Into the depths philosophies of deep ecology

To answer these questions, I turn to the writings of Fox and Mathews, drawing on other sources where appropriate.37 I wish also to stress that both these writers are concerned - directly or indirectly - to move deep ecology away from discussions of value and towards metaphysics and thereby to rescue deep ecology from an identification with value theories in ethics. There is a sense in which the matter of the value of nature has never been Naess's primary concern. This clue is developed explicitly by Fox and is treated in a rather different manner - and from a greater distance - by Mathews. From ethics to cosmology: the reinvention of deep ecology continues. And we should note that this reinvention is partially obscured by the reception of deep ecology: ethical treatments - see Michael Northcott's important book The Environment and Christian Ethics -continue to treat deep ecology as in part a theory of ecocentric value.38 The direction deep ecology seems now to have set for itself is slightly different. Ontology precedes ethics: 'It is... important...to movefrom ethics to ontology and back.'39 The elaboration of an appropriate ontology for deep ecology is now its central concern.

In his critique of deep ecology, Richard Sylvan notes that deep ecology's value theory can be maintained only through a turn to epistemology and metaphysics. For deep ecology raises questions - in the form of internal critique - as to how value inheres in natural objects. Is such value given? How do we know this. Responding to these demands, Fox and Mathews seek to offer a basic ecophilosophy consonant with the platform of deep ecology. Both are indebted to the work of Arne Naess; both approach the matter by way of a philosophy of the self. Here the similarity ends: Fox draws upon modern psychology, Mathews on the philosophy of the modern natural sciences in the construction of their respective

36. Naess, 'The Deep Ecological Movement', p. 77.

37. Fox, Toward a Transpersonal Psychology; Mathews, The Ecological Self.

38. Northcott, TheEnvironmentand ChristianEthics, pp. 105-16.

39. Naess, Ecology, Community and Lifestyle, p. 67; italics in original.

ecophilosophies. Different notions of self are operative here. In short, these accounts represent the two ways of approaching the philosophical basis of Deep Ecology: either by way of philosophical psychology or cosmology.

Drawing on the work of Arne Naess, Fox proposes a reinterpretation of the concept of self in the direction of transpersonal psychology. Fox claims that Naess has been influenced strongly by Spinoza and Gandhi's Hinduism. Although Fox moves in a different direction, he claims the authority of Naess's writing in support: 'Naess's philosophical sense of deep ecology obviously refers to a psychologically based approach to the question of our relationship with the rest of nature as opposed to an axiolog-ically based (i.e., a value theory based) approach.'40 In other words, Naess has never been concerned with moral extensionism but with empathetic extensionism. Fox turns to 'transpersonal psychology' - with its account of a relational self - to make his case. The aim here is 'the realization of a sense of self that extends beyond (or that is trans-) one's egoic, biographical or personal sense of self.41 Although drawing especially on the work of Abraham Maslow, Fox insists that the introduction of a philosophy of the self is no foreign import into deep ecology. He goes to some lengths to show that transpersonal psychology can be pressed in non-anthropocentric directions and that the majority of adherents to deep ecology are concerned to present this notion of an enlarged or expansive self.42

Further, Fox claims that axiological approaches to deep ecology -which argue over the intrinsic value ofnature - are in fact concerned with providing moral imperatives which presuppose the existence of an atomistic, volitional self. In short, being 'moral' requires an account of the 'responsible self which transpersonal ecology seeks to overcome.

What, then, is the self proposed by Fox.? More precisely, how is this an expansive, 'post-moral' conception ofself? A transpersonal self expands or increases through three levels of identification: personal, ontological and cosmological. Of the three, Fox finds the last to be decisive. Yet there are problems with all the levels, as we shall see.

On personal identification, Fox claims that: 'Personally based identification refers to experiences of commonality with other entities that are brought about through personal involvement with these entities.'43 Fox notes several areas of personal identification: family and friends,

40. Fox,TowardaTranspersonalPsychology,p. 197. 41. Ibid.

42. Cf. Naess, 'Self-realization: an Ecological Approach to Being in the World,' pp. 225f.

43. Fox, Toward aTranspersonalPsychology, p. 249.

locale, clubs and societies, even one's own culture and country. Putting to one side whether or not this is a helpful list, we should note that Fox claims that this is the least transpersonal form of identification. Indeed, he insists that deep ecology usually focuses on the ontological and cos-mological forms of identification because of the weaknesses inherent in personal identification. What are these weaknesses.? Primarily, Fox has in mind the duality operative in this form of identification: attention to my immediate circumstance can, of course, be the basis not of my identification with others but rather my assertion of my own, allegedly narrow, interests.44

