A human social system is governed by the same Biophysical Principles that quite literally “grew us” as a species and that govern the survival and evolution of all living things. This is true even though a human society is composed of individually conscious and unique beings, each of whom possesses the free will to choose. We have compounded this simple statement, however, because we continually attempt to superimposed our human will onto Nature’s cycles and their dynamic balances.
That the Biophysical Principles govern human beings and their societies the same as they govern Nature was not understood, or perhaps even considered, when the Europeans invaded the New World. Thus, it is little wonder that they spoke grandly over the decades and centuries of “clearing the land” and “busting the sod,” of “harnessing the rivers” and “taming the wilds.” In keeping with this mentality, they begrudged the predators a right to life—and in the process became what they were against: the most voracious predators the Earth has ever hosted. And yet they only did the best they knew how in their time and their place in history. How could they have done otherwise?
Today, however, we stand at a different time and a different place in history. We are present , and we are making history . Yet even today, at the dawning of the 21st century, we fail to understand and accept that the Biophysical Principles by which the world—and our place in it—is governed function perfectly, that only our perception of the way the world functions is imperfect. What distorts our perception is that we focus only on that portion of the world we intend to exploit, and we ignore the biophysical processes that produce the products we value. This warped sense of Nature, as a mechanical being, gave rise to the platform of “deep ecology.”
A group of Norwegian environmentalists, primarily the philosopher Arne Naess, introduced the term “deep ecology” in the early 1970s. The term is meant to characterize a way of thinking that approaches social-environmental problems at their roots in such a way that the problems can be seen as symptoms of the deepest ills of our present society.
The idea of deep ecology contrasts with “shallow ecology,” which I think of as material ecology, because it merely addresses the symptoms through technological quick fixes, such as the installation of pollution-control devices and other regulations theoretically imposed on industry. It does nothing, however, to heal the problem. Although “new” technologies and reforms in our current political system are much easier to implement than are fundamental changes in our thinking and our materialistic sense of values, these “material solutions” and the people who propose them are clearly avoiding the heart of the problem. This avoidance of the real issues faced by those seated in spiritual bankruptcy—for whom , , , , , —may ultimately cause the collapse of our current, social system.
There is a marked difference between the diversity of Nature, in which all parts are interactive and unified by the novelty of the creative process—particularly the spark of life—in which everything is always in the process of becoming something else. We industrialized humans, on the other hand, have chosen the linear metaphor of a machine not only for ourselves but also for our world. While a machine has many parts, it has neither internal intelligence nor moral sense to guide it. In addition, the parts are unaware of either their purpose or their functions. And while we can usually find or make one or more “spare” parts for a machine, we cannot do so with Nature. Therefore, if the condor becomes extinct, it is extinct. There is no way to reproduce one, no matter how noble the reason. If the tiger becomes extinct, it is extinct. There is no way to reproduce one, no matter how noble the reason. If the blue whale becomes extinct, it is extinct. There is no way to reproduce one, no matter how noble the reason. And that goes for their biophysical functions also. And so on and so on and so on.
Thinking like machines is only one step away from living like machines. Such a synthetic lifestyle not only alienates us from ourselves and from one another but also alienates us from Nature. In addition, such a mechanistic lifestyle leads to economic problems through the separation of social classes and to philosophical problems of the duality of thought in terms of either/or, right/wrong, etc. Our synthetic, linear, mechanical thoughts and lifestyles pit us against Nature, which makes our lives increasing complicated beyond the total complexity of Nature’s diversity. And this says nothing about the fact that the Biophysical Principles governing Nature—and us—are inviolable, despite our human hubris, especially those of us in industrialize countries.
And it is precisely because of our mechanistic thinking that we contend we can have more and more of everything simultaneously if only we can control Nature—manage Nature, as it were. In so doing, we save the pieces we value and either ignore or discard those we do not. We are thus simultaneously simplifying the biosphere and separating its parts by purposely discarding and accidentally losing pieces of it. We are redesigning our home planet even as we throw away Nature’s blueprint in the form of both species and processes. In short, we focus so narrowly on the products that that produce them.
We in Western industrialized society have become so linear and mechanical in our thinking, so certain of our knowledge, and so irrational in our use of it that we have forgotten that everything is defined by its relations to everything else. In the end, we must both understand and accept that everything——is a relationship that fits precisely into every other relationship and is changing constantly. The paradox is that the only constant in life is change and thus perpetual, irreversible novelty.
As human beings of Western society, the way we deal with and fit into this pattern of constantly changing relationships is by thinking. We must recognize, therefore, that any human influence on the landscape or in the biosphere—positive or negative—is a product of our own thoughts, because our thoughts, after all, precede and control our decisions and, consequently, the outcome of our actions. We do nothing without first having the thought to do it. This means, for example, that the problem of pollution is neither in the soil, water, or air but in our minds (the cause). The problem only manifests itself (the effect) in the soil, water, and air through our decisions and actions.
We cannot, therefore, find a solution through science, technology, or the activities of land management without changing our thinking, because all these things, which lie outside of ourselves, are the results of our thoughts and subsequent decisions. The only possible solutions to our social-environmental problems lie within us, with how we think. Until we turn the searchlight inward, to our own souls, and consciously change our thinking, our motives, and our attitudes—and thus our behavior—we will only compound our own problems and those of all generations.
Text © by Chris Maser 2011. All rights reserved.