What Is Social Ecology?

Murray Bookchin
Murray Bookchin has long been a major figure in anarchlst and utopian political theory, theory of technology, urbanism, and the philosophy of nature. He is the cofounder and director emeritus of the Institllte for Social Ecology. His many books include Toward an Ecological Society, The Ecology of Freedom, The Rise of Urbanization and the Decline of Citizenship, Remaking Society, and The Philosophy of Social Ecology.

What literally 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, 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 ecological problems with the preservation of wildlife, wilderness, or more broadly, with "Gaia" and planetary "Oneness," it might be sobering to consider certain recent facts. 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 areas of northern Quebec's forests, to cite only a few problems, should remind us that the real battleground on which the ecological future of the planet will be decided is clearly a social one. Indeed, to separate ecological problems from social problems--or even to play down or give token recognition to this crucial relationship-- would be to grossly misconstrue the sources of the growing environmental crisis. 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 give rise to the very idea of dominating the natural world. Unless we realize that the present market society, structured around the brutally competitive imperative of "grow or die," is a thoroughly impersonal, self-operating mechanism, we will falsely tend to blame technology as such or population growth as such for environmental problems. We will ignore their root causes, such as trade for profit, industrial expansion, and the identification of "progress" with corporate self-interest. In short, we will tend to focus on the symptoms of a grim social pathology rather than on the pathology itself, and our efforts will be directed toward limited goals whose attainment is more cosmetic than curative. While some have questioned whether social ecology has dealt adequately with issues of spirituality, it was, in fact, among the earliest of contemporary ecologies to call for a sweeping change in existing spiritual values. Such a change would mean a far-reaching transformation of our prevailing mentality of domination into one of complementarity, in which we would see 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 centers on the ability of an awakened humanity to function as moral agents in diminishing needless suffering, engaging in ecological restoration, and fostering an aesthetic appreciation of natural evolution in all its fecundity and diversity. Thus social ecology has never eschewed the need for a radically new spirituality or mentality in its call for a collective effort to change society. Indeed, as early as 1965, the first public statement to

by asking what we mean by nature and society. We must earnestly deal with the fact that economic growth. the acquisition of warm-bloodedness gives to organisms the astonishing flexibility to exist in the most demanding climatic environments. conceived in terms of developmental thinking. is turning soil into sand. and developmental wholenot as a "dominant" species but as a supportive one. then. from the less differentiated and relatively limited world of unicellular organisms into that of multicellular ones equipped with simple. even dramatic development that is forever changing. according to an ethics of complementarity. It is marked by increasing subjectivity and flexibility and by increasing differentiation that makes an organism more adaptable to new environmental challenges and opportunities and renders a living being more . To prioritize any form of spirituality over the social factors that actually erode all forms of spirituality. we cannot ignore the impact that a hierarchical and class society has on the natural world. and ethnic domination-not to speak of corporate. gender oppressions. one is rather elusive and often difficult to grasp because it requires a certain way of thinking-one that stands at odds with what we popularly call "linear thinking. At a time when a blind social mechanism. Finally. in fact of its evolution. Although this idea. and bureaucratic interests-are much more capable of shaping the future of the natural world than are privatistic forms of spiritual self-regeneration. to be sure. as the totality. covering fertile land with concrete. or the bolting leap of a deer. rather than supernaturalistic or pantheistic. state. given its relation to ecology itself. raises serious questions about one's ability to come to grips with reality. a richly fecund. with basics-namely. I mean to define nonhuman nature precisely as an evolving process. NATURE AND SOCETY Let us begin. The spirituality advanced by social ecology is definitively naturalistic (as one would expect. poisoning air and water. human beings would complement nonhuman beings with their own capacities to produce a richer. This encompasses the development from the inorganic into the organic. These forms of domination must be confronted by collective action and major social movements that challenge the social sources of the ecological crisis. later complex." We live in a highly cooptative society that is only too eager to find new areas of commercial aggrandizement and to add ecological verbiage to its advertising and customer relations. and presently fairly intelligent neural apparatuses that allow them to make innovative choices. is more than the beautiful vistas we see from a mountaintop or in the images that are fixed on the backs of picture postcards. may be arrested by the soaring flight of a hawk. It deceives us into believing in the "eternality" of a single moment in nature. or. If we look with some care into nonhuman nature as more than a scenic view. it should not be mistaken for a theology that raises a deity above the natural world or that seeks to discover one within it. which stems from the biological sciences). the market. expressed at times as an appeal for the "respiritization of the natural world. Such vistas and images of nonhuman nature are basically static and immobile. we begin to sense that it is basically an evolving phenomenon. caught in the frame of an essentially static image of the scene before our eyes. Our attention. and producing sweeping climatic and atmospheric changes. dialectical rather than instrumental. Among the many definitions of nature that have been formulated over time. or the low-slung shadowy loping of a coyote." recurs throughout the literature of social ecology. This vast drama of nonhuman nature is in every respect stunningly wondrous. Nature."1 In such an ethics.advance the ideas of social ecology concluded with the injunction: "The cast of mind that today organizes differences among human and other life-forms along hierarchical lines of 'supremacy' or 'inferiority' will give way to an outlook that deals with diversity in an ecological manner--that is. not simply by personalistic forms of consumption and investment that often go under the rubric of "green capitalism. creative. in more technical terms." This form of "nonlinear" or organic thinking is developmental rather than analytical. But what we are really witnessing in such cases are the mere kinetics of physical motion.

