The politics of deep ecology

Mindzoom Affirmations Subliminal Software

Positive Thinking Tips for Life

Get Instant Access

The third level of identification is 'cosmological'. Fox treats this as the most important level (while granting that those influenced by Heidegger will find the ontological level to have priority). What is cosmological identification? Coming to a 'realisation of the fact [sic] that we and all other entities are aspects of a single unfolding reality'; acquiring 'a sense of commonality with all other creatures'; developing an 'impartial identification

56. John Macquarrie, Studies in ChristianExistentialism (London: SCM Press, 1966), pp. i6f.

57. The terms refer of course to the early work of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre.

58. See my 'Imaging God: Creatureliness and Technology', NewBlackfriars 79:928 (1998),

59. Fox, Toward a TranspersonalPsychology, pp. 250-2.

with all particulars'.60 The implications of this position are bolder than is obvious at first sight: for the key relationship of friendship is secured through this identification. Yet the friendship is construed in such fashion that it is possible that we, as a species, shall be required, through our sensibility of identification, to give up our interests in survival. If our interests lead to the diminution or termination ofthe realisation ofother entities, then our interests are called into question.

In a pertinent criticism, Michael Northcott suggests that this notion of cosmological identification requires 'incorporating the other into self. Rather than privileging the importance of limits in human interaction with nature, this notion of an expansive self effectively abolishes such limits - and encourages such abolition. Such a position erases key aspects of difference between humanity and non-human nature (here Northcott draws on the work of Val Plumwood) and thereby has the appearance of challenging the Western obsession with the concept of the self. Yet, in fact, such a view perpetuates the Eurocentric affirmation of self by incorporating all that which is not self into the expansive self.61

We can go further: the logic is totalitarian, the politics that ofidentity, the totality that ofthe 'whole' ofthe expansive self. The deep ecology position, as presented by Fox, is now seen to be a form of'act-based' idealism whose roots lie in the work of Rousseau and Fichte (rather than Spinoza and Gandhi). The expansive 'natural self forms the core of the theory. Yet, of course, such a self never meets resistance for it operates with no genuine account of otherness or difference. Such a self is precisely self-enclosed. It is never broken and remade through its encounters for its mode of relation is assimilation. Thus this self never negotiates but rather incorporates. In this precise sense, its logic is totalitarian. If an established and well-founded democracy, as Adam Przeworski suggests, may be defined as 'a system in which the politically relevant forces subject their values and interests to the uncertain play of democratic institutions,'62 the deep ecology position has no conceptual place for the democratic play of negotiation. In short, we begin to approach the theoretical roots ofa point made earlier: deep ecology lacks a political theory and lapses unwittingly into authoritarianism.

60. Ibid., pp. 252,258,256. 61. Northcott, TheEnvironment and Christian Ethics, p. 115.

62. Cited by John Markoff, 'Really Existing Democracy: Learning from Latin America in the

Late 1990s', New Left Review 223 (1997), 48-68 (59).

Of course, Arne Naess has strongly resisted the charge that deep ecology is fascist.

The Deep Ecological requirement of "wide" ecological sustainability (protecting the full richness and diversity of Life on Earth), however, limits the kinds of Green societies that would be acceptable. Because the intrinsic value, respect and support of deep cultural differences are viewed . . . on a par with attitudes to richness and diversity of non-human life forms, and social or political trends of the fascist or Nazi kind runs [sic] counter to the requirements of full ecological sustainability.63

Yet we have seen that the attitudes towards the richness and diversity oflife forms are not securely grounded in the otherness and difference of those forms. So it is not reassuring to learn that respect for human groups and cultures is secured by analogical reference to the failure to secure natural differences. In this sense, deep ecology yearns for a utopia which is not securely based in some form of democratic ideal.

Freya Mathews's position is also open to objections along these lines. If a green society may be, on her account, understood to be a 'self pursuing its own conatus, what is the relation between the telos of the social system and that of selves within that society.? Mathews can, of course, appeal to the affirmation of diversity and the participation of all forms in intrinsic value. Yet, if it can be shown that the society in question has a natural cosmology and culture - that is, a culture which stresses the ecological relat-edness of that society - on what grounds are the needs of selves of which no account is being taken or whose existence is actively threatened to be defended. Is not the self-realising system or society which Mathews proposes at least - to put it no more strongly - compatible with non-democratic political arrangements?64

