Green Web Bulletin #73
My Path to Left Biocentrism: Part VIThe Impact of September 11th:
Fundamentalism and Earth Spirituality
by David Orton
"The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full
of passionate intensity."
W. B. Yeats (1)
Religious fundamentalism and economic fundamentalism are serious threats facing the
world, deep ecology, and our efforts to address the ecocrisis. We have to try and
understand these fundamentalisms and how they relate to each other. This is what this
essay is about.
Fundamentalism in a religious sense seems to mean going back to religious
within a particular orthodoxy of religious thought and using such basic religious beliefs to
guide thinking and engagement in all aspects of contemporary life. Often there is an
obsessive preoccupation with ritual practices and religious scriptures. For the religious
fundamentalist, such behaviour brings favour or blessedness in the eyes of the particular
god/divinity of which one is a follower. There is often an intolerance, and sometimes
hatred, directed towards "non-believers", those outside this frame of reference, or those
who claim allegiance to what is understood to be a competing religion. There is a
willingness to impose, if necessary by force, the religious fundamentalist doctrines. There
is a certainty of the "believer" and a refusal to seriously consider competing ideas of what
may be called "the good life." Fundamentalism provides "security" in a religious
conformity. It is also a refuge when cultures are falling apart. There are Christian, Jewish,
Islamic, Hindu and other religious fundamentalisms. This bulletin is particularly focussed
on Islamic fundamentalism, because of September 11th and its aftermath.
Economic fundamentalism is the attempt to impose, if necessary by force, ones
economic model on the world. Economic options are precluded. A basic economic
fundamentalist belief is that the economy controls all aspects of society. Societies are
not seen as having a variety of economic options to choose from, nor is there the belief
that society should control the economy. Economic fundamentalism also contains a
world view of how humans relate to each other socially, and how humans relate to the
natural world. The ideological selling of U.S. economic fundamentalism, a concern of this
bulletin, downplays the economic aspect, which is primary, but speaks expansively of
"freedom," "democracy," "individual initiative," etc. and directly links this to a "market
economy," the code for capitalist economy and private property. There is also a
socialist/communist variant of economic fundamentalism with a different ideological
package, although the relationship to the natural world, apart from the question of
"ownership," would be basically the same. Economic fundamentalism-U.S. style is
clearly more of a threat to the well being of the planet and its diverse inhabitants than
any form of religious fundamentalism.
Anti-globalization forces around the world had been growing steadily in
to an imposed economic fundamentalism, as in Canada prior to September 11th. Now,
opposition to corporate globalization can increasingly expect savage repression, along
with McCarthyite "terrorist" smearing. In this new climate of repression, the anti-
globalization movement will be targeted. Many of us will eventually be considered
terrorists or will be classified as the newly defined "fellow travellers" of alleged terrorists.
"Terrorist" has now replaced "communist" as a hate/threat term used to justify increased
military spending and star chamber-like new internal national security legislation.
Deep ecology-influenced opponents of globalization, who have taken up the
the Earth and its millions of nonhuman organisms, as well as social justice concerns, face
new political realities after September 11th, in their work of trying to reverse the
ecological crisis. Ecocentrists -- supporters of left biocentrism and deep ecology are now
being "squeezed" by Islamic and U.S. economic fundamentalism. Both of these two
fundamentalisms oppose and are antagonistic to the goals of the deep ecology movement.
We see that, as the Earth's environment becomes increasingly unstable, so
economies of countries. All "civilizations" have been Earth-destructive, although
"Western" civilization has been pre-eminent in this regard. (Doesn’t "civilize" also mean
to turn the natural world into a human construct?) The anti-globalization movement must
have an alternative vision to that of a global industrial society, and search for a
sustainable human culture, where we can live in harmony with the Earth and non-human
life forms. It cannot be just more of the same, only now "controlled from below" and
with some concern for the environment and social justice spliced in. This bulletin is a
contribution to the emergence of such an alternative vision.
This essay discusses the new political realities from the perspective of left
that is, a "left" theoretical tendency of anti-industrialism and anti-capitalism informed by
Earth-supporting ideas, within the ecocentric deep ecology movement. Left biocentrists,
using the "ecosophy" language of Arne Naess, are trying to formulate an ecosophy
which combines ecocentric/biocentric values and imperatives with social justice values
which draw from the various traditions of the left and other traditions. However, we do
not support social justice issues which harm the Earth. Ecocentric values are the cement
in this evolving synthesis, which is a work in progress. My analysis in this bulletin should
be considered that of one left biocentric voice, although informed by discussions with
other left biocentrists.
Left biocentrism subscribes to deep pluralism (2). This is totally opposed to
"universalism" (3) or monism of any fundamentalist religion or other forms of
conventional "fundamentalist" thinking. Struggle, criticism, contention are all essential
for the evolution of ideas. The belief that only one thing matters or is true or right, is
basically destructive. (4)
The attack on the World Trade Center in New York City and on the Pentagon on
September 11, 2001, by people/organizations motivated by Islamic fundamentalist
religious beliefs and critical of U.S. foreign policy, has led to an ongoing response by
various governments which is changing all of our lives, as we see here in Canada. For
historic parallels, one could think of the burning of the German Reichstag in the 30s
and what this did for the consolidation of Nazi power. The targeting of Jews under the
Nazis has some parallels with the new targeting, or racial profiling, of those Muslims
of Middle Eastern descent in our own societies in Canada, the United States and
Europe. The U.S. has essentially imposed its simplistic, Manichean (5) George W.
