Chapter 9. A Postmodern Evolutionary-Ecological Environmental Ethic
What Is Postmodernism?
Postmodernism is modish (no conundrum intended). It is also ambiguous.
On the one hand, deconstructive
postmodernism claims that all religious and philosophical worldviews are fabricated to justify the power of a dominant élite. None is true. And a person's preference for and loyalty to this one or that depends on how well it serves his or her interests. Deconstructive postmodernism is both nihilistic and cynical.
On the other hand, reconstructive
postmodernism is creative and optimistic. It aims to clear away the rubble and rubbish of the dilapidated modern worldview founded on now-defunct modern classical science, and, in its stead, to rebuild from foundations constituted by the "new physics" (relativity and quantum theory) and the "new biology" (the theory of evolution and ecology).
Modern natural philosophy—essentially, classical mechanics—has been overturned by the new physics. Everything else modern—the social contract between egoistic social atoms, economic reductionism (including both capitalism and anticapitalistic Marxism), preference utilitarianism, and so on—which has orbited about modern natural philosophy has been left without a center. Because reconstructive postmodernists can't be quite sure what modernity's successor will turn out to be, they remain cautious and call this interregnum "postmodernism," while they wait for "organicism," or "systems theory," or some such label to take hold.
In 1989, the ecofeminist philosopher Jim Cheney took a deconstructive "postmodern turn" in the field of environmental philosophy and ethics. 1
According to Cheney, with the "demise of modernism" there has occurred a "shattering into a world of difference, the postmodern world." 2
No reconstruction is possible, in his opinion, since Cartesian certainty is most certainly unobtainable and the underlying political agenda of all intellectual constructs has been exposed. And further, no reconstruction is desirable, since any comprehensive worldview represents a "totalizing" package of concepts which would "colonize" other systems of thought. Deconstructive postmodernists are content to deconstruct the old texts and declare that there will be no new master narratives, no new New Organons, Meditations
, or Principias
to set the course for generations to come.
As this book consists of a global sampler of traditional and indigenous environmental attitudes and values, one might expect it to close with a resounding endorsement of deconstructive postmodernism and the pluralism it implies. Certainly this book recognizes and celebrates cultural diversity and intellectual pluralism. But untempered pluralism, especially if harnessed to deconstructive postmodernism, courts conflict rather than mutual understanding and cooperation. The endpoint of untempered "claims of otherness and an ethic of difference," so warmly endorsed by Cheney, is the violent ethnic conflict now plaguing the world. 3
A unity and harmony in multiplicity must be achieved, if our common environmental crisis is to be cooperatively—and successfully—addressed. What is needed is a Rosetta stone of environmental philosophy to translate one indigenous environmental ethic into another, if we are to avoid balkanizing environmental philosophy. Or, to continue shifting metaphors, we need a conductor's score in addition to charts for all the individual players, if we are to orchestrate effectively all the world's voices singing of a human harmony with nature.
Biological diversity is a good thing. So is cultural diversity. They are, moreover, intimately linked. Cultural diversity is a reflection of biological diversity, a fact more clearly recognized by tribal totemism than by contemporary social science. The same forces—transnational corporations, Green Revolution agriculture, and a global market, among others—driving cultural homogenization and impoverishment also drive biological homogenization and impoverishment. And the conservation of cultural diversity is instrumental in the conservation of biological diversity. Since the life-ways of foragers and vernacular agriculturalists are so thoroughly integrated into their local biotic communities, culture conservation is tantamount to biological conservation.
The myriads of species that make up biological diversity do not, however, exist in isolation from one another. Each is integrated into an ecosystem. How, analogously, might we unite the environmental ethics of the world's many cultures into a systemic whole? That is the principal task for this penultimate chapter. The ecofeminist philosopher Karen Warren has suggested an appropriately feminine metaphor for the union—or "solidarity," more precisely—of diverse ecofeminist "voices": a patchwork quilt. 4
But the colors in a patchwork quilt may clash, and the whole will then have no systemic integration or integrity. A patternless patchwork quilt is a poor analogue of an ecosystem. We want a genuine multicultural network of environmental ethics, rather than an eclectic and conflictive patchwork.
Hence the "postmodernism" of this chapter's title is of the reconstructive sort. And the evolutionary-ecological environmental ethic founded on such a postmodernism is intended to embrace and unite, as well as complement, the traditional and indigenous environmental ethics so far reviewed. We must be keenly aware of human differences, and we must defend cultural diversity as ardently as we defend biological diversity. But we must also be aware of what unites the world's diverse cultures, no less keenly than we are aware of the ecological relationships binding the myriads of species into hierarchically nested ecosystems.
The One-Many Problem
An oft-repeated refrain of this study has been that there is one species of Homo
but many peoples; one planet but many worlds. The modern scientific worldview, however, has partly unified the planet intellectually, making it—to some extent—one world as well as one planet. Science is Western in provenance, as the historical sketch in the next section of this chapter suggests, but science is now also international in practice and influence. The modern scientific worldview has become a cognitive lingua franca. It coexists and often insidiously intermingles with the many and diverse traditional cultural worlds. Thus, it is one of the ties that unite them.
We all live in distinct bioregions, each with its characteristic climate, topography, flora, and fauna. But the shores of all continents and islands are washed by one ocean, and we all inhale one atmosphere. Similarly, we all inhabit distinct traditional cultural worlds, each with its characteristic ontology, epistemology, cosmology, aesthetics, and ethics. But, for better or worse, Western ideas have become a pervasive cognitive ether that nearly everyone breathes in—more or less deeply. The curricula of secondary schools and universities from China to Brazil and from Tanzania to Canada include standard biology, physics, and chemistry along with indigenous culture studies. Further, the hardware icons of the modern Western scientific worldview are ubiquitous. And they invade the most intimate aspects of the lives of all but the most remote and isolated of the earth's peoples. Airplanes fly over the Kalahari Desert; Land Rovers crisscross the Serengeti Plain; chain saws buzz in the forests of Borneo; snowmobiles ply the frozen Yukon; diesel-powered ships anchor off remote Pitcairn Island; hydroelectric impoundments flood vast reaches of the Amazon Basin.
Machines, no matter in what cultural context they may be found and no matter what traditional agendas they may be employed to serve, are microcosms of the Newtonian macrocosm. They embody the modern scientific paradigm, and constantly, remorselessly reiterate and validate it. Vaccinations put the stamp of the modern scientific worldview on the shoulders of infants in Africa; intrauterine birth-control devices insert the modern scientific worldview into the wombs of women in India; when the Shining Path guerrillas of Peru grasp AK-47 assault rifles, they grasp the modern scientific worldview. When such technologies as these "work," they confirm the "truth" and the power of the ideas that engendered them and which they manifest.
The irony, of course, is that, theoretically speaking, the "modern" scientific paradigm is now obsolete. A new postmodern natural philosophy has been taking shape during the whole of the twentieth century. From a postmodern scientific point of view, the mechanico-industrial transmogrification of nature appears to be a grotesque and dangerous outrage, requiring us to develop an environmental ethic to temper its effects. And while the modern Western worldview and its associated values represent a hostile intellectual climate for the development of a direct or nonanthropocentric environmental ethic, the emerging postmodern paradigm promises to be much more hospitable to such an enterprise. The central section of this chapter is devoted, therefore, to the construction of a postmodern evolutionary and ecological environmental ethic, which is offered both as a complement to and a touchstone for the indigenous environmental ethics sketched in the preceding chapters.
