It’s the 11th commandment of sorts for a radical group in Minnesota calling itself the Church of Deep Ecology—deep ecology being defined as “the idea that all life has the right to exist, that no species is more important than another.”
(I guess going green isn’t good enough anymore.)
Deep Ecology is a relatively recent branch of “ecophilosophy,” emphasizing—as the St. Paul church does—the principle that the environment as a whole has the same right as any human being to live, flourish, and thrive. This differs from the more common form of environmentalism which focuses instead on conservation of the environment for human-driven purposes (the search for sustainable energy, after all, is just an attempt to preserve natural resources for our sake—not solely the planet’s).
For this reason, deep ecologists call the more mainstream “going green” movement “anthropocentric environmentalism”: it is not, apparently, as holistic as the ecosophists’ perspective (for the curious, this widening of outlook is known as “re-earthing.” Very New Age). In this light, non-secular environmentalism—the Christian emphasis on “stewardship,” for example—is just as culpable for anthropocentrism, and more than a little paternalistic. Highly disrespectful, really, to imagine that we can tell our mother what to do.
But if the matriarchal position is already occupied by this third rock from the sun, it might be said that the “father” of Deep Ecology was Baruch de Spinoza, a 17th-century philosopher, who’s been called variously: a pantheist, a panentheist, and the “God-intoxicated man.” To simplify very very greatly, Spinoza focused on the unity of all things, both the spiritual and natural worlds—for him, they were identical. God and Nature: one and the same.
(It was Percy Shelley who called Spinoza the “God-intoxicated man,” by the way: Spinoza’s influence suggests why the Romantic poets and later Transcendentalists—see Walden—listed so heavily to the pastoral, anti-industrial side.)
As another side note: Science fiction readers might notice this resembles Isaac Asimov’s rather disturbing Foundation series—“Gaia,” the hive mind world, encompassed all planetary consciousness, from human beings to seemingly inanimate stones and sand. And thanks to that damn Captain Trevize, the hive mind thing’s going to spread galaxy-wide in a couple thousand years, too. Creepy.
Most interesting to me, however, is the connection between Deep Ecology and Animism, the philosophic/religious/spiritual view that souls or spirits reside not just in humans, but other natural phenomena (animals, plants, rocks, mountains, rivers, thunder, and so on). Or maybe it’s more like Totemism, which posits a primary source for this life-filled environment, rather than distinct spirits for each facet of the natural environment. For the last few millennia of human history, in many parts of the world, this sort of indigenous religion has given way to organized, revelatory faiths, but deep ecology promoters seems to be bringing it back with all the power of climate change “warm-mongering” behind them.
Even so long ago as the last millennium (all right, 1994), Carl Sagan addressed in Pale Blue Dot the spread of “animist attitudes.” He cites past and recent American surveys:
In 1954, 75% of people polled were willing to state that the sun is not alive; in 1989, only 30% would support so rash a proposition.
And the 90% of people who denied your car’s tire had emotions in 1954 are down to 73% in 1989. (Chances are, there’s a hierarchy of envy among automobiles in America today, with hybrids occupying the foremost places on the social register.)
“We can recognize here a shortcoming—in some cases serious—in our ability to understand the world [Sagan writes]. Characteristically, willy-nilly, we seem compelled to project our own nature on to Nature. Although this may result in a consistently distorted view of the world, it does have one great virtue– projection is the essential precondition for compassion.”
Too bad it doesn’t make sense. Anthropomorphizing Nature—as in “Mother” Earth—is, ironically, just as anthropocentric as the less radical environmentalism it excoriates.
No matter; contradiction is, after all, the lifeblood of postmodernism.