Deep Ecology and interpretation: Social Ecology and how people relate to the world

Communitarian, Deep and radical ecology

Of critical importance in developing an accountable and democratic ecological politics is to integrate deep/Deep and social ecology approaches. To say the least, both approaches have been highly critical of modern rational and scientific methods that have attempted to determine what is of value. For example, it will be demonstrated that Deep Ecology offers a different way to think about the natural environment through consideration of the supposition that the natural environment possesses intrinsic value. Fringe environmentalists are gaining mainstream political leverage, with a range of beliefs from the destruction of capitalism, to full social anarchy followed by the return to small village communities (Bookchin, 1982; Taylor, 1960a, 1960b). This chapter explores how activists such as Murray Bookchin are gaining influence in the environmental debate. The chapter explores how social and deep ecology can inform the art of interpretation.

The otherness of the natural environment is a central preoccupation of Radical, Social, and Deep Ecology. Within these perspectives, a response to the environmental limitations of the unfinished project of modernity is advanced. They carry the promise of creating accountability and environmental political programmes to reform humanity’s attitude towards the natural environment. Yet, like the proceduralism that grips modern liberal environmental reforms, these radical ecological proposals have rarely been the ground for reworking modern political debates. In many respects, the ecological, political and social implication of radical and Deep/deep ecology methods reflect a search to express Nature’s intrinsic value. They offer important responses to the ‘inwardness’ associated with the culture of modernity. Indeed, radical and deep ecology usefully clarify the self-conscious realisation of Nature’s value as something other than a technical good for humanity’s convenience. It is argued, moreover, that these ecological perspectives offer a unique opportunity' to clarify Taylor’s critique of modernity and its culture of accumulation. This is even though they have succumbed to attack from conservative quarters. The key conceptual argument is that the values of self-conscious realisation make good the supposition that humanity and Nature are entwined in a great chain of being. This argument can then be carried forward in constructing a common political framework that accommodates diversity in a reform approach to our current destructive attitude towards the natural environment.

Central to all these ecological perspectives are ideas to moderate modernity’s stance to the natural environment. A satisfactory ecological perspective, however, might be one that explores the differences between deep ecology and social ecology and integrate these values into political space that searches for the common ground between them. Here, Taylor’s work finds itself at its zenith in exploring democratic means to accommodate differences and reveal points of agreement between and within different political perspectives (Lehman, 2017).

In this regard, it is important to remember that Taylor (1994b) has argued that his interpretivist perspective accommodates deep ecological values. It is worth recalling that he argues that anthropocentrism offers an impoverished explanation of the human condition and that people’s background horizons include Nature as a necessary condition of being. It will be recalled from the Introduction to this book that Taylor has argued that deep ecologists tend to concur from one point of view and theists from another (Taylor, 1994a, p. 13). An interpretivist perspective might be able to move beyond the deadlock between deep and social ecology in a way that finds agreement between divergent traditions and ways of being-in-the-world.

The commonalities and differences between interpretivist, radical and social ecology are explored in four sections. The first section of the chapter examines Bookchin’s social ecology to determine whether it is possible to return to small-scale decentralised communities as advocated by social ecologists. The second explores a Marxian response to Social and Deep Ecology and the way they define questions of community, difference and identity. The third and fourth sections examine the relevance of interestbased ecological theory and the viability of biocentric ethics as a means to relate humanity with the natural environment. The chapter argues that biocentric and deep ecology are ineluctably entwined with social processes in communities and cannot be divorced from questions of human freedom.

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