Western Emotions and an Environmental Disaster

Catherine Lutz, in her book Unnatural Emotions, describes how Western or Euramerican concepts of emotion have negatively effected gender ideologies. I argue these same concepts of emotion are leading Western cultures to an ecological disaster.

Lutz’s describes the Western dichotomy between emotion and cognition. On the emotional side, she relays themes of irrationality, subjectivity, chaos, danger, and the unknown. The cognitive side includes rationality, objectivity, control, safety, and predictability. This dichotomy has played critical roles in the development of the West. As early Western philosophers and leaders have embraced the cognitive side, many, if not most aspects of Western culture, including gender, have stressed the importance of objectivity, predictability, and control. These ideals have been acculturated throughout the West, handed down through generations of thinkers and leaders, and is pervasive throughout all levels of social strata.

The desire for predictability and control led to science and militarization as means to contain both nature and people. As Lutz notes, nature, like women, epitomizes emotion and has continuously been subjugated in the West. The emotional side includes much of the essence of nature and the cyclical systems that govern it. These cyclical systems require that any state of matter must be transient. For a Western ethos of order, natural systems will seem uncontrollable and unpredictable. The West has approached this problem with objective scientific fervor. Likewise, concepts of militarization have been sold to communities as means to insure safety, stability and control. Like states of nature, communal safety and stability are transient and thus require continuous upkeep and maintenance of a protective force. Predictability and control has steadily grown as a western ethos; they are ideals all western leaders, presidents to heads of households (invariably all men), strive toward.

The culmination of the ages of enlightenment and the industrial revolution provided universal Western acknowledgment that the ethos of predictability and control could be afforded to all men, and that it could be supplanted through materialism. The subjugation of nature is desired by all men and is now made possible to all men by purchasing the right tools and exerting the right processes. The means to this end is provided by material objects that predict and control. Materialism in the name of predictability and control is continuously fed by a corporate and industrial base that, based on the ethos of devalued nature, shows no mercy towards exploitation of natural resources.

Today we are surrounded by material objects and products that provide a sense of predictability and control. Material science has met our needs in breaking the cyclical systems of nature that might degrade our objects. And while industry constructs these objects from non-degradable materials, it recognizes the transient nature of control and builds this into the objects we purchase. Even the penultimate object of predictability (it should consistently perform) and control (it does what we command) has a set usability life of, at most, a few years; although, manufacturers continuously stress that for the best experience, personal computers should be replaced at least once a year. As for nature, farmers employ genetic engineering and chemical science to control the natural systems governing our food supply. For the consumer, there are abundant products for us to tame our personal environments, sterilize our living spaces, and keep our yards manicured. Like our objects, these efforts too are transient and require continuous reapplication as we struggle to contain the chaos of nature.

If irrationality, subjectivity, chaos, danger, and the unknown reflect emotion and nature, Western cultures have made monumental strides towards command and control. Unfortunately, this has been at the expense of resource exploitation and rampant consumerism. Like the attempts to reverse the subjugation of women, environmental efforts have made an attempt to reduce the exploitation of nature. Unfortunately, the ethos of control still strongly encourages consumers to purchase the next best thing that will work better and faster, promising to control even more than the last model.

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