How, more precisely, is the postmodern evolutionary-ecological environmental ethic here constructed related to the foregoing traditional and indigenous environmental ethics? What exactly do "complement" and especially "touchstone" mean?
The "land ethic" developed in this chapter is a sister to those in the preceding chapters. But it is more than that. It is not just one option among many, standing alongside, say, the Jain ahimsa
environmental ethic, and appealing only to members of a specific sect or culture. It is a sister environmental ethic, but it is also proffered as a universal environmental ethic, with globally acceptable credentials, underwriting and reinforcing each of the others. Further, it is also intended to serve as a standard for evaluating the others.
Mindful of Jim Cheney's condemnation of totalizing and colonizing discourse, one might well wonder if such claims on behalf of the land ethic were not an arrogant assertion of philosophical imperialism, a bid for intellectual hegemony. Notice that throughout this book an evolutionary and ecological worldview has implicitly served as a standard for evaluating the environmental attitudes and values associated with traditional cultural worldviews. For example, in chapter 3, Hindu substantive holism was found to be a problematic basis for environmental ethics, because it differed significantly from the systemic holism characteristic of ecology. For another example, in chapter 6, the woodland American Indian concept of multispecies socioeconomic exchanges was touted, because it was, abstractly speaking, identical to the ecological concept of a biotic community, which is foundational to the Leopold land ethic. The implicit normative appeal to an evolutionary-ecological worldview and its associated environmental ethic may here and now be explicitly acknowledged. But is such an appeal warranted? Can it be justified?
Since science is Western in provenance, one cannot pretend that a scientifically grounded environmental ethic is culture-neutral. But science is now practiced internationally, with only the slightest culture-specific variations from nation to nation. These variations are so slight, in fact, that expressions like "Japanese science" or "Indian science" refer not to different and mutually unintelligible species of thought but to the international science going on in Japan or India, largely untouched by Shintoism or Hinduism. One can fairly assert that at least the ever-evolving scientific worldview enjoys genuine international currency.
The postmodern evolutionary-ecological environmental ethic here outlined may therefore make a claim to universality simply to the extent that its scientific foundations are universally endorsed—whether openly and enthusiastically or sub rosa. As just noted, the ubiquity of education in science and the ubiquity of modern and now postmodern technology, which is the fruit of Western science, has, for better or worse, inoculated all other cultures with Western attitudes and values. Citizens of Iran watching a fundamentalist ayatollah fulminate against Western ideas and values on TV receive contradictory messages. One message is conveyed by the words of the speaker, the other by the medium of communication, which is an object lesson (so to speak) in Western ideas and ideals. For the citizens of Iran, an evolutionary-ecological land ethic could be both a sister to the Islamic stewardship environmental ethic and a reinforcement of it, grounded in a contemporary science that, however much a fundamentalist regime may rail against it, has wormed its way into the contemporary Persian mind.
Certainly no worldview can claim to be absolutely and finally true. We human beings are prisoners of our imaginations and cognitive constructs.We cannot step outside our minds to see if our ideas correspond to Reality with a capital "R." Hence we cannot know the Truth with a capital "T". No worldview is epistemologically privileged in the sense that it alone is certifiably true and all the others are false. It follows that traditional cultural worldviews cannot be said to have a share in truth
only to the extent that they jibe with science. So how can an evolutionary-ecological worldview be presumed to serve as a standard for assessing the credibility of the others?
Though they may be considered neither true nor false, worldviews are neverthless subject to rational criticism and comparative epistemological evaluation. One worldview may consistently comprehend more of human experience than another. If so, it may make a peremptory claim on our credulity, or at least on our intellectual allegiance. Or to express the same thought negatively, a worldview that cannot accommodate the full range of human experience, or cannot do so coherently, fails to capture our intellectual allegiance and may be eclipsed by a more inclusive one. And over the course of human history our range of experience has grown enormously and is constantly expanding, more rapidly now than ever.
To take a familiar example, neither of the biblical origin myths discussed in chapter 2, if literally construed, can accommodate a certain set of experiences not enjoyed by Bronze and Iron Age Hebrews, indeed not enjoyed by anyone until very recently. Close observation of fossils in sedimentary rocks and of other geological phenomena made it impossible for a few thoughtful people in the late eighteenth century to credit the idea that the world had suddenly come into being about six thousand years ago. Charles Darwin consolidated a competing origin myth, which embraced these experiences and coherently united them with others (such as the many family resemblances among living species). The publication of his unbiblical uncreation story stimulated learned debate, which had the effect of familiarizing educated opinion makers in the West and its colonial outposts with "the fossil record" and other formerly obscure phenomena. Eventually, the whole literal worldview sketched in Genesis became itself a fossil—an extinct worldview preserved in the textual sediments of the Old Testament (and in the minds of die-hard Islamic, Jewish, and Christian fundamentalists).
Scientists, moreover, scrutinize one another's work. Skepticism and faultfinding are cardinal scientific virtues. One measure of a genuinely scientific hypothesis is its logical linkage to novel experience that will either confirm (but never finally prove) or contradict it. If, in the course of their investigations, scientists stumble on phenomena that contemporaneous scientific theory cannot account for, such phenomena are not simply ignored—at least, not if they keep intruding; certainly they are not deliberately suppressed. The old master narratives are first stretched to accommodate the new experiences. When the familiar theoretical constructs burst at the seams, patches are added. Finally, the old scientific paradigms become hopelessly rent and tattered. Then a rare opportunity opens up that begs for genius. A Copernicus, a Darwin, an Einstein steps forward to reweave the entire tapestry of scientific thought. Thus new, ever more subtle, sophisticated, and comprehensive scientific paradigms arise to replace the older ones.
The scientific worldview is, therefore, epistemologically privileged—not because it and it alone is uniquely true but because it is self-consciously self-critical. Hence, the evolutionary-ecological environmental ethic—shortly to be elaborated—may stake a coattail claim to epistemological privilege, since it is grounded in the epistemologically privileged reconstructive postmodern scientific worldview.
Today we live in the dim light of the dawn of a brand new Western natural philosophy. Ours is a time of great anxiety, because the old Western natural philosophy—articulated most paradigmatically by Galileo, Descartes, Locke, and Newton—has fallen apart and the shape of the new has not become entirely clear even to the most sharp-sighted visionaries. By the same token, ours is also a moment of great opportunity. Contemporary philosophers can help give shape to the Western worldview that future intellectual historians will date to the beginning of the third millennium C.E.
