Ecomyopia Meets The Longue Durée


Welcome to the Ecomyopia Meets The Longue Durée Project


Three-Headed Chimera composited from a reproduction in Gatti (1989) of the 1591 title page of the Ninth Earl of Northumberland's copy of Giordano Bruno's De Monade and De Immenso.



Post-Enlightenment seercraft can be thought of as a visionary chimera composed of the modern muse of Ecomyopia grafted to a Longue Durée of Janus-like daemons comprised of the Past forgotten (more likely, rewritten), and the Future envisioned to suit the present. This visionary chimera is bound into one beast, but not of one mind, and not completely tamed. It is still possible for us to call forth visions that challenge the offspring of myopia and bear witness to a past normally hidden from the present. The taboos of listening to the uncensored voices of the Past and Future can be broken, but the cost is said to be chaos, and the skills of managing the ensuing terror are no longer available, for the most part, in our time. Truthfully knowing the narratives of the Past and Future may lead to insanity. As Divid Sipress aptly expresses it in one of his New Yorker cartoons, "My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane." Ecomyopia’s cure is fantasy, tailored to virtually every aspect of our mundane and imagined worlds. Ecomyopia Meets the Longue Durée is an ecological project aimed at witnessing the apparent madness of the contemporary conceptual (ideational) struggle with the voices of this Three-Headed Beast. We approach the beast indirectly with conceptual models (an armory of talismans) cloaked partially in graphics and cartoons.


Methods and Techniques: Ecosystem and Multiple Evironments

The ecological framework that we’ve adopted begins with Patten’s concept of the ecosystem. As seen in E.P. Odum’s graphic expression of this concept, the ecosystem is principally comprised of 1) the system, 2) the system’s input environment, and 3) the system's output environment.

Figure E. Patten's Concept of the Ecosystem: IE+S+OE= Ecosystem. (Redrawn from E.P. Odum 1983; Concept based on Patten 1978.)

Patten (1978) is the first to systematically break with the still popular  tradition of referring to the diversity of environments that envelop any organism as simply “the environment”. He recognized that the simple singularity of this expression discourages (pre-empts) rich ecological imagery and thought. It is one of those mind-dulling (if not anti-intellectual) phrases that permeate American culture. In our adaptation of Patten’s ecosystem concept to human ecosystems we remind ourselves of some of the diversity of our environments. The result is a richer concept of the ecosystem combined with the concept of multiple environments. Some of the environments are partially nested, and following Andrewartha and Birch (1984, their Figure 1.01) the environments most directly acting upon the system are recognized as the “centrum,” while those whose effects are primarily indirect are distinguished as the “web.” Patten’s research and approach to understanding ecosystems places a strong emphasis on indirect effects. In vernacular discourse and epistemologies, indirect effects are often unmarked or go unrecognized as such (Wyndham 2009). Moreover, in the vernacular the different environments we do recognize are often thought of as well-differentiated, well-bounded categories, when in fact they are fuzzy sets.

Figure HE. Human Ecosystem Simplified: Comprised of the System (the polygon at the center) with its Input and Output Environments, Embedded in the Multiple Environments of its Surrounds. (See and Figure16 for another conceptualization of the multiple environments.)

In biological ecology the movements or flows of energy, materials, and information are usually considered to characterize systems of consumption/production. Our approach to human ecosystems privileges information and its fraternal twin propaganda. The modern core meaning of information that we follow herein is knowledge obtained from investigation, study or instruction. For the concept of propaganda, we have adopted Ellul’s (1965) position that it is a socio-cultural phenomenon “rather than something made by certain people for certain [limited] purposes. …..... it is the Siamese twin of our technological society. Only…with the all-pervading effects that flow from propaganda can the technological society hold itself together and further expand.” (Keller 1965: v). In our graphic caricatures and cartoons of human ecosystems the flow of information is a wave form, while the flow of propaganda loops back upon itself as it moves forward. Other semiotic signs in our graphic iconography, or sign lexicon, can be seen <here> and in Casagrande and Peters (2013) Appendix 5.1. For key principles of conception and representation in graphics, see Table 1 <here>.

