Mother Pelican
A Journal of Sustainable Human Development

Vol. 7, No. 8, August 2011
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Substantive Signification of Sustainability

Arup Kanti Konar and Jayanta Chakrabortty

Submitted 18 June 2011 - Revised 8 July 2011

Abstract: There is no end of proliferation of interpretation, reinterpretation and/or misinterpretation of the word "sustainability". This means that sustainability has acquired the endless "free play" of meanings. Few words have fixed significations like the pure numbers of mathematics or the technical formulas of chemistry. They cannot vary with their contexts. But in truth, a word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged. It is the skin of a living thought, and it may vary greatly in color and content according to the contexts in which it is used. This implies that the meaning of word is contextual. By any criterion, "concept and context" are inseparable like "fire and smoke". Sustainability is not a new word. What is new about sustainability is the newness of its signification. Hence, the objective of this article is to disclose the newness of signification of sustainability in the sustainability revolution, which started its effective life since the celebration of the First Earth Day on 22 April 1970.

Author Affiliations: Arup Kanti Konar is Associate Professor of Economics, Department of Economics, Achhruram Memorial College, Sidho Kanho Birsha University, Purulia, West Bengal, India. Jayanta Chakrabortty is Associate Professor of History, Department of History, Achhruram Memorial College, Sidho Kanho Birsha University, Purulia, West Bengal, India.

History and literature, dialectics and all that the Greeks comprehensibly called "words", seem the best correction of the narrow prejudices and deceptive associations, which are sure to be contracted by those, who have been confined to a single school or system (Blaug, 1983).

Word always seeks to express our internal mental world by the analogy of the external material world. Word never expresses the material world by analogy of the mental world. Whenever we wish to express something mental, we do it by a physical or material analogy. We talk of it in terms of physical or material things. Because we seek to explain what is strange by means of what is well-known. Or, we try to express the unfamiliar or unreal in terms of the familiar or real. The material world is real, while the mental world is unreal. The reality or unreality is judged by our familiarity or unfamiliarity with the world. If the mental world were more familiar and real to us than the material world, words or language would have been constructed on the opposite principle (Stace, 1972). Thus the "word-world relation" is actually a relation among the three worlds: mental world, material world and linguistic world, and such relation is realized through the desired "word war", which means pun or word-play in the intellectual hubbub of semantic controversy.

The need for "word war" is to establish the unique, determinate or stable relationship between word (or signifier) and world (or signified). But the uniqueness or determinateness of word-world relation is being vitiated owing to the proliferation of multitude of schools of thought. There are as many types of word-world relation, as there are schools of thought or ideologies. Further, the uniqueness of word-world relation means one-to-one correspondence between word and world. This means that one word should yield one world, which is known as "nonce-word". If one word gives multiple worlds, it is known as polysemy, dissemination, semantic instability, instability of meaning or endless "free play of meanings", coined by Jacques Derrida (1930-2004 A.D). But if world itself is not unique, how is it possible to realize the uniqueness of word-world relation?

One of the basic methods of pre-historical (and even historical) research is to trace the etymology of key words or terms attempting to garner as much of the meaning as possible from the way such words or terms, or their cognates, were used in the fragments of literature available. Through such a process it becomes possible to reconstruct the "spirit-of-the-times" content of past situations. (Pinney, 1940).

At all periods in the history of a language, a new word may suddenly appear as if from nowhere, or a new word may be deliberately created by one, who tells the world exactly what he/she is doing. Few words have fixed significations like the pure numbers of mathematics or the technical formulas of chemistry. They cannot vary with time or circumstance, nor do they ever change with their contexts. In the Essai de Semantique (1891), Michel Breal demonstrates that the cause of shifting meaning in so many words lay in the impossibility of complete definition and in the varying complexity of the word-thing (or word-world) relationship. He said, "Language designates things in an incomplete and inaccurate manner" (Potter, 1976).

The word, in fact, is the symbol, and it has no direct or immediate relation with the referent except through the image in the mind of the speaker. The symbol sun has no connection with the celestial luminary other than through the thoughts or images in the mind of the speaker and the hearer. Unless these two images are identical, there can be no complete understanding. As in the Le Language et la pensee, Henri Delacroix once said, "All thought is symbolic. Thought first constructs symbols, which it substitutes for things" (Potter, 1976).

Some authors introduce new words, which are not the result of new achievements, and this can only be explained by the desire to make the work appear original or innovatory which it is not, or by the unwillingness to repeat terminology used in the works of other authors (Alayev, 1986).

Structuralism emphasizes that the meaning of word is not a kind of core or essence inside word, rather meaning is always outside. Meanings are attributed to the words by the human mind, not contained within them. The meanings of words are purely arbitrary, and that these meanings are maintained by convention only. Words are unmotivated signs, meaning that there is no inherent connection between a word and what it designates. Meanings of words are relational. No word can be defined in isolation from other words. The definition of any given word depends upon its relation with other adjoining words. The meanings of words are always determined by their opposites, dyadic pairs or binary polarities (e.g. male/female, day/night, nature/culture, good/bad). Meaning is always attributed to the object or idea by the human mind, and constructed by and expressed through words. Words do not just reflect the world rather they shape it, so that "how we see is what we see" (Barry, 2007).