" and seen presumably as more authentically "natural" than the works of humans. be they large brains or the bipedal motion that frees their hands for tool making and carrying food." to use Neil Evernden's phrase. the formation of mutable social institutions. proteins. That nature is this record. this history. bands. In many respects. The difference between the development of these traits among nonhuman beings is that among humans they reach a degree of elaboration and integration that yields cultures or. Lacking any sense of process. not only bad ecology. Human beings embody. They are not "natural aliens. is a very sobering fact. and. To write the second nature created by human beings out of nature . These untenable disjunctions between humanity and the evolutionary process are as superficial as they are potentially misanthropic. highly mutable societies for which there is no precedent in the nonhuman world-unless the genetically programmed behavior of insects is to be regarded as "social." but they produce a characteristically human social nature of their own which we may call "second nature. Indeed. will. at least potentially. and creativity have no place and offer no possibilities. economic classes. Humans are highly intelligent. owing to their tool-making capacities. hierarchies." to use the language of Gaian theorists who believe that the earth ("Gaia") is one living organism. of highly symbolic forms of communication. intentionality. Their seemingly "unnatural" activities-like the development of technology and science. no less than their primate ancestors and mammals in general. which we may call "first Nature. viewed institutionally in terms of families. Human beings belong to a natural continuum. The truth is that human beings not only belong in nature." phylogenetic "deformities" that. self-awareness. and the state. and is carved in stone in the fossil record. Or one may decide. that the "struggle for existence" or the "survival of the fittest" (to use popular Darwinian terms) explains why increasingly subjective and more flexible beings are capable of dealing with environmental changes more effectively than are less subjective and flexible beings.equipped to alter its environment to meet its own needs. They are a product of a significant evolutionary trend toward intellectuality." And far from being "unnatural. foresight. primate life-forms. human traits are enlargements of nonhuman traits that have been evolving over the ages. Increasing care for the young. under suitable conditions. "cannot evolve with an ecosystem anywhere. very self-conscious primates. is bad thinking. this kind of thinking-regrettably so commonplace among ethicists-radically bifurcates the nonhuman from the human. be it in oral or body language. the natural world is frozen into a circumscribed domain in which human innovation. this developmental or evolutionary process. attributes of nonhuman development that place them squarely within organic evolution. which is to say that they have emerged“not diverged“from a long evolution of vertebrate life-forms into mammalian. amino acids. the emergence and development of human society is a shedding of instinctive behavioral traits. to the degree that nonhuman nature is romanticized as "wilderness. To depict them as "aliens" that have no place or pedigree in natural evolution." human second nature is eminently a creation of organic evolution's first nature. the creation of towns and cities-all would be impossible without the large array of physical attributes that have been eons in the making. or to see them essentially as an infestation that parasitizes a highly anthropomorphic version of the planet (Gaia) the way fleas parasitize dogs and cats. Conceiving nonhuman nature as its own evolution rather than as a mere vista has profound implications-ethical as well as biological-for ecologically minded people. they are products of a long. cooperation. Human beings always remain rooted in their biological evolutionary history. strange "exotics. a contlnuing process of clearing a new terrain for potentially rational behavior. elementary life-forms-is inherent in inorganic nature. of aesthetic sensibilities. tribes."2 Nor are they "intelligent fleas. But the fact remains that the kind of evolutionary drama I have described did occur. the substitution of mentally guided behavior for largely instinctive behavior--all are present more keenly in human behavior. natural evolutionary process. and expressiveness." In fact. and finally. One may speculate that the potentiality of matter itself-the ceaseless interactivity of atoms in forming new chemical combinations to produce ever more complex molecules. quite matter-of-factly. indeed.

