Full-Blown Ecocentrism

There’s no doubt that biocentrism is radical, given that it dislodges the human from the center. With life-centeredness, all living and life-giving things are now included in the center. Humankind is no longer assumed to be superior to everything non-human, for now other living things are considered co-equal with the human. The human now shares its privileged status with other living things and the life-giving systems that sustain them. Despite the radical departure, the living or organic is still considered superior to everything inorganic or manufactured. In order for there to be thoroughgoing equality, the non-living or other-than-living also needs to be incorporated into the center (incorporated in a qualified way, as we shall demonstrate), which ultimately entails the dissolution of both the center and periphery, for if everything occupies the center, nothing occupies the periphery, and the hierarchy collapses. Of course, without the biocentric move, one wonders whether the radical-logical leap to Earth-centeredness could have been conceived and theorized. But ecocentrism -not nominal ecocentrism but true, radical ecocentrism - is yet another seismic conceptual-experiential shift even beyond biocentrism, and thus even more antithetical to human-centeredness. Earth-centeredness - as I understand and advance it - is something other than biocentrism, or perhaps more accurately, something more than it. But how on Earth could we conceptualize, endorse, and defend a centeredness that includes everything — even the common, trivial, disposable, and repulsive?

This is known as the “demarcation problem” (Hunt 1980; Frey 1980; Thompson 1990): whatever justification is advanced (whether rights, intrinsic value, ethical consideration, etc.), we enter a reductio ad absurdum, whereby “even” manufactured objects will need to be considered or included. As environmental ethicist Lars Samuelsson explains: “we will be forced to hold that some nonnatural things - such as cars, computers, or guided missiles - have morally significant interests as well, but that view is absurd” (2010: 248, n. 4). The rest of this chapter is aimed at showing how eco-centeredness is not only not absurd but positively logical and compelling - even when it comes to questions like guided missiles and other appalling objects (which are discussed later). Disclosing ecocentrism’s cogency and robustness is a worthy task in itself, but it is imperative here because Earth-centeredness is a key building block for our eco-leadership model. Once the task of confirming ecocentrism’s rigor is accomplished, we can then superimpose it onto our formulation of leading, thus drawing closer to articulating (even if somewhat introductorily) our model of ecocentric leadership.

In order to define “ecocentrism” in its fullest, profoundest sense, let’s first etymologically examine the word itself. Like “anthropocentrism” and “biocentrism,” “ecocentrism” is composed of two words. The kendros is “the center,” with its echoes of separation and superiority. Now, the “eco” in ecocentrism derives from oikos. The original Greek word oikos refers to “house” or “dwelling” (OED; Rolston 1986: 53; Bate 2005: 75), but “not only of built houses, but of any dwelling-place,” according to the authoritative Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon. The word also signifies “household” and “family” (Schwarz and Jax 2011: 145). The expansiveness and pliability of oikos have been reflected in the word’s translations and appropriations. Max Weber, for example, employed the word to denote social groups (1978: 348). As a prefix, the oikos or “eco-” signifies a number of things: for instance, “economy” means the (financial) management (nemein) of the house (oikos). “Ecology” was coined by German scientist Ernst Haeckel in 1866, whereby “any dwelling-place” hereby signifies biological environments and systems (Haeckel 1866); synonymous terms for ecology have included “natural history,” “biology,” “bionomics,” and “ethology” (Jax and Schwarz 2011: 155). “Ecology” has since been borrowed and widened by the environmental movement (Jamison 2011) and its discourses (Sessions 1987).

The “eco” in “ecocentrism” therefore typically refers to “ecology-centered,” which is how Eckersley casts it (1992: 3). However, as I explained in the introductory chapter, “ecological” (and “environmental”) is understood as being synonymous (and perhaps equivalent to) “ecocentric,” so there’s no need here to specify whether the “eco-” in “eco-centered” refers to the ecological or ecocentric, for they’re ultimately the same (or at least very similar). Furthermore, the oikos in ecocentrism has also come to mean not just particular places and ecosystems but also the Earth itself (Mylius 2013: 106). This re-casting is warranted because our world is a “dwelling-place”: it’s the dwelling-place housing all earthly dwelling-places; it’s the ecology of all ecologies. It’s an ultimate dwelling - a dwelling at a massive, geophysical scale. This scaling does not end with our world - hence the use of the word “an” rather than “the” in the previous sentence: the Earth’s oikos is the universe, which itself might dwell in a multiverse or among other universes. Hence, eco-centeredness is ultimately about a cosmic egalitarianism, though the focus here is on the Earth itself.

