In a now famous essay from the 60s, Lynn White argues that Christianity is to be held responsible for the growing despoilation of the earth, and the environmental crisis. As Genesis records, man is raised above the world in domination, in contrast to the pagan world, for which man is part of nature. This pagan vision it set out to eradicate.
We may find speaking of elves, pixies and dryads hard to take seriously, but the implication – that we can and need to negotiate with the natural world – with the trees, rivers and mountains – rather than simply try to impose our will upon them, is a thoroughly sound idea. Could we not put up with some silly names for the sake of a sensible policy? This suggests something completely revolutionary – that we evaluate ontological claims (Is there a God, are there pixies?) entirely in terms of the kinds of relation believing in them, or talking like that, would support. This way, perhaps lies Derrida willingness to speak of ghosts, specters etc.
This is not so crazy. It just means that we need to check ourselves at a different point. We can talk any way we like, assert the ‘existence’ of all sorts of things, but we don’t confuse the different ways they exist. Things don’t have to exist physically to have power. We misunderstand spiritual existence as something very thin, or wispy. Much more plausibly, spiritual existence is a projected background for certain possibilities of relationality, and sociality. Those who say this projected background ‘does not really exist’, (as I am tempted to), need to ask themselves, do “I” (or America, or Yellow Bird) exist in that strong sense? Or are these unities not importantly constructed around the relational possibilities they enable?
Next week – we will start a magical map of YB. And celebrate an ontology that lets a thousand flowers bloom.