Bush doctrine -- "you are either with us or with the ‘terrorists’" -- on all of us. This
new imperialist doctrine, following previous past U.S. hegemony assertions like the
Monroe Doctrine of 1823 and the Truman Doctrine of 1947, is the most far reaching.
It declares that states anywhere, as well as individuals and organizations, are under
the U.S. sphere of influence. There is no neutrality or opting out. But for those in any
way informed about the world we all live in, this is an unacceptable and quite obscene
"Terror" and "terrorist" have been redefined in this new
era, to exclude the state
terrorism of the United States, with its many past overt and covert interventions against
those countries deemed hostile to their interests, or to exclude Israel, with its state-
sanctioned assassination policy against Palestinians, not to speak of the demolition of
Palestinian houses, destruction of olive groves and orchards, etc. It is not, apparently,
considered ecological terrorism against the rest of the world, that the Bush
administration not only refuses to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse
gases, but calls for increased fossil fuel consumption within its homeland. Isn’t this a
manifestation of a U.S. economic fundamentalism, such as "the U.S. lifestyle is not up
for negotiations," the cost of which is also being imposed on the rest of the world, as
eventually on the people of the United States themselves? The U.S., with about five
percent of the world's population, now contributes about twenty five percent of the
world greenhouse gas emissions. Even signing on to the Kyoto Protocol does not begin
to address the real reductions in green house gases needed as outlined by the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, e.g. a sixty percent plus reduction, just to
stabilize the climate, so that it stays hospitable to all life, including human life. It appears
that the (U.S.-established) "anti-terrorist" coalition also has to close their eyes to the U.S.
repudiation of a small-arms treaty; to their refusal to support an international criminal
court, and to the promise to withdraw from the anti-missile treaty with Russia. But it has
become clear that the U.S. is prepared to intervene unilaterally anywhere in the world in
defense of what are seen as its own interests, even without the support of other countries.
The U.S. administration has also used what happened on September 11th to
freeze the world political status-quo in its favour. There are apparently no more liberation
struggles, only officially sanctioned repressions. All oppositional activity which has a military
component is declared "terrorist." This is of course to deny the U.S. its own history of
taking up arms to fight British colonialism. Is social change now over?
The term terrorist can be used to re-define some people as non-persons who
all rights, and against whom anything can be done. We see this with the sensory-
deprivation treatment accorded the U.S. prisoners captured in Afghanistan and who
were declared as "unlawful combatants," at the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba,
appropriately named "Camp X-Ray." The transfer of Afghanistan-taken prisoners to
such a base illustrates the contempt that the United States displays towards the
sovereignty of other countries. As well, it is a deliberate provocation towards Cuba,
designed to make life difficult for Castro.
What September 11th forces us to confront in theoretical work, is the emergence
in basically every major religious tradition in the late 20th century, not just in Islam, of
an ecologically ignorant, intolerant, human-centered literalist piety, which we now refer
to as fundamentalism. Thus some Jewish fundamentalists, whose thinking seems to
increasingly influence Israeli state policies claim for example: "In the Torah, God
promised the land to the descendants of Abraham, and thus gave Jews a legal title
to Palestine." (6) In 1994, the prime minister of Israel, Yitzak Rabin was assassinated
by a Jewish fundamentalist. The three Abrahamic faiths -- Judaism, Islam and
Christianity -- all seem to say in some sense, "we are special", i.e. chosen in the eyes
of their one particular God, and hence "better" than those outside the particular
religion. As Karen Armstrong has pointed out in her book The Battle For God,
"Fundamentalists have no time for democracy, pluralism, religious toleration,
peacekeeping, free speech, or the separation of church and state." (7)
Another view of fundamentalism, without the negativity of Armstrong, comes
The Religions of the World: "Fundamentalism offers a structure and a world
view that gives the poor and marginalized a way to take control of some
aspects of their lives." (8) This bulletin believes that to undercut religious
fundamentalism requires rectifying this poverty, marginalization, and injustice. As
point 4 of the ten-point Left Biocentrism Primer notes:
"Left biocentrists are concerned with social justice and class issues,
but within a context of ecology. To move to a deep ecology world, the
human species must be mobilized, and a concern for social justice is a
necessary part of this mobilization. Left biocentrism is for the
redistribution of wealth, nationally and internationally."
Based on my own readings, I have come to believe that Islam, as a religion,
in any way Earth-centered -- the needed foundation for a new ecological ethics.
Left biocentrists believe that humans must express their solidarity with all life, not
just human life under a monotheistic God.