Conceptual models are a heuristic means for developing more holistic understandings of non-linear phenomena. Our conceptual models of human ecosystems are an amalgam, a synergism of verbal (usually written) components and graphic expressions. When these components are artfully combined the conceptual model emerges from their interaction, in a cognitive experience something akin to the blood in the gutter as it is understood in the invisible art of late-modern comics (McCloud 1994; One/Augmenting Meaning ).  That is to say the conceptualization we create occupies an interactive emergent space somewhere between the visualization and the text.

Method for Theory

We have adopted (Kuchka 2001) and continued to refine (with minor modifications,; Casagrande and Peters 2013) use of the method for ecological theorizing outlined by Pickett, Kolasa and Jones (1994).  Figure PKJ represents this view of theory.

Figure PKJ. Componential Completeness and Developmental Status of Theory. The degree of hatching denotes the change in components leading to increased refinement and precision of theory. (From Casagrande and Peters 2013, modified from Kuchka 2001 and in the first instance taken with minor modifications from Pickett, Kolasa and Jones 1994, their Figure 4.1.)

Our conceptualizations of human ecosystems typify the development stage of theory labeled here as intuitive. This is one stage beyond the pretheoretical, with at least three further stages possible along the pathway of ‘maturing’ theory. At the intuitive stage we have gone beyond simply notions, assumptions, facts, and hypotheses alone, to include definitions, basic concepts, confirmed generalizations, and models in our theoretical understandings of human ecosystems. A synthetic theoretical framework (see below) is beginning to be developed by trial-and -error conceptual exporations of specific ecological domains (e.g., the Increasingly Arid American Southwest, and Eco-amnesias of the Anthropocene). However, translation modes, allowing for an ease of conceptual movement between case studies, are less well developed. Beyond this, the level of theory currently attained includes some of the refinement of the empirical-interactive level by way of the ongoing processes of confirmations and rejections in both the substance and expression of our model building. This in spite of our not completing the consolidating stage of theory, with its derived conceptual device of explicit theorems. Our theorizing is a bit timid in this regard, given our preference for cartoons and satire over mathematical models and engineering diagrams.

Our developing synthetic theoretical framework includes an emphasis on: individual, group, and institutional psychologies; the multiple environments of differentially distributed externalized cognition (Hutchins 1995); semiotics (Chandler 2004) in the context of information ecology; propaganda as a cultural institution (Ellul 1965); and critical theories of Post Modern societies as technosystems (esp. Ellul 1964). This diverse array is adapted syncretistically to the rather unpleasant task of understanding post-enlightenment human ecosystems.


Some Additional Derived Conceptual Devices

Some additional derived conceptual devices that deserve introductory consideration here are vernacular epistemologies for individuals and systems, and the emic vs. etic aspects of stability theory. 

[to be continued...]

---CRP, 29 May 2015, Mill Farm, Oxfordshire.


References Cited

Andrewartha, H.G. and Birch, L.C. 1984. The ecological web: More on the distribution and abundance of animals. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Casagrande, David, and Charles Peters.  2013. Ecomyopia meets the longue durée: An information ecology of the increasingly arid Southwestern United States.  In Environmental Anthropology: Future Directions, pp. 97-144.  H. Kopnina and E. Shoreman-Ouimet, eds. New York: Routledge. (book website)

Chandler,  2004. Semiotics: the basics. New York: Routledge.

Gatti, Hilary 1989. The Renaissance drama of knowledge: Giordano Bruno in England. London: Routledge.

Hutchins, Edwin. 1995. Cognition in the wild. Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press.

Kuchka, H.E. 2001. Method for theory: a prelude to human ecosystems. Journal of Ecological Anthropology 5. Online at

McCloud, Scott. 1993. Understanding comics: The invisible art. Northampton, MA.: Kitchen Sink Press.

Ellul, Jacques. 1964. The technological society. New York: Vintage Books.

Ellul, Jacques. 1965. Propaganda:The formation of men's attitudes. New York: Vintage Books.

Kellen Konrad. 1965. Introduction to Ellul's Propaganda. New York: Vintage Books.

Odum, Eugene P. 1983. Basic Ecology. Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

Pickett, S.T.A., J. Kolasa, and C. Jones. 1994. Ecological understanding: The nature of theory and the theory of nature. San Diego: Academic Press.

Wyndham, Felice S. 2009. Spheres of Relations, Lines of Interaction: Subtle Ecologies of the Raramuri Landscape in Northern Mexico. Journal of Ethnobiology 29(2): 271-295.

