The following is taken from my notes for the talk to the Green Party Convention
on August 06,
2000 and there may be slight differences from the actual speech given. Some of this talk was drawn
from the four My Path to Left Biocentrism bulletins available on our web site:
http://home.ca.inter.net/~greenweb/, but there is additional material. There was no time for the
last section of the talk, which was to cover Aboriginal Issues, and this is therefore not included
in the text below. There were about 70-80 people at the talk. Each person attending was given a
copy of the Green Web Literature list of publications and a one-page hand-out containing the
Deep Ecology Platform drafted by Arne Naess and George Sessions, plus the Left Biocentrism Primer.
First, I would like to acknowledge
my partner Helga Hoffmann, who is not here today,
and who has been part of my work for over 20 years. She also has her own particular
interests in environmental health expressed for example in biocides, writing about the NATO
Kosovo invasion, aquaculture, Sable gas, etc. In other words Helga is no rose in my lapel!
One's ethics in environmental,
green, and social issues are based on how we see reality.
My task today is to try and show you the left biocentric vision. There are other names used
by other people for this emerging vision, such as “radical ecocentrism” associated with
Andrew McLaughlin, some of you will know his 1993 book, Regarding Nature:
Industrialism and Deep Ecology. Another name is “deep green theory,” associated with
the work of the late Australian forestry activist and deep ecologist Richard Sylvan. The late
Judi Bari, who died of cancer, used the name “revolutionary ecology” and Andrew Dobson
in England speaks of “ecologism.” All these people, and myself, basically accept deep
ecology and are, at the same time, exploring what a “left” focus means within this
I start with two presuppositions.
Most of us in this room will agree that our culture has
become the enemy of life on this planet. Also, it is up to you to decide, not myself, whether
or not left biocentrism is relevant to green political parties.
I would like to outline the topics
which I would like to discuss:
- My bio
- Introduction to deep ecology
- A fundamental dilemma facing activists
- The “left” in left biocentrism
- Handling contradictions within left biocentrism
- Aboriginal issues
I am 66 years old and live with my partner and our 17-year old daughter Karen, on an
old hill farm of about 130 acres in Nova Scotia. (Karen was named after Karen Silkwood.)
It is a paradise surrounded by the ravages of industrial forestry.
I was born in 1934 in the industrial
city of Portsmouth in England. Portsmouth is a naval
port. I attended a technical school which prepared students for industrial apprenticeships.
I hated the school but still remember with fondness the name of the teacher who led the
field club. I left school at 15 and entered a five-year apprenticeship as a shipwright in
Portsmouth dockyard. I had a brief period of one year at Durham university studying naval
architecture, but I failed all my courses. We had “national service” or the draft at the time
(18 months required army service). I foolishly signed on as a “regular” for three years.
But the army did not like me, nor I the army. I insisted on a discharge as a regular and went
to Canada to avoid being called up again to finish the rest of the national service time. So
you could say being a draft dodger was the reason I came to Canada.
I was 23 when I immigrated.
I took part in social justice and anti-war issues in this country.
Through mature matriculation, I became a student at Sir George Williams University in
Montreal (now Concordia) and graduated in 1963. When I graduated I received a letter from
the Vice-Principal, saying that I would “go far.” I went to the New School for Social
Research in New York City for graduate studies in sociology from 1963-67. I was given the
MA prize in sociology. Sir George offered me a teaching job. After seeing my proposed
reading lists for my students, which included large introductory courses, two things happened.
I was visited by what I called at that time “house Marxists” - who were alleged leftist teachers
at Sir George. I was told to learn German, read Marx in that language, and to stop trying to
organize in the classroom. Also, the sociology department conveyed a special meeting before
the university term started. The department said that I did not “share the consensus of the
discipline of sociology.” I was removed from teaching the introductory classes. That
anti-consensus charge against me, turned out to be a motif for my life.
The 60s were turbulent and
exciting times. On February 11, 1969, 79 students were
arrested at Sir George for a computer occupation which had come out of a struggle against
racism within the university. Some received long prison sentences. I was blacklisted and
could not obtain another teaching job after my two-year contract expired.
I was part of the Marxist-Leninist
movement from 1968-1975. I became vice chair of
the organization. I ran twice for parliament in Montreal. On November 7, 1972, I was
sentenced to 40 days or a 400 dollar fine for my role in opposing a “Keep Canada White”
meeting in Toronto, organized by a fascist group called the Western Guard. I did the time.