Islam, which has a past going back to the prophet Mohammed in the seventh
century, has a great concern for social justice, as shown for example in the mandatory
tithing/paying tribute, known as the Zakat, for all Muslims. This is usually 2.5 per cent
of income and capital given each year to the poor. There are also statements from the
Koran against alcohol, usury and gambling. From an anti-globalization perspective,
an Islamic concern with social justice could give a basis for criticizing the policies of
institutions like the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank. Some Islamic
countries have no-interest based banking and among Muslim communities, there are
alternative banking arrangements. Islam has also provided a religious world view for a
critique of a secular, individualistic/hedonistic Western lifestyle -- both sexual and
social, and U.S. foreign policy. The Islamic dress code is one of modesty for men and
women. A positive aspect of fundamentalism is that it is a critique of the soullessness
of Western materialism and lack of morality. This needs to be incorporated into an
But Islam is a total way of life and not just concerned with matters of
in Arabic means to submit. So a Muslim submits to God and lives in the way God
intended. Every Muslim has to pray five times a day, facing the direction of Mecca.
The Koran is considered the foundation on which all other knowledge rests. It is a
totalizing world view. Jason Elliot's 1999 book, An Unexpected Light: Travels in
Afghanistan, based on travels when the Soviet Union was directly involved and
under Taliban rule, show a society basically very kind and hospitable to strangers.
Yet a fundamental question raised in that society, is whether or not a person is a
Muslim, that is, whether someone is "close to Islam." (9) Islam becomes a
With its traditional view of absolute truth in religious matters, Islam is
programmed to intolerance towards other religions. (We should not forget the
intolerance of Christianity, the past massacres of Jews and Muslims by the Crusaders
in Jerusalem, or the "option" offered to Muslims and Jews in the Spain of 1499, of
conversion or deportation.) Polytheism -- not worshipping the God of the Koran
alone -- is a major sin under Islam. It is also misogynist: "Men are superior to
women," as a reading of Chapter 4 in the Koran on "Women" shows. (10) The
Koran, written in Arabic, is regarded as God's speech. There are over one billion
Muslims in the world but less than a quarter of them speak Arabic. (11) In all the
principal Western countries, there are Muslim populations with various ethnic origins.
Law ranges in Muslim countries from the purely secular; through a hybrid
combining European-based legal structures with Islamic law; to a pure form of Islamic
law based on the Koran, the recorded sayings and actions of the prophet
Mohammed and the interpretations of Islamic scholars. Islamic "modernizers," in their
mimicry of the West (as in the past in Turkey, Iran, Algeria and Egypt), basically
attacked Islamic religious practices. As Karen Armstrong notes in her Islam: A Short
History: "In the Muslim world secularism has often consisted of a brutal attack
upon religion and the religious." (12)
This secularization has also been associated with foreign domination and
In the same History, Armstrong speaks of the impact of the creation of the State of
Israel upon Muslims:
"In 1948 the Arabs of Palestine lost their homeland to the Zionists,
who set up the Jewish secular state of Israel, with the support of the
United Nations and the international community. The loss of Palestine
became a potent symbol of the humiliation of the Muslim world at the
hands of the Western powers, who seemed to feel no qualms about the
dispossession and permanent exile of hundreds of thousands of
More generally, because of foreign domination and colonization, the wearing
veil and chador for women or the fez for men, is often seen as an Islamic statement
against an imposed, religiously intolerant Western secularization. Other contemporary
Islamic "modernizers", as in Saudi Arabia, invoke the name of Islamic law (the
Shariah) in the puritanical Wahhabi movement -- stoning for adultery, cutting off the
hands for theft -- while supporting an obscenely corrupt ruling class lifestyle and
repressiveness towards ordinary citizens (particularly women, who for example, are
not allowed to drive cars). All this while the Saudis supply oil for a non sustainable
industrial capitalist lifestyle in the West. The need for inexpensive oil overrides most
moral considerations for the United States, in its basic attitude towards Islamic oil-
Islamic countries like Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia have provided support
the foreign policy objectives of the United States. In 1981, Egyptian president Anwar
al-Sadat was assassinated by fundamentalists because of his policies. Saudi Arabia,
which is home to the two most holy cities in Islam, Mecca and Medina, has U.S.
forces permanently stationed in the country. Every Muslim is expected to make a
pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the Hajj. This is one of the five obligatory practices,
known as the Pillars of Islam. Perhaps it is not so strange then, that Saudi Arabia also
seems to have been a recruitment country for many of those involved in the Trade
Center/Pentagon attack. Turkey has U.S. military bases, which have been used
against fellow Islamic countries Iraq and Afghanistan. All these factors listed, plus the
awareness that of the major religiously influenced cultures, Islam has been less
impacted by irreligion, make a "return to the real conservative Islam" a rallying cry.
This provides some kind of ongoing social base for fundamentalism.
