WOULD-BE ENVIRONMENTAL ACCOUNTANT MEETS MOTHER NATURE IN A PUB – A DIALOGUE (Act Five)

Act Five – The nature of nature

 I put my slip in. I would be on the Mic next.

“It was good to see you take him on,” she continued. “His influence is spreading over our world like the toxic chemicals he and his ilk produce as they rip the riches from said world in their search for wealth and power.  Sadly they seem unstoppable, those who supposedly represent us are either disposed of or simply acquiesce or fall victim to the power of the economic discourse.”

“Happily I still have hope,” I replied, “discourses can change and move in different directions. I don’t pretend to know how or why – many refer to the role and use of resources (Hannigan, 2006) and the use of media for example (Bingham et al, 2003) – but whilst there is hope we can look for allies and resist the onward march of greed.  But before we get to whatever it is you would like to chat about tell me a little about yourself, if you don’t mind that is.”

“Hmmm,” she paused for a while. “I am timeless, I am everywhere, I am life, I am so many things in the eyes of humans.  Mind you it took a long time for them to notice me.”

“C S Lewis,” called the librarian, “notes that the ancients of Greece and Rome barely mentioned her though pre-Socratic philosophers had the idea that ‘the great variety of phenomena which surrounds us could all be impounded under a name and talked about as a single object’ (Lewis, 1964, p37).”

“Object indeed,” objected Mother Nature, “As they lived so I live, and they only lived because I live.”

“Eventually I became something more than an idea,” she continued, “indeed for many I became reality itself, or at least a version of me that they sculptured and modelled and re-modelled.”

“His lot,” she said pointing at Professor Science, “became fixated with that and today declare their model to be me. How can they possibly hope to model me when in fact they are part of me, stand within me and can never be outside me to see who I really am?

Clearly exasperated she then pointed at Mr Commerce and continued, “Of course he, as he told you earlier, loves models and has worked tirelessly to use Sciences’ model to his own ends – the making of money or perhaps more accurately the acquisition of power and wealth.”

“But before I talk about that, and that is indeed why I want to talk to you, I will continue with my answer to your request. Who am I?”

“I am life itself, I am everywhere yet I am unknowable. Nothing, in particular no living thing, knows me; each, should it want to know, must draw its own conclusions which will inevitably be painted by its own experiences.”

“So you are a social construct?” I asked uncertainly.

“No I am real,” she replied, “but your image of me is a construct which you share with some and which is completely at odds with others. You, dear child, see me as beautiful for which I thank you but others see me as dangerous and threatening, to be controlled at all costs.”

“Others such as Daniel Defoe,” interspersed the librarian. “He wrote Robinson Crusoe as an allegory depicting the victory of man over nature.  For Defoe places such as the Lake District in England were, as you say, dark and threatening (Hinchliffe et al, 2003).

“Precisely,” answered Mother Nature.

“Just a minute,” a voice broke in, “I am a scientist, a geographer, and yes I see you as real. I am not taken by this social construct business at all although I accept some in my view mislabelled geographers might (Castree, 2005).  I can measure aspects of you just as I can measure my height or weight.  I am not seeking to model you I am seeking to describe you.  And out of interest I too find you beautiful and I actually want to protect you not dominate you.”

“Thank you to you too kind Sir,” Mother Nature replied, “but what you are doing is claiming your view of me is the only one, a view which you share with some like-minded folk and which you all choose to describe in some pre-agreed format. It is an interesting view but you cannot impose it on the rest of the world as the only one or even as the most important.”

“As for protecting me, if you do not, that is cannot, know me how can you protect me. You can only protect your image of me,” she finished.

“I have to say I am with the mislabelled geographers,” offered another voice. “I am actually a sociologist and in my field we have moved away from the idea of biological or environmental determination, we have focused more on ‘the influence of social and cultural factors’ (Hannigan, 2006).”

“And in doing so have lost sight of the reality of the environmental crisis,” retorted the Geographer.

“There are some who have perhaps,” responded the Sociologist, “but for many of us we now see our science, to quote Alan Irwin (2001, p178) as poised to enter ‘a more exciting – and risky territory where existing categorizations – the social, the natural, the scientific, the technological, the human, the non-human – are seen to be fluid and contextually constituted rather than pre-determined’ (cited in Hannigan, 2006, p33). We know we cannot know reality but accept that it is there, and we work within that constraint to try and understand how categorizations such as those I just mentioned come together in any particular situation.”

I heard Arne Naess mutter somewhere, “Hoorah for complexity, I think they have got it.”

“And so what do you understand by global warming, pollution, over-population, water shortages and all the other real problems that face us? (Hinchliffe et al, 2003)” asked the Geographer with more than a hint of cynicism.

“Well I am not sure they are real problems,” said Mother Nature. “I think they are rather anthropocentric and are primarily a function of your worldview.  Effectively they are a social construct.”

“What?” replied the Geographer somewhat incredulously. “We are on the verge of mass extinctions, even threatening our own species, and you do not see them as real problems.”

“Well I wouldn’t would I?” replied Mother Nature, “I am life, I am everything. I don’t go in for categorizations, species and all that, that’s what you do.  We have lived through global warming before, more than once, and we adapted.  My forests spread throughout the world, grew in the Tundra in fact, and we recovered our equilibrium in the face shocks originating elsewhere in my universe (Crowley, 1996).”

“What you worry about is life as you know it, and like it, disappearing. Generally speaking that is anthropocentric, ie you worry about mankind; and, in part, it is also based on socially constructed values in that you want to save a certain type of reality that you favour.”

“Nonsense! Surely you are an imposter or a liar?” retorted the Geographer.  “Where is the real Mother Nature, the one I see, hear, feel and smell?”

“Good question,” said Professor Science enthusiastically. “One I should have asked, would have asked had I not been so taken aback by the suggestion that she didn’t exist.”

“I am neither,” said Mother Nature, “but it is for you to realise that. To realise that what you see, hear, feel and smell is precisely that, what YOU see, hear, feel and smell.  Nothing is separate from you, it is you who gives it shape, purpose, even value.”

“But what of moral considerability (Goodpastor, 1978) and intrinsic value (Belshaw, 2001; Keller, 2010)?” I asked.

“Existentialism, so Mary Warnock (1970, p6) suggests, tells us ‘only acts of will create anything which can be valued, high or low’” interspersed the Librarian.

“And once we know that,” added Soren Kierkegaard lost now amongst the other tables in the room, “we are on the way to freedom.  We must take responsibility for our beliefs, it is not enough just to follow others.”

I heard Nietzsche chuckle again.

“I have struggled so much with inherent value,” I said, “I so want to believe. Everything about you Mother Nature, it is so beautiful, surely it can’t just be me?”

Arne Naess stepped forward and put his hand on my shoulder, “It’s complex, always complex,” he said, “it is unlikely we will ever know the truth if indeed there is such a thing (Naess et al, 1974) but you are not alone. Remember my Apron diagram, many have come to the same place as you though they may have travelled very different routes.”

“And remember the subjective nature of our relationship with truth,” interrupted Soren Kierkegaard once again, “’if only the mode of this relationship is in truth, the individual is in truth, even if he should happen to be thus related to what is not true’ (Kierkegaard cited in Warnock, 1970, p10).”

“So as long as I am honest to myself about the nature of my beliefs, and make them clear when talking to others, then I am in truth; and as likely to in truth as any other,” I concluded.

“Well I would agree with that,” said the Romantic, “I think we can assume something is true if it helps us make our way through life and it doesn’t contradict our actual experience in any inexplicable manner.”

“Even scientists could work within that frame of truth if only they didn’t insist theirs was the only knowledge,” I mooted.

“But you forget about the will to power,” said Mother Nature. This time Nietzsche laughed out loud.

“’Our cognitive apparatus is an abstracting and falsifying mechanism directed not towards knowledge, but towards mastery and possession’ (Nietzsche cited in Warnock, 1970, p14),” he called across the room.

“He believes mankind instinctively seeks security, a security that it can only find in absolute certainty,” continued Mother Nature. “Accordingly mankind seeks to dominate and control the world and, put simply, science reflects that.”

“In many ways science is the Modern religion,” added the Religious Man. “in the past mankind sought certainty in a Deity or perhaps many deities.  Today in the western world, having rejected God for humanism, we turn to science for certainty.  Perhaps that is why science cannot allow other voices to speak.”

“Yes perhaps that’s it,” answered Mother Nature slowly.

Then she added, “It hurts watching your children grow up sometimes.”

“This chat?” I said.

“Oh yes,” she replied. “You are an accountant.  Why do accountants think they know the value of everything?”

“Well first,” I said, “we all don’t. I don’t for example.”

“Having heard you speak from time to time this evening I am not at all sure you are an accountant,” spoke a voice in a somewhat superior tone.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I am a Policy Maker,” came the reply, “and if an accountant isn’t objective, can’t measure things and won’t follow rules then I would say he or she isn’t an accountant.”

“That seems a fair comment,” said the Librarian, “Jesse Dillard reminds us that the American Accounting Association (1966, p1) describe accounting as ‘the process of identifying, measuring, and communicating economic information to permit informed judgements and decisions by users of the information’ and that ‘the objecitivist paradigm (is) the surface through which accounting is predominantly viewed’ (Dillard, 1991, pp 8 and 10).

“I will therefore tell you why we need to value everything or at least why we need to value ‘Nature’,” continued the Policy Maker before I had chance to respond. “When we cost projects, large or small, business or community, we fail to factor in the value of the, often vital, services and other resources that nature provides.  As a consequence we are in danger of over utilizing these services and resources, perhaps to the point of extirpation.”

“This danger was highlighted by Pavan Sukdev and colleagues (TEEB, 2008),” he continued enthusiastically, “when he informed us that companies were damaging the environment, that is nature, to the tune of $2.2 trillion per year (Carrington, 2011). The answer, he suggested, is giving an economic value to our ecosystems and biodiversity.”

“Your ecosystems and biodiversity?” asked Mother Nature raising her eyebrows.

The Policy Maker didn’t seem to notice and continued, “We have already initiated a valuing nature programme and have made funds available – up to £1.1 million – for a Programme Co-ordination Team.”

“Surely the value of nature is a personal thing?” I suggested.

“Yes I heard all that chat you were having about values,” he replied, “but we countries to run and a world to look after, we have got to have rules to make sure no-one queers the pitch as it were. You know causing global warming, reducing biodiversity etc; the sort of things the United Nations Secretary-Generals High-level Panel on Global Sustainability (2012) and WWF (2012) have warned us about.”

“Well I know that people have tried to attach values to such things (Markandya and Richardson, 1992; Hodge, 1995),” I said, “but I am not too sure they have been successful.  It seems estimates vary wildly depending on the methodology used.  There is Full Cost Accounting as well but this has had limited application.  Puma is a famous example adjusting its accounts to fully account for carbon emissions and water use (Guardian Sustainable Business, 2011) but beyond that there has been little acceptance of FCA.  I don’t really count reducing waste and utility costs or packing costs, to me these are standard management accounting practices aimed at greater efficiency and profits.  I can also think of examples where it has been tried and failed.  Kathleen Herbohn (2005) tells us of such an attempt undertaken by AN Australian Government Department.”

“All explaining precisely why we have made funds available for a valuing nature programme,” returned the Policy Maker.

“I am so glad you brought this up,” added Mr Commerce looking pointedly at Mother Nature and myself, “You see we do think about the environment. My friends in the World Business Council for Sustainable Development helped organise a World Forum on Natural Capital in November 2013 (Smedley, 2013).  We know nature has a value, we call it natural capital, and we know for example that through our activities we used up about $1.35 trillion of it last year (Carrington, 2011).”

“The UN estimates biodiversity services to humankind are worth over $72 trillion a year (Raingold, 2011),” continued the Policy Maker.

“Which is a huge market,” said Mr Commerce hardly able to control his enthusiasm now.

“And which is why the UNEP Finance Initiative and others set up the Natural Capital Declaration in 2012,” continued the Policy Maker. This was the first step on the road to encouraging the financial sector to account for nature in its future investment and lending decisions (Mitchell et, 2012).”

“You asked me earlier who I was,” said Mother Nature turning to me, “it appears I am a resource, maybe a market.”

There was no irony in her voice, just a sense of sadness.

“Pure reductionist gobbledegook,” I heard a voice say. “Numbers can say anything, it depends on who uses them and this cost-benefit analysis is simple a means to deliver the natural world into the hands of those would destroy it (Monbiot, 2011).”

“Putting a price on nature,” continued the voice, “‘forestalls democratic choice. No longer will we be able to argue that an ecosystem or a landscape should be protected because it affords us wonder and delight; we’ll be told that its intrinsic value has already been calculated and, doubtless, that it turns out to be worth less than other uses to which the land could be put’ (Monbiot, 2012).”

