The Idea of Justice Guides and Motivates
Constructing Just Communities
Justice and Love
Justice Is Freedom
Urgent Call to Action
In my last two essays I have explained that the universe is a single indivisible organism in which everything functions as parts of it both in their individual capacity and as parts of larger whole entities to serve the universal life. This interpretation raises the obvious question – how can the world be in its current state approaching total ruin? My answer is that breakdown is natural: things become damaged and diseased, then healing processes commence which either succeed or fail. Within human civilization something evidently went wrong a good while back and, rather than being rectified, the problem has spread to the point that now the whole biosphere is in jeopardy. But the victim has means of defense which it is presently directing at the rogue human species. The fossil record is clear: biological epochs come and go, and an ugly, bloody end to the Anthropocene appears to be at hand. Yet as humanity has immense capacity to do harm it also has great resources to combat and reverse damage. There is broad agreement that we should take immediate action against climate change, environmental destruction, not to mention the perennial woes of disease, war and injustice, so the key question is How?
A central concept in the expanded essentialism that I laid out in Citizenship is final causality, which is both the goal of a thing or process and the drive to achieve that goal. Tackling our existential challenges requires that we establish a goal and have the drive to attain it. This is not an academic prescription; as an organizer I have observed that for people to act they must have a definite objective, a roadmap for reaching the destination and, most importantly, the motivation to succeed. If these are lacking, people go off in different directions and even pursue counterproductive activities, as their interest progressively dissipates. Also, contrary to the common impulse, compromise is not an objective but rather compromise of the goal, which should be the ideal as it will inevitably become compromised. Creating consensus is another will-o’-the-wisp, for, as William H. Whyte, author of The Organization Man said, “…if every member simply wants to do what the group wants to do, then the group is not going to do anything.”1
Understanding of nature points to a single, specific goal which is for humans to function as organic parts of natural ecosystems. There are several depictions of the ecological civilization, among which I favor that of David C. Korten, founder and editor of Yes! magazine. His Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth sets forth his plan for global sustainability. Advocating degrowth he calls for a new economic system composed of “coherent, self-reliant local economies that function as subsystems of their local ecosystems.”2 He emphasizes changing the way that money is created from the present method that brings it into existence as debt. This practice drives businesses to continually expand and borrow to raise new funds to pay off the principal and interest on previous loans – a process Korten calls the growth imperative. To replace the present extremely financialized global economy he offers an economic model of small-scale local production primarily for local consumption. In my view business and industry should also as far as possible be locally owned by individuals and workers with everyone actualizing themselves in multiple capacities by engaging in a broad range of productive and other meaningful life-affirming activities. Our vision further involves a high degree of economic equality and material security for all.
The principal advantage of Korten’s scheme over some others is that it is the ideal structure for participatory democracy and therefore maximum human freedom, a position I presented in Freedom: A 21st Century Update. My last essay Citizenship defines humans in essentialist terms as having multiple natures and being organic parts of multiple living wholes which include families, communities, polities, ecosystems and the biosphere. A person is an individual living essence whose vital functions are hierarchically ordered beginning with matter, proceeding to the vegetable functions of nutrition, growth and reproduction, then those of the animal – motion and perception. Above these are the uniquely human function of reason then finally the highest function of citizenship. Each nature in the sequence subsumes the functions of those below it, so a person acting as a citizen performs the functions of the whole hierarchy of natures.
While the vision makes the primary site for a citizen’s action the local polity, the world is in fact divided into nations which in turn are composed of subordinate political bodies. These more inclusive governments must realistically be representative democracies in which citizens should participate to the maximum extent. Clearly too there must be institutions of global governance in which people participate as global citizens.
As local governments are to be participatory democracies, the question arises, how big (or small) should the local community be? To allow everyone optimal opportunity to be engaged I would say that the population should be no more than ten thousand, preferably closer to five thousand. However I note that ancient Athens had a participatory democracy with a population of at least thirty thousand adult male citizens eligible to vote in the assembly. Moreover all municipalities in Vermont including the cities hold annual town halls in which the people vote on local priority matters. Although the ecological civilization aims for decentralization, participatory democracy can be achieved in the neighborhoods of cities designated as wards.
Supporters of climate action are divided over the matter of degrowth. In a recent interview Noam Chomsky denounced it as distracting from the urgency of retrofitting existing infrastructure to radically reduce fossil fuel consumption.3 At the same time “degrowth” is a politically perilous term in most circles since unending growth is presently a condition for most Americans’ survival. At a minimum personal savings, especially for retirement, now depends on it. The regeneration movement emphasizes growth of planet healing technologies and practices which are sorely needed but whose progress is still slow.
