Richards: A Social Ecology

This article is contributed by J. Kelvyn Richards who maintains a website “Discourse: Social Ecology.” Kelvyn was active in community-based education projects for many years. He is now retired and living with family in Greece.

Many writers have argued that in order to make an impact on world pollution, all governments will have to work together, and that it is only a token for individual governments to take certain actions, while the rest go on as before. If the world is to survive as an ‘eco system’ and be sustainable, we will all have to act together. Every individual and every government will have to agree to take specified actions designed to reduce pollution and reduce global warming. The argument is that, whether we like it or not, we only have a sustainable future by acting together and in the interests of our neighbors. For example, the hole in the ozone layer does not just effect Antarctica, it impacts upon the meteorological systems of the earth. The peoples and other organisms of the world form an extended ecological community within complex networks.

In a capitalist global society, the fittest have always been defined as those most able to make as much profit from others as possible.

In a sustainable global society we share with each other. The ‘winner ‘ does not take all, but shares it with the ‘losers’. Development, Conservation and Environmentalism cannot mean that we all seek the ways of living of the richest, but that we all share the resources of the globe so that we all achieve a satisfactory sustainable standard of life. It means caring and sharing.

It does mean that the rich get poorer. Wealth is redistributed for the benefit of all. It means that the rich will have to give back much of their riches to the poorer citizens so that we can all live sustainable lives.

It may mean the initiation of a steady state economy; if not, a no growth economy involving the de-growth of our profits and development in the face of ‘grow and die’.

The nature of our interdependence is such that the greed of some brings about the hunger of many others. In order to secure the greatest happiness of the greatest number, we must act in consideration of all others.

The warnings are all around us from scientists, activists, and, increasingly, from our personal experiences of climate change, with flooding in Australia; droughts in China and Russia, and other natural disasters across the world.

Economic instability is being experienced even among the relatively affluent citizens of the developed world: job insecurity, the migration of corporate capital, downsizing and unemployment are common features of our day-to day experiences. The credit crises which unfolded during 2007/8/9, triggered by the sub-prime mortgage deals in the USA, emphasize our interdependence and interconnectedness.

In many parts of the world famine and destitution are prevalent.

But despite such evidence of the need for a radical re-thinking of our global community, few contemplate changes in their lifestyle.

Social Ecology means that in order to protect the environment, and expect a sustainable future, we must alter our behavior, our lifestyles, our economics, our notions of self; our cultural filters, our priorities, our morality.

Since 1990, the UNDP, in the Human Development Reports, has emphasized that human developmental issues and the relief of poverty are key elements in the recognition of our interrelationships within our global society. It is naive, however, to assume that such  recognition actually leads to any changes.

The development of Deep Ecology and ecosophy represents one attempt to overcome these delusions. As Naess (1990 ) states: ‘Ecology is a limited science which makes use of scientific methods. Philosophy is the most general forum of debate on fundamentals. By an ecosophy, I mean a philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium. A philosophy is a kind of sophia, wisdom, and is openly normative. It contains norms, rules, postulates, value priority announcements and hypotheses concerning the state of affairs of our universe’. Thus, within Deep Ecology there is a broadening of the sphere of concern of Ecology, outlining a structure of values, which are seen, as radically different from those dominant in present societies. The central feature of difference with other types of Ecology is the merging of issues, which have previously been seen as philosophical, yet including also a requirement to action in order to effect a change in behavior. Roszak (1969) argues that what is important in the examination of a people’s mindscape is not what they articulately know or say they believe. ‘What matters is something deeper; the feel of the world around us, the sense of reality; the taste that spontaneously discriminates between knowledge and fantasy’. A notion supported by Pepper (1989) who states that: ‘It is of prime importance for us to study the real and tangible physical environment, how different groups and individuals perceive that environment and the nature of the ecologically, socially and culturally based presuppositions which color this perception, or as some express it, their cultural filter.’ If people are to alter the ways in which they behave, they are going to have to alter the ways in which they conceive their culture and traditions, and their relationships with all others, not just their family. This means that we have to think and act local and global.

The United Nations is leading the call for rethinking our political parameters and polarities. Concern for the environment, conservation, development, and ecology are not only about nature, they are calling for social changes: a social ecology, according to which we realize that we are interdependent and connected to each other, within complex networks. I want to call for rethinking our social relations; a realization of our social dependence and interdependence, and a rejection of notions of social independence, and individualism, and elitism, superiority and separatism. Within this framework, there is a continuing role for social ecology education.

1. O’Neill, D.W., Dietz, R., Jones, N. (Editors), 2010. Enough is Enough: Ideas for a sustainable economy in a world of finite resources. The report of the Steady State Economy Conference. Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy and Economic Justice for All, Leeds, UK.

2. United Nations Development Project: Human Development Report 2010 The real wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development.

3. New Economics Foundation. The Great Transition, where did our money go? 2010

4. Roszak:     The making of a counter culture 1969.

Roszak:     Where the wasteland ends 1972.

Roszak:     Eco-psychology  1995.

5. Pepper,D:  The roots of modern environmentalism 1984.

Pepper,D:  Modern environmentalism 2007.

6. Naess,A:    Outline of a Counter Culture 1990

Naess,A:    Ecology of Wisdom 2010.