In this process, traditional non-Western worldviews can play an important role. Val Plumwood argues that they can provide a multiplicity of critical perspectives, bringing to light "areas that we may have failed to see as important" and deep assumptions that might otherwise go unnoticed. 5
Fritjof Capra has argued that there exist profound similarities between the new physics and traditional non-Western worldviews, especially those of Asia. 6
While Capra naïvely treated "Eastern philosophy" as if it were a monolithic historically and culturally unified tradition of thought like Western philosophy, he nevertheless struck a note of truth. The "new science," shaped as much by evolutionary and especially ecological biology as by relativity and quantum physics, though growing directly out of the old, has laid the foundations for a very un-Western Western worldview of the future.
However revolutionary, the new science is expressed in the same abstract language as the old. The new physics is not completely accessible to anyone without training in advanced mathematics. The new biology is also liberally laced with mathematical formulas, tables, graphs, and equations. A few philosophically gifted high priests of science struggle to convey something of the sweeping and profound intellectual implications of the arcane new doctrines and rites over which they preside. Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, and Erwin Schrödinger, for example, have been effective popularizers as well as principal architects of the new physics. Perhaps no one has been a more successful communicator of the philosophical implications of the new biology than the ecologist Aldo Leopold.
But the articulation and dissemination of something so general, multifaceted, and fundamental as a new picture of nature, human nature, and the relationship between the two cannot be effected by a few able writers in each relevant scientific field. The process of worldview poiêsis is gradual, cumulative, and ongoing. Generalizing Capra's insight, and correcting for the limitations of his Tao of Physics
, we may confidently say that there are interesting similarities between the ideas of the new science and non-Western traditions of thought. Indigenous worldviews around the globe can contribute a fund of symbols, images, metaphors, similies, analogies, stories, and myths to advance the process of articulating the new postmodern scientific worldview. Thus the contemporary custodians of traditional and indigenous non-Western systems of ideas can be cocreators of a new master narrative for the rainbow race of the global village. They have a vital role to play. Historically, the reconstructed postmodern worldview will be Western. Substantively, it will not. It will be more Buddhist than Platonic, more Kayapoan than Cartesian.
In this way, indigenous environmental ethics may complement a post-modern evolutionary-ecological environmental ethic as well as vice versa. We may anticipate a global intellectual dialogue, synthesis, and amalgamation to emerge, rather than an era of Western philosophical hegemony, or—just as bad—an era of intellectual balkanization, bickering, intolerance, and ethnic cleansing: the bitter fruit of claims of absolute "otherness" and irreconcilable "difference."
Note that the comparative dialogue here envisioned is a far cry from the caricature, drawn by some writers, of starry-eyed Western environmentalists hoping to convert the West to the ecological attitudes and values of various non-Western cultures. Deborah Bird Rose, for example, warns of
the possibility that people who perceive a lack in their own culture will be drawn to a romantic and nostalgic glorification of other cultures and seek to transplant another culture's ethical system into their own. The attempt is misguided. Every culture is the product of particular beings living particular lives within the particular options and constraints of their own received traditions, their mode of production and so on. 7
No such transplantation is suggested here. Nevertheless, even the more limited and careful cross-fertilization envisioned here has been severely criticized. "Mining" the "conceptual resources" of indigenous intellectual traditions for insights and images that will help articulate the environmental attitudes and values latent in the emerging postmodern scientific worldview is a reprehensible kind of philosophical colonialism, according to the comparativist Gerald James Larson—a kind that differs from but is related to the colonizing about which Cheney complains. 8
Is comparative environmental philosophy guilty of "stealing the discourse of the other"? Such a charge, however politically fashionable, is pre-posterous. Things of the mind are not diminished when they are shared. When the conquistadors took New World gold back to Spain, the New World indigenes were the poorer. Would that the Spanish had taken New World ideas back instead! Quite the contrary: the conquistadors were as anxious to export their own ideas as to import the physical riches of the peoples they subjected. Let us not be deterred by caricatures of comparative environmental philosophy. Let us drop these unpersuasive charges of intellectual piracy and instead seek a mutually enriching fair trade in ideas—East and West, North and South.
Rose warns that "the attempt to appropriate another culture's ethical system is self-defeating because it is self-contradictory: the act of appropriation is so lacking in the respect which is the basis of the desired ethic that the appropriation becomes annihilation." 9
A moment's reflection suggests that this charge, too, is just so much politically fashionable rhetoric. The "act of appropriation" is on the face of it an indication of respect rather than disrespect—imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. Neither are things of the mind debased when they are shared. Again, quite the contrary: favorable comparison with the emerging postmodern scientific worldview—which is what this study attempts—validates traditional and indigenous intellectual achievements. It gives them new meaning, dignity, and power.
A Genealogy of Science
Science, in the current sense of the word, is a legacy of the Western intellectual tradition. In the West, the first philosophy, temporally speaking, was natural philosophy. And "modern" science, which came into its own in the seventeenth century C.E., is just Western natural philosophy consolidated and united by a universally accepted paradigm (the mechanical paradigm), method (the inductive-hypothetical-deductive-experimental method), and division into areas of inquiry (astronomy, astrophysics, physics, physical chemistry, chemistry, biochemistry, biology, and the rest).
The West's first philosophical question was, Of what is the world composed? It was asked by Thales of Miletus, if we may infer the question from his answer—to wit, water. Thales did not allege that this answer was a truth revealed to him by the gods; it was an idea of his own devising. Hence his "hypothesis" invited criticism.
Thales' immediate intellectual successor, Anaximander, argued that if everything was composed of water, then everything would be wet; indeed, it would seem that if everything was composed of water there would be nothing but water. Hence the archê
—the underlying substance from which all things come to be and into which they are all finally resolved—must be the apeiron
, the "indeterminate," or "indefinite." Anaximander did not question the implicit assumption that there was an ultimate stuff or that such stuff was unitary. He argued, rather, that it must be a neutral mix of opposite qualities—hot and cold, wet and dry. Hypostatized and systematized by Empedocles, these opposites became the four classical "elements"—fire, earth, water, and air.
Nevertheless, the severe Greek intellectual requirement, explicitly articulated by Parmenides, that Being be absolutely one and unchanging obviously could not be satisfied by a theory positing the irreducible reality of four things. The atomic theory of matter, proposed by Leucippus and refined by Democritus, came very near to passing muster, however. To be sure, the atoms theorized by Leucippus and Democritus were many—indeed, infinite in number—and constantly moving. But each atom meets Parmenides' specifications for Being, since each, considered by itself, is one, internally unchanging, motionless, eternal, and spatially limited: An atom is not generated; it will not be destroyed; and throughout its infinite career it will change not one iota. More abstractly considered, though, the atoms collectively are not irreducible. In a sense, space is the ultimate, genuinely one Reality—the true archê
of the atomic theory. The atomists seem to have thought of space as binary. A volume of space, in other words, may be either "on" or "off." The scattered small volumes of positive or "on" space are the atoms. Between them is negative or "off" space, the void.
That the classical atoms, in any case, are quintessentially spatial entities is confirmed by the primary qualities assigned them by the ancient architects of the atomic theory. The atoms do not differ from one another substantively, and they are all colorless, odorless, and flavorless. They differ only in shape, relative size, and the speed with which they spatially translate, or move from point to point. Manifest change is attributable to the association and dissociation of the impassive but promiscuous atoms, while manifest qualities like color and sound are attributable to the effect of the differing geometrical properties of the atoms and their states of motion on our errant senses.