In 1977 I became involved in
environmental work in British Columbia, working with the
B.C. Federation of Naturalists. We moved to Nova Scotia in 1979. On July 23, 1983, in
Halifax at an anti-cruise missile rally, I first publicly stated in a five-minute speech that I
defined myself politically as a green: “We need a new kind of politics and we believe the
green movement, which stresses a new type of environmentally conscious society, is the
In 1984 we bought our place in the countryside - not that I believe in private property.
By 1985, I had come to accept
the philosophy of deep ecology and began promoting it
and applying this philosophy to environmental issues in the Maritimes. Perhaps I should
mention in this gathering, that in January 1990 we hosted the Nova Scotia leg of a tour of
North America by Per Gahrton, the Swedish Green MP. (See for a report of this tour,
Green Web Bulletin #21, “Greens in North America,” April 1990, a seventeen-page
report by Swedish Green Per Gahrton.)
The purpose of this bio is
not self-promotion but to convey that, because of my
background, I feel and write as part of several movements: the left, the environmental, the
green, and the deep ecology movements. However, because of the views I have expressed
on the greens, the working class, and on aboriginal issues, I have been made to feel quite
isolated within the Canadian left.
Introduction to deep ecology
Human discourse has expanded regarding the communication to other humans yet it has
also “narrowed” in that it has come to exclude the rest of Nature from human consciousness.
Coming to an appreciation of
deep ecology was an evolutionary, not an instant conversion
process for me. An appreciation for the philosophy of deep ecology may, for many forestry,
biocide and wildlife activists, have come by travelling a similar path as myself - that is, by
starting on a personal journey through various environmental struggles and by identifying with
the natural world. It is often only much later that one discovers that there is the actual
philosophy of deep ecology, first sketched out in the 1973 article "The Shallow and the
Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement: A Summary" by the Norwegian philosopher
Arne Naess, who is now in his late 80s. "Shallow" here means thinking that the major
ecological problems can be resolved within and with the continuation of industrial capitalist
society. "Deep" means to ask deeper questions and not stay on the surface. This deep
orientation understands that industrial society has caused the Earth-threatening ecological
crisis. For the best introduction to the ideas of Arne Naess read his book Ecology,
Community and Lifestyle.
The eight-point Platform of
the deep ecology movement, I am not going to specifically
talk about. It is part of the hand-outs for this talk and I am sure you are familiar with it.
The Platform, worked out in 1984 by Arne Naess and the U.S. philosopher George
Sessions, has received widespread acceptance within the deep ecology movement, as
representing the most general and basic views that supporters of this movement have in
common. How to change this Platform, so that it can evolve and yet keep movement
legitimacy, is an issue in itself! The Platform does not prescribe what to do in concrete
situations, but requires activists to think this through for themselves.
Let me make some additional
points about deep ecology:
a. Naess, as well as outlining the basic ideas has, because of personal example,
established a tone for handling contradictions within the deep ecology movement. There is
a slogan from Naess, “the front is long” which seems to help against any form of
sectarianism. This tone is to be contrasted with the bitterness often exhibited between the
pro and anti Murray Bookchin sides in social ecology. The negative side of “the front is
long” slogan, at least for me, in the past has been a reluctance to confront stupid statements
or ideas which can then be hung around the necks of deep ecology supporters.
b. In some ways the realo/fundi
split in the German greens is now being reflected within
deep ecology. The use of the terms left biocentrism/ecocentrism versus right ecocentrism,
perhaps conveys this. Can deep ecology be implemented in opposition to industrial
capitalism or as complementary to it? New Dimensions Radio, out of California, which
brought us the radio tape series “Deep Ecology for the 21st Century” in 1999, now has a
new “Bioneers” radio program dealing with, among others Paul Hawken, and Amory
and Hunter Lovins and their 1999 book Natural Capitalism: Creating The Next
Industrial Revolution. The “Bioneers” program apparently claims that with Natural
Capitalism “profits and zero emissions” is “Deep Ecology applied”!
c. The great contribution of deep ecology for me, is
its belief that there has to be a
fundamental change in consciousness for humans, in how they relate to the natural world.