As I see it degrowth is no longer a choice but a reality. The COVID-19 pandemic has killed almost four million people globally, infected nearly two hundred million and still rages in some countries. Authorities don’t speak of ending the pandemic but of only managing it – a goal that has yet to be reached and may not be ever. For we have nations and the pharmaceutical industry blocking patent waivers that would raise the global production of vaccines and medicines to the needed scale. Also, especially in America, the refusal to become vaccinated by a significant number of people is undermining the effort to bring the disease under full control. With prolonged spread of the disease variants continue to emerge, some of which will inevitably be resistant to our initial vaccines.
While COVID has noticeably reduced global population growth, the conventional wisdom is that total growth in human numbers will continue, and, if history is any indication, will rebound as it did following the 1918 flu epidemic that is estimated to have killed fifty million people. What is not thoroughly correlated with the COVID impact on health and lives are underlying unwholesome public health conditions. Action is directed at the disease and not the circumstances in which it arose and which fostered its spread and virulence.
These conditions include hazardous contact with wildlife as in the Chinese wet markets and possibly by Wuhan researchers as well as human encroachments on habitats that are suspected to have caused the other recent zoonotic epidemics of AIDS, Ebola and SARS. Another critical factor in the present pandemic is the high level of global travel. Very soon after it originated in China, travelers from that country and Europe carried it to America, and variants first appearing abroad are found almost immediately in the US. Within countries spread of the disease is exacerbated by crowded living and working conditions, public transportation and events. Then there is the matter of the several pandemics ongoing before COVID arrived – asthma and COPD, hypertension, diabetes and excess weight which are known as “co-morbidities” for people who contract the disease. The first two are principally due to high levels of air pollution from fossil fuel burning, while the latter three mostly result from bad diets and sedentary lifestyles. In regard to diet the problem especially in America is that much of the food that people eat lacks essential nutrients and contains inordinate amounts of substances such as sugar, salt, artificial ingredients and toxins. American healthcare policy contributes to making the pandemic worse as affordable healthcare and paid medical leave remain unavailable to many. Although there is too little healthcare service of some kinds in some places, the overuse of antibiotics is approaching a tipping point with an alarming rise of superbugs, particularly with the pandemic in India. Overreliance on heating and cooling systems has removed fresh air and ventilation from buildings, creating COVID traps and hot spots in some of them.
A significant phenomenon illuminated by the pandemic is the frequency with which Americans dine in restaurants. This is a factor in the problem with their diets, as restaurants tend to serve over-sized portions of food heavy in salt, sugar and fat. Yet there is another aspect brought out in a recent New York Times article in which the author says, “People in almost every society I can think of have a desire to eat together in public…We want to see other people. We want to sway next to them at concerts, scream next to them in movie theaters and eat next to them in restaurants.”4 Presumably such motivation is perennial, but eating out has certainly increased in recent years and reflects, I believe, what Zygmunt Bauman calls the “liquid,” that is, extremely casual, superficial and impermanent quality of today’s social relations. Loss of human connections has been growing for some time, leading to the recognition of loneliness as a threat to health. Even before the pandemic “deaths of despair” had reached a serious level in suicides and casualties from alcohol and drugs. Obviously our high rate of murder, especially with guns, can be counted as another form of deadly sociopathology. Globally we also have growing war, domestic conflict, overall anxiety and fear as well as rising levels of toxins and carcinogens in the environment. Storms increasingly devastate some human habitations, while others become permanently submerged by rising sea level or too hot for people to live in them.
For more than fifty years humans have been over-consuming earth’s resources while generating ever more pollution and toxins, building up to our present condition in which mortality and overall instability are rapidly increasing. COVID has revealed not only how fragile human survival has become but also how numerous our problems are as they all escalate. Apart from the global financial sector degrowth is underway now, so we must choose between letting it proceed unchecked or pursuing controlled degrowth aimed at the ecological civilization.
Although our goal won’t be achieved overnight, plans and technologies currently exist in abundance, so practically all that needed is for the people to mobilize to bring them to reality. I’ll mention the principal initiatives, then turn to the outlook with which they must be implemented. On the federal level in the U.S. the Green New Deal is a good start, but it needs to go global. Moreover because everything must change, we also need to replace existing technologies with regenerative ones, following Daniel Christian Wahl’s approach. As my vision aims at a high degree of local self-sufficiency communities everywhere should embark now on efforts to develop clean renewable energy and local food production. On the internet there are countless stories of successful projects for sustainability and regeneration with many of them only requiring a group of people committed to the effort, while others such as community solar depend on legislation. It is obvious that transformation at the necessary scale requires a full-court press on their governments by the people which ultimately aims to establish local participatory democracy and true higher-level representative democracy.
