Monday, February 1, 2010

shallow ecology - a critique of the deep ecology movement

According to deep ecologists, the root, or “deep” cause of environmental destruction is anthropocentrism, the worldview that holds humans are (1) that which has highest or the only intrinsic value, (2) are fundamentally different and separate from nature, and (3) the dominant focus of our attention. This anthropocentric worldview has been particularly acute in urban societies since the rise first of agriculture and then of cities, and has been particularly virulent in the ongoing age of colonialism and industrialization.

There is a strong tendency to think of the ideal as vast wilderness areas with no or little human interference. Hunter-gatherer societies are praised as showing the least domination over nature’s processes, and the most “practical” ideal is bioregionalism, with decentralized, appropriate technology and organic agriculture that work within the natural systems and limits of the local bioregion in a sustainable way.

Deep ecologists think that humans can achieve a loss of the limited ego-self and the realization of our essential identity with the earth. This is not an experience monistic Oneness in which all distinctions disappear, but a realization of self-in-Self (ourselves as one part of a bigger life). This involves a deep identification with the whole of nature. “I am the rainforest that is being destroyed.” The ideal, then, is an expansion of “self” into Self-Realization, the fullness of all life.

The mirage of self-realization has been dangled by religions and self-help movements alike, leaving followers broke and brainwashed. By substituting regionalism for nationalism, ego is merely entrenched into smaller forms of aggrandizement and undue self-righteousness. Trapped within shallow egos, intellectual identification with nature is mere illusion, and is not the same as being ego-less or lacking self. Self glorification as an eco-warrior is simply used to mask tribalism, uncritical thinking, and violent behavior.

Furthermore, deep ecology fails to realize the nature-social connection. It fails to realize that our conceptions of and attitudes toward nature reflect our social structures and attitudes. The problem is not humans or human-centeredness but particular socio-economic systems. We cannot solve the problem of our relation to nature without solving fundamental social problems, such as sexism, racism, social hierarchy, and so on. Deep ecology ignores the plight of particular social groups that need particular attention because of the injustice and oppression they suffer. White males offering a fake panacea of self-realization is cruel and grossly insensitive to social groups suffering from centuries of white, male supremacy and misogyny.

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