This will be my last blog post, as in early March I was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer.
Unfortunately, due to my illness, I am unable to write Part 2 of “What Makes an Activist?”. Instead, I am posting the outline of a proposed book of left biocentric writings which I wrote in 2005, in the hope that it will give an overview of my work and enable others to see the direction I have been working towards, since moving to Nova Scotia in 1979.
I originally put together this book proposal six years ago with the aim of eventually getting it published. Although there was a lack of interest at the time, I’m republishing the outline with a modified title and some light editing of the book chapters, with the assistance of my wife Helga and daughter Karen.
To see what I’ve been working on since 2005, go to our website, where more recent articles can be found. There are a number of theoretical papers showing the application of left biocentrism, e.g. tributes to Arne Naess and John Livingston, and practical examples, e.g. off-highway vehicle use and industrial wind turbines.
I’d like to thank all the people who, over so many years, have sent me their thoughts and articles and encouraged me in my work.
We all eventually return to the Earth. Goodbye and keep fighting.
For the Earth,
Fostering New Earth Values and Social Justice for the World’s Peoples
By David Orton
Rationale for this book:
The theoretical tendency of left biocentrism exists and can be seen as a “left wing” of the deep ecology movement. It is therefore worthy of support. One might consider the following, in assessing whether to publish a book on left biocentrism.
A number of well known deep ecology and green theorists have expressed general support for the left biocentric theoretical tendency as it has evolved, and specific support for my own work, including for example the late Richard Sylvan, Andrew McLaughlin, Alf Hornborg, the late Rudolf Bahro, the late Judi Bari and, most recently Fred Bender, the author of the new text The Culture Of Extinction: Toward A Philosophy Of Deep Ecology.
Both Arne Naess and George Sessions, through personal correspondence have, in the past, expressed interest in and general support for my theoretical work. A summary of left biocentrism, which continues to evolve, is given in the ten-point Left Biocentrism Primer, which was collectively agreed upon in 1998. A personal letter to me from George Sessions, dated 4/19/1998, also copied to Arne Naess, Bill Devall, Andrew McLaughlin and Howard Glasser, noted in part about left biocentrism and the Primer: “Personally, I agree with almost everything you say in the Left Biocentric Primer...It’s a real shame that the Green parties came under the influence of Bookchin and not your version of Left Biocentrism – it’s obvious that’s where they need to head. So, I have no necessary bones to pick with your idea of a Left wing of the Deep Ecology movement, more power to you and your colleagues. I wonder if the word ‘Left’ is the appropriate one to use (as opposed to social justice).” John Clark, a “deep” social ecologist, has expressed in writing the viewpoint that left biocentrism is welcome evidence of some “common ground” between deep and social ecology: “The existence of such common ground is indicated by the emergence of a left biocentrism’ that combines a theoretical commitment to deep ecology with a radical decentralist, anticapitalist politics having much in common with social ecology.” (See the third and fourth editions of the undergraduate college reader, Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology.)
There are people in a number of countries, in addition to myself, in particular Canada and the USA, who support deep ecology as an overall philosophy and who also consider themselves left biocentrists, i.e. “left bios.” Some of these people are active in the federal Green Party in Canada. That party publicly endorsed deep ecology in the last federal election in Canada and polled over 4 percent of the vote.
My ideas and writings reflect the input of a number of others who see themselves as left bios. The formation of the internet discussion group left bio, with its approximately 35 members, now functioning for almost eight years, has aided substantially in this regard. I have always been conscious of writing in some way as part of a “collective”, seeking the input of kindred spirits. In early days this was more nebulous, but in recent years it has become more concrete, as left biocentrism becomes more publicly known. Articles or book reviews in draft form, written from a left biocentric theoretical perspective, have normally been made available to other left bios in the discussion group for their critical commentary.
Apart from my own writings, there are a number of books, some in press, which explicitly refer to and discuss the left biocentric theoretical tendency. It is also necessary to point out that, since the early 1980s, other thinkers within the deep ecology movement (although not calling themselves “left biocentrists”), have been struggling to outline what it means to be supporters of deep ecology, and yet to continue to see themselves in some way as part of the Left. Their ideas have greatly influenced me and contributed to my own thinking. These include, in addition to the people mentioned above, Andrew Dobson in England. [Although not included in the original book outline, which was published in 2005, an important early discussion of left biocentrism was published in Patrick Curry’s 2006 book, Ecological Ethics: An Introduction. A revised edition is due to come out in the fall of 2011.)
