Sunday, July 01, 2007

Avoiding Ethical One-Sidedness

At the recent Psychology-Ecology-Sustainability conference at Lewis and Clark College, I attended a workshop on the ethics of deep ecology. The facilitator of this one-hour session distributed a one-page handout with the eight core principles of the deep ecology movement. He then posed the question of whether we found it easy or hard to accept each particular principle.

My own response in the group was that while I might have worded some of these classic principles a bit differently, I have been strongly influenced by all of them—and they have shaped my work in creating an environmental activist training program at Antioch University New England. I then explained that my one big worry about these principles is that there is nothing explicit in them that articulates a clear ethical commitment to social justice, human rights, and the humane treatment of other human beings. I said this could leave these great principles of deep ecology ungrounded or unconnected in practice to an appropriate social ethics. If individual deep ecologists make these connections between social and ecological ethics then this makes for a powerful ethical system. However, I worried out loud about the potentially nasty possibilities if a connection between social and ecological ethics was not made.

By way of example, I pointed out that a few Nazi leaders, and the many German environmentalists that ended up supporting the Third Reich, held to many if not most of the deep ecology principles--and clearly did not connect them to a humane social ethic. At this point, the facilitator interrupted me and said that his workshop on deep ecology principles was no place to raise such questions and that I was being disruptive. He might have a point there, though that was not my intent. Perhaps raising this issue was not helpful in an hour-long workshop among people who were mostly new to any consideration of the principles of deep ecology. That seems like a possibility to me upon reflection.

What disturbed me was that when the facilitator and I were talking afterwards, he argued that it was very important to keep the eight deep ecology principles completely separate from any clearly articulated social ethics. He said any attention to social ethics would detract from a commitment to working for the earth. He repeatedly said that people who care about social justice “can’t be good allies for the Earth.” He also said that trying to add some stated commitment along these lines to the deep ecology principles would take all the power and clarity out of them. He said it was his experience that no one resonates with a combination of social and environmental ethics and it had to be one or the other if your were going to inspire people and be an effective organizer.

Frankly, I was more than a bit dismayed by his claim that it would ruin the deep ecology and sustainability movement to help clarify a deep ecology position on social ethics. Nor did I agree with him that people would never resonate with such an integration of social and ecological ethics. In my keynote address the next day, I added a section right in the beginning of my talk that would help clarify my own integrative view of social and ecological ethics. To do this, I told a story about a small community organizing campaign in a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Seattle some years back. The goal of this particular community coalition of churches, civic groups, and small-business leaders was to get the city council to change the name of the main street running through their neighborhood. They wanted to change the name of this street from the “Empire Way” to the “Martin Luther King, Jr. Way.” Here's what I said about this campaign during my talk:
After a few months, they got the city council to agree. The night after the vote, the neighborhood organizers invited community members to a large Baptist church for a victory celebration. That night, Vincent Harding, a long-time associate of King's, spoke to the assembled community. He urged everyone there to fully embrace the deep symbolism of what they had just accomplished. As he said, “You have now changed the road you travel from the Empire Way to Martin’s way.” That has always stuck with me. Isn’t that exactly the challenge we all face today—changing the road we travel from the Empire Way to Martin’s Way?

For me personally, this means doing whatever I can to help weave together the “Beloved Community” that King so often invoked as his deepest, long-range vision. My sense is that this is also the deep, long-range vision of almost everyone here at this conference. I’m guessing that most of us here want to create a beloved community that includes in its circle of moral concern all people alive today, all future generations, and the more-than-human world that makes up our larger biospheric community.
Interestingly, in contrast to the workshop facilitator's fear, this integrative ethical formulation resonated deeply with the participants at the conference and prompted a standing ovation at the end of my talk. This was very heartening to me. I urge us all to find a way to integrate a coherent, strong social ethic along with a profound commitment to deep ecological principles. I don’t want to pick one or the other. Nor do I think this either/or mentality is the best guide for our work in the future.

5 Comments:

At 1:35 AM, Blogger Claire said...

