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135 SEVEN The Earthly Politics of Ethical An-archē Arendt, Levinas, and Being with Others MickSmith An ecological politics must be informed by the ethical, rather than just the instrumental, importance of the more-than-human world. Without such ethics “nature” is regarded only as a resource to be divided between human protagonists. Such a resource-based politics would not be ecological in any important sense since it can relatively easily be encompassed within already existing (anthropocentric) political paradigms. On the other hand, if ethics is understood, as it often is by environmental philosophers, in naturalistic terms, as a system of more or less “objective” values or principles grounded in the ontology of the natural world, this leaves little or no room for politics to take place. That is to say, politics becomes merely a matter of correctly enunciating and then systematically applying these ontologically derived ethical principles, a matter of biopolitical management rather than the creative public expressions of individuals. Roughly speaking, while the former strategy reduces (ecological) ethics to nothing more than (human) politics, the latter strategy binds politics to a supposedly inescapable natural order of things. A real ecological politics—one that is both ecological and political—must therefore find ways to articulate ethics and politics so that each is informed 136 Mick Smith by the other but neither is reduced or opposed to the other. Only this kind of politics can begin to express the intricacies of our beingwith -more-than-human-Others—the complex events that compose our sharing the world. This chapter argues that Emmanuel Levinas’s understanding of ethics and Hannah Arendt’s understanding of politics might be (ecologically) articulated in just such a way. IN THE GREENWOOD The preliminaries of execution were arranged, the matches fixed,thestakekindled,thetwohivesplacedoverthetwoholes, and the earth stopped around the edges.... “Those holes will be the grave of thousands!” said Fancy. “I think ’tis rather a cruel thing to do.” Her father shook his head. “No,” he said, tapping the hives to shake the dead bees from their cells, “if you suffocate ’em this way, they only die once: if you fumigate ’em in the new way, they come to life again, and die o’ starvation: so the pangs o’ death be twice upon ’em.” “IinclinetoFancy’snotion,”saidMr.Shiner,laughinglightly. “The proper way to take honey, so that bees be neither starved nor murdered, is a puzzling matter,” said the keeper steadily. “I should like never to take it from them,” said Fancy. “But ’tis the money,” said Enoch musingly. “For without money man is a shadder!” —Thomas Hardy, UndertheGreenwoodTree This passage from one of Hardy’s earliest novels, might serve to remind us of the complexities and, as Fancy suggests, the cruelties of our “ecological” relations to other beings; of the potential significance of emotional (dis)engagement and empathy with others (human and nonhuman); of gender, age, and social status; of traditions, technology, economics, imagination ; and, not least, of responsibilities and ethics. These interlinking , but still radically differing aspects of everyday decisions concerning life and death are also expressed through what might, in Arendt’s terms, be thought to constitute a nascent political discussion.1 Earthly Politics of Ethical An-archē 137 Arendt, as is well known, divides the vita activa of the “human condition” into three categories: labor, work, and (political) action. Those gathered together on this autumn evening in Yalbury wood are certainly engaged in much more than mere labor—collecting food to fulfil their biological needs—or even in that work that is, Arendt argues, responsible for producing the artificial human world of things—things that, like honey, can also become commodities with a monetary exchange value. More than this, Enoch, Fancy, Geoffrey (her father), and Mr. Shiner (her elder suitor) are expressing themselves together, in public, through their words and deeds. Their verbal and nonverbal actions reveal something of their differing opinions —and therefore of who they are as individuals—to each other, to the watching Dick Dewy (her younger suitor), and to us. Such public revelations of individual character are, Arendt believes, a constitutive feature of all genuine politics, as is taking (or failing to take) individual responsibility for the consequences of one’s own (in)activity. “In acting and speaking, men show who they are, reveal actively their own personal identities,”2 and when doing so together, though not necessarily in agreement, they open a (political) space of appearances that can initiate new, often unpredictable, beginnings. For example, the fact that...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780820705842
Related ISBN
9780820704531
MARC Record
OCLC
830023035
Pages
384
Launched on MUSE
2012-11-16
Language
English
Open Access
No
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