Because Aristotle preferred the theory of Empedocles to that of Democritus, the qualitative elemental quartet of earth, air, fire, and water dominated European natural philosophy during its gradual recovery from the European Dark Age, when Aristotle was taken to be the final authority on every secular subject. After the Renaissance, the atomic theory of matter was revived, and finally was institutionalized by Isaac Newton in his modern mechanical natural philosophy—the philosophy around which modern science coalesced. The classical atom was significantly revised only in the twentieth century, as part of the paradigm shift from the modern Newtonian mechanical natural philosophy to the postmodern Einsteinean-Heisenbergian Unified Field natural philosophy. Today's subatomic "particles" are often imagined to be simply smaller versions of their ancient prototypes, with more exotic mathematical characteristics. That is at best an uncritical and ill-informed imposition of past ideas on the present. However that may be, from Thales to Niels Bohr the question "Of what is the world composed?" has been a central preoccupation driving Western inquiry into nature. While work on the problem has not gone on uninterrupted, from the sixth century B.C.E. down to the present the problem itself has remained exactly the same, and each thinker who has seriously taken it up has built directly on the work of his or her predecessors in the tradition.
A second central question driving Western inquiry into nature was first posed by Heraclitus. More important, he thought, than the question about the stuff of which things are composed is the question about the order of natural processes. Water is evaporated by the sun from the sea and falls to the earth again as rain; day follows night and night day; the stars revolve about the heavens in a wonderfully regular way, while the planets (literally, "wanderers," in Greek), including the sun and the moon, move in an intricate and regular but devilishly complex pattern. What is the Logos governing natural phenomena? Heraclitus asked. He thought that it was evidently "out there" at work in nature as a transcendent principle, but he believed that it was also "in here," at the core of the human psyche. In other words, he suggested that human reason and the laws of nature are isomorphic. The world is, in short, logical; therefore, we can know through self-knowledge what is out there ordering the cosmos—by exploring what is in here, the rational essence of the human soul.
Although Pythagoras lived before Heraclitus and was contemned by him, Pythagoras's mathematical explorations lent detail to Heraclitus's insight. Mathematics is the exfoliation of both logic and the Logos—that is, human reason within and the order of nature without. According to Plato, Pythagoras was a veritable Prometheus, who stole the most potent of secrets from the gods—not fire but mathematics, the key to knowing the order of nature. Descartes and Galileo revived the Pythagorean-Platonic doctrine that the order of nature was logical and, more particularly, expressible in the language of numbers. Newton institutionalized it in modern science, as he institutionalized atomism, by inventing the calculus, a mathematical language that expresses the mechanical interactions among the atoms (or material "corpuscles," as they were sometimes called).
The third central question driving Western inquiry into nature was not so much first posed as first provoked by Parmenides. Parmenides, scorning sensory experience, argued that Being was not only one and eternal but also necessarily motionless. His Milesian predecessors seem to have assumed that the archê
was self-moving and thus alive. Parmenides created the first crisis in Western proto-science: Reason seemed to require the existence of a blankly unitary static reality, while the senses disclosed a multifarious moving reality. The post-Parmenidean Greek natural philosophers took it as their task to "save the appearances"—that is, to reconcile logic and sensory experience, enabling natural philosophy to go forward. Therefore, they did not accede to the arguments of Parmenides and his disciple Zeno that motion was irrational. But they did feel constrained to account for the existence of otherwise aberrant motion by expressly positing a moving force or forces. According to Anaxagoras, the moving force was Mind, and according to Empedocles there were two such forces alternately moving inert matter—Love and Strife. According to Newton, while atoms possessed kinetic energy, which they exchanged through collisions with one another, the primary natural force was gravity (a bloodless version of the first of Empedocles's forces)—an attraction of all the corpuscles for one another.
The pursuit of the mathematical form of the order of nature and the force or forces of nature has been as constant a feature of Western natural philosophy as the pursuit of the problem of the nature of nature's material substance. Some contemporary scientists imagine themselves to be nearing the end of their triple quest, as theoreticians draw nearer to unifying mathematically the four fundamental forces of nature—electromagnetism, the weak force (these two were recently combined), the strong force, and gravity—in a final Theory of Everything.
In the first chapter of this monograph, the historical roots of our ecological crisis—to echo Lynn White, Jr.,'s felicitous phrase—were traced less to the Judeo-Christian tradition, as he did, than to Greco-modern natural philosophy. The Greek natural philosophers supplied the conceptual materials from which the modern scientific paradigm was forged; and that paradigm—classical mechanics—in turn inspired and informed the modern Industrial Revolution and what Aldo Leopold called "the Machine Age." 10
The global reach of the environmental crisis does not invalidate White's insight that its historical roots lie in the West. Rather, the ubiquity of the crisis only testifies to the insidiousness of the modern Western worldview and its associated values. That Japan is a country as noted for its industrial pollution as for its tea gardens does not argue either that ideas are impotent or that Japanese intellectual traditions do not, as supposed, encourage a harmony of people with nature. That the modern Japanese have been environmentally insensitive indicates, rather, the degree to which Japanese culture has been Westernized. And the same could be said about India, China, or any other formerly non-Western society.
The Postmodern Scientific Revolution
Although we may be able to apprehend the world through a variety of conceptual frames of reference, we cannot apprehend it independently of any conceptual frame of reference whatsoever. The emerging postmodern scientific worldview has its roots in a tradition of Western natural philosophy more than twenty-five hundred years old. It has, however, through its own internal dialectic, burst out of its distinctly Western conceptual cachet. To be sure, postmodern science is continuous with modern science and thus with premodern Western natural philosophy. The same central tripartite quest drives it. And more or less the same scientific method that disciplined inquiry in modern science disciplines inquiry in postmodern science. Modern and postmodern science differ in the substantive worldview or paradigm each presents, not in the questions regarded as worth pursuing or the method used to pursue them.
Moreover, the philosophical specifics of the new scientific paradigm seem very un-Western in spirit and substance. As Niels Bohr suggested back in the 1930s, there exist interesting similarities—such as the logic of complementarity—between the new physics and some Asian philosophies. 11
To underscore his point, he emblazoned the yin-yang
symbol on his coat of arms. Both because science has become an international currency of ideas and because the postmodern scientific worldview is decidedly untraditional—un-Western—in its cognitive details, the postmodern evolutionary and ecological environmental ethic here envisioned may be considered to be part of an intellectual global commons. An environmental ethic grounded in a postmodern scientific worldview, therefore, need not be received in non-Western cultures as yet another Western import or imposition. Though a by-product of a dialectical development in Western natural philosophy or science, an evolutionary and ecological environmental ethic is cognitively consonant with non-Western traditions of thought—ironically, perhaps even more so than it is with the Western tradition.
In the modern Western worldview, nature is pictured as a vast mechanism. The postmodern (and, in a sense, also post-Western) worldview is still very much in the gestation stage, and so cannot be as definitively characterized. But from all indications, nature will be pictured in the eventual consolidated postmodern worldview more as a vast organism than as a vast mechanism. In any case, it seems clear that in the emerging worldview, from the macrocosmic family of galaxies to the microcosmic dance of quanta, including the middle-size terrestrial environment we inhabit, nature is systemically unified by a hierarchy of internal relations.
