Real Transcendence — The Necessary Means of Designing Environmental Justice

A statement inspired by the narrative painting “The Birth of Nature and Death of Narcissus”

For Man is nature’s agent and interpreter; he does and understands only as much as he has observed of the order of Nature in work or by inference; he does not know and cannot do more. No strength exists that can interrupt or break the chain of causes; and nature is conquered only by obedience. The whole secret is never to let the mind’s eyes stray from things themselves, and to take in images exactly as they are. (Emphasis TC)
Francis Bacon, introduction to NovumOrganum, 1620

If enlightened human purpose is to augment the beneficence of nature and minimize the pain of nature, “red in tooth and claw,” then we will need obedient cooperation with nature. I call this purpose positive or real transcendence, in opposition to the old concept of supernatural or magical transcendence—which I call illusory. If we truly desire justice and real transcendence it is imperative that we act on the basis of Bacon’s enlightening requirement of obedience to nature and work to understand and design human purpose in harmony with the purposiveness of nature

Real Transcendence is working to transfigure nature, and naturalistic structures i.e. to positively redesign evolution, capitalism, genetics, narcissism, etc. The old religious concept and desire for transcendence was a positive beginning to define goodness and helped the development of disciplined moral consciousness. It also provided a feeling of solace. Unfortunately, ironically, it was often associated with negative illusory Transcendence or hubris — the primitive narcissistic desire and psychological gambit for personal omnipotence via magical anthropotheism and supernaturalism.

As prelude to visualizing a Garden of Love, a Garden of Global Environmental Justice, we need to perceive moral necessity. Creating a just culture will entail the recognition of the two supreme necessities, which I call the Birth of Nature and the Death of Narcissus. The Birth of Nature signifies aggressive recognition that we are dependent on nature; The Death of Narcissism signifies the necessity of transfiguring our natural narcissism into generosity and altruism – transcending our genetically driven wish for magical personal omnipotence, and predatory will to tribal omnipotence and theocracy. Recognizing necessity is a prelude to love and the good.

In the oil sketch, The Birth of Nature and Death of Narcissus, the narrative figures are placed in a landscape including mountains, and water — signifying aspiration to enlightened harmony with nature; and architecture — signifying reason and humanity’s aspiration to design intelligently, to construct well being. In the center is the birth or delivery of nature, represented by the infant and the receptive mother. On the left is the death of Narcissus, lying near the stream, and the death of war in the historic pose, staggering with a self-inflicted sword wound. On the right, slightly elevated under an apple tree, with the sign “veritae,” are three, diverse female figures – all strong, critical, and engaged. They signify global ethical goals: justice, equality, and peace. With them, there is an African “rivergod” leaning on a rock carved with the words “moira” and “anangke” (fate and necessity). Certainly Africa is where we have seen the dramatic necessity of water. On the lower right there is a snake (not a representation of evil) drinking from the stream and in the upper left an owl signifying predatory capability as well as clear vision and wisdom.

This emblematic painting is meant to be morally action guiding on two regards. Personally, moral responsibility is transformation of narcissism. Politically, the necessity is transforming institutional narcissism into social coercion towards environmental justice –recognizing a birthright to an equal share of natural resources – at least as a baseline criterion/index of minimal environmental needs.

Artists are cultural doctors with a responsibility to heal via the depiction of the good. In terms of good cultural medicine and necessary social coercion, the expectation is that cultural transformation will lead to appropriate rule following, an ethos of equality, cooperation, human flourishing and joy.

Artists have recently celebrated freedom of personal expression. Now, however, there is a greater benefit through artistic celebration of love, compassion, generosity and cooperation – responsibility.

The Birth of Nature and Death of Narcissus is emblematic of that moral necessity — of becoming sympathetically attuned to the natural and social environment. It was energized as a response to predatory theism, as well as associated attacks on evolution theory, environmentalism, and scientific realism. Celebrating the birth of nature signifies an explicit argument in favor of empiricism defeating magical thinking in both art and science. In depicting the death of Narcissus there is recognition that humanity must now give up self-centered hubris, and blind faith in magical transcendence. The only realistic way to transcend nature is to face the truth – to face both the good ad bad in nature so that we can do the difficult work of augmenting the good and minimizing the physical evils of nature.

To transcend nature and construct a global garden of love, we need ritual awareness and celebration of personal responsibility. So we need an earth-wide civic culture that recognizes difference but also global requirements of justice. To achieve a just global community we will need reformation of the cherished gambit of anthropotheism. This will require education and sacrifice – the sacrifice of faith and magic in order to see the truth – replacing ”the leap of faith” with the sure-footed step of truth


This artist’s statement is proposing a new renaissance – a new enlightened content designed and driven by concerns for global justice – justice environmental. It is a “call to arms” for artists to contribute to the new world picture.

The painted oil sketch “The Birth of Nature and the Death of Narcissus” was included in “Desegno” an exhibition by elected members .at the National Academy of Design, in New York ’05. It was reviewed by Hilton Kramer, New York Observer, July, ’05.