Book Review:

Ecology, community and lifestyle                             

                                         by Arne Naess, translated and revised by David Rothenberg

                                                Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

            This is a profound but in many ways theoretically obscure and contradictory book. It is necessary reading for
        those who seek to understand deep ecology and the non anthropocentric paradigm shift of values necessary to
        change how humans relate to the natural world - so that all living beings and the Land itself, in Aldo Leopold's
        terms, have equal rights. It is also necessary reading for those who seek to understand the growing influence of
        the eight-point "Platform for Deep Ecology", as a basic manifesto of agreement within the environmental
        movement. There is lots of good advice for activists, because Naess has been in many environmental campaigns
        and is critical and reflective. His writing being rooted in actual struggles, stand in my view, in opposition to that
        of many deep ecology academics, e.g. Warwick Fox and Alan Drengson, and some magazines, e.g. the
        Canadian publication The Trumpeter. While personal transformation is necessary and important, there are many
        people writing articles on deep ecology, who have become focused on the psychological path to "transpersonal
        ecology". This has meant a fixation on the important concept of Self-realization, and away from engagement in
        changing the world. Naess, a gentle self-deprecating person, has an inclusive and elliptical writing style and
        reasoning, which does not lend itself to instant comprehension or analysis.

            This book should be required reading for those on the left who are into deep ecology bashing or stereotypical
        dismissal. Naess is developing a new vocabulary and politics for a deep ecology politics and we are conditioned
        by traditional cultural thought processes in how we evaluate this. This book shows that Naess has a sophisticated
        economic, political, and power analysis, and a class perspective. See for example, the discussion of the limitations
        of the GNP and the sympathetic but critical discussion of socialism. Regarding class, the following quotations are
           "Green politics supports the elimination of class differences locally, regionally, nationally, and globally."

           "The global aspect makes it clear that the majorities in the rich industrial states belong to the global
            upper class. This is easily forgotten by trade unions, and by some Marxist-Leninists who still unilaterally
            focus on the liberation of the workers of their own rich countries."

            Naess regards class restrictions as restrictions on the possibilities of Self realization for individuals.

            Personally, I found this book an important contribution to understanding the complexity and theoretical richness
        of deep ecology and the ideas of Arne Naess, its philosophical founder. Yet, from a deep ecology perspective,
        I think Naess is sometimes wrong, as in his support for "sustainable development", his sharp opposition to the
        concept of zero economic growth, and his use of the human-centered term "resource". But it is becoming apparent
        that it is in the application of a deep ecology perspective where subjective factors like judgement, experience,
        and class perspective become crucial. People who are paddling in the same general direction, can disagree on a
        particular route to take.

            In this book, it often seems that when a conflict in stating a position becomes apparent, in order to avoid being
        seen as sectarian and threatening, Naess retreats to a "safer", more muddled position. This comes through as
        opportunistic. Naess has a personal position of unilateral disarmament, but this was "unrealistic" to advocate back
        in Cold War days in northern Europe, and therefore he calls for working within NATO to bring about change.
        The book also illustrates positions by Naess such as, stress on talking with the opponent (enemy?), absolute
        commitment to non violence, embracement of legality, etc.:
               "It is a central norm of the Gandhian approach to 'maximise contact with your opponent!'"

            One often feels that for Naess there are no enemies, but merely misguided people. For a person from the left,
        Naess can seem to be dangerously simple minded.

            In "analyzing" deep ecology it is necessary to understand that the acceptance of the primacy of the natural world
        is basically an "intuition" for Naess and not logically or philosophically derived. The well known eight-point
        "Platform" gives a series of basic ideas that are held in common. Yet, more fundamentally, supporters of deep
        ecology share self-identification with the natural world, where an injury to nature is an injury to the personal self.
        The "unfolding" of the individual connects with that of the whole planet. There are a number of different roads to
        a deep ecology perspective and different political tendencies have now started to emerge among deep ecology
        writers. The radical "left" tendency is represented by people like Richard Sylvan, Andrew McLaughlin, and
        David Johns. Whereas someone like Robyn Eckersley, as shown in her recent 1992 book, 
        Environmentalism and Political Theory: Toward an Ecocentric Approach, is a soft social democratic
        leftist, and follower of the transpersonal road which has emerged from deep ecology.

            There have been a number of editions of this book in Norwegian, prior to the English translation. Ecology,
        community and lifestyle
, subtitled "Outline Of An Ecosophy", is in part based on a 1976 book in
        Norwegian by Arne Naess, but with a number of sections rewritten and revised by the author and the translator.
        As well as the translator's Introduction: "Ecosophy T: from intuition to system", there are seven chapter
        discussions: "The environmental crisis and the deep ecological movement"; "From ecology to ecosophy";
        "Fact and value; basic norms"
; "Ecosophy, technology, and lifestyle"; "Economics within ecosophy";
        "Ecopolitics within ecosophy"
; and "Ecosophy T: unity and diversity of life". "Ecosophy", an unfortunate
        choice for a practical movement term, is for Naess, a personal code of values guiding one s interaction with
        nature. He calls this for himself, "Ecosophy T", named after his own mountain hut in Norway.

            Reading this book is the best single introduction to the basic deep ecology position and the thinking of Arne
        Naess, with all its sophistication and its ambiguity.
        David Orton  - November 26, 1992.

            Printed in CNS (Capitalism, Nature, Socialism), volume 4, issue sixteen, December1993.

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