American Libertarian Socialist Author, Orator, Philosopher and Pioneer in the Ecology Movement
American Libertarian Socialist Author, Orator, Philosopher and Pioneer in the Ecology Movement
An anarchist society, far from being a remote ideal, has become a precondition for the practice of ecological principles.
I?m less influenced by any of Marx?s ideas today than I?ve ever been in my life, and most significantly Marx?s theory of historical materialism, which I think is virtually a debris of despotism. But to respond very directly to what you said, I?m by no means convinced that capitalism and the development of technology has made anarchism easier. On the contrary it has imposed tremendous difficulties by reinforcing domination and hierarchy with instrumentalities, techniques, from electronic devices to thermo-nuclear bombs and neutron bombs, has reinforced hierarchy and domination on a scale that I could never have even foreseen, say in my youth, when I was a radical and a Marxist at that time.
Social ecologists believe that things like racism, sexism, third world exploitation are a product of the same mechanisms that cause rainforest devastation.
The root causes of environmental problems are such as trade for profit, industrial expansion, and the identification of "progress" with corporate self-interest.
We have to clarify the meaning of the word. We have to give it a rich content. And that content has to stand apart from a critique of other ideologies, because the way you sharpen a knife is, frankly, on a grindstone. And the grindstone for me is Marxism. I?ve developed my anarchism, my critique of Marxism, which has been the most advanced bourgeois ideology I know of, into a community of ideas and ultimately a common sense of responsibilities and commitments. I don?t think anarchism consists of sitting down and saying let?s form a collective. I don?t think it consists of saying we?re all anarchists: you?re an anarcho-syndicalist; you?re an anarcho-communist; you?re an anarcho-individualist. I believe that anarchists should agree to disagree but not to fight with each other. We don?t have to go around as the Protestant reformation did, or as the socialist revolution did, and execute each other as soon as we are successful?assuming we?ll ever be successful. But I believe that if we do have a commonality of beliefs we should clarify them, we should strengthen their coherence and we should also develop common projects that produce a lived community of relationships.
An expanding whole is created by the diversification and enrichment of its parts,? he wrote; and ?I submit that an anarchist community would approximate a clearly definable ecosystem: it would be diversified, balanced and harmonious.
I?ve been criticized by many anarchists as believing that anarchism is impossible without affluence. On the contrary, I think affluence is very destructive to anarchism. If you are absorbed by that commodity world then you?re not going to move toward any radical positions, you?re going to move toward a stance of protectiveness.
Social ecology is a fairly integrated and coherent view point that encompasses a philosophy of natural evolution and of humanity? s place in that evolutionary process; a reformulation of dialectics along ecological lines; an account of the emergence of hierarchy; a historical examination of the dialectic between legacies and epistemologies of domination and freedom; an evaluation of technology from an historical , ethical, and philosophical standpoint; a wide-ranging critique of Marxism, the Frankfurt School, justice, rationalism, scientism, and instrumentalism; and finally an eduction of a vision of a utopian, decentralized, confederal, and aesthetically grounded future society based on an objective ethics of complementarity... Whether adequately or not, this holistic body of ideas endeavors to place ?eco-anarchism? on a theoretical and intellectual par with the best systematic works in radical social theory.
The sections provide us with a rough model of assembly organization in a large city and during a period of revolutionary transition from a centralized political state to a potentially decentralized society.? Just so, the Athenian ?ecclesia provides us with a rough model of assembly organization in a decentralized society.
We live in a highly co-optative society that is only too eager to find new areas of commercial aggrandizement and to add ecological verbiage to its advertising and customer relations.
Anarchism could be the most creative and innovative movement in radicalism today ... [With] our ideals of self-management, decentralization, confederalism, and mutual aid ... we have long been the progenitors of an organic, naturalist, and mutualistic sensibility that the ecology movement has appropriated with few references to their source ? the naturalism of Kropotkin.
In the late 1950s, when anarchism in the United States was a barely discernible presence, it seemed like a sufficiently clear field in which I could develop social ecology, as well as the ... political ideas that would eventually become ... libertarian municipalism. I well knew that these views were not consistent with traditional anarchist ideas ... Today I find that anarchism remains the very simplistic individualistic and antirationalist society it has always been. My attempt to retain anarchism under the name of ?social anarchism? has largely been a failure, and I now find that the term I have used to denote my views must be replaced with Communalism, which coherently integrate and goes beyond the most viable features of the anarchist and Marxist traditions.
Social ecology is an ecology not of hunger and material deprivation but of plenty; it seeks the creation of a rational society in which waste, indeed excess, will be controlled by a new system of values; and when or if shortages arise as a result of irrational behavior, popular assemblies will establish rational standards of consumption by democratic processes.
The spirituality advanced by social ecology is definitively naturalistic rather than super-naturalistic or pantheistic.
