Deep Ecology

Just as there are Democrats (with a capital "D," members of one of the two major political parties in the United States) and democrats (with a lower-case "d," persons, irrespective of party affiliation, who agree with Winston Churchill that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others), so there are Deep Ecologists (with a capital "D" and "E") and deep ecologists (with a lower-case "d" and "e"). The latter, such as Aldo Leopold, think that ecology has profound philosophical implications that it transforms our understanding of the world in which we live and what it means to be a human being. Deep Ecologists, on the other hand, endorse the eight-point "platform" of Deep Ecology that Arne Naess co-authored with George Sessions (Devall and Sessions). Moreover, they downplay the importance of environmental ethics, and advocate "Self-[with a capital 'S'] realization," instead. In short, deep ecology is a philosophical orientation; Deep Ecology is an ideology.

Ethics per se, Deep Ecologists allege, assumes "social atomism," a conception of each individual self as externally related to all other selves and to unselfconscious nature (Fox, 1990). Therefore, Deep Ecologists suppose that an ethical act on the part of an atomic moral agent involves grudgingly considering the interests of other morally considerable beings equally and impartially with his or her own. But for people actually and consistently to behave ethically—as thus characterized—is as rare as it is noble. Therefore, even if environmental ethics could be broadly infused, environmental destruction and degradation would be little abated.

However, the metaphysical implications of ecology undermine the social atomism upon which ethics is supposedly premised. We human beings are internally, not externally, related to one another and to non-human natural entities and nature as a whole. "Others" cannot be cleanly and neatly distinguished from ourselves. Our relationships, natural as well as social, with "them" are mutually defining. We are embedded in communities, biotic as well as human. If we could only realize that the environing world is ultimately indistinguishable from ourselves, then we could enlist the powerful and reliable motive of self-interest in the effort to reverse environmental degradation and destruction (Naess).

The process of Deep Ecological Self-realization is experiential as well as intellectual. Through practice as well as study, we should cultivate a palpable sense of identification with the world. Nature-protecting behavior will flow from experiential identification with nature. Warwick Fox (1990) has suggested that Deep Ecology should actually be renamed "transpersonal ecology," since, as in transpersonal psychology, the goal of Self-(with a capital "S") realization involves self-(with a lower-case "s") transcendence.

Deep Ecology's suspicions about the efficacy of environmental ethics seems to be based upon a narrow characterization of ethics that excludes sentiment-based communitarian ethics like the Leopold land ethic and its ecofeminist correspondents. Ecofeminists have also sharply criticized Deep Ecology because it seems to "totalize" and "colonize" the "other" (Cheney; Plumwood). With the important exception of Naess, Deep Ecologists either explicitly or implicitly claim that the integrated, systemic ecological world view is true and regard other ways of constructing nature and the relationship of people to nature to be false. A

cornerstone of feminism is openness to the experience of women, experience that is quite varied. The experience of all or even of most women may not jibe well with Deep Ecological Self-realization. Hence the Deep Ecologists' often doctrinaire assertions about how the world is really and truly organized and how we ought to experience it are anathema to most ecofeminists.

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