IV Understanding Community

A Philosophical Perspective
Deep Ecology: A Fourth World Movement

Deep Ecology is a long term movement that was coined by Norwegian philosopher, Arne Naess in 1972. The term was first introduced in his article entitled, "The shallow and the deep, long-range ecology movement" (Naess, 1973). It is a holistic, non-anthropocentric approach that traces our present environmental crisis and disconnectedness from the earth to deep philosophical causes. It is the belief that today's environmental degradation is symptomatic of deeper societal uncertainty which requires efforts to understand and answer the fundamental problems. For instance, should we be developing more fuel efficient cars? Or, should we be assessing our need to be so dependent on these machines at all?

Deep Ecology is the name of a new philosophy of nature that recognizes natural and social communities as a web of inter-connectedness, with humans no longer at the hierarchical peak. There is a great recognition of community and a distinct unity of humans, plants and animals to the earth. It is indisputable that local communities exist in a harmonious and self-regulating relationship with their surroundings. The ideal is of an Ecotopia; a community that seeks harmony with, rather than dominance over nature. The movement seeks to develop and to articulate an alternative philosophy that requires a fundamental transformation in our philosophical and world-view outlook. It is considered a radical shift from mainstream Western European thought and is often placed on the fringe of environmental philosophy.

Deep Ecology does not refer to one specific and systematic philosophy. It is very diverse in nature and boasts many passive and activist approaches to ecological issues that share fundamental assumptions. For instance, strategies to meet challenges encompass a heavy reliance on poetry, Buddhism, spiritualism, political activism, acts of civil disobedience and eco-sabotage. The movement is accompanied by such key slogans as Earth First! Simple in means, rich in ends! and Mother Earth has no use for modern war! (Reed, 1993). Their frame of reference and inspirations span from such sources as Taoism, Gandhi, Native American cultures, Thomas Jefferson, Thoreau, and Woody Guthrie. The overwhelming diversity of this philosophy fosters many forums to study and explore related fields, such as Social Ecology, Eco-Feminism, Eco-Psychology, Ecology, Eco-Philosophy, and Ecosophy (Naess, 1973). It is evident that the movement encompasses both philosophical and activist sides which all reinforce our roots in nature and in humankind.

The ethics of Deep Ecology focus on two ultimate norms; self realization and biocentric equality (Des Jardins, 1993). Self realization is the process through which people come to understand themselves as existing in an inter-connectedness with the rest of nature. Moreover, biocentric equality is the recognition that all organisms and beings are equally members of an interrelated whole and therefore have intrinsic worth. Such an ethical system places value upon other species and nature, independent of human need. Deep Ecology aims to give non-human life independent ethical status, recognizing that all life has intrinsic value of its own (Wall, 1994). There is the seeking to discover links between species and the investigation of the interdependence of life. It is important to understand this ecology as it offers new insights and evaluations acknowledging an ethical reliance on ecology. Deep Ecology depicts a chain, with each link being vital for the integrity of the whole.

Deep Ecology is known as a fourth world movement that spans the Gaian ecology, and social communitarian ecology. There is the fostering of a deep sense of community, and attitudes of "living lightly upon the earth" through the appreciation of webs and interconnected relationships that link all species, including humanity. It is important to recognize that we are inseparable from nature as well as inseparable from each other. Deep Ecology encourages an overcoming of alienation, asserting the naturalness of humans by "living in harmony with the environment sufficiently, by admitting the power which natural laws (i.e. carrying capacity) have over us - living lightly on the earth, and not transforming it" (Pepper, 1993). Nature is the source of worth, and we must follow its rules to prevent its endangerment. It is important to acknowledge our "one-ness" with the earth and each other, through restraining activities that are encroaching or violating (Pepper, 1993). Deep Ecology sees the individual as "embedded in society; society as embedded in nature, all being dependent on cosmic forces" (Pepper, 1993). Nature is to be nurtured, rather than intervening destructively in it. It is to be revered and preserved, enhancing our connectedness and interdependency of both natural and social communities.

Communalism is a theme of Deep Ecology, often referred to as social ecology. The idea of such natural and social communities emerge from the people; their locality and shared existence. Communalism not only emphasizes economic relationships but also intimate social relationships through feelings of belonging, sharing, caring and surviving. Often, the association of a lifeboat provides for an example of strong community, with kinship defining social function and ensuring cooperation. This notion of community has its roots in sociological theory with terms such as Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. The former referring to social relationships founded on "solidarity between individuals based on affection, kinship or membership to a community," and the latter referring to "social relations between isolated individuals, consulting their own self interest" (Pepper, 1993). Consequently, through Gemeinschaft people develop a sense of community which amounts to more than just the sum of the individual identities. There is a strong belief in the society as being organic, with unalienated face-to-face relationships. To be fully human, is to live with others and to be concerned for them as on one is for one's self. Therefore to be separated from this community aspect of Self, through individualism, is to be alienated. Environmental health and success requires this strong kinship between people as it breeds a strong local identity. This kinship between "the living, dead, and unborn" (Pepper, 1993), generates a strong sense of community, for both present and future generations.

