addison, and Catherine Wiley. I am grateful for what you taught me
about teaching, English language and literature, professionalism, and life! A special
thanks as well to the members of my committee for their time and support.


TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION
The Story of This Thesis.............................1
Humans Destructive Relationship With the
Non-human World......................................7
The Role of Language in Humans Relationship
with the Non-human World............................14
2. ONE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM: DUALISM
Orality to Literacy: The Development of
Written Language and its Implications...............26
Written Language: A Step Towards Dualism............37
The Greek Alphabet Contributes to a
Dualistic Worldview.................................46
Orality and Literacy: A Complex Relationship........55
Plato Furthers Dualism..............................59
Monotheism Furthers Dualism.........................62
Enlightenment Science Constructs Dualism............78
Contemporary Science Deconstructs Dualism...........86
vii


3. ALTERNATIVES TO DUALISM: MEANING
IN THE EARTH
Possible Language Solutions:
Introduction.........................................96
Holistic Metaphors as Reality:
Oral Tradition.....................................107
Holistic Metaphors as Reality:
Literate Western Tradition..........................123
Oral Storytelling Elevated and
Celebrated..........................................146
Conclusions and Areas for Further:
Research............................................151
WORKS CITED................................................158
viii


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
The Story of This Thesis
Writing this paper has been a fascinating and frustrating journey, and though
the journey is far from complete, it has changed me. It all started when just on a
whim, I picked up The Spell of the Sensuous by the ecologist and philosopher David
Abram at the Bams and Noble bookstore downtown almost two years ago. Before I
read this book, I had never heard of intersubjectivity, ecophilosophy, or
ecocomposition; my understanding of those concepts could be summed up in two
simple statements: A) recycling is good for the environment and B) hiking in the
mountains and reading nature poetry make me happier than just about anything else.
I admit it wasnt much, but it got me started.
From the first page I was hooked; the book opened my mind to the ways
different cultures perceive their relationship to the earth, and it included theories
about how and why my culture has gotten off-track into exploitation and destruction.
I was so excited when Professor Comstock approved the topic of my research paper
for her class, A Natural Rhetoric: Can Language Heal the Broken Relationship
Between Humans and the Non-human World? I researched, I analyzed, I revised,
and I presented the paper to my Rhetorical Theory: Teaching Writing class. They
1


encouraged me develop this big idea, too big for just the 30 pages I wrote, into my
MA thesis.
So the journey continued the following summer. Supplied with sticky notes,
pens, and a pile of books on my futon, I read. Periodically I took proud excursions to
the library toting home an overloaded backpack on the light rail. I developed an
intimate relationship with my laptop computer. I soon realized that no matter how
many sources I incorporated into this big idea, I always needed more. This was
frustrating, but I imagine its also quite common to students writing papers like this.
Throughout the process my thesis advisor, Michelle Comstock, kept nudging
me in the direction of more complex thought and more diverse support. It wasnt
until I sat down to re-read and seriously revise the paper again this summer (after
being away from it for some months) that it really hit me. I hated this paper!! Not
the topic; Im passionate about the topic and the ideas as well. But I realized that the
form and style in many ways undermined the content. Disaster!
For example, I argue that holistic metaphor and oral storytelling, both
dependent on concrete, physically embodied contexts, can be used to shift literate,
Western cultures dualistic, hierarchical, overly-abstract thinking into something that
is more balanced and more respectful towards the earth. Yet much of my own
language, especially in the first half of the paper, was incredibly dualistic, such as
when I discussed indigenous versus modem culture and Eastern versus Western
2


culture. Even the title suggests a duality, human versus the non-human world, and I
assign my own hierarchy to these dualities based on my own value system.
Another glaring problem was the abstract language with very few concrete,
sensual examples to ground the theories. How could I reconcile this with my
argument that holistic language use by oral cultures is almost always intertwined in a
concrete context, thus acknowledging the physical environments role in creating
meaning? Also it is obvious the paper is written analysis, not the oral storytelling that
I advocate. There is some hypocrisy there! Another problem that has persisted since
the beginning is too much of Abrams book and not enough of everyone else, not
enough variety. Finally, the topic is just too big! I can never read or research enough
on the many topics I touch on: the history of orality, the history of literacy, language
use and perceptions of the earth from diverse cultures and time periods, religion and
the environment, science and the environment, and current events and the
environment. In my hubris I took on too much and was doomed to fail!
It was a crisis that began with loud, angry, and colorful language, progressed
into excessive chocolate ingestion and some long, thoughtful walks, and culminated
in a set of personal epiphanies that have reframed the paper into the current, more
balanced, draft. First of all, I decided that the central question in the title is still the
one Im passionate about and that many of the arguments and support still have merit,
they just need a new center and a new frame (which will be discussed a bit later.) I
quickly accepted that my paper is not one that introduces new insights into a very
3


specific, narrow, and expert field, but that it simply applies a different lens the
relationship between humans and our non-human worldto the development of
language, the study of culture, and the implications of human thought. Because it is
so broad, I needed to select carefully a variety of sources that represent current
thought on the topics I discuss to more credibly support my claims.
Furthermore, instead of thinking of language as simply dualistic (binary
oppositions like male/female, good/evil) or holistic (one web of interconnected
relationships), I could apply the concept of multiplicity inspired by the work of
scientists and philosophers Donna Haraway and Sandra Harding. Haraways many-
headed monster from her essays Cyborgs Manifesto inspired me to look at my
idealization of indigenous, oral, holistic cultures in a more balanced way. She writes:
The political struggle is to see from both perspectives at once because each reveals
both dominations and possibilities unimaginable from the other vantage point. Single
vision produces worse illusions than double vision or many-headed monsters
(Harraway 155). Thus I can discuss specific cultures and modes of thought as one
variety out of many, each adapted to its particular niche. Reality is much more
complex than singularities or dualities; often it is multiplicitous, and variations are a
matter of type and degree. In the same way, sections of my paper may be more
abstract, and others more concrete; some will be dualistic, others holistic, and others
something else. A balanced variety can support a multiplicitous mindset that
acknowledges diverse thoughts and forms for different purposes.
4


I wanted to blame my frustrations on the limits of the form the traditional
written analytical research paperbut I knew this was cowardly and unjust. The
written word is in many ways my best friend; books have always been adventure,
education, escape, and therapy for me, and while I do advocate oral storytelling as a
way to use language to heal our relationship with the earth, I promote it in a
multiplicitous way, alongside the page. Research papers such as these allow the
author to place his or her argument in the context of other writers and thinkers,
scholars who could never be gathered into one room for an oral conversation because
of the physical limitations of time and space. Research papers link the student to a
wider academic community, a web of relationships, and multiple perspectives on an
issue.
Though this thesis is not an oral story, I have decided to introduce it with my
own written story, this ^thesis journey. Untraditional as it may be, its purpose is to
provide a context, to ground the disembodied authorial voice in a flesh-and-blood
person, and to explain why I made the language choices I did as my thoughts about
language evolved. The oral thesis defense will also give me an opportunity to capture
the power, immediacy, and heightened interaction that orality and oral storytelling
allow.
Finally, I am rethinking the center of the paper not as simply my argument,
which gets quite abstract, but as trees. I have woven in many examples of trees
how they are represented literally in language and also figuratively in stories from a
5


variety of cultures and time periodsto ground the arguments in concrete, physical
reality. I chose trees because they are common to the language and myths of many
peoples, because they have been essential to the survival of many human cultures in
providing food, shelter, and fire, and also because they are one of the non-human
entities that made this thesis, which is printed on paper, possible.
Newly supplied with my metaphors: the topic of humans relationship with
the non-human world, the lens of multiplicity, the frame of my thesis journey, and the
center of trees, I am ready to continue my journey. Next stop: the library to hunt and
gather more information on the shelves, and I am amazed at what I find. This topic,
the relationship between humans and our non-human (or as some say more-than-
human) world, has mushroomed; so much has been published in just the last year
since I wrote my first drafts! This current draft is my best effort at exploringnot
necessarily answeringthe title question with support from a wide selection of
current and not-so-current voices in print that have shaped my thinking on my
journey of discovery. I know there are many more voices out there, and I am
confident this pivotal issue will continue to be developed by others, but I am happy to
have added my own voice to the discussion. It has been a transformative experience.
6


Humans Destructive Relationship
With the Non-human World
We human beings are destroying the earth, our only home; we are destroying
the other creatures and entities who live here with us, our non-human family, and in
this process we are also destroying ourselves. Many politicians, scientists, and
average world citizens agree that this is the issue, the crisis, of the 21st century. At
the 2007 climate change conference in Bali, United Nations Secretary General Ban
Ki-Moon stated: Climate change is the defining challenge of our age. The science is
clear; climate change is happening, and the impact is real. The time to act is now
(http://news.bbc.co.ukl. Richard Black, BBC reporter, notes in his 2007 piece UN
Challenges States on Warming: Among the top-line conclusions [from the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] are that climate change is
unequivocal, that humankinds emissions of greenhouse gases are more than 90%
likely to be the main cause, and that impacts can be reduced at reasonable cost
(Black http://news.bbc.co.ukl. Climate change is global warming, which scientists say
is the result of burning fossil fuels and releasing excessive carbon dioxide into the
atmosphere.
Climate change is only one of the ways humans are damaging our world. Alex
Steffen, editor of WorldChanging: A Users Guide for the 21st Century, writes that
global sustainability is also in jeopardy because of population growth, 2.5 billion to
over 6 billion in the last fifty years, and over-consumption, humans are using about
7


50 percent of all the life on earth ... microbes, insects, plants, mammals ...
Biologists call this the Sixth Extinction (Steffen 16-17). David Wood, scholar,
philosopher, and author of Specters of Derrida: On the way to Econstruction adds
One of the most shocking environmental statistics is the rate of species loss. This
rate is estimatedand there can only be estimatesat between 50-150 a day (Wood
273). Another example of how this destruction has impacted our world is the plight of
trees, beautiful organisms that are essential to earths web of life for many reasons;
through photosynthesis, trees change carbon dioxide into oxygen for us and other
animals to breathe. Trees actually counteract climate change through this process.
But human activity is decimating the tree population: In a hundred years, we have
lost more than half of the worlds rain forests. Most of this devastation comes from
logging hardwoods (Steffen 142). These environmental problems are not new, they
have been accumulating, especially during the 20th century, but the damage is
accelerating at an alarming rate.
Political and social changes are already underway; environmentalism is not
seen as a radical, fringe idea anymore: it is in the mainstream. Globally, nations are
coming together to act through the Kyoto Protocol. Alex Kirby, reporter for BBC
news, wrote in his 2004 article: The Kyoto Protocol, which commits rich countries
to reducing emissions, is a small but necessary start on building an international
system for tackling climate change, its proponents believe (Kirby
http://news.bbc.co.uk). Kirby also reported that the U.S. is lagging behind in the
8


Kyoto Protocol,
the country responsible for about a quarter of the world's greenhouse gas
emissions, the US, has refused to sign up to it, and has blocked many of the
G8+5s environmental initiatives. Many hope that rising gas prices will turn
the tide of U.S. governmental policies in favor of sustainable energy options.
(Kirby http://news.bbc.co.uk~)
More recently, at the 2008 G8 conference, BBC News reported: World leaders say
they will aim to set a global target of cutting carbon emissions by at least 50% by
2050 in an effort to tackle global warming (http://news.bbc.co.uk~). Unfortunately,
the US has refused to set any interim targets for cutting emissionsand
environmentalists have criticized the progress at talks as pathetic
('http://news.bbc.co.uk~).
In the face of the U.S. Kyoto refusal and carbon-cutting reluctance, American
companies such as Google and Yahoo have voluntarily set goals to become carbon
neutral in the near future, and car companies are responding to consumer demands by
producing fuel-efficient, hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius. Businesses like
Whole Foods are going green by encouraging recycling,, local farming, and organic
products, and Pioneer Millworks, [is] one of several companies that salvages and
resells usable wood from fallen trees and industrial sites instead of logging
dwindling forests (Steffen 143). Beyond the U.S. and Europe, Australia initiated a
voluntary blackout for climate change awareness, and New Zealand is a leader in
developing sustainable practices. Prime Minister Clark has continues to make
9


environmentalism part of her nations agenda, and in a 2007 speech she stated:
I believe New Zealand can aim to be the first nation to be truly sustainable -
across the four pillars of the economy, society, the environment, and
nationhood. I believe we can aspire to be carbon neutral in our economy and
way of life. I believe that in the years to come, the pride we take in our quest
for sustainability and carbon neutrality will define our nation, just as our quest
for a nuclear free world has over the past twenty three years. (Clark
http://www.scoop.co.nzf
In U.S. popular culture, Former Vice President Al Gores 2006 film documentary An
Inconvenient Truth was unprecedented in bringing awareness of climate change to
massive audiences in the United States and beyond, and even childrens films such as
the 2006 animated movie Happy Feet are putting environmental issues in the
forefront, in this case the plight of endangered penguins in the Antarctic. In many
areas people are exploring creative ways to reduce their ecological footprint and
damage to our world.
But the efforts so far are not enough. BBC News October 2007 State of the
Planet reports:
Globally human populations are growing, trade is increasing, and living
standards are rising for many. But, according to the UNs latest Global
Environment Outlook report, long-term problems including climate change,
pollution, access to clean water, and the threat of mass extinctions are being
met with a remarkable lack of urgency. (http://news.bbc.co.ukf
What could explain this lack of urgency? The answer is complex, but the attitude
and lifestyle of Western industrialized nations, especially the United States, is a
10


leading factor. For example authors and psychologists Allen D. Kanner and Mary E.
Gomes note:
During the 1992 global environmental summit conference held in Rio de
Janeiro, Brazil, representatives from several Third World countries
approached President George Bush to ask him to consider reducing the
consumption habits of the United States. They contended that a major cause
of the current ecological crisis was the enormous demand for consumer goods
emanating from the United States and other industrialized nations ... Bushs
reply was terse and to the point: The American way of life is not up for
negotiation. (Kanner and Gomes 77-78)
The U.S. Presidents arrogant statement implies that destroying the environment
through consumption and exploitation is inherent to the American lifestyle. And
the numbers on American consumption are damning. In an equitable and
sustainable world, each persons ecological footprint would work out in Mathis
Wackemagels equation, which experts consider pretty accurate, if a bit optimistic -
to about 4.7 acres (thats 1.9 hectares) (Steffen 15-16). Thats 4.7 acres of land and
resources to sustainably produce what one person needs to survive. The average
ecological footprint in the world is 5.4 acres, above the sustainable ideal, but the
average American uses approximately 24 acres ... the average Chinese person uses
only about 4 acres ... and the average Pakistani just 1.5 acres (Steffen 33). How did
American culture, which often boasts of leading the world in freedom and
independence, come to lead the world in destruction? The Kyoto Protocol, mentioned
before, was signed in 2007 by one of the last holdouts, Australia, leaving the U.S. as
the only industrialized nation outside the Kyoto process and thus refusing to
11


cooperate with global environmental efforts (http://news.bbc.co.uk). In many ways,
Americans are big part of the problem, but reluctant to be a part of the solution.
Many agree with the author and cofounder/codirector of the Forum on
Religion and Ecology Mary Evelyn Tucker:
This is a task of considerable urgency. As the world becomes warmer, as
hurricanes increase in number and intensity, as species go extinct, as air and
water pollution spreads, and as resource wars heat up, there is a disturbing
sense among many environmentalists and ordinary citizens that the clock is
ticking toward major disasters ahead. (Tucker 496)
Change is necessary to preserve our world, ourselves, and the future. But what kind
of change? Steffen advocates a new model:
We need to consciously redesign the entire material basis of our civilization.
The model we replace it with must be dramatically more ecologically
sustainable, offer large increases in prosperity for everyone on the planet, and
not only function in areas of chaos and corruption, but also help transform
them. (Steffen 21)
This enormous and ambitious objective requires the global cooperation of
governments, businesses, scientists, scholars, religious leaders, activists, teachers,
workers of all kinds, and ordinary citizens. My particular interest in this solution is
the role of language in redesigning our model of the world. Philosophers, thinkers,
artists, scholars, and students like myself are delving into the various ways language
use has contributed to humans broken and unbalanced relationship with the non-
human world. We are also imagining possible ways in which language can help heal
the wounds caused by human domination and exploitation of the earth.
12