Thus, there are real grievances in the Islamic world: depletion of its oil
corruption and lack of basic democracy in many Islamic countries - Persian Gulf states
ruled by "royal" families (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates);
the treatment of Iraq by the West; the situation of the Palestinians, who face a
militarized, systematic and brutalizing occupation by the Israeli state, and who have yet
to see a basic equality between Arabs and Jews; and the subservience of countries
like Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to U.S. foreign policy, etc. There
will be no social peace unless these grievances are addressed. If they are not, there
will be a permanent Lesser Jihad (14) directed at the devil without, that is, the United
States and those countries identified as in its foreign policy shadow. The West must
also be weaned off oil. (The U.S. imports about 60 percent of its oil from the Middle
East.) We can see that the simplistic Bush doctrine, behind which much of the world
is being mobilized, has little to do with past or current Islamic realities.
Those of us, like myself, who do not participate in any organized religion,
accept that for countless millions of people in this world, whether they are Islamic,
Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Taoist, Baha’i, etc., their religions give
them a "faith" which provides an ethical ordering of their lives. Of course, there are
countless examples where particular faiths can also provide a set of beliefs expressing
hostility towards those who share another faith or are non-believers. Despite what
deep ecology supporters see as the overwhelming ecological crisis, this religious
ordering of lives will not change in the short term. This means that we have to work
with religiously driven people who show some ecological sentiment, in order to try
and bring an ecocentric world view into their human/god-centered universe. We need
to be sensitive to those particular religious beliefs which may assist us. Religion may
well be "the opiate of the masses," but this perspective will not help us out of the
ecological crisis, the primary concern for supporters of deep ecology.
I believe that those influenced by deep ecology necessarily incline towards
relativism (15) and away from judgementalism. A belief in the flourishing of human
cultures parallels or goes hand-in-hand with a deep ecology belief in maximum
Economic Fundamentalism - U.S. Style
While the U.S. may show a consumerist pluralism in culture and lifestyles, it has a
rigid fundamentalism in economic matters, which it endeavours to impose on the rest of
the world. Its name is industrial capitalism. It is human- and corporate-centered and
considers all of Nature as a supply of "resources" for human utilisation. A pre-
September 11th visit to Toronto, Canada, by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney,
illustrated this. He announced that his country needed all the energy -- oil, gas, coal --
that Canada could make available and spoke of the need for more oil exploration in
the U.S., the need to build "hundreds" more coal-fired generating stations, and
"revisiting" the construction of nuclear power stations. He is quoted as saying:
"Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is all by itself not a sufficient
basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy."
A U.S. government fundamental belief is that the natural world has to be
into private property. "Democracy," for U.S. economic fundamentalism, excludes
non-human life forms, as well as real public participation, and is ideologically linked
with a market economy. Government is there to facilitate corporate growth, not to
mainly intervene for citizens. Corporate well-being is seen, through a latter-day
Malthusian belief, as being able to provide for citizen well-being in a spill-over fashion.
This economic fundamentalism rests on rigid beliefs in the endlessness of economic
growth and an ever increasing consumerism, and a belief is that there is essentially
only one economic model, which has been developed in the U.S. for the rest of the
world. According to this model, "international competitiveness" is considered the
indicator of a society's health. To meet this competitiveness, social and environmental
standards are sacrificed. All countries must aim to have balanced budgets, no trade
barriers, low inflation, minimum labour standards, minimal environmental regulations,
maximum mobility for capital, etc. The U.S. operates as if it is the center of the human
universe. The economy is considered to govern the society. Through various global
economic institutions such as the World Trade Organization, the International
Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the United States attempts to impose on other
countries what has become known as "The Washington Consensus":
"Led by American business interests, the free-market doctrine
would eventually force most governments in the world to give up
controls on foreign investment, liberalize trade, deregulate their
internal economies, privatize state services, and enter into head-
to-head global competition." (16)
This economic fundamentalism is "bi-partisan" and is followed by
Democratic administrations. Both administrations are "imperial" in that they take for
granted U.S. world leadership. As the "ecological" Al Gore, former Democratic
vice-president, expressed it in his book Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the
Human Spirit: "The United States has long been the natural leader of the
global community of nations." (17) The economy, in this form of fundamentalism,
overrides any ecological considerations, and Gore expresses this quite well:
"Who is so bold as to say that any developed nation is prepared
to abandon industrial and economic growth? Who will proclaim
that any wealthy nation will accept serious compromises in comfort
levels for the sake of environmental balance?" (18)
U.S. economic fundamentalism -- that is "trade over all," and that
flow to US corporations -- needs a large military arm to maintain, through intimidation,
its world economic hegemony. To facilitate the raising of military funds, an external
enemy is extremely useful. Here again is the Democrat Gore: "Opposition to
communism was the principle underlying almost all of the geopolitical strategies
and social policies designed by the West after World War II." (19) According to
the International Action Center, led by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark,
as reported in the Earth Island Journal, the United States has organized the
overthrow of more than 50 governments since the end of World War II. (20)
The U.S. is not without an influential Protestant fundamentalism, pushing a
"sovereignty of the divine." This fundamentalism has had a strong influence within the
Republican Party, and within the anti-abortion and anti-public school movements.
The religious invocation on many politicians’ lips of "God bless America," has been
heard frequently amid the patriotism unleashed by the events of September 11th.
Today, a new external threat to replace communism has presented itself within
United States. This is the faceless "terrorist." We are told by Bush that they exist in
large numbers around the world, in many countries, and also internally in North America.
