Professor Graham Parkes - Managing Humanity’s Insanity

Published: 16 October 2023

Managing Humanity’s Insanity: Revisioning our Place in Nature through Classical Chinese Philosophy – a lecture by Professor Graham Parkes on Wednesday the 25th October 2023 5:30pm-6:30pm.

The Confucius Institute would be delighted to welcome you to visiting Professor Graham Parkes lecture - Managing Humanity's Insanity: Revisioning our Place in Nature through Classical Chinese Philosophy. 

This event will take place on Wednesday 25th October 2023 at 5:30pm-6:30pm in the Clarice Pears Building, University of Glasgow, 90 Byres Rd, Glasgow, G12 8TB.  

Tea/coffee and refreshments will be provided after the lecture, with an opportunity to discuss and network with colleagues and peers. 

This event is free to attend, and we would appreciate it if you could please enter your details into this Microsoft Form to secure your space. We will then send you further details on the room location. 


A native of Glasgow, Graham Parkes has taught philosophy at universities in the United States, Europe, and East Asia, and is now Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Vienna. His main interests are in Continental European, Chinese, and Japanese philosophies, aesthetics and philosophy of art, and environmental philosophies. 


Why the extreme term ‘insanity’? Well, because the way that we in the developed countries are currently living is beginning, through its impact on the climate and the biosphere, to render the planet uninhabitable. And only a very few among the ultra-rich are going to be able (they hope) to go somewhere else to live. This presentation examines the roots of this insanity and proposes some ways of treating it.  

We know how risky global situation is thanks to the idea of ‘planetary boundaries’, elaborated by some of the world’s top climate and Earth System scientists. For nine of Earth’s subsystems they have identified a range of thresholds beyond which human pressure could trigger abrupt changes that would tip the entire system into a state that’s distinctly inhospitable for human existence.

A large part of the problem is a prevalent idea of who we are as human beings. A right-wing libertarian (neoliberal) ideology has convinced many people that we are basically autonomous individuals at liberty to extract from the natural world whatever we need to satisfy our desires for material comfort, as assured by continued economic growth.

Another factor behind our blindness to the severe risks of climate breakdown and the destruction of biosphere integrity is ‘the posthuman spectacle’. Our enthusiastic immersion in information technologies and social media tends to reinforce Cartesian ‘indivi-dualism’, keeping us narcotised in a virtual world of ‘representations’ and oblivious to the dangers of our physical situation.

A more plausible and beneficial understanding of who we are regards us not as individuals but as relatives related to other humans and myriad other beings on which we depend. Indigenous philosophies from numerous cultures share this kind of understanding, but for pragmatic reasons we do well to draw from the ancient Chinese philosophical tradition to heal our individualist derangement. After all, without enthusiastic cooperation from China it will be impossible to slow global heating and preserve the biosphere.

While revising our self-understanding to a saner mode, we can be making major changes in our social, political, and economic institutions, which would let us avoid the worst—and live more fully human lives.

First published: 16 October 2023