The cosmic heights of deep ecology

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Despite all these difficulties, deep ecology remains an important force in green politics. Why? Where lies the attraction of deep ecology? At the end of The CosmologicalSelf, Freya Mathews offers an important clue: deep ecology is also concerned with meaning. That is, in this formulation deep ecology has profound 'religious' commitments. For the correct interpretation of the human self as related to the cosmic self bestows meaning. In one sense, Mathews's position permits the theoretical identification of our

71. So not a gnosticism; or, if this is gnostic, it is without the presence of evil in materiality; we may indeed be god-in-the-process-of-becoming which suggests optimism, perfectibility, modernity.

place in the universe: like every other being, I am 'one' with the universe, the acknowledgment of which may engender feelings of awe and wonder. Here I learn that I am not at all alienated from nature but in fact find my home in it.72 Yet a more significant account of meaning can be traced from a consideration of the human self in its relation to the cosmic self. As self-realising, my self makes a contribution to the development of the selves in which I am placed. I quote Mathews at some length:

It is through my conatus that I mirror, and am mirrored in, the wider systems of Nature. It is through my conatus that I, and other selves, achieve oneness with the ecocosm. Recognition of the fact that my conatus unites me with the ecocosm, which is thus seen to be my greater Self, in itself expands the scope of my conatus: my will-to-exist now encompasses the wider systems of Nature... Since I am ontologically at one with nature, my conatus actually feeds the cosmic conatus, actually helps to maintain the ecocosm in existence!73

So the matter is clear at last: we are co-creators with the cosmos. And Mathews proceeds to make a further, even bolder, claim. When we act in support of the cosmos, that is, we practise what Naess and Fox have described as self-realisation, are we connected to the universe in anything more than a voluntaristic sense.? Is our joy at seeking to affirm and preserve the conatus of the universe merely accidental or am I in tune with the deepest commitments ofthe universe itself. Here she suggests that, in our feelings of joyful affirmation of the cosmic conatus, the cosmos is indeed expressed in and through us. Thus the affirmation of the universe is not merely a kind of shadow which falls across an unheeding universe nor is it the invention of those with a rare ecological sensibility. Instead, 'what we call love is perhaps the faint psychological shadow in us of that inner spiritual impulse of which our universe is the external manifestation'.74 Thus our 'inward' affirmation - love - is the expression of the cosmic will-to-affirmation; by our interiority we are connected to the interiority of the cosmos; by this route my acts of self-realisation - my attempts to identify with other selves, including the cosmos - contribute to cosmic self-realisation. Thus we learn that, despite our concerns about our excessive power as the source of environmental degradation, we are makers of the cosmos after all.

Here Mathews provides the metaphysics missing from the psychology of Fox and Naess. For a central difficulty, as we saw, was how the

72. Mathews, TheEcological Self, pp. 149-50.

process of self-realisation genuinely related to other selves and whether self-realisation was anything more than a psychological expression of ecological awareness. Yet here we see two contemporary prejudices combine: inward spirituality and psychotherapy. Mathews argues that the real ecological work may in fact be such self-cultivation: the development in ourselves of'the spirit of pure self affirmation, the well spring of "love", that creates and perpetuates the universe'. Thus the point of access of the human self to the cosmic self is, finally, psychological (although the range of identification is cosmic) and the aim of the individual is psychothera-peutic establishment ofmeaning (and for the cosmos the maintenance of its own conatus). What began in cosmology turns upon the spirituality of inwardness. And the universe is defined as self-enclosed cosmos. Indeed, its unity is given by reference to the 'interiority' of the cosmic conatus with which the human individual achieves meaning.

In summary, the common realm of God, nature and humanity is displaced by the realm of Nature-cosmic self, neighbourliness is replaced by interior cultivation, otherness is collapsed into the interior will-to-maintenance of the cosmic self, the social life of humanity receives no clear articulation and the place of human beings is not decentred but rather by the route of inwardness is placed at the centre of the cosmos. Here deep ecology appears as decisively modern: centred on the interior life of the individual who creates and preserves the cosmos. I am proposing a different view: by contrast to self-realisation, I suggest friendship; to interconnectedness, I suggest social relationality; to cosmic conatus, I propose the world as gift. In sum, a relational account that accounts for the proximity and difference of nature and which - contra this deep stoicism - 'shifts'. Thus the crucial dynamic is not 'from one self to another', but friendship; the crucial ontology is not that ofa cosmic cona-tus, but a common realm.

And yet. Despite my misgivings, Naess's commitment to elaborate on his early view of a 'relational, total-field image' towards an holistic, relational ontology is warmly to be welcomed. Accompanying this ontology is an affirmation of the diversity, complexity and symbiosis of nature. Central to this ontology is a focus on concrete particulars as a way of affirming that our sensuous interaction with nature is not merely subjective but rather may be relied upon as an adequate guide as to what nature is. In other words, the secondary and tertiary qualities that comprise our 'felt' experience of nature are not to be dismissed. Such experience emerges from an understanding of epistemology as relational. Naess speaks approvingly of a dictum of Heraclitus: 'everything flows'.75 A theological account of the world as becoming, as proposed in part I, converges with such a view. However, Naess's phenomenological epistemology privileges human description of nature. The theme of the otherness of nature is not central to his position.

Despite the oft-repeated claim that the basic problem identified by deep ecology is the severance of humanity from nature, the movement that governs Naess's position seems to be from the human towards nature. A truly relational epistemology might foreground more strongly the otherness of nature as epistemic rupture. In sum, Naess's position, as Eric Katz argues forcefully, is anthropocentric.76 And part of that anthropocentrism is an undeveloped political theory with an authoritarian logic. A political theology of nature will wish to develop an ontology as radical in intention as the one proposed by deep ecology. However, it will wish to do so in ways that are less indebted to naturalism and which are politically more robust.

75. Naess, Ecology, Community andLifestyle, p. 50.

76. Katz, 'Against the Inevitability of Anthropocentrism', pp. 17-42.

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