Deep Ecology as I See It

            One night I was in meditation.  Of importance to me was man’s relation with the environment.  “Save the Whales”, tree-hugging, and green politics all filled my mind.  Asking Mother Earth to come to me, I posed her the question of a response to the loss of an ancient forest.  Being a dyed-in-the-wool environmentalist my expected response was one of a typical green attitude.  Yet it came as a complete surprise to me when the response that entered my consciousness was one of not caring.  Could the Goddess truly not care if an ancient grove of trees was wiped out?  I must have mistaken the response given to me.

            And so it is that I began to understand Deep Ecology.  Arne Næss has articulated his own philosophy based on Deep Ecology and has called it Ecosophy T and has stressed the importance of others to develop their own within the guidelines of Deep Ecology, I have done so.  Mother Earth had shown me that species live and die, reign and go extinct.  It is neither inevitable, nor avoidable that a species’ run of life comes to an end, humanity included.  It isn’t the life of the organism that matters, it is the species… it isn’t the species but the ecological setting… it isn’t the location but the process of life, creation and death, the cycle, that is important.  But this is too large, too unwieldy, too large for us to deal with.   

All life has inherent value and in the greater scheme of things the ant has as much “worth” as the brain surgeon, though this is in relation to Gaia.  This is the problem with Deep Ecology for many in that they misunderstand this major point because their frame of reference is too narrow, they only see things as it relates to them in an anthropomorphic sense.  In Stephen Covey’s book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” he writes that it makes no sense to busily climb the ladder of success, only to reach the top and find out it is leaning against the wrong wall.”  The point here is one must have vision, a plan, some guideline.   In the greater scheme of things, should humans wipe themselves out, the Earth will go on, life will continue.  Who is to say that in another billion years a new form of sentient life will not evolve and think themselves the “chosen” of god.

Just because all life is of equal inherent value, does not mean that it has equal value for the man on the street.  While all life is equal, he may find the mammoth roaming about the grasslands to be of particularly high value as it will provide him with food and clothing.  Equal worth does not equate with equal utility.  A carpenter may spend equal money on tools, and yet may find that he continually returns to one tool over the rest.  The problem here not so much that we have an anthropomorphic view of the world around us, or of the notion that we are the stewards of the Earth, or that the Earth was created for our use as we see fit, but that we do not stop to view things from a biocentric view from time to time.  It is one thing to know that the mammoth and the hunter are part of one great web of life, and another to feel that the mammoth is owed to the hunter and to hunt the mammoth out existence, depriving himself of food and clothing in the process.

Human Nature is one of contrasting values, of great nobility and extreme viciousness.  We have heroes the leap into freezing waters to save the lives of strangers, and fanatics that mutilate those outside of their faith, and every combination in between.  A hunter, faced with freezing and starving, does not care if it is the last mammoth before him, nor is he even likely to stop to ponder if it the last one, but is thinking instead of the warmth and nourishment opportunity has presented him with.  It isn’t the single acts against mammoth that bring about their demise, but the weight of all the hunting, for food and sport, of the encroachment into their roaming grounds, and countless other factors.  But of importance, and also one of potential change, are the patterns of interaction from the hunter and his environment.  It is here that we see a value in conservative value and the ‘prejudices’ of a society in that what has worked for so long seems to have some merit in it for it’s continued success.  This is not to say that all behavioral prejudices are good, as it appears that our patterns of driving in individual vehicles, coupled with the technology of fossil fuels, is argued by some to have had a negative impact on the atmosphere of the Earth. 

“Think Globally, Act Locally” is a good rule of thumb in the application of Green Politics.  When the Romans encountered the Celts, they found that while there was a loose system of gods, each location had it’s own gods.  The landscape of the Celts was one of spirits and powers.  One might find re-occurring themes of a harvest god, or fertility goddess, or the like, but each clan, each location, had it’s own name and relation with the gods as it was manifested by their interaction with their immediate environment.

Nature is given so many different masks in our current society, from hippy playground, to mystical beatnik landscape, to ‘warehouse’ of natural resources, to wasteland in need of developing, to a means of increasing the property value of housing (just add trees).  Man is not separate from Nature, but is part of Nature.  Education of biocentric principles is a key ingredient in changing some of the harmful anthropocentric views that allow for devastating ecological practices.  Again, it should be stated, lest the reader is an eco-nut and agrees with all that is said without thinking, or is the opposite of view and is angered at all of this thus far, that a clear-cut is neither good nor bad, just as the killing of the mammoth is neither good nor bad.  Given the context of the clear-cut, or the mammoth kill, it could be beneficial or harmful to the ecosystem, and therefore to the inhabitants within that system.