Apparently, there is lots of U.S. military work to be done. There has been a large
increase in military spending in the U.S., with spill-over in other "coalition" countries like
Canada. This, plus serious movement towards an internal security emphasis, seems to
have fascist echoes.
Canada: Institutionalization of Repression
As a taste of things to come, pre-September 11th anti-globalization protests in
Canada had been met in the streets by a police power that was high on intimidation and
low on tolerance. The police were sometimes dressed in space-age type uniforms, and
were prepared to unleash "crowd control" measures like tear gas, pepper spray, rubber
bullets, water cannon, snatch squads, etc. and act in ‘unlawful’ ways against essentially
non-violent demonstrators. After September 11th, the Canadian government, using the
basic legitimation of supporting "our biggest trading partner" has fallen over itself in its
haste to comply with U.S. demands. We see the country moving increasingly towards a
police state. This is pursued under the banner of fighting terrorism, but the opponents of
globalization are also in the gun sights. According to Canadian government material:
"About 87 percent of Canada's exports go to the United States, while 25 percent
of U.S. exports come to Canada. Trade between the two countries amounts to
$1.9 billion every day." (21) Such an orientation must be changed not only for
ecological reasons, but this cross border movement of economic goods can only make
us a satellite of the U.S. They use this trade dependency as leverage against Canada to
erode our country's sovereignty.
The lock step compliance in Canada with the U.S., is defended nightly on news
by Canadian politicians who ooze moral decay and ‘compete’ among themselves in
abandoning national interests. There seem to be no critical questions directed at the
United States from governing Canadian politicians. Canada has given up its traditional
(though not without its contradictions) foreign policy role of third party "peacemaker/
broker." It now has troops in Afghanistan, fighting under U.S. command. Canadian
border controls, immigration policy, airline security etc., are being "harmonized" with
U.S. requirements. We are now a very junior partner of U.S. imperialism. This is not
the country which, in the past, defied the U.S. to have relations with China and Cuba.
The Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-36), which passed on
2001 with minimal debate in Parliament, by a vote of 190 against 47, is a mind-numbing
186 pages long. This bill is complex, broadly defined, and sweeping in its powers, with
severe penalties. It gives whole new powers to legal authorities. This bill illustrates that
the State, when it feels threatened, is quite prepared to override what are seen as basic
democratic rights, in the name of "national security." Bill C-36 overrides/amends various
other acts such as the Canada Evidence Act, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the
Access to Information Act, etc. Other recent acts which restrict basic democratic
rights in various ways are Bill C-35 (An Act to amend the Foreign Missions and
International Organizations Act), which expands the definition of foreign officials in
Canada who can receive diplomatic immunity and which therefore has implications for
anti-globalization protesters; Bill C-42, which is concerned with airline and airport
security; and Bill C-44, which requires Canadian airlines and reservation services to
provide information to the United States and other governments. Bill C-42 lets the
Minister of Defence create military exclusion zones in Canada which could be used to
prevent anti-globalization protests.
This is, in part, how "terrorist activity" is defined in the Bill
C-36, the major anti-
"an act or omission, in or outside Canada,
(I) that is committed
(A) in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose,
objective or cause, and
(B) in whole or in part with the intention of intimidating the public, or
a segment of the public, with regard to its security, including its
economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic
or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act,
whether the public or the person, government or organization is inside
or outside Canada..." (22)
It is clear from the above definition, that "security" for the average Canadian citizen is
defined as being forever status-quo. Moreover, all recognized foreign governments are
now considered the only legitimate ones. We know that as well as the U.S., Britain,
France, Germany and Canada being on board with the so-called anti-terrorist legislation,
so are Russia and China. This shows the essential unity of industrial-type societies and
that the capitalist-socialist continuum has been superseded by new realities.
Reading through this Act, it becomes clear that the government can do
regarding snooping or spying on its citizens, for example, intercepting private
communications or monitoring electronic transmissions. But if a citizen seriously
opposes this, then see the anti-terrorist law come down hard. Dissent is becoming
criminalized. Under this Act, police can commit crimes when they are conducting
investigations, and they can make preventative arrests of persons they deem suspects.
Even communicating information about economic matters ("trade secrets"), can be
defined as a crime subject to a ten-year jail term. Citizens can be compelled to testify
and incriminate themselves, in court, in matters defined as of national security
importance. The niceties of bourgeois legalities can now be dispensed with, including
the previous right to confront ones accusers. In addition, the public can be excluded
from open court for various reasons. This is what the legislation says on this last point,
which is defined in an open-ended manner:
"Any proceedings against an accused shall be held in open court,
but where the presiding judge, provincial court judge or justice, as
the case may be, is of the opinion that it is in the interest of public
morals, the maintenance of order or the proper administration of
justice, or that it is necessary to prevent injury to international
relations or national defence or national security, to exclude all or
any members of the public from the court room for all or part
of the proceedings, he or she may so order." (23)
Companion legislation to the above in other countries are the U.S. Patriot
the UK Terrorism Act. As regards the human species, what the anti-terrorist legislation
shows is that under industrial capitalism, there are no permanent basic democratic rights
or human rights which cannot be extremely curtailed or eliminated, given the requisite
state-defined emergency. This is an important lesson of September 11th. If we want to
continue to do deep ecology work we need the space to do this. Pastor Martin
Niemoeller's famous quote is highly relevant for these increasingly repressive times:
"In Germany the Nazis came first for the Communists, and I didn't
speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the
Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they
came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I
wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and
I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came
for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak for me."