“We can still argue that nature is valuable for its own reasons,” replied another voice, “the trouble is that’s not enough; ‘there are quite a few people in the world who don’t think that and don’t see it.’ I think we have to insert the economic data into the conversation.”

“Mind you,” continued the second voice wryly, “how well can economists measure economics – even in their own terms? We have just been through a financial catastrophe which most of them didn’t see coming (Juniper, 2013).”

I looked at Mr Commerce. “Just another one of your models then I would say, this natural capital?”  I said.

He shrugged his shoulders and said, “It works for me.”

“And, as I said earlier, will detract us from thinking about the important issues in life such as community and spirituality (Crompton and Kasser, 2009),” spoke the Religious Man.

“Well,” said Mother Nature looking directly at me, “I asked you why accountants think they know the value of everything and you asked me to tell you something about myself. Are we any further forward?”

“Well I hope you believe me when I say this accountant does not think he knows the value of everything,” I replied. “In fact he abhors the way business puts a value on everything, turning everything – people, yourself and all things you represent – into a cash figure.”

“That may mean you are not a real accountant,” she responded.

“There are those who may think that,” I replied in turn, “but I would disagree. We all need to be able account because ultimately we are all responsible for what we do, and only in accounting for what we do – if only to ourselves – can we be said to be taking responsibility.  What we need is a new form of accounting, an accounting freed form the ideologies of greed that dominate our lives at present.  With that in mind and thinking of you specifically Mother Nature ‘in the present symbolic order accountants should not attempt to account for the environment’ (Cooper, 1992, p37).”

“You have answered my real question,” she admitted, “In all honesty I was looking for and expecting an argument. I was guilty of the same prejudices and narrow-mindedness as Professor Science and Mr Commerce.  I had a placed all accountants in a box and assumed they were all the same.  But what will your new accounting look like?”

“I alone cannot determine that,” I said, “what we need is a change to society; emancipation, some would say, from the discourses that dominate our lives. It is along with that emancipation we need to find a new accounting, an accounting that allows, celebrates even, the resulting diversity of ideas and outcomes. Only such an accounting will truly show you in all your beauty, your wisdom and your splendour – your diversity – Mother Nature.  How we can bring about emancipation?  Well my first intuition would involve reacquainting your children with you.”

“Thank you,” she replied.

I walked to the Mic, “Recollections of CSEAR 2008. Where it all began,” I said.

With not a little apprehension I arrived in St Andrews. I had drafted a paper (a first), prepared a presentation and was, in theory, ready to roll.  But did it all make sense, would anyone be interested?  The thing about presenting an academic paper is that you reveal how you think, you open your mind to others in a way you never would in practice.  As Rob was to tell us later in the week, you allow yourself to doubt, and apprehension is a natural corollary to doubt.

I went down to Reception to find where we were having dinner and the first person I saw was Rob. A welcoming friendly face and a warm greeting dispelled the nervous feelings.  Soon we had gathered into a small crowd and Rob set us off to the restaurant.  I had a map and found myself at the front with Stacey.  Route finding was easy, just one moment of uncertainty near the building works around the Gateway.  Jesse wanted to go anti-clockwise, no surprise there, but Stacey and I went left and the rest followed as one.  So absorbed were we in pleasant conversation that we arrived at McKay’s Bar but forgot to go in.  Rob arrived fifteen minutes later and not for the last time put in a passable impression of a sheepdog and herded us inside.

Stacey had to go to the naughty corner because she had not pre-ordered her food. I joined Foon Yen, her mother and Paula at another table in the opposite corner.  I was struck by the geographical diversity.  Stacey was Australian, Paula American and Foon Yen Malaysian but here we all were together with so much in common that conversation flowed as freely as a highland stream in spate.  What could be more important than our common concern for our planet and the people and creatures that inhabit it.

And so it was to continue through the congress, easy conversation with warm and friendly people. Stacey and Paula were excellent company over the next two days and I came to understand their worlds a little better.  Chris and Jared were equally good company.  I knew Chris from an earlier conference and he teaches just down the road from me at Edge Hill.  Jared teaches at Newport and leads the CIMA programme there.  As I lead the CIMA programme at Manchester Metropolitan we had plenty to talk about.  There were many other conversations as well but perhaps the list would be too long.

I had bought a map before starting out for St Andrews. I had never been to this part of Scotland before and was determined to have a look at the local flora and fauna.  On Wednesday morning I was up at six heading out with a view to looking at the East Sands and surrounding cliffs.  As always I stuck to my plan for about five minutes but then I saw some large brown birds in the fields across the way.  They were curlews and they connected me with home as some of their distant cousins spend the summer on the moors above where I live.  I ended up walking around the edge of town staying as close to the shore as possible.  There was an abundance of birdlife as it was early and quite quiet.  That said the golfers were already gathering.

Memories of that morning include surprise at seeing fulmars on the relatively small cliffs near the harbour. Also I felt a sort of spiritual experience engendered by the historic buildings around St Andrews.  It has been a port for a millennium or so and I was reminded of humankind’s history and how it is interwoven into the natural environment.

I got out again two or three times but the best walk was on Thursday. A summer shower fell just before the workshops ended at five but the wind was blowing the clouds in front of me as I walked north along the metallic road leading to the Eden Estuary.  I had seen a sign saying there was a nature reserve up there and I was determined to go and have a look.  As I walked I noted several showers were falling from the leading edge of the giant and somewhat grey and foreboding cumulous cloud in front of me.  As I watched these columns of rain seemed to gather together into one huge storm column over the bay.  Then three jagged forks of lightening crackled from cloud to sea spectacularly and thunder rolled over me.  Gaia was showing off.

I eventually reached the estuary and was rewarded with views of two skuas chasing sandwich terns and stealing their catches. Terns are beautiful fliers, they float and bob in the air in a way that defies gravity before diving down for their fishy prey.  As for skuas, they have to eat.  There were also several seals about and their heads would suddenly pop out of the sea and they would stare at me with their dark wondering eyes.  I shared some thought waves with the seals.  On my way back a great cloud of seagulls took off from the sea just in front of me.  I looked for a reason.  A big bull seal broke out of the waves momentarily before gliding back under the water.  Somehow I felt at one with the gulls and the seal, we had each shared in a cameo role in each others’ lives.

Friday was a day of mixed feelings. I was looking forward to seeing friends and family back home but I was sad at to be parting from new found friends.  I decided on short goodbyes and a quick exit.  Hopefully I could pack my memories into a quiet corner of my mind and pour on time until the sadness had grown out.

On the bus back to the railway station we passed through Guardbridge. There was a peregrine floating above the river mouth.  I thought it was a kestrel until it stooped on a passing crow.  The crow saw it coming and was quick enough to get out of the way and big enough to see it off, another piece of nature, another environmental story.

And so the Congress of Social and Environmental Accounting Research lived up to its name. A wonderful social and environmental experience – and I haven’t even mentioned the presentations and workshops.  I felt mine went OK in the end and I am grateful to everyone else who presented, for the education and the entertainment.  I am also grateful to Sue and Lynn for organising it.  Between us we will change the future – for the better I believe.

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WOULD-BE ENVIRONMENTAL ACCOUNTANT MEETS MOTHER NATURE IN A PUB – A DIALOGUE (Act Four)

Act Four – Knocking at the foundations of capitalism

The next speaker looked like he was on the way home from work. “It had been a quiet day,” he announced.

Mr Commerce was initially taken aback. Then he smiled with a wolfish gleam in his eye.  To him this was a challenge and he was nothing if not competitive.

“Let’s sit down and chat,” he said smoothly. “You see me as a demon?”

“Your word, not mine,” I replied, “But there is no doubt in my mind that in many parts of the world today you and yours are at the epicentre of power. The cost of control is enormous and can only be funded by huge capital investment in relevant technologies that offer an equally huge return.  Only capitalism provides access to the funds required and it is capitalists who, in their search for such technologies, fund the search for knowledge.  As a corollary we have economy-based knowledge rather than a knowledge-based economy (Rajeswar, 2010).”

“And you see that as wrong?” asked Mr Commerce.

“Well I certainly see it as an unfortunate marriage,” I said, “bringing out the worst in both partners. For example capitalism has taken on the Darwenian, that is the seemingly scientific, notion of survival of the fittest to underwrite one of its fundamental ideologies – competition (Hinchliffe, 2007).  Survival of the fittest is not even a theory in the Popperian sense – how do you disprove it? – yet capitalism promotes and uses it as a scientific discourse to bolster its own arguments.  And who in the modern world is going to question science?”

“You don’t agree with competition then?” probed Mr Commerce.

“Well continuing in an ecological vein,” I said, “There are other relationships besides competition and I prefer symbiotic rather than antibiotic ones. If I were to choose a model from nature I would choose co-operation rather than competition.  Working together rather than against each other is surely more productive and sustainable.”

“Where is she?” said Mr Commerce with a grin, he was referring to Mother Nature, he could be witty as well as charming. “She always turns up.”

However this time she didn’t and I continued, “Competition was promoted by the noveau riche of the industrial revolution to justify their own acquisitive nature (Hinchlifffe, 2007; Myerson and Rydin, 1996).

“But surely as rational, self-interested creatures we are bound to compete,” he countered.

“Just a minute,” I returned just as quickly, “where does this rational, self interested creature come from?”

“General observation of course,” was his confident response.

“So it’s a kind of theory then?” I asked.

“Well it’s obvious isn’t it?”  he returned.

“Not to me,” I replied.  “There is a discourse that would have us believe that we are rational and self-interested but it is itself grounded in rationality without any real evidence still less proof.  It is based on theory and again poor theory in Popperian terms.  Personally I would propose another theory or, more correctly, conjecture.  A conjecture built on Levinas’s claim that we are given Self by the Other and therefore feel and owe a responsibility to the Other (McPhail and Walters, 2009).  In other words we have interests and responsibilities that extend beyond our self.”

“I doubt that many would choose your theory over mine,” said Mr Commerce.

“That’s because of the power of the discourse that your theory underwrites. The discourse of economics,” I responded.  “Certainly we in the western world have come to see economics as the true guiding light that will indicate when all is well and when all is not well in our society.  It even offers views on what we should do when all is not well, though these are often in conflict.”

“Might it not be that this discourse, as you call it, is right?” asked Mr Commerce. “After all if so many people think it is, why should you be right?”

“I would critique economics on three grounds,” I said. “First, as I have already argued, it is based on a poor theory.  A theory which is in reality a reductionist conjecture based on two axioms, rationality and self-interest, both of which can be refuted.  Secondly it claims to be a science, the type of science that, in the modernist tradition, purports to know the answers or at least be in the process of determining them.  Thirdly (I smiled) like the majority of science it is in cahoots with the capitalists, supporting their claims and underwriting their excesses.”

“There’s a lot to think about in that statement,” replied Mr Commerce seemingly a little thoughtful for once. “Perhaps we can start with reductionist?”

“Economics in its purest form,” I suggested, “reduces the world to a series of interactions between individuals. And even these individuals are what can only be described as parodies of the real thing, they have but two attributes – rationality and self-interest.  From these gross simplifications economists purport to model the world in all its richness and provide us with advice on how to live our lives.  Where are the values, the ethics, the aesthetics and all the other things that make us human?”

“In their eagerness to be seen as scientists,” I continued, “with the kudos that attracted as the modern world developed, economists began to measure, model and theorise. To this end they measured relationships between variables such as supply and demand; they applied the atomism endemic in modern science, arriving at the individual subject; they then theorised around individual utility.  The scientific approach and the simplicity of their ideas made them into the first social scientists, ideal travelling companions for the new breed of capitalism arising out of the industrial revolution.”

“And what’s your problem with rationality?” asked Mr Commerce.

“I have two really,” I replied. “Firstly we are not primarily rational thinkers, our first thoughts are instinctive, intuitive really.  We only revert to rationality when our problems seem insurmountable and we are forced to slow down and think (Kahneman, 2012).   Secondly rationality leads to the reductionism I have just spoken about.  We build models to help us through our intractable problems and in doing so lose sight of reality (McGilchrist, 2009).

“You think we are irrational then?” asked Mr Commerce.

“An interesting word,” I responded, “which carries quite a lot stigma with it. I certainly think we are illogical at times, possibly most of the time, but I am not saying we do not have the ability to reason.  What I would say though is that so-called rationality is socially constructed varying over time as discourses change.”

“Absolutment,” I heard Monsieur Foucault say (Foucault,1972).

“But surely,” responded Mr Commerce with a cunning look in his eye, “if rationality is socially constructed then so are things like values and, taking your arguments further, so is reality as we know it. In such a fluid, relativist situation I would argue our models are as real as anything else.”

I thought for a while.