As I explore these issues of language and environment, I want to state up-front
my particular biases. My background and self-identification will color this analysis
because all writers and thinkers, all people in my view, are influenced by their
personal experiences. I lay my biases (the ones I am currently conscious of, at least!)
before the reader to take into consideration as he or she reads this text. As I discuss
relationship between humans and the non-human world, I especially identify with
Western, industrialized, English-speaking culture, American culture, because Ive
grown up middle-class, white, and female in the United States and have lived in
Colorado all my life. The previous paragraphs focus on the rhetoric and statistics of
the United States in relation to the rest of the world not only because of the obvious
contribution the U.S. has made to the problem of environmental destruction, but also
because as an American, I feel I have an insiders view into the destructive mindset
that contributes to the problem. I in no way speak for all Americans, but I have one
American point of view.
In the paper I will also discuss alphabetic literacy, religion, science, and
indigenous, oral cultures. In my own experience, I am an avid (even addicted) reader,
a former Catholic schoolgirl (11 years) who left the Church in early adulthood, an
admiring student of science who is at times ambivalent about technology and
skeptical of rationality, and a Colorado State University graduate. Though Ive
traveled the world a bit, my primary experience with indigenous, oral cultures is
limited to books and the classroom. I do my best to analyze a variety of voices and
13


points of view, but the reader must keep in mind my stance when judging these
arguments as well.
The Role of Language in Humans Relationship
with the Non-human World
Can language heal this broken, unbalanced, and ultimately destructive
relationship between humans and the non-human world? The problem is complex
and the answer, if there even is a definitive answer, is even more so. Obviously
language alone is not enough. Changes in policies and behaviors, awareness and
education, incentives and leadership, technology and economy, and even changes in
individuals basic worldviews are critical as well. But it is my contention that
language is one of the factors that shapes humans perception of reality, and we make
choices and live our lives based on these perceptions. If humans creatively rethink our
use of language, we can utilize language as one of the many medicines to heal our
relationship with the earth.
As Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg, editors of The Rhetorical Tradition,
assert: Reality itself is a function of the way we use language (Bizzell and Herzberg
15). Language does not create reality; our subjective perception of reality is a
dynamic interplay of forces and influences, socially constructed, but also informed by
the concrete, physical world. Though the physical structures of our bodies, the
physical world around us, and our experiences in the world also contribute to human
perceptions of reality, language can be used to frame and narrate these experiences
14


and to negotiate connection and meaning. Stephen Pinker, scientist and author of The
Language Instinct, points out that language is not essential for thought nor does it
create thought: The idea that thought is the same thing as language is an example of
what can be called a conventional absurdity (Pinker 47). He explains that often we
have thoughts that we cant quite express clearly in words, and much of thought is
visual as well. So while I do not go so far as to claim that language equals reality or
language equals thought, language does have an undeniable and dynamic influence
over both. I am often in awe of the power of language that can connect me to an
author who lived two hundred years ago, that can persuade me to vote for a particular
candidate, and that can transform my perceptions of myself, other people, and the
world. Its this power that I hope to explore in the quest for a more balanced,
harmonious relationship between humans and the non-human world.
The idea that language influences thought is controversial. In the 1930s,
linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf studied the grammatical structures of non-European
languages, especially of the Hopi people, and through this work he and colleague
Edward Sapir formulated the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. This hypothesis discusses the
relationship between language, thought, and reality, which also happens to be the title
of Whorf s book. In Language, Thought, and Reality, Whorf undermines the
assumption that language, is supposed to only express what is essentially already
formulated non-linguistically. Formulation is an independent process, called thought
or thinking, and is supposed to be largely indifferent to the nature of particular
15


languages (Whorf 207). Instead, he makes a grand claim: Formulation of ideas is
not an independent process ... but is a part of particular grammars (Whorf 212).
Taking this further he argues, Language thus should be able to analyze some, if
probably not all, of the differences, real or assumed, between the mentality of so-
called primitive peoples and modem civilized man (Whorf 79). Sapirs claim is even
more extreme: Human beings ... are very much at the mercy of the particular
language which has become the medium of expression for that society... the real
world is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group
(Edward Sapir quoted from Whorf 134). While more contemporary linguists argue
this claim goes too far because mentality is a complex construction of many factors
including history, environment, social order, thought, etc., language is an interesting
lens through which to analyze differences in worldview. While I contend language
does not cause or determine thought as some of Whorf s writing supports, I do
believe it is one of many factors that influences how diverse peoples perceive their
relationship with the non-human world.
To argue his theory, Whorf analyzes the use of Hopi verbs which do not have
the three tenses of many European languages (past, present, future), but instead
display two forms: objective which is manifested [already] and subjective
which is manifesting or unimanifest (Whorf 59). He explains:
The objective or manifest comprises all that is or has been accessible to the
senses, the historical physical universe, in fact, with no attempt to distinguish
16


between present and past, but excluding everything that we call future. The
subjective or manifesting comprises all that we call future, BUT NOT
MERELY THIS; it includes equally and indistinguishably all that we call
mentaleverything that appears or exists in the mind, or, as the Hopi would
prefer to say, in the heart. (Whorf 59)
Though he is clear to state that the Hopi can express past, present, and future in their
language just as English speakers can express manifested and manifesting in
English, these structural differences still suggest the Hopi language and culture
conceals a METAPHYSICS in contrast to The metaphysics underlying our own
language, thinking, and modem culture ... [that] imposes upon the universe two
grand COSMIC FORMS, space and time; static three-dimensional infinite space, and
kinetic one-dimensional uniformly and perpetually flowing time (Whorf 58-59). He
believes this metaphysics underlying the language influences Hopi thought and
behavior. For example, Hopi preparing activities again show a result of their
linguistic thought background in an emphasis on persistence and constant insistent
repetition (Whorf 151). He claims European languages that promote Our
objectified view of time, is, however, favorable to historicity and to everything
connected with the keeping of records, while the Hopi view is unfavorable thereto
(Whorf 153). In some writings he suggests this is linguistically determined, while
in later writings he hints that these are simply connections, not causations.
Whorf writes, Most metaphysical words in Hopi are verbs, not nouns as in
European languages (Whorf 61). If one assumes language influences thought to
some degree, the implications are fascinating. While nouns as things suggest
17


discrete, separate entities that are at least relatively fixed in space and time or
permanent, verbs are flowing, moving, changing actions with causes, effects, and
implied interrelationships. The former could influence a culture with hierarchical
inclinations to conceive of separate, fixed categories of human versus non-human
while the latter might influence a culture to focus on the shifting relationships and
transformations (like the food web or birth cycle) between human and nonhuman. A
language in which metaphysics is noun-based is more likely to view reality as a noun
and noun-likepermanent and fixedwhereas a verb-based metaphysical
language is likely to conceive of reality as dynamic change. Can both languages
express both states of reality? Of course. But the underlying structure of each
language makes assumptions that are likely to color the worldview of those who
speak the language.
Later in his writings, Whorf seems to balance his theory of linguistic
determinism with other influences on language. He writes:
My own studies suggest, to me, that language, for all its kingly role, is in
some sense a superficial embroidery upon deeper processes of
consciousness, which are necessary before any communication, signaling, or
symbolism whatsoever can occur, and which also can, at a pinch, effect
communication (though not true AGREEMENT) without languages and
symbolisms aid. (Whorf 239)
This acknowledges that language does not determine thought and consciousness but
that it is a complex neurological and social process; the description of communication
in a pinch reminds me of my husbands stories about traveling southeast Asia. He
18


asserts that a common language is not necessary for the basics of communication
because he got along happily in some complex and even dire circumstances through
gestures, through drawings, and through the amused goodwill of the people met who
were determined to help the struggling foreigner.
Contemporary linguist and scholar Steven Pinker in his book The Language
Instinct, takes issue with Whorf s theories of linguistic determinism and linguistic
relativity; instead he advocates the theory of a universal grammar and a type of
thinking separate from language he calls mentalese. He argues Knowing a
language, then, is knowing how to translate mentalese into strings of words and vice
versa (Pinker 73). Language and grammar do not influence thought or culture in any
significant way according to Pinker. He roundly criticizes Whorf s assumptions:
And supposedly there is a scientific basis for these assumptions: the famous
Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of linguistic determinism, stating that peoples
thoughts are determined by categories made available by their language, and
its weaker version, linguistic relativity, stating that differences among
languages can cause differences in the thoughts of their speakers (Pinker 46).
He analyzes a series of Whorf s claims and evidences, but he simplifies Whorf s
theory in his criticisms. Quoting a translation of a Hopi sentence that discusses
waking for morning prayers, Pinker observes: perhaps the Hopi are not as oblivious
to time as Whorf made them out to be (Pinker 53). But Whorf never claims the Hopi
are oblivious to time or that they cannot conceive of linear, objectified time.
Instead, he argues that there is no more basis for an objectified time in Hopi verbs
than in other Hopi patterns; although this does not in the least hinder the verb forms
19


and other patterns from being closely adjusted to the pertinent realities of actual
situations (Whorf 145). While Hopi grammar influences Hopi concepts of time to
be considered as manifest and manifesting/unmanifest instead of objective and
linear, this does not mean their language, is incapable of expressing the European
concepts of time.
At the end of this discussion in Pinkers book he acknowledges:
In these experiments, language is, technically speaking, influencing a form of
thought in some way, but so what? It is hardly an example of
incommensurable world views, or of concepts that are nameless and therefore
unimaginable, or of dissecting nature along lines laid out by our native
languages according to terms that are absolutely obligatory. (Pinker 56)
Pinker here admits what is one of my assumptions: language influences thought in
some way. Does it make certain concepts unimaginable? Of course not. Nowhere in
Whorf s book did I find a claim that Hopi are not capable of conceiving of linear time
and English speakers are not capable of conceiving of Hopi spacetime. And is
grammar deterministic? Whorf seems to be conflicted on this count, but at least near
the end of his book, he seems to move away from linguistic determinism: There are
connections but not correlations or diagnostic correspondences between cultural
norms and linguistic patterns (Whorf 159). I would agree with Pinker that linguistic
determinism that leads to incommensurable world views or absolutely obligatory
conceptual structures is simplistic and with little basis, but I would agree with both
scholars that language does influence thought to some extent. This assumption is the
basis of my argument that language has contributed to the broken relationship
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between the human and the non-human world and also that language, among a
multitude of other factors, can be a part of the solution.
To continue to lay out the philosophical assumptions of the coming argument,
I advocate the phenomenological approach to reality as described in John. W.
Creswells Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design. I believe that the reality of an
object, then, is inextricably related to ones consciousness of it. Thus, reality,
according to Husserl, is not divided into subject and objects, thus shifting the
Cartesian duality (Creswell 53). Cartesian dualitiesbetween subject and object,
human and non-human, spirit and matterare a part of what I hope to analyze in
language; I will argue that these dualities contribute to the problematic relationship
between humans and our non-human family. Overcoming dualism in language and
transforming it into something holistic, or better yet multiplicitous, is one of the
solutions I will suggest.
In scientist and author Tom Cheethams essay Shifting Ground: Imagination
and the Diversity of Worlds, he writes: My fundamental thesis is this: since we and
our world are co-determined, and since imagination and metaphor are central to our
cognition, if we wish to change the worlds we now inhabit, and ourselves along with
them, we must re-imagine those worlds (Cheetham 227). His thesis is a part of my
thesis as well. In chapter two, the problem section, my central argument is that
dualistic language grew out of Western, literate cultures that employed the Greek
alphabet; this dualism is one of the many contributing factors to our current broken,
21


unbalanced, and destructive relationship with the non-human world. I will explore
how these cultures used language to imagine their world as full of hierarchical
dualities, such as spirit versus flesh, humans versus nature, men versus women, and
citizens versus others. Though this theory is controversial, compelling evidence
suggests that written language in general and the Greek alphabet in particular have a
peculiar potential: they can enable human beings to dichotomize the concrete and the
abstractin effect divorcing the physical, sensual world from the mental or spiritual
one and privileging the latter. For our purposes, concrete can be defined as any
physical phenomenon sensed through sight, sound, touch, taste, and/or smell, like a
tree; abstract refers to intangible ideas, thoughts, or concepts, like the concept of
brother. I will discuss how alphabetic literacy, which influenced Greek philosophy,
monothesistic religion, and Enlightenment science, did not cause but definitely
contributed to this dualistic, hierarchical, and ultimately environmentally destructive
worldview.
In chapter three, the possible solutions section, I will explore how a variety
of oral, indigenous cultures of the past and the present, such as the Aboriginal
Australians and the Omaha, Navajo, Cheyenne, Apache, Arapahoe, and Pima people
of North America use language to imagine their world as an interconnected whole
through holistic metaphors and oral storytelling. In this section I am particularly
conscious that, as author and scholar John Grim asserts: indigenous ways of
knowing must be set in the context of their diverse lifeways; that is, the obvious
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differences both within indigenous communities and between native cultures should
not bind us to cultural wholes (Grim 199). Not all indigenous, oral cultures had
environmentally sustainable lifestyles; for example in journalist Alan Weismans
recent book, The World Without Us, he cites paleoecologist Paul Martins theory that
the earliest Native Americans hunted North Americas megafauna, like the giant
sloth, to extinction (Weisman 58-63). The examples I cite in my research, however,
are from cultures whose language reflects their generally balanced, healthy
relationship with their non-human environment.
I will argue that one solution to humans current unbalanced and ultimately
unhealthy relationship with the earth is to embrace metaphor (which is the marriage
of the concrete and the abstract) in all kinds of speaking and writing and to consider
metaphor as not just a figurative embellishment but as a more accurate perception of
reality. One such metaphor comes from the Maori people of New Zealand; in Fred
Hageneders book The Meaning of Trees: Botany, History, Healing, Lore, he notes:
In the forest Maoris consider themselves to be among relatives, because they believe
that humans and trees are both descendants of Tane (Hageneder 30). For the Maoris,
Tane Mahuta is the supreme being, and in this metaphor trees are brothers, sisters,
and cousins to humans. Darwinian evolutionary theory is a Western corollary to this
metaphor; according to Darwin, humans and trees and all life forms on earth evolved
from single-celled organisms, thus in a sense, we are all part of the same family.
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In addition, I believe that celebrating oral storytelling with as much fervor as
we celebrate written stories could balance the written words reflective, abstract
qualities with the oral storys sensory, dynamic, and interactive traits. While both the
written word and oral speech place language in a concrete context, written speech
relegates meaning to marks on a page while orality places meaning in the living,
breathing bodies of speakers and audiences and the immediate physical environment
where speech takes place. And while both the written word and oral speech allow for
reflection, memory, a limited function, is required for a speaker/listener to reflect on
an oral text; written text, being physically separate from the writer and reader, allows
for more unlimited reflection and thus the kind of categorization that sometimes leads
to dualistic thinking. One result of such categorization is the Great Chain of Being
from the Enlightenment that relegated every entity from God to rocks into a linear
hierarchy.
Also in chapter three I will analyze how the Romantic poets like William
Wordsworth and contemporary nature poets like Mary Oliver used language to
imagine their relationship to the non-human world, demonstrating that while the
Romantics still had a dualistic, hierarchical view of the non-human world, some
nature poets have accepted the holistic metaphor. I will also revisit sciencehigh-
tech science, ecopsychology, and even science fictionwhich suggests that
multiplicitous metaphors are another way to heal our relationship with the non-human
world. Imagining multiplicitous metaphors, like scientist and author Donna
24


