Deep Ecology Ecofeminism Ecophilosophy

Already the early nineteenth-century ecologists - such as Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and Aldo Leopold - realized that "protecting nature" entailed much more than fencing in a parcel of land and preventing humans from exploiting its fauna and flora. They quite understood that the then incipient ecological crisis was at its heart a cultural and a moral crisis: the result of the cultivation of a modern Western ideal of human existence that saw its fulfillment in the amassing of material possessions and the reckless exploitation of the earth, praised as "progress." "Conspicuous consumption" conferred social status. A person's "net-worth" became expressed in dollar figures. Humans were identified as "consumers" - their main role being to keep the economy growing.

In contrast to this, traditional Asian religions saw the embodiment of the highest human ideal in the sage: the person who had gained a state of tranquil self-contentment. Enlightenment and wisdom went hand in hand with the restriction of wants and desires. Empathy with everything and everybody and sensitivity toward nature as well as toward fellow-humans were highly valued. Virtually all Asian traditions accept rebirth as a universal fact of life: Humans do not occupy a unique position and their fate, both present and future, depends on their rela tionships with all other forms of life. Everybody's life has gone through many transformations. Life as such deserves respect: not harming living beings was considered the highest moral principle.

Terms like (Chinese) tao and (Indian) dharma refer to a universal natural law that has humanistic as well as transcendental dimensions. Tao/dharma encompasses all reality: it is the "nature" of things as well as the "inborn law" of which humans become aware, when awakened. Implied in this notion is the idea that the universe is a meaningful, purposeful reality, within which humans find their personal fulfillment. The articulation of tao/dharma includes societal and historic aspects: it has to be rearticulated in every age and for each culture. The ecological crisis manifests a severe violation of tao/dharma: the only way to resolve it is to return to the principles of tao/dharma. Typically, Chinese and Indian cosmologies correlate material elements with socio-cultural and emotive-intellectual categories. In their view, the universe is not fully circumscribed by an inventory of its material content: it also contains life, feeling, and consciousness.

Influenced by the study of Eastern religious classics Arne Naess, a Norwegian philosopher, developed what he called "deep ecology." Abandoning the anthropo-centrism of Western ethic, he adopted the Eastern view that all life has intrinsic value and that the purpose of all life is self-realization. His "principle of identification" - reminiscent of the "exchange of the self and the other" recommended in the eighth century Buddhist classic Bodhicaryavatara - says that we humans, individually and collectively, are part of a whole that sustains us and that we, in turn, have a duty to sustain. Naess' ideas were taken up and partly transformed by other philosophers, such as J. Baird Callicott (1994) and Michael E. Zimmerman (1994).

"Eco-feminism" is a special branch of "deep ecology" (Adams, 1994). Feminists attribute much of the ecological crisis to the suppression of women in patriarchal culture, responsible for 'The Death of Nature' (Merchant, 1980). From its Western origins, critical of the male-dominated Christian churches, it has branched out also to Asia (Shiva, 1989). By empowering women, it expects to combat violence - including violence against nature - seen as a typical male attitude.

Henryk Skolimowski, a contemporary philosopher, thought that "deep ecology" was not deep enough because it was lacking ultimate ends. His own eco-philosophy, later expanded into "Ecological Humanism," has strong religious overtones: "There are aspects of traditional religions, which add something significant to man's substance, and if rejected or neglected seem to produce a crippling effect on man's life. Without worship, man shrinks. If you worship nothing, you are nothing." And: "The new theology underlying Ecological Humanism is that we are God-in-the-process-of-becoming. We are fragments of grace and spirituality in statu nascendi. We give testimony to our extraordinary (divine) potential by actualizing these fragments in us. By creating ourselves into radiant and spiritual beings, we are helping to create God-in-the-process-of-becoming. God and our divinity are the end of the road, at the end of time, at the end of mankind, in the finale. Our task is to become fully aware that, as the result of certain propensities of unfolding evolution, we possess the potential for making ourselves into spiritual beings, and thereby bring to fruition some of the seeds of God in the process of self-making. This ecological theology provides not only a new cosmological scheme; it also has an existential import: it brings into sharp focus the meaning of our individual life, which is redeemed insofar as we elicit from ourselves our potential godliness. This theology also justifies the emerging myth of the unity of the human family: we are all striving towards the actualization of something much greater than our individual selves, something that transcends the boundaries of all states and cultures" (Skolimowski, 1981, p. 115).

One of the most passionate voices crying in the ecological wilderness is that of Father Thomas Berry, whose The Dream of the Earth presents a program of spirituality based on ecology. It is not without significance that the book was first published by the Sierra Club, founded in 1892 by John Muir, one of the early American environmentalists.

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