This requires a change from a human-centered (anthropocentric) to an ecocentric
perspective, meaning humans as a species have no superior status in Nature. All other
species have a right to exist irrespective of their usefulness to the human species or
human societies. Humans cannot presume dominance over all non-human lifeforms and
see Nature as a “resource” for human and corporate utilization.
d. All of us must be involved at some level in changing
the existing situation. Part of this
change is for activists who can accept the general orientation of deep ecology, to popularize
it and then apply it, through detailed work, to actual ecological issues such as forestry,
agriculture, biocides, wildlands, oceans, energy, population, etc., so that concrete alternative
paths forward can be demonstrated.
e. One problem is that deep
ecology does not address sufficiently the “use” of Nature by
humans. How ought we to “use” the world? What percentage for humans? What lifestyle?
How many humans?
f. Another problem is that
deep ecology does not give a view on the type of economy,
or how we should relate to each other in the human social world.
g. There is a contention of
ideas within deep ecology, and what its final social or
economic or political evolution will be, is yet to be determined.
Looking back at my twenty years
of involvement in the environmental movement, it seems
that a primary concern has been to raise “alternative visions” as a contribution to the public
debate taking place around the particular environmental issues. Deep ecology has helped me
with this. While such visions need a detailed knowledge of an issue, to develop an alternative
vision means going beyond the practical knowledge, which often the Earth destroyers have
had a monopoly of. It is these alternative visions, which reject the existing taken-for-granted
industrial order, that are so threatening to corporations, governments and the “wise use”
groups. Naess has spoken of how we need to force fact-dependent experts who underpin
environmental decisions, to have discussions regarding values and priorities.
For a recent example of an
alternative vision, have a look at the article, “Marine
Protected Areas: A Human-Centric Concept” on our literature list. (See the Earth First!
Journal, December 1999/January, 2000.) Under the 1996 Oceans Act, the government
claims the following assumptions, all of which I oppose, as guiding marine protected areas:
the claim of “ownership” over the seas; support for sustainable development; that marine
creatures are “resources”; that stakeholders all represent anthropocentric interests; and the
view that aboriginal treaty rights must be upheld in such marine protected areas, which
means to place social policy above ecology. Raising alternative ecological and social visions
to those peddled by industrial society, is of fundamental importance. Circulating such
visions within society, in any public way, is extremely difficult.
Deep ecology has become enormously
influential (and bitterly attacked) in a relatively
short period of time. This philosophy is not only about changing personal consciousness away
from human-centeredness or anthropocentrism, it is also about voluntary simplicity (activists
have to live the talk) and a needed spiritual change. To exit global industrial society, which
destroys nature and communities everywhere, we humans have to share our identities, like
past animistic societies, with other animals, plants, peoples and nature itself. Then, destroying
other species and their habitats would be unthinkable from a moral or ethical viewpoint.
A challenge to create a deep
ecological revolutionary movement is to outline a sweeping
program of social change with alternative social, political, and economic visions. Front line
activists need to apply deep ecology to specific issues and struggles, no matter how socially
sensitive, e.g. population reduction, aboriginal issues, workers' struggles, etc. Change through
individual consciousness-raising, a major focus of much of deep ecology, is important but not
One of the interesting developments
within deep ecology over the last few years is the
emergence of the "left" tendency that I have spoken of. Its supporters see that paying
attention to social questions (justice and questions of class and corporate power, but within
an ecocentric framework), is a necessary part of a human mobilization towards a deep
ecology world. Deep ecology can only be implemented in fundamental opposition to
industrial capitalism and not within it, this left tendency believes.
A fundamental dilemma facing
As a green, the life and work of Rudolf Bahro (1935-1997), has inspired me. But his life
has also illustrated the dilemma we all face about whether or not we believe industrial
capitalism is here to stay and we must work with it, or we must oppose it, even if there is not
yet any viable alternative. This fundamental dilemma goes back to the shallow/deep distinction
made by Naess in 1972. How we resolve this dilemma determines what kind of ecological
politics we can pursue.
Bahro, a founding member of
the West German 'Die Grünen', in 1980 was elected to
the Federal Executive. For him, green politics was about capturing people's consciousness,
not accumulating votes. By 1985 he had resigned from the Party. His resignation statement
noted how the Greens did not want to get out of the industrial system: "Instead of spreading
consciousness they are obscuring it all along the line." Bahro particularly repudiated the
continuing justification of animal experimentation by the green party.
