What is ‘Ecosophy’?

Or: How to Live Differently


In an essay titled “Remaking Social Practices”, philosopher Felix Guattari asks:

“By what means, in the current climate of passivity, could we unleash a mass awakening, a new renaissance?”

Penned shortly before his death in 1992, Guattari was concerned, like so many today, with the decline of culture. He saw mass-media as a ‘deterritorialized factory’ that mass-produces subjectivity — our sense of who & what we are, the consciousness through which we live & act, the medium of imagination through which we endeavor towards better lives & societies.

Guattari views subjectivity as a kind of motor that drives what he calls ‘existential mutations’, what a normal person might call cultural evolution. This is why mass-producing a nation, a globe of homogenous subjectivities poses such an existential threat. Our diversity of being, our collective imagination atrophies.

Natural selection functions by producing a wide, diverse array of mutations to afford a plurality of options for potentially useful adaptations. If all mutations are similar, if diversity is scrubbed from the buffet of mutations, it becomes far more difficult to survive, or in the case of cultural evolution, to thrive.

A ‘mass awakening’, for Guattari, can only begin in the subjectivity, or mentality of individuals. But, this is where he diverges from the new age platitude of meditation as panacea to everything: he also writes that no changes in mentality can take place without changing the physical and social environments that sculpt individual mentalities:

“…without modifications to the social and material environment, there can be no change in mentalities. Here, we are in the presence of a circle that leads me to postulate the necessity of founding an “ecosophy” that would link environmental ecology to social ecology and to mental ecology.”

Ecosophy is an approach to living better, to cultivating our subjectivities by recognizing them as interdependently embedded within social and material ecologies. My subjectivity is a product, or an expression of the webbed sociopolitical, economic, domestic, and technological environments I exist within.

This recalls a fun little graphic I made for the ‘Ecology of Attention’ newsletter, where I explored the same kind of cyclical relationship between attention and sociomaterial structures:

In this framework, to modify our subjectivity requires modifying the broader contexts of our being — our economic, social, political, technological, and mental ecologies.

Ecosophy, then, is a practice of suspending, reviewing, and enriching the relational environments from which our sense of being is woven. It’s an acknowledgement of the fundamental interconnectedness of things, an entanglement that occurs beyond only the quantum level. To change one thing, however slight, might just be enough to change all things.

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This is an excerpt from Mind Matters, a newsletter I write about consciousness, economics, philosophy, meditation, & writing. I know that’s an unruly jumble of things, but it all circles the same question: how to live? Subscribe here if interested.