However, despite some discussion in the literature, I do not wish to suggest that deep ecology in any way exhibits fascist tendencies. For example, Michael Zimmerman has pointed to what he regards as two worrying trends in the American environmental movement: a tendency towards neo-Malthusian arguments and a decrying ofsome ofthe gains ofmoder-nity. His analysis has been challenged by Val Plumwood who argues that

63. Naess, 'The Deep Ecology "Eight Points" Revisited', pp. 219-20.

64. In making these comments, I do not wish to base my arguments on the flimsy argumentation proposed by Luc Ferry, The NewEcological Order (University of Chicago Press, 1995), especially pp. 59-90. For a refutation of Ferry's argument, see John Clark, 'Aujourd'hui l'ecologie?,' Terra Nova 1 (1996), 112-19.

the principal political danger is that deep ecology will become captive to the political, liberal, right rather than proto-fascist forces.65 Clearly, there is an important issue here: by which political forces may deep ecology be suborned.? However, in my view, none of this discussion points to the conclusion of a convergence of deep ecology and fascism. According to Roger Griffin, fascism may be defined as 'a palingenetic [to do with rebirth] form of populist ultra-nationalism'.66 Given such a definition, deep ecology is not accurately described as fascist. Of course, some overlap may exist: fascism also, in part, opposes modernity and is authoritarian, but its core commitments lie elsewhere. What perhaps is more pertinent in the critical consideration of deep ecology is its authoritarianism, especially with reference to democracy.

That deep ecology operates with an account of the politics of identity is easily traced with reference to the concept of commonality. Fox repeatedly argues that cosmological identification invites a view of human commonality with the rest of the natural order. But what is the basis of this commonality? How is it known? As we have seen, the basis lies in the realisation of the self. We must move, Fox insists, beyond consideration of similarities between humanity and otherkind towards the consideration of commonality (always in the singular).67 Fox resists the suggestion that this is identity thinking: in considering the commonality between myself and a tree, Fox claims, I do not consider myself to be a tree.

That, however, is not the only possible reading of identity. In rejecting simple identity, Fox fails to see that what he calls identification must mean identity by incorporation. That is, the deep ecology position reduces the otherness of that which is not (my)self to a single quality - 'we and all other entities are aspects of a single unfolding reality' - towards incorporation. The multiplicity, variety and particularity of otherness is obscured through the claim that all things are basically the same and can thereby be incorporated into my expansive self. So, although Fox insists, against Sylvan, that identification does not mean identity, this is - given the wider theoretical commitments of deep ecology - merely an assertion.

65. Michael E. Zimmerman, 'Ecofascism: a Threat to American Environmentalism', in Roger

Gottlieb (ed.), TheEcological Community (London and New York: Routledge, 1997), pp. 229-54;

Michael E. Zimmerman, 'Possible Political Problems of an Earth-Based Religiosity', in Katz,

Light and Rothenberg (eds.), Beneath the Surface, pp. 151-94; Val Plumwood, 'Deep Ecology,

Deep Pockets and Deep Problems', in Katz, Light and Rothenberg (eds.), Beneath the Surface, pp. 59-84.

66. Roger Griffin (ed.), Fascism (Oxford University Press, 1995), introduction, p. 4.

67. Fox, Toward a Transpersonal Psychology, p. 231.

We should note also an important epistemological commitment: the capacity for identification is known by the monological voice which incorporates the variety of the world into itself. It is knowledge by power: the construal of sameness towards its incorporation. (The appeal to 'intuition' as the basis of cosmological identification merely serves to obscure this point.)

To be fair to deep ecology, Freya Mathews has noted this problem of the relation between self-realisation (the 'expansion' of the human self) and other selves. Approaching the matter by way of the concept of the cosmos rather than the concept of self, Mathews proposes a metaphysics of substance monism derived from the philosophy of the natural sciences and related to the metaphysics of Spinoza. The detail of her position need not detain us here. She does, however, claim that in the post-Einsteinian universe we need a new account of individuation. If the new scientific cosmology rules out 'substance' as the principle ofindividuation, how is the individual to be established.? Mathews's answer draws on systems theory and Spinoza: the new definition ofthe individual is the systemic, conative self. Thus the definition of substantiality is that of systemic selfhood in which the self seeks its own realisation or maintenance. An entity which has some of the marks of the system - stability, homeostasis, feedback loops, etc. - and the marks of self-realisation - telos, self-interest, agency, self-evaluation - may be counted as a self. The most obvious instance of a self is, of course, the organism. In addition, although it does not enjoy the feature ofsystemic openness, Mathews proposes that the cosmos itselfis a special instance of self.68