Government should be at the lowest level possible, with little, if any, centralized governmental controls.  In fact, I am for the re-districting of state lines (United States) to represent more environmental considerations.  The inhabitants of the Willamette Valley have different traditions, goals, agendas, demands, and needs than those of the Snake River region.  However, a strong central government is needed in that threats from such things as nuclear bombs, or a fairly decent sized army, do exist. 

A counter to this is the globalization process.  Globalization isn’t inherently evil or bad and can bring about positive benefits.   However I would like to make a distinction between three types of globalization; political, economic, and social.

The threat from political globalization is such that as power moves up from the communities to more and more centralized power, decisions gain greater power, so that beneficial or hurtful decisions affect more and more people.  This can be seen by the great expanses of forest in the Pacific Northwest that have become mono-culture forest of Douglas-Fir suddenly under great attacks by a beetle infestation.  A lowering of the political decision making process to the community level could inoculate against the spread of oppressive political systems. 

It has been mentioned earlier, and needs address once more, that though political autonomy be distributed at the lowest levels, a confederation of states is beneficial for mutual protection against aggression elsewhere.  While it is believed that such a system will improve living conditions and a deeper and broader scale, increase freedom for all, it is not a belief that the creation of a perfect system will result in world peace.  Such is the acknowledgement that rationality, while seemingly unique to humans, is not our only endowment.  We are, among other things, highly passionate beings and passionate beings behave in manners atypical of well-reasoned intent.

The second globalization concept is economic, multi-national corporations and banks wield increasing power.  Again, this is not inherently good or bad and there are many that oppose corporations that provide for their workers, simply because they are of immense size (e.g. Starbucks) and yet tout the moral superiority of a mom-&-pop business (corner coffee shop) that might provide less to workers by means of pay and benefits.  This is, among other things, a reaction against cultural globalization and is often confused.  The benefits of economic globalization are, among other things, the spreading of vast wealth and opportunities and some of the downfall is the power held over various governments.  Can an autonomous community of 20,000, or a region of such communities, hope to sway the course of a giant corporation with plants in six countries and controlling the flow of billions of dollars around the world?  To the workers in a plant in Central Oregon, the shutting down of a small lumber yard is devastating, it cripples the town.  To the parent company that owns the plant, it is but one small asset in a sea of assets.   Also, while a large corporation that spans nations might draw on a wealth of resources, it might then outbid local communities in their attempt to compete.  As such, the small lumber company might be forced to clear-cut in a more haphazard fashion, going for greater profitability than for ecological sustainability.   It is the threat to the local autonomy of communities that warrants economic globalization as something to curtail, if not seek to abolish all together.  

The third globalization form is that of social.  It is human nature to want to acquire wealth.  We want to acquire more food, more fir, more ease in our life.  This is the drive behind the growth of companies.  We come together to acquire more, or to protect against those attempting so, and this is the push for unification of politics.  Yet we also want to live our lives, generally speaking, being left alone, to our devises.  This is the reverse of the other trends that inherently seek globalization, social traditions are local and spring up like seeds in the Earth.  There are those retractors that say that a child drinking Coca-Cola in India is a victim of the social globalization of the planet, and Coca-Cola is formed into a symbol of the evil of globalization.  This is a mistake.  Would these same retractors be as opposed to seeing a the emergence of chai teas in coffee houses across the U.S.?  There is a double standard in that if it is a Western product going out, it is globalization, if it is a third world country’s product coming in, it is diversity.  It is diversity if the child across the world has access to other drinks, it is not so if the Student for Cultural Diversity, ban all Coca-Cola products from campus.  While we see fads sweep across the world, particularly in Western countries, we also see households with a mixture of influences.  With food from many regions, hand-made clothing from Brazil, Japanese furniture, music from West Africa playing, literature from Russian monks, hiking equipment from California, and more… the globalization of culture is a globalization of diversity that has increased and shows no signs of lessening.

What sort of decisions would we make as societies if we had an inherent understanding  not only that all life is of value, but that there were unseen connections among life forms that sustained the ecological balance unseen by us, but also that there was no safety net of a benevolent god that will rescue us with an afterlife of perfection after we’ve destroyed our sandbox.  Would we be a bit more hesitant in making sweeping changes to our ecosystems?  Would we be less inclined to shoot from the hip in developing along a watershed?  Would we turn an eye to the future generations and make tax breaks now for companies that didn’t neglect the future for the profit of the present?  What sort of ethics would come out against this backdrop of uncertainty.

By approaching the environment with reverence, a good mix of hubris, and a biocentric view, allowing for anthropomorphic utilitarianism within this context instead of separate of it, we may not only lessen our ecological footprint, but also bring about sustainable practices where one can live in metropolitan cities or smaller villages.  The lessening of the alienation from Nature, the reconnection with that host of archetypes from our long past, where we’ve place many symbolic values, could also mean a maturing of the soul and an enrichment of one’s sense of being and life. 

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