MY PATH TO ECOCENTRISM by Ian Whyte. .
I learnt, when I was a child, with some prodding from my father, to appreciate and empathize with the wild. This further developed during my teen-age years, a process made easier by the close proximity of both the family cottage and by frequent visits to the near by Gatineau Park. As I grew older trips to Algonquin Park and other wild places (but which I now realize had already been much lessened from their original state) caused an increasing love for the wild. This process was hastened by the stark contrast between the quiet beauty of the wild and the harsh reality of its barrenness, and the noise, pavement and concrete on returning to the city. I started to ask myself how one could be so right and the other so crass, ugly and empty of value. Often I was astonished that I had voluntarily returned at all.
Years ago, I started to flower watch, more or less akin to bird watching. I came to love these elegant ephemeral lives and through them to appreciate the beauty of the Earth. Then, startlingly, the Earth started occasionally to speak to me (and, I suppose to any who would listen). There was Iris Pond, Crow Lake’s Blue Flags, Gatineau’s Firefly night, the Alvar’s Low Bindweed day, the Tim River’s Lady Slipper hill and Ragged’s shimmering light show. And the comets! I was repeatedly jolted by these messages, these brief flashes of intuition, and it slowly became obvious that, rather than being an observer, I was a participant, a part of all this. The wonder of it was that it took so long, that I had to be repeatedly knocked in the head, for me to notice, to integrate it into myself. After understanding had dawned, the realization of being part of the Earth became more internal; I was changed, and much that had been previously obscure became casually real. On the personal, emotional level, I started to feel a strong empathy, of being a part of and oneness with the Earth and Her creatures. In many ways their joy is my joy, their loss is my loss. Their needs are, in some way, my needs. In some indefinable and undescribable way, I sometimes feel, strongly at times, that we are, at least partially, an integrated whole. It became important to follow my heart, and express my love and feelings for the Earth and Her creatures.
Simultaneously, it slowly became obvious that the places of value I loved and the Earth Herself, with which I was discovering a co-identity, were being smashed by the rising twin linked juggernauts of the human population explosion and rising consumption. Incrementally, the new norm, facilitated by a moving baseline, of development, pavement and concrete was crawling across the landscape. It seemed that everywhere life and diversity was being overwhelmed by dead things and monocultured domesticates.
My many thoughts and feelings were disorganized and often at cross purposes. Early on I wrote letters to MPs, about the seal slaughter among other things. Politically my family had been Progressive Conservatives, but much that they represented I could not support, although I have retained a bit of right wing thinking. In fact I was not able to support any party as, at best, what I felt was only very partially represented by the mainstream parties. Additionally, the parties all supported some policies which I abhorred. Later, I joined groups like CPAWS and the Green Party, which all supported working within the then current system. It was not for another ten or fifteen years that I came to fully realize the futility of working within the system which was (and is) dedicated to consuming the whole Earth, until death reigns everywhere.
Sometime in the late 1980s, I met David Orton, a committed Marxist, and through him, Deep Ecology. Suddenly, all my disparate thoughts snapped into place with hardly a loose end anywhere. I instantly became a follower of the Deep Ecologcal philosophy. It made such good sense, and cleared up so much that had been obscure before. This wonderfully coherent philosophy clearly stated that all creatures have inherent value, in and of themselves, that humans were taking too much, and that things must change. Wow! In continued conversation with David (this continued until his death in 2011) I gradually came to the realization stated immediately above, of the futility of working within the system. Realization is one thing, acting on it completely another. It is hard to negate a lifetime of values, and to then strike out into completely new territory. How will one survive in the once familiar but now inimical territory? I have not yet resolved this conundrum.
David, chiefly, but aided by me and several others developed and propounded a version of Deep Ecology which included a strong commitment to social justice which became known as Left Biocentrism. It is through this lens that I see the world, or at least through which I try to see it. (Over time I’ve come to adopt the term Social Ecocentrism to mean the same thing.) We started a list serve to discuss ecocentric issues which, with a different name, continues on today.
During this time, I was fortunate also to come into a lifelong friendship with Ted Mosquin. His immense knowledge of natural history and, resulting both from it and his friendship with Stan Rowe, firm Deep Ecological convictions gave guidance to my own development. He looked at things from a different, but similar, position than did David; the meld of the two was very helpful to me. In particular, Ted helped me realize that there was an important place for collective responsibility, alongside of but different from individual responsibility. In fact that in many areas, collective is the only responsibility that counts, that can make any difference to a problem. Also, Ted was influential in my realization that there was an Earth Ethic; one merely had to look at the Earth and Her history to discern what She wanted, and one would then be able to figure out a right course of action.
There were many books which helped me on my way. Early on Thoreau’s _Walden_, Leopold’s _A Sand County Almanac_, Rowe’s Home Place and Livingston’s _The Fallacy Of Wildlife Conservation_ led the way. Slightly later came Catton’s _Overshoot_, Naess’ _Ecology, Community And Lifestyle_, Bahro’s _Avoiding Social And Ecological Disaster_ , Abram’s _The Spell Of The Sensuous_, and later, Livingston’s _Rogue Primate_. Of course there were many others, but these are the ones I particularly remember.
So, I regard my arrival at an ecocentric viewpoint as resulting from three things: a fortunate life, both in childhood and in adulthood with enough time spent in wildish places, some good teachers and acquaintances, and a few classic books.
Production and consumption are equal evils
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Bio of Author, Ian Whyte: I am a great-grandfather. Philosophically, practically and morally, I tend to follow the tenets of Deep Ecology and Ecocentrism. I came to support these positions as a result of understandings informed by a life-time spent as an amateur field naturalist.