I myself became involved in environmental work as a primary focus in the late 1970s in British Columbia through naturalist organizations, after a previous political life in Canada centered around social justice issues and left wing politics. My interest in nature and wildlife go back to my boyhood in England. Prior to any contact with deep ecology, through my environmental work in forestry and wildlife issues, I had come to see that the ecological perspective meant to reject the human-centered domination over nature. This was expressed in my writings coming out of B.C. and Nova Scotia environmental struggles. (I had moved with my family to Nova Scotia in 1979.) By 1985 I had come to accept the philosophy of deep ecology and started to promote it in the Maritimes. I came to define myself politically as a Green, although I still consider myself a person of the Left. I began exploring what a left focus in deep ecology would mean. Later I was to discover that others were on the same path.
In 1989, at the Learned Societies Conference in Quebec City, I presented (along with my partner Helga) a paper called “Green Marginality in Canada.” This paper, in addition to the stated focus, outlined the conceptual perspective of “socialist biocentrism.” (Robyn Eckersley in her 1992 book, Environmentalism and Political Theory: Toward an Ecocentric Approach spoke of “ecocentric socialism.”)
Later I discarded the expression socialist biocentrism in favour of the term “left biocentrism” as wider and more inclusive, as “socialism” seemed too forgiving towards the environmental record of socialist and communist societies. I was also confronted with the fact that many who were sympathetic to social justice concerns were hostile to the term socialism, perhaps a legacy of Cold War socialization. “Left” as used in left biocentrism, is therefore defined as meaning anti-industrial and anti-capitalist, but not necessarily socialist. Yet personally, I remain a socialist.
The future ecocentric economic foundation of society remains to be defined, although it will not be capitalist, i.e., a society based on endless economic growth and consumerism, population growth, private profit, and human-centeredness. As for “biocentrism”, it is the more popular movement term, while “ecocentrism” is the more ecologically and scientifically aware term. Both “biocentrism” and “ecocentrism” are used interchangeably by left biocentrists.
Since the mid-1980s I have tried to blend theoretical and practical environmental work, from a deep ecology perspective. I have published articles and book reviews in a variety of environmental and green publications, including the Earth First! Journal. My work has included investigating and writing about controversial issues, e.g. green theory, aboriginal concerns, green electoralism, seals, fundamentalism – religious and economic, ecofascism, etc. Interests in forest and forestry-related issues have remained a central theme of my work within Nova Scotia. I also have published in Canadian left publications, e.g. Canadian Dimension and the Socialist Studies Bulletin, when they would accept my deep ecology advocacy articles. Yet a lot of the work is unpublished.
There is a common but misleading perception that the deep ecology movement, particularly in North America, is hostile to the social justice concerns of the Left and is in fact anti-Left. Publishing this book would help to dispel this myth. (Arne Naess, in his main work, Ecology, community and lifestyle, has a sympathetic yet critical discussion of socialism and shows a sophisticated economic, political and power analysis, and a class perspective.)
Left Biocentrism: Fostering New Earth Values and Social Justice for the World’s Peoples would show the needed ecocentric critique of the traditional Left, but also what can be taken from the Left and incorporated into a socially and politically conscious deep ecology. Left biocentrism needs to be seen as a valued part of the deep ecology movement. Supporting the publication of this book would be a concrete manifestation of this. The front is indeed long. It needs to include and welcome the biocentric Left.
March 3, 2005
This book will be based on articles written by David Orton over a period of about twenty-five years, though most of them were written during the last few years. Each chapter theme will be discussed from past articles written on the topic, but placed in a contemporary perspective. The relevant articles are listed on the website under “A Taste of Green Web Writings and Left Biocentrism”
Fostering New Earth Values and Social Justice for the World’s Peoples
By David Orton
Introduction: Personal Biography and Intellectual Biography
Personal biography: Orton’s social origins in England: working class, wartime evacuation to the countryside, shipwright dockyard apprenticeship, and boyhood interests in wildlife and nature; the reason for the emigration to Canada; and the last twenty years of living in place in rural Nova Scotia. (One comes to eventually understand that one is a Canadian, and that one does not want to go “home” to Britain any more.)
Intellectual biography: unconscious social democracy of family background in England; Canadian radical politics and their reflection in the university as a student and short-lived faculty member in the 1960s; naturalist and outdoor involvement, environmental engagement and the beginnings of an ecological consciousness.
Chapter One: Pre-Deep Ecology Environmental Work
Forest and wildlife struggles in British Columbia, South Moresby and Tsitika watershed involvement – the fallacy of “multiple use” or “integrated resource management.” The credo of industry: “Forest management for the primary production of timber;” the conservatism of naturalist organizations and the limiting assumptions of mainstream environmentalism.
The critique of pulpwood forestry and of “natural resource management” in Nova Scotia, and the ecological perspective. Uranium exploration/mining and the self-interest of the trade union movement. Discussion of why unions and employers have an economic interest in the continuation of industrial society and its priorities. Organizational differentiation from mainstream environmentalism: not accepting government or corporate financing or “working the system.”
Chapter Two: Embracing Deep Ecology and Various Problems
Deep ecology as the ideological counter to “resourcism,” the world view that the non-human world exists as raw material for the human purpose. Acceptance of the eight-point Deep Ecology Platform. Deep and shallow ecology and implications for industrial capitalism. Three key ideas: non-human centeredness; the necessity for a new spiritual relationship to Nature; and opposition to the idea of “private property” in Nature. Deep ecology as part of the larger green movement – as the first social movement in history to advocate a lower material standard of living, from the perspective of industrial consumerism. Nature as a Commons and not to be privatized.
Problems: ambiguity and the “conceptual bog” (Richard Sylvan) of deep ecology; who ‘owns’ deep ecology and how does it evolve; Self-realization and the psychological self-absorbed path of “transpersonal ecology” (Warwick Fox); the unreality of non-violence and Gandhi, and implications for organizing; NO necessary separation of the peace, social justice and ecology movements; lack of real political, economic, social analysis, or class perspective by most deep ecology writers; lack of awareness of the imperial role of the United States and its world-wide consumption of “resources”; the isolation of deep ecology academics and their lack of accountability to the movement, etc.
Chapter Three: Characteristics of Left Biocentrism
Social base of left biocentrism, theoretical and practical views, handling contradictions among left biocentrists. Is there a role for anarchism? Unity and differentiation with deep ecology. Other Left paths in deep ecology and green theory: deep green theory (Sylvan), radical ecocentrism (McLaughlin), green fundamentalism (Bahro), revolutionary ecology (Bari), and ecologism (Dobson). Characteristics of socialist biocentrism and why it is inadequate. Drafting of the Left Biocentrism Primer in 1998.
Chapter Four: Aboriginal Issues in Canada
A general overview of aboriginal issues as articulated in the 1996 Canadian Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (5 volumes) and a left biocentric critique given. Implications of aboriginal views for wildlife, forestry, parks, land claims and social justice. What should be supported and what should be opposed on ecocentric and social justice considerations? Past treaties dictated to aboriginals by a feudal-colonial state in Canada – can they be models for contemporary land use and redress of grievances? Treaty rights or social and ecological justice today: going beyond human-centeredness, treaties, land ownership and property rights. What is the relationship of contemporary aboriginal views to deep ecology and left biocentrism within industrial capitalist society? Deep stewardship of traditional aboriginal thinking as human-centered. The imposition (and implications) of the industrial consumer culture on aboriginals and non-aboriginals.
Chapter Five: Green Electoralism and Left Biocentrism
Deep ecology in contention for the consciousness of the green movement (Realo/Fundi discussion). How the environmental movement in Canada and elsewhere should define itself – reformist or subversive. Assumptions of green electoralism and their congruence with the continuation of industrial capitalism and shallow ecology. Ecological politics across the ‘isms’ of bourgeois society (Bahro). The disenfranchisement of the electorate with the parliamentary road and liberal democracy: alternative ecocentric visions which undermine industrial capitalist society cannot be advanced through the electoral process, as they go against short-term economic interests. The fundamental dilemma: eco-capitalism – ‘sustainable development’, ‘natural capitalism’, ‘cradle to cradle’ etc., or revolutionary ecocentric change. The overall tendency towards absorption and neutralization for “green” electoral parties and why this occurs. Liberal democracy and ecocentric democracy: why they are incompatible. Is there a political vehicle for a revolutionary deep ecology in our contemporary world? Why some left bios work inside green parties and why others work from the outside, and the example of the federal Canadian Green Party.
Chapter Six: The Ecocentric Critique of the Left
Green movement has replaced the socialist/communist movement as the center of innovative debate and alternative thinking. No Earth justice without social justice. Discussion of the positive ideas of the Left: e.g. society should control the economy and not the economy control the society; collective responsibility for all members of a society and opposition to the cult of individualism and selfishness; class dimensions of environmental, economic and social issues; etc.
Opposing the negative ideas of the Left: e.g. human-centered world view; hostility to population reduction; Nature having no intrinsic value or worth unless transformed by human labour; seeing capitalism, not industrialism, as the main problem; lack of an alternative economic model; hostility towards Earth spirituality; denial of personal responsibility for ecological destruction or social actions, etc.
The Earth can belong to no one – the fiction of “ownership” of the Earth and its life forms. (Bahro, Livingston and Naess) Moving to usufruct use, accountability to a community of all beings. Defining the ecocentric Left, the NECESSITY that it be a vital component of a radical deep ecology movement.
