Janet Biehl on the “Pioneers of Ecological Humanism”

From The New Compass, a review by Janet Biehl of Pioneers of Ecological Humanism, by University of London anthropologist Brian Morris. The book offers a comparative review of three pioneers of current ecological thought, Lewis Mumford, René Dubos, and Murray Bookchin.

Janet writes:

… the expanding capitalist order has proved itself to be unsustainable – it is the very path leading to the ecological crisis. But the alternative, the fetishization of wilderness, is untenable as well, since pursuing it would require a massive reduction in human population (neo-Malthusianism), the subordination of human aims to perceived natural ones, and a regression to a low-tech hunter-gatherer existence. The choice between these two paths, Morris argues, represents a false dilemma. There is a third way: ecological humanism, an affirmation that human beings are capable of transforming their societies so as to enhance the flourishing of both humanity and nature.

Mumford, Dubos, and Bookchin all rejected the idea of a radical dichotomy between humans and the rest of nature. All three enthusiastically embrace the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin, who demonstrated the organic link between people and other life-forms by showing that the nature of nature is evolution. Long before, in ancient times, Aristotle had emphasized the continuity between inanimate matter, plants, and animal life. But Darwin’s theory connected them all by explaining the principles by which new life-forms of life evolve and affirming that human beings are a product of that very process. People, like all other life-forms, organisms, mammals, and primates, are children of natural evolution and hence an intrinsic part of nature’s continuum of life-forms.

That said, homo sapiens is unique by virtue of its dual nature: we are social mammals as well as natural ones. Evolutionary history gave us symbolic faculties, including language, and a capacity for social cooperation and consciousness and choice. We necessarily inhabit that cultural environment as well as our biological one. Hence multiple factors – biology, society, psychology, and culture – condition us. And even though our extra-biological inheritance renders us distinct from other organisms, paradoxically it is itself a natural fact. Moreover, part of our our dual nature is creative agency. We are structured to interact with nonhuman nature, even to modify and transform it, through our labor and our imagination.

Full story is at http://new-compass.net/articles/pioneers-ecological-humanism.

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