For Bahro, industrialized nations
needed to reduce their impact upon the Earth to one
tenth of what it was. "Development" was finished. Like the Norwegian deep ecology
philosopher Arne Naess, Bahro had a biocentric, not human-centered world view. Unlike
Naess, Bahro was steeped in the culture of the left. Another important contribution of Bahro
was that he came to see the necessary link between environmental and green politics and
spiritual transformation, although he lost his way on this path. (For an evaluation of Bahro,
critique, and defense of his contributions, see the section on him in Green Web Bulletin #68,
“Ecofascism: What is It? A Left Biocentric Analysis.”)
Within the environmental movement,
the resolution of this dilemma can result in two
different paths: managerial or radical environmentalism. Reforms that shore up industrial
capitalist society or reforms that subvert this society. If we stand as environmentalists or
greens in opposition to industrial capitalist society, then we cannot accept “status” awards
from that society such as environmentalists accepting awards from provincial or federal
departments of the environment. In any environmental issue I have been involved with,
such departments work with the Earth destroyers, not defenders. We who oppose industrial
capitalism, seek to promote a totally different kind of social recognition.
One way of prolonging the life of industrial society was through the propagation and
acceptance of the concept of ‘sustainable development.’ Helga and I went to the “1st
Planetary Meeting of Green Parties” in Rio, May 30/31, 1992 as observers, and the
statement coming out of that meeting endorsed sustainable development. But sustainable
development is now ‘old hat.’
The latest “offering,” to encourage
activists to continue working with and not in
fundamental opposition to this society, is to be found in the 1999 book Natural Capitalism,
by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins. This book, by its title, suggests that
capitalism is “natural”, and that Nature can be treated within a capitalist framework. The
authors see the solutions to the environmental crisis as bringing Nature within this accounting
framework. This assumes that forests, seas, wild animals, etc. have “prices,” not, as in deep
ecology, intrinsic values. Also, that the inherent growth/profit/consume-oriented capitalist
economic model should be worked with, and not opposed as fundamentally anti-ecological.
The authors aim to show through their many examples that “resources” (I do not myself use
this term) can be saved, more profits can be made, growth can continue, and employment
can increase if we start “costing” Nature. This is the ultimate anthropocentrism!
There are lots of interesting
examples in this book, of waste being eliminated and more
profits being made. The book also speaks of “human capitalism”, although this is a
secondary focus, where “responsible government” is combined with “vital entrepreneurship”.
Curitiba in Brazil, is used as an example of this human capitalism. Natural Capitalism
acknowledges that natural capital is rapidly declining and becoming a limiting factor on
continued growth. Increasing population is taken for granted by the authors. Generally in this
book, there is a much more progressive view of capitalism, in alleged harmony with Nature
and with a social conscience. So this is against Thatcherism or Reaganism. But the
fundamental questions remain for the activists’ dilemma. Can one reform capitalism? Is it
here forever? Or do we work from the position that we must create an alternative?
I just finished reading Naomi
Klein’s book which came out this year, No Logo: Taking
Aim At the Brand Bullies. She takes a stand on a fundamental dilemma that I am
concerned with. Her book shows how “branding” works - the loss of public space, secure
work, etc. and the current fight-back by activists around the world. I recommend her book
although her focus is much more on the social justice side than the environment. Also, she
ultimately accepts globalization and capitalism. Klein argues that activists should “embrace
globalization but seek to wrest it from the grasp of the multinationals.” I myself cannot
accept this, even though there is at present no alternative economic model.
Within deep ecology, there is a position I have called “right ecocentrism,” that is,
resolving the fundamental dilemma in the direction of working within the industrial capitalist
system, and accepting the market economy. I know a number of right ecocentrists and we
cooperate on activist mutual-interest work. Right ecocentrists agree with left biocentrists
on the ecological and ethical side, but seem to believe that an ecocentric society can be
implemented within the existing society. Hence one sees a kind of “retreatism”, that is, a
movement away from the radical and subversive essence of deep ecology to an acceptance
of capitalism, private property and an economic growth framework. Appeals are often
directed to decision makers within the system. An example of a deep ecology philosopher
who I would characterize as a right ecocentrist would be Michael Zimmerman. He accepts
the market economy, and has importance because he is the senior editor in an anthology
of environmental philosophy essays which is now in its third edition.