Haraways hydra or cyborg, can acknowledge that meaning exists in a in a variety
of places, not just the written word or the human mind or even the living earth, but a
combination.
As scholar and author Paul Shepherd writes in his essay Nature and
Madness in Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind: Once our
species did live in stable harmony with the natural environment (and in some small
groups it still does) (Shephard 23). If our species did it once, we can do it again but
in a 21st century way. Perhaps these solutions could contribute to a complete
paradigm (or paradigms) shift in which we imagine a new reality (or even realities),
new kinds of balanced and sustainable relationships between humans and the non-
human world that draw from the language use of a variety of cultures and time
periods, including our own, and then move beyond to something that harmonizes with
our planet at this point in time. Then we can begin the work that, coupled with
responsible and respectful action, can rebuild our friendship with the earth and its
creatures and ensure a sustainable lifecycle to continue on this planet, not only for
humans, but also for all the non-human creatures and entities that share our fate.
25


CHAPTER 2
ONE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM: DUALISM
Orality to Literacy: The Development of
Written Language and its Implications
How do paradigm shifts occurshifts like the momentous move from orality
to literacy that established the written word as a primary mode of communication in
many contemporary cultures? Part of the answer is that paradigm shifts are socially
constructed by members of a community to fit the changing needs of the group. The
ancient Greeks are often credited with contributing to the paradigm shift from orality
to written literacy as evidenced by the Greek alphabet that many languages, including
English, still utilize today. It is my contention that writing in general and the Greek
alphabet in particular contributed and still contribute to the unhealthy and imbalanced
subject-object relationship between humans and the non-human world. Robert K.
Logan, scholar and author of The Alphabet Effect: The Impact of the Phonetic
Alphabet on the Development of Western Civilization, argues that a change in
medium of communication can lead to a change in thinking:
A central theme in this study is the notion that a medium of communication is
not merely a passive conduit for the transmission of information but rather an
active force in creating new social patterns and new perceptual realities. A
person who is literate has a different worldview than one who receives
information exclusively through oral communication. (Logan 24-25)
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Logans claim in his book, which celebrates the Greek alphabet and all its subsequent
developments, supports my idea that a mode of communication, such as the Greek
alphabet, is capable of influencing a cultures worldview, such as a change from a
holistic view to a dualistic one that separates humans from nature or the non-human
world. The idea that a mode of communication is an active force corresponds with
my phenomenological assumption of intersubjectivity: that even a mode can be a part
of the dynamic interplay that transforms reality. I disagree with Logan, however, in
how he implies through this simplified statement that literacy alone causes a shift in
worldview. The alphabet is simply one of the factors, along with numeracy, the
advent of agriculture, the Industrial Revolution, specific cultural contexts of the
peoples who adopted literacy, and numerous other known and unknown contributors
to Western, literate cultures shift from an equal, sustainable relationship with the
world to an exploitative, subject-object dualism. While the Greek alphabets role in
this shift is only one contributor among many, it is still valuable to study its influence
as a part of the problem and to explore the role of language in healing the broken
relationship between humans and our world.
David R. Olson and Nancy Torrance, scholars in education and science and
editors of The Making of Literate Societies, specify that literacy does not change
thought but instead provides opportunities for a culture to socially construct and
develop modes of thought that are already embedded in parts of the culture. This
27


suggests a dynamic relationship, an intersubjective interplay, between literacy and
culture. They write:
Some years ago he [Olson] argued a quite radical position... it is misleading
to think of literacy in terms of consequences. What matters is what people do
with literacy, not what literacy does to people. Literacy does not cause a new
mode of thought, but having a written record may permit people to do
something they could not do before ... His core argument is that writing is, in
some respects, a seriously inefficient and restricted medium compared with
oral communication. (Olson and Torrance 32)
This explains why some cultures, like the Greeks, adopted literacy early on, while
others, like continental Indian culture, preferred orality for generations. Literacy is
not a cause, but a sometimes inefficient and restricted medium that fits into some
cultures at some points in time and not others. The possibilities of the alphabet
appealed to Greek culture at the time the Semitic/Phoenician alphabet was introduced,
and so they developed those possibilities.
Recent discussions in the ancient Greco-Roman world confirm the view that
literacy is indeed socially embedded ... even if there are indeed certain
elements of writing that seem to have possibilities that could be universal...
writing in any given society does not, I think, automatically cause or
promote that activity; whether or not one potential of writing rather than
another is taken up by a given group, seems to depend to a large extent on the
habits and preoccupations of that society. (Olson and Torrance 71).
While literacy does not automatically cause a dualistic worldview in a culture that
adopts it because the values of that culture also play a role, literacy does allow for
more dualistic, hierarchical thinking than orality, which will be discussed at length in
the next section.
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The Greek alphabet and literacy began with orality, one of the earliest (along
with gestures, body language, etc.) modes of human language. The origins of
language and writing are not dualistic but deeply rooted in the earth. The first spoken
human languages were a dynamic part of physical reality and often mirrored the
natural world around our ancestors. Adrian Akmajian, Richard A. Demers, Aim K.
Farmer, and Robert M. Hamish, authors of Linguistics: An Introduction to Language
and Communication, assert that one theory of the development of human language
supports this: One idea concerning the origin of human language is that humans
began to mimic the sounds of nature and used these sounds as referents for the
sources of the sound (Akmajian et al 316). Linguistic meaning, according to these
authors, is found not only in human sounds but the sounds of the non-human world.
Even their other theories, according to another speculation, vocal language gradually
evolved from spontaneous cries of pain, pleasure, or other emotions. ... It has also
been suggested that a gestural languagethat is a system of hand gestures and
signalsmay have preceded vocal language ... it was intimately linked with the
evolution of the human brain, suggest that language is linked to the physical human
body: emotions, gestures, and the brain (Akmajian et al 316).
Spoken language was (and still is) uttered by living, breathing, sensual bodies;
talking is an interactive, dynamic process of communication, and in indigenous, oral
cultures, it often involved speaking, singing, and chanting to the non-human world as
well as other humans. The sounds and rhythms of the first languages mirrored or
29


mimicked bird calls, animal cries, waterfalls, the wind, and other sounds in a cultures
local environment. Ecologist and philosopher David Abram in Spell of the Sensuous
agrees with the first theory of the origins of language: The spoken discourse of oral,
foraging peoples remains uniquely responsive to the multiple sounds and rhythms of
the nonhuman surroundings, and especially attuned to the vocal gestures and cries of
local animals (Abram 144). Thus spoken language itself did not immediately split
the human world from the non-human world, and neither did the first writing systems.
According to French scholar Jean-Marie Durand, in her chapter Cunneiform
Script from A History of Writing: From Hieroglyph to Multimedia, The
development of the written word in the Near East is based on a single system that
evolved from primitive Sumerian ideograms and culminated in the strictly phonetic
Greek system (Durand 21). Pictograms, like Durands Sumerian ideograms and also
pre-Columbian North Americans petroglyphs, ancient Egyptians hieroglyphs, early
Chinese and Mesoamerican ideograms, and all pictorial writing systems that
reference the meaning inherent in the natural world, implicitly refer the human
senses to that which lies beyond the [linguistic-perceptual] boundary; their often
pictorially derived characters cannot help but remind the reading body of its
inherence in a more-than-human field of animate forms (Abram 96-98,256-257).
This could partly explain the more balanced, healthy, respectful relationship between
many oral, indigenous humans and their non-human world. Though any writing is a
form of abstraction, pictorial writing is still obviously rooted in the physical reality of
30


the earth because the visual representation of a bear, a mountain, or a tree are given
meaning and voice.
Pictograms varied from culture to culture, but all connected meaning to the
concrete physical world through their visual representations of physical beings or
entities. Andrew Robinson in his book The Story of Writing: Alphabets, Hieroglyphs,
and Pictograms, writes The first written symbols are generally thought to have been
pictograms, pictorial representations of concrete objects (Robinson 11). For
example, Durand notes that the Sumerian pictogram for a palm tree is a drawing of
the textured trunk and curved fronds of the tree itself (Durand 26). Chinese
characters, still used by many of the 1.3 billion Chinese people today, are also
pictoral; Robinson explains that the Chinese character for child is a simplified
drawing of a head, arms, and feet wrapped together (Robinson 48). Chinese
characters grew more complex to express a virtually limitless variety of meanings.
Leon Vandermeersch, in his chapter Writing in China from A History of Writing:
From Hieroglyph to Multimedia explains:
To create new (derived) characters, the scribes aimed to choose, as sub-
characters in their combinations, primitive characters whose meanings were
sufficiently coherent for the meaning of the new composite derivative to be
immediately apparent. For example, to create a character for the word
DECEND, they combined the primitive (pictographic) characters of two feet,
one under the other, and a ladder. (Vandermeersch 68-69)
In addition, the Chinese character for a tree is vertical line crossed by a horizontal
line near the top and two branches which extend from the intersection, resembling
31


the figure of a tree. This Chinese character for tree added to the character for
trifles means shop, which suggests to the reader the important role of trees in
providing for human needs. Pictoral representations such as these refer to meaning in
the earth, the human and the non-human worlds, thus uniting the two and contributing
to a worldview that is arguably more balanced and respectful towards the planet.
Egyptian hieroglyphs are another pictoral script that drew meaning from the
concrete, physical world, but the images were represented differently from Chinese
characters. Pascal Vemuss chapter Scripts of Ancient Egypt from A History of
Writing: From Hieroglyph to Multimedia explains:
The passage from reality to the hieroglyph that it represents was governed by
the conventions of Egyptian art. Apart from the process of stylization, an
object was not drawn as it would be seen by an observer located in a particular
positionas it would be drawn in the Western tradition (that is to say, in
perspective)but in a way that would best emphasize its characteristics, even
if seen from apparently contradictory angles. (Vemus 51)
Though less realistic to the Western eye, these hieroglyphs still relied on the
concrete world for meaning. How did the Egyptians represent the tree? Hageneder
observes that In the pre-hieroglyphic script of ancient Egypt, the word for giving
birth is derived directly from the word for tree. This was no coincidence. The Tree
of Life is the great mother of creation: all-encompassing, all-birthing, all-healing
(Hageneder 8). This is just one example of how pictograms can inherently respect the
non-human world; the metaphor of the tree as mother accords the tree as an equal,
maybe even a superior as life-giver. But Hageneder notes this has changed: But
32


the status of the sycamore fig [an important tree in ancient Egyptian mythology] has
sunk from that of master to slavewhere it once was worshiped and brought
offerings, it is now regarded merely as an ordinary plant that is useful for commercial
fruit production (Hageneder 95). Have the influence of alphabetic literacy, the
influence of the modem Egyptian Arabic alphabet, and also Western influences
contributed to this shift for the sycamore? My argument is that it has, at least in part.
But alphabetization is a long process that may have begun in some pictoral cultures
because A text that relies too heavily on ideograms risks becoming ambiguous
(Durand 28). This very ambiguity is part of what grounds pictoral writing in the
concrete world; the physical, historical, and social contexts are needed to negotiate
meaning from ambiguous scripts.
The next major development in some cultures writing is phonetic writing, the
paring of human sound with written signs. Abram asserts the advent of phonetic
writing further rigidities the perceptual boundary enclosing the human community.
For the written characters no longer depend, implicitly, upon the larger field of
sensuous phenomena; they refer, instead, to a strictly human set of sounds (Abram
257). This is a step towards separating the human world from the more-than-human
world, but even the first alphabets were not completely divorced from the physical
reality they refer to. Robinson notes this in the development of Egyptian and Mayan
hieroglyphs: There was the mixed character of the writing system, combining
phonography and logography [pictoral images]. Although Egyptian hieroglyphs were
33


similarly mixed, Mayan hieroglyphs were far more unpredictable (Robinson 134).
Robinson attributes the mixing of pictographic and phonetic writing to the rebus
principle:
In any case, essential to the development of full writing, as opposed to the
limited, purely pictographic writing of North American Indians and others,
was the discovery of the rebus principle. This was the radical idea that a
pictographic symbol could be used for its phonetic value. Thus a drawing of
an owl in Egyptian hieroglyphs could represent a consonantal sound with an
inherent m. (Robinson 12)
Other developing phonetic alphabets referred to meaning in the concrete, physical
world, albeit more obliquely, through the naming of the letters: An ancient Irish
alphabet, the Ogham (pronounced oam), comprises 20 letters, each named after a
local species of tree (Hageneder 10). While these arbitrary sounds of the Irish
alphabet are paired with arbitrary signs, the names of the letters themselves suggest
meaning is derived from the non-human world, from the trees sacred to Druidic
religion. Though human sounds linked with pictograms or images do attribute more
meaning to the human world and less to the non-human one, these examples dont
indicate a complete split between humans and the earth, just one step closer.
The next step in divorcing meaning from the non-human world was
eliminating pictograms altogether. Logan suggests: The ultimate strategy for
resolving ambiguities [i.e. context] was to use signs in a purely phonetic way to
denote syllables and drop ideographic signs altogether with a few minor exceptions
(Logan 64). The Semitic alphabet, later adopted by the Greeks, came close to this:
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The first two letters of the Semitic alphabet are aleph and beth, the Semitic
words for oxhead and house. These letters were originally denoted by
[upside-down, rounded A] and [a box], which visually represented, in an
abstract manner, an oxhead and a house respectively. These two letters gave
rise to the first two letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and beta. (Logan 34)
While the letters in the Semitic alphabet were designed to represent concrete, physical
entities like the oxhead, alpha did not mean oxhead; thus a link between the non-
human world and inherent meaning was severed. According to Logan and many
others: The Greeks developed a totally phonetic alphabet by modifying the Semitic
alphabet they borrowed from the Phoenicians (Logan 39). The Semitic alphabet had
only consonants with no vowels; one theory is that the vowels may have been too
sacred to write down because they are the wind or breath, the breath of God in the
Jewish tradition:
We have seen that in the original aleph-beth the vowels, or rather the absence
of vowels, provided the pores, the openings in the linguistic membrane
through which the invisible world-the living breath-could still flow between
the human and more-than-human worlds. (Abram 257)
According to Catherine Dobias-Lalous chapter The Greek Alphabets in A History
of Writing, the Greek scribes adapted the Semitic alphabet and introduced written
vowels: The adapters used the twenty-two signs of the Canaanite alphabet, in which
only consonants were noted down. To make them suitable for transcribing the Greek
language, vowel signs had to be included (Dobias-Lalou 233).
While Abram argues that the vowel, which he identifies as really a fluid,
sounded breathbreath that some indigenous, oral cultures think of as the conscious
35


spirit of the earth or the life-forceis the last tie to the physical world seen in the
ancient Semitic alphabet, some, like scholar Anne Carson in her Eros the Bittersweet,
completely disagree with Abram and actually attributes the use of the consonant and
not the vowel as the final step in severing the concrete, sensual world from the world
of meaning. Carson notes that the break came with the introduction of its [the Greek
alphabets] consonant, which is a theoretic element, an abstraction. The consonant
functions by means of an act of imagination in the mind of the user (Carson 61). The
consonant is an imaginary stop that separates words and syllables. While spoken
language is more like sounded vowels that are dynamic, fluid, and melt into one
another, consonants require the reader to conceptualize language (and possibly reality
as well) as something permanent, bounded, and separate from the sounds before and
after. Robinson suggests another theory: the separation between written words splits
the embodied voice from meaning inherent in the physical world: Speech is a river
of breath... wrote the linguistic scientist Steven Pinker. There are no spaces
between words in normal speech, as there are white spaces between words in most of
todays writing systems (Robinson 37).
While linguistic experts are not in agreement as to whether the introduction of
written vowels or consonants or even the white spaces between words was the next
major development to contribute to divorcing meaning in the earth from linguistic
meaning, Abram, Carson, and Robinson agree that the Greek alphabet, which linked
arbitrary signs to arbitrary meanings (the aleph may have mean oxhead to the
36