To characterize a paradigm shift in science as a "scientific revolution" is a little misleading. "Scientific revolution" suggests an ideological coup d'état in which one party of natural philosophers seizes the professorships and directorships from the incumbent party of natural philosophers and establishes a new regime among the scientific foot soldiers. The process is, for one thing, much more gradual than the revolution metaphore suggests, and for another, it is not philosophically arbitrary. A reigning paradigm is given up very reluctantly and only for the most compelling of reasons: because it cannot embrace all the phenomena, or, in the phraseology of the ancients, because it cannot save all the appearances. The Ptolemaic paradigm in premodern astronomy was simply unable to cope with the ever-increasing accuracy of the observed motions of the planets, no matter how ingeniously it was fine-tuned. It was relinquished gradually and with considerable trauma, not only because the entire edifice of Aristotelian dynamics was swept away with it but also because Christianity had entangled itself with the geocentric picture of the world.
The Newtonian paradigm, for all its untoward moral, spiritual, and environmental consequences, is intellectually elegant and thus enormously appealing from a scientific point of view. Pure Euclidean space; absolute, equably flowing time; aggregates of material particles moving implacably along straight lines, deflected only by collisions with other such bodies or by the gravitational force—all this is easy to imagine and straightforward to model mathematically. Many scientists today seem deeply to regret the passing of the Newtonian world model, to yearn for its imaginability and familiarity, and to backslide into a mechanical mode of thinking when not called to account. (The continuing references to the dynamic and often ephemeral subatomic knots of spacetime as "particles" is a case in point.) But certain fundamental phenomena just cannot be made to fit the mechanical mold—the wave/particle ambiguity in subatomic physics, the quantization of light, its constant speed, and so on.
Scientists in the vanguard of a "revolution," moreover, try to maintain as much continuity with the obsolescing natural philosophy as possible. For example, in addition to retaining circular planetary orbits, Copernicus retained the outermost sphere of the fixed stars of the Ptolemaic system. While he argued that the earth was a planet, it never occurred to him to argue that the planets might execute any but circular motions, or that the sun might be a star. For an example from the more recent revolution, Albert Einstein relativized, warped, and integrated space and time, but refused, notoriously, to accept the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the indeterminacy and insubstantiality it implied. Furthermore, a scientist faithful to the old paradigm will inadvertently contribute to the emergence of the new. The Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, for example, supplied the observational data that enabled Johannes Kepler to complete the Copernican model of the solar system, but Brahe himself refused to accept the Copernican paradigm.
A Natural History of Environmental Ethics
To shift from astronomy and physics, the central theater of the postmodern scientific "revolution," to biology, a more peripheral battleground: Charles Darwin likewise brought biology, the last bastion of Aristotelian science, into line with the modern mechanical philosophy, but at once planted the seeds for its defection to the organicism of the future.
From the point of view of Aristotelian biology, species were as eternal and unchanging as the heavens. Darwin's central concept, natural selection, provided a mechanism for the origin, change, and extinction of species. Organisms reproduce excessively; the progeny compete for scarce resources; those with competitive advantages survive and reproduce, thus increasing the frequency of their characteristics in subsequent generations. New species gradually evolve as the environment mechanically and impersonally winnows the unfit from the population and favors the better adapted.
But when Homo sapiens
is set in this scene, as Darwin did in his second great work, The Descent of Man
, then our species becomes a part of nature, a creature among creatures (or, rather, an evolvant among evolvants). Descartes, the aptly christened "father" of modern philosophy, had rigorously segregated man from nature. By bringing human beings onto the evolutionary stage, Darwin effected a man-nature reunion. As Aldo Leopold poignantly put it, Darwin's theory of evolution "should have given us, by this time, a sense of kinship with fellow-creatures; a wish to live and let live; a sense of wonder over the magnitude and duration of the biotic enterprise." 12
Darwin's evolutionary epic not only undermines the Cartesian dogma that our fellow creatures are soulless automata. More profoundly, it undermines a cornerstone of the Cartesian modernist epistemology—viz., that we human beings are essentially disembodied passive observers of nature. From a Darwinian perspective, reason is a survival tool. Like the elephant's trunk or the giraffe's neck, reason is only a hypertrophic extension of a generic animal endowment, not, as Descartes believed, a special divine instrument of clear and distinct ideas—the same ideas in accordance with which God designed nature. Darwin thus set the stage for the great epistemological upheaval of postmodern physics, in which the observer, as a physical being, invariably affects and is affected by the physical object of observation, and always observes from a finite and immersed, rather than from a synoptic and privileged, point of view.
Darwin's account of the origin and development of ethics, treated here as a foundation for an evolutionary and ecological environmental ethic, is indisputably modern in its assumptions, but was given a definite postmodern spin by Aldo Leopold. Darwin recognized that however great man's inhumanity to man may be, ethics nevertheless exist. Even the most disillusioned and misanthropic observer of the human drama must acknowledge that human self-restraint, kindness, generosity, and even self-sacrifice exist no less certainly than human indifference, inconsiderateness, and unspeakable cruelty. All debate about "man's inhumanity to man" must be about the relative proportion of inhumanity to kindness, since no one can doubt that altruism exists, however attenuated or infrequent.
But how is it possible to account for the existence of selflessness? Assuming an evolutionary point of view, one would suppose that treachery and aggression would be of great advantage to individuals competing for the limited means to life, and that therefore such characteristics would be represented in ever-increasing magnitude in future generations. As time goes on, we should see less and less rather than—as Darwin himself believed—more and more inclination toward "moral" behavior. At this late date, in any event, all human beings—indeed, all animals—should be thoroughly rapacious and utterly merciless. Even the words "kindness," "pity," "generosity," "benevolence," and the like should have no currency in our language, since the dispositions they name should have been nipped in the bud by the remorseless and impersonal principle of natural selection.
A century earlier than Darwin, David Hume—an anti-Enlightenment skeptic who was nonetheless firmly ensnared by the modern paradigm—insisted that morality, though informed by matters of fact and cause-effect reasoning, is rooted ultimately in feeling. Just as we are moved to act in our own self-interest, and in the (reproductive) interest of the species, by powerful passions and desires, so we are moved to act in the interest of others, and in the interest of society per se
, by opposing passions and emotions—such as sympathy, love, and patriotism. Likewise, Hume's younger contemporary Adam Smith rested his own philosophy of ethics on a very similar "theory of moral sentiments."
Darwin supplied an evolutionary derivation for the moral psychology Hume and Smith had described but could not explain. He begins with the observation that for many species, and especially for mammal species, prolonged parental care is necessary to ensure reproductive success; and that such care is motivated by a strong instinct, experienced as a strong emotion that adult mammals (in some species, perhaps only the females) feel for their offspring—parental (or maternal) love. Love, thus, can have been naturally selected, as it contributes to inclusive
fitness—not to individual longevity, necessarily, but to successful reproduction.