Earth Spirituality (24)
"Left biocentrism holds that individual and collective spiritual
transformation is important to bring about major social change,
and to break with industrial society. We need inward transformation,
so that the interests of all species override the short-term self-interest
of the individual, the family, the community, and the nation."
- Point 6 of the Left Biocentrism Primer
Neither religious fundamentalism, nor the economic fundamentalism of the
States globalization model can contribute to resolving the ecocrisis, that is, building
a new respectful relationship to the natural world. Both these fundamentalisms take us
away from the concern with a needed Earth spirituality.
Most left biocentrists see a need to re-sacralize Nature, similar to past
hunter-gatherer societies, whereas religious fundamentalists, at least from the Abrahamic
tradition, who are god- and human-centered, want to sacralize human society. Nature is
not part, in any significant way, of the fundamentalism to be found in Islam, Judaism or
Christianity. Procreation, for example, not the deep ecology concern for voluntary
population reduction, is part of these three fundamentalisms.
Left biocentrists are struggling to see how to move beyond and repudiate the
"commodification" of Nature which has occurred under industrial capitalism, a prime
component of the world-wide ecological crisis. We see that before Nature could be
commodified, it had to be disenchanted. (The human/corporate concern with
"intellectual property rights," part of the world-wide spread of economic globalization,
is the latest manifestation of this commodification.) We are trying to unfold some kind
of "postmodern" transcultural understanding of the sacred. We are interested in what
will lead people to a new, non-exploitive engagement with the Earth.
Deep ecology supporters consider the natural world as being part of
have to be enveloped in the natural world. There are determining ecosystem constraints
on humans. We need to have a mode of being where we as humans are part of two
worlds: the natural and human worlds. Then the natural world will be defended and
protected and will be able to continually renew itself. Most people will not trash what
they consider sacred. This perhaps is the Self-realization which deep ecology talks
about. It was the industrial capitalist economy which finally broke this connection of
being part of two worlds. Nature became "resources" and hence commodities. We
need to rediscover how to live in a spiritual and cyclic relationship with the Earth,
where humans do not have a taken-for-granted dominance over the natural world.
This is what is called an "intuition" in deep ecology, because it cannot be rationally or
scientifically proven, although it is based on past indigenous historical experience over
many thousands of years. In such societies, the basic idea is that the Earth is alive and
that plants and animals have their own intrinsic values and spirits. This acts as a form
of restraint on human exploitation. (There is an anomaly here: the "extinctions," which
indigenous peoples were responsible for in the Americas, Polynesia, New Zealand
and Australia, as the historical record seems to show.) For deep ecology supporters,
the well being of the Earth is primary, and human well-being is important, but
Traditional religions in the main, apart from some minor counter-currents,
unsatisfactory in unfolding any Earth-centered ethics. Most left biocentrists want people
to be spiritually, or otherwise intimately involved with Nature, because it seems that it is
only through such a consciousness change, that we can end the ecological Apocalypse
that we face. (Some supporters of left biocentrism do not agree with the concern with
For all organized religions, in a period of history such as this one, where
the need for
an Earth-centered ethics is becoming part of the thinking of many, the important question
comes up, "is there a role for eco-religion?" Can the non-human world, in any central
way, be part of the religious celebration, or will this always be a back eddy, even if
important for its eco-practitioners? Are organized religions, particularly the Abrahamic
ones of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, destined forever to be part of that famous
"dominion" over the creatures of the Earth, notwithstanding people like Saint Francis
of Assisi or their more contemporary counterparts like Thomas Berry? The Vedic
religions -- Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism -- have offered ecological promise for
some supporters of deep ecology, with beliefs in the cyclic nature of existence without
beginning or end; in egalitarianism; in non-violence; and in reincarnation, with the belief
that the soul or essence of an individual reappears in other bodies -- not necessarily
human; and the view that the Divine is to be found in all that exists. In Buddhism there
is an emerging environmental tendency, called "Engaged Buddhism."
