In college I often spent countless hours in the stacks (upper regions of the limestone block library that my grandfather had a part in building). You would find me studying mainly religion/spirituality, philosophy, the natural world and the intersection of these themes. Out of my curiosity I searched and not because I was told to read these books for my classes.
Eventually I stumbled on the interplay of ecology and philosophy = enter the recently developed field of "ecosophy" branching into Deep Ecology, coined by Arne Næss, which is the inspiration for this article.
Let’s dig in!!
A basic framework is this:
Deep Ecology is an ecological and environmental philosophy promoting the inherent worth of living beings regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs, plus a radical restructuring of modern human societies in accordance with such ideas.
Deep ecology argues that the natural world is a subtle balance of complex inter-relationships in which the existence of organisms is dependent on the existence of others within ecosystems. Human interference with or destruction of the natural world poses a threat therefore not only to humans but to all organisms constituting the natural order.
Deep ecology's core principle is the belief that the living environment as a whole should be respected and regarded as having certain inalienable legal rights to live and flourish, independent of its utilitarian instrumental benefits for human use.
Arne Naess takes us further into understanding how this can happen,
Every living being is connected intimately, and from this intimacy follows the capacity of identification and as its natural consequences, practice of non-violence .. Now is the time to share with all life on our maltreated earth through the deepening identification with life forms and the greater units, the ecosystems, and Gaia, the fabulous, old planet of ours.
It was not new to me to feel connected with the natural world. From this connection, a naturally arising desire to care for it came forth. This is a natural consequence of feeling connected with something, we want to care for it. As I started to get deeper into Permaculture and earth care movements, I realized the human-centered extent of our cultures, systems, institutions, corporations, etc.
This is known as anthropocentrism, which is defined as
Many may say, "but of course, we are humans after all and it is natural to center ourselves and our life here." However, after traveling and continuing on my life journey, I've come to realize that not all human cultures see life this way. It is a decidedly modern and Western (at least I can speak for that) approach to continue to exploit our home, the earth, even to the point of taking too much, creating too much pollution, overharvesting, disregarding, habitat devastation, exterpating, etc. The Western way doesn't take into consideration that we're literally destroying our home in the process and only relies on the bare minimum standards from the EPA or other regulatory bodies, let alone take into consideration the next 7 generations as the wisdom of the Hodeneshone (so named Iroquois by french colonialists) would have us see (the idea that decisions should be considered for their impact on the seventh generation to come.)
Thornless blackberry, Chester variety
Joanna Macy says it well,
I consider that this shift [to an emphasis on our “capacity to identify with the larger collective of all beings” ] is essential to our survival at this point in history precisely because it can serve in lieu of morality and because moralising is ineffective. Sermons seldom hinder us from pursuing our self-interest, so we need to be a little more enlightened about what our self-interest is. It would not occur to me, for example, to exhort you to refrain from cutting off your leg. That wouldn’t occur to me or to you, because your leg is part of you. Well, so are the trees in the Amazon Basin; they are our external lungs. We are just beginning to wake up to that.
With this foundational perspective of Deep Ecological framework, we can see that we actually are the earth, our body. I would highly recommend reading more into Joanna Macy, John Seed and many others (a quick google search will yield you many authors), as well as studying traditional indigenous models of living which, by and large, are non-exploitive and incredibly connective ("deep ecology" is just the tip of the iceberg here, indigenous communities have been doing this for a LONG TIME and their voices are usually silenced/ not as centered as white folks or "scholars", but they have the deepest wisdom we need here now- I should write a whole post on this.)
Corn silk in evening light
These thoughts are on my mind today because I was feeling some sadness/weight around our collective inability it seems to shift our cultures to integrate these truths.
This widened self of which he speaks, I believe it is our responsibility to come to. Nature connection does this, love of sunsets, places we've traveled or lived by that our hearts and very cells reached out to and we became one with that moment and with that place. This is the step that I wish for humans. For through this connection, we are not being TOLD to "be better, more connected humans," but we are BECOMING the earth itself and realizing ourselves as such which naturally leads to loving action.
There is So Much I could write now and I feel myself becoming very impassioned, but it all boils down to this Identification. We identify with our homes (houses, yards, even communities), our families (chosen and/or birth), the people we love and more things as we extend the bounds of ourselves, and I make the statement that through whatever means possible, we need humans who have come to see themselves not as separate or above or better than the earth, but as a living breathing part of the earth.
We are the universe experiencing itself through human consciousness.