â€œThe scientific truth is that we are contextualised, and inseparable from context. Therefore seeing problems as being “outside” us assumes that a technological approach will and can fix them. It can not.â€ (edited from Love is Green: compassion as responsibility in the ecological emergency, 2019, Vernon Press)Â
This truth is that we are interconnected, and therefore that the problems outside us are inseparable from the problems inside. This is as true of the ecological emergency as it is of the problems we have with other people, or indeed with ourselves. The Yamas relate primarily to how we treat other people. I have extended this to include how we treat the more-than-human world. But these also reflect how we treat ourselves, so in a sense, this limb and the limb that relates to our behaviour towards ourselves are almost inseparably intertwined. This is an important element in Satya, because Satya means truth.
If Ahimsa is the injunction to first, do no harm (and in positive terms, act, if you can, with compassion and love) then Satya is about demanding that we are honest with ourselves and that includes being honest about where we are. This means we have to be very honest and admit that seeing where we are is a real challenge. Imagine trying to see yourself without a mirror. In a sense, we have to look at the world to get a reflection of what and where we are. We see what we are looking with, as much as with what we are looking at.
To understand reality, we need to begin with what we know, which is much less than what we assume, or invent. We know that physical reality is governed by possibilities, and social reality is governed by agreed conventions. A natural, or scientific law, can only tell you that there is an excellent chance that if you jump off a building, you will obey the law of gravity. However, it is only ever an excellent chance, because ultimately, the laws depend on quantum physics, an Alice-in-Wonderland world of paradoxes and uncertainty.
Social reality is the realm that allows us to call various bits of metal, plastic and paper â€œmoneyâ€ and to ascribe an agreed value to them. Language is social reality, a series of signs that we use to denote objects or ideas. Social reality and physical reality intersect. Ideas create ideals and ideologies, and ultimately, the possibility of war and conflict. Ultimately, social reality can kill.
This is at the heart of the ecological emergency: if we make the mistake of thinking that there is only one way of seeing the world, we are mistaking social reality for physical reality. The two interact all the time of course. Physical reality – biodiversity loss, climate change, population growth, pollution – affects social reality – polarisation of attitudes, less interaction with nature, weather systems treated as the enemy. And social reality – consumerist culture, a fascination with the megarich, Trumpism – affects physical reality – resource depletion, habitat degradation, storming of the Capitol.
The feedback loop is not inevitable. If you understand your own role and how your perception of the world works, you can change how you see.