On the other hand, post-structuralism is much more fundamentalist in insisting upon the view that the verbal sign is constantly floating free of the concept it is supposed to designate. Meanings are fluid, and subject to constant slippage or spillage. The meanings of words can never be guaranteed one hundred per cent pure. Words are subject to instability, indeterminacy or endless "free play" of meanings (Barry, 2007).

Further, by analogy of post-structuralism, Justice of the US supreme court, US legal historian, philosopher and The Great Dissenter Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841-1935 A.D) in "Towne versus Eisner, 245 US 418, 425 (1918)" declares that: "A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged; it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used" (Roodee et al., 1983).

Thus word suffers from the endless free play of meanings, penumbra of meaning, indeterminacy or instability of meaning, semantic instability, polysemy, metaphoric appropriation or dissemination. This means that the uniqueness of the word-world relation is ruled out. The word "sustainability" follows suit, or is no exception. Against the foregoing relationship among the linguistic world, material world and mental world, this article seeks to answer the question: what is sustainability really?


"Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten" (Orwell, 1954). Sustainability is not a new concept. Rather it is "as old as the hills" (Potter, 1976). What is new about sustainability is the newness of its signification. The signification of word depends on its "context". There is hardly any word, which is free from context, devoid of context, non- contextual or de-contextual. So word should be treated as contextual word. This means that "concept and context" are inseparable like "fire and smoke". For example, words like mother, father, sun and horse are not quite so definite in their meanings. All these four words appear in Old English, and their meanings have not changed in almost thirteen centuries. But in such sayings as "Westminster is the mother of Parliaments", "The child is father of the man", "He seeks a place in the sun", and "He rides the high horse", the primary meanings of these words are manifestly transcended.

We can recall the remark of Michel Breal: "Language designates things in an incomplete and inaccurate manner". Language is incomplete, since we have not exhausted all that can be said of the sun, when we have declared it to be shining. Language is also inaccurate, since we cannot say of the sun that it shines, when it has set. Further, the word place can be used in multiple "contexts": "Keep him in his place", "It is not my place to inquire into that", "The meeting will not take place", "There is a place for everything", "I have lost the place in reading", "That remark was quite out of place" (Potter, 1976). If most of the words are contextual, why will the word sustainability not follow suit? Hence, exploring the contextual meaning of sustainability is the sole objective of this article.

By the principle of structuralism, we cannot speak of "sustainability" without considering its opposite polarity "anti-sustainability" or "unsustainability". There are words, whose significations can be disclosed in terms of one word or several words. But sustainability is a word, which resists the usage of too few words for its signification. This means that the substantive signification of sustainability needs multiple words on multiple pages. The exponential growth of interpretation, reinterpretation and/or misinterpretation of sustainability over time implies the three "similar propositions", as follows: (i) sustainability discourse has become the "fable of the blind men touching the elephant", (ii) sustainability "has proved to be a snake-like concept, whose twists and coils are difficult to pin down", and (iii) sustainability can be likened to the "skin of a living organism, which is metamorphic".

Sustainability is a synonym or close/perfect substitute for stability, persistence, perpetuity, durability, endurance, permanence, eternalness, intransience, constancy, continuity, indefinite existence or sustained survival. Sustainability is pointless without the suffix "of something", say, "of X". Thus it is correct to substitute "sustainability of X" for simply "sustainability". Sustainability is a "portmanteau word" or "telescope word", which means a word formed by combining multiple words. Thus sustainability of X implies "sustain plus ability", which in turn implies "ability to sustain X", which ultimately implies "ability to maintain and continue the survival of X". Further, "sustainability of X" can also be translated into "X sustainability", where X stands for an appropriate adjective. For example, "sustainability of environment" is mapped into "environmental sustainability", "sustainability of ecology" is transformed into "ecological sustainability", "sustainability of society" is converted into "social sustainability", and the like.

The concepts of sustainability and unsustainability acquired global recognition with the enthusiastic celebration of the first Earth Day on 22 April 1970 throughout the world. But the seeds of sustainability were sown in the various works of many scholars prior to the year 1970. The examples of such works are as follows: Carson's (1962) Silent Spring, Ehrlich's (1968) The Population Bomb, Gause's (1934) The Struggle for Existence, Hardin's (1968) The Tragedy of the Commons, Hutchinson's (1948) On Living in the Biosphere, Kahn's (1966) The Tyranny of Small Decisions, Leopold's (1933) The Conservation Ethic, Leopold's (1949) The Land Ethic, Marsh's (1864) Man and Nature, McHarg's (1969) Design with Nature, Osborn's (1948) Our Plundered Planet, Sears's (1935) Deserts on the March, Smith's (1969) Today the Environment, Tomorrow the World, Snow's (1963) The Two Cultures, Van Dyne's (1969) The Ecosystem Concept in Natural Resource Management, Vogt's (1948) Road to Survival.