Others simply avoid the problem of humanity's unique place in natural evolution by promiscuously putting human beings on a par with beetles in terms of their "intrinsic worth. in a processual. in fact. But if we regard nature as the history of nature. If "true" evolution embodies itself simply in creatures like grizzly bears." is saddled with the name of "biocentricity." as Paul Shepard puts it." while more appealing ones like "decentralization" are regarded as "new paradigm. In such views. we should want to know how each idea derived from others and is part of an overall development. One simply juxtaposes two columns-labeled "old paradigm" and "new paradigm"-as though one were dealing with debits and credits. and derivative ways of thinking out problems that are basically organic and developmental in character. without advancing naive claims that one is either "superior to" or "made for" the other. we would have little difficulty in locating and explaining the emergence of the social out of the biological. Needless to say. wolves. if we are content to regard nature as no more than a scenic vista. . with its quasitheological premise that the world was "made" for human use is saddled with the name of "anthropocentricity. Obviously distasteful terms like "centralization" are placed under "old paradigm. whether seen as "aliens" or as "fleas. thereby dealing with people as a "freaking. Accordingly. in calling for the use of organic. we dishonor this process by thinking of it in anything but a processual way. give rise to a new potentiality for a future. is to ignore the creativity of natural evolution itself and to view it onesidedly. The more enthusiastic proponents of this de-naturing of humanity may see human beings as existing apart from nonhuman evolution. That is to say. with its almost meaningless notion of a "biocentric democracy." The bifurcation of the human from the nonhuman reveals a failure to think organically. but it is singularly lacking as food for the brain. resulting in an inexplicable dualism at one extreme or a naive reductionism at the other. as does the derivation of human from nonhuman nature-a derivation that has the most farreaching consequences for an ecological ethics that can offer serious guidelines for the solution of our ecological problems." The result is an inventory of bumper-sticker slogans whose "bottom line" is patently a form of "absolute good versus absolute evil. do we mean by the notion of "decentralization. and the emergence of the human can be located in the evolution of the nonhuman." that it is engaged in a continual self-organizing process in which past and present. to minimize it. the social is either separated from the organic. the human and the nonhuman can be seen as aspects of an evolutionary continuum. mere metaphoric and poetic description of it might suffice to replace systematic thinking about it. or indeed." humans are essentially placed outside the self-organizing thrust of natural evolution toward increasing subjectivity and flexibility. we require a way of thinking that recognizes that "what-is" as it seems to lie before our eyes is always developing into "what-it-is-not. Social ecology seems to stand alone. Social ecology calls upon us to see that nature and society are interlinked by evolution into one nature that consists of two differentiations: first or biotic nature. seen as a richly differentiated but shared continuum. of the evolutionary process. and second or human nature. ever-richer degree of wholeness. as an evolutionary process that is going on to one degree or another under our very eyes. To truly know and be able to give interpretative meaning to the social issues so arranged." All of this maybe deliciously synoptic and easy for the eyes." In this "either/or" propositional thinking. animals that people find aesthetically pleasing or relatively intelligent-then human beings are literally de-natured. developmental." and how does it derive from or give rise in the history of human society to "centralization"? Again: processual thinking is needed to deal with processual realities so that we can gain some sense of direction-practical as well as theoretical-in dealing with our ecological problems. The dualistic approach. What. By the same token. of second nature out of first nature. It seems more fashionable these days to deal with ecologically significant social issues like a bookkeeper. and whales-generally. and dialectical way of thinking." while the reductionist approach. and to approach evolutionary phenomena with an evolutionary way of thought.as a whole. organic. or flippantly reduced to the organic. at present. The very definition of the natural world as a development indicates the need for an organic way of thinking.

thereby forming the earliest social horizon of our ancestors. and their children were brought into a condition of a fairly stable family life.Human nature and biotic nature share an evolutionary potential for greater subjectivity and flexibility. Owing to their naturally endowed intelligence. . class formations. classes. is riddled by contradictions. and relative freedom from instinctive behavior. they refashion their environment-as do nonhuman beings-to the full extent of their biological equipment. then. often genetically imprinted. clans. however lacking that foresight may be in ecological respects. the simple biological facts of human reproduction and protracted maternal care of the infant tended to knit siblings together and produced a strong sense of solidarity and group inwardness. Second nature. through conflicts between groups. Humans act upon their environments with considerable technical foresight. based on mutual obligation and an expressed sense of affinity that was often sanctified by marital vows of one kind or another. however. and even city-states. depending upon its abilities. women. More than in other mammals. nation states. It is not so much that human beings. and cultural phenomena“emerge from the biological? We have reason to speculate that as biological facts such as lineage. the ideologies they produce. Their cultures are rich in knowledge. their behavior guided primarily by instinctive drives and conditioned reflexes. powers of communication. SOCIAL HIERARCHY AND DOMINATION How. Nonhuman beings generally live in ecological niches. On this very simple level. Men. they may be sharply divided against themselves at certain points of their development. and conflicting interests that have distorted humanity's unique capacities for development. and the damage they infiict on the planet as a whole lie at the very heart of the modern ecological crisis. Human communities are guided in part by ideological factors and are subject to changes conditioned by those factors. antagonisms. the extent to which they contribute to biotic evolution or abort it. the biophysical circumstances-or ecocommunity-in which it must live. their uniquely social dimension was initially quite egalitarian. given a further development of humanity toward an ecological society. and age differences were slowly institutionalized. capacity for institutional organization. human beings are. The lineage or blood tie in early prehistory obviously formed the organic basis of the family. experience. Hence human beings. How these problems emerge. in principle. and conceptual intellectuality. This equipment now makes it possible for them to engage in social development. Human societies are "bonded" together by institutions that change radically over centuries. by the sheer force of their blology and survival needs. Nonhuman communities are notable for their fixity in general terms or by clearly preset. cooperation. highly intelligent primates inhabit the natural world. Second nature is the way in which human beings as flexible. second nature is no different from the environment that every animal. and tribes. but that the social development by which they grade out of their biological development often becomes more problematicai for themselves and non human life. in principle. a social evolutionary development that profoundly involves their organic evolutionary process. initiate. Indeed. emerging from an organic evolutionary process. the capacity to provide an entirely new ecological dispensation. In this respect. people create an environment that is most suitable for their mode of existence. creates as well as adapts to. But the environmental changes that human beings produce are significantly different from those produced by nonhuman beings. Later it acquired an oppressive hierarchical and then an exploitative class form. behave differently from animals or are inherently more problematical in a strictly ecological sense. That is to say. through either intermarriage or fictive forms of descent. it joined together groups of families into bands. rhythms. It contains both the danger of tearing down the biosphere and. far from marking the fulfillment of human potentialities. did the social-eventually structured around status groups. doing nothing that differs from the survival activities of nonhuman beings-be it building beaver dams or gopher holes. gender distribution.

were more vulnerable to abandonment in periods of material want than any other part of the population. In any case. an institution that never completely disappeared (as the word "alderman" suggests). No one "dominated" the others or tried to privilege itself in the normal course of things. in no way predetermined by any mystical force or deity. Yet with the passing of time. let us say. a trend that often did not go beyond a very limited development among many preliterate or aboriginal cultures. The shift from blind custom to a commanding morality. In addition. at the very beginnings of gerontocracy. and Indian communities in the Americas. based on rational discourse and reflection. to a rational ethics occurred with the rise of cities and urban cosmopolitanism. Each. if at all. and finally. We can probably account for the increasing stridency and harshness of later gerontocracies by supposing that the elderly. tribal societies in East Africa. dictated by considerations either of the rights of others or the welfare of the community. in which male values. Elders. Nor can we foretell how human history might have developed had certain feminine values associated with care and nurture not been overshadowed by masculine values associated with combative and aggressive behavior. so the social institutions were slowly reworked at various periods and in various degrees. in that they required some kind of supernatural or mystical reinforcement to be accepted by the community. What we call morality began as the commandments of a deity. into hierarchical structures based on command and obedience. beginning with the ancient Greeks. and gender groups-their elaboration into early institutions-there is no reason to doubt that people existed in a complementary relationship with one another." who could alternatively be welcomed hospitably or enslaved or put to death. belief systems. even though they were overlaid by warrior societies. Hierarchy in its earliest forms was probably not marked by the harsh qualities it has acquired over history. did ethical behavior emerge. and their affection was often reciprocated in kind. What mores existed were based on an unreflected body of customs that seemed to have been inherited from time immemorial. were not only respected for their wisdom but often beloved of the young. and values. "and were not necessarily. while men formed their own hunting and warrior groups with their own behavioral characteristics. and forms of behavior prevail over female ones. Only later."3 Many tribal councils throughout the world were really councils of elders. Initially. individuals above fifty. From everything we know about the socialization of the biological facts of kinship. age. seems to have followed gerontocracy. and even in certain fairly elaborate civilizations. tribes and the like. clans. institutions. began to admit the "stranger" and increasingly recognize itself as a shared community of human beings rather than an ethnic folka community of citizens rather than of kinsmen. In the emerging social groups that developed among early humans. apparently arrogated to themselves certain powers and privileges which benefitted themselves specifically. gradually disengaging itself from the biological facts of blood ties. other of humanity's biological traits were to be reworked from the strictly natural to the social. chiefdoms. the biological fact of gender distinctions were to be slowly reworked along social lines into what were initially complementary sororal and fraternal groups. Women formed their own food-gathering and care taking groups with their own customs. in effect. Humanity. and ideologies. that gerontocracies were the earliest forms of hierarchy is corroborated by their existence in communities as far removed from each other as the Australian Aborigines. I speak here of a historical trend. and techniques for survival that had to be acquired by both the young and the mature members of the group. Patricentricity. the absence of a written language helped to confer on the elderly a high degree of status. other human beings were regarded as "strangers. "Even in simple food-gathering cultures. burdened by their failing powers and dependent upon the community's goodwill. this shift may have been fairly harmless. mores. inasmuch . for it was they who possessed the traditional wisdom of the community.Outside the family and all its elaborations into bands." observes anthropologist Paul Radin. In the primordial and socially formative world that we must still explore. One of these was the fact of age and its distinctions. even as the biological facts that underpin every human group were further reworked into social institutions. was needed by the other to form a relatively stable whole. the kinship lines that prescribed marital ties in obedience to extensive incest taboos. and kingships.

like the daughters. even where a considerable measure of authority accrues to a chief-and most chiefs are advisers rather than rulers-he usually must earn the esteem of the community by interacting with the people. this does not tell us why many societies whose environments were abundantly rich in food never produced such strata. to cite common causes of hostility or war. In tribal societies. if such it can be strictly called. is not to be confused with class exploitation. or of elderly people to younger ones. But too many communities that had such resources at their disposal remained quite egalitarian and never "advanced" to hierarchical or class societies. shelter. of concerned husbands and wives to each other. and even by a considerable disaccumulation of their personal goods. Many chiefs earn their prestige. With the appearance of cattle-drawn plow agriculture. The respect accorded to many chiefs is earned. the abolition of class rule and economic exploitation offers no guarantee whatever that elaborate hierarchies and systems of domination will disappear. by disposing of gifts. takes on its most severe and coercive form in patriarchy. To deny anyone food. however. often subtly negotiated development in which the male fraternity tends to edge out the female sorority by virtue of the former's growing "civil" responsibilities. and the former gradually encroaches upon the latter. increasing population. By the same token. an institution in which the eldest male of an extended family or clan has a life-and-death command over all members of the group. Of primary importance in early customs was the "law of the irreducible minimum" (to use Radin's expression). certain technological changes that privilege male activities of hunting and caring for animals over the horticultural functions of females. natural disasters. Male rule. create a new "civil" sphere side by side with woman's domestic sphere. and vendettas of one kind or another." So far as patricentricity is concerned. despite sweeping changes in class societies. who had used the simple digging stick.as preliterate and early aboriginal societies were largely domestic communities in which the authentic center of material life was the home. That hierarchy is more entrenched than class can perhaps be verified by the fact that women have been dominated for millennia. However. "Why" hierarchy emerges is transparent enough: the infirmities of age. Marxist theorists tend to single out technological advances and the presumed material surpluses they produce to explain the emergence of elite strata-indeed. the shared notion that all members of a community are entitled to the means of life. not the "men's house" so widely present in tribal societies. Warrior societies and chiefs carry the momentum of male dominance to the level of a new material and cultural constellation. and the basic means of life because of infirmities or even frivolous behavior would have . Often the role of high-status individuals is very well-meaning. certain customs guide human behavior along basically decent lines. of exploiting ruling classes. the growth of civil society. That surpluses are necessary to support elites and classes is obvious. not simply by persuasion. Male dominance becomes extremely active and ultimately yields a world that is managed by male elites who dominate not only women but also other men. the authority and prerogative of the male are the product of a slow. the spread of warfare. however coercive it may be. not by hoarding surpluses as a means to power but by disposing of them as evidence of generosity. All serve to enhance the male's responsibilities at the expense of the female's. It is worth emphasizing that hierarchical domination. may be ordered how to behave and whom to marry and may be killed at the whim of the "old man. as in the case of commands given by caring parents to their children. as Aristotle pointed out more than two millennia ago. The sons. Power is usually gained by the acquisition of wealth. the male begins to invade the horticultural sphere of woman. Women are by no means the exclusive or even the principal target of the patriarch's domination. so essential to their authority. marauding bands of outsiders whose migrations may be induced by drought or other unfavorable conditions. and her earlier economic predominance in the community's life is thereby diluted. and he can easily be ignored or removed from his position by them. not by its disposal. and the state is the ultimate guarantor of authority. rulership is guaranteed by outright physical coercion. In nonhierarchical and even some hierarchical societies. Classes tend to operate along different lines. irrespective of the amount of work they perform. Increasing population.

and even tools and weapons. custom fostered the practice of mutual aid. ecotheologies. a drama that dates back some 7. if left idle. however much we try to dispel it with rituals. Already in the Gilgamesh Epic of Mesopotamia. but that it is hierarchically organized and can be dominated. in the languages of aboriginal peoples. Early forms of magic did not view nature as a world apart. Until human beings cease to live in societies that are structured around hierarchies as well as economic classes. were at the disposition of anyone in the community who needed them. We must emphasize. The biblical injunction that gave to Adam and Noah command of the living world was above all an expression of a social dispensation. albeit a more canny than a heroic one. The study of magic reveals this shift clearly. the later forms of animistic beliefs betray a more or less hierarchical view of the natural world and of latent human powers of domination. as need be. by another.000 years. so that an individual or family in fairly good circumstances could expect to be helped by others if their fortunes should change for the worse. THE IDEA OF DOMINATING NATURE "Nature.been seen as a heinous denial of the very right to live. however. That this new dispensation involves changes in attitudes and values should go without saying. Words that express our conventional notions of nature are not easy to find. often imputing their own social institutions to the behavior of various species. even when they celebrate animistic rituals and view the world around them as a nexus of life. Taken as a whole. the hero defies the deities and cuts down their sacred trees in his quest for immortality. orchards. and the adoption of seemingly "natural" ways of life. Nor were the resources and things needed to sustain the community ever completely privately owned: overriding individualistic control was the broader principle of usufruct-the notion that the means of life that were not being used by one group could be used. magic becomes almost entirely instrumental. as in the case of "beaver lodges" and humanlike spirits. if they exist at all. The idea of dominating nature has a history that is almost as old as that of hierarchy itself. incantations. With the rise of hierarchy and human domination. often has no meaning to preliterate peoples. who essentially dispatches the nature deities that the Hellenic world inherited from its less well-known precursors. incidentally. Lastly. The Odyssey is a vast travelogue of the Greek warrior. and in the realities of everyday life from childrearing to work and play. But these attitudes and values remain vaporous if they are not given substance through objective institutions. the ways in which humans concretely interact with each other. the seeds are planted for a belief that nature not only exists as a world apart. Its worldview tended to be such that a practitioner essentially pleaded with the "chief spirit" of the game to coax an animal in the direction of an arrow or a spear." in the broad sense of a biotic environment from which humans take the simple things they need for survival. that the idea of dominating nature has its primary source in the domination of human by human and the structuring of the natural world into a hierarchical Chain of Being (a static conception. Its idea of dominating nature can be overcome only through the creation of a society without those class and hierarchical structures that make for rule and obedience in private as well as public life. While the earliest forms of magic may be regarded as the practices of a generally nonhierarchical and egalitarian community. Later. Immersed in nature as the very universe of their lives it has no special meaning. the rather sensible cooperative behavior of sharing things and labor. we shall never be free of domination. That elitist societies devastated much of the Mediterranean basin as well as the hillsides of China provides ample evidence that hierarchical and class societies had begun a sweeping remaking and . that has no relationship to the evolution of life into increasingly advanced forms of subjectivity and flexibility). here. these customs became so sedimented into society that they persisted long after hierarchy became oppressive and class society became predominant. the game is coerced by magical techniques to become the hunter's prey. Thus unused land.

many of which are simply useless. the new industrial capitalist class with its factory system and commitment to limitless expansion began to colonize the entire world. and gave an explosive impetus to consumption and technology. however troubling the ills produced by second nature may seem. the taxgatherers who plundered ordinary village peoples. in social ecology. Medieval markets were modest. Many of those demanded the recovery of caring and communitarian values when these were under the onslaught of elitist and class oppression. As a class. the industrial capitalists of the modern world spawned a bitterly competitive marketplace that placed a high premium on industrial expansion and the commercial power it conferred. more significantly. and "industrial society.despoliation of the planet long before the emergence of modern science. the bourgeoisie had no home but the marketplace and its bank vaults. These customs persisted well into history and surfaced almost explosively in massive popular uprisings. It is crucially important. Second nature. genocide. competition. "linear" rationality. and functioned as though growth were an end in itself. the production of goods exclusively for sale and profit (the capitalistic commodity) rapidly swept aside all cultural and social barriers to market growth. By the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. to recognize that industrial growth does not result from a change in a cultural outlook alone“and least of all. nor does it overlook the fact that the destiny of human life goes hand-in-hand with the destiny of the nonhuman world. Unlike the feudal nobility. to be sure. later-and most effectively-in England during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries." to cite causal factors that are invoked so freely in the modern ecology movement. and finally. religions based on austerity and. Exchange ceased to be primarily a means to provide for modest needs. it also became the procreator of needs. did not create a Garden of Eden in steadily absorbing and inflicting harm on first nature. usufruct. and mutual aid cannot be ignored. so too the market began to acquire a life of its own and extended its reach beyond limited regions into the depths of vast continents. they turned more and more of the world into an ever-expanding domain of factories. creative. In ancient Greece. most aspects of personal life. First in northern Italy and the European lowlands. Indeed. More often than not. and acts of heartless oppression. and the quality of the goods produced by their members. from the impact of scientific rationality on . which had its cherished lands and castles. tended to scale down needs and delimit human appetites for material goods. a rational philosophy that rejected the encumbering of thought and political life by extravagant wants. from early revolts in ancient Surner to the present time. Not only did it place a high premium on techniques for increasing production. Neither ancient despots nor feudal lords could fully obliterate them in peasant villages and in the towns with independent craft guilds. subverting the limits imposed upon it by guilds or by moral and religious restrictions. Entrepreneurs of the ancient and medieval worlds had normally gathered their profits together to invest in land and live like country gentry-given the prejudices of their times against "ill-gotten" gains from trade. Social ecology refuses to ignore the fact that the harm elitist society inflicted on the natural world was more than matched by the harm it inflicted on humanity. They served to slow the pace of technological innovation to a point where new means of production could be sensitively integrated into a balanced society. despite the armies that roamed the landscape of warring areas. just as it ravaged human life itself in murderous wars. community life still persisted and retained many of the cherished values of a more egalitarian past. usually local afairs. and dynamic in the biotic world. it despoiled much that was beautiful. "GROW OR DIE!" But just as hierarchies and class structures tend to acquire a momentum of their own and permeate much of society. But the customs of the irreducible minimum. and the daily abuses that were inflicted by overseers on workers. On the other hand. in which guilds exercised strict control over prices.

in fact. The effort by many well-intentioned ecology theorists and their admirers to reduce the ecological crisis to a cultural rather than a social problem can easily become obfuscatory. the most driving imperative of the capitalist market. despite the close association between capitalist development and technological innovation. Indeed. that we can vaporize its hard facts rather than trans forming it. Indeed. Hence it would become "indispensable" in the public mind to own two or three of every appliance. soil. Insofar as entrepreneurs must always expand if they are to survive. The direction it follows depends not upon ethical factors but rather on the mindless "laws" of supply and demand. religious. grow or die. and indeed. however much they were modified. they obscure the need for social action. Nor would "softer" technologies produced by a grow-or-die market fail to be used for destructive capitalistic ends. Mercedes-Benz. of which new models would be required annually. much of the United States was "cleared" of its forests. factors thot are largely impervious to moral considerotions and efforts at ethical persuasion. Given the growth imperative generated by market competition. to be invested in still further expansion. Two centuries ago. world of its objective character. However ecologically concerned an entrepreneur may be. wildlife. The modern marketplace has imperatives of its own. lt stems above all from harshly objective factors churned up by the expansion of the market itself. mechanistic. for example. by ."5 Such deceptive messages are commonplace in Germany. the forests of England were hacked into fuel for iron forges with axes that had not changed appreciably since the Bronze Age. motor vehicle. Maxims like "business is business" explicitly tell us that ethical. that "we must work to make more environmentally sustainable progress by including the theme of the environment in the planning of new products. irrespective of the need for them. and to avoid dying at the hands of savage rivals. In addition. one of western Europe's worst polluters. is the need to grow. indeed. once identified by our ancestors as a faith in the evolution of greater human cooperation and care. it would mean little or nothing if the present-day population were reduced to a fraction of what it is today. Indeed. where one would more than suffice. where leading polluters piously declare that for them. irrespective of who sits in the driver's seat or grabs on to its handlebars. to the extent that environmental movements and ideologies merely moralize about the "wickedness" of our anti-ecological society. Indeed. and greater profit. Advertising is equally self-serving in the United States.society. and growth. A society based on "grow or die" as its all-pervasive imperative must necessarily have a devastating ecological impact. the harsh fact is that his or her very survival in the marketplace precludes a meaningful ecological orientation. declaims in a two-page ad. Corporations are skilled at manipulating this desire to be present as an ecological image. the notion of progress. The key to this law of life-to survival-is expansion. and emotional factors have absolutely no place in the impersonal world of production. It is grossly misleading to think that we can divest this brutally materialistic. psychological. is now identified with economic growth. profit. eat or be eaten. the media that have fostered mindless consumption would be mobilized to increase the purchase of goods. the military would continue to demand new. Important as greed or the power conferred by weaIth may be. or the like. and emphasize change in personal life and attitudes." The point social ecology emphasizes is not that moral and spiritual change is meaningless or unnecessary. and ordinary sails guided ships laden with commodities to all parts of the world well into the nineteenth century. but that modern capitalism is structurally amoral and hence impervious to any moral appeals. to devour them. fatal disadvantage in a competitive relationship with a rival-notably one who lacks any ecological concerns and thus produces at lower costs and reaps higher profits for further capital expansion. To engage in ecologically sound practices places a morally concerned entrepreneur at a striking. electronic gadget. decorated with a bison painting from a Paleolithic cave wall. more lethal instruments of death. sheer survival requires that an entrepreneur must expand his or her productive apparatus to remain ahead of other entrepreneurs and try. given the dehumanizing competition that defines it. and aboriginal inhabitants with tools and weapons that would have been easily recognized. "Every day is Earth Day.