Val Plumwood has noted, “the
danger from deep ecology's political naïveté comes from
capture by the liberal right.” But Plumwood also points out that deep ecology “has the
potential to develop more radical answers.” Val Plumwood was the original Crocodile
Dundee who Hollywood turned into a man. Her very interesting essay is called “Deep
Ecology, Deep Pockets and Deep Problems: A Feminist Ecosocialist Analysis” and
is in a book which just came out, called Beneath the Surface: Critical Essays in the
Philosophy of Deep Ecology, edited by Katz, Light, and Rothenberg. Of the 14 essays in
this book, two are excellent and two others are worthwhile to read. A major problem
seems to me that deep ecology academics too often appear to write and publish for
themselves and not for the radical ecology movement.
The “left” in left biocentrism
“Left” as used in left biocentrism means anti-industrial and anti-capitalist but not
necessarily socialist. Thus some left biocentrists consider themselves socialists, as I do
myself, while others do not. All left biocentrists address and are concerned with social
justice issues in society. They do however place such issues within a context of ecosystem
Some left biocentrists question,
as I continue to do myself, the use of the term “left” in
left biocentrism. But “left” has retained the symbolism of a concern for social justice, the
great contribution of the socialist and communist movements, and still very much needed
In the book Ecology, Community
and Lifestyle, Naess comes through as sympathetic
to socialism. This is at present the best single book introduction to the ideas of Arne Naess.
Naess considers class restriction as limitations for the possibilities of Self-realization by
individuals. Self-realization is an important concept in deep ecology. Naess points out that
Green politics wants the elimination of class differences locally, regionally, nationally, and
However, in the main, deep
ecology writers, including Naess, have paid little attention to
defining a relationship to the left. This has been part of the work taken up by left biocentrism.
Writers like Rudolf Bahro and Andrew McLaughlin have made important theoretical
contributions to understanding this relationship. (Bahro wrote to me two years before his
death saying, that he agreed with the “essential points” of left biocentrism.)
The usual assumption on the
Left is that there is a "convergence" between the Left and
the Green. For example, one speaks of a Left-Green person or journal, or a Red-Green
alliance. It is not my view, that there is a convergence between the Green and the Red.
Here is an attempt to outline the relationship to the Left for left biocentrism:
1. A basic idea within the socialist and communist tradition is that society should control
the economy, and not the economy control the society, as is the situation under industrial
capitalism. If the economy is controlling the society, is it not possible to have an economy
which accepts operating within general ecological limits, as each corporation maximizes its
own economic interests. It is easier to visualize an economy operating within ecological
limits, if it is controlled by society. Social control of the economy does not have to be
centralized, it could be decentralized in a bioregional economy.
2. Sense of collective responsibility
for all members of a society. It is not acceptable that
a few live in luxury and others in poverty. This is the social justice contribution of the Left.
It means income redistribution nationally and internationally. A radical ecological politics
must take account of the interests of the human species for political success.
3. Class awareness, being aware
that not all are equal, although all may vote; that the
press is "free" to those who own it in a capitalist democracy. Environmental, economic and
social issues always have a class dimension, if one looks beneath the surface of industrial
4. The Left has a concern for
others and accepts the self-sacrifice of the individual interest
for the collective well-being of the society. This is in opposition to the cult of individualism/
selfishness under capitalism.
1. The Left has a human-centered world view, and cannot accept a biocentric/ecocentric
outlook, that says animals and plants and the general ecosystem have to be treated on the
same moral plane as humans. In any conflict situation, animals and plants and the physical
Earth are defeated. Social justice is for humans, and is predominantly at the expense of the
2. The Left says that capitalism,
not industrialism, is the problem. Implicit in this view is
that it is the ownership of wealth, which is fundamental. Left biocentrism sees industrial
society as the main problem. It can have a capitalist or socialist face. This industrial view
also accepts a class analysis.
3. The labour theory of value
from Marxism implies that Nature has no value or worth
unless humans transform it through their labour. For deep ecology, Nature has value in itself.
Greens see Nature as the principal source of human wealth not labour power.
4. The assumption that humans
can "own" Nature, and that collective ownership is best.
Yet human "ownership" of Nature is irrelevant, whether individual, communal or state, if
Nature is being destroyed.
5. Hostility to population
reduction as a priority for an ecocentric world. This is because
for the Left, humans are essentially the only species to have value. The habitat needs of other
life forms are not important, particularly when this means impacting on the human species.