Since 1970, the unprecedented proliferations of sustainability-related books, journals, articles, working papers, dissertations, projects, plans, principles, precautions, policies, preconditions, institutions, organizations, associations, seminars, conferences, workshops, debates, etc. have created a "new revolution" among the tally of revolutions. Such new revolution can be designated as "sustainability revolution" (Edwards, 2005), which is backed up by "ecological revolution" (Foster, 2009). In his On Revolution (1963), Hannah Arendt, a prominent member of the American school of the sociology of revolution, wrote: "In the contest that divides the world today and in which so much is at stake, those will probably win who understand revolution" (Gavlin & Kazakova, 1980).

Though a few earliest primitive human societies in the name of traditional or tribal societies still sustain their primitive status on Earth, most of them have been transformed into instantaneously electronic communicative society by various revolutions, reformations, revisions, inventions, innovations, etc., which simultaneously constitute "development". Such "global development" has occurred under the "ceteris paribus (which means all other things remaining the same) assumption", in which the "assumption of sustained ecological stability" is embedded among others. But the vitiation of the validity of the "ceteris paribus assumption" has started with the celebration of the first Earth Day on 22 April 1970, which can be viewed as a "warning signal" in the sense that it is a "sign of our delayed realization" about the "emerging problem of ecological instability", by which the global human society is being threatened, given the "persistent problem of social instability", which consists of various "sub-social instabilities" such as economic instability, political instability, cultural instability, religious instability, ethical instability, moral instability, familial instability, gender instability, marital instability, etc. Thus since the 1970s, which is referred to as the Decade of Environment, our delayed realization is that the global human society is being threatened by the coexistence of the "persistent problem of social instability" and the "emerging problem of ecological instability". This dual instability is designated as "ecologically social unsustainability" or "ecologically unsustainable social instability".

Given the exogenously and spontaneously determined natural instability indicated by natural catastrophes and natural stability indicated by the enduring equilibrium of various natural life support systems, "sustainability (or unsustainability)" means "ecologically social sustainability (or unsustainability)" or "ecologically sustainable (or unsustainable) social stability (or instability)", where the concept "social" consists of multitude of "sub-socials" such as communicative, corrupt, criminal, cultural, economic, ethical, familial, gender, legal, marital, military, moral, philosophical, political, private, psychological, public, religious, ritual, scientific, sexual, spiritual, technological, terrorist etc. In fact, under the ceteris paribus assumption, sustainability (or unsustainability) implies the coexistence of ecological stability (or instability) or sustainability (or unsustainability) and social stability (or instability) or sustainability (or unsustainability).

While the indicators of ecological instability can be encapsulated in the depletion, degradation and/or destruction of "ecological capital", the indicators of social instability can be reduced to the depletion, degradation and/or destruction of "social capital", which consists of various "sub-social capitals" such as economic capital, financial capital, physical capital, human capital, political capital, cultural capital, moral capital, etc. By analogy of one study (Odum & Barrett, 2006), it can be stated that sustainability can be revived through the gradual development of "dual capitalism" or "capitalist dualism", which means the coexistence of "social capitalism" and "ecological capitalism", as opposed to "mono capitalism" or "capitalist monism", which implies "economic capitalism". While the social capitalism seeks to restore "social stability or sustainability" through the creation, control and/or conservation of "social capital", the ecological capitalism seeks to restore "ecological stability or sustainability" through the creation, control and/or conservation of "ecological capital". There are people, who erroneously recommend for reducing sustainability to ecological sustainability. But social sustainability and ecological sustainability are interdependent, neither independent, nor dependent at the cost of other.

2.1 Is Sustainability a Euphemism and Euphuism for Survival of Human Species?

The emerging global environmental indications are so grave that "sustainability" may be treated as a "euphemism and euphuism for survival of human species" (Konar & Modak 2010). Obviously, unsustainability should be regarded as the "crisis of human survival" (Gohn, 1980). We can recall A Blueprint for Survival (Ecologist Magazine, 1972) in Only One Earth (Ward & Dubos, 1972). Regarding our status of survival, the following two remarks may be relevant:

We are a thrust upward amid dangers and darkness of our own making. We have no promise from the universe that we shall survive. We live for the growing of the human spirit, and in spite of all, we strive toward that growth, up to the last moment of possibility (Redfield, 1969).

Today resources exist in such abundance that a world-wide extension of the principle of welfare is physically possible. All that is lacking is the political decision to do so. Is it possible that a society which boasts of its humanity ….should ignore the challenge? Is it conceivable that such a society, having done so, should deserve to survive? (Ward, 1969).

