Traps in and of our minds: relationships between human logic, dialectical traps and social-ecological traps

Abstract

Social-ecological traps are theorized to be present when human actions affect feedbacks and drivers in social-ecological systems, which, in turn, lead to regime shifts that may alter ecosystem capacity to generate services on which human wellbeing depends, and this, in turn, triggers societal responses, where actors and institutions interact with ecological dynamics and unwittingly lock development into a vulnerable pathway. The key dynamic in this theorization seems to be that human action often predicates or initiates the series of cascading affects that determine the presence of, and, perhaps, the effectiveness of, social-ecological traps. However, what drives human action in this context? What logic, assumptions, decisions, world views, and other processes are implicated in this configuration? This paper first briefly reviews ecological identity and the problems of anthropocentricism, human exceptionalism, and human exemptionalism and introduces the term ecological disenfranchisement. Building upon this, the author invokes Horn’s logic and dialectical traps as a lens for understanding human roles and the prevalence of issues with ecological identities, within social ecological traps. Drilling further down, the paper illustrates these traps with short vignettes, in each case, attempting to link the human logical traps with larger system dynamics. Finally, the author proposes a chain of reasoning to serve as an example of how the presence of human logic traps (or entrapment) in a number of different spheres has an impact upon the larger system, and, perhaps, even predicts entrapment of the larger system. Future efforts to either understand social-ecological traps or navigate away or out of them must first take stock of the human logical traps that actors within the systems are influenced by, and that influence the large system(s).This paper argues that failing to account for human traps within will render most efforts to avoid or escape social-ecological traps futile.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    From the Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

  2. 2.

    Human exceptionalism is the notion that humans are categorically or essentially different than all other organisms. Human exemptionalism, based on human exceptionalism, is the tendency to place the human world outside of the natural world, and thus render the human exempt from the rules, processes and cycles of the natural world.

  3. 3.

    This and other examples of social traps can be found in Study.com’s Social Psychology: Tutoring Solution/Psychology Courses—Chapter 3, lesson 11.

  4. 4.

    See http://www.nrdc.org/water/files/ClimateWaterFS_NewOrleansLA.pdf.

  5. 5.

    The chain being: (1) Human actions affect feedbacks and drivers in social-ecological systems; (2) this leads to regime shifts that may alter ecosystem capacity to generate services on which human wellbeing depends; (3) this in turn triggers societal responses where actors and institutions interact with ecological dynamics and unwittingly lock development into a vulnerable pathway.

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Acknowledgments

The author acknowledges substantial support from the Stockholm Resilience Center, particularly the Urban theme; the Beijer Institute for Ecological Economics of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, especially Carl Folke and Thomas Elmqvist; and the Karklö Group, especially the 2nd International Meeting held at Canoga Creek Farms. This paper benefitted tremendously from the comments of two anonymous reviewers, and from numerous informal discussions with Thomas Elmqvist and Niki Frantzeskaki.

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Correspondence to Keith G. Tidball.

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Handled by Osamu Saito, United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS), Japan.

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Tidball, K.G. Traps in and of our minds: relationships between human logic, dialectical traps and social-ecological traps. Sustain Sci 11, 867–876 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-016-0396-y

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Keywords

  • Social-ecological traps
  • Logical traps
  • Resilience
  • Ecological disenfranchisement
  • Human exceptionalism
  • Human exemptionalism
  • Agency