To change everything not only must a multitude of things and practices be altered, but the changes must be coordinated as we advance toward the ideal. Such action requires a certain method of making judgements. In Citizenship I referred to Aristotle’s political wisdom which consisted of choosing the mean between too much and too little in making governmental decisions. For just one choice such as what the amount of a tax or fee should be political rulings are typically difficult because consequences are never simple. Making decisions to change everything will be the most challenging ever, because there are so many elements to consider. We obviously therefore need a multi-dimensional standard to apply. Our present remedies – compromise, cost-benefit analysis, trade-offs and so many forms of assistance to those who lose out – are not parts of the ideal, which is nothing less than universal justice for humans and non-humans alike.
Our vision is of a thorough-going ecological world, where life thrives and all the pieces fit together to support all the parts and the whole. This is our very conception of nature, of the universal life of which all things, organic and inorganic alike, are parts. In Ecomysticsm and Citizenship I spoke of universal love or the love of all things as the highest human love which further animates the highest human life. Having described the multiple natures of all things which account for both their perfection and corruption in the last work, it is now evident that mere love for all things is not exactly what we want. It amounts to simply extending Christian charity to the environment, loving your enemies, feeding the poor and so on. Our goal is not to tolerate and sustain degradation but to seek the perfection of all things individually and collectively.
My expanded essentialism provides a means of understanding and pursuing this. According to it each thing is an essence which strives to achieve its own perfection as a member of its species, that is, to perfectly perform the functions that belong to that essence. More specifically, as each thing is individual, if only with respect to its particular spatial and temporal locations in the world, it strives to perfectly perform its generic functions in those particular circumstances which are the functions of its individual essence. In addition to having these individual and generic identities, each thing has so many identities as parts of more comprehensive essences including families, populations of species, human communities and polities, ecosystems and ultimately the biosphere. By nature each thing therefore also strives to perfectly perform its functions as parts of these larger living wholes. The most comprehensive whole essence of which everything is a part is the universe within which each part, as a part, strives to perfectly perform its functions in the service of the whole and every other part.
As the whole universe is indivisible each part strives for unity, that is, functional harmony, with all the other parts. This is each part’s telos as a part of the whole, with the unity of all the parts constituting the essence of the whole. As parts all things have their particular desires for universal harmony while the telos or desire of the whole, which is the indivisible totality of all the parts, is simply for universal harmony.
Prior to Aristotle the Pythagorean mathematician, philosopher and statesman Archytas broadly identified harmony with justice.5 Plato picked up this idea, declaring health the justice of the body, virtue the justice of the soul and harmony of its parts the justice of the state.6 He is, however, best known for his theory of forms, asserting that the ideas of objects such as geometric figures and justice exist eternally and independently of people’s minds. Aristotle converted most of his teacher’s forms to final causes – what essences strive to achieve. In my expanded essentialism the universal harmony for which all things as parts of the universe strive is universal justice. As the whole universe is the unity of all its parts, its essence is universal justice which is an object of human intuition, the very thing Plato identified as the idea of justice (τὸ δίκαιον). According to my view universal justice is not some abstract and inert thing or even merely an idea but rather the ideal for which one continually strives. It is the supreme object of love for a person in their capacity as a part of the whole universe, a magnet that directs all their thoughts and actions, with the intuition of it ever present before their mind.
In Ecomysticism I spoke of the love of all things as the greatest love and human ideal. In that work my use of the preposition “of” was ambiguous, suggesting that the phrase meant love for all things. It is now seen that the desire of all things as parts of the universe is universal harmony, which is for them to all serve themselves, each other and the whole. As desire is love, this is the love of all things as individual parts of the universe and collectively as the whole.
Plato’s theory of forms was dismissed by Aristotle and most of his successors on the ground that disembodied ideas make no sense, but I have now re-embodied his idea of justice. This is not just a metaphysical manoeuver, for the idea of justice and intense love of it are universal features of human life. What does a victim of injustice yearn for and idealize? Justice. What is the universal principle of governance among human societies? Justice. Rather than taking the form of the philosopher’s idea it may exist as a cultural attitude, a set of customary practices or code of law. In our time justice is identified with enactment and execution of laws, which are themselves assessed as just or unjust. In Plato’s view justice was eternal and fixed, and the intuition of it does seem to convey this last quality. However the way in which I have embodied it in my expanded essentialism brings it to life, for not only is the universe a living essence, but the act of intuiting its essence is also a vital human function. In addition, a person is a living part of the whole and thus, as a part, seeks the universal harmony or justice of the whole, for this is their natural telos and supreme love as a part. Specifically, as an individual human located in a particular place and time a person by nature seeks universal justice in some human capacity and in their particular position.
