A  Left Perspective in Deep Ecology

            Below is a recent posting to the leftbio discussion group concerning an important new book in
        deep ecology, which I first obtained in late August 2004. I think this book will be of interest to those
        who take deep ecology seriously. My posting gives some information about the book, although it is
        not a review.
                                                                                                            David Orton, October 14, 2004

The Culture Of Extinction: Toward A Philosophy Of Deep Ecology               
by Frederick Bender,  2003, Humanity Books,               
488 pages, hardcover, ISBN 1-59102-055-7                

            This book is, I believe, very important for left bios and the philosophy of deep ecology, although left
        biocentrism is not mentioned in this book. Yet this is a left bio book:

            I am optimistic that deep ecology, with a strong social-political dimension, can motivate new
            generations to save the Earth.
p. 363

            Progressive political change, Earth-oriented spirituality, and an ecological worldview can and
            must reinforce each other, since they are equally vital to radical ecology's future impact.
p. 355

            I would say that anyone who has a serious theoretical interest in deep ecology should have a copy of this
        expensive book. Bender wants to help "draw millions to deep ecology." p. 446 Personally, this book has
        forced me to look at the evolution of deep ecology, as reflected in the writings of Naess, in a new, supportive
        yet more critical manner. For Fred Bender, the distinguishing characteristic of deep ecology is "nondualism"
        (what we would perhaps call ecocentricism). He argues that Naess has moved away from this nondualist
        position as reflected in the original 1972 statement and also become more apolitical. Speaking of the Platform,
        Bender says:

            Its language, in contrast to the speech (1972 initial formulation of deep ecology), decouples deep
            ecology from nondualism, obscuring many senses of deep ecology's depth. For example, points 1
            and 2 use the language of values: 'values in themselves,' 'intrinsic value,' 'inherent worth,'
            '...realization of these values and are values in themselves,' though value terms presuppose
            substance/property ontology - that is, certain substances allegedly have, while others lack, the
            property of 'value in themselves.' This is very far from point one of Naess's 1972 speech, which
            called for jettisoning the dualistic, 'man in the environment' standpoint, in favor of a relational
            and 'total-field' model. Language, especially the language of value, is never ontologically neutral.
            'Language is the house of being,' as Heidegger said. Value-language contravenes the nondualist
            'relational and total-field' ontology that  makes deep ecology DEEP.
p. 408

            Today, people see that deep ecology can help them see things as BOTH one and related,
            dissolving the conventional split between humans and nature, and reawakening depth in many
p. 446

            Nondualistic statements in popular parlance would be "all things are connected" and "the earth does not
        belong to us, we belong to the earth."

            On the turn away from radical politics in the 1972 document, Bender says that Naess:

            Called for an anticlass posture in intrahuman affairs, both because class domination robs
            exploiter and exploited alike of their potentialities for Self-realization, and because long-term
            success in preventing overshoot requires genuinely democratic ways of life. 'Anticlass posture'
            affiliates deep ecology with Green Marxism, social ecology, and ecofeminism. Unfortunately,
            the anticlass stance soon fell off deep ecology's platform.
p. 401

            This book has a thoughtful and very interesting discussion of Bender's own "ecosophy", named after the
        place where he wrote much of his book. His book concludes with a ten-point "Proposed New Deep-Ecology
which incorporates the critique he is raising. The book has glowing book cover endorsements by
        George Sessions and Alan Drengson, and a tribute from Arne Naess himself.

            It seems that Bender 'discovered' left biocentrism after his book had come out. He is a professor of philosophy
        at the University of Colorado and was, according to book cover information, the editor of  The Communist
        Manifesto: A Norton Critical Review
; The Betrayal of Marx; and Karl Marx: The Essential Writings.
        None of these books I have previously seen, so I am not familiar with the overall ideological tone. But what is
        mainly interesting for me is that such a substantive book on deep ecology has been written by someone who
        very definitely considers himself part of the Left. So Fred Bender now takes his place alongside other Left deep
        ecologists who have books out, like Richard Sylvan, Andrew McLaughlin and Andrew Dobson.