Semites, but not to the Greeks) was the profound and unprecedented step in severing
the concrete, physical world from the world of abstract ideas.
Written Language: A Step Towards Dualism
Because language is one of the many dynamic factors that influence human
perceptions of reality, the ancient Greek alphabet, used by many of the worlds
human beings including English-speakers, hugely contributes to the abstract-concrete,
subject-object dualism that is at least partially responsible for the unhealthy
relationship between humans and the non-human world. Admittedly, the marks on
paper are visual and concrete; a reader interacting with the written alphabetwords
on a pagecan be an inter subjective, embodied experience to some degree. When
reading a novel, a reader may annotate the text, dog-ear a page, or talk about the ideas
with a friend. As Claire Bustarret observes in her chapter The Material Surface of
Modem Literary Manuscripts from A History of Writing-.
It is well known that the writing hand can scrawl things and can cross them
out, but it is too often forgotten that the hand can attack the material itself
sometimes cutting a page, folding it, tearing it, pasting fragments onto it,
assembling loose sheets or dismembering a notebook (Bustarret 333).
These are physical, intersubjective interactionsbetween the human and the text and
its physical components at least. When writing or typing with the alphabet, many
people find that seeing words in print inspires more words and creates a flow of
thought that is more focused and in-depth than oral speech. Written text also
changes; it can be revised, and the words themselves fade with time. These all suggest
37


that written literacyreading and writingcan be a dynamic, interactive experience,
and it can. In my own life, reading and writing have opened my mind to myself and
the world in ways Ive never thought possible; however, many of the insights gained
in this way, instead of through direct experience, are what I would consider more
abstract, theoretical insights that dont inherently cause me to find meaning and
mutual respect in/for the non-human environment. They can, but it is a matter of
degree. For example, from James McBrides The Color of Water I learned that
coming of age is search for identity. Obstacles such as racism, poverty, and violence
can confuse and distort this search for identity, but if the individual has the courage to
face these conflicts and accept a uniquely-constructed self, a stronger identity can
emerge. Though these are valuable themes, they do not inspire me to find meaning in
the non-human world, just the human one.
Thus, the written word is a far cry from the sensuous, mimetic, profoundly
embodied style of consciousness proper to orality [which] gave way to the more
detached, abstract mode of thinking engendered by alphabetic literacy (Abram 109).
Oral language is uttered in a physical setting and a particular moment in time; the
environment, listeners, and speakers dynamically change, grow, interact, and affect
each other in a far more embodied and truly mutual way than communication through
a pictorial system or a phonetic system which each apply varying degrees of
permanence and abstraction. Olson and Torrance, in The Making of Literate
Societies, demonstrate this difference between oral and literate societies. They cited
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Levy-Bruhls 1926 study of the psychological processes of nonliterate people who
found that nonliterate subjects often failed to solve syllogisms that were readily
solved by schooled subjects (Olson and Torrance 7). For example, when subjects
were told: In the far North, where there is snow, all bears are white. Novaya Zemla
is in the far north, what color are the bears there? Subjects tended to reply that they
had never been there so they did not know; literate subjects reported simply White
(Olson and Torrance 7). The authors explain this; oral cultures are more likely to
perceive meaning in embodied experience, while literate cultures tend to find
meaning only in textual logic:
Olson (1994) interpreted these results quite differently, noting that the non-
literates lacked a certain orientation to language, which he described as an
unwillingness to confine interpretation to the text, a strategy associated with
reading and interpreting written texts in literate environments including
schools. (Olson and Torrance 7)
Logan notes that other scholars, such as Havelock, observed that oral cultures
construct knowledge in a more physically embodied way as well.
Havelock notes that the way in which statements of knowledge are made in
the oral and literate tradition are quite different. Statements in the oral
tradition must be made in the context of events in real space and real time. It
is only with alphabetic literacy that timeless analytic statements emerge that
can express universal truths independent of the context in which they occur.
(Logan 105)
Interestingly, Havelock argues that alphabetic literacy removes the physical context
from meaning, leading to universals and abstraction. This isnt to say that oral
cultures are incapable of abstraction, nor that literate cultures cant express
39


themselves in embodied, contextual ways. But the mode of communication, literacy
or orality, can influence the thinking of a culture through the modes particular
possibilities and limitations.
Olson and Torrance also suggest that body language and sensual knowledge
are a part of constructing meaning in oral cultures; this grounds meaning in the
physical world, the earth:
Every human being has knowledge of what one has in front of his eyes or
what one has a grip on but cannot express in words. We call it visual (or
iconic) and motoric (or enactive) knowledge (Bruner & Olson, 1974). This
knowledge can be transformed into words. But in oral culture there is no need
for it; dialogue and visual demonstration are less onerous, more precise, and
allow for feedback. (Olson and Torrance 61)
The immediate feedback between speaker and audience in orality is intersubjective
and dynamic; the physical context can also make ambiguous orality very specific:
Oral communication is parsimonious: a direct physical demonstration is more
precise than words. Thus many things do not need specific words. The
concepts are saved as visual or sensual knowledge and are reproduced by
deictic gestures. The shared context of speaker and audience contributes to
parsimony and unambiguity. (Olson and Torrance 56)
These examples validate the idea that physical, sensual experience of the non-human
world is an important component of oral communication and meaning construction in
oral cultures.
Alphabetic literacy, particularly associated with the Greek alphabet, severs
meaning from most physical, earthly contexts except for the physicality of the book
(or other medium used), the text itself, and the human voice. While these are
40


physical, they are human or human-produced. This severing splits the human world
from the non-human one, at least in the literate humans perception. Olson and
Torrance explain that the reader finds meaning in marks on the page: they must see
that marks bear or relate to meaning, for the simple reason that most writing systems
represent not meaning directly but the linguistic expression of meaning (Olson and
Torrance 10). The reader is separated from meaning directly, or meaning in the
physically embodied, experienced world. Carson agrees: Being a phonetic system,
the Greek alphabet is concerned to symbolize not objects in the real world but the
very process in which sounds act to construct speech (Carson 61). And Pinker adds
that finding meaning in the alphabet is making arbitrary connections: The first
principle, articulated by the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, is the arbitrariness
of the sign, the wholly conventional pairing of a sound with a meaning (Pinker 75).
An oral speaker can use his physical context that has inherent meaning; he can point
to a tree when he means tree, and his audience can see, touch, smell, and even taste
and hear the sensual meaning associated with this earthly entity. A pictoral
representation would at least look like a tree, obliquely referencing meaning to the
physical entity of a tree. But the alphabetic word tree does not look like a tree,
sound like a tree, or feel like a tree. Meaning has shifted from the tree itself to the
word, leading to abstraction and eventually a dualistic hierarchy of man over
nature.
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Anne-Marie Christin, editor of A History of Writing: From Hieroglyph to
Multimedia, explains how alphabetic literacy allowed for the split between humans
and the non-human world in another way:
The Greek alphabet carried the visual parsing of a written text to an
unprecedented degree of rationality. In do doing, however, it rendered
obsolete the very principle behind writing. Indeed, unlike its predecessors,
which had allowed readers to reconstruct a text based on optical clues arrayed
across a given surface, the new system required readers to complete a
veritable task composed of three unrelated steps: first, vowels and consonants
had to be graphically identified, then they had to be grouped into syllables,
and finally the text had to be comprehended on hearing a succession of
syllables. The alphabetic method of understanding a written text was no
longer a kind of readingit was more like decoding. And the signs it
established as models were signs that intrinsically lacked the very essence of
what they were supposed to convey. (Christin 377)
These signs that lack the very essence of what they were supposed to convey can
be explained again as the word tree that lacks any sensory or essential tree-ness.
Thus, the participatory proclivity of the senses was simply transferred from
the depths of the surrounding life-world to the visible letters of the alphabet (Abram
138). It is the gradual cultural shift from orality to literacy that occurred in many (but
not all) cultures that is one major contributor to the profound paradigm shift in the
way humans perceived themselves and their world. No longer were literate,
alphabetic humans participants in a highly inter subjective consciousness where
humans were both sensing other non-humans and being sensed by them, constructing
meaning together, but instead humans became self-contained subjects of a purely
42


human consciousness based on human alphabets and human sounds to construct
meaning; everything outside of the human body was just an object (Abram 36).
Again, this is not an absolute, but a matter of degree; it is by degrees that the
non-human world or nature became primarily considered an object and not a
subject. This is partly due to the written alphabets ability to allow for increased
reflective and self-reflexive thought. Abram traces this development starting with
philosopher Martin Heideggers theory that it is only as language is written down
that it becomes possible to think about it (Abram 107). While memorization allows
for this as well, it is much more limited than the written text in the area of quantity.
Heidegger continues, in the alphabetized document the medium became objectified.
There it was, reproduced perfectly in the alphabet... no longer just a function of
me the speaker but a document with independent existence (Abram 107).
Relatively speaking, language was no longer embodied by the speaker but separate
from him, so the speaker could interact with language and ideas themselves in a
different way. For the first time [language appeared] in a visible, fixed form, which
could be returned to, examined, and even questioned (Abram 107). I wouldnt go as
far as Abram and suggest that oral cultures, through memorization and dialogue,
could not return to or question language, but I do agree that the visible, fixed form
lends itself to these reflective traits in a different, more abstract way than orality.
Carol Fleisher Felman, in her essay Oral Metalanguage from Literacy and
Orality, seems to disagree with Abrams point when she argues that some genres of
43


oral speech, such as ceremonial speech, are carefully crafted to be remembered and
thus reflected upon and interpreted. Her goal is to prove that non-literate cultures
have varied genres just as diverse as Western culture, genres such as stories, riddles,
spells, performances, oratories, etc. (Feldman 51). Feldman asserts,
My claim, then, is that (some) writing as we know it in our culture and certain
oral genres that appear in nonliterate cultures provide two alternative means to
fix a locution for subsequent interpretation... to seek elegant expression, and
second, to want to interpret or make meanings of utterances, to strive to look
behind the surface of what is said or merely seen to what is meant. (Feldman
52)
Her point validates and rightly elevates the rich craft of oral tradition and the creative
intelligence of oral peoples. Yes, oral speech does have the depth for reflection and
interpretation, but again, in orality versus literacy, it is a matter of degree. Oral
stories are housed in human bodies that have a limited capacity for memorization and
thus a limited amount of stories and songs can be told in any community, and they
also have a limited length, whereas written texts today exist on shelves and in
cyberspace in unprecedented numbers, allowing for virtually unlimited opportunities
for reflection and interpretation across cultures and time periods.
Ecopsychologist Robert Greenway in his chapter The Wilderness Effect and
Ecopsychology from the book Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the
Mind comments on the advantages and disadvantages of abstract, reflective thought in
humans.
Certainly the self-reflective consciousness that has emerged in humans has
brought us incredible insights about ourselves and our universe and incredible
44


tools meant to enhance our various capabilities. But just as certainly, this
ability to make distinctions and self-reflect now appears as a beautiful
capacity run amok, proceeding from distinction to disjunction, from reflection
to alienation, and from alienation to the kind of full-blown split between
subjects and objects (or between the poles of any disjunction) termed
dualism. (Greenway 130-131)
Dualism allows for the hierarchical perception that humans are active subjects who
are justified in exploiting and destroying the objects of the earth.
In addition, oral texts employ primarily sound devices such as rhythm, rhyme,
onomatopoeia, and alliteration to aid in memory and to add elegance and enjoyment.
Written texts in many ways allow for more variations in literary device, such as free
verse poetry or detailed descriptions like those of Charles Dickens or Jane Austen
because the words are meant for paper, not for human memory. While Feldmans
argument is valid, it does not contradict the assertion that written language, as
opposed to oral speech, lends itself to much higher degree of abstract, reflective
thoughtif the culture decides to develop these aspects.
Another implication of literacy is the fact that instead of passing on cultural
wisdom through the physical bodies of speakers, learning was contained in written
texts: the letters, and the written words that they present, are not subject to the flux
of growth and decay, to the perturbations and cyclical changes common to other
visible things (Abram 112). Compared to the life cycle of a human being, the
written text faces a far less transformative existence. Thus, words became separate
45


from the physical body of the speaker and the physical experience of time. This
allowed for a
profoundly reflexive, sense of self. The capacity to view and even to dialogue
with ones own words after writing them down, or even in the process of
writing them down, enables a new sense of autonomy and independence from
others, and even from the sensuous surroundings that earlier had been ones
constant interlocutor. (Abram 112)
Interaction and dialogue was no longer primarily between humans and the non-human
world or even humans bodies with other human bodies; interaction occurred between
written words and the human mind. And written text in the 21st century in the form of
webpages, text messages, and wikis are a whole other matter; while being very
interactive (with the human world and human-produced mediums at least), culturally
mediated (just as speech and text are also culturally mediated), and even sometimes
pictoral (well, visual), there is still the predominance of alphabetic literacy in these
forms that separates the human world from the non-human one.
The Greek Alphabet Contributes to
a Dualistic Worldview
The Greek alphabet allowed humans to more easily perceive meaning as
inherent in context-less text instead of the context-rich physical world. Logan argues:
The alphabet by separating the sound, meaning, and appearance of a word, separated
the eye from the rest of the senses, especially the ear. Preliterate man is multisensual
whereas alphabetic man is highly visual (Logan 121). The multisensory approach to
meaning construction was reduced primarily to vision, and not vision of the entire
46


planet but of human-created signs. This severed meaning from the non-human world
and replaced it with subject-object dualism. Christin notes:
The alphabet we inherited from the Greeks owes its originality to the fact that,
for the first time, syllabic notation found itself broken down into phonemes,
consonants and vowelsit was also the first system (and would remain the
only one) to have broken the links that until then had tied all writing systems
to the surface on which they appear, and, inevitably, to the objects to which
they refer. (Christin 9)
These objects to which they refer became simply thatobjectsin a world of
human subjects. No longer did the non-human world provide contextual meaning and
have its own inter subjective agency, at least in literate humans perceptions.
One of the reasons for this is that the Greek alphabet lends itself to
abstraction, which is simply divorcing the intangible idea from its concrete,
tangible context. This abstraction easily led to dualities such as idea versus
physical matter and spirit versus flesh. Logan compares alphabetic writing to
Chinese characters to suggest the alphabet is more abstract: The alphabet is used
phonetically to visually represent the sound of a word. Chinese characters are used
pictographically to represent the idea of a word and hence are less abstract than
alphabetic writing (Logan 47). He also adds It is not just the concrete nature of
Chinese ideograms but the difficulty in classifying them that makes them less
conducive to abstract scientific thinking than an alphabetic script (Logan 55).
Though Logan is Western-centric in suggesting that scientific thinking (his
definition of scientific thinking) is absent in Chinese thought, he points out that
47