At first sight, this seems to be rather an odd reservation. Is it not central to an ecological politics to bring into view people's sense of their habitat or locale in oppositional ways? For instance, is not the relationship established between city dwellers and the built environment important in the formation of ecological politics? As I look up from typing this on my word-processor, my gaze passes through my window to the municipal park, Horfield Common, which abuts the end of our small garden. It is not much: a small patch of green in the middle of the city of Bristol. Yet local people feel strongly about it (as do I). In 1992, the supermarket chain, Tesco, sought to build another of its stores on land adjacent to the common. The local community was galvanised and sought (unsuccessfully) to resist the building of this new store with its giant car park on Golden Hill. And the store has gradually intensified its presence: it successfully applied in 1996 to open on Sundays despite an agreement - made at the time of the application to build the store - to open only six days a week. Tesco then made a further application to extend its weekly opening hours from 7.30 a.m. to 10 p.m. When I hear or read reports that Tesco has now overtaken Sainsbury as Britain's leading food retailer (whatever that means), I know that this was achieved in part through decisions taken far away which have allowed a substantial intrusion into the locality of Horfield.

There are, ofcourse, weaknesses with identification with one's locality. But some of us did learn through the summer of 1992 of the power of big business, of the deep relations between business and central government and of the part cravenness, part powerlessness of local elected officials. Interpreted thus, I consider such 'personal identification' to be deeply op-positional. Such impulses towards identification reside in the patterns of friendship of city dwellers towards their built environment. Here we can

trace one of the crucial theoretical weaknesses of this form of deep ecology: its lack of politics.

What are the roots of this lack of politics.? The problem resides in the concept of identification promoted by this variant of deep ecology. For identification, as Richard Sylvan has noted, suggests identity.45 Yet the deep ecology position resists identity with one's locality. For such an account of identity, it argues, tends to support selfishness and reinforce egoism. Thus what one identifies with has to be 'at a distance'. Thus deep ecology wishes to hold to a strong reading of identification but draws back from the implications ofthis at the 'local' level. So it remains unclear what 'identification' means. Given that deep ecology is a form of transpersonal identification, such a lack of clarity indicates a weakness.

A different way of approaching this same issue would be to consider the world view projected by deep ecology. With what should a deep ecology world view help one to identify? Not with the local of course. For an ecological perspective must encourage people to 'think globally'. But deep ecology fails to see that people's local identifications may help them to 'think globally'.46 An ecological world view must assist people to come to a sense of their place in the scheme of things precisely by attention to their own place. A world view operates through a number of levels, from the local to the global. However, it is the firstlevel that is eschewed by deep ecology. Yet this leads to a very thin description of the urban, built environment where most people live. Nor should it come as any surprise that deep ecology does not issue in a political theory, precisely an ecological politics.47 In such fashion, deep ecology contributes - like other political styles, as Timothy Bewes has shrewdly argued - to its own de-politicisation.48 One should not, so the argument goes, entertain personal commitments of identification; rather one should encourage 'natural', 'spontaneous' (the words are Fox's) levels of identification beyond the personal. But this suggests not so much an ecological politics as an ideology of'the natural'. Thus there persists, as Michael Northcott and Val Plumwood have pointed out, a problem of abstraction and rationalisation here.49 Instead of highlighting how

45. Richard Sylvan, 'A Critique of Deep Ecology', part 2, Radical Philosophy 41 (1985), 10-22 (10).

46. Of course, it may be important to act and think locally as well as act and think globally: see Rosemary Radford Ruether, Gaia and God, p. 272; James O' Connor, Natural Causes:Essays in Ecological Marxism (New York: Guilford Press, 1998), p. 300.

47. Sylvan, 'A Critique of Deep Ecology', part 2,14.

48. Timothy Bewes, Cynicism and Postmodernity (London: Verso, 1997), pp. 186-7.

49. Northcott, The Environment and ChristianEthics, pp. 116-18; Val Plumwood, 'Nature, Self and Gender: Feminism, Environmental Philosophy and the Critique of Rationalism', in RobertElliot(ed.), EnvironmentalEthics (Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 162-4.

economic forces inform a local situation, Fox's forms of identification seem rather to ape the 'at a distance' actions of economic forces in such a fashion as to deny, in a rationalising, abstract manner, the importance of place and particularity.

Writing in the 'foundations of Deep Ecology', Freya Mathews's position is better placed to engage with the problem of locality. She notes that a central problem for deep ecology is whether or not the affirmation of the cosmos as a self-realising and maintaining being invites careful attention to place and habitation. As long as matter continues, why worry about the precise form.? Is not a strip mine merely the alteration in the material of a landscape.? As long as the cosmic self persists in the pursuit of its conatus, why worry about temporary forms of matter amidst the long-term flux?50 Such a view could be consonant with the destruction of selves and entities. Mathews turns the argument around by insisting that identification with the cosmic self invites the affirmation of the forms of life below the level of the cosmos; my relation to the cosmos is thereby mediated by these other teleological configurations oflife. Such spiritual affirmation invites us to view the actually existing systemic selves as important and not as vortices in the flux of matter. She could also add, I think, that her position insists on biocentric egalitarianism (the equal right of all selves to flourish on account of the omnipresence of 'background value'), the affirmation of the diversity of species and the stress on respect for the vital needs (including the requirement to survive) of selves.51

