Mediacology: Media Networks, Deep Ecology and the Dream of the Planet

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The second of the Evolver Academy online courses offered this summer is the author's "Mediacology: Media Networks, Deep Ecology and the Dream of the Planet." In this essay, he discusses the ideas and intentions behind the class, which begins on July 20.  

The Course

Are we evolving an ecologically oriented global consciousness, or just a technologically efficient corporate brain? It depends on whether or not we can decolonize the future. Doing so means a deep interrogation of our current cultural trajectory. As such, ecopsychologists argue that modern Western civilization is the result of ecological schizophrenia. The vision of the global village is no different; it pits two worldviews against each other, one of a nature-inspired planetary dream (anima mundi), and the other of a mechanized corporate dreamworld, called the "invader dreaming" by Australian Aborigines. This course aims to give shape to these different visions in the context of Deep Ecology, ecopsychology and techno-Utopianism. The "dream of the planet" is one that is inherent to us all, and is part of the evolutionary heritage that ties us within an interdependent biosphere, but it must be separated from the corporate paradigm that currently dominates our social system. By identifying these different visions, we can imagine a just and sustainable future, rather than the corporate version promoted in popular culture. In this course we combine theory and practice through a unique combination of ecoliteracy and media literacy techniques that enable us to harness tools of media technology to fulfill our evolutionary potential and build a sustainable society. This course is open to anyone interested in global, evolutionary change.

The Vision

If you can't imagine a future, you will live in someone else's. That was the sagest advice a close friend-who was a Buddhist, anthropologist and ecological educator-once gave me. But imagination without sense of ecological justice is just as bad. So what future are we aiming for? As a fellow "New Edger" I believe that many of the ideas I'm exploring in my course, "Mediacology: Media Networks, Deep Ecology and the Dream of the Planet" will resonate with RS readers. Like you, I'm a believer in the big changes and challenges before us. In our process, many of us mix New Age optimism (and naiveté) with arts, culture, community activism and media making as we feel our way through humanity's current phase of evolution. Our quirky mix of spirituality, techno-Utopianism, ecological consciousness and Gen X skepticism makes us a diverse community-a necessary precursor for evolutionary shifting-but also one that overdoes postmodern thinking. In other words, we're good at engaging a chaotic and confused stew of ideas that can make some actions seem perplexing. Thus, while I believe wholeheartedly that thinking is for doing, many of us do without thinking. That is, we follow our hearts without considering the implications of the kinds of futuristic projects that excite our imaginations. My course looks more deeply at the assumptions of our vision for the global future, in particular around ecological and media activism represented by the "global village." A little DIY theory can go along ways towards clarifying the intentions of our movement and to critically engage the beliefs that drive the work we do.

My tool is to hybridize ecology with media – what I call "mediacology" – so we can shape an emerging form of communications that will push humanity's next evolutionary leap in the direction of sustainability. Doing so means becoming DIY anthropologists and philosophers who understand media in its various forms as holographic projections of the "operating system" of our world and global subcultures. By mapping realities in order to devise strategies for survival, we can us a kind of pattern recognition long used by colonized cultures to identify dangerous strains of consciousness. Consider the following story as one example for understanding how this works. When the Hopi first encountered the Spanish they saw the crucifix as an indication of a mindset: intersecting linear lines represented a grid of materialistic space-time. With no circle accompanying the cross, the Hopi realized that the Spanish mentality – though good at reconfiguring the material world – would be disastrous for nature and Native peoples because it would be incapable of seeing the connections between material transformation and its impact on ecology and culture. They understood – as should we – that an unbalanced linear mind is not only disastrous for the environment, but when it projects itself into a global economic system it becomes a kind of codified insanity as well. This story is a simplification, of course, because not all Spanish colonists were pure linear thinkers, but the culture that sought to conquer the Americas for its gold and slaves had already placed the sacred inside the church, which by default defined everything else as secular, and hence available for exploitation. Having understood the consequences of thought patterns, the Hopi successfully resisted the Christianization of their people.

Indigenous people around the world have long understood that at the core of the conquest and its more recent manifestation as neoliberal globalization is a disembedded mind which views the body and nature as alien. Vandana Shiva refers to this mentality as monoculture. Australian Aborigines call it the "invader dreaming." Monoculture is an industrial mindset that divides and isolates everything into parts while disregarding the connections between them. The modern roots of this go back to the mechanistic science of Newton, Bacon and Descartes, but we can go further back to the invention of the alphabet as contributing to the left-brain, abstract mode of cultural production that dominates our economics and politics. Initially the Hopi could recognize this mode of thinking because it was alien to them. We, on the other hand, live inside the reality bubble of the "invader dreaming," and often find it difficult to recognize the mentality of conquest because it so perniciously embeds itself within our worldview. As agents for global change what is necessary is to "defamiliarize" destructive thought patterns in order to heal and repair them.

By identifying Western consciousness' dominant mode of reality construction as "monoculture," Shiva has given us an excellent, descriptive paradigm that works on multiple levels of reality. For example, with food production if you compare monoculture (single crop, large scale farming) to an integrative agricultural design like the Native American traditional practice of the "three sisters" (corn, beans and squash) grown in concert, you see a vast difference. In the latter case, the three plants compliment and support each other through a sophisticated, interdependent kind of process that is productive for the soil and the nutrients of the plants (and hence healthier for human consumption). By contrast monoculture divides these foods into mass produced crops, which leads to the crazy logic that it is OK to bioengineer plants to commit suicide and to become dependent on pesticides. Moreover, monocultural agriculture is petroleum dependent. By destroying soil and water supplies, monoculture deepens the crisis of climate chaos.

But monoculture is not just a metaphor for corporate agriculture: it is a manifestation of an unsustainable mindset, one that happens to dominate the world economic system. When Gary Snyder says, "‘She's cultured' shouldn't mean elite, but more like ‘well-fertilized,'" he is talking about the difference between a monoculturally conditioned person versus an "organic" one. Thus, one goal for global evolutionaries should be to identify where monocultural thought exists in our system (and hence within ourselves), so we can build organic cultural practices into our daily lives and social design. However, proponents of monoculture are insidious shape shifters, and are quite good at hiding their agenda, so much so that it is often made attractive and entertaining while masking its impact on our ecological selves and systems. The Internet, for example, is wonderful and promising, making our lives much easier by offering great tools for organizing and collective action. It also facilitates the destruction of land and oceans by enabling global financiers to reduce real places and people into charts, graphics and statistics in order to be traded and exploited for markets. Because the line is now blurred between consumer and citizen, with new technologies we often take on the role of consumers without considering the impact of new, sexy tools on democracy, ecology and our psyches. A monoculturally-oriented person would values the flattening of global cultures into consumers, whereas organically-oriented technologists advocate open-source, diverse forms of collective wisdom that come about through sharing and exchanging from the bottom up.

Many of us New Edgers are attracted to Utopian ideas like the global village, planetary consciousness and enlightened media networks, yet we also have to be on guard for how we internalize modes of thought that have built the techno-scientific world we live in. The danger is that in the process of doing our good work, we simultaneously promote the corporate dream world's vision of the future rather than one that honors the dream of Gaia. We can't simply expect technology to cure the problems of global chaos without changing the inner world that built these systems. If it's true that we are in a process of evolution in which we can bifurcate into a more evolved social and planetary reality, then we also need to critically engaging current assumptions we have about the "global brain" and the rise of Utopian consciousness brought about by emerging technologies and culture. We need to critically evaluate terms like development, progress and evolution, and to disengage them from the neoliberal vision of globalization in order to how they play out in our culture.

The Inspiration

The spark to reconcile ecology with electronic media started several years ago when I was attending the Bioneers conference. There I met with a very influential and famous critic of media and technology. As a media literacy educator, I had been inspired by his panel on globalization and was eager to share with him how I thought media literacy could be a great way to educate people about the traps of globalization. After all, advertising serves as the frontline of global markets by softening cultures for neoliberal economic expansion. When I suggested that media literacy – understanding how media influence our belief systems – could help reveal the dangerous ideology of neoliberalism, I was shocked by his response. "I think media literacy is a good thing," the bushy-haired sage of the anti-globalization movement said. "But I'm against it because it makes media more interesting."