The two vital determinants of human survival are (i) the persistence of biological diversity, and (ii) the persistence of cultural diversity. The intrinsic importance of biological diversity has been equated with that of cultural diversity by a study (Milton, 1997): "But the conservation of cultural diversity as such could become as important, for the future of our species, as the conservation of biodiversity is for the future of life itself". In truth, as conservation of biological diversity is inevitable for the sustainability of the maximum number of species, the conservation of cultural diversity is also essential for the sustainability of the maximum number of human communities or societies. As nature is indivisible, human culture as a whole is also indivisible. No national or communal culture can exist in isolation. The current common problems, faced by humankind as a historical community of people, are also indivisible, and these common problems are more important than what separates individual countries or communities. The commonly indivisible problems can be dichotomized into ecological unsustainability and social unsustainability under the ceteris paribus assumption.

The significance of biological diversity has been disclosed by an outstanding scholar Edward O. Wilson. The mystery, which is concealed and congealed in the biological diversity, has relentless appeal to the mind of human. Biological diversity brings forth wonder, and awakens curiosity in the human mind. Wonder is the source of thoughtfulness, while curiosity is the persuasion of creativeness. Since the very birth, the human mind is still being brought up with the nutritious juice of biological diversity. The maximum number of elements required for the survival has come from the store-house of biological diversity. In consequence, during the course of evolution, the innately ingrained attraction toward biological diversity has been embedded in human mind as its integral part. Wilson has designated this property of human mind as "biophilia" (Wilson, 1984). He emphasizes that if biophilia is suppressed, this latent biophilia causes the human mind mechanical and averse to creativeness (Konar & Modak 2010). Similar reasoning is also applicable to cultural diversity. The rationale of biological diversity is not a recent discovery. Almost 2400 years ago, Aristotle (384-322 B.C) had realized it (Stace, 1972):

Everything in nature has its end and function. Nothing is purposeless. Nature seeks everywhere to attain the best possible. Everywhere we find evidences of design and of rational plan….. But if nothing in nature is aimless or useless, this is not to be interpreted in a narrow anthropocentric spirit. It does not mean that everything exists for the use of man, that the sun was created to give him light by day, the moon by night, and that plants and animals exist for his food. It is true that, in a certain sense, everything else sublunary is for man. For man is the highest in the scale of beings in this terrestrial sphere, and therefore as the higher end, he includes all lower ends. But this does not exclude the fact that lower beings have each its own end. They exist for themselves and not for us.

Thus in the 4th century B.C, Aristotle realized that biological diversity was the precondition for survival. What Aristotle realized almost 2400 years ago, we have arrived at the same or similar conclusion in the last decade of the 20th century: "Many people believe that other living things in the natural world have 'intrinsic' value separate from their value to human beings" (World Development Report, 1992). But current evidence indicates that sustainability on Earth has become the monopoly of the superior humans, neither of inferior humans including people of traditional or tribal communities, nor of the non-human species. Hence, "principle of excludability" has become inevitable, while the ultimate fate of exclusion is extinction.

2.2. Is Sustainability an Enlightened Self-interest?

Sustainability is an "enlightened self-interest", as opposed to "destructive self-interest" (Konar & Modak, 2010), where self-interest is confined to survival, which refers to the perpetuation of life in the "tiny little islet of life amid the boundless ocean of lifelessness" (Rebrov, 1989) over the eons. Enlightened self-interest has two definitions: one is inter-species and the other is inter-temporal. According to the former definition, enlightened self-interest indicates the relation of complementarity among the self-interests of all the stronger (or superior) and weaker (or inferior) species, while the latter definition shows the relation of complementarity between the present self-interest and future self-interest of the entire or existing species. On the contrary, destructive self-interest is guided by the relation of substitutability or excludability.

Self-interest is said to be "enlightened", (i) if the superior or stronger has a "benign attitude or action" toward the inferior or weaker, and (ii) if the present self-interest of the entire or existing species has a "benign attitude or action" toward the future self-interest of the same species. Enlightened self-interest is treated as the "dual monopoly" of the stronger or superior, never of the weaker or inferior. Such dual monopoly consists of "moral monopoly" and "compulsive or forced monopoly". The purpose of "either monopoly" is to sustain the foregoing "relation of complementarity" for the persistence of global diversity of life over the eons. In fact, the principle of enlightened self-interest suggests that the stronger or superior should "stoop" to the weaker or inferior for "conquering" the "common good" such as global sustainability.

The principle of enlightened self-interest is based on the other three principles: (i) "principle of veil of ignorance" of Rawls (Rawls, 1971), which is a new version of Gandhi's "trusteeship principle" (Gandhi, 1957), which is backed up by "irreducible moral values of humans" (Wilkie, 1993), (ii) "principle of informed ignorance" of the German Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464 A.D), and (iii) "principle of Pareto optimality", which is named after the famous Italian economist Vilfredo Federico Damasco Pareto (1848-1923 A.D).