22 Replies to “Richards: A Social Ecology”

  1. So wait… what are you arguing is the reason that people aren’t making changes, lifestyle and political?

  2. People are not making changes because they do not want to alter their fictions, fantasies,lifestyles,politics,morals,religions,values.
    Social Ecology involves us in a ‘revolution’ of thinking and acting.
    ‘…..we only have a sustainable future by acting together and in the interests of our neighbours.’
    ‘Social Ecology means that in order to protect the environment, and expect a sustainable future, we must alter our behaviour,our lifestyles,our economics, our notions of self,our cultural filters,,our priorities,our morality’.
    What I am trying to identify is that people deny the need for conservation; deny the mass destruction of the environment; claim climate change is a hoax; deny the need to alleviate poverty by blaming the poor; because they want to carry on as they are, putting their interests first, and denying the growing body of facts.
    And those who recognise the significance of Social Ecology, and the facts of the case, should accept all the associated changes. For example, you cannot uphold social interdependence and demand your right to do as you wish!
    Social Ecology involves changes in how we think, what we say,and what we do.

  3. Kelvyn, are you familiar with Bookchin’s debates with Deep Ecologists? If so I wonder what your perspective is on those debates. If you aren’t familiar, I think you’d find reading them worthwhile.

    I find the way that you have articulated “Social Ecology” above to be quite broad–I wonder how you would respond to questions over differing views of social-ecological political and economic institutions, for example? Do you reject the nation-state and capitalism as part of your outlook?

  4. I organise my writing according to ‘the uncertainty principle’. How can we debate and discourse on an open field about an open text, and share our ideas?
    When I am certain, then I am determined to persuade you that I am right, in which case we do not debate nor enter into a discourse, but shout loudly or insult each other and reject our ideas.
    I adopt a pluralist position according to which we examine the implications of principles for practice. If we agree that the environment is to be conserved, what are we going to do about it? If we agree that access to water is a human right, what are we going to do about it? If we agree that economic growth generates the wealth to look after our young and old, what are we going to do about the ‘rich elite’? Can we hold contrary views about the environment and the economy? and still count ourselves as a social ecologist?
    Capitalism is unjustifiable and unsustainable, according to its own principles and practices. It has enabled less than 1% of the global population to become rich. It depends upon the majority of the population being poor and willing to work for low wages.It is enabling destruction of natural resources so as to promote the interests of a plutocracy and do nothing to alleviate poverty. It is a’con’!
    The ‘nation state’ today is based upon notions of difference and supremacy and elitism, and enables the plutocracy to organise societies for their own interests while pretending to protect the rights of all citizens. It is a ‘con’!
    Of course if these systems were structured and regulated to meet the interests of all people and conserve the environment would they be justifiable?
    I have not pursued Deep Ecology as a movement as I do not accept its principles. I do accept that its practices can lead to the sustainability and conservation of nature and as such can be included as part of Social Ecology.
    Re-reading what I have written here, I conclude that what we do, our practices, our praxis, are most important. But does this mean that we can do the ‘right’ things for the ‘wrong’ reasons?

  5. I see that the ‘insiders’ of the social ecology movement in NE USA, associated with the Institute of Social Ecoloogy, choose to ignore any statements from ‘outsiders’ like me. My version of social ecology is different from that of Murray Bookchin. It started from a consideration of social interdependence, and an analysis of concepts of self, and theories of knowledge. It rejected individualism, existentialism, free will, anarchism. Social ecology is based on the facts of humans being members of complex organic communities directly involved in the survival of their environment. Social Ecology is part of the movement to remind all people that they are integral members of ‘nature’ and should be involved in the protection of the environment and climate. My paper challenges many assumptions, and needs to be answered not ignored. I do run my own web site on these issues. My most regular readers are in the Russian Federation,Ukraine, Sweden, Slovenia,the Netherlands, South Africa, the USA in Florida; Illinois; Seattle; New York; California: confirming the importance of adopting a pluralist, and multicultural stance.

  6. As only two members of the ISE have responded to my Social Ecology 1, I have been thinking in more detail about the possibilities of Social Ecology as a discourse to be taken seriously by a wider range of thinkers, students, activists. My opinion at the moment is that if it continues to be associated so closely with a discussion about political and economic systems then it becomes difficult to distinguish it from the debates and research that goes with sociology/ liberalism/ anarchism/ civics/ municipalism.
    Social Ecology 2 is an article that offers a more general environmental/ anthropological focus.


    Humans and all other organisms function in the biosphere.
    Ecology is the scientific study of the relations of living organisms with each other and their surroundings in the biosphere. Ecologists are biologists. They describe and analyse the biosphere with a view to explain the evolution of animals, how they have adapted to survive, and offer explanations of their behaviours.

    Social Ecology analyses the impact of human priorities upon the biosphere, and offers explanations about the relations between the environment, and all organic species.
    Social Ecology is normative, offering prescriptions about how humans ought to behave in relation to the environment, other species, and all extended ecological communities, so as to ensure their mutual co-existence.