“They are real within themselves and in bringing a new, albeit procrustean view on reality they will surely construct a different, new reality (Hines, 1988),” I eventually said, “but they are incomplete. They omit factors, important factors, factors that oftentimes could change outcomes or understandings derived from the overly simple model.  Sometimes these factors are omitted innocently, a miscalculation, but sometimes, I think it true to say, there is intent.  Deliberate manipulation designed to achieve the ends of the modeller.”

“For example?” queried Mr Commerce.

“Well staying with within the subject matter of economics,” I replied, “I would draw your attention to the work Friederich von Hayek, the doyen of free marketers. Throughout his career he was at odds with John Maynard Keynes over the latter’s use of modelling (Wapshott, 2011), essentially he continually warned against the over-simplification inherent in econometric models.  As for his own attempts at modelling they were never really accepted by the economics community because they grew ever more complex and unenlightening as they tried to mirror reality.”

“His arguments and experiences underline my critique of models as oversimplifications. Deliberate manipulation is less obvious and probably less likely.  However given that some scientists have not been above manipulating the evidence to support their theories, for example Cyril Burt and his research into inheritance and intelligence, then it is surely possible that some scientists might have chosen to ignore a potential variable if it detracted from the results they were looking for.”

“Hmmm,” said Mr Commerce, “You can be as suspicious as I am. And I can’t reasonably deny my own inclination towards your understanding of rationality in so far as we are not always given to rational consideration.  Heaven help my advertising budget if we were.”

He smiled and continued, “And yes I even follow your arguments about the power of discourse. However I find economic models very useful in my business and I am going continue using them because they help me make money.  Whether they are true or lead to some ‘right’ answer, whatever that is, I neither know nor care really.  As for science, you won’t catch me detracting from that either, it too is very useful.”

“That sums up the problem with business today though,” I replied. “It underlines why I think you are the ‘demon’.

“How’s that,” he responded sharply.

“Your primary, some would say sole, concern is to make money,” I replied. “Yours is a view of the world without ethics, aesthetics or values (that is values other than financial value).  It is a simple model; increase sales, minimise costs make money.  In following this simple model you ignore so many variables that relate to the human condition, that impact on the environment, and the unintended consequences are frightful.  It is simply not sustainable.”

“But that is the essence of business,” he returned, “to make money.”

“It is the essence of business in a capitalist society,” I said. “It is not the only possible reason for business.”

“Business,” I continued, “can be seen as a process to make society a better place. It can be seen as a way in which people work together to share resources and  improve the lot of all those in their community.  It can be a symbiotic, co-operative process rather than a competitive one.  As such it will take into account the values and aspirations of the community and of the individuals who make up that community, not just the cost of labour and any physical resources consumed in the process of carrying out the business.”

“Well, where to start?” said Mr Commerce. “Do I critique your co-operative model first?  Or do I explain how you have misrepresented modern business and how business today is so very different from the picture you have painted?”

“In what way is modern business different?” I asked.

“Well take ethics,” he replied, “it is a well known axiom in today’s world that bad ethics equals bad business. Businesses today know the value of behaving ethically.”

“Actually we would disagree with that,” said two voices in unison from a nearby table, “we would say that after reviewing numerous studies on this subject the empirical evidence is mixed. Improved corporate social performance does not necessarily lead to improved financial performance, indeed in some cases there is a negative correlation.  It is also difficult to support the case for your ‘axiom’ philosophically.”

“Who are you?” asked Mr Commerce.

“We are American academics,” replied one of the young men, “and we carried out a study which was published in 2009.   Perhaps we should add though that it seems likely there is some sort moral floor, some minimum standard of behaviour that is expected in business.  Again though there are numerous cases of this not being met.  Also there is some evidence of what might be called reputational capital, born of a good reputation, which might lead to higher revenues (Burton and Goldsby, 2009).”

“So business is not an ethical free for all, there are standards,” concluded Mr Commerce.

“Minimal,” I responded.

“But improving all the time,” he countered. “As these young fellows pointed out businesses today know the value of a good reputation and work towards it.  They have ethical codes for example.”

“So did Enron,” I counter-countered. “Eighty-five pages long I believe (McIntosh and Quattrone, 2010).  Just because a company ticks the right boxes does not mean it is behaving the right way.  Managers are no fools, they are very adept at discerning trends and discourses.  They quickly realise what is required of them and take steps to ensure they have covered the minimum requirements to keep society, regulators and the like happy without impacting too heavily on their primary aim – to make money.  Over time they might even capture the agenda and turn it to their advantage (O’Dwyer, 2002, O’Dwyer, 2003).”

“You truly are a cynic,” said Mr Commerce, “but surely you accept that today managers are more aware of their social role, their commitment to stakeholder engagement and the like?”

“I wish I could be,” I said. “I am sure there are many managers out there who would like to be more responsible to their stakeholders but the prevailing discourse is “make money” that is increase shareholder value, and they are compelled to give that their first consideration.”

“You are impossible,” said Mr Commerce. “Today we have international standards for stakeholder engagement such as AS1000SES not to mention the Global Reporting Initiative which effectively requires engagement.  Yet you still deny business has ethical standards.”

“I’m afraid these standards are voluntary and the take-up is poor, just a few thousand out of tens of thousands of multi-national enterprises,” I responded, “and even when they are adopted many companies cherry-pick the parts they will complete or undertake.  The overwhelmingly vast majority of businesses do not actively integrate ethical or stakeholder considerations into their business.”

“Even when they, that is the managers, might try,” I continued, “they meet resistance from the shareholders. I am thinking now of the attempted take-over of AstraZeneca by Pfizer in the Spring of 2014.  The board and the managers worked alongside stakeholders such as the employees and the scientific community to fight off the first bid but were pressured all the way by some major shareholders who saw a large increase in the share price coming their way.”

“Well I think you are downgrading the effort business is making,” returned Mr Commerce and I think I detected a hint of sincerity, he really thought business was making an effort.

“The commitment made by firms such as Unilever (Guardian Sustainable Business, 2012), Patagonia (Guardian Sustainable Business, 2013) and even Puma (Guardian Sustainable Business, 2011),” he continued, “is truly admirable.”

“And truly rare,” I interrupted. “It’s too little, too late!  I have the utmost admiration for the business people in those organisations, they are brave and they are far-sighted.  But theirs is a trickling stream trying to reshape a roaring river, a river that is flowing in the opposite, and wrong, direction.  It’s a river that flows to greed and inequity, to conflict and torment.”

“What is required,” I continued, “is for that river to be halted, damned, and a new channel forged in a new more equitable direction.”

“I know you are talking about the co-operative movement,” replied Mr Commerce, “but I think you are giving up on capitalism too easily. I still maintain that capitalism can be ethical; and, to pick you up on another point, it can be sustainable too.  Businesses today are aware of their impact on society and the environment.  They know resources are finite and they are thinking long term about how to operate within those finite resources.”

“Yes and they think in terms of efficiency, win-win and competitive advantage and how they will survive and grow at the expense of the other players in the market,” I returned. “They still think in terms of money, growth and competition.”

“All of which will detract from thinking about the important issues in life like community and spirituality (Crompton and Kasser, 2009).” It was the Religious Man.  He had just joined us.

“And win-win and efficiency can only go so far,” I added, “the resultant reduction in cost simply draws in additional demand and absolute consumption ultimately remains unchanged (Milne, 1991; Milne, 1996).”

“And your latest scheme,” added another voice, that of Mother Nature, “is the most tasteless yet. To attach a monetary value to all the priceless treasures in our world (Sullivan, 2014); how can you do that, contemplate it even, it is impossible (Hines, 1991).  Only a being without a soul; a being devoid of yin, that is yang in its totality, could imagine such a solution (Hines, 1992).”

“Oh you’re back,” said Mr Commerce, “A matter of time I guess, you are never far away.”

“I am always here,” said Mother Nature, “it is just that sometimes you are not aware of me.”

“Ditto,” said the Religious Man.

“I am going to give up trying to convince you,” sighed Mr Commerce.  “Despite all the innovations, all the freedoms and comforts that capitalism has brought you, you are determined not to be convinced.”

“I am not convinced,” I returned, “for I see a world where human suffering has increased in absolute terms, and where the ecosystems are being torn apart to the point that we face mass extinctions (WWF, 2012). We are tearing apart our planet with no concern for the other creatures we share it with.”

“Well I can only say that your proposed alternative is no better,” suggested Mr Commerce. “In 2014 we saw the co-operative for the clumsy, directionless, inbred mode of organisation that it is.  The Co-operative Bank of the UK imploded revealing a complete lack of governance as ‘friends and colleagues’ took over the running of the business and watched as it sailed into the rocks taking the rest of the UK Co-operative Society with it.”

I smiled at his bitterness interwoven as it was with a sense of victory, capitalism was on the ropes and here was a brief moment when he could land a flurry of punches and raise hopes of a comeback.

“There is no doubt that co-operatives and other mutual societies will suffer, like capitalist organizations, as a result of human failings,” I responded, “but the key point is that in a co-operative society the underlying purpose is different, and hence the outcome. In a world that believes in man’s humanity to man, and indeed the rest of creation, we would see a restorative process commence.  People would come together to fix the problem, repair the broken limb and get it working again.  In a capitalist society the limb is amputated, thrown to the dogs and the world doesn’t care.  Mutuals are far more resilient than you suggest (Hazlehurst,2014).”

“You are an idealist, plain and simple,” returned Mr Commerce, “the world doesn’t care and co-operation as an MO will simply never work.”

“Well I accept that ‘the force’ is with capitalism,” I smiled, “The economic discourse of self-interest and rationality certainly has the upper hand at the moment, or at least in the developed world it has. But out of interest there are more members of co-operative movements in the world than there are individual shareholders (Williams, 2007) so maybe the capitalist position isn’t as strong as you think.  And maybe there is a greater sense of community in many of the developing nations with less emphasis on individual self-interest, perhaps even some disapproval of the concept.”

“One thing I know though,” I continued, “is that you and I will never agree. We have different concepts of the world and humanity in particular.  As a result we hope for different types of future.  And ultimately all any of us have is hope, we cannot know the future just as we can’t really know the present, we can only try and make sense of it for ourselves.”

There was a murmur around the room, “Amen to that,” though not everybody was convinced. Mr Commerce and Professor Science were noticeably quiet.

“Let’s have a chat,” said Mother Nature.

The man on his way home was finishing,we did see a kingfisher and a peregrine falcon but they hardly seemed noteworthy. Amazing to think that only 20 years ago I used to visit the site of the last peregrine breeding in Yorkshire up on the moors towards Huddersfield.  And views of kingfishers were almost equally rare.

Now there are at least two pairs of peregrines breeding in Manchester and I can see kingfishers on the River Medlock in Clayton, a couple of miles from the city centre. So there have been some biodiversity success stories.  Indeed there have been many, there are salmon in the River Mersey and otters have been seen in its tributaries.  Provided we keep the natural environment clean there are many creatures that can live alongside man.”

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WOULD-BE ENVIRONMENTAL ACCOUNTANT MEETS MOTHER NATURE IN A PUB – A DIALOGUE (Act Three)

Act Three – Exploring the limitations of science.

Next up was a Scotsman. “I soon reached Glen Lednock,” he began.

He was stood some distance away so I walked over and joined him.

“I am sixty one years old,” I replied. “At school I joined discussions in the astronomical society debating the pros and cons of steady state theory versus the big bang theory.  I have seen scientific claims come and go; always, always claiming they were right.  And the world – journalists, broadcasters, politicians – picked them up and proclaimed they were right…because they were scientifically proven!  And then they were wrong or at the very least disputed.  That is why I am sceptical of science.  Too often it makes unfounded claims and speaks in half truths.”

“That’s quite an unkind summary,” said Professor Science.

“Is it?” I replied, “Do you remember the BSE epidemic in the 1990s. Scientists told us the disease could not pass from cows to humans.  They were so certain, so positive, but it turns out they did not know and could not foresee that the virus would be able to morph, change shape to adapt to a new host; and people died. (Hinchliffe, 2007)”

“And when I hear eminent folk like Stephen Hawkins arrogantly proclaiming ‘Why is there something rather than nothing? Why does the Universe follow this particular set of laws and not some others? Why do we exist? Traditionally these are questions for philosophy but philosophy is now dead. Philosophy has not kept up with the modern developments in science…’ (Page, 2012, p8) revealing a complete ignorance of the philosophical notions that underpin his branch of science, then I think I have cause to be wary of science and its claims.”

“In what way do you see science being underpinned by philosophy?” asked the Professor.

“That’s easy,” interspersed an American voice. “Science as we know it today is underpinned by empiricism and atomism.  The first idea was mooted by Empodocles in Ancient Greece in about 450 BC, the other by Democritus a few years later.  Empiricism effectively says we can only know the world through our senses and atomism, as the name suggests, suggests the universe is made up of tiny particles.  Empiricism has had supporters throughout history, Aristotle for example and Thomas Aquineas.  Atomism took longer to catch on. (Leahey, 2004).”

