Deep ecology and structure

For Deep Ecologists, anthropocentrism is an outcome of social structures ingrained in the culture of modernity. On that point eco-feminists agree, believing that the domination of Nature derives from male-controlled corporate élite structures. Eco-feminists hold that the hierarchical institutions of modern liberal-capitalist societies reflect a ‘patriarchal’ structure which submerges ‘other’ voices, such as those which attempt to express the value of Nature. In patriarchal society, male rationality and culture have categorised several ‘others’, of which women and Nature are the most prominent. That rationality' shapes capitalism and submerges different ways of being in the world. As a result, communities have become alienated from half of their number and from Nature, both of which are often subject to ‘exploitation’. One might argue about the extent to which eco-feminism should be seen as a branch of Deep Ecology, or a different form of anthropocentrism. Suffice it to say that its advocates usually mirror the Deep Ecologists’ concern with combating the tendency to devalue ‘otherness’ as embodied in Nature (Lehman, 2011a, 2011b; Salleh, 1984, 1992, 1993).

Clearly, Deep Ecologists draw our attention to vital problems and dangerous attitudes. As Callicott insists, they offer new ways to think about what Nature and the natural environment mean. But they do not theorise

Deep Ecology and interpretivism 203 sufficiently humanity’s presence in Nature and do not address adequately the impact which industrialisation and corporatisation have on the environment (Callicott, 2013). Furthermore, they differ from social ecologists in their insistence on the intrinsic value of the environment and have also been accused of being more mystical. Indeed, Bookchin rejects Deep Ecology because of that mysticism, apparent in the concept ‘intrinsic value’.2 As he puts it:

To frivolously speak of ‘biocentrism’, of ‘intrinsic worth’, and even metaphorically, of a ‘biocentric democracy’ (to use the deplorable verbiage of mystical deep ecology), as though human beings were equitable in terms of their ‘worth’ to, say, mosquitoes-and then ask human beings to bear a moral responsibility to the world of life-is to downgrade the entire project of a meaningful ecological ethics.

(Bookchin, 1995, p. 34)

Some Deep Ecologists also differ from social ecologists by undemocratic or authoritarian political agendas. Nevertheless, some have advocated grassroot forms of government which are assumed to reflect a concern for the natural environment. These are like the social ecologists’ small-scale decentralised communities in which people’s lives mirror Nature’s spontaneous processes. Both Deep Ecologists and social ecologists in this respect might be advised to address more thoroughly the processes of corporate colonisation in their historical, social, and cultural contexts.

More fundamentally, Taylor’s hermeneutic perspective has purchase on these problems as it attempts to create political space within modern communities to engage with environmental suppositions concerning the determination of value. For example, Taylor’s work on people’s strong evaluations creates a need for public space to engage with Bookchin’s (1982, 1987, 1990) ‘social ecology’ and its recommendation that only small scale and decentralised communities are capable of relating effectively with the land. For interpretivists, such as Taylor, however, democratic communities will not automatically ‘mirror Nature’ and require a process of change which involves teasing out how these values are to be implemented. In teasing out differences between anthropocentric and deep ecology/Deep Ecology, some tentative steps towards political reconciliation can be advanced in moderating adverse ecological damage (Lehman, 2010a, 2010b, 2017).

In sum, if Earth is viewed as a spaceship in need of oxygen, then it is possible to offer anthropocentric arguments to preserve rainforests. In contrast, if Earth is viewed in terms of the Gaia book, that all life is intrinsically valuable, then it is possible to launch arguments for saving forests as ends in themselves. This is because they are a part of a complex interconnected web of life and such awareness can be understood in either anthropocentric, or deep ecological terms.

204 The environment

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