Rawls's veil of ignorance principle shows how the self-interest of the stronger (or superior) species or the present self-interest of the existing species can be harmonized with the self-interest of the weaker (or inferior) species or the future self-interest of the same species for the realization of common good. For the clarification of Rawls's veil of ignorance principle, the following example of may be adequate (Prakash & Gupta, 1997):

Assume that the stronger actor is asked to divide a particular resource in two parts. Since the weaker actor is assumed to exercise the first choice, the stronger actor divides the resource without any ex ante knowledge of which part will accrue to him. The stronger actor is therefore assumed to operate under a veil of ignorance.

Gandhi's "trusteeship principle", in which the weaker or inferior beings are assumed to have trusted the management of resources to the stronger or superior beings to be used for the common good, is closely associated with his famous "non-violence principle". According to Gandhi, non-violence, as the highest ideal, is meant for the superior or stronger, never for the inferior or weaker. It is the "constrained desire" of the superior or stronger to inflict cost to the inferior or weaker.

Further, the principle of "informed ignorance", coined by the German Cardinal, mathematician, experimental scientist and influential philosopher Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464 A.D) in his On Learned Ignorance (1440), implies that the more we know, the more aware we will be of our ignorance and the further we penetrate into informed ignorance, the closer we come to the "truth" itself. Here "truth" discloses how "destructive self-interest" can be substituted with "enlightened self-interest" for realizing sustainability.

Moreover, the principle of Pareto optimality states that any change, arrangement or policy, which makes at least one individual (or group of individuals) better-off and no one individual (or group of individuals) worse-off, is an improvement in the existing state, status or condition (Koutsoyiannis, 1985).

Self-interest precludes neither selfishness nor altruism. In other words, self-interest may be selfish or altruistic. For example,

In India, we find instances where starving people continue with their daily routine of feeding animals over feeding themselves. Hindus and some animist traditions view certain animals to be 'sacred'. The needs of such animals supersede the needs of humans. Such examples appear to contradict the model of a self-interested individual maximizing his utility. However, we see religion as a key factor in enabling individuals to re-interpret 'self-interest'. For example, Hindus believe in the reincarnation of the soul….. From this perspective, the stronger creature has a 'self-interest' in adopting a benign attitude toward weaker beings to avoid being sanctioned in future incarnations…… Tocqueville ([1835] 1945) emphasized that 'self-interest rightly understood' forms the basis for a democratic society (Prakash & Gupta, 1997).

Jackson (2009) argues that it is mistaken to assume that human motivations are all selfish. Evolution does not preclude moral, social and altruistic behaviors. On the contrary, social behaviors evolved in humans precisely because they offer selective advantages to the species. All of us are torn to some extent between selfishness and altruism.

The psychologist Shalom Schwartz (2006) suggests that our values are structured around two distinct tensions within the psychological make-up of human beings. One is the tension between selfishness (self-enhancement) and altruism (self-transcendence). The other is between openness to change (or novelty) and conservation (or maintenance of tradition). Schwartz provided an evolutionary explanation for these tensions. As society evolved in groups, people were caught between the needs of the individual and the needs of the group. And as they struggled for "survival" in sometimes hostile environments, people were caught between the need to adapt and to innovate and the need for stability. In other words, both individualism and the pursuit of novelty have played an adaptive role in our "common survival". But so have altruism and conservation or tradition. Each society strikes the balance between altruism and selfishness (and also between novelty and tradition) in different places. And where this balance is struck depends crucially on social structure. When self-enhancement and novelty are rewarded, the selfish sensation-seeking behaviors prevail over more considered, altruistic ones. Where social structures favor altruism and tradition, self-transcending behaviors are rewarded and selfish behavior may even be penalized.

In Knowledge and Human Interest (1971), Jürgen Habermas offers an immanent analysis of the constitution of knowledge interests, which disaggregated the types of knowledge that humans acquire by virtue of how they are oriented towards specific object realms and their corresponding guiding "interests". Here Habermas speaks of three types of knowledge constitutive interest or cognitive interest: (i) we have an "interest" in controlling nature so as to survive, and such "interest" directs our instrumental knowledge interest, or technical knowledge interest, (ii) we have an "interest" in understanding others, who cannot be properly instrumentalized and this practical knowledge interest presupposes mutuality and inter-subjective relations, and (iii) we have an "interest" in emancipation, or liberation from social relations and modes of self-understanding, which have regressive and repressive consequences.

This is the interest in critique. These three knowledge constitutive interests take form in the media of labor, interaction and language. But it is in language that all the three cognitive interests are united. For it is through language that we can relate to the world as an objective and independently standing reality, and relate to others in normal ways. Additionally, it is in and through language that we can articulate our critique of all reifications. The evolution and acquisition of certain knowledge competencies is part of our natural history. In other words, it is part of our natural history that we have evolved the capacity to instrumentalize nature by reifying it in nomothetic models, which render it as something for us, as a standing reserve for our technical knowledge interest.

2.3. Is Sustainability Likened to Public Good?

Sustainability can be likened to the global "public goods", which have two properties: non-rivalry and non-excludability. Non-rivalry is the property of a good to be utilized jointly by many at the same time, and non-excludability is the property of a good where utilization by those who do not pay for the cost of its supply is possible. For the non-excludability property of the public goods, temptation is high for anyone to become a "free-rider" in the use of public goods, the inevitable consequence of which brings forth "Tragedy of Commons" (Hardin, 1968). So we must ask: should one "kill the goose yielding the golden eggs"?