A Political Perspective
Eco-Politics and Communitarianism

Political structure forms the basis for decision making and is an excellent platform for organizing society. Politics is also a major part of community life providing the forum for organizing society and making decisions.

Throughout history there have been hundreds of different political ideas and structures. One of the most common political and economic ideas practiced by societies is capitalism. Although it is a form of economic structure, many relate it to the political ideals of a society. People who believe strongly in working towards sustainability blame the fall of modern society on capitalism. Society has had a narrowing of values, becoming focused on a materialistic and profit-oriented way of life. People no longer care about helping their neighbour, but rather care only about improving their own life. In this respect the loss of community can also be blamed on capitalism. There has been a concentration of power since industrialization; the decision-makers are the people with the most money. People no longer want to work with others to reach the best possible decision, but become competitive with their friends. Decisions are made in the best interest of the individual rather than the collective. When there is no cooperation or caring and understanding of others, a community can not exist. If everyone is working toward material gains, the society will never be sustainable.

As individuals have become aware of the importance of sustainability in order to protect the future, many societies have been adopting new political ideas that reinforce the concepts behind sustainability. These include Communitarianism, Green Politics, and Strong Democracy. All of these political structures are based on sustainability and believe strongly in the role of community. Sustainability is an ecological way of living and the community provides a context and a home. (Coleman, 118). Four common characteristics of community include caring, responsibility, respect and knowledge. The characteristics of community are the foundations of the political structures that encourage sustainability. It is a political movement that is more in touch with people and encourages participation by everyone.

The following section will outline a few of the new political movements that are focused on ecological sensitivity and sustainability. It will also discuss the important role community plays in incorporating these ideas into society.

Communitarianism is a socialist political theory based solely on community. Participation of the citizen in every aspect of public life is an essential part of communitarianism. Communitarianists believe that individualism led to the moral fall of society. Therefore, the only way to understand human behaviour is to refer to individuals in their social, cultural and historical context (Avineri, p2). Community supplies the context for examining the individual. This is because the community represents only the characteristics of its constituent parts, or represents the needs of all individuals in one collective idea.

Communitarianism is based on cooperation, aiming to become the politics of the common good. Those who subscribe to this way of thinking also believe individuals can be transformed, through their participation in common seeing and common work, into citizens (Barber, 232). The conversion of the individual into a citizen takes place within a community where cooperation and participation are a part of everyday life. In many ways communitarianism is an idealistic philosophy, where all work together in harmony and anyone who participates becomes interested only in the common good. This is an unrealistic and unfair expectation. The individual and their ideas are an important part of community and breed diversity. A community should accept people as they are and welcome their ideas.

There are many positive ideas in communitarianism. This ideal believes community should be the centre of society where cooperation and respect for others governs all actions. Respect for other human beings and the surroundings is then translated into a respect for the earth. With a respect for our neighbour and the earth, we will strive for sustainability.

The Green Political movement first began in Europe in the seventies, and was beginning its foundations in the United States by the early eighties . This ecological political movement focused its attention on environmental awareness and sustainability. The Green parties have a list of "ten key values" by which they base all their political strategies. These include: ecological wisdom, social justice, grassroots democracy, non-violence, decentralization, community-based economics, feminism, respect for diversity, personal and global responsibility and sustainability (Coleman, 98). Community plays an important role in all ten of these values.

  1. Ecological wisdom is the first key value in the Green movement. This idea is focused on humanity's connection with the earth; human society is an integral part of the natural world. Human beings are no longer viewed as a separate entity from the natural world, nor as its controllers. We are but one small part of nature and have a strong dependency with it. Community plays an important role in helping society understand our connection to our surroundings. The community is viewed as a place where we feel safe and connected; it is our home. We then begin to feel a connection not only to people, but to the physical place as well. As we understand our community as the people and their surroundings, we make the connection between humans and the natural world.

  2. Social justice implies equitable access to helath care, education, food and shelter, cultural enrichment, personal and community expression and political power for everyone (Coleman, 1994). As society's respect for the value of the earth grows, so does the respect for the people, and vice versa. As our respect for each other grows, we begin to take personal and social responsibility for what goes on in society. When individuals take the steps towards personal and social responsibility, they work towards ensuring everyone has equal access to the rewards and opportunities of life. The question then is, where do people gain this respect for each other? The community is one of the best places for individuals to learn to begin to respect each other. People in a community work together to meet their needs and learn the importance of cooperation. When we acknowledge our dependence on others, we start to value and respect them.