The primacy of ecocentric consciousness and that social justice, while very important, is secondary to such a consciousness. Ecocentric justice as much more inclusive than human justice.Critique of “social environmentalism” in the mainstream environmental movement, where social justice is upheld over environmental justice: social ecology, eco-Marxist and ecofeminist positions.
Chapter Seven: The Ecofascism Attack on Deep Ecology
Supporters of deep ecology are uncomfortable and on the defensive about ecofascism. “Ecofascism” as an attack term, with social ecology roots, against deep ecology and the environmental movement; linking deep ecology with Hitler’s “national socialist” movement, i.e. the Nazis. “Fascism”, a term whose origins and use reflect a particular form of HUMAN social, political and economic organization, now with a prefix “eco”, used against environmentalists. On the other hand, for supporters of deep ecology the concept “ecofascism” conjures thoughts of the violent onslaught against Nature and its non-human life forms, justified as economic “progress”; the so-called “Wise Use” movement in North America, which sees all of Nature as available for HUMAN use. Different views of deep ecology and social ecology on ecofascism, the love of Nature, spiritual transformation, non-coercive population reduction, controls on immigration, etc. Deep-green German ecophilosopher and activist Rudolf Bahro (1935-1997), accused by social ecology supporters of being an ecofascist and a contributor to “spiritual fascism”. Bahro’s conflict with left and green thought orthodoxies and his interest in building a mass social movement. How Bahro saw left “ecosocialist” opportunists, for whom ecology was just an “add-on”, without a transformation of world view and consciousness. Bahro’s resignation from the Green Party, because he saw that the members did not want out of the industrial system.
Chapter Eight: The Left Biocentric Forest Vision
A vision of animals and plants, along with rocks, oceans, streams and mountains having spiritual and ethical standing. Industrial forestry model to be phased out in favour of low impact, value-added, selection forestry. Appropriate social policy alternatives for forestry workers and communities to be deep-ecology inspired. Sustainable forestry in a sustainable society. Questioning some ecoforestry positions: that forests need be managed or “restored”; that forests can be managed in an ecologically sensitive way. Why forests should be left “unmanaged.” Forest “certification” as a “green” marketing gimmick. What is a deep-ecology inspired forestry, and the need for primacy of non-economic interests in maintaining a living forest. For example, see the article “Some Conservation Guidelines for the Acadian Forest” on our web site.
Chapter Nine: Animals and Earth Spirituality
Deep ecology supporters as defenders of wild animals and their habitats. Placing animals in an ecological, political, economic and cultural “context”. Opposing hunting in protected areas and parks, and uniting with traditionalist aboriginals against the “resourcism” of industrial consumerist society. Acceptance of subsistence hunting, subject to the status of a species. Problem with ethical social relativism. Earth spirituality, animals and organized religion; the Abrahamic faiths and the Vedic religions. Modern day religious fundamentalists, who aim to re-sacralize human societies, not the natural world. The pre-industrial past. How deep ecology supporters want to re-sacralize Nature. The need for a new language and a new philosophical and spiritual outlook. The need to respect all animals as an integral part of preserving the community of life.
Chapter Ten: Religious and Economic Fundamentalism
The need to understand religious fundamentalism and economic fundamentalism and how they relate to each other, their threat to the world. Both fundamentalisms are antagonistic to the goals of the deep ecology movement. Fundamentalism as a form of “security” in religious conformity, as refuge when cultures are falling apart. Different kinds of religious fundamentalisms. Grievances in the Islamic world, inequality between Arabs and Jews; the subservience of Arab states to U.S. foreign policy, etc. The oil issue. Economic fundamentalism as an attempt to impose, if necessary by force, one economic model on the world. U.S. economic fundamentalism and its rhetoric of “freedom,” “democracy,” “individual initiative,” etc. The threat posed by U.S.-style economic fundamentalism to the well-being of the planet and its diverse inhabitants. Globalization and how its opponents are being “squeezed” by Islamic and US economic fundamentalism.
Chapter Eleven: Tributes
Tributes to Winin Pereira, Richard Sylvan and Rudolf Bahro – three people from India, Australia and Germany, who had an important influence on the conceptualization of left biocentrism. The tributes were written on learning of their deaths and are brief testimonials to this influence. [I would now also include Arne Naess, from Norway.]
Conclusion: The Present Situation for Left Biocentrism and Deep Ecology
An assessment of the current situation for the philosophy of deep ecology as an influence on the green and environmental movements. Also, a look at the status, at this time, of the theoretical tendency of left biocentrism within deep ecology.
March 3, 2005 [Slightly revised April 30, 2011]