Darwin then argued that "parental and filial affections" permitted the formation of small social units. The survival advantages to the individual of lifelong membership in a protective social unit like a family group are obvious and would tend to conserve more expansive variations of the parent-child emotional bond, such as affection for other kin—siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, and so on. Those individuals in whom these affections were strongest would form the most closely knit extended family and clan bonds. These and similar "social sentiments" or "social instincts," such as the "all-important emotion of sympathy," Darwin reasoned, "will have been increased through natural selection; for those communities which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best and rear the greatest number of offspring." 13
As clan competes with clan, the principle of natural selection, which at first would seem to lead to greater intolerance and rapacity, actually leads instead, Darwin suggests, to increased affection, kindness, and sympathy—for now the struggle for limited resources is understood to be carried on collectively, and groups with "the greatest number of the most sympathetic members" may be supposed to out-compete those whose members are quarrelsome and disagreeable. "No tribe," Darwin tells us, "could hold together if murder, robbery, treachery, &c., were common; consequently such crimes within the limits of the same tribe 'are branded with everlasting infamy'; but excite no such sentiment beyond these limits." 14
Such socially destructive acts were labeled "evil," and were socially proscribed. Thus a rudimentary tribal ethic came into being.
Darwin's own resolution to the Darwinian paradox represented by the existence of morality is simple and straightforward. Morality evolved among human beings, and perhaps something very similar (a kind of proto-ethics) evolved among other highly developed mammalian species, as a means to social cohesion. Thus, not only was there selective pressure for more intense sympathy and affection within group boundaries but there was also selective pressure for more widely cast social sentiments, since as one internally loyal and cooperative group competes with others, the largest will win out. Darwin concludes his scenario of ethical evolution thusly:
As man advances in civilization, . . . small tribes are united into larger communities and the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation though personally unknown to him and unrelated to him genetically. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races. If, indeed, such men are separated from him by great differences of appearance and habits, experience unfortunately shews us how long it is, before we look at them as our fellow-creatures. 15
And, it should be noted, Darwin even extends ethics beyond the species barrier, foreshadowing the eventual effort to construct nonanthropocentric moral philosophies. According to Darwin,
sympathy beyond the confines of man, that is, humanity to the lower animals, seems to be one of the latest moral acquisitions. . . . This virtue, one of the noblest with which man is endowed, seems to arise incidentally from our sympathies becoming more tender and widely diffused until they are extended to all sentient beings. 16
For Darwin, notice, humanity to all
sentient beings is an incidental
extension of our sympathies. Why? Because in the absence of an ecological worldview only some of the "lower" animals are conceivably members of human society. Pets are, as it were, honorary family members, and other domestic animals, as the philosopher Mary Midgley points out, are long-standing members of a "mixed human/animal community." 17
But absent an ecological understanding of nature, and especially the ecological concept of a biotic community, the vast majority of animals (which are wild), to say nothing of plants, remain putative social outlanders, and, as such, exempt from moral consideration.
Darwin could not have perceived nature through the lens of ecology, because the conceptual elements of ecology are embedded in the basic evolutionary biology that Darwin pioneered. Functional relationships among organic beings are conceivable apart from evolutionary biology—by analogy with the functional relationships among the parts of a machine, for example. But Darwin's idea that species adapt to and are sculpted by a multitude of environmental conditions brings the complex of a species' relationships to other species and also to temperature, humidity, acidity, and all the other inorganic facets of its niche sharply to the forefront of attention.
In the 1920s, Charles Elton captured the relationally integrated view of nature presented by the new but rapidly maturing science of ecology in a metaphor—one that has become so ingrained that ecologists sometimes forget that it is in fact only a metaphor. According to Elton, plants and animals are united into biotic communities. Just as in human societies all sorts of specialized roles or professions "evolved"—farmers, manufacturers, teamsters, merchants, priests, doctors, teachers, lawyers—so in nature's economy analogous roles or "professions" evolved, in respect to which species specialized. As the human economy is divisible into major sectors, the economy of nature is divisible into producers, consumers, and decomposers. And each of these major divisions is subdivided into myriads of specializations. Among the plant "producers," or autotrophs, are annuals and perennials, short-lived algae and long-lived evergreens, water-loving and drought-resistant species, and so on and on; among the animals—the consumers—are herbivores, omnivores, carnivores, and carrion-eaters; among the decomposers are fungi and bacteria. Together they form one community of competing and cooperating citizens.
Although Darwin himself envisioned the spillover of the moral sentiments beyond the species barrier to all sentient beings, it fell to Aldo Leopold to erect a full-blown nonanthropocentric environmental ethic on Darwin's basic biosocial account of the origin and evolution of ethics. Leopold integrated Elton's ecological model with Darwin's construction of the evolution of ethics to create a nonanthropocentric environmental ethic, or "land ethic," as he called it.
He begins by putting Darwin's theory of the origin and evolution of ethics in a nutshell: "An ethic, biologically, is a limitation on freedom of action in the struggle for existence. An ethic, philosophically, is a differentiation of social from antisocial conduct." Leopold goes on to draw a generalization from Darwin's natural history of ethics: Since "these are two definitions of one thing... [and] the thing has its origins in the tendency for interdependent individuals or groups to evolve modes of cooperation,... all ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts." 18
Immediately he adds the novel Eltonian element to this essentially Darwinian generalization. In addition to various strata of human societies—extended families, clans, gens, nations, nation-states, and the human race—ecology has revealed that we are also members of a hierarchy of biotic communities: our specific bioregions, biomes, and Gaia herself, the global or planetary ecosystem. Thus, according to Leopold, "the land ethic simply [reflects this enlargement of] the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land." Practically speaking, "a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens
from conqueror of the land community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow members, and also respect for the community as such." 19
When represented, as they are in ecology—as fellow members of a biotic community—soils, waters, plants, and animals stimulate our social instincts and sympathies. They bring into play our moral sentiments. Accordingly, we extend these fellow members moral consideration; we grant them moral entitlement; we enfranchise them ethically. Individually and collectively, they command our respect.
How exactly to translate these abstract principles of the land ethic into practical precepts generally follows from its overall theoretical structure. If ethics evolve as means to social cohesion and stability, then the precepts of ethics should reflect the organization of the societies to which each is correlative. Extended families and tribes are different kinds of social institutions, although the former are embedded in the latter. Hence our duties to our fellow tribespersons are not the same as our duties to members of our own families. We are obliged to support family members, for example, in their infancy and old age, but we have no such obligations—at least, none so categorical—in respect to our fellow citizens. And our duties to the members of our own nation-states are different from those we owe to human beings of other countries. We pay taxes to defend our fellow citizens against military aggression, for example, but we usually feel compelled to offer only moral support to citizens of other nation-states when they are threatened—as the inaction of the United States and other military powers in the recent central Asian and African ethnic conflicts indicates.
Similarly, our duties to the members of our own biotic communities are decidedly distinct and very different from the duties devolving to us from all our other social relationships—since the biotic community is only a metaphorical community, the structure of which is radically different from any of our actual societies, no matter how small and intimate or diffuse and impersonal. Murder, robbery, and treachery may be branded with everlasting infamy within both the savage tribe and the global village. But since eating and being eaten lie at the very center of the structure of the biotic community, an evolutionary and ecological environmental ethic could hardly condemn predation as murder, browsing and grazing as robbery, and nature's many ingenious devices to seduce and deceive the unwary into performing various interspecies services (pollination, for example) as treachery.