    In comparison to the existence of the biosphere, humans have walked the earth less than 200,000 years – a relatively short time.Researchers in the Natural History Museum [2011] reveal that human tribes as nomads, hunters and gatherers, moved north out of Africa into the Middle East and Southern Asia; only to be stopped by the onset of an Ice Age. Humans continued west to the Atlantic Ocean, ending up in Britain; and east, ultimately reaching the Bering Straits and crossing into the Americas and traveling south. The human tribes that lived in the Mediterranean lands after 12000BC settled and farmed, ploughed and irrigated the land, and fed themselves. Their settlements by rivers, the creation of villages and towns in Israel/Jordan/Turkey after 7000BC marked the start of humans using technology, such as the wheel, and the plough, to reconstruct and modify their surroundings to make their life more predictable and more comfortable [ after ‘The Ascent of Man’, J.Bronowski].
    From 7000BC to 2011AD, humans have grown more numerous, and developed tools and processes to enable them to reconstruct the environments in the biosphere. They remain subject to the catastrophes of nature: solar flares, earthquakes, volcanoes, typhoons, cyclones, monsoons, ice and snow storms, floods, forest and grass fires, but are better able to protect themselves and predict the events.
    After 1800AD, humans began to manufacture tools of mass construction and destruction which enabled them to mine coal, iron ore, limestone; cut down trees by the thousand; grow wheat, corn, barley, rye, rice on thousands of acres – in fact, to completely transform the biosphere. As a result of these endeavors the global population of humans has risen to 6.86 billion, and is predicted to rise to 9 billion by 2050, in response to the more efficient use of water and the creation of new plants.
    Nevertheless, since 1800AD, as a result of their industrial activities, humans have become a threat to the survival of all living organisms, including their neighbors. Human societies can now create lakes by constructing dams; create new rivers by cutting channels; produce hydro-electric power; use coal to generate steam to produce electricity; cross waterways by constructing bridges; travel long distances by producing aircraft, and other vehicles; mine ores in Australia and transport it to make metal products in the USA and China and Europe; sink pipes 2 miles into the ground to bring up oil, and gas, and send it by pipeline across a continent; transport raw materials and finished products by boat across the oceans; catch fish by the ton; grow plants on thousands of acres; construct cities to house millions of people; to pass the effluent and sewage and waste in to the atmosphere, the ground, the river, the sea; to analyse ‘matter’ and reconstruct the ‘environment’. As a result of human activities the biosphere has become so polluted, that species are dying; the atmosphere is being overwhelmed by carbon dioxide and other gases; the seas over-fished and many varieties disappear.
    Human communities are no longer committed to the mutual coexistence of living organisms. They are actively involved in the destruction of other living organisms so as to ensure the survival of ‘homo sapiens’. But in the near future, humans, in some parts of the world, will face extinction because, despite the abundance of water on the earth’s surface, the lack of drinking water is the greatest threat to human survival.

    Social Ecology is concerned with Development, Conservation, Environmentalism, Sustainability, and Subsistence, in order to foster extended ecological communities in the biosphere.
    It is not the study of human behavior, nor of political systems and economic issues in the municipality, the city or the factory. These are the subjects of other social studies, such as anthropology, sociology, psychology, politics, economics, civics, law, and so on.

    Social Ecology is the study of human behavior in the biosphere.
    Social Ecology is the identification and analysis of the problems caused by human behavior in the biosphere.
    Social Ecology is the development of solutions to the problems caused by human behavior in the biosphere.
    Social Ecology is the formulation of social practices that will ensure that humans live in mutual coexistence with all living organisms.
    Social Ecology is the formulation of social policies and practices designed to allow all humans to survive and thrive.
    Social Ecology is the development of systems of governance, [social, political, economic] that will enable human communities to take decisions that promote the mutual co-existence of all living organisms in the biosphere.
    Social Ecology is the study of the ways in which humans exist in cooperation with each other, and with other species, for their mutual benefit as an extended ecological community.
    Social Ecology is the study of biological entities, with various traits, that choose different, unpredictable behaviors in order to adapt, evolve, survive, in the face of threats to their survival.
    Social Ecology will be concerned with behaviors and systems in the municipality, the city, and factory, as aspects of humans in the biosphere.

    Social Ecologists will study human behavior and climate change; the emission of pollutants and gases; the exploitation and destruction of forests, and grasslands; the exploitation and mining of ores and minerals; the destruction of species. They will formulate policies and practices to help conserve the biosphere. They will identify alternative systems of economy and politics in order to ensure that humans live in mutual coexistence with all living organisms.

  7. The relevance of political economy to ecological stability abides in the equal awareness and opportunity to formulate, implement, arbitrate, and authorize the spectrum of ethical, organizational, and scientific considerations and concerns.

    Creating time for an understanding of the problem and space for unified democracy to occur should therefore enable the majority to collectively reconstruct increasingly non-authoritarian, non-oppressive, non-violent, and non-destructive patterns of civilzation and ecology.

  8. @ Jesse
    Yes. Having identified the range and significance of ecological concerns,the political organisations can act to raise the awareness of communities as to the next steps.
    I agree that an important aspect of the social ecological approach would be to advance democratic solutions to the ecological problems facing communities . For example, in a village in the Sudan what is the best approach to ease their shortage of water? or lack of sanitation? How could the villagers limit the infiltration of oil/mineral prospectors from ‘the West’ and regain control of their tribal lands?

  9. @ Jesse
    In offering these ideas for discussion and debate, Jesse, I am trying to establish the ways in which social ecology as research, policy and practise can unite the natural sciences to help people to create states and economies that sustain the biosphere for the mutual benefit of all living organisms.
    As you say, it is important for ‘ecological stability’ to be central to political economy. If this was so, social ecology could help to formulate,implement,arbitrate,authorise, the social actions which will enable people to reconstruct societies and communities that are democratic, open, peaceful, supportive of patterns of living in the biosphere that promote ecology and civilisations.
    At the present time, international groups like the G7/G20/G70, the UN, the World Bank,the IMF, may ‘talk’ about these matters, but they do not ‘do’ anything to permanently promote ‘social ecological’ actions and policies.
    Jesse, am I taking our dialogue in the ‘right direction’?

  10. J.K,

    Pardon the vaguity of my previous remark. I was attempting to correlate the hypothesis that a condition of social justice, enabling rational public discourse, is integral to the furtherance of ecological stability, according to the very foundations of ecological thought, being the utilization of time and resources in a socially and environmentally responsible way, and thus that the liberation and rationalization of the political economy are necessarily vital precepts of social ecology itself.

