WOULD-BE ENVIRONMENTAL ACCOUNTANT MEETS MOTHER NATURE IN A PUB – A DIALOGUE (Act Two)

Act Two – Deep ecology and belief systems.

The next performer began, “Today I went for a walk across Wharncliffe Common and beyond.”

I went over and sat by the man in green.

“You sound very at one with nature,” I offered.

“I am…we all are,” he said. “It’s just that some folks don’t see it.  They have become disconnected somehow.  Mostly because they rush about and never stop to think, to wonder, to soak in and appreciate the world around them.  They just want to take and don’t think about the consequences.”

“Yes,” said his colleague, an outdoor type wearing hiking boots and with a mountaineers fleece hung over the back of his chair, “people are in too much of a rush. They don’t think about who we are or where we are from, or even what is right and what is wrong anymore.”

“Arne is a deep thinker,” said the man in green, “he can spends weeks in his cabin in the mountains just thinking. He is something of a celebrity to those who think about the environment and is said to have founded the Deep Ecology movement (Pepper, 1996, Belshaw, 2001).  It’s a philosophy that has influenced the way many people think of the environment (Colby, 1991, Milne, 1991, Milne et al, 2008, Gray et al, 1993 Gray and Bebbington, 2001, Bebbington et al, 2001).”

“Ecosophy,” said Arne.

“Pardon,” I said.

“Ecosophy,” he said. “What I propose ‘is a kind of sophia wisdom, it contains both norms, rules, postulates, value priority announcements and hypotheses concerning the state of affairs of our universe’ (Witoszek and Brennan, 1999, p6).  It is based on ecological knowledge and experience ‘which have suggested, inspired and fortified the deep ecology movement’ (ibid, p6) but the movement is essentially ecophilosophical rather than ecological.”

“My head is already starting to spin,” I said,

“It is complicated,” said the man in green, “Arne argues there is no one way into deep ecology and it is supported by and supports diversity. Consequently there have been many interpretations and critiques…”

“Complex,” said Arne, “not complicated.

“Complex because ecosystems are part of a unity which we may or may not ever come to understand. Complicated implies a lack of unity, chaos even. It is important to recognise the difference because a disturbance to complex systems can cause unforeseeable consequences elsewhere in the system.  We need to be aware of our ignorance and sensitive to the possible consequences of our actions.”

“Well I get that,” I said.

“Good,” said the man in green. “Maybe you ought to explain a little more to our friend Arne.  He appears to be interested in your ecosophy.”

“There are seven key points,” Arne began immediately, there was no doubting his belief. “These are (1) the rejection of the man-in-environment image in favour of the relational total-field image, (2) biospherical egalitarianism in principle, (3) the principles of diversity and of symbiosis, (4) an anti-class posture, (5) the fight against pollution and resource depletion, (6) complexity not complication and (7) local autonomy and decentralization (Naess, 1973).”

“Now these principles have been discussed and argued over and even changed and re-written, but this is how deep ecology started.”

“I can see that relational total-field and biospherical egalitarianism could be a problem,” I said. “You are proposing a new concept and also a very arguable one.”

“Yes,” said the man in green. “Arne spent a long time with a man called Bill Devall discussing these principles and Bill and George Sessions (2007) rewrote them.  Bill also wrote a history of Deep Ecology with Alan Drengson (2010) and explicitly denied the need for biospherical egalitarianism.”

“There have been many arguments over biospherical egalitarianism,” smiled Arne. “Richard Watson (1983), William French (1995) and Warwick Fox (1984a, 1984b) all wanted me to draw up some rules to seemingly prioritise or rank life forms in some form of ethical system.  Something Desjardin (1993, 2007) and Newton (2003) have attempted from an ethical stance, and Goodpaster (1978) and Singer (1993) have tried from an intrinsic value perspective.  But I resisted and Warwick eventually settled for an argument suggesting we should look to cultivate a deep ecological consciousness, a change in our perception of the way things are.”

