III: The environment

Deep Ecology and interpretivism


This chapter deepens the interpretivist quest to challenge the excessive naturalism that dominates modern social science. The argument utilises ideas from Deep and Social Ecology to explore how self-interpreting humans relate to the external and natural environment. The Deep Ecology movement emerged in the late 1960s as a non-violent philosophy that advocated the belief that Nature possesses intrinsic value, and that humanity should realign its economic and social activities accordingly. Human-centred ethics were viewed as morally defective and ultimately unsustainable, and Deep Ecologists were therefore committed to an ecologically sound new world order in which humanity no longer considered itself to be sovereign in the world.

Basic definitions

The Deep Ecology movement emerged in the late 1960s as a non-violent philosophy which advocated the belief that Nature possessed intrinsic value, and that humanity should realign its economic and social activities accordingly. Deep Ecology in its purest form is highly critical of Western values, modern societies, and traditional relationships between humanity and the environment. It maintains that the environment has value in and of itself, independent of any involvement of human valuing subjects. Humanity’s needs and values need no particular consideration, does not need to be incorporated into any meta-narrative, and the only obligations existent in a relationship between humanity and the environment arise in the context of what is ultimately most beneficial to the natural realm. Issues of marketplace, societal interests, and communal values run a distant second place to preservation of the environment in its untouched natural state (Lehman, 2015).

It is claimed that Western current lifestyles and market practices have submerged environmental interests at the expense of capitalist development. They reject the classical political belief that Nature is a simple resource to be called upon and consumed as necessary, and also the belief that ecosystems can be controlled in states of general economic equilibrium (in which the free market is believed to be the determinant of all and any necessary solutions to pressing environmental problems).

Key figures in the early Deep Ecology movement, such as Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, were also members of the peace movement - in their early writings, this is made obvious in their repeated emphasis of harmony and tranquillity in interactions with the natural environment. Their beliefs, at odds with prevailing social and political conditions at the time, struggled to gain traction - and indeed their early writings on the subject did not make it clear how their claimed peaceful agendas would do otherwise.

It is therefore interesting that in the 30 years, the original non-violent and passive aspects have been gradually overtaken by increasingly more overt and extreme forms of environmental activism, which operate under the principles of Deep Ecology but emphasise the use of violence where necessary to achieve stated environmental aims. To that extent, the FBI in 2002 identified more than 600 attacks. Attacks on facilities and infrastructure were the most common forms of terrorist attacks in the USA between 2002 and 2018, with 239 total attacks. The largest number of attacks was carried out by animal rights and environmentalist groups. However, these types of attacks result in very low casualties and rarely have loss of life as the main goal. These are initiatives that had been initiated by protest organizations and individuals involved in physical attacks on corporations, developments, societal assets, and facilities that were perceived to be operating in violation of natural environments, or whose activities directly affected such environments (Jarboe, 2002).

One wonders how early environmentalists such as Leopold would have reacted to such extremist interpretations of environmental philosophies, culminating in activities such as monkey-wrenching (Foreman, nd) and tree spiking Foreman & Heilenbach, 1991). Immediately, we see one of the causes of consternation in adopting a deep ecological perspective - that it can lead to such outcomes at all. A monistic environmental ethic potentially becomes a narrow conception about how to reason about the world and may exclude possible compromises and novel political solutions. Monistic solutions may not ultimately provide the most successful outcome, except in their own terms. On the other hand, Deep Ecologists claim that the dominant Western tradition is itself limiting because it uses practical reason and instrumental constructions that remove imagination and creativity from environmental decision-making.

Ultimately, the quest of this chapter is to explore the core values of Deep Ecology, and whether it is possible to separate the antagonistic elements towards Western rational thought from those that nonetheless might usefully inform a more considered relationship between humanity and the environment. Politics can often be perceived as a zero-sum game, but this chapter searches nonetheless for a politics that creates commonalities

Deep Ecology and interpretivism 199 between people and Nature, so that we may choose a better and more positive direction with insight and full consideration of options. Accordingly, this chapter critically explores the concepts of intrinsic value, biocentric ethics, eco-communitarianism and Deep Ecology to compare them with an interpretivist approach associated with philosophers from Hegel (1970) to Heidegger (1971) and Dreyfus and Taylor (2015) to Capra (2004).

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