Nevertheless, what is missing from this account is a discussion of the interrelation of the selves. Consider the argument that societies are self-realising systems and are thereby to be described as selves (and so have intrinsic value). Ecological problems do not arise solely from the fact, as Mathews claims, that our cosmology or world view does not permit us to see the reality of ecological interconnectedness. They also reside in the fact that a society has active relations with non-human nature towards the securing of inputs of energy. These inputs are largely associated with agriculture, natural energy resources and information. None of these are, in Mathews's analysis, selves. Thus it is hard to know whether they should be respected or not. Deep ecology abandons notions of hierarchy by affirming the equality of all selves but at the price of sharp political analysis. In other words, what needs philosophical attention is not merely the co-constitutive movements between humanity and nature but also the

50. Mathews, The Ecological Self, p. 160.

structures and tendencies of these processes. What Mexican indigenous people wish to know is how their commitment to an 'identification with their native earth' in defence of a 'sustainable ecology'52 is clarified by deep ecology's critique of local identification. What Welsh miners wish to know is how such interconnectedness illuminates their transformation of alandscape even to the detriment of their own health, and how the turn to other sources of energy will acknowledge their commitment to the provision of coal. What Indian workers at the Union Carbide 'plant' in Bhopal need to know is how the stress on interconnectedness can give an account of the structures by which their bodies were treated as instrumentalised nature. How does a naturalist stress on interconnection highlight these issues.? None of these, in my judgment, are open to analysis by the conceptual apparatus proposed by Mathews.

We come now to the second level. Fox proposes, as we have seen, three levels of identification: the personal, the ontological and the cosmologi-cal. In the second, ontological, level identification refers to 'the fact . . . that things are'. This facticity impresses us so strongly that we have a sense of the actuality of things in contrast to the nothingness that might have been.53 So here Fox is concerned with what Paul Tillich once termed 'ontological shock'. It is Hamlet's question: to be or not to be? Why is there something rather than nothing.?54 Elaborating on this theme, Fox argues that this way of experiencing the world builds 'a deep but impartial sense of identification with all existents'. Fox readily grants there is no logical connection operative here: ontological shock is not the cause of ecological awareness. He argues, however, that sustained spiritual discipline in the acknowledgment that there is something rather than nothing can contribute to a commitment to acknowledging the presence of things. We might say, perhaps, that we have here a sense ofthe graced presentness of things.55

There are two difficulties with such a view. First, we should note that there is an ambiguity in Fox's admission that there is no logical connection between a sense of the mystery of presence and ecological awareness. For, as the history of existentialism shows, a sense of the mystery of being

52. James Petras, 'Latin America: The Resurgence of the Left', New Left Review 223 (1997),

53. See Fox, Toward a Transpersonal Psychology, p. 251.

54. Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology (London: SCM Press, 1987), 1, p. 14; cf. Martin Heidegger,

An Introduction to Metaphysics (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1959), p. 1.

55. Joseph Sittler, Essays on Nature and Grace (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972), p. 88.

can be interpreted in negative, as in the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre, rather than positive ways. Although Fox concedes that this 'negative' reaction is a logical possibility, he does not show why it is a reaction that ought to be avoided. Additional reasons need to be offered to interpret the presence of being 'positively' rather than 'negatively'. And, as John Macquarrie has shown, these reasons are neither obvious nor compelling.56 In short, such an inquiry forces a question about meaning. It is not obvious what the answer to this question should be: either courage in the face of anxiety over meaning or an affirmation of absurdity and the descent into nausea.57

Second, the concept of identification is here unclear. How does the act of identification relate to the passivity of meditation.? One aspect of Heidegger's work invites a sustained meditative attitude towards the world as the key way of overcoming the technical mindset which treats the world as 'standing reserve' - as available for human use.58 Yet such a stress on meditative receptivity does not fit well with the matter of identification. This problem is, in fact, noted by Fox: those deep ecol-ogists influenced by Heidegger stress 'openness', he writes, rather than identification.59 But openness is not identification. It is receptive, not expansive. It suggests a givenness to the 'environment' of the self; it suggests religious themes of the graceful givenness or gift character of the world. To join up with the previous point, openness suggests paying attention to the local and the particular. Although there are the most severe difficulties with Heidegger's view, that does not at all diminish the problem of relating 'openness' to 'identification'.

Secrets Of Becoming A Meditating Expert

Secrets Of Becoming A Meditating Expert

Discover the Secrets of Meditating Like an Expert In Just 7 Days Or Less And, Start Enjoying More Happiness, Peace, and Better Health, Right Now. Now, you too can learn to go deeper, and enjoy all the benefits of meditation, even if you have never tried to meditate ever before.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment