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Arne Naesss Concept of the Ecological Self: a Way to Achieve a Healthier Self Margarita Garca Notario

The Environmental Movement started as a social voice that was trying to warn about how damaged nature was starting to appear, as a consequence of the careless and thoughtless use that humans were doing over it. Some of these voices were fervently raised for nature and in some cases that took to extremist positions that elevated misanthropic statements and created a theoretical war between humans and nature. The following sentence of Thomas Berry is, in my opinion, an adequate representation of what most people recognized, for awhile, as the ecological message: A deep cultural pathology has developed in Western society and has now spread throughout the planet. A savage plundering of the entire earth is taking place through industrial exploitation. Thousands of poisons unknown in former times are saturating the air, the water, and the soil. The habitat of a vast number of living species is being irreversibly damaged. In this universal disturbance of the biosphere by human agents, the human being now finds that the harm done to the natural world is returning to threaten the human species itself 1 . The amount of information about the important problems that currently affect our Earth has been increasing continuously since the 1970s, providing with a new global phenomenon of concern toward our environment, with both positive and negative consequences. Education needs to take account of both the negative and the positive. Of the negative, to learn so we can avoid repetition of it; of the positive, to transmit encouragement and to inspire farther achievements. As this paper aims to address the educational possibilities of ecology in health related issues, I am going to very briefly 1

mention what I understand as negative and positive sides of the environmental movement, and then, Ill proceed by focusing mainly in one of its positive sides, which I have stated as the incentive that represents the revitalization of our material dimension for our own understanding and self-esteem as humans 2 . By negative consequences I mean, for instance, all those fears that have been promoted by the threats about the consequences of environmental destruction, and that have caused, either the application of short-term solutions (that bring terrible long-term problems), or a passive attitude in so many relatively well informed citizens, as a consequence of the overwhelming feeling that usually causes the awareness of the enormity of the environmental problem. Among these negative aspects, I also place the writings of those who, deeply hurt by the environmental damage, have developed dismissive attitudes toward humans and toward their place in the so-called chain of being. These writings have frequently been interpreted as misanthropic and techno-phobic (as it is understood in its modern form). Among the positive consequences, I place the following ones: one, the conclusions that derive from the ecological principle of interconnection and interdependence among living beings (and, by extension, among everything that exists); two, the formation of an academic debate about the right place for humans in the chain of being; three, the positive reinterpretation of science and technology from the ecological horizon; four, the explosion of enterprises and new products that, in addition to cooperating with the environmental health, have become at the same time, a powerful ally to it; and five, and as I anticipated above, the incentive that represents the revitalization of our material dimension and its new understanding for our own selfesteem as humans. The new reading and understanding that an inspired ecologically way of thinking can bring to our material dimension is, in my opinion, a great source of inspiration for educators, and is recognized in this work, in two sources: one, in the 20th century discovery of the profound interdependence and interconnection between everything that 2

is alive 3 . And two, in the widely used concept of wildness in environmental literature, which we need to distinguish from that of wilderness 4 . About the first one, (the profound interdependence and interconnection between everything that is alive), I would like to say that although Aldo Leopold claimed that it was the most important scientific discovery of the 20th century, we need to acknowledge that the mystics spoke about it first. Today, interestingly, this principle is the golden rule in biology, as well as an indispensable principle in quantum physics. Philosophically, as well, it was the 20th century the moment when philosophers jumped into the relational reality model that started the progressive abandonment of the modern dualistic model, based in opposites or in excluding alternatives. The relational model had as its basis the complementarities between elements and inclusive alternatives, and it was going to change the philosophical worldview about the world, the human being and the relationship between them. It was also going to strongly impact the anthropocentric tradition that placed the human being in the center of the universe with a superior position in respect to everything else, and with the right to dominate the other for his/her own benefit. Contemporary biology and quantum physics talk about intrinsic relationship, relationships that affect the constitution of the beings within that relationship. As a consequence, the definition of the individual (according to this model) only gets completed with those characteristics that beings have as a consequence of their relationships with the others and with the other (by the others I understand humans; by the other, I refer to the rest of non-human reality). These relationships and mutual influences affect, first of all, our material dimension, although they transcend it as well. The ecological reflection has the potential, as a consequence, of turning our eyes toward that physical dimension in its most obvious manifestation: our bodies. Our bodies constitute the main symbol of health in our culture, in spite of the fact that they themselves are a great representation of this world of