Can I get mine with some longue durée ?


                          Cartoon by F.S.Wyndham (© 2015)


An Arid Southwest Case Study

Graphic Model of Ecomyopia

Drawing on Janis' concept of groupthink (1972), "ecomyopia" is defined as a process of distributed cognition in which social interaction filters out information about important ecological change. Puleston (1979) provides a potential example in which an epistemological pathology among the classic Maya may have biased their perception and contributed to ecological collapse. Consensus that prolonged droughts will become more typical for the Southwest, USA is emerging among climate-model analysts. With few exceptions, policy-makers appear unresponsive to this critical new information. Failure to fully appreciate prehistoric climate reconstructions and future climate models is an example of ecomyopia.

Casagrande and Peters (2013) refined and expanded on graphic language and semiotic tools created within biological ecology to model the shortcomings of information flow in water policy processes in the southwest. They modeled current individual versus distributed cognitions as well as how these could be improved to more effectively respond to new information. They draw on Ellul’s theory regarding the necessity, and positive versus negative uses, of propaganda to show that water policy institutions can recognize and correct for ecomyopia within their own socially distributed cognitions by engaging in critical thinking and more productive group communication techniques.   

                       Supplemental data not included in their publication can be found here.


References Cited

Casagrande, David, and Charles Peters.  2013. Ecomyopia meets the longue durée: An information ecology of the increasingly arid Southwestern United States.  In Environmental Anthropology: Future Directions, pp. 97-144.  H. Kopnina and E. Shoreman-Ouimet, eds. New York: Routledge. (book website)

Janis, Irving L. 1972. Victims of Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Foreign-Policy Decisions and Fiascoes.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Puleston, Dennis E. 1979. An epistemological pathology and the collapse, or why the Maya kept the short count.  In Maya Archeology and Ethnohistory, pp. 63-71.  N. Hammond and G.R. Willey, eds.  Austin: University of Texas Press.




Forgetting and Remembering the Once and Future World



Figure 2 From Wyndham & Peters, ms 2015.   A partial depiction of the leading role of the guild of biophysical remembrancers, intermittently supported by state-government institutions, issuing warnings of imminent ecological danger. In parallel, the ratcheted demographic-economic business-growth subsystem generates a more powerful array of information and propaganda barraging the individual consumer as a temporary (mortal) citizen of the planet earth. Information flows are indicated by the wavy lines and propaganda by the looping flow lines. The Ratchet is depicted to the left of the Growth gear. 'Remembrancers' (1455 CE, Oxford English Dictionary) are officials having the duty of bringing matters to the attention of the proper authorities; one who reminds. Here we broaden the concept to include rememberers, truth-sayers, and foreseers.

This Figure is the central panel of a conceptual model of shifting baselines of ecomyopia and social amnesia in the Anthropocene (Wyndham and Peters, ms 2015). This third instalment in the Ecomyopia Meets the Longue Durée Project continues the development of human ecosystems critical theory for New World industrial societies from an American anthropological perspective. The emphasis in this project is on the information ecology of human ecosystems. 

One thesis of this installment is that the processes underlying histories of social amnesia and ecomyopia are the same, both relying on the ratchet of shifting baselines to re-work social memory to serve systems of exploitation. This expands on the world view that resource-oriented culture history is directly relevant to understanding the ecomyopias that underpin the Anthropocene. That view is enlarged to include not only the indirect influences of partially remembered and falsified social history, but also the influences of the dominant western cognitive dialectic with its associated propagandas of hope and fear, and the changing individual life history identities that lead to preparations for the afterlife. 

The master cartoon-like conceptual graphic of this essay (Figure 1, not shown here) fragments and juxtaposes the fetishized contradictions of both post modern discourse and public institiutions.  It reveals (it revels in) the dangers of wholism by suggesting points for Marcusian forms of personal subjectivity and resistance to the workings of The System.


Marcuse, Herbert. 1978. The Aesthetic Dimension: Toward a Critique of Marxist Aesthetics. Boston: Beacon Press. (Translated from the 1977 German edition by H. Marcuse and Erica Sherover.)

Wyndham, Felice S. and Charles R. Peters. ms 2015. An annotated conceptual model of forgetting and remembering the once and future world: American perspectives on shifting baselines of ecomyopia and social amnesia in the Anthropocene.


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