Generally speaking, the emphasis of the land ethic, in comparison with our various properly social ethics, is more holistic than individualistic. To be sure, one feels an obligation to one's family as such—as for example not to disgrace the family name—as well as to one's mother, father, siblings, and offspring, but family duties focus more on family members than on the family per se. One also feels an obligation to one's nation-state in addition to its members severally. Indeed, honoring one's obligation to one's country has a name of its own: "patriotism." But again, one's primary obligations run to one's fellow citizens at the national stage of social evolution. An adequate and practicable environmental ethic, on the other hand, reverses the relative weight placed on part and whole in our familiar social ethics. It is concerned less with sorting out the mutual obligations among specimens than with preserving species. Individual specimens ought to be respected, but specimens can claim no legitimate right to life in an economy of nature in which one being purchases life only at the expense of the life of others. In addition to preserving species, an evolutionary and ecological ethic is concerned with preserving natural processes and other biotic wholes. It is concerned with safeguarding genetic diversity and with preserving a substantial and widely distributed sample of the hierarchy of ecosystems—from ten-acre ponds and forty-acre woodlots to vast moist tropical forests, deserts, temperate prairies, subarctic steppes, and arctic tundra. Its ultimate concern is to ensure the health and integrity of the biosphere as a whole. As Aldo Leopold expresses the summary moral maxim—the golden rule—of the land ethic: "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community
. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." 20
The Postmodern Credentials of the Leopold Land Ethic
As we see, the land ethic rests explicitly on Darwin's account of the evolution of ethics; and Darwin's natural history of ethics, in turn, rests explicitly on Hume's and Smith's theory of the moral sentiments. And the proposition that morality is rooted in our affections—that ethics ultimately spring from our subjective feelings, as Hume and Smith proposed—takes for granted the radical Cartesian distinction between subject and object. One could thus fairly argue that the evolutionary and ecological ethic sketched here, following Leopold, remains imprisoned by Descartes' dualism—the very castle keep of the modern scientific paradigm.
Granted. But even though the Aldo Leopold land ethic is built on distinctly modern foundations, it opens out upon the prospect of a fully postmodern environmental ethical ideal. In his vision of nature as an integrated community and an organic whole, Leopold points beyond the bifurcated Cartesian-Newtonian model of nature. A telling ambiguity pervades Leopold's discussion. To expose it, to diagnose it, is to deconstruct the land ethic and recast it in a fully postmodern form.
Why, one might ask, should we accept an evolutionary and ecological ethic? Leopold writes, "The extension of ethics to... [the] environment is, if I read the evidence correctly, an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity." 21
It is an evolutionary possibility for the reasons already elaborated—that is, because ecology portrays nature as a biotic community and we are evolved to respond morally to the communities to which we perceive ourselves as belonging and to their members. It is an ecological necessity because "the path to social expediency is not discernible to the average individual." 22
Thus the land ethic, though putatively grounded in the other-oriented moral sentiments, is ultimately justified in terms of collective human self-interest, in terms of "social expediency." The point is this: Unless we evolve a nonanthropocentric environmental ethic, Homo sapiens
may not be around for very much longer. Ours is a gravely self-endangered species, and adopting an environmental ethic that subordinates human excesses to the good of the whole biotic community may be, paradoxically and ironically, our only hope for an extended tenure on the planet.
This air of paradox is removed when we come to see the full implications of ecology for an understanding of self, and, by extension, of self-interest. From an ecological point of view, oneself is a nexus of strands in the web of life. More formally, any entity (oneself included), from an ecological point of view, is a node in a matrix of internal relations. Reflecting on these metaphysical implications of ecology, the ecologist Paul Shepard was led to exclaim that "relationships of things are as real as the things" and to endorse Alan Watts's Zen-inspired declaration that "the world is your body." 23
Pushed a step further, ecology, in tandem with the new physics, may even be taken to imply not merely that relationships of things are as real as the things but that relationships are more
real than things—that is, that things are just the focus of a complex of relationships, however abstract this may seem.
From the perspective of contemporary biology, species adapt to a niche in an ecosystem. Their actual relationships to other organisms (to predators, to prey, to parasites and disease organisms) and to physical and chemical conditions (to temperature, radiation, salinity, wind, soil, and water pH) literally mold their outward forms, their metabolic processes, and even their psychological and mental capacities. A specimen is, in effect, a summation of its species' historical adaptive relationship to the environment. To convey a very un-Aristotelian thought in an Aristotelian manner of speech, one might say that from an ecological perspective relations are "prior to" the things related, and the systemic wholes woven from these relations are prior to their component parts. Ecosystemic wholes are logically prior to their component species because the nature of the part is determined by its relationship to the whole. Or, to express the thought more simply and concretely, a species has the particular characteristics that it has because those characteristics evolved by way of its adaptation to a niche in an ecosystem.
One might argue that ecology, even so, is not prepared per se to deny outright the primary reality of atomic and molecular matter, no matter how completely organismic entities dissolve into a field of ecological relationships. However, if we take advantage of the way quantum theory resolves the erstwhile solid and immutable atoms of matter composing the molecules, which in turn compose the cells of organic bodies, into ephemeral quanta, then we may say quite confidently that organisms are in their entire structure—from subatomic microcosm to ecosystemic macrocosm—relational entities.
Gary Snyder captured this vertical integration of metaphysical ideas in a poem:
Eating the living germs of grasses
Eating the ova of large birds...
Drawing on life of living
clustered points of light spun
out of space
hidden in the grape. 24
In these lines, "clustered points of light spun out of space" apparently alludes to the dynamic configurations of the microcosm—the quantum knots in the universal spacetime field. In the ecosystemic macrocosm, the grape itself is a "knot in the biospherical net of intrinsic relations," to quote Deep Ecologist Arne Naess. 25
Thus the grape, through and through, from ecosystemic macrocosm to subatomic microcosm, is less a freestanding thing than a multitiered nexus in a complex and hierarchical network of relations.
In any case, from an ecological/quantum-theoretical point of view, one cannot draw sharp boundaries, as did Democritus and Newton, between one thing and another, and, as Descartes did, between self and world. Hence a nonanthropocentric environmental ethic, fully ecologized, so to speak, turns out to be a form of enlightened—or, better, embedded—collective human self-interest, after all. Nonanthropocentrism thus comes full circle back to anthropocentrism, though to an anthropocentrism, one must hasten to say, thoroughly informed—and therefore thoroughly transformed—by ecology.