Such a set ofcommitments allows for the development ofthe position maintained by Fox. For Mathews can show how it is that, from her position, the self which is the human organism can see itself as part of the metaphysics ofinterconnectedness and can thereby register in awe and wonder its place in the whole. Her position demonstrates its real strength, however, in the face of a different issue: for the notion of self-realisation only makes sense if the cosmos is the sort of place which supports such realisation. What if the cosmos was itself inert and devoid of meaning? What if the cosmos was as much destroyer as creator. The claim to the cosmos as selfallows Mathews to insist that self-realisation on the part ofthe human organism is part of a wider, cosmic self-realisation. Whereas Fox's position tends to look like an act of aggrandisement by the self, Mathews can appeal

68. Mathews, The Ecological Self, pp. 91-116.

to a wider cosmological context of self-realisation in which the conative will-to-exist of the systemic self is placed.

Yet now the politics of identity resurfaces at a different level. Whereas Fox's transpersonal self incorporates other selves, for Mathews my aim of self-realisation unites me with the cosmos:

It is through my conatus that I, and other selves, achieve oneness with the ecocosm ['the universe seen as a self-realizing system']. 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.69

However, such a position trades upon the ambivalence between whole/part in this style of thinking. Whole and part coincide in the identity of the conative aspects of the cosmic and human self. Here two levels of self-realisation meet. But such a result can be achieved only if my self-realisation makes a contribution to the realisation of the cosmic self- a position which Mathews explicitly endorses.70

Which means that the whole of the cosmic self is determined by my conative will: a curious understanding of the whole! That is, for her position to be successful, Mathews must allow for the 'wholes' of self-realising systemic selves to qualify the cosmic self. Needless to say, this lapses into logical nonsense. The only other way to go is to insist on the primacy of the cosmic whole. But this places us in a determinism which Mathews wishes to avoid. Mathews is right to propose some account of a cosmic law of being'. But the result is to fall into a naturalism which she is trying, I think, to avoid. If there is a common conatus, then self-realisation takes place within an enclosed deterministic system; if there is to be freedom and genuine self-realisation, Mathews's account of the cosmic self requires revision.

I claimed above that deep ecology operates with the totality or whole of the expansive self. We have seen some of the theoretical commitments that such a view entails. But we can see also that this privileging of a 'natural self issues in an ideology of the natural. Given that the self has the capacity to engage in expansive identification - although this capacity may need to be recovered and then educated - the basic goodness of the self is affirmed. In that commonality turns upon the incorporation of the goodness of other natural entities, the affirmation of a general goodness in nature is affirmed. Mathews is explicit on this point: all ofthe cosmos

enjoys a basic level of value.71 Yet how that relates to evil in nature (which includes evil in human nature of course) remains unclear. Furthermore, although deep ecology might consider itself to be in opposition to the moral extensionism of, say, the utilitarian ethicist Peter Singer, there is a form of extensionism operative here. Instead of moral extensionism we have idealist extensionism. The 'whole' posited is that of the expansive selfwhich incorporates all other entities.

Is this not, however, a shallow, that is, anthropocentric, position.? Value is here located in the selfand is bestowed through incorporation ofothers. At least the intrinsic value approaches are able to rely upon a theory of value in common (which does not mean or imply 'equally in common'). What is truly in common in Fox's position of the inflationary, self-aggrandising self? Mathews can respond to this complaint by arguing that for her the cosmos has intrinsic value. However she insists that each aspect of the cosmos has the same, background, value. But is this true, given her view - reported above - of the nature of selves?

Fox claims that deep ecology is thoroughly 'this-worldly'. In fact, the notion of the expansive self has sustained difficulties engaging with the world. In that it seems to propose a substantive view of selves-in-commonality which does not relate well to the actual structures and processes of contemporary global, capitalist, urban life, deep ecology seems strangely other-worldly. It fails the 'this-worldly' test in a further sense: its lack of a democratic-ecological political theory, its reduction of the world to a single quality (which includes an affirmation of the quantitative diversity of the single quality: 'may all life forms flourish!') and its monological voice all suggest authoritarian tendencies.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
The Path To Positive Thinking

The Path To Positive Thinking

Finally, The Ultimate Guide To Changing Your Life Forever... Get Your Hands On The Ultimate Guide For Live Improvement Through The Art Of Positive Thinking And Let It's Magic Change Your Life Forever! Discover How Ordinary People Can Live Extraordinary Lives Through The Power Of Positive Thinking

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment