In her wonderful Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, Val Plumwood suggests that, in the face of dualist minority-world philosophy, we should seek to form and nurture an “ecological self”. This is a self which acknowledges our interdepencies with human and non-human others (including Earth Others such as rivers) without either: a) incorporating their ends as our own means, for example by saying, “I must respect the river to preserve my own life” or b) assimilating them to our own or another totalising concept of self, for example by saying, “the river and I are the same”.
I love Plumwood’s analysis, and I think she speaks deep truth. But one thing that’s bothered me for a while is that her argument didn’t seem to be “turtles all the way down” - the overall argument still felt to me like, “In order to overcome dualism, for our own good, we should respect other’s ends as ends not means” - in other words, it still felt to me like the reasoning rested on meeting our own ends.
Today I realised that this is only the case if you are proceeding from minority-world dualistic thought, in an extensionalist mode; i.e. if your logic proceeds step-by-step, attempting to reason from the current status-quo and, by means of making successive points and drawing linked conclusions, work towards Plumwood’s “ecological self”. That is, if you think like a dominant, the only reason to conclude that you should change the way you think is “because it’s good for me”. From within the solipsist self, one can only find oneself - it’s a closed system.
I wondered whether the solution was to leap, as Mary Daly describes: “I realized that I don’t want to live in the world they’re making. And there’s no hope if you start with patriarchal premises." To proceed by flinging oneself out as far as one can go, and expanding from that new point, forming spiral galaxies out of moments of movement. Daly wouldn’t have asked whether the ecological self was logical; she would (and I believe did) launch herself out, and then think/feel from within the viewpoint of the ecological self whether the ecological self was an energising, life-affirming, dynamic way to Be/Move.
Then I reached the happy conclusion that while it helps to leap, and while often I feel that it is a leap to partake in a community of ecological selves, in fact, in many ways many of us are already sometimes (t)here. The interrelated, interdependent self corresponds closely to the feminist - especially Black feminist - argument that our self should not be the white, male liberal self, and also that we must respect our differences without otherising, instrumentalising or assimilating them. And much of womanculture is already a culture of interrelatedness.
It’s only that when I - and I’m sure others - try to articulate/conceptualise our Selves within the grid of whitemale minority-world dualistic thought, that we find it all comes out wrong, or that it all seems ungrounded. It is - on their messed-up ground. But in the wanderground, within the realm of feminist desire, the ecological self is who we sometimes already are. We know it. When it rings true to us, it’s because it’s already true.
Every time I talk about this, I want to repeat that I understand the queerpolitical desire to fragment and distribute and mutually affirm our community definitions of Selfhood, “rightness” and truth - to break up our thought into sharp, twisty, ungraspable pieces so that “we willna be fooled again!”. But if we’re acknowledging and affirming each other’s truths, that must include the acknowledgement and affirmation that for some of us, our way of being is an ecological - in Plumwood’s sense - way of being, that Prudes, too, are part of our communities.