A person’s identity as part of the universe is one of several that include both their hierarchy of natures and membership as parts of so many wholes such as their community and polity. They can function in different capacities in accordance with specific natures and part/whole identities, and evidently have some discretion over those in which they act in given circumstances. The history of civilization and Indigenous cultures shows different identities dominating in various times and places. Ancient Greece emphasized the human essence as defined by Aristotle; the modern West has focused on the material and animal natures of humans, while Indigenous cultures functioned in a more naturally holistic manner. Our current crises require that we change our orientation by pursuing universal justice according to our nature as citizens. With primary engagement in local participatory democracy, this is the realization of the motto “Think globally; act locally.”
The universal goal of action is the decentralized ecological civilization, and I have indicated what some of the initial steps should be. Implementing these and succeeding ones require not only engineering expertise but also vast application of political wisdom to achieve the ultimate aim of total justice for humans and nonhumans alike.
Making decisions on the way to the ideal involves several components. The first is always keeping the goal in one’s mind and judging whether any given action advances it. Presently as the dream of all-electric vehicles prevails, highway expansion increases. People imagine that an all-clean and renewable energy future is on the way which will enable them to continue to commute long distances to work and drive away from home every weekend. In my area Ecommerce warehouses are rapidly springing up, bringing a great increase in tractor-trailer traffic that adds to the already very high level of diesel emissions. Their harmful effect is compounded by rising temperatures that convert this pollution into hazardous amounts of ground-level ozone. Meanwhile my town has myopically adopted a plan to make it more of a bedroom community and to attract more tourists. Moving forward every prospective action must be assessed to determine if it is consistent with the ideal or is in contradiction to it. Instead of expanding highways we should be taking action to reduce travel by localizing production and consumption.
Spotting obvious contradictions is the easy part, for our vision is for the whole world and every aspect of it. Human transitions will be the trickiest matters to handle, as they include getting people out of dirty non-sustainable livelihoods and into ecologically sound ones plus the huge issue of urban poverty in America, not to mention the fast-growing pressure of climate refugees.
The Idea of Justice Guides and Motivates
These are daunting challenges that will increasingly need local attention, that is, yours and mine. The vision of the ecological civilization is the barest of sketches which requires specifically moral direction for not only making particular decisions but for motivating and mobilizing people to support it. This is the ideal of justice which is a beacon and a magnet for people functioning in their capacities as parts of the universe and therefore animated chiefly by their love of all things. So beyond and above the material ideal the person acting to advance it forever holds the idea of justice in their mind.
Still it is not an oracle. As I explained in Citizenship everything that happens between objects in the universe is a matter of conjunctions of essences which reflect their intentions and wills. Conflicts arise from the fact that things, especially organisms, have a hierarchy of natures. The predator, for example, in its animal nature wishes to consume the prey in its material nature, while the latter in its animal nature wishes to remain alive; meanwhile the forest fire wishes to consume the material of both as fuel for itself. Viewing these relationships in isolation, natural justice is found in each of them, for it is obviously the predator’s nature to consume prey, and the natural phenomenon of a forest fire kills some of the wildlife. Considering these interactions simply as parts of the universe, it is seen that the animals and the fire all effectively contribute to the universal harmony or justice.
Looking further, however, it may be found that the prey is an endangered species and its loss threatens not only the remaining members but also the ecosystem which depends on a healthy population of it. Similarly, the forest fire may contribute to a vicious cycle of global warming, less precipitation and more fires. So nature’s harmonization and justice may in fact be a downward spiral of degradation due to an eclipse of inorganic forces over organic ones.
Humans, as parts of nature, are the agents of this transformation with the material philosophy and technology of the modern age. So in making just decisions we must be particularly mindful of not just the fit in the relations among things but also the natures involved. As I explained in Citizenship the higher natures of things incorporate their lower ones, enhancing those lower natures. Thus for a thing to mostly function according to a lower nature is degradation, with its corruption being a diminished form of harmony and justice. A person, for example, infected with a disease is like the prey for the predator as the pathogen feeds off their body. It is, however a slower process, in the early stages of which the body exerts its human essence in a contest with the disease. If that body is weak the disease is likely to triumph and justice be done so to speak by disposing of a person unfit to survive. Yet while the person lives their human functions are impaired as they progressively sink into an inanimate material condition that is fully actualized with their death. This illustration applies to every kind of living system or essence including communities, ecosystems and ultimately the biosphere. There are forces of destruction which by nature act as agents of justice, but wholesale displacement of organic functions, especially the highest ones, by material forces and decay is an indication of grave illness which, we see, can afflict the whole biosphere. Nonhuman nature is limited in its ability to resist the growing destruction, but humans who in their Promethean pride are responsible for the accelerating trend also have the capacity to reverse it by justly respecting the functions of the highest natures of things, starting with themselves.
