ecology, intellectual history and respecting our mother
By Tom Over --------- Let’s look for systemic solutions, not see individuals or humans in general as the problem. Some critics of the ecology movement, which includes animal rights, view it as anti-human. Positions of some activists, whether intentional or not, have fed into that. The world can do without a green version of the concept of original sin or any other philosophy based on the idea people are inherently bad.
Last year Chris Hedges published The World As It Is : Dispatches On The Myth Of Human Progress. I suspect he’s not the only person to think in that way. But maybe the ecology movement fits into long term intellectual history as a sort of third step after human societies shift from (1) being religiously-based to (2) being based mostly on secular humanism.
I’ll risk an over-generalization in an attempt to stir thought. What we know of Medieval Europe might be a usefully imperfect example of the first stage. Likewise, with the Renaissance as an example of stage two.
In stage one, humans view ourselves as incomplete without communion with a deity, and perhaps also as inherently bad. In the second stage, humans view ourselves as generally good, often with a sense of superiority to other forms of life.
Whether it’s deity-centered stage one or human-centered stage two, either version of reality upon which our society is based is reflected in our art, science, philosophy, and laws. Perhaps the same would apply if and when ‘eco-centrism’ comes to be the primary version of human reality. If it does, they’ll probably call it something else when they’re not busy enjoying life by taking it as self-evident. In the third stage, we have a positive view of ourselves as humans, but render obsolete our sense of superiority to other forms of life.
To venture another analogy, which some might misread as condescension to ‘primitive’ societies, the third stage might be compared to the adulthood of our understanding of ourselves as human beings, with the second stage being adolescence and the first being childhood.
As children we’re in awe of Mother Earth with a relatively small sense of ourselves as beings separate from her. As adolescents, we exercise our cleverness and take our mother for granted, with an unrealistic sense of our powers and our independence from her. During adulthood, we recognize what mother has done for us and seek to use our powers more wisely and with greater humility.
Regarding these analogies, I quote George E. P. Box. “Remember that all models are wrong; the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful.”