6. The assumption from Marxism
that "freedom" comes from the development of the
productive forces, i.e. the industrial base, which will generate the needed wealth for
communist society. Consumerism becomes part of this. Left Biocentrism opposes more
economic growth and, following Rudolf Bahro, popularizes that industrialized nations need
to reduce their impact upon the Earth to one tenth of what it presently is, for long term
7. The Marxist position that
capitalism “fetters” the forces of production was wrong.
Capitalism massively expands these forces of production and destroys Nature in the process.
There is no conception within Marxism of limits to growth, or the necessity for a contracting
economy for an ecological sustainable society.
8. The Left has a materialist
outlook and a culture which is quite hostile to expressions of
spirituality, religion being the "opium" of the people, etc. Left biocentrism holds that individual
and collective spiritual/psychological transformation, is important to bring about major social
change, and to break with industrial society. We need inward spiritual/psychological
transformation, so that the interests of all species overrides the self-interest of the individual,
the family, the community, and the nation. Animism from indigenous societies has much to
9. The Left promotes the "working
class" as the instrument for social transformation to a
more egalitarian society. Left biocentrism, like Bahro, sees the trade unions as united with
their employers in defending industrial society and privilege. Environmental and green politics
recruits across class, although there is a class component to such politics. It has been my
experience, for example in issues such as uranium exploration/mining and open pit coal
mining, the killing of seals, pulpmill pollution, the spraying of biocides and destruction of
forests, and the Sable gas project, that the unions involved or which stand to economically
benefit, have had the same anti-ecological positions as their employers. This is the same in
many other industries. Both unions and employers have an economic interest in the
continuation of industrial society and speak with similar anti-ecological voices. In the main,
of course there are exceptions, trade unions are generally environmental enemies, not allies,
of the environmental and green movements.
10. The Left has no alternative
economic model to that of the global, market economy.
For example, the social democratic Left in Canada (the New Democratic Party) and in
other countries, ends up adapting to the capitalist economic growth model, with its endless
consumerism and the environmental destruction by trans-national corporations. A bioregional
economic model not based on continuous growth, which will respect ecological limits and
which serves social justice, could be an alternative model.
11. The Left minimizes individual
responsibility for destructive social or ecological actions.
For example, the logger is "forced" to clearcut to feed his family, pay the mortgage, make
the truck payments, etc. Although the primary locus of blame is the destructiveness of
industrial capitalist society, this position is a denial of personal responsibility. Individuals must
take responsibility for their actions and be socially accountable. Part of being individually
responsible is to practice voluntary simplicity, so as to minimize one's own impact upon the
There are two key ideas for
the “left” in left biocentrism. One idea comes from ecocentrism
and deep ecology. This is the basic idea that humans cannot own the Earth. As Bahro said,
“The earth can belong to no one.” Ownership is a social fiction, whether state, communal,
or individual. How can we have the arrogance to say that we “own” other species and their
habitats? We have to move to usufruct use - the right of use, providing we are responsible to
a wider community of life forms. This right of use would revert back to such a community on a
person’s death. These ideas have started to be outlined for the inshore fishery and small
woodlot owners in the Maritimes by left biocentrists. A second basic idea is the sense of
equity or social justice, as part of the “left” in left biocentrism. In order to achieve social
peace, we need a redistribution of human wealth nationally and internationally.
Consciousness or awareness
has expanded from Marxist times. Open-mindedness to
new ideas does not seem to be part of the Left any more. So there is no convergence
between the green and the red, or the red and the green. The needed path must be from
Red to Green. The positive ideas listed from the Left tradition, have to be part of a left
The analysis and discussion of contradictions draws heavily on discussions in the internet
discussion group “left bio,” which have extended over a three-year period. "Left bio" is a
group which activists join if they are interested in exploring together what socially-conscious
ecocentric philosophy means. People in the group are, to the most extent, self-selected and
are drawn from the environmental, green and, to a lesser extent, the animal rights movements
and also include some academics. The movements have much in common but also have some
contradictions philosophically. Admission to left bio is by invitation. New members need to
be in general agreement with the ten-point Left Biocentrism Primer, and there are some
Primary and secondary contradictions
One of the distinctions among ecocentrists of various hues, is what they see as the
"primary contradiction" in society. The central issue which binds left biocentrists together are
the ideas which are summarized in the Left Biocentrism Primer, as well as support for deep
ecology. Left biocentrism supporters see some contradictions as primary, and others as
secondary. From this perspective, the primary contradiction is with industrial capitalist
society and its Earth-destructive anthropocentric world view and practices. Secondary
contradictions are differences which are firmly held beliefs on various other issues. Some
secondary contradictions are: vegetarianism or non-vegetarianism; non-violence as an
intrinsic part of deep ecology; love or anger as key motivating factors for radical ecocentric
activists; whether the terms "biocentrism" or "ecocentrism" are most appropriate in deep
ecology; hunting versus non-hunting; whether or not intrusive wildlife research is acceptable
in conservation biology; whether/how to work with mainstream or radical environmentalists;
the place of ecotage in environmental activism; the role of patriarchy and spirituality in deep
ecology, etc. If there is no consensus reached on these positions, then the differences are
lived with, for the sake of the larger unity against the primary contradiction.
