How Print and Computer-Mediated Learning Undermine Ecological Intelligence


From:   The Way Forward: Educational Reforms that Focus on the Cultural Commons and the Linguistic Roots of the Ecological/Cultural Crises

 By C. A. Bowers

An e-book published by the Eco-Justice Press, 2012.


Chapter 6  How Print and Computer-Mediated Learning Undermine Ecological Intelligence


            As Gregory Bateson would put it, the dominant characteristics of this era are the conceptual double binds that are pushing the world toward a series of crises that past ways of thinking have not prepared us to deal with.  The double binds are in thinking that we are achieving genuine progress when we are actually undermining the world’s ecosystems that sustain us.  The following seem so obvious that one can only wonder why they are not being recognized by the general public: (1) Globalizing the western consumer and industrial- dependent lifestyle when the Earth’s non-renewable resources are being depleted at a rate that cannot be sustained.  The depletion rate will only accelerate as the world’s population continues to expand toward the 9 billion mark now predicted; (2) Continuing to promote automation in the workplace that will displace the need for workers as the youth in many regions of the world now face 20 percent unemployment––and within certain countries the figure exceeds 40 percent; (3) The continued dominance of the market-liberal ideology that has its roots in the abstract thinking of liberal theorists of the 17th century and in the thinking of Libertarian theorists such as Ayn Rand, when the focus should be on conserving species, habitats, and the intergenerational knowledge and skills that have a smaller ecological footprint and are less reliant on the free-market economy that is now failing; (4) The increasing reliance upon electronic communication that promotes abstract thinking, when we should be moving beyond the self-centered ecological intelligence practiced in everyday life to exercising what can be termed stage two and stage three ecological intelligence that are necessary for recognizing how our ideas and behaviors affect the viability of the interconnected cultural and natural ecologies we all are dependent upon.

            The knowledge and values promoted in publics schools and universities in the West, and in other regions of the world now attempting to out-compete the West in double bind approaches to progress, are also a carry-over from the last centuries dominated by the spread of the Industrial Revolution and the form of individualism required by the consumer-based culture.  To repeat another insight of Gregory Bateson, the recursive epistemologies (or what I prefer to call the root metaphors that serve as powerful interpretative frameworks) continue to reinforce the myth of the autonomous and critically rational individual, the myth that organic processes that include the human brain can be explained in mechanistic terms, and the myth that technology is both culturally neutral while at the same time being the latest expression of a linear form of progress.  I have written elsewhere about why these orthodoxies still promoted in public schools and universities are deeply problematic.  But what needs now to be subjected to a more in-depth examination is the myth that computers are the driving force behind the cultural changes many people now presume will far exceed the human benefits resulting from the Industrial Revolution.  Indeed, the futurist thinking of many scientists, such as Hans Moravec, Ray Kurzweil, Gregory Stock, E.O. Wilson, Michio Kaku, among others, take for granted that computers will lead to developments in nanotechnologies, biotechnologies, and consciousness itself that will lead to a global monoculture of computer-based intelligence dictated by Nature’s process of natural selection. That the culturally diverse world’s population should have a voice in whether these futurist-thinking scientists should be developing the technologies that will lead to their extinction, as these scientists envision the next stage of evolution, is not taken as a serious question.  As their predictions reflect yet another example of how the abstract thinking of western elite theorists is used to justify the introduction of technologies that lead to new forms of colonization and extinction––now in the name of science, the failure to question and debate their interpretations of what represents progress becomes even more problematic. 

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