As noted in chapter 3, Arne Naess has called this process of ecological enlightenment Self-realization. The capital "S" is important, because it distinguishes this special ecological sense of Self-realization from the narrowly self-absorbed sort of self-realization that was the hallmark of the Reagan decade of the twentieth century—a sense of self-realization with which we are all too painfully familiar. While Naess himself sometimes confounds the ecometaphysical foundations of his Deep Ecological sense of Self-realization with the substantive monism of Hinduism, the Australian Deep Ecologist John Seed expresses Naess's expansive notion of Self-realization in metaphysically more appropriate terms, as well as more succinctly and concretely:
As the implications of evolution and ecology are internalized ... there is an identification with all life. ... Alienation subsides. ... "I am protecting the rain forest" develops to "I am part of the rain forest protecting myself. I am that part of the rain forest recently emerged into thinking." 26
Just as the embedded, collective human self-interest implied by ecological Self-realization must be distinguished from superficially similar ideas in Advaita Vedanta, so it must be distinguished from the pedestrian concept of enlightened collective human self-interest familiar in utilitarianism, the modern secular ethic of choice. Utilitarians assume that self and other are clearly and distinctly distinct. One must grudgingly respect the interests of "others" if one expects others to respect one's own interests, and if an orderly society with all its benefits is to be preserved. But from the perspective of ecometaphysics, while others retain their identity and integrity, oneself and others are mutually defining and interdependent. Thus, since ecology conceptually relates self and other, embedded self-interest is not equivalent to reciprocal altruism or quid pro quo. John Seed is not protecting the rain forest because he realizes "he" needs "it" to survive. That is true. We do need the planet's rain forests to survive. One could also say that we need our families and our jobs to survive. But that is not the only (and maybe not even the most) important reason we take so much care to safeguard them. We each do so because, for each of us, meaningful work and intimate, meaningful relationships make us the persons we are. If by some calamity we are stripped bare of these, we may survive as "individuals," but just as surely we may lose our identities. But we are embedded no less in ecological than in social and professional communities, albeit in a more attenuated way. Therefore, we must be solicitous of ecological conservation for reasons of enlightened self-interest, since our survival as a species depends on a functioning biosphere. But, just as surely, we ought to care about the natural environment for reasons of embedded self-interest, since our identity as individuals as well as our collective identity as a species depends on the integrity both of our local bioregions and of the whole biosphere.
Here then is a genuinely postmodern, scientifically informed and constructured theory for environmental ethics. It is genuinely postmodern because its conceptual foundations are not Cartesian. The dualisms of subject and object, self and other are transcended. It is offered as a global intellectual commons. Though it grows directly out of the Western tradition of natural philosophy, its actual intellectual content is more Eastern than Western. It posits a unity in nature which has more affinities with Huayen than with Parmenidean monism. And it posits a Wattsian connectivity between self and world which is much more foreign to the West's intellectual past than to that of many indigenous cultures, especially those that are totemic.
As we enter the twenty-first century, we find that each of us inhabits at least two cultures—a local culture and a global or international culture. Earlier chapters of this monograph have explored the conceptual elements for environmental ethics in the intellectual dimensions of selected indigenous cultural traditions around the world. This chapter has explored the conceptual elements for environmental ethics in the international intellectual milieu of twenty-first-century science. Happily, the emerging global scientific worldview is not as conceptually dissonant with the world's many indigenous intellectual traditions—at least, not with those reviewed herein—as its predecessor, the mechanical worldview. Thus an international environmental ethic firmly grounded in ecology and buttressed by the new physics will complement, rather than clash with, the environmental ethics implicit in the world's many indigenous traditions of thought.
Although this study has so far focused exclusively on ideas and ideals, its motivation is ultimately practical. As its first chapter more fully explained, ideas shape the stage on which the human drama is enacted, and ideals serve as both the ends and the norms of human behavior. Surely, the twentieth century has been the most dizzying and paradoxical of all in human history. During the twentieth century, we have witnessed the most abject human misery and the most spectacular human achievement, the most debased human depravity and the most exalted human nobility. The physical legacy we bequeath to the future is equally extreme and contradictory. Human life has been at once enormously improved by the century's technological achievements and enormously debased and impoverished. Conserving the human benefits and minimizing the environmental costs of modern technology will head the global agenda of the twenty-first century. As a first step, we will require a revised understanding of the theater of human action—a new constructive postmodern worldview—and a revised set of ideals, among them a new postmodern environmental ethic. To construct a genuinely postmodern environmental ethic—an ethic that respects diversity and the wonderful variety of past human culture—we must try to bring the intellectual elements of the earth's many indigenous cultural traditions into a complementary and concordant relationship with those of postmodern international science. This chapter has been devoted to suggesting a theoretical foundation for that project. Notes
: Note 1:
Jim Cheney, "Postmodern Environmental Ethics: Ethics as Bioregional Narrative," Environmental Ethics
11 (1989): 117-134. Back. Note 2:
Jim Cheney, "The Neo-stoicism of Radical Environmetalism," Environmental Ethics
11 (1989): 302. Back. Note 3:
The quoted phrase is from Karen J. Warren and Jim Cheney, "Ecosystem Ecology and Metaphysical Ecology," Environmental Ethics
15 (1993): 116. Back. Note 4:
Karen J. Warren, "The Power and the Promise of Ecological Feminism," Environmental Ethics
12 (1990): 125-146. Back. Note 5:
Val Plumwood, "Plato and the Bush," Meanjin
49 (1990): 533. Back. Note 6:
Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism
(Boulder: Shambhala, 1975). Back. Note 7:
Deborah Bird Rose, "Exploring an Aboriginal Land Ethic," Meanjin
47 (1988): 378. Back. Note 8:
Gerald James Larson, " 'Conceptual Resources' in South Asia for 'Environmental Ethics,' " in J. Baird Callicott and Roger T. Ames, eds., Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought: Essays in Environmental Philosophy
(Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989), pp. 267-277. Back. Note 9:
Rose, "Exploring an Aboriginal Land Ethic," p. 378. Back. Note 10:
In, for example, Aldo Leopold, "The Conservation Ethic," Journal of Forestry
31 (1933): 634-643. Back. Note 11:
See John Honner, The Description of Nature: Niels Bohr and the Philosophy of Quantum Physics
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1987). Back. Note 12:
Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1949), p. 109. Back. Note 13:
Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex
, 2d ed. (New York: J. A. Hill, 1904), p. 107. Back. Note 14:
Ibid., p. 118. Back. Note 15:
Ibid., p. 124. Back. Note 16:
Ibid. Back. Note 17:
Mary Midgley, Animals and Why They Matter
(Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1983). Back. Note 18:
Leopold, Sand County
, pp. 202-203. Back. Note 19:
Ibid., p. 204. Back. Note 20:
Ibid., pp. 224-225. Back. Note 21:
Ibid., p. 203. Back. Note 22:
. Ibid. Back. Note 23:
Paul Shepard, "Ecology and Man: A Viewpoint," in Paul Shepard and Daniel McKinley, eds., The Subversive Science: Essays Toward an Ecology of Man
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969), p. 3. Back. Note 24:
Gary Snyder, "Song of the Taste," in Gary Snyder, Regarding Wave
(New York: New Directions, 1967), p. 17. Back. Note 25:
Arne Naess, "The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement: A Summary," Inquiry
16 (1973): 16. Back. Note 26:
John Seed, "Anthropocentrism," Appendix E in Bill Devall and George Sessions, Deep Ecology: Living As If Nature Mattered
(Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books, 1985), p. 243. Back.