  11. Jesse,
    Social justice, public discourse,ecological stability, utilization of time and resources to protect the environment, political economy,forms of democracy, are interconnected in the realisation of social ecology. Humans are part and parcel of the natural environment. Our actions can protect or disrupt all living organisms. Differences may occur according to whether the emphasis is placed on the ‘social’ or the ‘ecology’.
    Have just read your article on the Municipal economy. I will offer a comment later when I have unpacked it.

  12. Recent exchanges on this page and the ‘Municipal Economy’ page have raised issues about understanding and knowledge and communication. I want to offer an article that proposes that Social Ecology is an expression of social epistemology……….that is, knowledge and truth are the product of social learning, social interaction.

    A Social Epistemology: Knowledge and Truth
    The science, philosophy, morality of Social Ecology indicate that our social interactions, experiences, experiments, and observations, provide us with facts, and knowledge, and lead us to truths, which guide our lives, actions, perspectives, and relations with all other organisms. Social ecology is based on realism [there is something outside the mind that causes mind to know objects]; materialism [the material world, that is outside of consciousness, is primary to thought]; empiricism [sense experience is the ultimate source of all facts and knowledge]; social dependence, [resulting from interactions with others]; social constructions [the products of words and categories, languages devised by others]; and social relativity [ different communities give different significance to different objects].
    Social Ecology, as an expression of empiricism, realism, and materialism, is in opposition to the beliefs and values of most peoples in the world, today. Out of 6.86 billion people, there are 2.1 billion Christians, 1.5 billion Muslims, 900 million Hindus, 376 million Buddhists, 23 million Sikhs, 14 million Jews, along with a multitude of religious sects. These communities believe that knowledge and truth are given in their scriptures, or prophecies, or dictates of some god/ priest/ pope/ prophet/ archbishop/ oracle. For these people, the events in the world are experiences leading them to heaven or hell, salvation or damnation. They uphold that to know the truth is to know the laws of ‘God’. Knowledge and truth are given, ‘a priori’, not discovered!
    Social ecologists, on the other hand, belong to the school of ’empiricism’ according to which facts, observations, investigations, experiments, evidence, based on sense experiences are the ultimate source of all concepts and knowledge and truth. We know
    ‘a posteriori’.
    We do not come into the world already equipped with constructs and concepts, knowing facts and truths. We discover them by experience. We learn them from others. We are not born with a conceptual and language framework, we have to learn them from other adults. Knowledge and truth are not given, they are discovered. Truth is not universal; it is temporary; dependent upon the current state of our knowledge.
    Social epistemology postulates that knowledge is factive, and truth is ‘socially mediated’. We learn the facts from others and from our experiences: ‘a posteriori’.
    Social Epistemology is the study of the social dimensions of knowledge, based upon the validity of social experiences. Alvin Goldman defined it as veritistic epistemology (Philosophy of Education 1995): that propositions can be verified by evidence. Robert B.Talisse of Vanderbilt University (Episteme 2008) argued ‘that social epistemologists maintain that the cognitive individualism associated with the Cartesian tradition [I think, therefore I am] is a flawed– or at best incomplete– model for thinking about knowledge’. A full analysis of knowledge must involve an examination of the deeply collaborative and interactive nature of knowledge seeking (Goldman 1999)
    Social ecology leads us to explore the evidence, and reformulate the basis of our relationships with each other, with nature, and the environment, and the universe. Individual organisms are not independent of all others. They exist as part of nature, a matrix of extended ecological communities. Humans are not to see themselves in competition with nature or the wilderness, but as part of nature. Individual genes, and the individual organisms that they create, are cooperative, altruistic, contributing to all ecological communities. The universe is made up of particles that may oscillate as waves, and come together/or drift apart at random to form all the various objects, from suns, planets, moons, mountains, volcanoes, water, oceans, animals, plants, and so on. Organisms are collections of particles, and genes, formed at random by evolution, over millions of years. The particles are centres of energy enabling the organisms to function.
    How do we come to decide what is ‘the truth’? David Brooks, (NYT, The End of Philosophy 2009), proposed that people link themselves together into communities and networks of mutual influence. For humans, as Darwin speculated, competition among groups has turned us into pretty cooperative, empathetic and altruistic creatures at least within our families, and other groups, and sometimes tribes and nations. Humans have long lived or died, based on their ability to divide labor, help each other and stand together in the face of common threats. We don’t just care about our individual rights, but also the rights of other individuals. We are all the descendents of successful cooperators. These statements recognize the social nature of moral intuition, knowledge, and truth. This social, or what Brooks calls, emotional approach to philosophy is an epochal change. It challenges all sorts of traditions. It challenges the bookish way philosophy is conceived by most people. It challenges the Talmudic tradition, with its hyper-rational scrutiny of texts. It challenges the new atheists, who see themselves involved in a war of reason against faith.
    Social epistemology as developed by Alvin Goldman, and others, proposes that truth is factive, and that facts are socially independent. They exist, and maybe observed, experienced, explained by individuals in their communities. Facts are socially independent, and are not social constructions, and are certainly not shadows. But simple observations do not necessarily lead us to the truth e.g. the quantum explanations of the universe tell us that ‘matter’ are collections of particles and waves. While we are able to consider science as factive, and knowledge as factive, we have to accept that truth is socially mediated. What is considered truth will vary from community to community, at different times. The important aspect of both social epistemology, and social ecology, is that phenomena and experiences are socially independent facts. But different communities pay attention to some facts, and not others. What is regarded as truth by a group will be based on the values and assumptions of that group [family, community, tribe, nation, society.] What is seen as truth is filtered according to the values of multiple agents – the family, community, tribe, village, religion and so on, and may change over time. There is not a fixed truth: it alters according to the facts and values of the communities at the time.
    Social Ecology arises from the growing awareness that Nature is not independent of humans. It is dependent upon humans to survive and thrive, as humans are dependent upon nature. They are interdependent. We are nature.
    Social Ecology analyses the impact of human priorities upon the bio-sphere and offers explanations about the environment, and all species. It offers prescriptions about how we ought to behave in relation to these species so as to ensure our mutual coexistence and continuation. Social Ecology is a philosophy, a politics, and a morality.

