For the week of November 18 thru November 24, 1998  

The philosophy of deep ecology

Commentary by DICK DORWORTH

Human beings can’t help but think. If you don’t believe this, try stopping it.

Thinking, in turn, is a prelude to action. Systems of thought governing the conduct of that action are called philosophies.

It would seem, then that a study and incorporation of philosophy into the lives of individuals and societies would be advantageous in any time, in any country. However, in the latter part of the 20th century, philosophers have managed to make their philosophical reflections so rarefied and analytical as to be functionally (i.e. socially) useless and, to the larger society, irrelevant. This is unfortunate.

In the original Greek, philosophy meant "love of wisdom." The absence of a love of wisdom in a great deal of the thinking, and, therefore, the actions of humanity (particularly in the last half of the 20th century) is so evident that every person can make his or her own list of mankind’s witless actions and their authentic consequences in our world.

It seems to me that a love of wisdom is as natural to humankind as, say, a love of, breathing fresh air, drinking clean water and honest discourse between people about the true situation of life on earth today. All of them are badly degraded by the world’s ever worsening environmental crisis.

Wisdom, like nature, is not composed of straight lines and sharp delineation’s, but, instead, of a plenitude of inter-connections and an endless force of relationships.

A true philosophy, then, a love of wisdom, is a dynamic field of potential action, not a static blueprint. This is an important distinction to keep in mind when thinking about any philosophy. People who neglect this point tend to become rigid in their thinking, fanatical in their actions, obtuse in their recognition of the consequences of those actions, oblivious to the universal law that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Among the philosophies that have developed in this century in response to the increasing degradation of the environment is one called "deep ecology." It is my personal favorite and by far the most interesting. And hopeful.

Deep ecology is a philosophy that has become an environmental movement that was initiated by a famous Norwegian philosopher and mountaineer, Arne Naess. It portrays itself as deep, because it asks deeper questions than other environmental philosophies, and it calls for a complete overhaul of the way humans think about and live on the Earth.

It is founded on two basic principles: a scientific insight into the interrelatedness of all systems of life on earth; and the idea that anthropocentrism—human centeredness, regarding humans as something completely unique and chosen by God to dominate the Earth—is a misguided way of seeing things.

It holds that an ecocentric attitude is more consistent with the truth about the nature of life on Earth, that humans are not the crown of creation but, rather, integral threads in the fabric of life. For example, from a deep ecology point of view, the so called "wise use" movement is misguided all the way from its disingenuous misuse of the word ‘wise’ to its completely anthropocentric misuse of the natural world.

The Deep Ecology Platform, as worked out by Arne Naess and George Sessions consists of eight points:

1) The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: inherent worth; intrinsic value, inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.

2) Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.

3) Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.

4) Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.

5) The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.

6) Policies must therefore be changed. The changes in policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.

7) The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent worth) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.

8) Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to participate in the attempt to implement the necessary changes.

Humanity is part of nature, not its master. It is important in recognizing this point to distinguish between misanthropy—hating mankind—and anti-anthropocentrism. They are not the same thing, as some critics of deep ecology maintain.

One could enter into an understanding of deep ecology through any part of any one of the eight points of its platform. For instance, what is "a profound awareness of the difference between big and great?"

Think about it.


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