Does the Philosopher have a role in Politics?
We are essentially all philosophers if we allow ourselves the freedom to think. But most of our lives are so busy with the commitment of jobs, school, raising children, relationships, and struggling to keep ahead, that we are left with little or no time to reflect on the societal decisions being made all around us.
It is no secret that the Sunshine Coast is losing its native forests at a shocking rate and scale. A Neoliberal policy model in Queensland has seized control from the public and concentrated it on a small selection of individuals that dominate the private sector. The general public suffers as forest land is bought, sold and traded as a commodity without care for the ecosystem functions and services it provides.
When is the last time you drove by an area that had recently been reduced from a towering forest to mulch in the name of development? How did you feel? What did you think? And what did you do about it? Indeed, most of us feel dispirited and most of us question the act of destruction. Some of us even ask ourselves how this could happen at a time when environmental justice dominates global issues, especially on the Sunshine Coast which touts itself as a sustainability leader. But few of us do anything about it; indeed, most of us feel powerless. We are handcuffed by the current political system, which severely limits our options beyond writing a letter to Council and/or demonstrating our disapproval in an act of protest. The mindset towards public engagement in the political system needs to change; our approach to development and growth needs to change. It is in this space that the role of the philosopher shines.
If we hack the Neoliberal policy model it quickly begins to show cracks. The first is what Dr. Seuss characterizes in the story of the Lorax: if you cut down all the trees for individual greed, one day there will be no trees left, and even the rich will soon be poor. The philosopher in me challenges the notion of private ownership of a forest and of the Neoliberal entitlement for a ‘right’ to do as one pleases with ‘their’ forest. The philosopher in me rejects the concept of the forest as a commodity; the forest is a system of life that brings me happiness by providing me with a sense of place and a refuge from the built environment that surrounds me. So why do I feel isolated by upholding these values when decisions are being made about the fate of the forest?
There are three ‘blocks’ of forest left across from the University of the Sunshine Coast, next to the newly built Coles (previously a forest) and the ‘Soviet’ inspired apartment blocks to the north, also previously a forest. They are the last bastions of ‘nature’ left within eye shot at the north end of the university and the last stand of tall trees; the forest is slated to be cleared for new buildings; possibly even another grocery store, as rumor has it. If the philosopher had a role in politics they would surely intervene, just as the Lorax tried to do, and see the trees as more than pocket-lining cash, but rather as an integral part of the community with an inherent, far-reaching value to the whole of society.
I am interested in living in a society that values the philosopher. Re-open your eyes, be brave and allow yourself the space to think and care about what is going on around you. Share your voice; after all, the more voices that are expressed, the more likely it is that one will be heard.
Dr. Tristan Pearce and the Environmental Change Research Group