2.4 Does Sustainability Imply Interspecies Cosmopolitanism?

The concept of "cosmopolitanism" was invented by the ancient Greek Stoicism (300 B.C-200 A.D). Regarding the nature of cosmopolitanism, the following three comments may be relevant:

[O]ne idea at least they (Stoics) can claim to be the inventors. This was the idea of cosmopolitanism … all men are of one stock, as rational beings, and should form the state. The division of mankind into warring states is irrational and absurd. The wise man is not a citizen of this or that state. He is a citizen of the world (Stace, 1972).

Everyman is naturally a social being, and to live in society is a dictate of reason. But reason is the common essential nature of all men: hence there is but one Law for all men and one Fatherland (Copleston, 1962).

If mind is common to us all, then also the reason, whereby we are reasoning beings, is common. If this be so, then also the reason which enjoins what is to be done or left undone is common. If this be so, law also is common; if this be so, we are citizens; if this be so, we are partakers in one constitution; if this be so, the Universe is a kind of Commonwealth. For in what other common government can we say that the whole race of men partakes? (Nersesyants, 1986).

The modern use of the cosmopolitan ideal was first proposed by Kant (Kant, 1795) with the concept of "jus cosmopoliticum". The stoic cosmopolitanism is confined to human species that is why such cosmopolitanism can be designated as "human cosmopolitanism" or "social cosmopolitanism". French novelist Albert Camus also spoke of social cosmopolitanism that is why he wrote:

We suffocate and we survive; we think we will die of grief and life triumphs…. We have no choice….wherever we are and to the best of our abilities we must do what has to be done so that everyone can live together once again….. We have nothing to lose - except everything. So let's go forward …… If we fail, it will be better to have taken our stand at the side of those who want to live rather than with those who destroy (Redfield, 1969).

But the concept of "interspecies cosmopolitanism" has been clarified by a recent study (Mendieta, 2011). This study emphasizes that we can analyze cosmopolitanism as both an epistemic and a moral/ethical principle. As an epistemic attitude, it challenges the monopoly of one worldview, and advocates epistemic humility and fallibilism. As an ethical/moral principle or guiding norm, it commands the mutual respect of humans and the solicitous moral regard for those who are our others. Cosmopolitism, in short, implies a dual relationship, which urges that we remain cognitively open to the other and that we be morally accountable for and to the other. As an ethical/moral relationship, cosmopolitanism is thus about co-existence and co-habitation - to use Judith Butler's recent language. To act and to know the world from a cosmopolitan standpoint is to ask oneself about the conditions and duties of co-existing and cohabitating. The physical fact of the geography of the planet forces us to be cosmopolitan, namely to aim to co-exist and co-habit. Kant, as well as most Kantians after him, did not consider to what extent this cosmopolitan ideal of co-existence and co-habitation included non-humans.

The human-induced extinction of life throughout the planet has been so massive that biologists and ecologists call it the "Sixth Extinction" (Mendieta, 2011) ["sixth extinction" is where more than 99% non-human species are extinct] to compare it with other similar extinctions, which have taken place in the natural history of life on earth. The massive planetary extermination of countless species is not just of consequence to the overall status of life on the planet, but also to the unforeseen consequences for future generations. Indeed, the future of life on the planet is not simply an issue about future human life, but also of both plant and animal life tout court. This study considers to what extent the already two millennia old ideal of cosmopolitanism must be re-thought in terms of not just a legal/political order of rights, of mutual rights and duties, which is extended to only human subjects, but now of rights and duties, which must be extended to the entire space of nature, of the cosmos, of that physical horizon in which we live, to which we belong, along with every other living being on the planet. In this study, we find the discussion of what "rights" not just other humans and cultures have, but also what other non-human beings may or should have. Habermas's post-metaphysical thought is the foundation for an interspecies cosmopolitanism, which offers a de-centered universalism, which thinks from the standpoint of the future of life on the planet. In fine, "interspecies cosmopolitanism" does not only imply "ecological sustainability" but also "social sustainability" ceteris paribus. We have been inconsolably expelled from the garden of nature, and remain also still far too far from the heaven of paradise, in which all creatures would be brothers and sisters, the lion and lamb, co-existing next to each other (Mendieta, 2011).