“An ontological shift,” I mooted.

“Don’t say that too loud,” said a quiet voice from behind me. It was the religious man.  “That continental lot do not have a lot of time for metaphysics.”

“True,” I said, “but I find this argument quite compelling. It seems to gell with my experience, my feelings, my instincts.  My head says it can’t be so but my heart is pulled towards it.”

“Perhaps sometimes our head is wrong,” said the religious man. “Perhaps the Zen Buddhists are right and we need to strip away our preconceptions and the limitations of logic and language.”

“I think Mr Naess here,” the religious man continued, he obviously knew Arne, “would agree that we are not separate from the rest of nature, that all organisms can be seen as ‘knots in a biospherical net or field of intrinsic relations’ (Witoszek and Brennan, 1999, p3).

“Yes” affirmed Arne.

“Well,” continued the religious man once more, “the idea of intrinsic relations is fundamental to the Chinese view of reality, ‘all modalities of being, from rock to Heaven, are integral parts of a contiuum’ (Weiming, 1998, p108) and the Buddhist view also, ‘Nothing is formed in isolation and, like the jewelled net of Indra, each individual reflects every other infinitely’ (Sivarska, 2005, p71). Without European preconceptions the world can be seen differently.”

“If such preconceptions, for example the Cartesian dualism, are put aside the world can be viewed very differently. It has been said that seeing humans not as entities but as clearings ‘in which entities (including thoughts, feelings, perceptions, objects, others) appear helped Heidegger overcome not only dualism but also anthropocentrism’ (Zimmerman, 2006, p295).  You met Martin earlier didn’t you?  The important thing is that we must try and look beyond the limitations placed on us by others, by language, by common understandings.”

“Humans as entities,” I wondered. “We are back to discussing the nature of Self.”

“Of course,” returned the religious man, “we can only see … or perhaps we are conditioned to see … the world as our Self so surely it is important we try and establish what that is or at least what it might be. And of course there are many, often conflicting, possibilities.”

“For example from the West, the Ancient Greeks in fact, we have the mind matter dichotomy (Leahey, 2004). Whereas the East avoids this dichotomy, Buddhists think in terms of the stream of life (Kaza, 2008) which in China is referred to as Chi, the energy of life.  The Ancient Greeks also gave us atomism (ibid) and this, as argued from an eastern perspective, has led to an ‘attachment to an atomised sense of self and a self/other dualism are the antithesis of interdependence and is an obstacle to achieving the peace of enlightenment’ (Sivaraksa, 2005, p71).

“True,” I said. “In the West we are individuals, the atoms that make up society.  In the East we seem more part of a whole, a community, than an individual.”

“Perhaps reflecting further the religions of the West and East,” added the religious man. “In the West we have an omnipotent God, in the East they do not entertain ‘conceptions of creation ex nihilo by the hand of God, or through the will of God, and all other mechanistic, teleological and theistic cosmologies’ (Mote cited in Weiming, 1998, p106) and ‘the genuine Chinese cosmogony is that of an organismic process, meaning that all of the parts of the entire cosmos belong to one organic whole and that they all interact as participants in one spontaneously self-generating life process’ (ibid, p105)”.

“I guess such ideas aren’t unheard of in the West,” I responded, “I think of James Lovelock (2006) and Gaia; and of Jung and his version of libido (Storr, 1998) – that sounds a bit like Chi. But which ideas are right and which are wrong.”

“I doubt we will ever know or even need to know,” suggested the religious man.

“No,” I replied. “All I can do, must do, is keep an open mind.”

“Amen to that,” said Arne. “I admire Martin Heidegger and his cynical view of truth, that is our inability to know the Truth.  Yet I admire Baruch Spinoza for his complex metaphysical arguments that helped him, and help me, understand the world.  If we are to survive in this world we need to embrace diversity and a plurality of views.  It was this understanding that underwrote my Apron diagram.”

“What’s that,” I asked.