Most educators know that half the battle is getting students interested in the material, so it seemed strange that he would decry an approach that is both compelling and important for critically engaging the global economic system. But within my own community of media educators there has been an equally puzzling response to media education that deals with globalization and the environment. Ironically, many media lit folks often see their work as unrelated to the pressing ecological issues of our time, yet if you explore the main tributaries of media education, you would see that they are all intimately connected to ecology. Tobacco, obesity, violence, fast food, sugar, war, and corporate control are among many of the common topics explored by the media literacy agenda, and they all are connected to the ecological crisis of our age. So what gives?

I understand why many ecological activists distrust technology and how making it sexier could deepen our technological mindset, yet mass media also offer an excellent mirror for how the system "thinks." But simple media analysis is not enough, either. For example, media literacy advocates are great at using their skill for deconstructing tobacco industry marketing tactics, but without applying an ecological perspective to the system of corporate agriculture, they fail to connect how the system that produces commercial tobacco also drives the production of bottled water, soda, industrial dairy and meat, refined sugar, and a host of other addictive products (walk into any 7-Eleven and the inventory gives a nice overview of the chief products of this system). If you dig even deeper, you also see that this constellation of industrial farming practices is dependent on globalization and oil. As Shiva notes in Soil Not Oil, industrial agriculture, peak oil and climate chaos are intimately connected. You cannot address one without the other. Nor can we address ecological consciousness without first deeply comprehending how media impact or belief systems. Just as Buddhists advocate a mindful approach to see how our thinking distorts reality, we must be "media mindful" in order maneuver and disengage those thought patterns that persist within media systems that promote a homogenized global village.

The Connection

As I have come to understand sustainability, what I have found is that there is essentially one underlying quality that defines it: making connections. At the root of global chaos and injustice is disconnection from the planet, from each other, from the cosmos and from our internal selves. In the case of environmentalists and media activists not seeing the interrelationship between their work, both suffer from a general condition of European-born consciousness: "disconnectionitis." They are not seeing the relationship between mindfully engaging worldviews expressed in media and using that awareness to reconfigure a world based on sustainable principles.

Part of the problem is how we view communication. Despite the emergence of powerful new paradigms, many activists still operate from an outdated model of communications and media based on classical Enlightenment thinking: that ideas are objects that pass from one rational mind to another. The whole notion that a mind is merely a programmable devise controlled by socially generated memes would mean that a person's consciousness could be downloaded into a machine like the latest hits from iTunes. But consider the implication of such thinking. A disembodied view of information and communication will fail to see that stories (as opposed to "information") exist within environmental contexts and are always a kind of process that shifts according to the conditions they are conveyed in. Our thoughts and ideas are not "delivered" so that we can "get" them, but exist as a result of an interactive, open loop between people and environments communicating in highly complex and interactive ways that are not easily distilled into bytes of information that pass from one storage device to another. What communicators can learn from ecology is that whole systems require us to focus not on inputs and outputs, but on contexts. On this point cognitive science and Buddhism agree: our bodies are receptors of stimulus that is then translated into models of reality, not the other way around. Moreover, our bodies are not on Earth, but in Earth. If we take McLuhan's idea that media are extensions of our nervous system, we should also take seriously the idea that our nervous systems are extensions of Gaia. How, then, will that impact the global media system?

It's important to acknowledge that all theories and models of reality are just stories. As "Westerners" we are caught up in grand narratives conditioned by terms like "progress," "development," "evolution," and "nature" that act as centers of gravity defined by past assumptions. Our models of reality orbit around them for reasons we often take for granted; we engage in Utopian assumptions without realizing their historical contexts. Thus, words and ideas have histories that require unpacking. But that isn't easy. So when it comes to the global village-a beautiful, Utopian idea that is often recycled without deep reflection-my desire is to move outside conditioned concepts and metaphors in order to take a beginner's mind approach.