Effect of Negative Humanization of Nature

Since the inception of the industrial revolution in the 1760s, humanization or socialization of nature is increasing at an increasing rate, while naturalization of humans is decreasing at an increasing rate. Both the concepts of "humanization of nature" and "naturalization of human" were coined by Karl Marx in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (Marx, 1975). In consequence, the "natural ecology" has been substituted with "humanized or socialized ecology". Natural ecology is run by the operation of the "instinctive actions and/or interactions" of the species, while "socialized ecology" is run by the supremacy or monopoly of the "conscious actions and/or interactions" of humans over the "instinctive actions and/or interactions" of the non-human species. Humanization or socialization can be defined as the deliberate, conscious and purposive intrusion of human action or activity into the vast natural order of things, including earth, inner space and outer space in the infinite universe (Konar & Modak, 2010). One of the crucial criteria, by which human ranks highest in the scale of species, is humanization or socialization. Socialization is both a "matter of degree" and a "matter of order" like the conversion of a certain part of wild land into agriculture, floriculture, sericulture, horticulture, etc.

The appearance and evolution of humans marked the beginning of the process of socialization. Historically, world's development, backed up by the scientific and technological revolution, has greatly intensified the process of socialization so that virtually all facets of the globe have felt human touch. The face of the earth has been radically changed within the lifetime of a single generation owing to the unprecedented momentum of socialization. Socialization can be classified into positive socialization and negative socialization depending upon the nature of the result realized from the human action or activity. Socialization is positive, if it yields benefit, or if its result is beneficial, and negative, if it inflicts cost, or if its result is harmful to The Great Chain of Being (1936) of A. O. Lovejoy (Cuddon, 1998). Needless to say, Darwin's "theory of evolution" in Origin of Species (1859) rules out the belief in The Great Chain of Being. Reforestation and deforestation, respectively, are the examples of positive socialization and negative socialization of the forest facet of the globe.

The upward transition of the primitive society to the today's instantaneously electronic communicative society has occurred because positive socialization is stronger than the negative socialization at successive historical stages of societal transformation. On the contrary, the downward transition of the sustainable globe to the inchoate unsustainable one has been, and is still being brought about by the excessive negative socialization over positive socialization of the ecology and the human society, given the exogenously and spontaneously determined natural stability and natural instability. Thus ecological sustainability implies the "sustainability of the socialized ecology", which can only be restored if positive socialization is stronger than the negative socialization of ecology. But we must ask: is it possible for an unprecedented unsustainable "social world" to reduce or rule out the unsustainability of the socialized ecology? The frightening unsustainability of the social world can be represented by the diverse sub-social instabilities, whose indicators can be reduced to poverty, malnutrition, starvation, illiteracy, inequality, exploitation, gender instability (or lack of gender justice), corruption, terrorism, killing, warfare, cultural conflict, clash of civilizations, fundamentalism, child labour, child sexuality, trafficking of female children for sexual eroticism, etc. The causes and consequences of social unsustainability will be understandable from the remark of Heilbroner (1969):

In a world in which conscious morality can be regarded with derision, and reason with suspicion, this random toll of social tragedy cannot be avoided. It is the consequence of a situation in which, as Albert Camus writes in The Fall: "We cannot assert the innocence of anyone, whereas we can state with certainty the guilt of all….. When we estrange ourselves from history we do not enlarge, we diminish ourselves, even as individuals. We subtract from our lives one meaning which they do in fact posses, whether we recognize it or not. We cannot help living in history. We can only fail to be aware of it. If we are to meet, endure, and transcend the trials and defeats of the future – for trials and defeats there are certain to be – it can only be from a point of view which, seeing the future as part of the sweep of history, enables us to establish our place in that immense procession in which is incorporated whatever hope humankind may have.

The single most vital indicator of unsustainability of the "socialized ecology" is the steady erosion of biological diversity caused by "humanized extinction of non-human species", given the natural extinction. Thus the distinction/division between "social" and "ecological" has obviously a heuristic value. But such mutually exclusive compartmentalization of "social world" and "ecological world" has no practical value for the optimal success of the ongoing sustainability revolution.

Maxim Gorky (1868-1936 A.D), in praise of human reason, science and technology, wrote: "In nature there is nothing more miraculous than the human brain, more amazing than the process of thinking, more precious than the fruits of scientific research" (Borisov, 1986). The intrinsic implication of this remark is that humanity without humanization and humanization without humanity are hypothetical or imaginary. This means that humanization cannot be decoupled from humanity. Following Anthony Giddens, it can be reiterated that tradition should/can be defended, but not in the traditional way (Giddens, 1994). For tradition defended in the traditional way becomes fundamentalism. Nature defended in the natural way implies natural fundamentalism. Similarly, ecology defended in the "non-humanized way" gives rise to ecological fundamentalism. Hence, socialization of nature and/or ecology is inevitable, but socialization should be directed in such a way so that positive socialization is stronger than negative socialization for the realization or restoration of sustainability.