Gandhi, a Hindu and a vegetarian, has been a role model for some ecocentric
including Arne Naess. He sought to enter a state of desirelessness or higher awareness,
while retaining the urgency of the activist for radical change. For Gandhi, one turns
inward for spiritual purity before turning to an outward path, and one must be prepared
to die for ones beliefs. He rejected modern industrialism and had moral authority, which
any change agent must have. But his world view was social and human-centered, not
Most left biocentrists would agree with the following position put forward by
Preece, in his book Animals and Nature, about the necessity for a spiritual
"All cultures think of their own interests first and only a spiritual
education dedicated to a sharing of identities with other peoples,
other animals, and nature as a whole can diminish the
environmental destruction we face. It can be diminished by our
being educated to share our identity with the natural world and
thus understand it as a part of ourselves." (25)
The re-sacralization of Nature should be seen as spiritual, not
"religious" as in
organized religions, with their institutional structures. We need to reorient to knowing,
not changing the world around us, as did past aboriginal peoples. We need to bring
back the notion that animals and plants, along with rocks, oceans, streams, and
mountains, and not just humans, have spiritual/ethical "standing." One of the forms
of interaction that has evolved within deep ecology to challenge human-centeredness
and to bring about more spiritual involvement with Nature, and to try to reach out to
the identification and solidarity with all life, is the Council of All Beings. People
gathering in the Council try to be a voice for other life forms, such as plants and
animals, and for the wind, rivers, mountains, etc. Each person speaks before the
other members of the Council, of how humankind has impacted upon them.
Participants often find this a very moving, powerful, and mind-expanding experience.
The events of September 11th and their continuing aftermath have been discussed
in this bulletin as the negative sides of fundamentalism -- both in a religious sense and
in the application of the U.S. economic and political model to the rest of the world. I
have also contrasted this fundamentalism with, and outlined the need for an Earth
spirituality, if we really want to change our ecocidal path.
The big question of "why?" after September 11th, has lead
millions of people to
look at religious fundamentalism, at world misery and injustice, and at the foreign
policy of the United States and its allies with new questioning eyes. This is excellent.
It has helped break through the collective amnesia of mass consumer society. More
and more people will come to see that the fundamentalism of Islam or the economic
and political fundamentalism of the U.S. precludes options. Then they will realize it is
not possible to ecologically "reform" industrial capitalism, an oil-based imperialist
form of human organization.
Any deeper environmental activist in Canada or the U.S. knows that exploitive
ecological behaviours, whether in the forests, fisheries, or in agriculture, or in other
land- or marine-based areas, seem incapable of resolution. The major reason seems to
be that the commercial interests involved in these behaviours always maintain that what
they are doing is benign and without major ecological consequences. Government
regulatory agencies usually concur, and the media, controlled by corporate advertising,
spread the paymasters’ views. There is no other economic model in the usual
discussions around these matters, except that of more ecologically destructive growth.
Industrialists discount the costs to Nature and the ongoing degradation of the basis of
all life. They also discount, that is, ignore the human costs, e.g. clear cut forests
eliminate logging jobs. We need a return to Earth spirituality -- the end of treating
Nature as a "resource" and of treating people as disposable.
September 11th has introduced a "diversion" (welcomed by the
destroyers), which will increase the stress on the Earth and all its creatures, and target
the many people working for social justice causes. Societies which call themselves
"democratic" are destroying the Earth and trampling citizens into the ground. The forces
of corporate control, along with their government and military allies, have used
September 11th to increase social control through the anti-terrorist laws. Now it will
become seditious to actively oppose and try to shut down corporate globalization.
There will be many more military interventions and increased repression within the
"home" military countries. Because of increased military spending, this will "bump"
spending for social concerns. "Collateral damage" from military action will be not only
civilians, but also unrecorded plant life and wildlife as in Afghanistan, plus the
increased toxic pollution of many new areas of the Earth.
This is a time of increased jingoism, of "proving" ones loyalty, of
black and white,
of "them" and "us," but it has nothing to do with Islamic realities, those of the U.S., the
realities that the rest of us face, or the Earth's realities. A global view that only
recognizes the "role model" of North America or Western Europe is a recipe for
ecological and social disaster for the rest of the world. Ecological integrity is being
undermined by the economic model that Bush revels in, and offers. So we have to
oppose and fight this. This is also a time for many previously silent supporters of
mainstream deep ecology, to repudiate their belief that deep ecology should be
apolitical and accommodating to industrial capitalism. It is a time for deep ecology to
become more politicized.
So, what to do in these trying and dangerous times? We need to continue
for "deep", that is total, not "shallow" cosmetic change. An ecological reality is that
there are too many people. But also, too many of these are truly the wretched of the
Earth, shut out from any meaningful participation in society. We must work to change
this. We need to end the social injustices which help to feed Islamic and other
fundamentalisms. Citizens must have the right to fully participate in the affairs of their
countries and generally of the world. We need to redistribute wealth, not promote
more investment and economic growth. Our ecological footprint is already too deeply
imbedded in this Earth. We need a liveable planet for all species, not just the human
species. We must further develop the deep ecological concept of "usufruct use"
(the right of use), in opposition to "private property." We must make such use
conditional, responsible, and accountable to all the life forms on the planet. This will
preserve an all species, non-privatized, world-wide Commons. Industrial capitalism,
because it is rooted in continual economic growth and unlimited consumerism on a
finite planet, leading to mass extinctions to other life forms, as well as to injustice to
other human beings, is not sustainable ecologically or socially.
We must continue our work for an ecocentric society tempered by social
We must not be cowed by the "patriots" amongst us, despite the passionate intensity
spoken of, in the line from the poet W. B. Yeats which introduces this bulletin. It is
also easy, as Yeats notes, to lack all conviction. Earth defenders also need passion!