“Who are you?” asked the Professor.

“I am a historian of science,” replied the American.

“Oh,” said the Professor, “but we have moved on since the Ancient Greeks and we now know the universe is made up of atoms, well a variety of particles really, and although we make use of a variety of equipment which effectively extend our senses, our senses are still the only way we can know the world.”

“My friend Hegel would certainly dispute that,” said the voice I had heard earlier alongside Herr Heidegger and the Frenchman. “He pretty much demolished the whole idea of sense-certainty.”

“And you are?” said the Professor, perhaps a touch defensively.

“A Romantic,” came the response, and a little laughter travelled around the room.

“Well I think we can dismiss you dreamers,” said the Professor, emboldened by the laughter.

“That’s a typical scientific response,” I said. “You think the only voice of note is that of science.  A voice itself at times full of nonsense, a voice that has nothing to say about the important things, that is how we should live and feel; yet it thinks it is the only voice with anything to say.”

“Nonsense?” said the Professor. “When do scientists talk nonsense?”

“Where do I begin?” I said. “Multi-dimensional universes (Hooper, 2014), particles that are waves and can travel along two routes simultaneously (Brooks, 2010b).  Even one of your own, Roger Penrose, scorns some of the new physics.  He says it opens the floodgates for every flaky idea under the sun (Brooks, 2010a).  Maybe in fairness it isn’t nonsense, who am I to judge?  But to the man in the street it is just as nonsensical as talk of demons and fairies.”

“As Lyotard (1984, p29) informs us,” interspersed the Librarian, “scientific knowledge ‘cannot know and make known that it is the true knowledge without resorting to the other, narrative, kind of knowledge, which from its point of view is no knowledge at all’.”

“Good old Jean-Francois,” called a young German voice that I had heard earlier, “he understands. I too have investigated the games language can play and how knowledge can be delegitimized (Lyotard, 1984).”

“Whoa,” said the Historian, “before you get into an argument let’s just discuss the nature of science a little further.”

“Science as generally understood,” he continued, “is derived from positivism, an idea introduced by Auguste Comte in the nineteenth century. This idea was further refined and developed by the logical positivist school of philosophy in the 1920s. (Chalmers,1999). Positivism, like empiricism, believes that knowledge should be based on observation from which it is possible to describe, and even predict and control, events.  No explanation of why things happen the way they do is necessary.  They just do.”

“I don’t think that is the impression given by most scientists, including Stephen Hawkins,” I said, “It seems to me that they think that they, and they alone, know how to uncover knowledge. And that was a Freudian slip, which I will blame on years of exposure to the scientific discourse; nobody uncovers knowledge, they construct it.”

“Indeed many if not most scientists believe in some form of external reality,” said the Historian. “they adopt what is known as the causal approach.  This approach assumes the goal of science is to penetrate the structure of reality and discover the causes of the ‘laws of nature’ (Leahey, 2004).  These scientists are not afraid to go beyond the facts and embrace the metaphysical.  They are willing to offer explanations but protect their findings from superstition by rigorously testing every hypothesis and challenging every theory.  Philosophically of course this position can be critiqued from the perspective that causal structure is always beyond observation.”

“So some scientists go beyond empiricism,” I stated. “They invoke rationality, build theories.”

“Yes,” said the historian, “Both positivists and causal-realists build theories. According to the latter these represent our best knowledge of Truth, the true nature of the universe.  For the former (sometimes known as nomological-antirealists) theories are simply useful models, essentially collections of sentences beginning with observational terms building through axioms to theory (Leahey, 2004).”

“So where do you stand?” I asked Professor Science.

“Erm…well…erm I have never really thought about it,” he replied. “Using Truth like that is a bit of a puzzle but my immediate reaction is that there is a real universe and we are uncovering its mysteries.”

“And,” he continued, “we do this very scientifically, basing all our conclusions on good solid evidence. Basically we observe something, gather lots of, as has been said, empirical evidence and propose a theory based on that evidence.  We then test that theory to make sure it holds up and, if and when, it doesn’t we refute it.”

“Precisely as Karl Popper used to argue,” said the Librarian, “A theory is not a valid theory unless there is some way it might be disproved (Popper, 1972), otherwise any statement could claim to be a theory and it would not be possible to refute it.”

“But it is always just a theory,” I pointed out, “and scientists build theories on theories and ultimately claiming these constructs, these models, are a truthful depiction of reality. Further they and their supporters claim that these models and the associated methods are the only worthwhile ones and when faced with problems theirs is the voice we should turn to.”

“ Hence, I would suggest,” I said turning to the Professor, “your smug response to our friend here.”

“Thank you,” said the Romantic. “Actually I have no problem with this idea of building theories on theories provided they work.  As I said earlier, though you may not have seen me, my friend Hegel used it to great effect; he called it the principle of determinate negation (Sills, 1995).

“Take care,” said the Librarian, “Ludwig Wittgenstein no less has suggested ‘we may not advance any kind of theory’ (Pleasants, 1999, p2).”

“Thank you.” It was the young German again.  “You are very kind.

“Fair enough,” I said whilst wondering who that young German could be, “but it is the way scientific claims are made that annoys me. They claim to be so right, then next time you look their claims have fallen through and we are told, with a straight face and without the slightest sense of foolishness, that it is all different now, this is how the world is.”

“I think you are referring to paradigm shifts,” said the Historian. “It has been argued that science moves forward in paradigms (Kuhn, 1970).  Essentially science would build up a particular model and put it forward as the way things are until the evidence refuted it and pointed to a new model or paradigm.  Others would argue that this is an over-simplification that, in fact, science is always made up of competing research programmes (Lakatos, 1970) each of which has their supporters, and therefore science does not point to one absolute Truth.”

“Well that explains Roger Penrose’s comments,” I responded, “And I guess in this world of competing programmes some are eventually killed off as evidence accumulates in favour of another programme. But all that just underlines my point, science is just another voice built on theories.  Theories grounded in empirical evidence maybe but that does not make them right, nor does it make them in the only theories worth considering.  For example we could rationalise and deduce theories.  Provided we state our fundamental axioms and provided our subsequent models work then they are as good as any scientific theory.”

“Metaphysics, yet again metaphysics,” called (possibly fewer) voices in the background.

“No,” I said, “Just my way of making sense of life. I make no claims to Truth.”

“You sound more than a little like Paul Feyerabend, who some might describe as an anarchist,” said the Historian. “In essence he argued that the scientific method was a just a veil to hide the subjective views of the scientist and hence no more reliable than witchcraft (Chalmers, 1999).”

“Ah, my friend Paul,” shouted Arne from the bar, “he wrote to me about the limitations of language and knowledge and my intuitions pertaining to deep ecology. He noted how difficult it would always be to truly understand one another, how we therefore each had to find our own way forward and how in effect one way was as good as another (Feyerabend, 1999).  I told him of my agreement, of my admiration for the way he maintains many views and how this resonates with the deep ecology principle of diversity (Naess, 1991).

“Well I am not sure about the witchcraft bit,” I said with a wry smile, “but I am with him on the limitations of language and finding our own way forward, and with you Arne on the diversity bit.”

At this point I turned back towards the Professor. He had been joined by Mr Commerce and they had been chatting.  Looking towards me he said, “Well you can say what you like but surely there is one thing you can’t deny, progress!  Science has taken humanity forward, we are so much better off than we were.  Through science we have progressed.”

I looked at him “Progress that has lead to warm, comfortable housing and to travel beyond the imagination of those alive one hundred years ago? Or progress that has lead to machines capable of doing all hard labour on our behalf?  Perhaps you mean progress that has lead to instantaneous communication worldwide?  I don’t suppose you mean the progress that has lead to melting ice caps, vanishing species, hydrogen bombs or internet pornography and freely available drugs and guns?” I countered.

“That’s not the fault of science,” he said quickly, somewhat irritated I think.

“Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t,” I said, “but I repeat science is just one voice. It does not have the answers to everything and never will.  It is a voice to be respected – mostly – but it and the world in general need to be aware of its limitations.  There are moral and ethical, not to mention aesthetic, dimensions to the way in which we live our lives about which science has nothing to say.”

“I don’t get you,” said Mr Commerce. “Why do you come down so hard on science?”

“I am hard on science,” I replied, “because knowingly or unknowingly it is a discourse that underwrites something I really dislike. Capitalism!  Capitalism and its inevitable corollaries, control and inequity.”

“Ah now I see, the politics of envy,” responded Mr Commerce.

“Not at all,” I smiled, “Though we may return to that discussion later. I repeat, I refer to the way in which the discourse of science has been used to underwrite and support capitalism and all its excesses.”

“What do you mean by discourse then?” asked Mr Commerce.

“I see discourse as the conceptual framework that shapes our thinking (Hinchliffe and Belshaw, 2003) and I believe these discourses shape and are shaped by the power that flows through human society and indeed life in general,” I said.

“How is science a discourse?” queried Mr Commerce.

“Let me explain,” said a Frenchman stepping out from the crowd. I wasn’t sure if I had seen him before.

“First we need to understand the way we know things and how ‘science’ came about. Then we need to understand the nature of control and how that has changed over time.  Then perhaps we will understand the role of power in shaping control and in particular the linking of science and commerce.”

“And you are Monsieur?” asked Mr Commerce.

“I am Michel Foucault,” he replied, “and I have spent a great deal of time studying history.”

“It appears to me that there are three distinct periods of time wherein the nature of knowledge itself, ie the nature of what is considered to be knowledge, changes. In the 16th century knowledge was based on resemblance or similitude. There were four ways in which things were known, convenientia (adjacency or proximity to other things), aemulatio (emulation), analogy and sympathies.  Ultimately it was the interpretation of one or more of these similitudes that allowed things to be known (Foucault, 2002)”.

“So we could not actually know something?” I said. “We just knew it because of its relationship with (and its difference from) everything else.”

Foucault continued, “By the end of the 16th century we had begun to enter the Classical Age.  This was the age in which all things were to be classified, to be placed in taxonomies, tables and lists.  For example in the early part of the century a natural history would describe a creature or plant by referenced to ‘its elements or organs as of describing the resemblances that could be found in it, the virtues that it was thought to possess, the legends and stories with which it had been involved, its place in heraldry, the medicaments that were concocted from its substance, the foods it provided, what the ancients recorded of it, and what travellers might have said of it’ (ibid, p140).  Later in the century another writer would subdivide a chapter on the same plant or animal ‘under twelve headings:  name, anatomical parts, habitat, ages, generation, voice, movements, sympathy and antipathy, uses, medicinal uses’ (ibid, p141).  The former could be described as a “show” whilst the later version might be described as an arrangement or ‘table’.  ‘What came surreptitiously into being between the age of theatre and that of the catalogue was not the desire for knowledge, but a new way of connecting things both to the eye and to discourse.  A new way of making history’ (ibid, p143)”.

“And so we make a break from the interrelationship of everything,” I added. “From now on everything is analysed, atomised and made to stand alone.”

Foucault was non-committal. He continued, “At the end of the 18th century there is ‘a discontinuity as enigmatic in its principle, in its original rupture, as that which separates the Paracelsian circles from the Cartesian order’ (ibid, p235).  Knowledge was ‘no longer that of identities and differences, that of non-quantitative orders, that of a universal characterization, of a general taximonia, of a non-measurable mathesis, but an area of made up of organic structures, that is, of internal relations between elements whose totality performs a function.’ (ibid, p236).   Knowledge is no longer arranged in comparative tables but in functional silos linking observations through time.  I call this The Age of History and link it to the birth of ‘the empirical’ (ibid, p237).  Here is ‘a philosophy deprived of a certain metaphysics because it has been separated off from the space of order, yet doomed to Time, to its flux and its returns, because it is trapped in the mode of being of History’ (ibid, p238).”

“So,” I said, “In the Classical Age knowledge was tabulated according to traits that were somehow linked to a pure, metaphysical form but now, in the new age, knowledge is based on worldly observations that build up over time; knowledge such as biology and economics.”

“Knowledge that is surely inward looking and constrained by its own roots,” I continued, “ myopic and unable to look outside itself to see the world in its totality.”

Foucault remained impassive, it was for others to draw conclusions. “The roots of the discontinuity lay in the limitations of the ‘tabular’ method,” he said.  “Essentially classification depended on the identification of a general trait to classify against and problems arose when there is more than one such trait to classify against.  This problem was tackled by way of the Kantian critique which offered the possibility of transcendental essences as a means of classification but this metaphysical approach was at odds with the empirical approach to knowledge.  This schism between two forms of knowledge remains with us today in an era I sometimes refer to as the Modern Era (ibid).”

“OK,” said Mr Commerce looking at me, “I can understand this view on the history of science but I think your interpretation of it is, at best, idiosyncratic.”