The Details

My course, "Mediacology: Media Networks, Deep Ecology and the Dream of the Planet," attempts to identify modes of thought that are either beneficial or destructive for the next phase of human evolution. The tool of media literacy is a method that enables us to see how the "invader dreaming" manifests in the corporate propaganda system, and ecoliteracy helps us identify the forms of consciousness that are beneficial and co-evolutionary with Gaia. By exploring deep ecology in the context of media and ecoliteracy, this course will help us know more precisely the modes of consciousness that are leading us towards global catastrophe, and how to remedy these forms of dangerous thinking. I like to think of this in terms of the environmental concept of "remediation," which is a process for repairing damaged ecological zones. In our case we are (re)mediating by repairing a damaged media ecology that promotes unsustainable cultural practices.

This is an "intro" level course (despite my penchant for fancy words), which means anyone with any educational background can participate. We'll take a DIY philosophical and practical approach, drawing upon collective wisdom and dialog for emergent awareness among the course participants-I'll do my best to "keep it real." We'll mix basic readings (along with recommended, deeper readings), online video, and optional exercises. Though I intend for this to be "seminar-like"-lots of discussion based on readings and questions-I will do some short presentations as well.

"Mediacology" is particularly relevant for people engaged in some kind of servant-leadership, such as community activists, media professionals, teachers, designers, and communicators of one sort or another. But I also believe that any concerned citizen can benefit from this course because everyone needs to understand in a deep way how the global system works and in what ways it impacts our view of the present and future. I believe these tools have consciousness shifting potential (done in conjunction with other personal practices like yoga and meditation).

In the six-week workshop we will explore the following themes:

  • Defining ecoliteracy and media literacy

  • Exploring the difference between the "world system" and "organic system"

  • Ecological intelligence: monoculture vs. organic culture

  • Technologies of the Western mind

  • Consumer vs. citizen vs. creator

  • The brain as computer vs. as garden

  • Ecopsychology of the divided mind

  • Communication as objects/things

  • Media mindfulness

  • The bioculturally diverse global village


I don't expect people to buy every book on the topics covered in the course, so I will provide some different tiers of books for deeper exploration for those who wish to do so.

Required books:

Quantum Shift in the Global Brain: How the New Scientific Reality Can Change Us and Our World, Ervin Laszlo

Deep Ecology for the Twenty-First Century, Ed. Georg Sessions

Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World (The Bioneers Series), ed. David W. Orr, Michael K. Stone, Zenobia Barlow, and Fritjof Capra

Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, Allen D. Kanner, Theodore Roszak, and Mary E. Gomes

Highly Recommended:

The Voice of the Earth: An Exploration of Ecopsychology, Theodore Roszak

The Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century (Communication and Society (New York, N.Y.).), Marshall McLuhan and Bruce R. Powers

Monocultures of the Mind: Perspectives on Biodiversity and Biotechnology, Vandana Shiva

The Hidden Connections: A Science for Sustainable Living
, Fritjof Capra

Mediacology: A Multicultural Approach to Media Literacy in the Twenty-first Century (Counterpoints: Studies in the Postmodern Theory of Education)
, Antonio Lopez

The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World
, David Abram

Deep Background:

Tree of Knowledge
, Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco Varela

Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future
, Peter M. Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers

Fair Future: Limited Resources and Global Justice
, Wolfgang Sachs

The Dream of the Earth
, Thomas Berry

Animate Earth: Science, Intuition, And Gaia
, Stephan Harding

Grassroots Post-Modernism: Remaking the Soil of Cultures
, Gustavo Esteva and Madhu Suri Prakash

Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis
, Vandana Shiva

A Brief History of Neoliberalism
, David Harvey

When Corporations Rule the World
, David Korten

The Power of the Machine: Global Inequalities of Economy, Technology, and Environment
, Alf Hornborg


Course keywords: world system, deep ecology, media literacy, ecoliteracy, global brain, evolution, technology, global village, bioculture, ecojustice, development, ecopsychology, monoculture, noosphere, consciousness, Gaia, sustainability

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