Acting in the interest of universal justice therefore consists of seeking the harmony of all things, giving priority to their highest natures. In simplest terms this means respecting lives – seeking the good of all living things, excluding uncontrolled populations of pathogens, emerald ash borers, spotted lantern flies and other pest species that have unduly multiplied and spread as a result of human ecosystem disturbance. Both on the pathway to our ideal and when it is realized decisions for action must therefore take into consideration the generic and individual essences of very many things. In addition to seeking the good of the highest natures of individual things and the whole of nature, justice must be provided for organic wholes or systems that are intermediate between the two extremes, for these are units within the whole as well. Given the current degraded condition of nearly everything, this action is regenerative as it elevates relations among things from a material to a more organic level.
The method of examination and evaluation is comprehensive, multi-dimensional, and deeply discerning, which is the polar opposite of the standard scientific approach. With their definitions modern sciences carve up the world into separate kinds of things and reduce their objects to the same elements in order to perform standardized mass operations on them. In doing this they draw arbitrary boundaries around their target objects, a prime example being neoliberalism’s definition of environmental and social justice matters as “externalities.” Regenerating nature requires recognizing nature’s continuity, infinite multi-dimensionality and the unique individuality of everything in it. This is a very tall order for people accustomed to promises of magic bullet solutions to vast and complex issues such as inequality and global dependence on fossil energy.
Inevitably human understanding is limited, so the exercise of practical and political wisdom must follow a few maxims including simply conserving nature and relying on the precautionary principle. People must strive to make the best judgements that they can, definitely avoiding expedience, compromise and trade-offs as far as possible. The material for decisions must consist of facts and sound science which are subjected to strict rational scrutiny and evaluation with particular attention to long term consequences. Citizens contribute their individual viewpoints, with all acting as parts of the universe expressing their interests, in contrast with our current system allegedly composed of competing interest groups but actually ruled by big campaign donors. The goal is to achieve nature’s universal justice, something that humans, as natural creatures endowed with natural intuition and reason, should be able to approach.
Ultimately the idea of justice provides the standard for decisions. Although the human and nonhuman dimensions of nature are infinitely complex, they still by nature constitute so many living essences, and our objective is for them all to be in good health, displaying justice among all their parts. So a major goal for us is to replace what are mostly heaps of organic and inorganic objects with living whole essences, generically known as “ecosystems.” Presented with so many fragments we wish thus to establish justice among them. The world is filled with objects related to one another like a bit of iron clinging to a magnet, which is an instance of minimal harmony or justice between them. Our interest however is not in such contingent relations but rather the unity or justice among the parts of higher order whole essences such as human communities, polities, ecosystems and the biosphere, the components of which must constitute living wholes and therefore be true parts of those wholes. To qualify as such a whole a collection must manifest a unitary life, with each part essentially sustaining itself, all the other parts and the whole. Insofar as all the living parts and the whole exhibit health, there is justice among the parts.
Assessing collections requires proper identification of wholes and parts. For example a human community is a whole whose parts include all the individual members as well as systems for food production and distribution. Both of these kinds of parts must perform the three essential functions named above. An ecosystem likewise contains individuals, but these all constitute larger parts within the whole which are the proper parts of the system. Since animals including humans consume plants and other animals it is thus not individuals but communities or populations of species that form parts of the system, while individuals are parts of these parts. In the whole system it is each community or population that sustains itself, all the other parts and the whole. As we advance toward the ideal we must continually ask Are we developing true living systems which support and are supported by all the parts? Similarly to the way in which the universal essence which is the striving for harmony among all the parts is known to us as the intuition of universal justice or the idea of justice, so intuition of the essences of lower level composites which consist of the striving for harmony among their parts, is intuition of justice among those parts.
Constructing Just Communities
Organisms are living wholes whose parts are harmoniously united in their indivisible essences. No organic part of an organism can naturally live separately from the whole unless it serves a reproductive function for the whole, for example, plant cuttings that will root or segments of worms that can grow whole new bodies. So the collective essences we wish to create are not unities like indivisible organisms but rather what I shall call amalgamations of parts. Individual humans can exist apart from unified communities, and plants and animals can live in the absence of ecosystems. However in these states they are like wolves, whose proper condition is to live in a pack, but are able to function in diminished capacities as lone wolves. Such alienation from natural communities is corruption or degradation of those communities and their parts, comparable to a sick or injured body in which impaired parts function in either an uncoordinated manner or in opposition to each other.
