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Life – Consciousness

forestThe cultural roadmap for the environment has a starting-point going back to remote antiquity - a starting-point from the age when man was an integral part of nature and functioned with very limited tools, techniques, and potentialities, and when his relation with the environment was confined exclusively to transcendental interpretation and mediation through his rituals and religion.

Religion was from antiquity a form of authority, in a certain way, of the unknown, of familiarisation with the 'beyond' of man's perception and interpretation. Myth, which served as a first step for religion, performed a balancing-act between interpretation, knowledge, and aesthetic conception of the model of reality and religion.

At the same period, man had begun to apprehend the environment as a feature of his consciousness, shaping a reciprocity in the field of the consciousness his self  and the environment. In this reciprocity there was barbarity as well as ennoblement and sensitisation.

"If, moreover, we should believe
in so many ancient, and at the same time
remarkable, stories
concerning Pythagoras,
he even tamed animals which have no reason,
as he had in his words something
purifying and encouraging by words of praise ...
Such as when, as they say,
he prevailed upon the Daunian bear,
a fearful scourge of the inhabitants,
and he stroked her at length, and, feeding her on barley
bread and acorns and making her swear never again
to touch a living being, he set her free.
As soon as she was released,
she went away to the mountains and woods
and never again appeared to attack
even wild animals.
Iamblichus, The Life of Pythagoras

By hindsight, we can see that our idealisation of the past has not always been apposite or true in scientific terms. The value of harmlessness and of fellow-feeling towards living beings has its roots in the age of the Pythagoreans and of Theophrastus, in the age of the great intellectuals, philosophers, and founders of religions in the East down to the time of Ashoka.

Little by little, this attitude towards the environment was coloured geographically by various historical developments in different parts of the world.

Major figures of classical antiquity, the beginning of Western civilisation, as well as from the Central and Far East, drew attention to the recognition of the environment through the final fate of all life in death, through the struggle for survival and through the sympathy and solidarity made manifest in the shared fate of beings.

The issue takes on its most definitive dimensions in early Romanticism, which found expression from the time of Leonardo da Vinci to that of Jeremy Bentham, with isolated and sui generis approaches which developed as to the question of the barbarity of man towards nature.

These two figures, with their 'prophecy' from the point of view of law, speak of an age of rights not only for all living beings but even for objects. Later, with Romanticism, which appeals to the sensibility of man, the aesthetic quest for the beautiful as a function of nature, landscape, and relationships, through Classical and Romantic literature which comes down to our own times, the environment has been repositioned as a universal perspective of a common fate. The enduring and indissoluble reciprocity of the quality of human life with the quality of the environment has been brought out, particularly in the second half of the twentieth century.

The cultural roadmap for the environment began to take shape through the tendency of man to set limits to his selfishness, and to realise that the value of the enjoyment of the environment is much stronger than its commodification and the barbaric conquest of it. At the same time, love of life, the recognition of the value of life in every being and the development of sympathy for living beings have introduced an additional and more profound human cultural dimension in the relation of man with the environment.

The present-day dynamic could not have been reached unless a host of people from the world of ecology who had experienced the aesthetic dimension of the relation of man with the environment and the host of organisations in the ecological movement had not drawn attention to the vital nature of this relation.

Man has been moved emotionally and is developing through a dualistic approach to the environment; on the one hand, through the approach of his needs, and, on the other, through the approach of his sensibility.

His sensibility has helped him to lay down certain rules for its protection, and, in essence, has militated in favour of a creative relation and dynamic, such as that described by Georges Braque as necessary for art in the expression 'I like the rule that corrects emotion'.

Both in terms of emotion and of rules, the environment has become a constant dimension of civilisation.

There is a very wide range of cultural positionings towards the right to life, towards the recognition of the value of life, towards sympathy for life, and towards the management of the quality of life.

We could here note that nowadays nature has been highlighted not only as an instrumental Promethean Space, but as a space which requires a new Promethean method in order to save it. Within this new Promethean method, we must also revive the Orphic Model of harmony and of the beautiful, of silence, and of mankind's art.

Ioannis Zisis, Writer

Photo from wikimedia

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