    A.Goldman: Education and Social Epistemology, Philosophy of Education 1995.
    Robert Talisse: Toward a Social Epistemic Comprehensive Liberalism, Episteme 2008.
    D.Brooks: The end of Philosophy, New York Times, April 2009. Religions of the world. A Discourse: Social Ecology

  13. J.Kelvyn,

    All of our judgements about reality, which are interpreted or categorized as truth by ourselves and our society, could recognize a common bond or qualitative independence among themselves or otherwise remain in or enter into conflict over the source and substance of their expression.

    Those relationships which are considered, from a certain perspective, to have caused disorder or to be otherwise beneficial to society, therefore motivate humanity to be of influence among itself, however having responded and adapted to the forces and results which it encounters in the furtherance of its predetermined resolution and activity.

    In my opinion, religion itself could be considered a form of knowledge, summarizing the boundaries of space and time, historical events, and the psychological dimensions and possibilities which arise from our biological nature and phenomenal occurrence, in the case of which our beliefs result from the verification, from our experience, of the contents of scripture, as such – if not from implicit trust, much the way all learning is inculcated without question until and in order that the capacity for critical thought will have developed -, from the symbolic nature of which are derived the progression of cognitive exactness and the eventuality of prospective cultural and scientific universality.

    The foundations of social ecology, if being formulated in such a way as to accomplish and further the causes of social justice and environmental protection, should be wary of needlessly alienating or dismissing the religious traditions and other ideologies, in which the foundations of morality and societal organization are already in place, if, perhaps, needing to be broadened yet to actualize their potential within themselves, to encompass the practice of cooperative social institutions, and to acknowledge the very real interdependence of existing organisms and physical constraints of Earth’s environment.

  14. If one follows ‘Social Ecology’, it is important to realize that it is part and parcel of scientific knowledge. It is not mystical nor spiritual nor theist. As an expression of ecology/genetics/biology,and physics, it places humans as part of the evolution of species, not as a special species superior and separate from lower primates or all other animals, birds, or plants. Humans are based on quanta, particles, nuclei, elements,cells, amino acids,proteins, that combine to form all living things across time. Humans have developed the skills that enable them to study, analyse, explain the nature of the universe, and to experiment with ways of reconstructing nature so as to identify knowledge and truth based upon evidence and facts. Humans, like all living things in the biosphere, are organised into species, and exist dependent upon each other as predators or prey, families and social groups and communities, and should actively protect the balance of nature.
    I am suggesting that if you do not believe scientific knowledge, nor the evolution of species, nor the quantum world nor the interdependence of life in the biosphere then you are not part of Social Ecology.
    I accept that you may be part of some other belief or value systems that support the protection of life on earth acting in accord with the rules/dictates/prophesies of the ‘scriptures’ or of your ‘prophet’.But you will be working from another philosophy or morality.

  15. J. Kelvyn,

    First, let me start with the following assertion: religious beliefs/formulations are not inferior to scientific understanding, nor are they a substitute for it, but rather the two are mutually complicit aspects of our spiritual reconciliation of reality.

    This being said, however, let me not leave the wrong impression of you or your ideas. I have so far only glanced at your website, and it appears well worth reading, which I intend to do more thoroughly, whenever time permits. Your work as an educator, theorist, and journalist are evident of themselves.

    My only problem, if you could call it that, being more of an issue unto itself, is that the articulation of the philosophy of Social Ecology could just as easily, among the alternatives and possibilities of its expression, facilitate and allow room for religious tolerance and understanding – in that these organizations, as you have statistically documented, are an already established and well-represented partition of the existing ecology of society – in order to remain consistent with itself and to widen, as far as possible, the forms of audience which are, or could be, receptive to the common principles of its information and ideals.

  16. We are not in disagreement, Jesse.
    It is a matter of emphasis.
    If we are to work/to argue for the conservation and preservation of ‘nature’, and to urge humans to look out for the consequences of their actions on the biosphere, then we need as many allies and helpers as possible.
    I admit that many people, who are inspired by their religious and spiritual beliefs and commitments, will act to protect life in the biosphere.
    The consequences of their actions will have ecological benefits. But they are Christians/Muslims/Hindus/and so on, first, not social ecologists.
    Social ecology is not a religion; nor theology; nor spiritual. It is a social science. Followers of religion may support the objectives of social ecology, without subscribing to the scientific principles.
    Having climbed a mountain, to be at the peak, looking out across the valleys below, surveying the forests, and the ice and snow, I can be full of awe and wonderment at the prospect. It is not necessary to ‘thank god’ for the experience.

  17. Here are a few additional examples of the type of synthetic logic to which I am refering, which, in my mind, represent alternative variations of what could, nevertheless, be called, or grouped under the designation of, “Social Ecology”, if certainly not its exclusive or most fundamental form, because of which it is vital and instructive to maintain and correlate distinctive and personalized ideological renditions, including, but not limited to, the ISE, Communalism, or myself, yourself, or anyone else, in particular, specifically:

    The philosophical religion, which is artistry, utilizes and expresses all scientific facts and methodologies in a form which amplifies and subsumes their practical and psychological affectivity and merit.
    The result is a purposeful existence which ceremoniously transfuses and transfixes itself throughout the effected metamorphosis of all eternity and time.