  3. Grassroots democracy enables ecological living while community provides it with a context and a home (Coleman, 117). Grassroots democracy believes in empowering all people to participate actively in the realization of their own well being and fulfilment. It is active citizenship. Grassroots democracy also focuses on a self-reliant economy, which is the based on community. When individuals are part of a community they begin to realize their surroundings are not only a place, but also their home. The community is a place in which we live, a place where we interpret social and natural characteristics and a place which we know and cherish as our own (ibid). When we gain this understanding of our home through community, workers' self-management, human scale, organization and cooperative enterprise is possible (ibid).

  4. Non-violence is one of the most important components of the Green movement. When a society condones violence against people it is also condoning violence against the planet. This is an unsustainable lifestyle, and for that reason violence must be rejected by society. The elimination of violence from all social relations is absolutely necessary. Communities begin to build relationships between people and a respect for one another is gained. When we respect each other, there is a rejection of violence against other people. As we put an end to violence against people, we will end the current violent treatment of nature and begin working towards sustainability.

  5. Decentralization is another key element whereby we restore the power and responsibility of decision making back to individuals, institutions and the community. Those people who live the closest to the environmental conditions of the community have the best knowledge and should have the power of stewardship and policy-making (Coleman, p104). Decentralization of power is also applied to the economy through the ideals of bioregionalism which is discussed later in the paper.
    The close relationship between people and a way of living that focuses on cooperation that exists in communities, provides the scale for participatory democracy. When people feel like they belong and have close ties to their environment, they will care about what happens in their community. As people gain interest in the activities of their community, they will have the desire to participate in the decisions that form the community.

  6. Community-based economics has the goal of self-reliant economic activity. Cooperative enterprise and workers' self-management are all part of a community-based economy This element of green politics encourages people to take responsibility for their actions, and to be self-reliant in their lifestyle. The close-knit relationships exhibited in communities and the understanding of their surroundings, allows for cooperative enterprise and economic activity that is fitted to the ecological characteristics of the location.

  7. The next element of the Green political movement is often questioned for its exact importance to sustainability. Feminism, or Eco-Feminism is the commitment to the liberation and empowerment of women, and the understanding of the fundamental disparities in respect, opportunity, and power that exists in our patriarchal society. (Coleman, 107) Eco-Feminism teaches communities about knowledge, care, and relatedness. The traditional control over women has allowed humanity to exhibit control over other groups and nature as well. When a society is based on mutual respect and understanding, consisting of people who work cooperatively for the common good, a respect for the environment also arises.

  8. Respect for diversity of individuals and communities goes hand in hand with honouring the unique natural characteristics of a particular ecosystem. (Coleman, 102) A community which seeks out a diversity of ethnicities and cultures will lead to diverse social forms that celebrate and support the diversity of life and community. The diversity in society also leads to different goals and political strategies which supply more opportunity to the community.

  9. Personal and global responsibility is the idea of "thinking globally, acting locally." It calls upon people to take responsibility for the social and environmental impacts of our actions. In communities people become aware of their role in the operations of daily life. As we understand our role in the community , we begin to realize our actions have a direct effect on society and the environment. By taking responsibility for our actions, we adopt a way of living that protects and benefits the natural environment and social structure of the community.

  10. The last key element of Green politics is sustainability: meeting the needs of today, without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. All of the other key elements in this political movement incorporate the idea of sustainability. Community-based economics, diversity, non-violence, ecological wisdom, etc., are all values which encourage a way of living that preserves both the natural and social environment of a community. As stated in all these values, community is the foundation that ensures their implementation into daily living. At the same time, these values help build and strengthen community. The relationship between community and sustainability is a two way street.

Another political structure that is based on sustainability and ecological living is Strong Democracy. Strong Democracy believes in the common sense wisdom and competence of citizens in a community. Society must build a foundation of democratic culture that is instilled in all social activities and institutions. The three key elements that dictate Strong Democracy are anchored in community. The first element is participation in deliberation, agenda setting and information exchange. This element is based on the idea that members of the community have the best knowledge of their surroundings and should be active in the information exchange.

Participation in determining policy and the exercise of public judgment is the second element. Again, community provides the scale for this kind of participatory democracy.

The last element encourages common works, community action and citizen services to implement policy decisions. This element actively encourages cooperative work between people in the community. The cooperation between people, and the consolidation of their knowledge and power gives the community the strength to make and implement the decisions that are in the interest of the common good

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