If we assume that there are two earths such as a real earth (RE) and an utopian earth (UE) in the universe, where the two earths are identical with respect to all the criteria such as biotic composition, abiotic composition, shape, volume, etc. except that while the RE includes the human species, the UE excludes the human species, then it will be evident that the UE, run by the instinctive interactions of non-human species, will maintain "natural ecological sustainability", while the RE, guided by the constant process of socialization, will create sustainability or unsustainability - social and ecological, if positive socialization is stronger or weaker than negative socialization. Naturalization of humans and excessive positive socialization over negative socialization of nature/ecology should be encouraged for the realization or restoration of sustainability. While the past history is conscious of the "first tragedy" of the "British Titanic" in 1912, the future history will record whether the "second tragedy" of the "Titanic of global life" can be avoided or bypassed by the optimism of Anthony Giddens about the "sustainability of sustainability":

History does not express the will of God, but is the result of active struggles, and creativity, of human beings themselves. The human authorship of history, however, has been hidden by religious dogma and by the dead hand of tradition. The task ahead for humanity is to take hold of its own social development and direct it in a conscious way. We are, or can become, the masters of our own destiny (Giddens, 1994).

An impression persists that the word "sustainability" is ambiguous. But such impression is erroneous. Because semanticists and philosophers usually call a word "ambiguous" only when there is some uncertainty about which meaning is being used in the particular instance. A word is not ambiguous by itself, rather it is used ambiguously. Word is ambiguous when one cannot tell from the context what sense is being used. Usually one can tell this from the context (Hospers, 2006). Hence, contextualization of sustainability cannot be ruled out. The context of sustainability can be indicated by the downward shift of human society from the "standard of living" to the "standard of life" or "standard of survival". The contextual signification of sustainability will be amply evident from the remark of Fidel Castro: "Until very recently, the discussion [on the future of world society] revolved around the kind of society we should have. Today, the discussions centers on whether human society will survive" (Magdoff & Foster, 2010). The survival of human society depends on the nature of the composite/combined/dual effect: the effect of ecological transformation on social world and the effect of social transformation on ecological world. Such composite effect has reached a point where excessive negative socialization over positive socialization of nature leads us to conclude that:

Civilized man had declared war against his own environment and the battle was raging on all continents, gradually spreading to these distant islands. In fighting nature, man can win every battle except the last. If he should win that too, he will perish like an embryo cutting its own umbilical cord (Heyerdahl, 1976).

Fyodor Dostoyevsky said, "The secret of human existence is that man must not simply live, but must discover why he should live" (Frolov, 1986). In Man in the Modern World (1988), edited by Juliette Shapland, we can discover why man comes into and lives in this world:

Man comes into this world in order to become its thoughtful master, an inseparable part of it… feel the joy of a child's first steps as it receives from preceding generations all that they have learned and created….. to experience the joys of youth and young people's stirring expectations……to know the happiness of love and give life to proceeding generations….Man is responsible for the earth which gives him food and water….He is the creator of the beautiful…He is the vessel of cares and reflections…Mankind came to this world in order to be its thoughtful master, to love and protect its cosmic house, that blue, warm and living planet of ours…Our greatest happiness and our destination is to pass the planet on in one piece and in good condition to those who will come after.

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins argues that sustainability just does not come naturally to us (Jackson, 2009). According to the psychologist Tim Kasser (2002), people with higher intrinsic values (e.g. self-acceptance, affiliation, a sense of belonging in the community) are both happier and have higher levels of environmental responsibility than those with materialistic values (e.g. popularity, image, financial success). People are both happier and live more "sustainably" when they favor intrinsic goals that embed in family and community.

Though sustainability implies the coexistence of ecological sustainability and social sustainability ceteris paribus, and even though both "socioecological sustainability" and "ecosocial sustainability" include both "ecological sustainability" and "social sustainability", yet "socioecological sustainability" is not synonymous with "ecosocial sustainability". For "socioecological" (or social ecology) is not synonymous with "ecosocial" (or ecological society) in the same way/sense as "ecological economy/economics" is not synonymous with "economic ecology". While "ecological economy/economics" refers to "ecologization of economy/economics", the "economic ecology" denotes "economization of ecology". By analogy, "social ecology" means "socialization of ecology", while "ecological society" implies "ecologization of society".

During the last three centuries – from the 18th to the 20th century, a "series of revolutions" were brought about for realizing "social development/overdevelopment". But the irony is that during the time span of last three hundred years, instead of achieving "social development", "social degradation/depression" has been coupled with "ecological/natural degradation/destruction". By self-actualization, since the 1970s, we have started to bring about further two new revolutions such as "ecological revolution" and "sustainability revolution". Noteworthy that sustainability revolution is a positive function of not only ecological revolution, but also social revolution, which is still being ignored, that is why Foster (2009) suggests why ecological transformation requires a social revolution. It is only the "social revolution", which can bring forth the effectiveness of "ecological revolution" to realize the optimal end of "sustainability revolution". Thus social revolution is the "primary determinant", while ecological revolution is the "proximate determinant" of sustainability revolution.

Though some sort of interrelationship exists among sustainability, sustainable development, sustainable human/social development, sustainable sub-social development (which is multiple) and sustainable ecological development, yet the representation of such interrelationship is deliberately bypassed in this article owing to space constraint.


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About the Authors:

For information about the work of economist Arup Kanti Konar, click here.

For information about the work of historian Jayanta Chakrabortty, click here.

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