    The practical routines of health, productivity, organization, and security constitute the temporal perserverance and advancement of creativity and life, withof and from which are derived the divine unity of spirit which characterizes the fulfillment and furtherance of the potentiality of order and transcendence, towards which consciousness is pre-conditioned and predisposed in accordance with the collective record and uncovery of the present and future occurrence of its awareness and experience.

    @J.Kelvyn; The wording of your last statement reveals that you are evoking a reverence for the phenomenal experience and perception of reality, and not so much for the idea of a creator, an experience which religious adherents would otherwise or equivalently approach through the appellation of their deity, in accordance with all the phenomenal, social, and psychological relations which are ascribed to its identity.

    You have, in effect, presented an incidence of “your” spirituality, which is a now-existing and potentialized component of an individualized religion and of a natural theology, which is both connected with and motivated from, I presume, the philosophical components of your particular conception of what were to be the exclusively materialistic foundations of Social Ecology, as a science.

    I neither expect nor intend for either of us to alter our theoretical stance towards this matter, at this time, and I hope I have not burdened you, or anyone, along the process of the recurrence and development of this contention, towards, beyond, and outside of which further progress and conclusions are entirely dependent in the fomentation of epiphany and ensuing consideration among the sum of individual and group recognitions and mentality.

  18. Jesse, we can both work for the protection and preservation of all living things in the biosphere, and to take action to alleviate world poverty, and further social justice by enacting social laws. In the natural world there are particles, waves; cells, genes, amino acids; the evolution of species and the formation of matter over billions of years and across billions of light years. There is no need for a ‘creator’. Life is a process, of which we are a part, at this time and in this space.

  19. I want to move away from debates about metaphysics and spirituality. Such themes are interesting, but metaphysics cannot be used to understand natural physics.
    It is time to refocus attentions on the relationships between individuals and groups; individual freedom and social freedom; the selfish gene and the social gene; social bonds and human sacrifice; social action and social interaction; local action and global impact.

    I am aware that within the Social Ecology movement there are groups that want to support ‘anarchy’ or ‘liberty’ or ‘free will’ or individualism and even existentialism whereby ‘hell is other people’. In opposition to these libertarian themes, I want to establish that a key element of Social Ecology is ‘Social Freedom’.
    The concept of Social freedom describes the ways in which we are all interdependent, and exercise our freedoms in relationships with/and consideration of others. We cannot survive alone. Indeed it is impossible to be alone in any meaningful way. Even in isolation we carry the ideas, images and relationships of others within our heads. We exist within a social matrix of relationships with others.
    While Richard Dawkins’ notion of the ‘selfish gene’ has been accepted by many, it has been used by them as a justification for the ‘selfish individual’,
    I want to draw attention to a selective investment theory, reported in Psychological Inquiry [2006], which focuses on explaining the kind of altruistic behavior that involves costly long-term investment in others, such as parenting, caring for the sick or injured, and protecting family and comrades in times of conflict or war. This behavior typically entails considerable sacrifice of time, effort, health, and even life itself. It is worth considering why people make these kinds of sacrifices, says Stephanie L. Brown, who developed the new theory in collaboration with her father, Michael Brown at the University of Michigan.
    They argue that the social bonds – the glue of close interpersonal relationships- evolved to discount the risks of engaging in high-cost altruism, to override self-interest and motivate costly investment in others. This selective investment theory presents a striking alternative to traditional self-interest theories of close relationships that tend to emphasize what individuals get from others, not what they give. Viewed through the lens of selective investment theory, sacrifice becomes a characteristic feature of healthy, enduring relationships rather than aberrant, inexplicable, or diagnostic of pathology. Selfish genes can produce selfless humans, says Stephanie Brown, explaining that high-cost altruism helped insure the survival, growth and reproduction of increasingly interdependent members of groups. Viewed in this way, altruism in humans is no surprise, she says and cites evidence from a wide range of fields, including neuro-endocrinology, ethology, behavioral ecology, and relationship science. The same hormones that underlie social bonds and affiliation, such as oxytocin, stimulate giving behavior under conditions of interdependence. The Browns say their theory has important implications for relationship science. ‘We do not deny that close relationships involve selfish motivation’, says Stephanie Brown, ‘but the picture may be more complex. If social bonds evolved to support altruism then we may need to re-think the way we view human sociality. Models of psychological hedonism and rational self-interest may need to be expanded in order to describe our behaviors in families, at work and even on the national stage’. All the evidence of our personal lives as children, and as adults; as pupils, friends, brothers, sisters, parents, teachers, family, workers, employers, and so on, indicate that we exist within various social networks, providing mutual support.
    However, despite these facts of dependence and interdependence, many individuals disregard this evidence, and construct personal visions in which they are free to do as they please, and exploit others for their own aggrandizement.
    The concept of Social Freedom is offered as an alternative to hedonism, self-interest, and individualism. Social Freedom involves a social epistemology based on social interaction, dependence and interdependence.
    Social Freedom recognizes the actions of individuals by drawing attention to the social networks in which they are enacted. It means that we become ‘free’ by learning and interacting with others. We cannot be ‘free’ as one, only as many. This means that we have to develop a philosophy and a morality that sees others as significant, not just figments of our imaginations or as lesser people. We act and interact together. What we do, we learn from others; and impact upon others. Once we accept our social interdependence, we can work together to secure the freedom of all, local and global: gain social freedom.
    I wish to suggest that the notion of individual freedom is a delusion. An individual human cannot exist, nor survive, nor thrive, alone. Whether we recognize it or not, our social interdependence is a social fact that gives us social freedom.
    Our social lives are a continuum in which the actions of all affect all. So there is a moral responsibility for the one, and the many, to realize their interdependence. Ignoring our interdependence has drastic consequences particularly on the environment.
    As humans are responsible for all the damage and destruction, they are responsible for conservation and renewal. All people are responsible for each other, and need to care and share; not disregard and destroy others because they have different beliefs; or look different; or speak different languages. It is necessary to adopt a different mind set, to use another cultural filter.
    Nelson Mandela, emphasized the truth of the ancient Bantu adage: ‘numuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’ (we are people through other people).And he saw the inevitability of mutual interdependence in the human condition: that the common ground is greater and more enduring than the differences that divide.
    Kofi Annan: ‘We have entered the third millennium through a gate of fire. If today, after the horror of 11 September, we see better, and we see further, we will realize that humanity is indivisible. New threats make no distinction between races, nations or regions. A new insecurity has entered every mind, regardless of wealth or status. A deeper awareness of the bonds that bind us all, in pain as in prosperity, has gripped young and old.’
    Environmental studies, and the development of social ecology, have revealed that the actions of humans in one part of the world impact directly upon those in other parts. We can no longer pretend that what we do locally has no impact globally. Social Ecology has indicated that we are all embroiled in environmental networks, and that we have to think of all humans as part of our global societies, and as active elements in the environment. Social Ecology leads us to see that we are a global community, able to act and think locally and globally.
    Once I see that I am socially interdependent on everyone, known and unknown, and that I gain any freedoms in unison with others, then, I can see the moral imperative, the social freedom, to care and share for others. I must look after my ‘sisters and brothers’. Once I give everybody else ‘value’ and recognize that they are ‘worthy’, then I must look after them and exercise our social freedom.

