03 August 2008

Hegelian Ecololgy

Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.
- Laurence J. Peter

Hegel's philosophy was probably the biggest influence on Marx's thinking. The man's notion of dialectic as the animating force of history is one that I find persuasive.

A community may be in equilibrium. The early Greeks, say, might contentedly accept societal norms like justice and the common good. Consider that status quo the thesis. And then along comes Socrates who effectively reveals to them that they can't even define ideas like justice or the common good, awakening individual conscience. Consider this the antithesis. Then, over the course of centuries of dialectic between these two, the west eventually arrives at a synthesis, a community in which individual conscience or Adam Smith's self-interest becomes the new measure of the common good. This upwards spiral of opposing forces eventually results in a resolution, a new equilibrium, that is bigger than the two opposing points, or forces. It is through this dynamic that history unfolds, according to Hegel.

I suppose that Hegel's notion is not limited to philosophical or historical progress. His description of social evolution could be modified to describe natural evolution.

A species has to adapt to its environment. And yet, every species makes up a part of some other species environment. Every species is both adapting to the environment and defining that environment. Once a species has adapted to the environment, it has changed that environment. And, of course, this is on-going as millions of species are all engaged in the same dance. Imagine the environment as the thesis and the adapting species as the antithesis; tomorrow's species and environment is the synthesis, a new, temporary equilibrium.

I find the term Hegelian ecology oddly alluring and think that it describes this dynamic of evolution - whether social or natural. It seems to almost guarantee dynamic tension, a dance of progress. It is a reminder that the thing in itself is perhaps never quite so within itself.

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