Arne took out a pen and began to draw on the back of a nearby menu. The result looked like this:

(Google:  Deep Ecology Apron Diagram)

“Here are the norms of deep ecology and here are the behavioural outcomes,” he said pointing at various aspects of the diagram. “The norms are derived from the religious and/or philosophical standpoint of any given individual.  Deep ecology accepts a diversity of views and does not seek to dominate.”

“It is Yin rather than Yang,” interspersed the religious man, “where ‘Yin is the quiet, contemplative stillness of the sage, yang the strong, creative action of Kings’ (Capra, 1983, p119 cited in Hines, 1992, p316).”

“I don’t know if all philosophies and religions could get us to those norms,” I said, “but to quote my friend Alister McIntosh, ‘I’m expressing these things in a Christian framework because that is what’s most relevant to where I am digging from culturally. But equally, the same thing can be said from within any faith based on love:  we are also parts of the ‘Body of Islam’; expressions of the ‘Buddha nature’; children of the Goddess, or in the Sanskrit of Hinduism, Tat Tvam asi – ‘That thou art’ – meaning individual soul (Atman) is ultimately at one with universal soul (Brahma).’ (McIntosh, 2004, p118).  I think he would agree that any faith based in love would get us to those norms.”

“A wonderful example of how the meeting of East and West can underwrite new thoughts and ideas,” noted the religious man. “Invaluable as we try ‘to synthesize the dialectical and teleological tradition of Western thought with an Eastern critique of the self and identity… Perhaps this is not possible, but I see the confrontation between these traditions as necessary and creative.’ (Clark, 2010, p37).  And perhaps another area worthy of consideration in this context is self-realization (Narasimhan et al 2010, Zimmerman, 2006, Drengson and Devall, 2010).

“We talked about that earlier too,” I said

“But we are different now,” said the religious man. “We are rebuilding our worlds as we speak.”

“Alister spoke of self-realization,” I said. “’Self-realization – the full expression of who we are – means starting to feel ourselves as part of everything’ (McItosh, 2004, p118), he said.  Of course it is a difficult thing to talk about as it is a feeling as compared to a thought, and words can only describe thoughts.”

“Interesting,” said the religious man, “Can you explain?”

“Well,” I said, “Sometimes when I run there is no me, no body that is, free of constraints I move through time and space. Or when I play table tennis there is no me, I am connected to the ball and together we move back and forth over and around the table.”

“Empty handed I go, and behold the spade is in my hands; I walk on foot, and yet on the back of an ox I am riding; When I pass over the bridge, Lo, the water floweth not, but the bridge doth flow,” said the religious man.

“Precisely,” I said. “Sometimes when I am riding the horse and I are one, neither of us is in charge, we simply move through the obstacles.”

“That was the gatha of Jenye (Suzuki, 1991, p58).” said the religious man, “It captures the teaching of Zen. It is said ‘If we really want to get to the bottom of life, we must abandon cherished syllogisms, we must acquire a new way of observation whereby we can escape the tyranny of logic and the one-sidedness of our everyday philosphy’ (ibid).”

“Hocus pocus,” muttered the psychologist in the background. “He is just describing the release of endomorphins brought on by physical exercise.”

“Amen to that,” said Professor Science somewhat ironically.

“So many possibilities,” I said. “But what does the world of science offer by way of Why?  What Reason does reason give?  If it is all so mechanical then there is no right and no wrong.  There is no reason to strive.  There is no meaning to life.”

“Yet when I walk through a field or over a hill, when I see a bird, a butterfly or a flower, I feel an affinity. A oneness that gives meaning to life.  The hills tell me of times past, the flowers and the birds talk of now whilst the wind portends the future.  Experience tells me we are truly part of an inter-related totality.”

“Just another discourse,” called a derisive voice. I ignored it.

“And if we are all one,” I continued, “then surely we are all equal. Yes, from here I can see it, biospherical egalitarianism.  We share all, including our lives, each of us eventually giving up life, or more precisely Self, that others can live.”

