Socialising ecology

Although it has other adherents in, for example, John Clark and Janet Biehl, social ecology is associated primarily with the work of Murray Bookchin. Suspicious of the academy, none the less Bookchin's œuvre includes at least ten books; neither holding nor seeking an academic position, he co-founded in 1974 the Institute of Social Ecology in Rochester, Vermont. With a history of political activism going back to the late 30s, Bookchin has moved through several phases: communist, Trotskyite and now anarchist. Bookchin has been involved in a well-known spat (beginning in 1987) with deep ecology: in a sustained polemic, he has accused it of being a form of nature mysticism.2 In this he is, as we saw in chapter 3, partly right. However, he has made the mistake of claiming that deep ecology is fundamentally misanthropic. It has been easy for deep ecology to reject this charge. Yet the disagreements between deep ecologists and social ecologists continue to reverberate through the environmental movement in North America. More recently, Bookchin has fiercely refuted criticisms ofhis position made by fellow social ecologist and one-time collaborator, John Clark.3

2. See, inter alia, Murray Bookchin, 'Social Ecology versus Deep Ecology', SocialistReview 88:3 (1988), 11-29.

3. Murray Bookchin, 'Comments on the International Social Ecology Network Gathering and the "Deep Social Ecology" of John Clark', Democracy and Nature 3:3 (1997), 154-97. A

Social ecology departs from one of the principal commitments of socialist ecology (the topic of chapter 6). For socialist ecology (at least, in the Marxist tradition) has stressed the centrality of human relations to nature; alienation follows on from the division of labour; and labour is concerned with human interaction with non-human nature.

Bookchin argues differently: the idea of the domination of nature by humanity, he contends, follows on from the domination of humanity by humanity. Bookchin can state this position very baldly: 'the notion that man must dominate nature emerges directly from the domination of man by man'.4 Or, 'the idea of dominating nature stems from human domination, initially in hierarchical forms as feminists so clearly understand, and later in class and statist forms'.5 At other times, a caution is introduced: 'nearly all our ecological problems arise from deep seated social problems'.6 It is important to note the precise formulation: in and through intrahuman domination emerges the idea of the domination of nature. The notion precedes the performance, we might say. Of course, such a reading allows Bookchin to accept that human beings may have, in pre-hierarchical times, dominated nature. However, such domination was not reflective and thereby not purposive. Such an affirmation of the 'centrality' of human hierarchy runs through Bookchin's writings of the last 30 years.

What is primary, then, is hierarchy and domination, and the suppression of spontaneity, within and between human groups. From this denial of freedom, the exploitation of the planet follows. For Bookchin claims that our central problem is hierarchy. Moreover, the proper response to hierarchy is freedom. The emancipation of nature must thus wait on the emancipation of humanity. What then is required is 'a coherent view of the social sources of our ecological crisis'.7 These social sources are to be traced to the fact that an ever-expanding capitalist economy seems unaware of the ecological limits to expansion. Bookchin is suspicious of revised version of the essay that is the subject of Bookchin's critique is now published: see John Clark, 'Municipal Dreams: A Social Ecological Critique of Bookchin's Politics', in Andrew Light (ed.), Social Ecology after Bookchin (New York: Guilford Press, 1998), pp. 137-91. On the disagreement between Clark and Bookchin, see further Andrew Light, 'Introduction', in Light (ed.), SocialEcology after Bookchin, pp. 1-23 (pp. 8-12).

4. Murray Bookchin, Post-Scarcity Anarchism (Montreal and New York: BlackRose Books, 1986), p. 85.

5. Murray Bookchin, The Modern Crisis (Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1986), p. 71.

6. Murray Bookchin, 'What is Social Ecology?', in Michael Zimmerman (ed.), Environmental Philosophy:FromAnimalRights toRadicalEcology (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1993), pp. 354-73 (p. 354).

7. Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy (Montreal and New York: BlackRose Books, revised edn 1991), p. xvii.

attempts to trace the core of the environmental crisis to the relation between first nature and second nature. For the projection of human ills onto first nature can lend an immutability to human ills; these ills suddenly become 'natural'. Throughout Bookchin's work there is the sustained rejection of the ascription of hierarchy to nature. He remains deeply impatient with those discourses that call lions the 'king of beasts', etc. These are, for Bookchin, restrictive anthropomorphisms. Such anthropomorphisms abound in popular culture. For example, much of the commentary that accompanies BBC "wildlife" programmes - saturated as they are by reference to hierarchical patterns of organisation - would be rejected by Bookchin. A few years ago, one of these multipart series - on the lives of insects - was titled Alien Nation. For Bookchin both words of this title are senseless: insects cannot form a nation and cannot, as products of evolutionary nature, be dubbed alien. (Neither, for the same reason, could human beings be called alien.)

Why social.? Why ecology? As for ecology, Bookchin wishes to speak of the complex and dynamic interaction and interdependence of living and non-living things. Ecology is thus the way of speaking of the balance of nature. And human beings are included in nature. So there is a sense in which Bookchin wishes to speak of a natural ecology. But he also regards human beings as emphatically social. (Bookchin reserves the use of the word social for human organisation; and he recommends the use ofthe word 'community' for natural forms of organisation. So ants are communal, not social, creatures.) It is in the social phase of their development - that is, the institutional phase - that human beings have become misaligned from nature. Thus Bookchin calls for a 'social ecology': an inquiry into the balance of nature which human beings currently have a tendency to interfere with or disrupt. As Bookchin writes: 'The time has come to integrate our ecological natural philosophy with an ecological social philosophy based on freedom and consciousness.'8

Thus it is the themes offreedom and consciousness in the human, that is, social, sphere to which Bookchin directs our attention: 'that humanity must dominate and exploit nature stems from the domination and exploitation of man by man'.9 Thereby Bookchin insists that in an ecological theory no form of hierarchy can be appealed to in nature or society. The only way forward is thus the criticism and overturning ofhierarchies

8. Bookchin, Toward anEcologicalSociety (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1980), p. 27.

in human society. A constant sub-theme is the rejection of any hierarchy in nature. In other words, if intrahuman domination is the source of ecocide, then any amelioration in our circumstance must attend to that same domination. Diagnosis and cure mirror one another. What Bookchin proposes therefore is 'a reharmonization of nature and humanity through a reharmonization of human with human'.10 Bookchin's thinking culminates in an anarchist political prescription which in his latest writings is called 'confederal municipalism'.

So far, so good. Yet Bookchin's position involves more even than this. By way of an appeal to a dialectical naturalism, he argues for the emergence of human second nature from first nature. This emergence is both dialectical and naturalistic. Dialectical naturalism is to be understood as the philosophy of social ecology, and also as an ethics which, in turn, is derived in part from a tradition of anarchist thinking, especially the work of Peter Kropotkin. Here Bookchin uses the language of'free nature': by rethinking the relations between first and second nature, social ecology affirms free nature. In this sense, Bookchin may be understood as invoking 'natural aid'.

There is no space here to discuss all ofBookchin's social ecology, so my approach is restricted to certain key themes: some of the core concepts and the movement of his thinking; the evolutionary ontology that he invokes in support ofhis anarchist position; the political outworking ofthis anarchist position; and, finally, the ways in which the common realm of God, nature and humanity may be pressed in an anarchist direction. These conclusions will be taken forward in the discussions of an ecological Christol-ogy in chapter 7 and an ecological pneumatology in chapter 8.

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