“Myopia explains science’s blundering approach to what it calls progress,” I interposed quickly. “Each branch of knowledge works inside itself and as a result too often fails to see the unintended consequences of its findings.  What is needed is a more thoughtful, holistic approach to knowledge.  But that has not suited the rich and powerful and, as a consequence, we have not endeavoured to develop such an approach.”

“Power,” said Foucault, “is the key.”

There was a dry chuckle from somewhere at the back of the inn.  I noted that Nietzsche was still with us.

“Power in the Middle Ages,” continued Foucault, “lay in blood, in life itself, or rather in the ability to take life. If you disobeyed your master, your king for example, he had the right to take your life.  This power was manifested in him by some deity and you were called upon to obey”.

“Over time this power dissipated and obedience came to be achieved through administrative control. Such control depended on knowledge of the controlled and this knowledge in turn depended on science.” (Foucault, 1978)

“And the two continue to work together to subjugate the citizenry and maintain the status quo,” I added. “That is the retention of power by the privileged few and a gross inequality in the distribution of wealth and income.”

“And it isn’t just the citizenry,” added another voice – Mother Nature had joined us. “Science is the very alter of human reason with its supreme faith in its supposed “ability to confront and solve the many problems that humans face, its ability to rearrange both the world of Nature and the affairs of men and women so that human life will prosper (Ehrenfeld cited in Lindholdt, 2012, p102).’  I too am under attack from science.”

“Oh it’s you again,” said Mr Commerce, “Sulking as usual. You are far too defensive.”

“Yes,” said the Professor, “I have never attacked you. I have simply made better use of your resources, freeing them up for everyone’s benefit.”

“Everyone?” asked the Religious Man, who had also caught up with us. “Or perhaps you mean every one?  Thus implying an analysis of life into discrete units and almost certainly favouring some units above others, ie humans.”

“Is that all humans?” he asked wryly, “Or do you favour particular groups?”

“Don’t start that nonsense,” replied the Professor with not a little irritation, “My colleagues and I simply study the world, and indeed the universe, objectively then make useful observations and offer useful explanations to enhance our knowledge.”

“You remind me of the story of Pontius Pilate,” replied the religious man.  “You take no responsibility for the so-called knowledge you offer and you blissfully ignore how you resource your studies.”

“So-called knowledge, what does that mean?” asked the Professor pointedly.

“Knowledge of a techno-economic nature within a knowledge based economy (Martin, 2005),” returned the Religious Man. “As compared to compared to knowledge that refers to cultural renaissance, socio-political empowerment, intellectual pursuit or spiritual awakening (ibid) for example.”

“Your knowledge,” he continued, “is a technology-based science which disregards the ‘life-world’ and the foundations of meaning in a subjective world (Husserl, 1970). Further it is epistemologically-ethnocentric in that it is biased towards the science and technology developed in the west and assumes there is nothing to be learned from non-western cultures.  As such it has underwritten an ecological imperialism that has devastated ecologies and sustainable living patterns (Crosby, 1986).

“Summarizing,” said I, taking up his rhetoric, “my critique so very eloquently whilst making the important link between science and technology.”

“It is technology that makes control possible (Habermas, 1971) and enables the administrators in their quest for control.” I continued.

“And who are these demons, these administrators?” asked Mr Commerce with a rather superior look.

“Well actually, today, they are you and your colleagues.” I replied.

The Scotsman was finishing his story,I was quickly enveloped in mist and could see no more than 50 yards in front of me.  However there is a clear path all the way up to about 2,500 feet so there were no navigational problems at this stage, and I could always walk back down the path if I felt uncomfortable at any point.  As I walked I began to formulate my future plans and slowly my head began to clear.  At about the precise point I had settled the thoughts in my head, in fact at precisely the same point, I walked out of the clouds to see the peak of the Ben clearly etched against the sky high on my left.  The sun was shining through a saddle directly in front of me and the sky was clear blue.

I looked around me and I was standing above the clouds. Various peaks were rising above the clouds as if to greet me.  It was majestic.  I climbed a little higher, to a point just below the saddle where the path turned left towards the peak of the Ben.  I sat on a stone and soaked up the view.  These are the moments that take hill walking into your very soul. 

Out of respect to the Ben I did not continue the climb. After he and his neighbours had helped me clear my mind I could not “conquer” him like some zealous youth out to conquer another Munro.  He was my friend and that would have been disrespectful.

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WOULD-BE ENVIRONMENTAL ACCOUNTANT MEETS MOTHER NATURE IN A PUB – A DIALOGUE (Act Two)

Act Two – Deep ecology and belief systems.

The next performer began, “Today I went for a walk across Wharncliffe Common and beyond.”

I went over and sat by the man in green.

“You sound very at one with nature,” I offered.

“I am…we all are,” he said. “It’s just that some folks don’t see it.  They have become disconnected somehow.  Mostly because they rush about and never stop to think, to wonder, to soak in and appreciate the world around them.  They just want to take and don’t think about the consequences.”

“Yes,” said his colleague, an outdoor type wearing hiking boots and with a mountaineers fleece hung over the back of his chair, “people are in too much of a rush. They don’t think about who we are or where we are from, or even what is right and what is wrong anymore.”

“Arne is a deep thinker,” said the man in green, “he can spends weeks in his cabin in the mountains just thinking. He is something of a celebrity to those who think about the environment and is said to have founded the Deep Ecology movement (Pepper, 1996, Belshaw, 2001).  It’s a philosophy that has influenced the way many people think of the environment (Colby, 1991, Milne, 1991, Milne et al, 2008, Gray et al, 1993 Gray and Bebbington, 2001, Bebbington et al, 2001).”

“Ecosophy,” said Arne.

“Pardon,” I said.

“Ecosophy,” he said. “What I propose ‘is a kind of sophia wisdom, it contains both norms, rules, postulates, value priority announcements and hypotheses concerning the state of affairs of our universe’ (Witoszek and Brennan, 1999, p6).  It is based on ecological knowledge and experience ‘which have suggested, inspired and fortified the deep ecology movement’ (ibid, p6) but the movement is essentially ecophilosophical rather than ecological.”

“My head is already starting to spin,” I said,

“It is complicated,” said the man in green, “Arne argues there is no one way into deep ecology and it is supported by and supports diversity. Consequently there have been many interpretations and critiques…”

“Complex,” said Arne, “not complicated.

“Complex because ecosystems are part of a unity which we may or may not ever come to understand. Complicated implies a lack of unity, chaos even. It is important to recognise the difference because a disturbance to complex systems can cause unforeseeable consequences elsewhere in the system.  We need to be aware of our ignorance and sensitive to the possible consequences of our actions.”

“Well I get that,” I said.

“Good,” said the man in green. “Maybe you ought to explain a little more to our friend Arne.  He appears to be interested in your ecosophy.”

“There are seven key points,” Arne began immediately, there was no doubting his belief. “These are (1) the rejection of the man-in-environment image in favour of the relational total-field image, (2) biospherical egalitarianism in principle, (3) the principles of diversity and of symbiosis, (4) an anti-class posture, (5) the fight against pollution and resource depletion, (6) complexity not complication and (7) local autonomy and decentralization (Naess, 1973).”

“Now these principles have been discussed and argued over and even changed and re-written, but this is how deep ecology started.”

“I can see that relational total-field and biospherical egalitarianism could be a problem,” I said. “You are proposing a new concept and also a very arguable one.”

“Yes,” said the man in green. “Arne spent a long time with a man called Bill Devall discussing these principles and Bill and George Sessions (2007) rewrote them.  Bill also wrote a history of Deep Ecology with Alan Drengson (2010) and explicitly denied the need for biospherical egalitarianism.”

“There have been many arguments over biospherical egalitarianism,” smiled Arne. “Richard Watson (1983), William French (1995) and Warwick Fox (1984a, 1984b) all wanted me to draw up some rules to seemingly prioritise or rank life forms in some form of ethical system.  Something Desjardin (1993, 2007) and Newton (2003) have attempted from an ethical stance, and Goodpaster (1978) and Singer (1993) have tried from an intrinsic value perspective.  But I resisted and Warwick eventually settled for an argument suggesting we should look to cultivate a deep ecological consciousness, a change in our perception of the way things are.”

“An ontological shift,” I mooted.

“Don’t say that too loud,” said a quiet voice from behind me. It was the religious man.  “That continental lot do not have a lot of time for metaphysics.”

“True,” I said, “but I find this argument quite compelling. It seems to gell with my experience, my feelings, my instincts.  My head says it can’t be so but my heart is pulled towards it.”

“Perhaps sometimes our head is wrong,” said the religious man. “Perhaps the Zen Buddhists are right and we need to strip away our preconceptions and the limitations of logic and language.”

“I think Mr Naess here,” the religious man continued, he obviously knew Arne, “would agree that we are not separate from the rest of nature, that all organisms can be seen as ‘knots in a biospherical net or field of intrinsic relations’ (Witoszek and Brennan, 1999, p3).

“Yes” affirmed Arne.

“Well,” continued the religious man once more, “the idea of intrinsic relations is fundamental to the Chinese view of reality, ‘all modalities of being, from rock to Heaven, are integral parts of a contiuum’ (Weiming, 1998, p108) and the Buddhist view also, ‘Nothing is formed in isolation and, like the jewelled net of Indra, each individual reflects every other infinitely’ (Sivarska, 2005, p71). Without European preconceptions the world can be seen differently.”

“If such preconceptions, for example the Cartesian dualism, are put aside the world can be viewed very differently. It has been said that seeing humans not as entities but as clearings ‘in which entities (including thoughts, feelings, perceptions, objects, others) appear helped Heidegger overcome not only dualism but also anthropocentrism’ (Zimmerman, 2006, p295).  You met Martin earlier didn’t you?  The important thing is that we must try and look beyond the limitations placed on us by others, by language, by common understandings.”

“Humans as entities,” I wondered. “We are back to discussing the nature of Self.”

“Of course,” returned the religious man, “we can only see … or perhaps we are conditioned to see … the world as our Self so surely it is important we try and establish what that is or at least what it might be. And of course there are many, often conflicting, possibilities.”

“For example from the West, the Ancient Greeks in fact, we have the mind matter dichotomy (Leahey, 2004). Whereas the East avoids this dichotomy, Buddhists think in terms of the stream of life (Kaza, 2008) which in China is referred to as Chi, the energy of life.  The Ancient Greeks also gave us atomism (ibid) and this, as argued from an eastern perspective, has led to an ‘attachment to an atomised sense of self and a self/other dualism are the antithesis of interdependence and is an obstacle to achieving the peace of enlightenment’ (Sivaraksa, 2005, p71).

“True,” I said. “In the West we are individuals, the atoms that make up society.  In the East we seem more part of a whole, a community, than an individual.”

“Perhaps reflecting further the religions of the West and East,” added the religious man. “In the West we have an omnipotent God, in the East they do not entertain ‘conceptions of creation ex nihilo by the hand of God, or through the will of God, and all other mechanistic, teleological and theistic cosmologies’ (Mote cited in Weiming, 1998, p106) and ‘the genuine Chinese cosmogony is that of an organismic process, meaning that all of the parts of the entire cosmos belong to one organic whole and that they all interact as participants in one spontaneously self-generating life process’ (ibid, p105)”.

“I guess such ideas aren’t unheard of in the West,” I responded, “I think of James Lovelock (2006) and Gaia; and of Jung and his version of libido (Storr, 1998) – that sounds a bit like Chi. But which ideas are right and which are wrong.”

“I doubt we will ever know or even need to know,” suggested the religious man.

“No,” I replied. “All I can do, must do, is keep an open mind.”

“Amen to that,” said Arne. “I admire Martin Heidegger and his cynical view of truth, that is our inability to know the Truth.  Yet I admire Baruch Spinoza for his complex metaphysical arguments that helped him, and help me, understand the world.  If we are to survive in this world we need to embrace diversity and a plurality of views.  It was this understanding that underwrote my Apron diagram.”

“What’s that,” I asked.

Arne took out a pen and began to draw on the back of a nearby menu. The result looked like this:

(Google:  Deep Ecology Apron Diagram)

“Here are the norms of deep ecology and here are the behavioural outcomes,” he said pointing at various aspects of the diagram. “The norms are derived from the religious and/or philosophical standpoint of any given individual.  Deep ecology accepts a diversity of views and does not seek to dominate.”

“It is Yin rather than Yang,” interspersed the religious man, “where ‘Yin is the quiet, contemplative stillness of the sage, yang the strong, creative action of Kings’ (Capra, 1983, p119 cited in Hines, 1992, p316).”

“I don’t know if all philosophies and religions could get us to those norms,” I said, “but to quote my friend Alister McIntosh, ‘I’m expressing these things in a Christian framework because that is what’s most relevant to where I am digging from culturally. But equally, the same thing can be said from within any faith based on love:  we are also parts of the ‘Body of Islam’; expressions of the ‘Buddha nature’; children of the Goddess, or in the Sanskrit of Hinduism, Tat Tvam asi – ‘That thou art’ – meaning individual soul (Atman) is ultimately at one with universal soul (Brahma).’ (McIntosh, 2004, p118).  I think he would agree that any faith based in love would get us to those norms.”

“A wonderful example of how the meeting of East and West can underwrite new thoughts and ideas,” noted the religious man. “Invaluable as we try ‘to synthesize the dialectical and teleological tradition of Western thought with an Eastern critique of the self and identity… Perhaps this is not possible, but I see the confrontation between these traditions as necessary and creative.’ (Clark, 2010, p37).  And perhaps another area worthy of consideration in this context is self-realization (Narasimhan et al 2010, Zimmerman, 2006, Drengson and Devall, 2010).

“We talked about that earlier too,” I said

“But we are different now,” said the religious man. “We are rebuilding our worlds as we speak.”

“Alister spoke of self-realization,” I said. “’Self-realization – the full expression of who we are – means starting to feel ourselves as part of everything’ (McItosh, 2004, p118), he said.  Of course it is a difficult thing to talk about as it is a feeling as compared to a thought, and words can only describe thoughts.”

“Interesting,” said the religious man, “Can you explain?”

“Well,” I said, “Sometimes when I run there is no me, no body that is, free of constraints I move through time and space. Or when I play table tennis there is no me, I am connected to the ball and together we move back and forth over and around the table.”

“Empty handed I go, and behold the spade is in my hands; I walk on foot, and yet on the back of an ox I am riding; When I pass over the bridge, Lo, the water floweth not, but the bridge doth flow,” said the religious man.

“Precisely,” I said. “Sometimes when I am riding the horse and I are one, neither of us is in charge, we simply move through the obstacles.”

“That was the gatha of Jenye (Suzuki, 1991, p58).” said the religious man, “It captures the teaching of Zen. It is said ‘If we really want to get to the bottom of life, we must abandon cherished syllogisms, we must acquire a new way of observation whereby we can escape the tyranny of logic and the one-sidedness of our everyday philosphy’ (ibid).”

“Hocus pocus,” muttered the psychologist in the background. “He is just describing the release of endomorphins brought on by physical exercise.”

“Amen to that,” said Professor Science somewhat ironically.

“So many possibilities,” I said. “But what does the world of science offer by way of Why?  What Reason does reason give?  If it is all so mechanical then there is no right and no wrong.  There is no reason to strive.  There is no meaning to life.”

“Yet when I walk through a field or over a hill, when I see a bird, a butterfly or a flower, I feel an affinity. A oneness that gives meaning to life.  The hills tell me of times past, the flowers and the birds talk of now whilst the wind portends the future.  Experience tells me we are truly part of an inter-related totality.”

“Just another discourse,” called a derisive voice. I ignored it.

“And if we are all one,” I continued, “then surely we are all equal. Yes, from here I can see it, biospherical egalitarianism.  We share all, including our lives, each of us eventually giving up life, or more precisely Self, that others can live.”

“I think you have got it,” said Arne. “that deep pleasure that comes from close partnership with other forms of life.”

“Yes,” I cried, excited now, “and symbiosis follows naturally as we work together and diversity too as we celebrate life in many different ways.”

“And pollution and resource depletion…” offered Arne.

“Must be banished,” I continued. “Pollution poisons life and life is not a resource to be taken at will.”

“And local autonomy and the rejection of class follow naturally too,” finished the religious man, “as we are all equal and must respect the right of others to live their lives their way.”

“Metaphysics, metaphysics, more made-up metaphysics.” called mocking voices from the background.

“Dogmatic and misanthropic (Bookchin, 1987),” shouted others.

“There is much resistance to the idea of biospherical egalitarianism,” said the religious man.

“Well I am certainly not misanthropic,” said Arne, “I respect all life, and that includes human life (Naess, 1987). Nor am I dogmatic, I welcome a plurality of views.  Witness my Apron diagram.  I welcome any number of views.”

“But what of those with no philosophical or religious views?” I asked.

“If you mean those with no underlying belief in the nature of reality, those who travel through life on a veneer of words saying that is all there is,” he replied, “or perhaps those who suggest every problem, every issue, must and can only be analysed within its context, then I suggest they think again. Their reasoning will always start somewhere.  And from there they may or may not find their way to deep ecology and the inter-relatedness of everything.  Deep ecology is neither provable nor disprovable but it always remains possible.”

“And it offers a reason to live,” I added. “A way that is neither dominated nor dominant.  Maybe it’s a discourse that makes me think that is good, or maybe it is simply good.  Either way it is a belief system worth holding.”

“It is probably true we can never know what is True,” said Herr Heidegger, who had just joined us.

“But what we must always anguish over what it might be and with it the meaning of our existence,” said the man with the pronounced French accent who had accompanied him.

“And the way I see it,” said a third voice, “if we are not sure about something we can always say ‘well we can’t know whether this is true or not but for the time being we will allow it as a proposition and see if it works’ (Sills, 1995). A chap called Hegel used to always be saying it, called it the principle of determinate negation as I recall.  It has certainly helped me make a decision or two. ”

“That’s a useful idea,” I said, “I am forever the sceptic but maybe I can look at the world from a deep ecology perspective and see if it works.”

“Arne is very convincing,” said the man in green.

“He is,” I replied. “I was educated to believe in science and the superiority of rational thinking and logic but a lifetime of observation has made me sceptical.  It seems riven with argument and at times prone to over confident and even erroneous claims.  My mother pushed me towards Christianity, a journey I have made several times returning unconvinced.  And my uncle was a philosopher, and it was he who pointed me to the East many years ago.  I have never forgotten his directions and I was pleased to make a return trip recently.”

“All these experiences and more,” I continued, “concur with what Arne has to say. I feel very comfortable with his ideas.”

“Good,” said Arne.

“I don’t get it. Why are you so sceptical of science?” asked Professor Science, stepping forward and looking puzzled.

The latest performance was just ending,At the start I followed a bridle path through fields of green corn that rolled away on either side of me. And interspersed throughout the fields were magnificent oak trees becoming, in the distance, woods of oak and beech that stretched over the surrounding hills.  I could have been walking through a Constable painting or in a Victorian novel.  I passed four fine horses, skylarks sang, two grey partridges followed the path about a hundred yards in front of me and a glorious yellowhammer flew up into a tree on my right.

Towards the end of my walk I passed through some woods. The understorey was rich, pink campion stood nearly three feet high and there were clouds of gleaming white stitchwort abundantly dispersed.  I crossed a meadow amidst purple vetch and yellow buttercups, eventually finding some ponds.  Red and blue damselflies flitted robotically from reed to reed then a glorious golden chaser rose out of a ditch to claim the airspace, whirring in a large circle, wary of me, but knowing this was his territory.

I passed a notice board proclaiming the history of the common and I felt deeply aware of the interconnectedness of everything.

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WOULD-BE ENVIRONMENTAL ACCOUNTANT MEETS MOTHER NATURE IN A PUB – A DIALOGUE (Act One)

Act One – Who am I and what can I know?  

In the background a soothsayer began his tale, “I was walking in Wales yesterday.”

“Accounting,” she said, “was the first step in the fall of man.”

“How do you make that out?” I said.

“First there was we,” she replied. “Then there was I, quickly followed by he and then it.  Then there was he has more of it than I!”

“But what has that got to do with accounting and the fall of man?” I asked.

“At first it did not matter who had what. That was what the Gods had decreed and that was how it was.  Then the Gods were banished and the accountants began to count.  They counted the distance across the plains and the time taken to cross them, they counted the stars in the sky and the hairs on a man’s head, they counted everything; in particular they counted how much he had and then how much he had and indeed how much each and every he had.

Soon they forgot about the plains, the sky and the man. These were replaced by the number and the bigger the number the more impressive, the more important was the number; and lost were the plains, the sky and the man.”

“Hmph!” I replied and walked back to the fire.

“Don’t mind her,” said the smartly dressed man by the fire. “She has done nothing but sulk since we moved into town.  She used to be mayoress but she was so inefficient and we, the newcomers, made so many improvements the people voted our party in.”

“What is she called?” I asked.

“Mother Nature,” he replied. “Don’t get me wrong though, she did a lot of good work and left us a lot of resources to work with, but she just didn’t use them right.”

“That’s right,” said the man in the white coat next to him. “She never bothered to find out how things work, she just left them to chance.  We analysed her output, experimented with it and measured the results.  Before you could say Empiricist we had everything under control and output was soaring.”

“That sounds good,” I responded.

“Oh it is,” said the first man. “Now there are more of us and we all have more. But we haven’t introduced ourselves.  I am Mr Commerce and this is Professor Science.  He knows practically everything and he tells me how things work so I can make money out of it.  I keep most of this money but I give him some so he can find out even more things and I can make even more money.”

“What happens when he knows everything?” I asked.

“Well my colleagues and I are still some way off,” said Professor Science, “so we tend not to think about it. We know we can get there but we are happy just to investigate those areas where the money….”

“What he means,” interspersed Mr Commerce, “is that we humans can have every faith in his ability, we will all continue to benefit from his work and that of his colleagues. And we will of course distribute those benefits fairly and without prejudice through the market where everyone is equal.”

“Like Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.” Mother Nature muttered sardonically as she joined the three of us. With her was an obviously religious man, he wore only a robe and sandals and no ornamentation at all.

“An interesting question, what happens when we know everything?” he commented.

“Sehr interessantes”, said the stocky middle-aged man ordering a drink from the bar. “My friends and I have been discussing the nature of knowledge, and indeed what it is to live, for some time.  Perhaps you would like to join us?”

We moved to join a group of Europeans in the lounge – I heard French and German – and I pondered on how I had got involved in this conversation. My interest was in accounting, environmental management accounting to be precise, and I had been considering the meaning of ‘environmental’ when Mother Nature had started talking to me.  Maybe she had read my notes over my shoulder.

Strangely enough the first voice I heard was that of a young Englishman (Wilson, 2001). “You are obviously struggling with something,” he said, “you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t.  It’s that question ‘Why?’ I can tell.  Well I have conversed with thinkers from Blake to Nietzsche, from Kierkegaarde to Sartre.  With writers that include Dostoevsky and Camus.  Each found their own answers.  Some of them are here maybe you can talk to them.”

Then he was gone, on reflection maybe he was never there. Perhaps he was just a memory.  That’s one of my problems; I have always struggled to decide what is real and what is just in my head.

“I just heard my name.” said a man, presumably a pastor judging by his dress, in a Danish accent. “My name is Kierkegaarde, Soren Kierkegaarde.”

“Yes,” I replied. “Somebody just said that you knew the answer to the question ‘Why?’ and me, well I wonder ‘Why’ people should care for the environment.  I know I do but I don’t know why.  To be honest I am not even sure anymore what the ‘environment’ is.”

“I doubt you will ever find the answer those questions.   Life is a personal and subjective experience and I doubt there is any all-encompassing understanding of the universe in which we live (Hannay, 1991, Westphal, 1998, Blattner, 2006).”

“Absolutely,” said the man to his left. “As my friend Edmund Husserl says things depend on our experience of them and what we bring to them (Polt, 1999, Blattner, 2006).”

“How do you mean?” I asked.

“Life is short,” he replied, “and it has no fixed nature. Its essence “lies in its to be” (Blattner, 2006, p35).  We are simply thrown into the world and must somehow make sense of it.  We have to find our own reason for life (Polt,1999) as it constantly unfolds before us.”

“Humans have always wondered about the nature of the universe and our world in particular,” spoke a quiet voice from behind me. It was the religious man I had noticed earlier.  “Judaism, Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism all have their roots in writings more than 2,500 years old and these religions have, to various degrees, sought to describe the universe and ascribe meaning to it.”

“I have little time for religion,” responded the speaker.

“Me too,” I ventured bravely, “I have searched for God many times but whenever I come close He or She eludes me.”

“It is true many religions such as Judaism and Christianity and Islam find meaning in God. The universe is explained in terms of God the creator who is an omnipresent and omniscient being,” replied the religious man.  “Through him those who follow the religion are able to understand their existence.”

“Yes,” said Kierkegaard re-entering the conversation. “I have found understanding in my religion.  You see we have to make choices.  But the important thing is, having made a choice, to commit to it with passion.”

“Life appears to be about choices then?” I asked metaphorically. “I suppose it is possible to make sense of it through God.  A man I know (McIntosh, 2004) unwraps a version of Christianity wherein God is much more allegorical figure, representative rather than real, yet still personal to those who choose to communicate with Him or Her; but I doubt that this is the God most Christians (or Jews or Moslems) believe in.”