            This is not a review but some notes and quotations taken from the 17 pages of my own notes that I made
        from the sections of this book that I have now read and which I thought other left bios might appreciate. The
        book is divided into three parts: The Culture Of Extinction; The Lies Of Millennia; and Faithful To
        the Earth
, and there are 17 chapters. I have read the first and last sections of this book which are the ones
        of most interest to me and perhaps to those left bios who are not professional philosophers. I would like to
        emphasize that what I am presenting here is some of what I found of interest to me personally. I will leave it to
        others, who have read all of this book, to present an overall summary of what the book sets out to do and
        whether or not it is successful, from the perspective of the reviewer.

            Interesting Quotations

            Species are neither higher nor lower than, nor superior or inferior to,
            one another. Each simply is what it is: a life form adapted to its
            ecospheric niche and valuable to the extent it contributes to ecospheric
p. 94

            Amazingly, Darwin's greatest philosophical breakthrough, his reframing of
            humans as thoroughly natural beings, has been all but lost on Western
p. 94

            Only after separating ourselves from Earth, chiefly through agriculture
            and anthropocentric religion, have we come to do violence against the Earth
            systematically. This is why we are the culture of extinction
. p. 101

            I do not think ecology sufficient to explain every aspect of human
            culture... We must also discover how human culture evolved, how social,
            political, and religious factors, etc., became predominant at various
            times. Ecological models frame such factors' significance, but do not
            replace them.
p. 102

            Nondualism can help us toward a new civilization measured both by
            ecological sustainability and satisfaction of basic human needs. If the
            latter is neglected, few would give up the culture of extinction
p. 105

            Native peoples never treat animals or ecosystems as mere resources, but as
            strands in Earth's complex web of life. In contrast, Western-trained
            wildlife or forest managers frame wildlife and habitat as resources to
            exploit for economic gain.
p. 106

            Since accumulation of property leads inexorably to ecological
            unsustainability, from the evolutionary perspective, capitalism is the
            deviant economic system.
p. 111

            In thoroughly bourgeois society, nothing is sacred or of intrinsic value.
            If sufficient demand exists, then nothing is beyond price and everything is
            offered for sale.
p. 269

            Social ecology turns out to be just a convoluted form of human
p. 341

            Social ecology remains more a remnant of the Old Left than part of the
            ecology movement.
p. 354

            Radical ecofeminism's primary affiliation, like that of social ecology, is
            with the Left, not with ecology. If so, then ecofeminism is much closer to
            social ecology than to wilderness defense, bioregionalism, or deep
p. 364

            I believe that radical ecofeminism is more feminist than ecological... p. 367

            The culture of extinction lures its subjects with its cornucopia of goods
            and services, its facade of justice (liberal democracy), its promises of
            individual salvation via conventional, dualist religion, and its
            nihilistic, modernist worldview.
p. 375

            Progressive forces must contest dimensions of culture the traditional Left
            has always conceded, biology and religion prominent among them.
p. 375

            Human survival requires some killing or exploitation of nonhuman organisms,
            commensurate with genuine needs, like what was practiced among old-ways
            peoples. Thus, we should do as little harm as possible, recognizing other
            beings' right to live and flourish.
p. 400

            Minor disagreements

            - I do not agree with or understand the following statement, "For all practical purposes, Earth First! no
            longer exists."
p. 363

            - I do not agree with calling the Platform "neo-Malthusian." p. 412

            - Bender does not seem to see the "conserving" aspect of a potential section of the conservatives, so for him,
            Blue politics and significant ecological improvements are incompatible... "
p. 413

            - The author seems to support "pollution vouchers" as a "secondary market" and a "useful" idea from
            the Right. I disagree with this. p. 414

            As I have said previously, this is a very important book for left bios and I urge you all to obtain a copy. Fred
        Bender wants to reformulate deep ecology and we all need to pay attention to what he is telling us. I did find the
        book on the abstract side. This was shown, unnecessarily from my perspective, in the discussion of the well
        known deep ecology Apron Diagram and the ecosophy discussion in the last few pages of the book. Overall
        however, this book is a wonderful achievement and will help us all move forward on the deep ecology path.

        Best, David

        P. S. There seems to be a footnote numbering screw-up on pages 407-408.

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