    Dawkins,R 1976 The Selfish Gene, OUP
    Bourdieu, 1998 Practical Reason.
    Bourdieu, 2008 The Left Hand and the Right Hand of the State, Variant, Issue 32.
    Bourdieu, 1986 The Forms of Capital
    Bourdieu, 1986
    Swanbrow.D, 2006
    Brown and Brown, 2006 University of Michigan News Service, edited by D.Swanbrow.
    Brown and Brown, 2006 Psychological Inquiry 17.
    Kofi Annan, 2001 2001
    Nelson Mandela, 1993 1993
    Kelvyn Richards 2011 Discourse: Social Ecology

  20. I want to contribute a note about ‘democracy’ and the need to open up the debates about social ecology. Democracy is a fantasy. Plutocracy is the reality.
    Taking a glance across the current pages of Social Ecology sites, [whether the Institute of Social Ecology, the New Compass, the Kommunalismi, Inclusive Democracy, Green Fuse,, Zulenet], it becomes clear that ‘direct democracy’, ‘libertarian municipalism’ and communalism are key concepts, and local democracy by all citizens, a necessary practice. One has to conclude, first, that social ecology is local democracy. The writers insist that the local government of local neighborhoods by all the local residents in local assemblies will ensure that all localities will be governed for the benefits of the local communities and their local environments. This form of direct democracy is considered to be essential for the conservation and preservation of nature, wild life, environment, and the biosphere. One can conclude, second, that local democracy is social ecology. Certainly, there is an assumption that when people are directly involved in the management and government of the municipality where they live, they will act to protect and conserve this environment. Further, it is assumed that they will not take actions that will expand growth, and exploitation. Another assumption is that these citizens have the time and the will to make decisions in the interests of all, communal, rather than the one, anarchy. In such a direct democracy, [to refer to Bookchin’s Communalist Project, 2002] the residents are enjoying and protecting ‘the good life’, self-sufficient, sustainable, with health, wealth and happiness. In the future, this may be the case across the globe. But in 2011 this is a fantasy! What is more, I wish to propose that, at this time, democracy, be it direct, local, participatory, or representative, is a fantasy. It is a cover-up for plutocracy, rule by the wealthy. In 2006, Warren Buffett asserted that ‘there’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.’ In this class war, the wealthy elite are in control of the many. The latest data indicates that 6.88 billion people [between 6.86 and 6.91] including 2.2 billion children, live on earth. The wealth reports [Forbes, CapGemini, Merrill Lynch, SundayTimes] that were issued up to February 2011 confirm that wealth is not distributed equally, and that poverty is the norm for most of the global population. ‘The good life’ is a fantasy. There are at least 5.5 billion people, each surviving on less than $10 a day, of whom 1.5 billion live in absolute poverty, trying to survive on less than $1 a day, of whom 1 billion are starving to death. Out of the total global population, perhaps 1.38 billion are living on between $11 and $274 a day, with 480 million each surviving and thriving on more than $100,000 a year, including 1211 billionaires with $4.5 trillion a year. The wealth reports confirm that we live in a world in which 10 million individuals [all of whom are known and on record] accumulated $40 trillion GDP last year, that is; $4 million a year, or $11000 a day each. The global GDP in 2010 was $59 trillion. This means that 6.879 billion people shared $19 trillion a year. Most of these people, who are found in China, India and sub-Saharan Africa, have less than $10 a day to feed their families. Fewer than 0.15% of the world’s population control most of the wealth of the world and live in a capitalist paradise! able to spend more than $11,000 a day each: that is $44000 a day for a family of four. Today, this capitalist elite of 10 million does not only live in the USA. They are to be found in the Asia/Pacific zone, of China, Japan, India, Singapore, Australia, where 3 million have $9.7 trillion; the Europe zone, including the EU, UK, Russia, where 3 million have $9.5 trillion; and the USA, with Canada and Mexico, where 3.1 million have $10.1 trillion. These zones include many of the dictators, and their families, across the world. The capitalist elite rule! The finances, economies, industries, governments of the world are controlled by 10 million ultra-rich capitalists, a global plutocracy.
    You may want to dispute the relevance of wealth to the governance of countries: And I must admit that I am assuming that wealth means power and influence, or at least provides the means to buy and bribe people in power. I would remind you that the capitalist elite do own more than 80% of the capital of the world, and so form the most significant group of investors and shareholders, and owners of the means of production. This elite of 10 million capitalists are the drivers of economic growth and development in any one region. If they are ‘upset’, they can choose to invest their money elsewhere. Newspaper reports over the last year have shown that the recent financial crises have left them relatively untouched: those in China, Japan, India, Brazil, the UK, the USA, Germany and the EU have seen their fortunes expand by up to 33%! And even where there was ‘trouble’, they have been compensated by the governments, who printed money, or paid tax revenues to them to restore liquidity. Their private debt was bought by the governments and the Central Banks. Private was made public. And the poor lost their savings and their property. Recent events in the Middle East and North Africa have revealed that the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Morocco, Jordan, Bahrain, are the fiefdoms of millionaire dictators and their families. Their exercise of absolute power has finally been challenged by the populace, for while many of the citizens of these various states have been living in absolute poverty, their leaders have been getting richer and richer, and living in absolute luxury. Their displays of luxury and imposition of repression in their police states finally triggered rebellion. The rebels have shown that if you attack the families, you attack the governments; if you get rid of the families, you get rid of the governments.
    And is this the story of the rest of the world?
    First, there is overwhelming evidence that the gap between the rich and the poor grows ever larger, and the rich elites control the so called ‘democratic’ governments of the industrial countries of the West, as well as the East. For example, the cabinets of the USA, during the presidencies of Bush and Obama, as reported by the New York Times, and the BBC, have been dominated by millionaires, and the corporations such as Haliburton, Exxon, Chevron, Alcoa, and Boeing. A report in the Wall Street Journal revealed recently that 237 members of Congress were declared as millionaires. In the UK, newspapers such as the Daily Mail, and the Telegraph, reported in 2010 that the coalition government had 23 millionaires amongst the 29 members of the Cabinet! some aristocrats, some entrepreneurs, some inherited. In Indonesia, the governing Senate of the Philippines has 23 Senators who are multi-millionaires. Recent reviews of the communist regimes in China and North Korea indicated that the rulers are drawn from the elite members of the One Party! not from the poor majorities. Since the collapse of the USSR, the government of the Russian Federation has been dominated by the ‘shenanigans’ of the ‘oligarchs’ such as Abramovitch, Khodorovsky, Medvedev, Putin. The Indian government, which has been declared the largest democracy in the world, has been accused recently of failing to curb corruption and bribery, and allowing the capitalist elite to develop projects without any regard to local interests and conditions. There is overwhelming evidence to show that ‘local direct democracy’ is at best a fantasy, and at worst a sham.

