John Dewey's Aesthetic Ecology of Public Intelligence and the Grounding of Civic Environmentalism

Ethics and the Environment 8 (1):74-92 (2003)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Ethics & the Environment 8.1 (2003) 74-92 [Access article in PDF] John Dewey's Aesthetic Ecology of Public Intelligence and the Grounding of Civic Environmentalism Herbert Reid and Betsy Taylor "[The problem is] that of recovering the continuity of esthetic experience with normal processes of living." John Dewey, Art as Experience "This is not a protest. Repeat. This is not a protest. This is some kind of artistic expression. Over." --A call that went out on Metro Toronto police radios on May 16, 1998, the date of the first Global Street Party. Quoted from Naomi Klein, No LogoThis paper argues for the importance of John Dewey's aesthetic philosophy to recent efforts to cultivate civic environmentalism while critiquing narrowly conservationist environmentalisms. We call for a strong version of civic environmentalism oriented towards holistic integration of ecological [End Page 74] concerns into all aspects of social, political, economic, and cultural life. Such a civic environmentalism argues that it is not enough to strive to preserve enclaved 'wilderness' or 'biodiversity' (as important as that is). It argues also for fundamental changes in the political and economic status quo, because ecological havoc is understood to be integrally linked with the structural forces that are increasing inequality and weakening democratic publics. Strengthening of the civic commons is integral to protection of the environmental commons. If the environmental commons are the substantive goods in common which are the sustaining grounds of life, the civic commons are the institutions, collective memories, social networks, and skills that enable and inspire individuals to engage with each other in stewarding the common good. Such collective labor for the larger good requires some form of collective imagination which enables awareness of self and other (human or non-human) as inherently valuable. But beyond this, it requires perceptual and social infrastructures that nurture the ability to see self and other as emergent from and dependent on the supra-individual matrix that supports both life and individual. Central to such civic labor, is a non-dualistic understanding of individual/matrix. Such a non-dualistic understanding of self/other-in-matrix is central to political and ecological imaginations that are decentered from ethnic, species, class, gender, or other forms of domination and solipsism.John Dewey's work as a whole is a powerful call for such a non-dualistic understanding of individual-in-matrix, and few have better understood its connections to democracy. But, it is in his philosophy of art that Dewey describes most specifically the central importance of the aesthetic dimension of public culture to overcoming crippling dualisms of Western modernity that vitiate participatory engagement- individual/world, nature/culture, ends/means, leisure/work, art/science, aesthetic/ordinary. His writings on art have not been much utilized in the philosophical work for civic environmentalism. This paper argues for their relevance to its key goal of overcoming the segmentation of life ushered in by modernity and buttressed by these dualisms.We first give an overview of recent theories of civic environmentalism and the crises it engages of inequality, injustice, technocracy, corporatization, and the pervasive assault on place and thinning of public participation. Second, we look at the implications of Dewey'saesthetic ecology for an "environmentalism of daily life" that challenges the false dualisms of neo-liberalism and of technocratic professionalism that undermine place-based [End Page 75] forms of life and knowledge. Third, we draw on Dewey's aesthetic philosophy to suggest ways to rebuild democratic public space at the nexus of body, place, and commons. Finally, we briefly outline key philosophical questions that have emerged in our ethnographic and political study of Appalachian grassroots activisms, and that embody this sort of placed, democratic mobilization to protect the civic and environmental commons. American Environmentalism: Crisis and Challenge Toward the end of the last decade, veteran New York Times journalist and now independent writer Philip Shabecoff set out to engage "a broad spectrum of thoughtful and informed people within and without the environmental movement." His Earth Rising: American Environmentalism in the 21st Century offers a very...

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Herbert Reid
University of Kentucky

References found in this work

Experience and nature.John Dewey & Paul Carus Foundation - 1925 - London,: Open Court Publishing Company.
Eclipse of reason.Max Horkheimer - 1974 - New York: Continuum.
John Dewey and American democracy.Robert Brett Westbrook - 1991 - Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Place and Experience: A Philosophical Topography.Jeff Malpas - 1999 - New York: Cambridge University Press.

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