alphabetic script is more conducive to abstraction. Chinese technological
inventiveness is unparalleled by that of any culture, yet China never exploited its
technology in a systematic manner as was done in the West during the Industrial
Revolution (Logan 48). Chinese law was not codified, Chinese notions of time and
space were not Cartesian, and for the most part Chinese people were not monotheists.
It is my thesis that these differences are in part due to the differences in writing
systems: ideographic writing versus alphabetic (or phonetic) writing (Logan 48).
Logan and Christin are both biased towards alphabetic literacy; Christin believes this
abstraction of the Greek alphabet makes it more trustworthy. By freeing itself
from the visible and manipulate space that had always governed it, writing became
an almost abstract tool of classification and, consequently, all the more trustworthy
(Christin 10). She means less context-bound and ambiguous, but also less holistically
connected to meaning in the non-human earth.
Abram shows how abstraction functioned (and still functions) in the process
of alphabetically literate cultures conceptualizing reality.
It was not writing per se, but phonetic writing, and the Greek alphabet in
particular, that enabled the abstraction of previously ephemeral qualities like
goodness and justice from their inherence in situations, promoting them
to a new realm independent of the flux of ordinary experience. (Abram 111)
Instead of goodness being inseparable from a physical, dynamic interaction, now it
became a concept seeming to generalize all acts of good, in effect divorcing
goodness from the sensuous, physical realm. Abram reaffirms this concept: Once
48


written down, virtue was seen to have an unchanging, visible form independent of
the speakerindependent as well of the corporeal situations and individuals that
exhibited it (Abram 111). A huge degree of contexttime, place, situation,
particularscould be ignored and instead the idealized virtue could be contemplated
in isolation. Logan traces this increasing abstraction in the writing and stories of
Greek scholars.
The most striking effect of the alphabet was the great number of new
abstractions that appeared simultaneously ... The impact of alphabetic
writing can be traced by noting the increase in abstract thought and language
that occurred as Greek literature progressed from Homer to Hesiod ... and
then to Plato and Aristotle. There are abstract notions in Homer such as the
goddess Memory or the Furies. These abstractions, however, must always be
visualized, personalized, and cast within the context of the narrative of local
events that limit their universality ... With Hesiod, however, the alphabet
begins to make its mark as a new level of abstraction first takes hold of the
Greek mind. (Logan 104-105)
It is no surprise that the Greeks went even further in separating concrete
reality from abstract meaning; Greek thinkers were the first to begin to objectify
space and time as entirely distinct and separable dimensions (Abram 197). No
longer were space and time interrelated with each other and the physical earth in the
cycles of the sun, moon, seasons, and the changing landforms of a community; space
and time were separate and self-contained. The non-human world could be separated
from human reality as well.
With the alphabet the Greeks began to see things differently, in a more
fragmented manner. They invented the idea of nature, which they called
phusis (or physics)... Once the Greeks had objectified nature, they treated it
as something to be studied scientifically. (Logan 122)
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And according to Logan: The objectification of nature by the Greeks has had
implications in the West far beyond the development of natural science. It soon
became an object to be exploited, subdued, and conquered for mans economic
benefit (Logan 122).
The Greek alphabet allows for the idea of objectivity through its abstraction.
The Greeks through writing developed a notion of objectivitythe separation
of the knower from the object of his study. This is the beginning of the
scientific method and the source of the dichotomy the Greeks created between
subjective and objective thinking. (Logan 107)
Whenever a dichotomy or dualism existslike subject-object or abstract-
concretenot only do the two concepts become polarized (and simplified) into two
seemingly mutually exclusive realms, but a hierarchy develops. For the reason-
loving Greeks and many who came after, the subject was privileged over the object
and the abstract was privileged over the concrete. Bizzell and Herzberg write,
Hence, according to Havelock, Greek culture gradually took on the stylistic
and cognitive characteristics of literacy, as opposed to orality; hypotaxis, the
subordination of one idea to another in logical hierarchies; generalizations that
appeal to reason and text-assisted memory for validation; a questioning
relationship to authority and custom, encouraging the disinterested criticism of
ideas; and over all, a greater ability to think abstractly. (Bizzell and Herzberg
20)
By divorcing the concrete from the abstract and conceptualizing the non-human,
sensual, physical world as simply an object, humans for the first time conceived of
themselves as active subjects in a world full of passive objects, as masters of the earth
and its creatures. The Greek alphabet separated the world of ideas from the world of
50


concrete experience; then the Greeks glorified the formerthe reasonable and
godlike abstract realmthus opening the door for humans to justify the domination
and exploitation of their natural environment. This contributed (and still contributes)
to the disruption and eventual destruction of the planets natural, sustainable balance,
eventually contributing to todays environmental crisis.
J. Peter Denny in Rational Thought in Oral Culture and Literate
Decontextualization from Literacy and Orality appears to disagree when he contends
that the effects of literacy on human thought are exaggerated. He states,
Western thought, to which literacy is a big contributor, is widely believed to
be more reflective, more abstract, more complex, and more logical than
thought in pre-literate agricultural and hunter-gatherer societies. The available
research, however, shows that these beliefs are wrong and that Western
thought has only one distinctive property separating it from thought in both
agricultural and hunter-gatherer societiesdecontextualization. (Denny 66)
While Dennys overall purpose here is admirablehe intends to show due respect to
the intelligence of agricultural and hunter-gatherer societies by proving they are
logical, complex, and rational, which they are in their own non-dualistic way, he
underestimates the implications of decontextualization. According to my working
definition, abstract includes ideas, thoughts, and concepts divorced from their
physical, sensual context. Even Denny seems to agree with this: higher
contextualization, [as opposed to decontextualization] as implied above, is making
connections to other thought units (Denny 66). Context is about making
connections between thoughts, between abstract and concrete, between the broad
51


idea and particulars that color the specific instance of that idea. If that is
contextualization, then decontextualization must include the separation of abstract
and concrete and the dual thought patterns that follow.
He even supports this later in his essay when he writes, I will review Chafe
[a literary authority Denny cites]... he emphasizes various kinds of
decontextualization... All of these are, for Chafe, ways [for] the reader to detach his
message from the audience, from himself and from concrete reality (Denny 80).
Dennys definition of decontextualization, separating textual meaning from
concrete reality, is identical to my definition of abstract-concrete dualism. Though
we seem at odds; really, Denny and I are in agreement. Interestingly, Denny reasons
that the Greek need for a decontextualized alphabet and mode of thought was
necessary to communicate with the increasing number of strangers present in the
growing Greek empire (Denny 80). It is exactly what makes people and cultures
uniquecultural particulars that have grown from a communitys specific physical
locationsthat the Greeks sought to generalize to a level of abstraction in order to
unite diverse peoples.
But it is simplistic to suggest that all ancient Greek cultures used alphabetic
literacy this way. Logan states:
The tremendous impact of alphabetic writing on Greek thought was not
uniform. Its impact on Ionia and Athens was much greater than elsewhere.
We may thus conclude that while the alphabet served as a model for several
intellectual breakthroughs, it was only a sufficient condition for these
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breakthroughs, not a necessary one. Not all communities that adopted the
alphabet were affected it as much as the Greeks. (Logan 103)
While I have no intention of unfairly generalizing about the ancient Greeks nor
demonizing them, I do want to point out that this culture that has provided the
foundation for much of Western civilization and is celebrated for being the first form
of democracy, for its great philosophers, for inventing the Olympics, for its
imaginative and insightful mythology, for its achievements in architecture and art,
and for inventing our alphabet, has also provided a basis for the dualism of concrete
and abstract that contributes to humans alienation from and exploitation of the non-
human world.
The Greeks arent the only culture to adopt alphabetic literacys dualistic
potential; they have just been particularly influential in Western culture and
specifically American culture, which is my culture. But Logan explains how
alphabetic literacy and its potential for abstraction and dualism was also developed by
the rising Islamic empire through the importance of the Koran:
Within a couple of centuries, the nomadic polytheistic preliterate tribal people
of Arabia were world rules, making use of a well-organized administrative
bureaucracy that governed with the aid of a legal code based on the abstract
ethical principles of monotheism. Part of this transformation was due to the
alphabetic literacy encouraged by the Koran and part was due to borrowings
from the sophisticated cultures of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Persia, all of which
had employed one or another of the alphabetic scripts in pre-Islamic times.
(Logan 144)
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Logan is also careful to point out that while the alphabet is a major contributor to
abstract and dualistic thinking, it isnt the only contributor.
In our review of Mesopotamian, Hebrew, Greek, Roman, and Arab cultures
we have seen how the abstract nature of alphabetic writing has provided an
environment in which abstract intellectual ideas and social institutions could
flourish. The only other notation or system of visual signs that has played as
important a role in promoting abstract thought has been the place number
system whereby all numbers can be represented by ten numerical signs, the
Hindu-Arabic numerals. (Logan 149)
This statement emphasizes again that while alphabetic literacy has a tremendous
influence on the way Western, literate peoples perceive their relationship with the
non-human world, it is not the only influence.
Finally, not all cultures with access to alphabetic literacy, such as the ancient
Egyptians, decided to develop the alphabet and its dualistic potentialities. Robinson
discusses that The ancient Egyptians had access to an alphabet without vowel signs
as early as the 3rd millennium BC. Instead of using it, they chose to write in
hieroglyphs using multiple signs (Robinson 181). Why did the ancient Greeks
develop alphabetic literacy and duality while the ancient Egyptians didnt, at least not
at that time? This would be a fascinating cultural study for a different paper, but
obviously the alphabet does not have a simple cause/effect relationship upon a
culture. It is one factor of many (like values, social organization, history,
environment) in the dynamic, intersubjective interplay within a culture. Nonetheless,
alphabetic literacy is a factor of cultural development worth studying in depth, and
the Greek alphabets potential to be used for abstract, dualistic thinking has been
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actualized in many literate, Western cultures, including American culture, in the
world today.
Orality and Literacy: A Complex Relationship
For the purpose of clarity in this argument, I have simplified the differences
between orality and literacy; in fact, I have created my own dualism between them.
So in keeping with the multiplicious and many-sided lens I hope to bring to the
discussion, it is important to point out a few of the cultural biases surrounding these
topics and also how the two modes of communication are really intertwined. Many
Western scholars have traditionally and incorrectly believed that oral cultures are not
as rational or intelligent as literate ones. For example, Olson and Torrance
discovered that
Flusser characterized oral culture as the circular thinking of magical societies
and literal culture as the linear thinking of societies that have a history. He
asserted the idea that a culture of images cannot draw conclusions and
produce abstract ideas; that this is a world of emotions and irrationality.
(Olson and Torrance 29)
A tendency toward holistic, contextual thinking does not mean oral cultures cannot
draw conclusions or are irrational. While Olson and Torrance and I all discuss
differences in tendencies or possibilities in orality versus literacy, it is unfair to
suggest that a watershed separates the two modes of communication:
According to the this theory a watershed separates the oral, say primitive or
savage, mind from modem, rational thinking. It is the dichotomy of
additive versus subordinative, aggregative versus analytic, redundant versus
rational, conservative versus innovative, and situational versus abstract
thinking. The oral culture was said to have been empathetic, close to the
55