Perhaps the sharpest discussions
on secondary contradictions within left bio arose around
the issue of vegetarianism. Participants in this discussion eventually came to accept that if the
discussion group was to continue, then the position had to be lived with that a supporter of
deep ecology could be an omnivore or vegetarian. This reflects the reality of the support for
these two positions within deep ecology, and hence inside and outside of the discussion
group. Naess himself has said in his essay "Deep Ecology & Lifestyle" that supporters of
deep ecology tend to "Vegetarianism, total or partial." Both vegetarian and omnivore
deep ecology supporters on left bio share a belief in an organic bioregional food policy. For
many, vegetarianism is an ultimate value and this has to be acknowledged and respected.
Providing we accept a basic
ecocentric world view, and if we are trying to outline a
general philosophical tendency like left biocentrism which has to mobilize a constituency,
then many differences have to be accepted as secondary. If one is an organizer, which is an
explicit requirement for supporters of deep ecology, then there can be no interest in pyrrhic
victories. It cannot be a question of scoring points such as "Who is the simplest, the deepest
deep ecologist of us all?"
Both the animal rights and deep ecology movements are helping to change consciousness,
away from human-centeredness and the automatic assumptions of "resource rights" to exploit
wildlife and the natural world. There are many areas in common between their supporters
but there are also some contradictions. I think the general attitude towards Nature and wildlife
in these two movements is to be contrasted with the “use” orientation towards Nature and
wildlife to be found for example, in the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal
Peoples, in which wildlife is seen as a “resource”. The Royal Commission, in its extensive
five-volume report, did not mention deep ecology once but did find time to attack the animal
rights movement. Both the animal rights and the deep ecology movements pose major threats
to the status quo. Yet activists from both movements are sometimes at odds with each other,
although some identify with both movements - perhaps more so on the deep ecology side.
(There is an extended discussion of this topic in the article on our web page: “Deep Ecology
and Animal Rights: A Discussion Paper”.)
This is another “hot” topic. Ecofeminism sees the way nature is subjugated and exploited
directly related to the oppression of women in society. Yet sexual identity should not convey
a "leadership" role, as for example the film by Shelley Wine "Fury For The Sound: The
Women At Clayoquot" asserts. Her otherwise excellent film makes the struggle to save the
ancient forests of Clayoquot Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island basically a
women's struggle, and thus creates disunity within the environmental movement.
I believe that the creation
of an "ecofeminism" has, unfortunately, drawn many women away
from the deep ecology movement. It created a commonplace but erroneous view that the
philosophy of deep ecology is somehow intrinsically "male". While this is not true, one has to
acknowledge that there is a male bias in published writings by deep ecology theorists. The
fundamental left biocentric critique of ecofeminism, which has a number of faces, is its human,
female gender exclusiveness, and hence its splitting character for a general philosophical theory.
Ecofeminism sees itself as an alternative theoretical framework or philosophy to deep ecology.
Patriarchy is very real, but
we should try to sort it out within the deep ecology approach,
where we have some basis of unity, and not in opposition to deep ecology.
I am being informed that I am out of time. So I will not be able to speak on Aboriginal
Issues, which is by far the most contentious area of theoretical work in left biocentrism. I hope
I have given you here today some flavour of left biocentrism and its promise. Also, that my
talk has stimulated and, hopefully, provoked you to look into this further. Thanks for
Published in the online Canadian deep ecology magazine The Trumpeter, Vol.
Green Web, R.R. #3, Saltsprings, Nova Scotia, Canada, BOK 1PO
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