“I think you have got it,” said Arne. “that deep pleasure that comes from close partnership with other forms of life.”

“Yes,” I cried, excited now, “and symbiosis follows naturally as we work together and diversity too as we celebrate life in many different ways.”

“And pollution and resource depletion…” offered Arne.

“Must be banished,” I continued. “Pollution poisons life and life is not a resource to be taken at will.”

“And local autonomy and the rejection of class follow naturally too,” finished the religious man, “as we are all equal and must respect the right of others to live their lives their way.”

“Metaphysics, metaphysics, more made-up metaphysics.” called mocking voices from the background.

“Dogmatic and misanthropic (Bookchin, 1987),” shouted others.

“There is much resistance to the idea of biospherical egalitarianism,” said the religious man.

“Well I am certainly not misanthropic,” said Arne, “I respect all life, and that includes human life (Naess, 1987). Nor am I dogmatic, I welcome a plurality of views.  Witness my Apron diagram.  I welcome any number of views.”

“But what of those with no philosophical or religious views?” I asked.

“If you mean those with no underlying belief in the nature of reality, those who travel through life on a veneer of words saying that is all there is,” he replied, “or perhaps those who suggest every problem, every issue, must and can only be analysed within its context, then I suggest they think again. Their reasoning will always start somewhere.  And from there they may or may not find their way to deep ecology and the inter-relatedness of everything.  Deep ecology is neither provable nor disprovable but it always remains possible.”

“And it offers a reason to live,” I added. “A way that is neither dominated nor dominant.  Maybe it’s a discourse that makes me think that is good, or maybe it is simply good.  Either way it is a belief system worth holding.”

“It is probably true we can never know what is True,” said Herr Heidegger, who had just joined us.

“But what we must always anguish over what it might be and with it the meaning of our existence,” said the man with the pronounced French accent who had accompanied him.

“And the way I see it,” said a third voice, “if we are not sure about something we can always say ‘well we can’t know whether this is true or not but for the time being we will allow it as a proposition and see if it works’ (Sills, 1995). A chap called Hegel used to always be saying it, called it the principle of determinate negation as I recall.  It has certainly helped me make a decision or two. ”

“That’s a useful idea,” I said, “I am forever the sceptic but maybe I can look at the world from a deep ecology perspective and see if it works.”

“Arne is very convincing,” said the man in green.

“He is,” I replied. “I was educated to believe in science and the superiority of rational thinking and logic but a lifetime of observation has made me sceptical.  It seems riven with argument and at times prone to over confident and even erroneous claims.  My mother pushed me towards Christianity, a journey I have made several times returning unconvinced.  And my uncle was a philosopher, and it was he who pointed me to the East many years ago.  I have never forgotten his directions and I was pleased to make a return trip recently.”

“All these experiences and more,” I continued, “concur with what Arne has to say. I feel very comfortable with his ideas.”

“Good,” said Arne.

“I don’t get it. Why are you so sceptical of science?” asked Professor Science, stepping forward and looking puzzled.

The latest performance was just ending,At the start I followed a bridle path through fields of green corn that rolled away on either side of me. And interspersed throughout the fields were magnificent oak trees becoming, in the distance, woods of oak and beech that stretched over the surrounding hills.  I could have been walking through a Constable painting or in a Victorian novel.  I passed four fine horses, skylarks sang, two grey partridges followed the path about a hundred yards in front of me and a glorious yellowhammer flew up into a tree on my right.

Towards the end of my walk I passed through some woods. The understorey was rich, pink campion stood nearly three feet high and there were clouds of gleaming white stitchwort abundantly dispersed.  I crossed a meadow amidst purple vetch and yellow buttercups, eventually finding some ponds.  Red and blue damselflies flitted robotically from reed to reed then a glorious golden chaser rose out of a ditch to claim the airspace, whirring in a large circle, wary of me, but knowing this was his territory.

I passed a notice board proclaiming the history of the common and I felt deeply aware of the interconnectedness of everything.

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