human lifeworld, and agonistically toned. For an oral culture learning or
knowing means achieving close, empathetic, communal, identification with
the known, getting with it. Writing separates the knower from the known
and thus sets up conditions for objectivity, in the sense of personal
disengagement or distancing. (Ong, 1982 pp. 45) (Olson and Torrance 30)
While some of the statements in this selection ring true to my overall argument, the
heavily degrading language of savage versus rational is unfair and inaccurate; the
idea that oral and literate cultures are mutually exclusive is also erroneous.
In several studies, scholars have discovered that oral peoples are not less
intelligent or less logical than literate peoples, they just tend to think more
contextually. For example, The cognitive capacities in nonliterates in Vai society
turned out not to be inferior to those in literate people (Olson and Torrance 34).
Olson and Torrance also assert: There should be no doubt that every population of
this world has the same capacity for logical reasoning. The old argument that
illiterate groups have a less logical way of reasoning has been invalidated (Olson
and Torrance 61). They also discuss that literacy, while generally believed to
empower individuals and cultures, doesnt always do so.
Literacy lends itself to all sorts of purposes, enlightenment and democracy
being only one set of them, political education and propaganda another.
History is full of examples of literacy destabilizing a society and resulting in
rebellion, oppression, civil war. The power function of literacy was salient to
Levi-Strauss both from his observations of Indian life and his knowledge of
European history. (1974, pp. 799) (Olson and Torrance 31)
The Western cultural bias is for literacy, not against it. My argument seeks to
shed light on one of the disadvantages that sprung from alphabetic literacy: the
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broken, unbalanced relationship between humans and the non-human world. But I
am not suggesting that as a solution our culture abandon literacy, but we can rethink
how we use it. Alphabetic literacy has many positive potentials that have been
realized by many. Olson and Torrance explain:
That is, writing does not create the idea of rules and laws, but through writing,
the rules and laws may be public and universally applicable; writing does not
create knowledge, but through writing and printing, knowledge can take the
form of an archival tradition; writing does not create literature, but writing
can extend the range of exploration of some social organization, some rules
and traditions for the management of knowledge and power. Literacy is
useful to those societies to the extent that it can make explicit, public,
manageable, and achievable the goals and purposes of those social
institutions. (Olson and Torrance 11)
Also, I entirely agree with Olson and Torrance in their claim that
In order to understand and participate in the modem world it is increasingly
obvious that one must have access to writing and other notational systems.
Speech is what allows the growth of local culture but writing is critical to the
functioning of complex bureaucratic societies. (Olson and Torrance 12)
However, the idealism of literacy advocates in the 1970s was a bit extreme:
A political commitment of a slightly different sort appeared in the 1970s when
the pedagogy of political empowerment sought to bring emancipation to the
oppressed. Illiteracy was then realized to be injustice per se; it was said to
threaten the very fabric of democracy. (Olson and Torrance 23)
Literacy has empowered individuals and societies in many cultures quests for
equality, justice, and education.
Finally, it is essential to note that literacy and orality, are interwoven
throughout many societies, including those of the ancient Greeks.
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ancient Greece was a society (or series of societies) which placed very great
value upon oralityoral presentation and performance were highly valued
and central to the transmission and experiencing of literature, even when that
literature was written downfor example Greek tragedy, or the political satire
of Athenian comedy. (Olson and Torrance 72)
The use of this orality, and how it developed to be dialectical and dualistic, will be
explored in the next section. Indian culture is another that is known to be both literate
and oral. In his chapter The Scripts of Continental India from A History of Writing:
From Hieroglyph to Multimedia, Georges-Jean Pinault explains: In fact, the Indian
attitude toward writing has always been contradictory: writing is no stranger, but it is
not to be entrusted with the treasures of knowledge and religion. Sanskrit literatures
for long avoided any recourse to written expression (Pinault 97). Olson and
Torrance also agree that orality has an important role in literate cultures:
It is common to the approach opposing the great-divide model that they
recognize the substantial role orality has even in literate cultures ... Writing
is by no means the most economic mode of communication, nor does it
enhance understanding under all circumstances. (Olson and Torrance 39)
They also suggest: It could be argued that oral tradition flourishes primarily in
written culture. Traditional culture often has serious constraints on what can be talked
about and to whom (Olson and Torrance 39).
Addressing the biases about orality and the complex relationship between
orality and literacy doesnt undermine my argument; in fact it strengthens it. The
traditional Western prejudices against oral cultures explain why many Western,
literate scholars have been blind to the negative impact of dualism on the relationship
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between humans and our non-human world for centuries. Overcoming these biases is
a step towards healing humans relationship with the earth by learning alternate ways
of using language to promote holistic and multiplicitous thinking. The obvious
strengths of literacy and literate cultures, and the importance of literacy to human
social functioning in many parts of the world today, just emphasize the power of the
written word and how it can be used to re-imagine our relationship with the earth in a
healthier, more sustainable way. The fact that literacy and orality go together and
can even complement each other can be used to our benefit and the earths; the
solution section will explore how holistic and multiplicitous metaphors grounded in
physical reality and also oral storytelling are language solutions that take the best
from both orality and literacy.
Plato Furthers Dualism
This separation between humans and the non-human world has been furthered
through influential ideologies and philosophies of Western civilization that are deeply
rooted in the subject-object and concrete-abstract dualisms. These ideologies and
philosophies promote hierarchical binary oppositions that favor the human and the
abstract and denigrate the non-human and the concrete. Plato is one of these most
influential philosophers, and his theory of absolute, abstract truth uncovered through
the dialectic process has complicated implications, but overall, his philosophies
further these destructive dualisms. At first glance, Plato seems to privilege orality:
This rebuke [by Plato] reinforces the condemnation of writing conveyed in a
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tale, a condemnation based on the culture-bound nature of writing. Socrates
[through Plato] says, in effect, that a written text can only remind us of what
we already know: that it depends on the contextual information for its
interpretation. Oral dialogue between congenial souls is far superior to
writing because it can lead to truth. (Bizzell and Herzberg 85)
Here it seems Plato is supporting orality, but hes not referring to oral storytelling but
instead to oral dialectic, which is a process of logical questioning and answering
between teacher and student that supposedly leads to absolute truth. While
dialectic is a dynamic, fluid interaction like oral storytelling, dialectic differs because
it seeks to transcend context, situation, and physical and temporal realities to reach an
abstract truth. In fact, Plato here believes even written storytelling is too context-
dependent to access the abstract truths that are by definition free of the concrete,
material world. He privileges the abstract world of human truth over the concrete,
situational world of oral storytelling.
Plato does acknowledge that truth originates in the physical body and
physical world; according to Bizzell and Herzberg, Plato believes
the motion toward transcendence must begin with carnality, with the physical
attraction between two people, even if the goal is to progress beyond this
level. The lovers must have bodies, in other words, if eventually, in Socrates
striking image, the lovers bodies are to grow wings. (Bizzell and Herzberg
85)
Plato uses a physical metaphor of bodies with wings to represent his ideology that
though truth begins in the physical, truth is realized in the purely abstract or
spiritual. This dualistic hierarchy is clear. It is significant that Plato seems to
undermine his own arguments at times because he cannot express his transcendent,
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spiritual truths without concrete, sensual metaphors. Bizzell and Herzberg paraphrase
Plato:
The teacher who is raising the student toward transcendence plants seeds in
the students soul that will eventually flower and, in turn, reproduce
themselves in other souls. This kind of reproduction is superior to mere
physical reproduction because it propagates only transcendent knowledge, not
the beliefs of the tribe, which are typically inculcated in young children.
(Bizzell and Herzberg 85-86)
Even Plato (in spite of himself) cant avoid the fact that abstract truth is embodied in
the physical world. He uses a metaphor of physical growth and reproduction to
promote his hierarchically dualistic idea that spiritual, abstract reproduction and
growth is superior to mere physical reproduction.
Plato was also one of the first but definitely not the last to remove human
beings from the animal kingdom and thus privilege us over the beast: Then a
human soul may pass in to the life of a beast, and a soul which was once human, may
pass again from a beast into a man. For the soul which has never seen the truth can
never pass into human form (Platos Phaedrus in Bizzell and Herzberg 150). While
he does acknowledge the likeness between human and animal by suggesting we can
become animals and animals can become human, he represents the animal form as a
punishment for humans who cannot comprehend abstract, absolute truth. He clearly
reserves truth as a purely human province.
It is true that Platos Phaedrus occurs not in the human city but in the non-
human wider world: Although the dialogue opens with Socrates disparagement of
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trees and the open countryside, it is significant that the dialogue itself takes place in
the midst of that very countryside (Abram 117). Though this might be Platos
acknowledgement that truth has a beginning in the concrete, it is clear in his
dialogue that truth is not completely embodied in the physical world: For the
colorless, formless, intangible truly existing essence, with which all true knowledge is
concerned, holds this region and is visible only to the mind, the pilot of the soul
(Platos Phaedrus in Bizzell and Herzberg 149). Abram summarizes Platos dualism
of body and spirit:
Just as Platos apparent criticisms of alphabetic writing in the Phaedrus take
place within the context of a much broader espousal of the detached (or
disembodied) reflection that writing engenders, so in the same dialogue his
apparent affirmation of oral-animistic modes of experience is accomplished
only in the context of a broader disparagement. The erotic, participatory
world of the sensing body is conjured forth only to be subordinated to the
incorporeal world toward which, according to Plato, it points. (Abram 122)
Though Platos own philosophy of a transcendent, abstract truth seems contradictory
at times, when read closely and as a whole, Plato obviously furthers the abstract-
concrete and subject-object binary oppositions of the Greek alphabet and thus
continues the separation between humans and their natural environment.
Monotheism Furthers Dualism
Platos ideas contributed to another other highly influential belief system of
western civilization: monotheism. Experts say all of our ancestors were originally
animists; immersed in the physical, sensual world, they intuitively believed that all
physical phenomena possessed intelligence, agency, consciousness, and life. Abram
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adds that in the oral, animistic world of pre-Christian and peasant Europe, all things-
-animals, forests, rivers, and caveshad the power of expressive speech (Abram
253-254). Orality is not exclusively rooted in human-to-human communication; our
ancestors had to listen to the voices of the animals, the winds, and the seasons to
read their environment and then speak wisely in returnto behave appropriately
to the situation and thus survive.
Some cultures still practice forms of animism today. Hageneder describes in
detail the rituals associated with the Sioux Sun Dance:
One of the greatest rites of the Sioux Indians, the wiwanyag wachipi (Sian
Dance) is held around a young cottonwood tree ... The cottonwood tree for
the Sun Dance is ceremonially chosen a year ahead of time for the ritual.
During that time people visit the tree to say prayers of appreciation, and to
make offerings of tobacco, prayer ties. (Hageneder 162)
Participants speak to the tree and offer gifts, expressing their belief that the tree is an
active force with conscious agency.
A few days before the Sun Dance begins, the dancers cut down the tree, carry
it to the ceremonial grounds ... thus the cottonwood tree becomes the Tree of
Life ... Everyone within the sacred circle can offer their body and soul for the
well-being of all people and all creatures. (Hageneder 162-163)
The tree is cut down to become the Tree of Life, acknowledging the cyclic balance of
life, death, and rebirth common in many indigenous belief systems. The cottonwood,
in this holistic metaphor, is honored for its role in providing for the needs of insects,
birds, mammals, and humansfood, shelter, and fireand also for its wisdom and
animistic form of divinity. In elevating the cottonwood to Tree of Life, the ritual
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takes on pagan characteristics because the tree is somewhat deified and becomes a
universal (hence abstract, to a degree at least) symbol of all life-giving trees. In
addition, the ritual sometimes involves controversial self-mutilation, piercing of the
flesh by dancers, that while also representing the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, can
be seen as a denigration of the human body.
This animistic and somewhat pagan ritual is very different from typical
Western responses to trees. Imagine if American loggers honored the single tree they
were going to cut down for a year before the act, and then had a ceremony afterwards.
This cultural comparison demonstrates how belief systems, such as holistic animism
versus Platonic commercialism, can shape the behaviors and practices of human
communities.
Abram links beginnings of literacy to the decline of animistic cultures. He
believes that the synaesthetic fusion of the senses necessary to interact and
communicate harmoniously with the non-human world was transferred to the written
page with the advent of literacy (Abram 59). Animistic religions, belief systems
constructed to be in tune with the natural environment for the purpose of survival in
the earliest of human societies, did encourage the perception that the concrete and
abstract are united and meaning is found in both the human and non-human worlds.
Theodore Roszak, scholar, psychologist, and author of Where Psyche Meets Gaia
in Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind notes that animistic
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worldviews are so foreign to the Western, literate world today that they would be
considered insanity:
Theirs was an animistic vision of the world, a sensibility that both Judeo-
Christian doctrine and scientific objectivity have censored. In our culture,
listening for the voices of the Earth as if the nonhuman world felt, heard,
spoke, would seem the essence of madness to most people. Is it possible that
by asserting that very conception of madness, psychotherapy itself may be
defending the deepest of all our repressions, the form of psychic mutilation
that is most crucial to the advance of industrial civilization, namely, the
assumption that the land is a dead and servile thing that has no feeling, no
memory, no intention of its own? (Roszak 7)
Roszak is one of many people today who is rethinking traditional notions of self,
normality, and nature to help heal the relationship between humans and our non-
human world.
In some cultures, animism shifted to paganism, a more abstract belief system
that is nonetheless rooted in the non-human world. In paganism, each tree, each body
of water does not necessarily have a spirit or life-force as in animism; instead, gods
and goddesses become the powers controlling these natural phenomena, powers also
associated with personality traits. For example Poseidon, the Greek god of oceans and
earthquakes, is like oceans and earthquakes: unpredictable, moody, and generally
belligerent. The life and consciousness of the sea itself shifts to the
anthropomorphized form of a god, but some remnants of animism remain in the
agency and power attributed to Poseidons sea creatures, which are real animals, and
his sea nymphs, mythical spirits of the water in human form. Logan discusses the
element of abstraction evident in Mesopotamian paganism:
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Mesopotamian cosmology and cosmogony, while polytheistic in nature,
nevertheless evolved some rather abstract notions of the deities that created
and controlled the universe. All the elements of the cosmos had been created
by the four gods in control of heaven, earth, sea, and air. Each of these
anthropomorphic but superhuman beings was deemed to be in charge of a
particular component of the universe and to guide its activities in accord with
established rules and regulations. (Logan 71)
He also compares Babylonian and the Egyptian paganism: Another indicator of the
abstractness of Babylonian religious thought is that the gods, unlike their Egyptian
counterparts, were not represented as animals (Logan 69). Gods as trees or animals
still closely links meaning and agency with the non-human world. When gods
become purely human, this is another step towards separating the human from the
non-human world.
Though definitely grounded in natural forces, paganism is a move towards
abstraction in three ways: first, it generalizes previously individual, diverse
consciousnesses into a more homogeneous groupinstead of all bodies of salt water
having their own unique moods and voices, Poseidon speaks for them all. Second,
the natural forces are linked with human personality traits, thus oceans are moody, the
earth (Demeter) is nurturing and motherly, and physical attraction (Aphrodite) is
fickle and manipulative. Finally and most obviously, paganism is a move towards
abstraction because no longer are the trees and the oceans perceived as life-forces in
their own right, but they are anthropomorphized into super-human gods. In fact, the
power of the ocean, of lightning, and of reproduction is shifted from the body of the
earth to the bodies of men and women. This belief system was socially constructed,
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in part, to explain and rationalize cultural changes and developments, such as one
society conquering and incorporating another, implementation of more complex and
hierarchical governing systems, and even human psychology. It is easy to see how
this shift leads to the separation of humans from the non-human world and how it
contributes to the human perception that we are the active subjects and nature is a
passive object because the powers and consciousnesses previously ascribed to non-
human entities are now shifted to human-like gods. But paganism did not make this
shift complete. Multiple gods who are sometimes in opposition to each other and
who derive their power and personality from the forces of nature still leave room for a
relatively balanced relationship of respect towards the non-human world because
none of the gods are represented as absolute or immaterial. It was the development of
monotheismbelief in one Godthat more firmly separated the abstract and the
concrete.
Before delving into this controversial subject, I want to first acknowledge that
monotheism (like the aforementioned animism and paganism) is diverse and
complicated; some of my generalizations may be unfair to specific branches of the
belief system, and some monotheistic ideology does support various degrees of
respect and balance with the earth, as will be discussed. Nonetheless, it is valuable to
analyze the implications of this major development in human history because there
are important conclusions that can be validly drawn. Monotheism is the belief system
of three major religions on earth: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Belief in one God,
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instead of many, could have been socially constructed for a variety of reasons
including the need for (or justification for) even more centralized and hierarchical
organization of government; this need could have been brought on by the inevitable
