from The Worldview Literacy Book   copyright 2009            back to worldview theme #27


     In his 1992 classic Ishmael, Daniel Quinn condenses three million years of human history into two stories: an ancient, ongoing one of people he calls "Leavers," and one that began ten thousand or so years ago (with the birth of agriculture)an account of the "Takers."  This story—which metaphorically be-gins with humans eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, and deciding they too can have the power of the gods—is one of conquest, rule, and subjugation of nature.  It may yet end in complete destruction! There is hope: that Takers learn something important from the few remaining Leavers.  As Quinn puts it, "The premise of the Taker story is the world belongs to man...[that] of the Leaver story is that man belongs to the world." 

     Those who feel they belong to nature will identify "Anthropocentrism" (theme #25) with the Taker mentality and typically turn a cold shoulder to it.  They will warm some to shallow ecology, and even more to deep ecology. (Recall Discussion, theme #25.)  Having previously placed deep ecology in relation to anthropocentrism, we now give it our full attention.  Deep ecologists urge people to take an ecocentric not anthropocentric perspective, value all living things more equally, and respect the integrity of ecosystems and natural processes.  The problem with such urgings isn't with people's ability to formulate theoretical principles (such as "all living things have the same right to live")it's with their recognizing adherence to those principles in their behavior.  As Wendell Berry puts it "Ecological egalitarianism or even biospheric egalitarianism—these terms are distressing because they are fanciful, false alike to nature and humanity.  No such principle exists in either proposes suicide by starvation or it must be routinely and frequently broken.  It does not tell us how to act." 

     Before discussing the behavior behind "belonging to nature," consider how it makes one feel.  While we can use Figure #27b to explain the Earth's orbital behavior that brings spring, it is something else to live so attuned to nature that you feel the Sun rising higher in the sky each day and the days getting longer!   

Note poet Robinson Jeffers' belonging to nature feelings (see Figure #27a).  Generally these come in two extreme varieties:   

1) ecological groundedness: feeling intimately, confidently, enjoyably—sometimes even joyously—connected to the wild, natural community where one lives, or 2) nomadic hunter-gatherer:


 unsettled, always needing to be moving to find food, fearful of "tooth and claw ethics," unable to control nature, often feeling uncomfortably at its mercy—sometimes terrified!

     That first feeling—where it exists in affluent countries—we suspect is artificially produced and ultimately dependent for life support on modern technology with its hidden environmental impacts.  The second may be too grim.  We suspect appropriate technology exists to mitigate this lifestyle's drawbacks with no serious environmental impacts.

     We don't need to guess whether or not it's too grim.  For answers we can examine human experience—including that of indigenous people = Leavers.  We can similarly look there for clues as to how those who belong to nature should behave. Like Quinn, we recognize that a return to hunter-gathering isn't required: human agriculture can coexist with nature.  Most fundamentally, Quinn feels "The creatures who act as though they belong to the world follow the peace-keeping law...they give other creatures a chance to grow toward whatever it's possible for them to become."  Elsewhere he makes it clear that, in the long-term, those who belong to nature evolve through natural selection.

     Next, consider Aldo Leopold's land ethic: "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it tends otherwise."  Later deep ecologists (including Næss) have worried about the political implications of subordinating human well-being to the good of "the biotic community."  Equating this with the bio-sphere, the approach known as ecosharing provides an environ-mental ethic for people to live by: that their own impact on the biosphere be limited to no more than their own fair ecoshare.  The proposed ecoshares would be determined by assessment of the human impact on the biosphere, computer models projecting its future condition, and needed limits imposed by sustain-ability criteria.  While arguably providing measurable human behavioral accountability, some find this approach too arrogant, too assuming of nearly unlimited human knowledge.  They long for humans who behave with humility: "limiting oneself to an appropriate amount of space while leaving room for others."  

Figure #27a  

Robinson Jeffers - Pantheist poet  

"I believe that the Universe is one being, all its parts are different expressions of the same energy, and they are all in communication with each other, therefore parts of one organic whole...The parts change and pass, or die, people and races and rocks and stars, none of them seems to me important in itself, but only the whole.  This whole is in all its parts so beautiful, and is felt by me to be so intensely in earnest, that I am compelled to love it and to think of it as divine. "  

from 1934 letter to Sister Mary James Power


"...Man dissevered from the earth and stars and his history ... for contemplation or in fact... Often appears atrociously ugly.  Integrity is wholeness, the greatest beauty is Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty of the universe.  Love that, not man Apart from that, or else you will share man's pitiful confusions, or drown in despair when his days darken."  

from Jeffers' The Answer



Figure #27b

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