relations that connects, not only the physical reality itself, but also this one with the psychological and with the spiritual realms. Nowadays, the influence of our psyche in our body, as well as the influence of the body in our psychological or emotional well-being, are widely recognized. In some ways, the influence of the physical environment is easily acknowledged in certain medical areas, but stubbornly resisted in others by traditional minds. As a fact, more and more research is being published on the profound interconnections between body, mind and psyche (or soul or spirit). In the same way that psychiatry has enlarged its object by including interpersonal and broad socio-anthropological factors, it is becoming to appear a lot of evidence in relation to influences to humans from their relationships with the nonhuman environment. All of this research should bring a more holistic approach to science in general and as a consequence, a broader and deeper appreciation of all the factors that interfere in all spheres: physical or material, psychological and spiritual. But I believe that it should also bring a much greater appreciation of our own bodies. For centuries now, the body, or our material dimension in general, has been dismissed and labeled as punishment, shame and burden. This ideology started with some connotations or others, at the same time that the Earth (or Goddess) cultures started to be eradicated, by what has been called by Riane Eisler the dominator civilizations 5 . Many aspects of the known 2500 years that embrace the time in history of which we keep records, shame us. Our human behavior shows in countless events throughout that history what we may call illnesses of the human spirit. Those years also coincide with the moment when humans separated from nature and started to have a dominion relationship over it. Could we say that our health-spiritual problems during those years work as a metaphor for the treatment that we were providing to our physical manifestations, which are both our bodies and our environment? The ecological sensibility needs to recognize and honor the importance of those two main representations of our physical dimension: our body and our surroundings. Our body shows constant signs of self-transcendance, but it is also an indispensable part or 4

dimension of what we call humans. Whether we like it or not, we might do better without our bodies, but then we would not be humans anymore: we would be something else. The same would happen if at some point the necessary Earth conditions that our body needs to healthily exist would disappear: we might become something else (hopefully better) in the best of the cases, but we could not be called humans without those surroundings. I profoundly believe that the concept of health is unavoidably united with a body that is harmonically suited both by its environment (in a concept as large as anyone may want), and by a human who honors it for he-she knows that he-she would not be the same without it. Thoreau wrote a sentence that inspired thousands of people: In wildness is the preservation of the world. Authors such as Jack Turner, have clarified that wildness doesnt refer to a physical place (as a contrast with the term wilderness), but to a quality that humans have, as well as animals, plants and even some phenomena such as hurricanes, earthquakes and others. This interpretation of wildness avoids many extremist positions between environmentalists because, interestingly, the presence of humans as cohabitants of a place need not affect its wildness. Wildness would not have to mean absence of people, but rather a particular kind of relationship between the people and the place. As a consequence, many areas of coexistence between people and nature could still be recognized as free nature, as long as the human cohabitation would have not become dominant 6 . The consideration of wildness as an essential characteristic of wilderness can help us break the dualism created between humans and non-human nature. Wildness, as I see it, can work as an opportunity to re-think our relationship with the nonhuman world in a much more optimistic and realistic way, inasmuch as it helps us see what we share with it. From an educational point of view, I consider it very important to reflect on wildness as a human dimension because it reminds us of our internal power to grow, to learn and to create in a spontaneous way. I think that the rich reflection that the ecological movement in general has caused on the importance, power and beauty of free 5