    Across the world, local and national governments are the fiefdoms of the plutocracy, and are subject to bribery and corruption. 500 years of capitalist enterprise from Queen Elizabeth I to Queen Elizabeth II has enriched less than 1% of the world’s population. Politicians’ beliefs, and financiers assurances, about the ‘trickle down effect’ of wealth is an outright con-trick! The very wealthy plutocrats organize, and legislate the decisions and laws in finance, economics, investments, profits, in the interests of their corporations, banks, funds, and families, under the protection of national governments across the world. This is not to deny that billions of people in the USA, the EU, India, Japan, Brazil, Australasia, and so forth, exercise their rights to vote in open elections….along with special interest groups who lobby and donate to the campaign funds of candidates and their parties. This is not to deny that billions of people believe in democracy. But they vote for the wealthy elite on the grounds that they are ‘the fittest’. It simply confirms that the voters are living in a fantasy. The enactment of democracy secures the power of the plutocracy!
    Are there any ways out of this dilemma? Is there an escape from this fantasy? One can step out of the system and live in an alternative community. This will leave the field open for the elitists, and it will not prevent future interference from corporate exploitation. It may be possible to redesign democracy so that societies are more equal, and the financial systems are more closely regulated and supervised so that wealth is distributed for the benefits of all. A more radical approach would be to remove the millionaire elite by disqualifying them from political institutions so as to make possible the development of local community initiatives and local democracy.
    I would like to conclude by suggesting that social ecology is more than local democracy. The work of social ecologists such as Prof. Stuart Hill and Ted Trainer in Australia, along with Gunnar Rundgren in Sweden, and Bob Spivey in Vashon, as well as Brian Tokar, has established the significant connections between human communities and plants, soil, sun, rain, climate, animals, fish, insects –the complex systems of diverse ecological communities coexisting in the biosphere.
    For example, Stuart Hill offers a provisional definition of social ecology: the study and practice of personal, social and ecological sustainability and change based on the critical application and integration of ecological, humanistic, relational, community and ‘spiritual’ values. His definition is based on his work in agricultural settings, pest control, animal husbandry, and sustainability.
    I suggest that social ecologists will study human behavior and climate change; the emission of pollutants and gases; the exploitation and destruction of forests, and grasslands; the exploitation and mining of oils, ores and minerals; the destruction of species. They will formulate policies and practices to help conserve the biosphere. They will identify alternative systems of economy and politics in order to ensure that humans live in mutual coexistence with all living organisms. ‘Local democracy’ may be part of these studies, but only so far as it allows the development of alternative practices of subsistence, sustainability, and steady state economics: a world in which we conserve and preserve the ecological communities in the biosphere.

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