Our task of regenerating human and nonhuman communities is to follow the model of the whole universe in establishing living essences consisting of parts that, as parts of those essences, all strive for harmony or justice among themselves. The immediate object of their striving is justice of the community rather than universal justice, this particular justice being the final cause or essence of the community with a particular quality, which for a human community is its own culture.
While reconstructing nature is a daunting challenge, by far the greatest one is reorganizing humans into ecological communities, and it is here where determinations of justice must play a leading part both in regard to relations between humans and between them and nature. The goal is ecosystems that are organic wholes of which human communities are both parts and organic wholes themselves, extended in both time and space. With respect to communities the ideal is that each person serves themself, every other member, the whole community and the natural environment which in turn sustainably or regeneratively sustains the community. Such communities manifest the four commonly recognized kinds of justice – retributive, restorative, procedural and distributive – which in fact belong to all living systems. In a human body for example abuse of it is met with retribution such as a hangover; it has healing functions, exhibits consistency and finally has compensating mechanisms.
As we move toward the ideal, all these forms must be sustained, while at each moment we must further ask What’s working? What’s not working? Like with an individual body the response to debility is to heal, rehabilitate, provide needed assistance and, above all, take action to prevent future harm. All this is to be done over lifetimes in which individual aging is a natural process according to which functions develop, mature then decline. Also like in a body all the parts contribute to and support the whole, so in the community all the citizens play active roles to achieve justice between nature and themselves and between all the members. Obviously perfect justice will not be attained overnight and possibly never, however it is critical to strive for and actually achieve a good measure of justice among people and things at each stage of the process. Bringing the ideal into being should be like the growth of a person which proceeds from conception, infancy, childhood, adolescence and finally adulthood.
We are equipped with our vision of the ideal political economy and the idea of justice plus perspicacity and political wisdom, but otherwise our understanding of the world and the world itself are in flux. With natural change and regenerative human action, things organize themselves into new living wholes. Being a living human function within the living universe, new understanding also emerges which involves new organization of elements.
Dealing with change and in general it is important to properly understand the nature of organic wholes and their parts. A whole is the unity of all the parts but not the sum or collection of them. Nor it is something greater than all the parts like the compound H2O is greater than its component atoms existing separately. Rather, the essence of the whole is distinct from the particular functions of its parts. There is in the human body, for example, a single indivisible life which is the unity of all its functions, while the heart and even the circulatory system, which are essentially parts of the body, have particular functions that are very different from the essence of the whole body. I remind the reader that an organism doesn’t come into being like a chemical compound, which is assembled, but is an indivisible essence from the moment of its conception and whose parts are not constructed but rather develop and grow as external materials are incorporated into them. As organization in the world and understanding changes, it is vital that people properly identify the whole essences and parts with which they are concerned. Doing this involves a certain method of logical thinking that differs from the scientific approach and is contrary to reductionism.
The quest for universal justice is a dynamic process, and as we tackle the damage of the Anthropocene over the long term people must embrace change and moreover be actively engaged parts of it, recognizing that the alternative is global catastrophe. One of the biggest obstacles to progress is people’s, especially Americans’, addiction to convenience, a major example of which is the car whose non-necessity is demonstrated by the reliance on walking, subways and bicycles in certain U.S. cities and nations such as the Netherlands. Most Americans relate to their government as consumers of its services that include water, schools, roads and law enforcement. Taking these conveniences for granted, people not only can’t imagine things being otherwise, but positively resist change, as we see in the backlash to Defund the Police.
The universal justice that we seek prioritizes things’ highest natures including that of humans, so not only must we eliminate poverty, we must lift everyone up from their present material or animal status to which they have been reduced by education, advertising and propaganda to the practice of their highest human functions of reason and personal virtue. Such human actualization requires significant reduction in the division of labor, for as nonhuman organisms have a vast repertoire of functions, so the full human life also involves having and applying many different skills. Additionally, the multi-dimensional judgement that I have described is a necessary mode of thinking for moving toward and living according to the ideal.
I have sketched how a person should view and act upon things in the world insofar as they are an individual part of the universe seeking universal justice. While they are parts of so many other natural whole essences they also have individual identities plus individual capacities for reasoning and virtue. Still, many of their actions involve relations with other people, all of which are conjunctions of their essences that display a degree of fit or justice at some level. One person pushing another is a conjunction that occurs between them in respect to their physical natures, and their awareness of this conjunction is each one’s feeling of pressure on their body. While people can form the whole essences of families, communities and polities, just sharing a common function like working together or attending a party unites them as well with the key being the harmonization of their intentions.