But we must retain, and organize to bring others to see, our unfolding left biocentric
vision. Our very existence is threatened. Let’s use our left biocentric awareness to
bring others to see this and work to usher in an Earth-friendly society.
1. Taken from a poem by W. B. Yeats, which is cited in Karen Armstrong, The
For God, (New York, Ballantine Books, 2000), p. 167.
2. Deep pluralism is a term associated with the late Richard Sylvan
important theoretical influence for the left biocentric tendency. It is defined as "against
absolutes", and is thoroughly discussed in Richard Sylvan, Transcendental
Metaphysics: From Radical to Deep Plurallism, (Cambridge, The White Horse
3. I would like to thank fellow left bio Patrick Curry for my understanding
important point. Pluralism is the opposite of monism. Monism says there is only one truth,
or God, or world, and that we can know it.
4. Green fundamentalism, the basic idea that industrial capitalist society
ecologically reformed but must be replaced, and that Green politics must be organized
with this in mind, is not "fundamentalist" in the sense described in this bulletin. Green
fundamentalism is not "universalist." It does not preclude but encourages options.
Green fundamentalist ideas are not "received truths," but analytical data derived from
the living and socially constructed world around us. Such ideas are subject to contention,
debate and change. Rudolf Bahro (1935-1997), the late German green philosopher
developed a basic green fundamentalist position. He is someone who has considerably
influenced the left biocentric theoretical tendency.
5. The Manichees were a religious sect during the third to fifth centuries.
Satan as co-external with God. Hence, as used in this bulletin, Manichean, as referring
to Bush, means choosing between "good" or "evil." That is, choosing between giving
support to the United States or to the alleged "terrorists."
6. Armstrong, The Battle for God, p. 258.
7. Armstrong, Ibid., xi. (Armstrong, who is even-handed in her account of
in Judaism, Islam and Christianity, shows an impressive knowledge of many religions,
but she is totally human-centered, pro-United States, and with a Western cultural bias
and technological hubris.)
8. Elizabeth Breuilly, Joanne O’Brien, and Martin Palmer, Religions of
(New York, Transedition Limited and Fernleigh Books, 1997), p. 154.
9. Jason Elliot, An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan, (London,
2000), p. 148. This is quite an erudite book, showing a knowledge gained from readings
of past histories of the area and a cultural sensitivity to Islam.
10. The verse from Chapter 4, which includes beating, reads in part: "Men
to women on account of the qualities with which God have gifted the one above
the other, and on account of the outlay they make from their substance for them.
Virtuous women are obedient, careful, during the husband's absence, because God
hath of them been careful. But chide those for whose refractoriness ye have cause
to fear; remove them into beds apart, and scourge them: but if they are obedient
to you, then seek not occasion against them: verily, God is high, great!" The
Koran, (Toronto, Ballantine Books, 1993), p. 48.
11. Michael Cook, The Koran: A Very Short Introduction, (Oxford,
Press, 2000), p. 26. I found this book helpful in placing the Koran in a context for
someone not a Muslim - and for useful background information about Islam for this bulletin.
12. Karen Armstrong, Islam: A Short History, (New York, Modern Library
2000), p. 158.
13. Armstrong, Ibid., p. 149.
14. Jihad means "struggle," that is, the struggle to submit to the
laws of God, and to be a
defender of the Islamic faith in the world. Jihad can mean an internal spiritual struggle to
be more righteous -- this is called the Greater Jihad. There is also the external struggle as
on the battlefield, against the enemies of Islam. This external struggle is known as the
15. "Cultural relativism" can be used to justify backward,
practices, e.g. "cultural" indigenous whale hunts or the annual slaughter of seals by
Newfoundlanders. It can also be used socially to justify the oppression of women.
16. Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke, Global Showdown: How The New Activists
Are Fighting Corporate Rule, (Toronto, Stoddard Publishing Co., 2001), p. 57.
17. Al Gore, Earth In The Balance: Ecology And The Human Spirit, (New
Penguin Books, 1992), p. 171.
18. Gore, Ibid., p. 279.
19. Gore, Ibid., p. 271.
20. Earth Island Journal, (Autumn, 2001), p. 4.
21. Canadian World View, (Department of Foreign Affairs and
Issue 14, Winter 2002), p. 20.
22. Bill C-36, Anti-terrorism Act, pp. 13-14.
23. Ibid., p. 75.
24. The section on Earth spirituality is heavily indebted to contributions
from past discussions
on this topic in the internet discussion group left bio.
25. Rod Preece, Animals and Nature: Cultural Myths, Cultural Realities,
U.B.C. Press, 1999), p. 230.
26. The basic handbook used in organizing these Councils is: John Seed,
Pat Fleming and Arne Naess, Thinking Like A Mountain: Towards a Council of All
Beings, (Philadelphia, New Society Publishers, 1988).
Acknowledgements. Thanks to those members of the left bio discussion
group who have
taken part in many theoretical discussions which have helped in trying to sort out left
biocentric ideas. Particular thanks to those who read a draft of this bulletin and gave their
My Path to Left Biocentrism: Part I
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Last updated: March 24, 2002