Now, what would it mean if the ecosphere (or the whole cosmos) were considered “the center”? If everything is the center, if there is no ontological hierarchy, if there is no superior and inferior, then no one thing or set of things (like “humanity,” “the biotic community,” etc.) constitutes the center. In effect, both the center and periphery dissolve. Mylius states: “Ecocentrism has no apex at which humans, or any entity, can be placed. Rather, it is a system of ecologies, networks and relationships, in which each entity relies upon and influences those around it” (2013: 106). Since Earth-centeredness includes every entity, it’s a truly radical egalitarian. It’s the concept-practice whereby we humans do not regard ourselves as superior to non-humans but co-equal with them.

The radical ecocentrism I’m endorsing (and seeking to develop and refine) is indifferent to the question regarding any qualitative differences between humans and other material entities. As noted in the previous chapter, strong distinctions between humans and non-humans have become increasingly problematized; whether there’s any difference makes no difference to Earth-centeredness: unlike human supremacism, which justifies itself according to various purported grounds (i.e., divine likeness, sentience, consciousness, rationality, ethicality, language, etc.), ecocentrism disregards such “justifications” and instead considers all things equal. (“All things being equal” thus takes on a radically new literal signification - perhaps a catchcry for Earth-centeredness.)

Ecocentrism is thus radically antithetical to anthropocentrism but not - as Meyer-Abich brilliantly points out (1993: 113) - in the crude simplistic sense of its “exact opposite” or the mere reversal of the hierarchical binary, whereby the non-human replaces the human at the center/apex and is now considered superior to the human. Mere reversal would merely maintain supremacist!! - just in an inverted form - whereas Earth-centeredness rejects any and all forms of superiority, including any centrisms that privilege the non-human. As Meyer-Abich concisely explains, the interests of both humanity and the non-human are taken into account by ecocentrism/physiocentrism (1993: 113). Mylius also brilliantly argues against mere reversal: “ecocentrism does not involve ‘turning the tables,’ effacing the human from its privileged position only in order to replace it with nature or some other entity” (2013: 107). I myself independently came to the same conclusion regarding the refusal to simply “turn the tables” or merely invert the human/non-human hierarchy, primarily via my decades-long engagement with deconstructive philosophy, which aims to undo problematic and oppressive hierarchical binaries rather than merely reverse them (Derrida 1976, 1995; Manolopoulos 2013: 26—27, 2018: 105-106). And so, just to reiterate: the human is no longer the center - and neither is anything else - so everything is included, including the human.

Another general point regarding our definition of a thoroughgoing Earth-centeredness refers to the question of whether it privileges the whole over the individual. The foregrounding of notions such as “the land,” “community,” and “ecosystems” suggests a certain privileging of the whole. One could say that the privileging of the whole counters the contemporary privileging of the individual (epitomized by existential and postmodern philosophies, whose refocus on the individual are themselves responses to epistemic currents like Hegelian holism). However - and once again - we should resist any mere reversal: eco-centeredness seeks to incorporate individuals and their contexts. The character and challenges of this negotiation will be elaborated as we proceed.

Now, before further fleshing out the concept-practice of ecocentrism, we briefly remind ourselves at this juncture why we are required to offer a comprehensive description and defense: the adoption or application of the fundamental theory of leadership I outlined in the leadership chapter is dependent on clearly distinguishing and pitting ecocentrism against human chauvinism. To recall: my general theory of leading requires two (roughly) antithetical categories that describe situations (“X” and “counter-X”): in this case, ecocentrism is the “counter-X” to the “X” of anthropocentrism; ecocentric leadership involves identifying measures that transform homocentric situations into Earth-centered ones and measures that maintain Earth-centered situations from anthropocentric contestation.

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