Justice and Love
Previously in Ecomysticism I defined love as the immediate awareness of the conjoined lives of the lover and the beloved. We are especially conscious of love because of its intensity and the extent of the conjoined functions of the lover and the beloved which can seem total as a person is consumed by a love. Other human relations – intuition and sense perception as well as simple joint functioning – also involve degrees of love. To intuit any essence is to recognize and appreciate, that is, to in some measure love it. Seeing something constitutes the fulfillment of the desire to see it, that is, to be conjoined with it as a visible object, and therefore involves awareness of unity with it. Finally, there is no question that sharing an activity with other people generates a sense of camaraderie which is a mild form of love. Obviously not all human relations are amiable. A person may be physically present to me but I resist their human aspect, mirroring the relationship between the predator and the prey, as our intentions are not complementary but opposed.
Because every kind of human association is a conjunction of essences, as we look to realize the ideal we must identify the kinds of relationships that are useful, neutral or harmful for our purpose. Unity for the sake of unity, which was an objective of Occupy Wall Street is of no value and distracts from forming productive relationships. In our present culture of radical individualism people are atomized, the condition which according to Hannah Arendt gave rise to Nazism. Lacking human bonds, they have a profound longing for love, validation and to simply belong to some group, with this last need accounting for people’s continued support of Trump according to the New York Times article “’Belonging is Stronger than Facts’: The Age of Misinformation.”7 Being alienated and marginalized engenders a great temptation for people to uncritically attach themselves to others, especially celebrities with exceptional personal magnetism. Otherwise isolated, people’s social identities are established through so many tribes, most of which are defined in opposition to other tribes. Our wish is for the deeply gratifying esprit de corps that arises among people working together to advance the ideal.
While love and a sense of unity are most commonly recognized in relations between people, they can of course involve all kinds of nonhuman objects such as animals and places. The love of nature is clearly a part of our endeavor, and it may be reciprocated, for as a person cares for and serves living things they can feel loved by them. This is obvious with pets but by no means confined to relations with animals Caring for my flower garden, especially by watering to keep it alive during a drought, I feel it loving me. Our ideal relationship with nature therefore consists in nurturing it as it nurtures us, with the highest vision being that of members of a community loving each other and their ecosystem while it returns their love. Insofar as people’s action serves the cause of universal harmony and justice, that benefit is reciprocated by the universe, and they feel its love for them in some measure.
Still, as we move forward it is important to appreciate the challenge of getting people to work together, for in our present neoliberal culture people’s impulse is to assert their individuality within groups. While together they can execute very narrowly-defined activities it is difficult for them to decide what to do, as I noted at the beginning of this essay. The problem is infinitely greater when the task is to step-by-step realize the ideal.
People’s instinct may be to compare the task to how one eats an elephant, which is one bite at a time. This comparison fails because unlike the elephant that is an enduring material thing, the ideal must be brought into material existence. The plan also is not fully formed at the beginning and requires decisions at every step regarding what to do next. There is no alternative other than to build the ship at sea, simultaneously developing the relationships and advancing the ideal.
The crisis in our relationship with nature is mirrored in our relationships with fellow humans, and it has the same remedy: a movement for universal justice. This movement is precisely nature’s way, and my contribution to the regeneration conversation is my account of the function of humans as parts of the universe and a method for making judgements. The principal capacity in which humans fulfill their highest function as such a part is their highest nature and primary identity which is as a citizen. Progressing toward the ideal and sustaining it once it is achieved requires people to deliberate together and make binding decisions – the very purpose of government. As people are extended essences as well as parts of the larger essences of their communities it is natural that the ideal restores this bond between people and their place, making the local polity the principal focus of one’s civic engagement. This is an essential part of the ideal which must be an initial high priority. Yet even before it is formally instituted, people can effectively establish local participatory democracy just by attending the meetings plus recruiting and electing candidates who will serve them to advance the ideal. Local voter mobilization is urgent, as the movement to corrupt elections must be defeated.
The glory of participatory democracy among people acting according to their nature as citizens and seeking universal justice is that they retain personal autonomy. While they function as parts of the universe, the polity, any number of other whole essences and may have a sense of unity with some or all of them, ultimately they exercise their individual rational judgment. One of people’s biggest objections in our time is to being manipulated and controlled by powerful and not-so-powerful interests. With participatory democracy the ideal and the path to it are liberating, eliminating isolation and alienation, as all the citizens seek justice for everything in the world. At the same time they function as humans in the community, practicing the “habits of the heart” extolled by de Toqueville and friendship, counted as one of the virtues by Aristotle. In addition to limiting specialization in order to actualize multiple potential functions, each person’s social life includes cultural diversity and multi- rather than one-dimensional relationships, for the goal is for everyone to function in both their highest and widest capacities.