culture clashes of the diverse and growing human population. Logan argues that
monotheism is a continuation of the abstraction created by the Greek alphabet.
The outstanding achievement of the Bible, however, is not its historicity but
its abstract theology. The Bible represents the first expression and articulation
of the concept of the belief in one god. Monotheism, the cornerstone of all
Western religion (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), is a unique invention of
the Israelites, and its formulation by Moses, we shall show, was influenced by
his use of the phonetic alphabet. (Logan 82)
Logan, in his aforementioned book The Alphabet Effect: The Impact of the
Phonetic Alphabet on the Development of Western Civilization, seems to be confident
in the superiority of the Greek alphabet and its influence upon the most advanced
science in the world, Western science, and also monotheism, but he does indicate
that nature or the environment has suffered as a result. His confidence is expressed
in the following statement that is part of his recurring theme: The alphabet, as we
shall discover, has contributed to the development of codified law, monotheism,
abstract science, deductive logic, and individualism, each a unique contribution of
Western thought (Logan 18). But even Logan, champion of the alphabet, admits that
monotheism and the alphabetic literacy rob the non-human environment of its
meaning. Logan writes, Within the context of Hebrew religious thought, nature,
while still regarded as a living entity, was robbed of its personality and de-mythed.
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Once the Greeks became literate, they also de-mythed nature and developed a
notion of causality to explain its actions (Logan 92). What he calls a de-mythed
nature or non-human world is one in which the earth has lost its agency and subject
statusits personalityand becomes just another object.
Why might this de-mything occur? By definition, the belief in one
omnipotent, omnipresent God instead of many immortal yet limited gods requires
humanity to think of reality as a duality instead of multiplicities. Instead of an
animistic conceptualization of each physical entity having consciousness, instead of
the pagan perception that each physical entity shares consciousness with one of many
gods and goddesses, monotheists attribute consciousness and voice only to an
abstract, intangible, non-physical God (though Christians believe Jesus became
incarnate for a time), and that God only shares this consciousness and voice with
humans. This belief simplifies the world into a series of hierarchical dualities:
God/devil, good/evil, afterlife/present life, spirit/flesh, etc. Though many religious
groups try to combat the over-simplification of these dualities and Christians point
out that Christ became physical for a while on earth, one cant deny that the basic
foundation is a dualism that is not as foundational in other ideologies. When there is
only one God and he doesnt like idols, I have to make one of two choices: Im either
for Him or against Him, good or evil. This choice is much more complicated and
sometimes non-existent in polytheistic and animistic belief systems.
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What do other scholars observe about monotheisms conceptions of the non-
human world? In the essay by Catherine Keller, theologian and scholar, Talking
Dirty: Ground is Not Foundation from Ecospirit, Keller explores the book of
Genesis which includes the Biblical creation story:
For the biblical heritage, the problem is oddly parallel. There are holy
grounds; the earth rejoices; Adam is of adamah, humanity from humus. The
earth, or heavens-and-earth, brims with creaturely goodness; it brings forth
in Genesis 1 very unlike the earth Neoplatonially scribed as the heavy, base,
light-trapping and sin-effecting element. Nonetheless, despite the ground-
affirmative nondualism of the Hebrew worldview, earth remains, of the four
elements, the furthest from the celestial God. (Keller 66)
Keller acknowledges the occasional personification and celebration of the earth itself
in Genesis, but she notes that overall, earth is far from God and the divine.
For example, the Jewish and Christian creation story presents the binary opposition of
humans versus animals, privileging humans and objectifying animals: God blessed
them and told them, Multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters over the
fish and birds and all the animals (Genesis 1:28 Life Application Study Bible).
Though the Bible I selected had an enlightened explanation of the verse: When God
delegated some of his authority to the human race, he expected us to take
responsibility for the environment and other creatures that share our planet. We must
not be careless and wasteful as we fulfill this charge, the basic interpretation that
humans are masters and the earth and her creatures are in our power cannot be
avoided (footnote Life Application Study Bible).
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Christian tradition throughout the centuries supported this dualistic hierarchy
of humans mastering the planet. Keller and Kearns in Introduction: Grounding
TheoryEarth in Religion and Philosophy from Ecospirit describe
a Christendom that has tended to trade its own body-affirmative potentials
encoded in the doctrines of creation, Incarnation, and Resurrectionfor body-
denigrating priorities. It has intensified human dominions over the other
creatures by way of a naturalized dualism of spirit over flesh, of a supernatural
heaven over a material earth. (Keller and Kearns 4-5)
What did this dualistic hierarchy look like? Luke Higgins, in his piece Toward a
Deleuze-Guattarian Micropneumatology of Spirit-Dust in Ecospirit observes:
Traditional cosmological mappings place God at the top of metaphysical
ladder that descends to the human male as Gods primary image, then down
to the human female, animals, plants, and, finally, inanimate matter. This
theological model has been justly criticized for its justification of human (not
to mention male) domination of the earth. (Higgins 252)
This dualistic hierarchy of God above man and man above plants and animals is
paralleled in Augustines idea of heaven being above earth. Augustine was a
medieval Christian convert and an influential scholar of Christian doctrine:
Augustine develops a Platonic metaphor here: For the Christian, being in the world
is like being a traveler trying to return to his or her native land. The land is the
condition of blessedness or love of God (Bizzell and Herzberg 453). Augustine
emphasizes a major theme of many monotheiststhe abstract realm of Gods love is
the ultimate human reality and the physical world is so secondary that it cannot even
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be called our home. The separation of the abstract and the concrete and the
denigration of the concrete are very clear here.
Religious scholar Mark Wallace discusses that Christianity in practical terms
has been very dualistic, but it is not meant to be that way. In his piece Sacred-Land
Theology: Green Spirit, Deconstruction, and the Question of Idolatry in
Contemporary Earthen Christianity, he writes:
Christianity often acts like a discamate religionthat is, a religion that sees
no relationship between the spiritual and physical orders of being.
Historically, it has devalued the flesh and the world as inferior to the concerns
of the soul. In the history of the church, the earth was considered fallen and
depraved because of Adams original sin in the Garden of Eden; many early
theologians rejected marriage as giving in to sexual pleasure; and greatly
revered saints and martyrs starved their bodies and beat themselves with sticks
and whips in order to drive away earthly temptation. (Wallace 291)
Wallace observes that historically, Christianity has found Biblical support for its
spirit versus flesh dualistic hierarchy, and the saints, held up as role models for all
Christians to live by, often went to extreme measures to punish the flesh or material
world for the good of the spiritual one. Wallace notes that Pseudo-Titus, in one of his
apocryphal letters to Paul, wrote a similar sentiment: Blessed are those who have not
polluted their flesh by craving for this world, but are dead to the world that they may
live for God (Wallace 291). From my own experience in Catholic school, the
axiom, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak became ingrained in my psyche. I
was taught that evil came from the temptations of the physical, concrete world. All
that is good is like Godabstract, ideal, and perfect.
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But Wallace argues that Christianity is not meant to denigrate the material,
non-human world because God became flesh through Jesus.
In fact, however, Christianity is not a discamate religipn. On the contrary,
beginning with its earliest history, Christianity offers practitioners a profound
vision of Gods fleshly identity through its ancient teaching that God at one
time embodied Godself in JesusGod became incarnate. (Wallace 293)
In fact the Gnostics, who were declared heretical by the Church, insisted that Christ
was pure spirit and his incarnation was an illusion. The Church rejected this degree
of extreme duality, supporting Wallaces claim here. Wallace argues that the
dualistic tendencies in Christianity are caused by the Platos influence on Christian
theology:
While I maintain that Christianitys primordial identity is fundamentally
nature-centered and body-loving, it is no secret that this thesis has historically
been at odds with a residual Platonist tendency within Christian theology to
devalue, even demonize, the realities of the body and the world. (Wallace
293)
And Plato, as discussed previously, was very likely influenced by the dualistic
possibilities of the Greek alphabet. It is hopeful and inspiring that Wallace suggests
Christianity is and should be nature-centered and body-loving, and I hope scholars
like him will continue to transform the dualistic leanings of Christianity. But the
reality is that, in history and in practice, much of monotheism and especially
Christianity, because of its absolutism and dualism, does devalue, even demonize,
the realities of the body and the world.
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Ralph Metzner, scholar and President of the Green Earth Foundation,
discusses the effects of Christianitys dualism on human perceptions:
Whenever this dissociative split originated, clearly by the time of the
Protestant reformation, the idea was firmly implanted in almost everybodys
mind that we have to overcome our lower animal instincts and passions and
conquer the body in order to be spiritual and attain heaven or
enlightenment. (Metzner 65)
Practically speaking, the spirit versus matter and man versus nature dualisms
were (and still are) widespread, contributing to the careless destruction of the non-
human world. He argues that this dualism even led to a split in Western
consciousness:
We could say that throughout the history of Western consciousness there has
been a conception of two selvesa natural self, which is earthly and sensual,
and tends downward, and a spiritual or mental self, which is airy and ethereal,
and tends upward. (Metzner 66)
This dualism went so far that not only did it sever humans from the non-human
world, but it also cut off humans from themselves, dismembering human identity.
To analyze monotheisms development of dualism in more concrete terms,
lets explore Christianitys relationship with trees. Many pagan religious practices
involved protecting sacred groves of trees that were sometimes dedicated to a
particular god or goddess. One way Christians tried to conquer and/or convert the
pagans was to cut down entire groves of sacred trees. Religious scholar and
environmental activist Nicole Roskos points out that, to be fair, Christianity did not
begin the practice of felling groves, only continued it: Although Christian history
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abounds with the cutting of sacred groves, this practice did not solely originate within
Christianity or Judaism. The Romans cut down sacred groves as a tactic to conquer
other peoples at the time of Nero. (Roskos 484) She also discusses that the
corporate funded Christianity of contemporary times also seems to promote the
tree-felling practice:
This latter, more recent book [The Cross and the Rainforest by Robert
Whelan] builds its polemic against contemporary environmentalism on the
historical Christian precedent of cutting down trees in order to save pagan
souls. It represents a corporate-funded Christianity that now implicitly
champions, in its support for globalized economy, deforestation in the name
of this ancient, saintly practice of felling the sacred trees. (Roskos 483)
Along with cutting down trees, Hageneder notes that Christianity demonized some
formally sacred plants and trees. He writes:
The advance of Christianity led to changes in many such folk traditions. In
some cases, trees that had been most venerated in pre-Christian times were
recast in a negative light once the religion became established. Thus, in the
popular imagination, the physical setting of the elder [originally a symbol of
healing and abundance for pagan Scandinavians, Germans, and British
people] as its actual character gradually became associated with evil, witches,
and devils. For example, in some regions, Lady Elder was said to steal
children or cut up people. (Hageneder 185)
While still anthropomorphic, this negative view of once-sacred trees was an easy
justification for the misuse and abuse of not only trees, but the non-human
environment at large.
But Roskos is careful to suggest that felling trees and demonizing them was
not the only practice of the spreading Christian empire:
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But there are countering voices, willing to present the contrary evidence of
long-standing Christian appreciation of nature generally, and trees in
particular. As one Christian writer observes, For every story about a saint
who cut down trees in an act of anti-pagan triumphalism, there are two stories
of saints living in hollow oaks. (Roskos 491)
Just as Wallace discussed that duality is not an integral part of true Christianity,
though it has become so in practice, Roskos emphasizes precedents for honoring
trees, not destroying them. And what about tree symbolism in Christianity? The
evergreen Christmas tree is a symbol of hope, birth, and even immortality associated
with Jesus nativity; the tree is typically honored, ironically, by being cut down in
massive numbers every Christmas to decorate homes. According to Christian
tradition, Christ was crucified on a cross made of wood and crowned with a thorny
plant; while this may represent a close connection between Jesus and the non-human
world, it more likely shows how even nature turned against him, or was used
against him, in his act of sacrifice and redemption. The relationship between
Christianity and trees, just like the relationship between monotheism and the non-
human environment, is complicated and problematic, but practically speaking, the
dualistic hierarchy was developed in the Greek alphabet, was continued in Platos
philosophy, and was even further developed and popularized by monotheism.
Practically speaking, Christianity did much to denigrate formerly sacred trees.
Abram agrees that the particularly Christian focus on the concept of matter
being inferior to spirita central dualistic hierarchycan be traced to the Bibles
roots in the Greek alphabet:
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Unlike the Hebrew Bible, the Christian New Testament was originally written
primarily in the Greek alphabet, and thus the dualistic sensibility promoted by
Greek writing systems was early on allied with Christian doctrine. Under the
aegis of the Church, the belief in a non-sensuous heaven, and in the
fundamentally incorporeal nature of the human soulitself imprisoned, as
Plato suggested, in the bodily worldaccompanied the alphabet as it spread,
first throughout Europe and later throughout the Americas. (Abram 253)
Though monotheistic religions are quite diverse, though the Bible can be quoted out
of context for many peoples purposes, and though I may be biased because of my
own background, the fact remains that monotheism is, by definition, exclusionary of
multiple gods or sources of truth, thus stripping human and non-human nature of
the creative consciousness and power it once held. Furthermore, in practice,
monotheism privileges the abstract over the concrete in extreme good versus evil
terms which contributes to the changing perception of the material world; while once
the earth was sacred, now the earth is an object.
On the other hand, several religious and faith-based groups, monotheistic and
otherwise, are responding to the current environmental crisis by coming together to
help the earth, not harm it. Philosopher and scholar Glen Mazis in Ecospirituality
and the Blurred Boundaries of Humans, Animals, and Machines from Ecospirit
observes:
Like the Buddhist insistence on the human interdependence with all beings in
the surround and the correlative sense that Buddha-nature is in all beings,
Western religious and spiritual traditions have recently turned to the surround
to expand the sense of divinity from its overly human center. (Mazis 123)
In addition, Laurel Kearns, theologian and scholar, reports that
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The ICCN, [Interfaith Climate Change Network] chose global warming in the
1990s as the one topic upon which they could all agree. This particular action
alert encouraged individuals to bring their faith to bear on deliberations by the
U.S. Congress on increasing fuel efficiency. (Kearns 97)
While monotheism (like the Greek alphabet or Platos philosophy) is not a cause of
the broken relationship between humans and the non-human world and while some
monotheistic groups are working to better humans relationship with the earth,
monotheismhistorically and currently, in theory and in practicehas been a
powerful contributor to the problem. Though I am certainly not suggesting all
humans turn to animism as a religious solution to this broken relationship, a
rethinking of religions role in conceptualizing the relationship between humans and
the non-human world and religions use of languageholistic metaphor, dualism, or
multiplicitous pluralitycould be one solution in healing the breach.
Enlightenment Science Constructs Dualism
Another ideology or philosophy that has used language to change humans
relationship with the earth, and perhaps the most problematic to analyze, is science.
In many ways science has brought humans closer to the earth through its emphasis on
truth in the physical world and especially in the study of environmentalism and
ecology. Contemporary science, such as quantum physics and the analysis of the
relationship between humans, animals, and machines, has blurred the boundaries
between traditional dualistic polarities and has allowed room for uncertainty and a
rethinking of human identity. But on the other hand, the Enlightenment science of
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Descartes, which built on the dualistic possibilities found in the alphabet, found in
Platos philosophy (which was revived in the Renaissance), and found in
monotheism, furthered humans tragic separation from the non-human world.
In archeologist and scholar Clive Gambles Origins and Revolutions: Human
Identity in Earliest Prehistory, Gamble argues that Descartes furthered the dualistic
spirit versus flesh binary, calling it mind over body, and promoted rationality as
the method of discerning truth. He writes:
Cogito ergo sum, [I think, therefore I am.] in the hands of mathematician and
philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650), privileged the mind over the body
by dividing the world into oppositions that included subject and object, nature
and culture, individual and society, structure and process. In Descartes
paradigm, the internal mind understood and interpreted the external world in a
rational manner. (Gamble 7)
According to psychologist Anita Barrows in her chapter The Ecopsychology of
Child Development in the book Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the
Mind, Descartes hierarchical dualities caused human identity to be limited to the
human body, excluding any interactions with the non-human world in the formation
of self or meaning.
That this world is known as the outside, the not-me, is a phenomenon of
Western dualistic thought; as Thomas Berry, Theodore Roszak, Joanna Macy,
and others have pointed out, it is only by a construct of the Western mind that
we believe ourselves living in an inside bounded by our own skin, with
everyone and everything else on the outside. (Barrows 106)
Metzner discusses the interesting theory that this Cartesian dualism is responsible for
Western humans autism to the non-human world;
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A related psychopathological metaphor put forward by theologian-tumed-
geologian Thomas Berry is that the human species has become autistic in
relationship to the natural world. He traces die origin of this autism to
Descartes invention of the mechanistic worldview: Descartes.. killed the
Earth and all its living beings. For him the natural world was mechanism.
There was no possibility of entering into a communion relationship. Western
humans became autistic in relation to the surrounding world. (Metzner 59)
Metzner is referring to Descartes analogy that the planet and all its creatures function
as a machine, an intelligently created object. Following this logic, humans are
subjects who can discover how the machine works. This clearly delineated subject-
object dualism breaks the equal, reciprocal, intersubjective relationship between
humans and the non-human world.