farmers. Property." or of quasi-religious redemption. one in which the communal interest was placed above personal interest." That is. The step-by-step reorganization of municipalities. their confederation into ever-larger networks that form a dual power in opposition to the nation-state." property would belong. is likely to be futile. ultimately. it abetted a phenomenon. Leaving aside any discussion of such visions as the rotation of work. taken by itself. the political interest from the social. they alone can potentially eliminate the domination of . It emphasizes that an ethical appeal to the powers that be (that embody blind market forces and competitive relationships). neither to private producers nor to a nation-state." of "spiritual change. property "interests" would become generalized. Indeed humans are seen to have a moral responsibility to function creatively in the unfolding of that evolution. the anarcho-syndicalist vision to competing "worker-controlled" factories that ultimately had to be knitted together by a labor bureaucracy. The Soviet Union gave rise to an overbearing bureaucracy. But in the end. It seeks the enrichment of the (MISSING 370-371) legitimation that it so often indicates today. it often obscures the real power relationships that prevail today by making the attainment of an ecological society seem merely a matter of "attitude. In an ecological society composed of a "Commune of communes. and above all. for social reconstruction along ecological lines. the most conscious products of natural evolution. more properly. in this ethical constellation. it challenges the entire system of domination itself and seeks to eliminate the hierarchical and class edifice that has imposed itself on humanity and defined the relationship between nonhuman and human nature. the citizen who engages in both industrial and agricultural activity. the ever-expanding market system that had its roots in one of history's most fundamental social transformations: the elaboration of hierarchy and class into a system of distribution based on exchange rather than complementarity and mutual aid. Indeed. Although always mindful of the need for spiritual change. not reconstituted in different conflicting or umnanageable forms. and of human involvement as conscious and moral agents in the interplay of species. and the like would thus deal with municipalized property as citizens. It meant the cultivation of an affiliation with the interests of the community. not to producers ("workers") or owners ("capitalists"). and the professional who also does manual labor. From the standpoint of social ecology. AN ECOLOGICAL SOCIETY Social ecology is an appeal not only for moral regeneration but also. the remaking of the constituents of republican representatives into citizens who participate in a direct democracy-all may take a considerable period of time to achieve. What modern technics did was to accelerate a process that was well under way at the close of the Middle Ages. professionals. Social ecology thus stresses the need for embodying its ethics of complementarity in palpable social institutions that will give active meaning to its goal of wholeness.Renaissance people who had yet to encounter the Industrial Revolution. Workers. in the best of circumstances. in which the personal interest was congruent with and realized through the common. social ecology seeks to redress the ecological abuses that society has inflicted on the natural world by going to the structural as well as the subjective sources of notions like the "domination of nature. as potentially. the public interest from the private. rather than nationalized or privatized. They would be municipalized. at least. taken by itself. not as members of a vocational or social group. or. belong to the community as a whole. It did not devastate the planet on its own. It advances an ethics of complementarity in which human beings must play a supportive role in perpetuating the integrity of the biosphere. the communal ideas advanced by social ecology would give rise to individuals for whom the collective interest is inseparable from the personal. would be shared and.

1 Neil Evernden." in The Arnerican Prospect (Winter. Many of the technological views advanced a year later in "Toward a Liberatory Technology" were also assimilated and renamed "appropriate technology. l982. and "Patterns of Civic Freedom" in The Rise of Urbanization and the Decline of Citizenship (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books. NOTES Murray Bookchin. See the essay "The Forms of Freedom." a rather socially neutral expression in comparison with my original term "ecotechnology.. 16. 1960). 1991). 1972. All of these views were spelled out in the essay "Ecology and Revolutionary Thought" by this writer in 1965." Both of these essays can be found in Post-Scarcity Anarchism.human by human and thereby deal with those ecological problems whose growing magnitude threatens the existence of a biosphere than can support advanced forms of life. 1991).1986). To ignore the need for these sweeping but eminently practical changes would be to let our ecological problems fester and spread to a point where there would no longer be any opportunity to resolve them. 211. 7 . together with all my major essays of the sixties in Post-Scarcity Anarchism (Berkeley: Ramparts Press. Quoted in Alan Wolfe. republished. 5 6 See Der Spiegel (Sept. and collected. "The Legacy of Freedom. 1987). pp. "Up from Humanism. 144-45. The Natural Alien (Toronto: University of Toronto Press." in The Ecology of Freedom. 1977). The expression "ethics of complementarity" is from The Ecology of Freedom (San Francisco: Cheshire Books. 2 3 4 Paul Radin. 125. revised edition. The World of Primitive Man (New York: Grove Press. Montreal: Black Rose Books. p. a guarantee that the anti-ecological society that prevails in most of the world today would blindly hurtle the biosphere as we know it to certain destruction. and were assimilated over time by subsequent ecology movements." in Post-Scarcity Anarchism. 1964). p. Any attempt to ignore their impact on the biosphere or deal with them singly would be recipe for disaster. p. 109. 1991)." initially published in the ecoanarchist journal New Directions in Libertarian Thought (Sept. "Ecology and Revolutionary Thought. Montreal: Black Rose Books.

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