Our current system is a machine whose sole purpose is to survive and grow, as it reduces people to highly specialized instruments of production and manipulable consumers. This artificial world is one-dimensional, defining everything in the terms of neoliberal political economy. It is an immensely complex web in which people are largely trapped, denied life and justice.
My alternative maximizes the life of all things which is precisely the justice of all things. In regard to humans it does justice to each person’s full essence with the actualization of many rather than one or a few of their potential functions. These include the functions of their material, animal and human natures which are all comprised in their nature as a citizen in participatory democracy. Actualizing these functions a person does justice to themself and moreover removes the barriers to others’ just action toward them.
As I explained in Citizenship a person’s life or essence is not bounded by the limits of their body, but is an extended essence whose functions involve the external objects with which they interact. Maximum actualization of a person’s potential therefore entails interaction with not merely very many things, but a great number of kinds of things. In our present competitive winner-take-all system people aspire to gain wealth and status which further comes with membership in elite closed societies. Saying with them “I’ve got mine,” they dwell in their realms of privilege, situations analogous to houses in Thoreau’s view which aren’t castles but prisons. The much greater human actualization provided by my ideal includes people interacting with diverse people in many capacities. Their relationships moreover are not one-dimensional and superficial, as people really get to know each other and their association enriches their lives.
Justice Is Freedom
Our task is nothing less than to bring about universal justice in the world – justice between individuals, within communities, between humans and nature and lastly, justice in our ideas and thoughts for our vision and progress toward it. The great advantage, attraction and appeal of this whole conception is that universal justice is in fact the ultimate telos of all things in the universe, the supreme object of human love. Profound motivation for realizing the vision is thus given to us by nature. We are at the threshold of the greatest time in human history in which people must unite to fulfill nature’s highest purpose.
I have presented a magnificent vision of nature in which everything strives for universal justice, functioning as individual entities, parts of so many collective essences and finally as parts of the whole universe. However on the real scene there is a blot, an exception to nature’s grandeur. This of course is the human species which appears to be unique in the ability of its members to decline to act as parts of their community, ecosystem and universe. These are free choices made either by individuals or groups of them which may establish cultural traditions ingrained in education. One of the reasons for right-wing extremism in our time is the fact that there is no more traditional society, for it has been destroyed by both libertinism and libertarianism. The proof of its demise is the fact that as the Right screams for freedom it pursues mind control with propaganda. At this time people truly enjoy unprecedented freedom to choose to act according to nature. My ideal offers further essential freedoms: first, freedom to live, next. freedom to actualize much of one’s potential functions, especially reason, then finally freedom to fully engage as a citizen in participatory democracy. These last two are absolutely vital, as technocracy, even an ecological one, is not the solution.
While greatness awaits each one of us who freely chooses to pursue the ideal people must further freely will to work together and cooperate. The vision and progress toward it offer not only meaningful work and life for people but also an ideal to uplift their spirits, sharing with others in noble camaraderie and finally sublime moral satisfaction in the attainment of justice in actions great and small.
Urgent Call to Action
In this essay I have presented an account of the world and a vision of human life that both supports nature and is supported by it. The threats of climate change and environmental degradation are immediate, and I have offered principles for responding in the manner in which nature operates. This is full-spectrum action in which everyone and everything serves the cause in all of their capacities, for by nature to live is to live fully, achieving maximum actualization of manifold potentialities. Our goal is twofold, with the first objective being to bring about the justice of all things as individuals and as organic parts of so many living wholes that include communities, polities, ecosystems and finally the biosphere. Once this Herculean labor is completed, the next one is to maintain the order that we establish. This is nature’s way, which it valiantly pursues even while severely impaired as it presently is.
Vision aside however there is one supremely urgent priority for us now which is to mobilize as citizens to preserve the vestiges of democracy that remain in order that we may restore and improve it. Failing to do this will preclude all other action aimed at establishing the ecological civilization and averting global environmental catastrophe. Nothing could be more critical at this moment than for people to rise up to protect voting rights. The fate of democracy in America and the world as well as the future of the earth will be decided in the summer of 2021. Everyone must join the fight for democracy now.
1. William H. Whyte Jr., The Organization Man, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1956), 55
2. David C. Korten, Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth, 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2010).
3. Ezra Klein, “Transcript: Ezra Klein Interviews Noam Chomsky,” New York Times, April 23, 2021.
4. Max Fisher, “’Belonging Is Stronger than Facts’: The Age of Misinformation,” New York Times, May 7, 2021.
5. W.K.C. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy. Vol. 1: The Earlier Presocratics and the Pythagoreans, (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1962).
6. Plato, Republic Book IV.
7. Fisher (n 4).