These experts are not alone in believing Descartes dualism has contributed to
the broken relationship between humans and the non-human world. Philosopher and
scholar Eugene TeHennepe in his essay Philosophy and Dominion Over the Earth:
How Descartes Shaped our World in the book The Relationship of Man and Nature
in the Modern Age: Dominion Over the Earth, Essays from the Basic Issues Forum
agrees:
Descartes has been long known as the Father of Modem Philosophy, and
more recently it has been common also to see the Cartesian dualism as at least
one important root of the current environmental crisis. I confess that I both
believe and teach that Descartes is the chief culprit in producing the
philosophical map that has led us to this crisis, and in this I am certainly not
alone. (TeHennepe 116)
He also describes the change in the relationship from sensual and even personal to
distant and only grasped by reason:
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On this map the realm of nature is no longer the living, vibrant, multifarious
world as encountered by the senses and conceived by common sense, but
rather a pure homogeneous material stuff (be it atoms, fields of force, or
whatever current physical theory dictates.) This is most precisely grasped by
reason and portrayed by the physical sciences. (TeHennepe 127)
Francis Bacon and Issac Newton continued Western sciences hierarchical
dualism where Descartes left off. Scholar Kate Rigby in her essay Prometheus
Redeemed? From Autoconstruction to Ecopoetics in Ecospirit states that in the
beginnings of modem science ... Sir Francis Bacon presented his Novum organon as
the means by which to dramatically expand mans rightful dominion over creation
Rigby 239). Bacons dualistic worldview of mans rightful dominion over creation
stemmed from his scientific method where truth became limited to that which could
be discerned through rational processes and empirical observation. Philosopher
and scholar P.S. Sri, in his essay The Global Crisis and the Human Opportunity:
World Harmony Through Self-Transformation in The Relationship of Man and
Nature in the Modern Age, argues:
The essence of Newtons method was to reduce all physical phenomena to the
motion of mechanical particles governed by precise mathematical principles,
so that their behavior could be accurately predicted and efficiently controlled
for the benefit of mankind ... summed up by Capra .. .the picture of the
world as a perfect machine, which had been introduced by Descartes, was
now considered a proved fact and Newton became its symbol. (Sri 174-175)
Sri explains how Descartes mechanistic worldview was furthered by Newton and
applied to his study of gravity, the motion of the planets, and the tides. Also implicit
in this continued dualistic worldview is humans right to use nature or the non-
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human world as a consumable object. Thus, according to Max Oelschlaeger in
Natural Aliens Reconsidered: Causes, Consequences, and Cures in Earth Matters:
The Earth Sciences, Philosophy and the Claims of Community, traditional science has
used dualistic language to conceptualize
Earth... as simply raw material, as a supply of resources for human
economic appropriation, an unlimited source of matter-energy that can,
through industry and technology, be converted into an unending, cornucopian
stream of consumer goods. (Oelschlaeger 108)
This dualistic view has led to excessive and irresponsible industrialization and
consumerism and continues to contribute to the broken relationship between humans
and the nonhuman world.
Though conventional Western science that originated in Enlightenment
philosophy does acknowledge the importance of concrete facts and processes, these
observations are valuable to scientists primarily because they are evidence of abstract
hypotheses, theories, and laws.
Conventional scientific discourse privileges the sensible field in abstraction
from sensory experience, and commonly maintains that subjective experience
is caused by an objectifiable set of processes in the mechanically
determined field of the sensible. (Abram 66-67)
The idea that the scientific method is capable of deciphering an objective, absolute,
abstract truth comes into question when considering the near-impossibility of
controlling all variables, such as human observer error, instrumentation error, and the
multitude of other context-dependent variables. Also, the methodology of science
research itself is not objective as discussed in The Ends of Rhetoric: History,
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Theory, Practice from Rhetoricality edited by John Bender and David E. Wellbery:
Kuhns basic argument [is] to the effect that scientific inquiry rests on research
paradigms themselves not derivable from observed data or from axiomatic
statements (Bender and Wellbery 28). And regardless of these gray areas, sciences
goal continues to be to generalize the concrete into the realm of the abstract, Reason
with a capital R, the realm privileged by scientific thought. One example of this,
according to environmental author Annette Kolodny is the short-sighted engineering
mentality. In Kolodnys interview Taking Back the Language in Writing
Environments, she notes the destructive consequences that can result from privileging
the abstract and the human as subject:
the engineering mentality still dominates. We see the physical world almost
exclusively as an instrument for our use and is, in fact, there to be altered for
our use ... Asa result we engineer livestock by pumping them with
antibiotics in order to increase beef or milk production. But we never stopped
to consider how those antibiotics, passed along to children in their food, then
lowers these drugs effectiveness in combating disease. (Kolodny 24)
Kolodny and others like her warn that humans increasing technological advances,
when applied with a dualistic mindset that does not take into consideration the
consequences and rights of the non-humanand sometimes even the humanworld
has already resulted in great harm.
What about Victorian scientists influence on the relationship between
humans and the non-human world? Charles Darwins theory of evolution firmly
established homo sapiens place within the animal family, not separate and above it.
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He also suggested that all life forms on earth share common ancestors, linking
humans to the non-human world in a web of complex relationships. Environmental
scientist Tom Cheetham, in his essay Shifting Ground: Imagination and the
Diversity of Worlds from The Relationship of Man and Nature in the Modern Age,
confirms this: By including humans in this pattern of living process, Darwin
completed the disjoining of humanity from the absolute (Cheetham 234). In
disconnecting humans from the abstract absolute, he rejoined us to the life-world of
the planet. However, Darwins concept of the survival of the fittest can be
simplified and distorted by some into suggesting that humans have naturally
dominated other species on the planet because of our superior adaptations to survive,
and thus it is in our best interests to continue, but Darwin and ecologists are clear in
pointing out that biodiversity and ecological balance are essential for the survival of
all species, including humans. When a population becomes too large, too dominant,
it depletes the resources around it, resulting in territorial disputes and mass starvation.
Darwins language: evolution, common ancestor was a step towards healing the
relationship between humans and the non-human world, and his work is integral to
biological sciences and ecology.
Sigmund Freud, the first psychoanalyst and the father of modem
psychology is more dualistic in his notions of humans and the non-human world.
Theodore Roszak, in his essay Where Psyche Meets Gaia from Ecopsychology,
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discusses that Freuds notions of self are a form of repression of the natural
relationship between humans and the non-human world:
Moreover his [Freuds] conviction that the external world begins at the
surface of the skin continues to pass as common sense in every major school
of modem psychology. The procedure we teach children for seeing the
world this way is the permissible repression of cosmic empathy, a psychic
numbing we have labeled normal. (Roszak 11)
Roszak further criticizes subsequent psychologys concept that self-actualization is
nothing more than heightened personal awareness, not any kind of inter-relational
dynamic, and As for the existential psychologists, they were prepared to make
alienation from the universe the very core of our authentic being (Roszak 11).
Psychologys individualism and duality splits humans from the non-human world, but
not completely. As Roszak admits:
Freud at last felt compelled to grant that our infantile sense of oneness with
the world plays one major role in adult life. From it, he believed, arises the
fires of Eros: the emotional force that binds self to others ... A man who is
in love declares that I and you are one, and is prepared to behave as if it
were a fact. (Roszak 16-17)
If this oneness with the world builds human relationships, it has the potential to
rebuild the relationship between humans and the non-human world as well. Ecologist
Paul Shepard uses this concept of oneness to offer an alternative to simply personal
self-actualization: It [highest order of maturity] celebrates a central analogy of self
and world in ever-widening spheres of meaning and participation, not an every-
growing domination over nature, escape into abstractions, or existential funk
(Shepard 30). While Darwins theory of evolution suggested humans are a part of a
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wider planetary family, helping to heal the relationship between humans and the non-
human world, Freud is predominantly dualistic and individualistic.
Contemporary Science Deconstructs Dualism
Some branches of contemporary science, such as quantum physics, question
the simple dualisms of Descartes, Bacon, Newton, and Freud, offering uncertainty
and multiplicitous possibilities instead. Specifically, the advent of quantum physics
questioned sciences capability to explain the world in absolute, abstract terms.
Heisenbergs Uncertainty Principle, for example, highlights this revolutionary
undermining of sciences hold on absolute, abstract truth as explained by the Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy, whereas classical mechanics presupposes that exact
simultaneous values can be assigned to all physical quantities, quantum mechanics
denies this possibility the prime example being the position and momentum of a
particle (www.plato.stanford.eduh When studying the position and velocity of an
electron, one of the components of an atom, scientists can only approximate a
probable range for the electrons location, not the exact position in space, because of
the electrons particle-wave nature. As Heisenberg himself stated: It seems to be a
general law of nature that we cannot determine position and velocity simultaneously
with arbitrary accuracy (www.plato.stanford.edu). As a result, both Heisenberg
and Bohr attributed a far-reaching status to the uncertainty relations. They both
argued that these relations place fundamental limits on the applicability of the usual
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classical concepts (www.plato.stanford.edu). This undermines the simple dualities
and absolutes science previously claimed.
P.S. Sri agrees that contemporary physics has complicated simple scientific
dualities into something potentially more respectful towards the nonhuman world. He
writes:
In modem physics, the image of the universe as a machine has been
transcended by a view of it as one indivisible dynamic whole whose parts are
essentially interrelated and can be understood only as patterns of a cosmic
process ... There is motion but there are, ultimately, no moving objects; there
is activity but there are no actors; there are no dancers, there is only the dance
[Sri quoting Capra]. Paradoxical as it may sound, therefore, science itself is
now advocating an attitude close to, if not identical with, the poetico-religious
mystical attitude of our ancient seers in the East as well as the West. (Sri 179-
180)
This indivisible dynamic whole inspired by physics is holistic instead of dualistic.
Cheetham agrees that contemporary science is redefining itself and its view of the
world:
The natural sciences are in the midst of a fundamental revolution based on the
recognition of the centrality of three related characteristics of our world.
First: natural science does not discover a world independent of human being.
.. Second: the world in which we are embedded is complex in quite specific
ways which are only now being delineated. One of the consequences of this
notion of complexity is the blurring of the distinction between animate and the
inanimate ... Third: there is growing recognition of the importance of
irreducible individuality as a basic characteristic of entities in nature.
(Cheetham 237)
This exciting statement uses the language of embedded to affirm that humans are
intersubjective participants in the life-world, not dualistic masters, and the
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foundational hierarchical duality of animate versus inanimate is even being eroded by
new discoveries.
Ecophilosopher David Abram also offers an alternative way of viewing
objective science and subjective individuality. He argues that no science is really
objective because the scientist and the studied both actively participate in the
results. He also argues that no subjectivity is fully subjective because no human
being lives in an abstract vacuum devoid of outside physical influences. Instead he
suggests that perception is inter subjective, a term utilized from the beginning of this
exploration: intersubjective phenomenaphenomena experienced by a multiplicity
of sensing subjects (Abram 38). He asserts that the subject I and the object
you, tree, neighborhoodwork together to subtly shape perception, and the lines
between subject and object become blurred. According to Mazis, inter subjectivity is:
as Maurice Merleau-Ponty put it to look at an object is to plunge oneself into it.
That means that as embodied perceivers, we are in what we see in some way
(Mazis 131-132). This is a more holistic or even multiplicitous view of reality that
avoids simplistic binary oppositions. These binary oppositions that divorce the
concrete from the abstract and sever the sensing subject from the sensed object are
illusions that hurt our relationship with our non-human environment.
University professors and authors Donna Haraway and Sandra Harding further
complicate the effects of science on the relationship between humans and the non-
human world. Scientist and philosopher Donna Haraway, author of Simians,
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Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, explains how science both furthers
and undermines the concrete/abstract and subject/object dualisms that are at least
partially responsible for the broken relationship between humans and the non-human
world. She writes,
One of my premises is that most American socialists and feminists see
deepened dualisms of mind and body, animal and machine, idealism and
materialism in the social practices, symbolic formulations, and physical
artifacts associated with high technology and scientific culture. (Haraway
154)
She continues to argue that these dualisms have all been systemic to the logic and
practices of domination of women, people of color, nature, workers, animalin short
domination of all constituted as others (Haraway 177). Though she does
acknowledge sciences simple-minded dualistic hierarchies have contributed to the
domination of many marginalized groups or entities, including the non-human world,
she also suggests that there is another way to view science and technology.
She points to sciences efforts to determine the perhaps non-existent
boundaries between humans and animals and between humans and machines. She
writes, High tech culture challenges these dualisms in intriguing ways. It is not clear
who makes who and who is made in the relation between human and machine
(Haraway 177). In fact, she asserts that the appearance of the cyborg, the human-
machine hybrid, in science-fiction literature coincidentally appears ... precisely
where the boundary between human and animal is transgressed (Haraway 152). She
reminds us that
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by the late twentieth century in United States scientific culture, the boundary
between human and animal is thoroughly breached. The last beachheads of
uniqueness have been polluted if not turned into amusement parkslanguage,
tool use, social behavior, mental events, nothing really convincingly settles
the separation of human and animal. (Haraway 151-152)
While Haraway admits science may be responsible for many subject/object dualisms,
science may also be a way out; the dawning realization that humans are animals and
that machines may be human too or the other way around could allow, if not for unity
and holistic language and concepts, then perhaps for multiplicitous ones: Perhaps,
ironically, we can learn from our fusions with animals and machines how not to be
Man, the embodiment of Western logos (Haraway 178). She continues, Cyborg
imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained
our bodies and our tools to ourselves. (Haraway 181)
Equally intriguing is Womens Studies professor Sandra Hardings
exploration of multiple, not singular, sciences that expose the limitations of believing
in one, true science. In Science is Good to Think With, Harding observes that
Most models of the scientific future, including most of those implied in the
new science studies, imagine one true science. They do not imagine as
existing or desirable many, different, and in some respects conflicting
representations of nature. (Harding 21)
She argues that science and scientific methods are local, socially constructed, and
specific to the particular community and particular purposes of that community, thus
Western Science cannot be truly objective or absolute. Logan, in spite of himself,
supports Hardings observation of diverse and culturally constructed sciences. He
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writes: Levi-Strauss, in The Savage Mind gives numerous examples of elaborate
classification schemes of preliterate cultures, based on their empirical observations
and demonstrating their rudimentary concrete scientific thinking (Logan 51). While
Logans Western-centric view of what constitutes scientific thinking and his
derogatory language use of savage and rudimentary belie his biased belief of
Western superiority, he reveals that many cultures, preliterate and otherwise, have
classification schemes and empirical observations that constitute as Western
science, and it goes without saying that these non-Westem cultures have developed a
wealth of other methodologies and theories that make-up each cultures view of
science as well.
Hardings concept of multiple sciences is a step in reuniting the abstract and
the concrete because she suggests the physical and material contexts of science
actually contribute to the methods and goals of that science. For example,
Chinese and Islamic sciences and technologies are the topic of the most
developed comparative studies. Careful readings of these accounts also reveal
understandings of the causes of the strengths and limitations of modem
European sciences that are otherwise hard to come by. (Harding 21)
Instead of proposing a one, true science that endorses abstract reason with a capital
R and subjugates the material world that provides evidence of that reason, Harding
suggests a broader view of science that can possibly break away from rigid dualities:
a borderland epistemology seeks the best set of scientific maps for the
different purposes for which one needs sciences, rather than one colossal map
that provides a maximally adequate guide to anywhere that anyone might
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every want to travel for any purpose whatsoever. Such a perfect universal
map could only be the world itself, of course. (Harding 22)
Haraway and Harding both reveal sciences contribution to the destructive
abstract/concrete and subject/object binary oppositions that pervade current society,
but they also suggest that rethinking science, its role, and its results can help heal the
relationship between humans and the non-human world.
Some are skeptical that the dualistic thinking possibilities utilized by the
Greeks and their alphabet eventually contributed to the dualism apparent in
conventional Western science. For the most part, these critics are seeking to avoid a
Western-centric bias, which is admirable, but they simplify the alphabetic effect
exemplified by Andrew Robinsons commentary in The Story of Writing: Alphabets,
Hieroglyphs, and Pictograms:
Others claim that the Wests triumph in the modem world, particularly in
science, is largely the result of a so-called Alphabet Effect. They contrast the
West with China: while both West and East developed science, they note, the
West went on to develop the analytical thinking of, say, a Newton or Einstein,
and left China far behind ... put at its crudest, alphabets are alleged to
promote reductionist thinking, Chinese characters holistic thinking.
(Robinson 181)
He rightly criticizes the idea of Western superiority, but instead of acknowledging
that Chinese science is not far behind but simply developed in a different way, he
assumes advocates of the alphabet effect argue a cause-effect relationship. While
some may, it is my position that the dualistic potential of the Greek alphabet is one
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