“I am not sure about ‘choices’,” responded the still unnamed speaker. “There are many ways to see the world.  We live in it with Others and draw knowledge from them from the very beginning.  Consequently the way we see the world is shaped by them and as such is ‘inauthentic’; it is not how we would see it, it is how ‘they’ see it. It is important that we are aware of this and perhaps seek after the ‘authentic’ Truth in so far as this is possible.”

“Where do you begin?” I asked. “Take God for example.  Surely a creator who is omnipresent and omniscient would mean a universe in which all life is surely pre-determined and the nature of agency severely limited if not non-existent?  That would render this conversation meaningless for a start!”

“Go on,” said the religious man.

“Well part of me, the rational part, says the idea of an all powerful, omnipresent God is unnecessary, a little self-serving even. Mankind can’t understand the universe so he invents a figure who can.  He then gives this figure human and super-human attributes; the former allowing him to associate with said figure, the latter allowing the figure to know what mankind can’t know. I do not see the need for this figure.  Yet part of me sees how important God is to many people, and I remember that our knowledge is limited, thus I have to leave room for the possibility He or She exists.”

“In the East,” said the religious man, “they went a different way, two different ways perhaps. Initially there were many gods and in parts there still are, further East gods have had less of a part to play.

“Ah, the gods,” said Mother Nature, “my incestuous children sired by their half brothers – mankind. Together they sought to make sense of the world we shared.  That is until the voice of Reason lost sight of sense and feeling and sought to portray the world as words and numbers.”

“And a good job too.” said Mr Commerce. “We are all infinitely better off since we listened to Reason.  Since he appeared we have been able to curtail your more perverse creations and turn the world into a better place.  With due thanks to Professor Science of course.”

“Oh thank you,” responded the Professor, sounding a little embarrassed.

“Interesting that,” said a tall, rather stern looking lady in glasses. “I was talking to a man called John Steinbeck the other day and he said how we might know of something, that is have feelings about it, yet not have a word for it; ‘man has to have feelings and then words before he can come close to thought and, in the past at least, that has taken a long time’ he said (Steinbeck, 1965).

“The gods are alive and well in the Upanishads,” continued the religious man, ignoring the interruptions. “They continue to help people understand those things that lie beyond Reason’s voice.  But there are those who have never sought their help. They simply talk of the Tao, the Way (Tzu,1963).  For them ‘The way is forever nameless (ibid, p37).  For them ‘there is no reason for us to assume that the totally real is totally knowable’ (ibid, pxix).”

“Now I might be able to live with that,” remarked the (still) unnamed speaker.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“It matters not who he is,” interrupted a man with a pronounced French accent.

“More important is who he is to be.” he continued smiling to himself, he seemed to have made a joke. “Like many of us here, my friend Gabriel Marcel (Reynolds, 2006) calls us the Existentialists, he wonders about what it means to be. Who are we?  What are we?  Now me I see us as being and having consciousness, and through that we come to exist as our Self (Sartre, 1973, Barnes,1992).  Perhaps, even, as that Self that Mother Nature appears to dislike so much?”

“Have you ever seen this Self?” shouted a young German voice impatiently (Heaton and Groves, 2009) from a corner of the room. “Self is just another word in a lexicon that is the world we know, the only world we can know.”

“C’est vrai,” echoed a number of French voices.

Ignoring them the Frenchman continued, “However as I see it we must also recognise there is an aspect of us that depends on our recognition by Others (being-for-others). We exist in the space between Others.  Essentially our existence depends on the existence of Others (Sartre, 1973).”

“I like that idea,” I said, “but now, having heard those calling in the background, it appears I have another decision to make. First God or no God.  Now Self or no Self. Furthermore if Self does exist how do I deal with the Others who seem to make me what I am?”

“Followers of the Tao,” responded the religious man, “would probably not recognise the metaphysical nature of your enquiry. However they would be comfortable with your quest to know how to live.  The Taoist book Tao Te Ching is very short and though said to be by Lao Tzu it is often considered to be an anthology bringing together the ideas of a number of Chinese authors who offer advice on how to live and how to govern.”

“But that sounds like just another book on etiquette,” I replied.

“In some ways yes,” he returned. “but remember the Tao tells us that not everything is knowable.  It gives advice but implicit in that is that we must make our own way.”

“Selbstverstandlich,” said the (still) unknown but now obviously German speaker.

“I should also say there is further advice from the East,” continued the religious man, “which is relevant to Self.”

“And that is?” I asked.

“It comes from Buddhism.” he replied, “Buddhism too is more about how to act and behave (Conze, 1994) but equally it seems to recognise Self in that it suggests we lose it in our search for contentment (Zimmerman, 2006).”

“I am thinking particularly of a confluence of Buddhism and Tao which became known as Ch’an Buddhism in China and Zen Buddhism in Japan (Suzuki, 1991). Zen is a systematic training of the mind which claims to reveal the mystery of existence in the ‘most uninteresting and uneventful life of the plain man in the street’ (ibid, p45).  Zen believes that the answer to this mystery lies within all of us and to find it we need to acquire a new viewpoint or satori.  This requires a systematic stripping away of pre-conceived notions, of logic and analysis, and the opening up of an inner consciousness.  This inner consciousness is beyond any logical statement we can make but through it we will experience Nirvana.”

“Whoa,” I said, “Now that is metaphysical.”

“Yes it is”, said an wise-looking, avuncular chap with a moustache. “and westerners have difficulty with satori because it goes beyond rationality and can only be experienced.  It defies logic and consciousness.  I suspect it is an experience drawn directly from the unconscious and ‘an answer of Nature’ (ibid, p20).  By unconscious I mean ‘the matrix of all metaphysical assertions, of all mythology, all philosophy (in so far as it is not merely critical) and all forms of life which are based upon psychological suppositions’ (ibid, p23).  Zen is the product of some of the most venturesome minds of the East over the last two thousand years.  In the west only Goethe or Nietzsche have come close to touching the sort of experience that is satori”

A dark figure at the back of the room groaned and this was echoed by the Frenchmen who cheered the young German earlier. I guessed they were critical of his implicit acceptance of Self.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“My name is Jung and my calling is psychology and psycho-analysis,” he replied.

“He besmirches the science of psychology with his outdated ideas,” cried a French voice. “There is no Self, no consciousness that we can ever know.  There are only words and logical analysis.”

“Precisely what Zen seeks to bypass,” I said, “yet you say there is nothing else. What can I make of that?”

The dark figure stirred. “Whilst I despise metaphysics I understand the need to know who we are.  The answer surely lies within us, words are inadequate, and it is for us to search for it.  Friend Martin seems to have eventually found his answer in art and poetry – Goethe even (Blattner, 2006) – so maybe Carl Gustav has a point.  And surely I will die searching for who I am.”

It seems the unknown earlier speaker was Martin Heidegger. I was to find out later the dark figure was Friederick Nietzsche.

“None of this helping much,” I said, “I have yet to decide if I – that is my Self – exist at all. Still less do I know about any Others.”

“Well let me tell you what I know about Self,” said a smart looking lady. She reminded me of my doctor.  “I too am a psychologist and have studied the mind and human behaviour for many years, that’s what we psychologists do (Gross, 2010).”

“And, I might add,” she said with a questioning look at Jung, “we do it in a scientific manner.”

“Quite right,” said Professor Science.

“There are several approaches to psychology (Gross, 2010),” continued the smart looking lady. “The earliest scientific approach was behaviourism which is in essence an empirical approach seeing the mind as inaccessible and choosing to observe human behaviour and measure it in some way.”

“Very good,” said Professor Science.

Personally I was unsure what this might tell me about Self and I said as much.

“The next development was probably his field,” she continued pointing at Jung, “Psychodynamism! He and his friends Adler and Freud made up models of the mind in order to explain behaviour.”

There was more than a hint of sarcasm in her voice. There was also some cheering in the background, egging her on.  Metaphysics was certainly unpopular in some quarters.

“I merely found a way to explain what I observed,” retorted Jung. “The model of Self, including the conscious and unconscious Self, worked in that it explained what I saw and was useful in my work as a psychotherapist.  Ultimately I had no reason to disbelieve that we, that is our Selves, did not exist.”

“Well,” I said, “the idea of Self certainly seems to fit in with some of these Eastern ideas, but as a sort of hindrance to contentment.”

“Obviously my earlier comments on Zen show I broadly agree with your point,” said Jung. “I would also add that man often loses sight of who he is ‘putting his own conception of himself in place of his real being’ (Jung, 2002, p58).”

“So you think that we have a Self but it is somehow deluded into thinking it is something else,” I commented. “I guess that ties in with Herr Heidegger’s idea of inauthentic knowledge, perhaps we have been mislead, not necessarily on purpose, by Others.  And perhaps Satori is an experience wherein we see through this inauthentic knowledge and experience who we truly are.”

“And perhaps we even find a collective unconsciousness,” whispered Jung, more uncertain now.

“Or perhaps Self simply disappears,” suggested the religious man.

“Perhaps the young German chap was right,” I said slowly. “Perhaps Self is just a word given to us as a way to understand our perceptions.  A heritage passed down by Others who also think of themselves as Selfs.  Perhaps there is no Self.”

“OK that’s enough of that,” said the Psychologist lady, “Let’s get back to what we can know.”

“Humanist psychology developed in the 1950s and probably the most famous exponent is Maslow who intimated the ultimate human goal is self-actualisation (Maslow, 1954) where one becomes everything one is capable of becoming.”

“Hmm,” said the religious man, “This, in part at least, reminds me of the Hindu idea of self-realization (Narasimhan, et al., 2010, Narayanan, 2010).”

“And satori and Nirvana,” I added.

“Not so,” said the Psychologist lady. “Humanism was a product of Modernity, men-and-women kind would make their own futures.  Herr Jung and his friends talked of a Self determined by Others, hinting at deeper, unknowable forces.”

“Maybe, just maybe they were partly right,” I responded. “As I just said perhaps Self is given to us by Others as a way of understanding our perceptions, and maybe as part of that gift we are introduced to the idea of making choices.  I guess I am wondering whether there is a pre-existing Self, an Id as Freud (1923/1960) might put it, or a simply a Self given to us by others.  I guess I will never know, both ideas are metaphysical and beyond our reach.”

“Following humanism we have cognitive psychology,” continued the Psychologist with a touch of boredom bordering on impatience. “Cognitive psychologists do not try to build a model but seek to understand human thought by way of analogy and metaphor.  They compare thought processes with computer processes for example.  In this way they move beyond the limits of pure logic and induction.  This is actually a fault with both humanism and cognitive psychology, they put forward theories that cannot be proven empirically.”

“Quite so”, said Professor Science.

“Social constructionism came next,” said the Psychologist. “It has been described as follows ‘We are born into a world where the conceptual frameworks and categories used by the people of our culture already exist…Concepts and categories are acquired by each person as they develop the use of language and are thus reproduced every day by everyone who shares a culture and language.  This means that the way a person thinks, the very categories and concepts that provide a meaning for them, are provided by the language that they use.  Language is therefore a necessary pre-condition for thought as we know it (Burr, 2003).’  Essentially there is only language and our understanding of the world is framed by our words.  Psychologists must work within this frame.”

There was some more cheering from the French crowd at the back.

“I am not sure if I accept that,” I said. “That stern lady with the glasses reminded us of what John Steinbeck said about feelings coming before words.”

“I’m the Librarian,” shouted the lady from the back.

“That’s up to you,” said the Psychologist, now definitely impatient. “The final type of psychology I have in mind is evolutionary psychology.  This suggests the mind has evolved in much the same way as any other bodily organ.  According to this theory there are certain traits ‘hardwired’ into our way of thinking, for example the need for a mate, that give rise to feelings and emotions in a pre-determined way.  Everything we are and what we do can be traced back to our evolution and as scientists we are searching for evidence to prove this.”

“So we are back to determinism,” I said. “We are a product of chemical reactions over time which in turn give rise to traits that make us human?”

“Well I won’t accept that,” said the Frenchman who had spoken earlier. “Existence comes before essence (Sartre, 1973?).

“In my heart I agree,” I said, “but my head knows we cannot know.”

“As Richard Rorty (1991) said,” spoke the Librarian in confirmation, “there is no “God’s-eye point of view” or a “sky-hook” that will lift us above the world to see the Truth.”

“If you have finished,” called out a man in green, “I am an Ecopsychologist and I note you have omitted to mention my craft.”

“I wonder why?” said the Psychologist sarcastically.

“Because you science types won’t acknowledge anything that can’t be measured,” replied the man in green. “Ecopsychology however has a good pedigree.  Robert Greenaway, a writer who worked for Maslow no less, can probably be named as the founder of ecopsychology though he referred to it as psychoecology.  He also explored something called transpersonal psychology which is a psychology that ‘embraces and draws upon the wisdom of the world’s spiritual traditions and the developments in modern psychology’ (Www.Transpersonalcentre.Co.Uk/About) something which also interested our friend Carl Gustav (Jung, 1991, 2002).”