nice, steve. i hear you. ecological ethics are social ethics as social ethics are ecological ethics. it's interesting to me because, in my mind, i feel as though i've flipped flopped between these two sides of the same coin wihtout realizing they were the same coin. before i came to antioch i was passionately doing ecological work with a stong intuitive passion for social justice. then, the reason i came to antioch was to fuse the two. but during this fusion i was working to manifest, i fell on the social side of the coin- with a stong ecological framework for thinking- along human ecologies. upon reflecting, i've realized that even during my 'college days' (hehe) i was academically studying ecology while studying and doing social justice work. and even before that point...even when i was young, i would take to the woods to ponder 'social' quandries. it seems as though all of this has led to this point where i am right now. where there was an uncontrolable, intuitive longing to align the ecological with the social with my own personal actions- for me to integrate and embody and create- for the benefit of the greater good, my community and myself. it's interesting- this ongoing path of fraying out and aligning and fraying out and aligning, of flip-flopping, of singularity and oneness, chaos order and balance. anyway, your post about this workshop gave me pause to think about where i stand on ecological / social ethical unification or seperatism- something that i think about a lot because i've lived it, and the distinction is everywhere in our society/culture today. ecology is one thing, social is another. and secondarily, one must be better and more worthy than the other. and through this fear of letting go of a thought- a thought that we use to protect our created 'self'- we further solidify our ego, our need to hold a fixed idea of knowledge and mind superiority. it's a very unhealthy cultural game of insanity. i think about ecology a lot, and what it means to me, and it seems it just keeps on incorporating more- integrating more into the mix, increasing the complexity, while at the same time it all becomes more and more similar. interesting. to me, an 'ecology' is everything- the spritual, the universe, the solar system, the energetic systems, the Earth, the Earth's ssytems, the human systems (politcal, cultural, economic, social), our interpersonal systems, our individual physiological and energetic systems, the energetics and physiologies of our cells and molecules and atoms and atomic systems, sub-atomic systems, to quarks and strings and things we don't even know and to the microcosmos and back to spirituality again. and at each end you have the micro and macro pushing into new spaces of 'alternate dimensions' and spiritual realities. this experience of manifested life- the life of form- is all one whole system- one ecology- but each part of each whole system is a system in and of itself, as each whole system is a part of a larger system. it's all 'ecology' and our expereince within it all takes place in 'social' and 'individual' ecologies. it's one big hologram. but it doesn't even need those names, because it is so much more than the words can grasp, or even than the mind can grasp. it's energetic and spiritual and mythical and mysterious and exciting. and it's all changing really fast right now. and we're all in for a wild ride. anywho...so here i am, in my profession at this present moment, manifesting what all this means, what we need, where we're going, and what that looks like...jumping in without knowing what any of it is. without knowing what will happen and where we'll end up...but guided by a powerful vision and certain feeling that 'this is where energies must be applied right now'. things have been put into motion at scales never seen by humans before, calling for integration and action. now. so when it comes to the idea of deep ecological & social ethics, i just think, 'integration now'. there's no reason anymore for these mental constructs and walls and defense of the walls because of a fear of what would be without the walls. we just have to let them go, break them down. it's like plants busting through asphalt and concrete- like my hero, and every naturalist's biggest fear- japanese knotweed. it just busts on through the hardest human constructs. it's got something to show us...if only we'd get beyond the hardened construct of 'invasive'.

 
At 9:06 AM, Blogger Shel Horowitz, author, Principled Profit said...

Steve, congrats on the strong reception you got to your speech.

It's shocking to me that the deep ecology activist would be so short-sighted. There is no point in working for a "clean" world if it excludes social justice.

In my book Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, and in the international Business Ethics Pledge campaign http://www.business-ethics-pledge.org , I closely link environmental and social justice with business ethics. I don't see how you could have it any other way.

 
At 1:12 AM, Blogger Jenna & said...

Thank you for sharing this story and your reactions to it. Stratification has gotten us into this situation of deep despair and will not be the tactic to get us out of it. Stratification encourages an us vs. them, valued vs. devalued, right vs. wrong, good vs. bad (i could go on with the dichotomies!) philosophy that leads to animal cruelty, environmental destruction and human rights violations. In my world view, none of these can be considered more valuable than the others as they are all inherently connected. We will not end environmental destruction without saving our fellow humans and animals from this same fate.

In solidarity from Portland, OR,
Karen H.

 
At 9:17 AM, Blogger Ron Huber said...

Steve you wrote:

"I added a section right in the beginning of my talk that would help clarify my own integrative view of social and ecological ethics. To do this, I told a story about a small community organizing campaign in a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Seattle some years back."

Steve, would you please explain how the story clarifies your "integrative view of social and ecologic ethics"?

 
At 12:32 PM, Blogger STEVE CHASE said...

Hi Ron,

The words I added to my speech that tried to integrate a strong ethical commitment to social justice and deep ecology were:

"For me personally, this means doing whatever I can to help weave together the “Beloved Community” that King so often invoked as his deepest, long-range vision. My sense is that this is also the deep, long-range vision of almost everyone here at this conference. I’m guessing that most of us here want to create a beloved community that includes in its circle of moral concern all people alive today, all future generations, and the more-than-human world that makes up our larger biospheric community."

Hope this clarification helps.

Best,
Steve

 

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