We should try to become better people, ethically speaking, reflect upon ourselves and our very limited existences and develop a sense of tolerance for each other, as well as for other anarchist groups with which we may disagree. But we?re not committed to toeing a line called anarchism; there are many different anarchisms. My anarchism is frankly anarcho-communalism, and it?s eco-anarchism as well. And it?s not oriented toward the proletariat. I would like to see a critical mass of very gifted anarchists come together in an appropriate place in order to do highly productive work. That?s it. I don?t know why that can?t be done except for the fact that I think that people mistrust their own ideals today. I don?t think that they don?t believe in them; I think they mistrust the viability of them. They?re afraid to commit themselves to their ideals.
Anarchists conceive of power as an essentially malignant evil that must be destroyed. Proudhon, for example, once stated that he would divide and subdivide power until it, in effect, ceased to exist ... a notion as absurd as the idea that gravity can be abolished ... The truly pertinent issue ... is not whether power will exist but whether it will rest in the hands of an elite or in the hands of the people ... Social revolutionaries ... must address the problem of how to give power a concrete institutional emancipatory form.
Indeed, to separate ecological problems from social problems ? or even to play down or give only token recognition to their crucial relationship ? would be to grossly misconstrue the sources of the growing environmental crisis. In effect, the way human beings deal with each other as social beings is crucial to addressing the ecological crisis. Unless we clearly recognize this, we will surely fail to see that the hierarchical mentality and class relationships that so thoroughly permeate society are what has given rise to the very idea of dominating the natural world.
Social ecology is based on the conviction that nearly all of our present ecological problems originate in deep-seated social problems. It follows, from this view, that these ecological problems cannot be understood, let alone solved, without a careful understanding of our existing society and the irrationalities that dominate it. To make this point more concrete: economic, ethnic, cultural, and gender conflicts, among many others, lie at the core of the most serious ecological dislocations we face today?apart, to be sure, from those that are produced by natural catastrophes.
The trend toward popular democracy ... achieved a form that has never quite been equaled elsewhere. By Periclean times the Athenians had perfected their polis to a point where it represented a triumph of rationality within the material limitations of the ancient world.
We tend to think of environmental catastrophes -such as the recent Exxon Valdez oil-spill disaster in the Bay of Alaska-as accidents: isolated phenomena that erupt without notice or warning. But when does the word accident become inappropriate? When are such occurrences inevitable rather than accidental? And when does a consistent pattern of inevitable disasters point to a deep-seated crisis that is not only environmental but profoundly social?
Anarchists should get together who agree, and develop their gifts at a critical point, in a critical place, and form genuine affinity groups in areas where they can have certain results, notable results?not move into areas of great resistance where they?re almost certain to be crushed, defeated, demoralized. And secondly, I would not want to be in the same movement with an anarcho-syndicalist, however much I may respect and like that person. Some of my best friends are anarcho-syndicalists. I mean, I realize that we do not have a commonality, even a language, that makes it possible for us to communicate.
Invertebrate protests, directionless escapades, self-assertions, and a very personal ?recolonization? of everyday life parallel the psychotherapeutic, New Age, self-oriented lifestyles of bored baby boomers and members of Generation X. Today what passes for anarchism in America and increasingly in Europe is little more than an introspective personalism that denigrates responsible social commitment; an encounter group variously renamed a collective or an affinity group; a state of mind that arrogantly derides structure, organization, and public involvement; and a playground for juvenile antics.
Some critics have recently questioned whether social ecology has treated the issue of spirituality in ecological politics adequately, but social ecology was in fact among the earliest of contemporary ecologies to call for a sweeping change in existing spiritual values. Such a change would be a far-reaching transformation of our prevailing mentality of domination into one of complementarity, one that sees our role in the natural world as creative, supportive, and deeply appreciative of the needs of nonhuman life. In social ecology a truly ?natural? spirituality would center on the ability of an awakened humanity to function as moral agents for diminishing needless suffering, engaging in ecological restoration, and fostering an aesthetic appreciation of natural evolution in all its fecundity and diversity.
The truth, indeed, is out?but the ears to hear it and the minds to learn from it seem to have been atrophied by a cultivated ignorance and a nearly total loss of critical insight.
What defines social ecology as social is its recognition of the often-overlooked fact that nearly all our present ecological problems arise from deep-seated social problems. Conversely, our present ecological problems cannot be clearly understood, much less resolved, without resolutely dealing with problems within society. To make this point more concrete; economic, ethnic, cultural, and gender conflicts, among many others, lie at the core of the most serious ecological dislocations we face today ? apart, to be sure, from those that are produced by natural catastrophes. If this approach seems a bit too sociological for those environmentalists who identify the primary ecological problem as being the preservation of wildlife or wilderness, or more broadly as attending to ?Gaia? to achieve planetary ?oneness,? they might wish to consider certain recent developments. The massive oil spill by an Exxon tanker at Prince William Sound, the extensive deforestation of redwood trees by the Maxxam Corporation, and the proposed James Bay hydroelectric project that would flood vast forested areas of northern Quebec, to cite only a few problems, are sobering reminders that the real battleground on which the ecological future of the planet will be decided is clearly a social one.