Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Web of Life 4

Ecological Strands


Ponte Vecchio, Firenze, July, 2004
Philosophically there are three strands in ecology, viz., deep ecology, social ecology and feminist ecology (or ecofeminism), each of which "does what it says on the tin."  These schools of thought don't conflict at all - rather they complement one another to give an overall comprehensive vision.  When one looks at social ecology, Capra argues, and he is correct in this assertion, one finds that many of our social and economic structures and indeed their linked technologies are rooted in domination, patriarchy, capitalism and racism.  All of these latter qualities are exploitative of women and of all kinds of sentient life in our world.  On ecofeminists, here is what Dr.Capra has to say:
Ecofeminists see the patriarchal domination of women by men as the prototype of all domination and exploitation in the various hierarchical, militaristic, capitalist, and industrialist forms.  They point out that the exploitation of nature, in particular, has gone hand in hand with that of women, who have been identified with nature throughout the ages.  This ancient association of woman and nature links women's history and the history of the environment, ans is the source of a natural kinship between feminism and ecology.  (The Web of Life, p. 9)
Changing our Thinking and our Values

Cognitive therapy speaks about changing our irrational thoughts to rational ones to effect a change in our feelings.  In like manner, changing our thinking also effects a change in our value systems too.  Now this is an important point.  What is the good in effecting a change in our ways of thinking if we do not become agents of that change in the world?  Being agents of change requires us to be ethical people who act.  Capra underlines this point quite forcefully where he says that shifts in paradigms require not only an expansion of our perceptions and ways of thinking, but also in our values.  Let us listen to his erudite words:
And here it is interesting to note the striking connection between the changes of thinking and of values.  Both of them may be seen as shifts from self-assertion to integration.  These two tendencies - the self-assertive and the integrative - both aspects of all living systems.  Neither of them is intrinsically good or bad.  What is good, or healthy, is a dynamic balance; what is bad, or unhealthy, is imbalance - over-emphasis of one tendency and neglect of the other... (Ibid., p. 9)
As we have seen, when we were discussing psychotherapy, the concept of integration was paramount in all takes on that phenomenon.  We literally will not grow as persons if we do not integrate all aspects of our personality into the Self or Soul. Every living system - biological as well as social - has two tendencies - one to assert itself and survive - ever so important.  It also has a tendency to integrate aspects of itself to refine, purify and make it's Self ever more whole.  In the West we have long valued the rational (often seen as a masculine quality, and often linked to power and domination) and this quality would be essentially ASSERTIVE.  Now the intuitive side of our character (often seen as a feminine quality and linked with powerlessness and passivity) would be seen as INTEGRATIVE.    Another quality, that of competition (often linked again with masculinity, power and domination) is also essentially ASSERTIVE while its opposite co-operation (also often viewed as a feminine quality and linked with passivity) is essentially INTEGRATIVE.  The rational and intuitive pair above are qualities associated with thinking, while competition and co-operation are qualities that are values which lead to action.  We need a healthy balance of these opposite poles - the ASSERTIVE and INTEGRATIVE in humankind if we are to effect holistic change in our world.

Another important point that Capra underscores in our modern world is the paradigm shift from HIERARCHY to NETWORK in social organizations.  Now this is where the Roman Catholic hierarchical model of the Church has gone so wrong.  They are still operating out of the old worldview of centralized control and power.  No wonder we have had the horrible and shameful episodes of the covering up of clerical child sex abuse.  This most definitely is an horrific consequence of blind allegiance to an outmoded  worldview.  Now, the second term used at the beginning of this paragraph, NETWORK is a central metaphor in ecology, and a far more holistic and embracing term this is.

Il Torre Pendente, Pisa, July 2004
Once again, we may ask where do our values lie?  One could argue that the values of any centralized social system be it dictatorial, fascist, communist or capitalist (or even centralized church power) is essentially anthropocentric - in other words man is the centre of all things therein.  The irony with respect to very centralized systems of church power like the Roman Catholic one (and many other religions, too, obviously) is that it is anything but God-centered - it is in fact man-centered as man has made God very much in his own image.  Likewise, it is no surprise that all these centralized church systems are run by men, so anthropocentric is a very appropriate word in this context.  Now  the new paradigm of DEEP ECOLOGY is very much based on earth-centered values which as we have already argued are very feminist or woman-centered ones.  The Earth or Gaia has always been a She!

In the Scientific Revolution, which occurred in the seventeenth century values were always separated from facts.  Of course, such an assumption is just that - an assumption that is simply not supported by facts.  All scientific facts have emerged, and still do indeed, out of "constellation of human perceptions, values and actions - in one word, out of a paradigm - from which they cannot be separated." (Ibid., p. 11)  In other words, scientists always have to be responsible for their research not only intellectually but morally, too.

Expanding our notion of Self

Deep ecology brings with it a deepening of our understanding not alone of the world but of the SELF.  We are part of the living web or living network of things and our very Soul or Self is thus ecologically deepened.  Capra quotes Arne Naess, the founder of the concept of Deep Ecology, and his quotation is worth reproducing in full here:
Care flows naturally if the 'self' is widened and deepened so that protection of free Nature is felt and perceived as protection of ourselves... Just as we need no morals to make us breed... [so] if your 'self' in the wide sense embraces another being, you need no moral exhortation to show care... You care for yourself without feeling any moral pressure to do it... If reality is like it is experienced by the ecological self, our behaviour naturally and beautifully follows norms of strict environmental ethics. (Quoted ibid., p. 12)
In this sense, then, deep ecologists speak about "the greening of the self." (Joanna Macy)  Indeed, the terms 'transpersonal ecology' (Warwick Fox) and 'eco-psychology' (Theodore Roszak) have been coined to describe this "greening of the self" and to underscore that this is essentially a psychological link or connection rather trhan a logical one. 

In short, then, we can say that there has been a shift from a rather "neutral" understanding of physics to a dynamic understanding of the LIFE SCIENCES.

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