“The term ecopsychology itself appears to have been invented by Theodore Roszak (1992). He actually defined it (Roszak, 1994) as (1) an emerging synthesis of ecology and psychology, (2) the skilful application of ecological insights to the practice of psychotherapy, (3) the discovery of our emotional bond with the planet, and (4) defining ‘sanity’ as if the whole world mattered (Schroll, 2007)  In other words a psychology that acknowledges our place as part of, not just in, the world.

My ears pricked up. I wanted to know why people might be interested in the environment.  Here was something that felt very relevant.

The soothsayer was finishing his tale, “I had intended to walk around the Cwm Eigau horseshoe; a ten mile hike over Carneddy Llewellyn, the second highest mountain in Wales. Not for the first time this mountain threw me off, I barely reached the shoulder before I decided I had had enough.  But only in defeat can one advance and as I reflected on the experience I learned a little more about patience, spirituality and humility.  I felt closer to my Self to use a Zen expression.  And the world around me joined in my celebration, I saw a whinchat and heard a cuckoo plus a host of other, more familiar friends.”

 

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WOULD-BE ENVIRONMENTAL ACCOUNTANT MEETS MOTHER NATURE IN A PUB – A DIALOGUE (introduction)

LIST OF CHARACTERS

Mother Nature                                                   Mr Commerce

Professor Science                                             Religious Man

Young Englishman                                             Soren Kierkegaard

Martin Heidegger                                               Unidentified Frenchman

Librarian Lady                                                     Young German

Carl Gustav Jung                                               Friederich Nietzsche

Psychologist Lady                                               Ecopsychologist

Arne Naess                                                         The Romantic

Michel Foucault                                                American Academic 1

American Academic 2                                       Geographer

Sociologist                                                         Policy Maker

Angry Voice                                                        Reconciliatory Voice

 

LIST OF ACTS

Act One – Who am I and what can I know?

Act Two – Deep ecology and belief systems.

Act Three – Exploring the limitations of science.

Act Four – Knocking at the foundations of capitalism

Act Five – The nature of nature

Introduction

Our hero, an ex-management accountant, has recently read stories of environmental management accounting and despite many years in the field of management accounting he has never heard of, let alone witnessed, this phenomenon. He is now on a journey to find what people mean when they refer to accounting and to the environment and, indeed, what he means.

In the course of this journey he now finds himself in a large dimly-lit hostelry which has one large reception lounge in which guests can congregate. It is an ‘Open-Mic’ night with a ‘Nature’ theme.  Would be minstrels are playing songs, reciting poetry and telling tales.  A fire burns in a hearth to the side of the bar, away from the bar and the hearth the room gets progressively darker.  In the darkness there are an indistinguishable but seemingly large number of tables, most of which are occupied.

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REFLECTIONS ON THE CAPE WRATH ULTRA

What an exhilarating experience! I have not been able to put the CWU out of my head for over a week now.  And the continuing flow of photographs only adds to the continuing flow of thought.

I didn’t complete the distance, I doubt I ever had the miles in my legs or even the desire in my heart to make that possible. I love our world, the Nature that it is and the people within that Nature.  In truth I signed up for the CWU to bathe in that Nature, present in Scotland in near pristine form, and hoped my legs would take me through it.  I thought the experience would primarily bring me into contact with the Planet but I got People as well.  People of a kind I have never knowingly met before; inspiring, interesting people, very much ordinary people but in the context of the CWU, very different people.

Day Zero reminded me of how little I knew about the challenge ahead. I sort of knew, I had already had to learn about GPX files so I could follow the route on my computer.  I was however going to work from map and compass as I always had in Scotland, I love maps and the stories they tell.  On this Saturday though I was told my basic kit was lacking and I had to learn more about waterproofing before darting off to Fort William to buy more appropriate gear.

Saturday night was when I first began to meet the people I would spend the next few days with. I was curious though somewhat distracted by a very stressed swallow that had got itself trapped in the big hall.

Day One began differently, a ferry trip across Loch Linnhe and a welcome by a piper. The route itself was pretty plain really, unnoteworthy even.  I may be doing it an injustice though as I spent most of the time talking to Basil.  From him I began to learn more about the whole ultra distance and endurance racing scene; my curiosity grew, what kind of people did this stuff and why?

We eventually arrived at Glenfinnan with its famous ‘Harry Potter’ viaduct and I got to meet the guys in my tent. Open, good-natured and witty they were as good a group of people I have ever met.  I can count the number of days I have spent in a tent since my Army days back in the 1970s on one hand.  However these tents were luxurious compared to those Army tents.  That said it still took me four days to learn how to organise myself and my kit therein – my shortcomings, not the tents.

Day Two was a long walk with treasures at the end. The glorious sea lochs of Knoydart were breath taking.  I may go again.  Of course my boring, rational brain reminds me of the strength-sapping trudge across the Carnach estuary and the short but brutal hills that sneaked in at the end of the day, but in reality they were nothing.  My legs felt fresh along the road to Kinloch Hourn.

Day Three, what can I say? My legs are made for loping across undulating dales and rolling hills.  The mighty Forcan stood too tall and too straight.  The climb tore the air from my lungs and strength from my legs.  By the time I rounded his shoulder and reached the descent the field had vanished, just a few spots of colour denoted back markers.  “Run,” my brain screamed, “with the help of gravity you can start to get back.”  In the words of Madness, “Oh what fun we had.”  The angle of the hill seemed perfectly inclined to ensure the peat slid from under my feet. Down once, down twice….and so on, a veritable human toboggan sliding over (through?) the soft damp soil.  By the time I reached the river crossing it seemed all over, I would be timed out at Checkpoint 1.  I relaxed, strolled even, through the woods at the bottom of the glen.  I even bought a book at the garage to ensure I wouldn’t be bored during the afternoon.  I got to the checkpoint.  What a fool, the cut-off was 12.30 not 11.30, I was still in.  You have to laugh.

At the café just down the road I regrouped, got the map out and formed a strategy. With my legs and lungs recovered I strode off. Alone with the nature I love I was energised, the walk to the Falls of Glomach was surreal, I floated along.  The walk above the Falls was exciting with just a hint of exposure; then, realising I had another checkpoint to make, I upped the pace and made it through the second cut-off.  The green glen became peaty moor and a wonderful feeling of space enveloped me.  I stopped for another regroup at the bothy at Loch Cruoshie and loped across the open country to the wire bridge.  It had to be crossed didn’t it?  Pushing along the next loch though I began to realise that I would be hard put to make camp by eleven.  I wasn’t tired but I couldn’t move any faster.  Two figures suddenly appeared, I was pulled.  Ian and Dave were apologetic; there was no need, I understood.

The drive back to camp was magical. We moved over mountain tracks following a circuitous path back to the road and the hills glowed red in the light of the setting sun.  I fell asleep towards the end and when we got back to camp I was suddenly cold and shivering.  No need to fret, Jack Cooper and Becci Leung threw my sleeping bag round my shoulders and poured warm tea down my throat before making sure I ate and got to my tent safely.  So much to thank them and all the support team for!

I was allowed to start Day Four at Checkpoint 1 – thank you Shane for letting the adventure continue. The climb to the falls behind Ben Eighe was surprisingly steep, maybe due to the lack of adrenalin now.  I then seemed to fall in at the back of a small group as we descended the boulder field and crossed the lumpy terrain going east.  They lost me at the bealach as they descended at pace.  Working under the instruction of my bruised toes I took the white, stony path much more leisurely.  I have to admit I didn’t much like that path.  But there is always a silver lining if you look; at the end of the path was Kinlochewe, a village with a shop and a pub.  I enjoyed an orange and a banana before my favourite meal of the trip – a sort of veggie sausage casserole – and then a pint of bitter shandy at the pub.

Day Five was my favourite day of the adventure. The long gentle climb up the glen and through the forest; the short stretch of rough ground across the river and on to Loch na Nid.  I made a short stop at the river to fill my water bottle and have something to eat.  As fellow competitors crossed the river in kaleidoscopic, colourful flow I gazed south at into the endless landscape.  I made another stop at the river crossing at the end of the loch.  Under a bright blue sky that sculptured the mountains into giants I lost myself in the moment.  The journey continued over gentle hills across soft, welcoming peat that absorbed and dissipated the stress on my joints.  I was refreshed and ran and skipped, as I would as a youth, down the hill to Inverlael.  A perfect day.

Such is fate that Day Six was where I found my nadir. It started well; another gentle climb through the forest and a soft peaty traverse across rough ground.  But my mindset was wrong; I was rushing, racing even.  No longer was I in the landscape, I was chasing it.  It took the shoe from my foot, I lost ground and chased harder.  My fellow runners were racing east of the river when my map said we should be to the west.  Did it matter?  I followed them, there must have been a route change.  We went down into the river valley and the shape of the land was lost.  I worried unduly, where were we going?  I had to stop and re-orientate.

The glade was beautiful and for the first time in my life I used a Garmin that someone had bought me long ago. I got a grid reference and found my way to the river crossing.  This was not without difficulty as the river runs through an overgrown gorge and the crossing is not quite where it was shown on the route map.  Time was lost finding it.  I then crossed the rough ground to Loch an Daimh.  I accelerated but there was no-one in sight.  To my eternal chagrin gremlins began to creep into my mind.

The path was endlessly boring leading to an equally boring forest trail. For the first and only time my head failed me; could I be bothered with 20 or miles of this?  I tried to find friends that might help me, lift my spirits, inspire me.  Was that a Northern Emerald (an uncommon and very local dragonfly)?  But the forest was a barren, man-made structure imposed on the landscape.  I slowed and eventually failed to make Checkpoint 1 on time.

Day Seven was a new day; I was to be allowed to start at Checkpoint 1. As this was far into the race there would only be about 12 miles to cover but at least I could rejoin the landscape.  There was just short of a dozen of us who had failed to make Checkpoint 1 the previous day and we waited, full of anticipation, to join the race.  We had to wait for the first competitor to go through so it was a long wait – I even fell asleep for a while – and when he, Marcus of course, went through we followed like greyhounds from a trap.

The track was peat – bliss – and I strode out. There was some rough, boggy ground to a peaty path by the loch.  My kind of country and I was running again.  The final four miles followed a hard, winding and undulating road under a baking sun.  No matter I pressed on and even ran down the hill to the finish.  Another good day which was made even better by a walk to the Spar in Kinlochbervie for a coffee and an ice-cream.  Well worth the extra couple of miles.

So to the final day. A damp start as the clouds kissed the hills but underfoot it was my terrain again.  I strode on along the peaty paths to the glorious beach at Sandwood Bay.  The shifting sand slowed my pace but it mattered not.  This golden jewel of the highlands, so different from what had gone before, filled me with energy and pushed me forward.  Indeed so full of energy was I that I decided to hop from rock to rock at River Crossing 2.  Oh dear that sloping rock was slippery – I had my first bath for 9 days; thank goodness the maps were waterproof.  What was there to do but laugh and press on?  I paused for a sandwich at the Bay of Keisgaig and watched the seabirds flying to and from the cliffs, I was back in the landscape not on it.  More peat, heather, grass and rivers later I climbed to the road and walked the last couple of kilometres to join the sea of smiling faces that had done it.  They had made it to Cape Wrath.

Fifty-nine had completed the race; strong, brave men and women. Faltering on Day 3 I could not match their gargantuan effort and they have my full admiration.  But I had had a wonderful time.  I had revisited Scottish friends; hills, birds and flowers (and even a couple of beetles) that I had not seen for a few years.  Green tiger beetles and devil’s coach horses; a possible chequered skipper; plants including butterwort, lousewort, milkwort, heath spotted orchid and bog myrtle, and higher up alpine ladies mantle; hooded crows, twite, whinchats, redpolls and siskins; I never got to see a golden eagle but no matter, maybe next time.  The hills are too numerous to mention individually but the Torridon Mountains and the hills of Assynt, built of ancient stone, made up a joyous reunion full of memories.

I can’t thank everybody, runners and supporters, enough. I scarcely heard one groan all week, the air was full of positivity, good cheer and just simple happiness through the entire week.  It was a privilege to be part of it.

As to the future, will I repeat it, try and complete the race? No.  I achieved what I hoped to achieve – a shared journey in the landscape of Scotland.  In fact I more than achieved it thanks to my fellow participants who helped make it such a joy.  I will return to walk those parts of the Trail I missed, and I may even repeat certain sections, but I am not a true Ultra racer.  I hate running with something on my back though I am happy to walk for miles.  I can see a future racing along Trails for maybe 2 or 3 hours, searching for that happy spot when the self vanishes and you become simply the runner.  I can also see long distance walks along trails when I lose myself in the landscape.   Whatever you the reader see for yourself, I wish you well.

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