non-human nature (wilderness), brings an enormous inspiration to look inside ourselves and remember the importance, power and beauty of human nature (wildness) as well. From my perspective, an ecological reflection on free (non-human) natures value and relevance, instead of guiding humans toward a further separation from their environment (and sometimes to a dismissal of humans all together), represents a golden opportunity, first, to reflect on human wildness: that internal force of ours that is so many times suffocated by forces not so worthy; and second, to rediscover the potential of recognizing us both as part of nature and as something other than nature, not in the sense of separation or opposition, but in that of complementarity and cooperation. I would like to warn at this point, that it would not be accurate to read the previous statements as if I were defending a kind of education that only focuses on the spontaneous and the emotional side of the human being, because my main emphasis is, precisely, on the complementarities that I see between the human dimension that is free (not-limited) and the one that is conditioned, that depends on what surrounds it: I see both aspects as part of life in general, and as an inescapable part of human life in particular. My personal appreciation of the educational power of this concept has made me value very deeply, one philosophical orientation within the environmental movement, which tends to prioritize ontology over ethics. Most of the environmental reflection that has taken place in philosophical circles has gone principally in the direction of ethics. In many ways, the Environmental Movement became a Moral Movement that was coming full, on one side, of rules to guide the way, we, humans, should interact with the natural world; and, on the other side, full of dismissive statements about the pernicious job that the human species has performed to the world of the living, for some thousands of years now 7 . As a contrast with this ethical or moral tendency within most environmental theorists, there has been a group of defenders of this same environment, that has refused to prioritize ethical means (nevertheless, without undermining its importance), and that has chosen, instead, to proceed by directing its attention to ontology. This groups name 6

is Deep Ecology and its founder is the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess (a very famous mountaineer, as well). Deep ecology as philosophy suggests that humanity is not only part of nature, but intertwined with nature, as idea and fact, connected to our surroundings in a way that our language is often not prepared to let us speak of. (David Rothenberg has considered it the most radical kind of ecological thinking, and the hardest to engage in or to explain 8 ). The advocates of deep ecology claim that the most important task is to understand the world in the right way; given the correct understanding, the ethical choices will be obvious. () To solve real-world environmental problems, then, requires not the development of a new ethical theory but a new worldview, a new philosophy of the relationship between humanity and nature 9 . For Arne Naess, the supremacy of an ecological ontology and a more elevated realism over an environmental ethics, works as a way to invigorate the ecological movement in the years to come. Naess writes David Rothenberg- offers the basis of a new ontology, which posits humanity as inseparable from nature. If this ontology is fully understood, it will no longer be possible for us to injure nature wantonly, as this would mean injuring an integral part of ourselves. From this ontological beginning, ethics and practical action are to fall into place 10 . Naess opposes the strong moralization that characterizes the environmental movement and claims that it is precisely this aspect of it what has given the public the misleading impression that ecology is always demanding moral behaviors that require 7

individual sacrifice in favor of the environment 11 (what, of course, takes people as far from such a task as possible). As a contrast with this stoic and unattractive approach, what needs to be emphasized, according to Naess, is the great satisfaction and huge possibilities of joy that we find when we are able to increment our sensibility toward the richness and diversity of forms of life that exist in free nature. This will allow us to contact our surroundings and, as a consequence, to love them: to establish a personal connection that will enable us to do beautiful actions in the Kantian sense. Arne Naess introduced the concept of the ecological-self, which he describes as everything with which a person identifies 12 . In this identification process to which Naess invites us, it is indispensable to distinguish the self from the ego. He claims that confusing our self with the narrow ego, makes us underestimate ourselves. He criticizes what is traditionally understood as the maturity of the self because it leaves Nature out 13 . For Naess, society and human relationships are important (very important, indeed); however, our self is much richer in its constitutive relationships 14 . Human nature is such -he says- that, with sufficient comprehensive (all-sided) maturity, we cannot help but identify our self with all living beings; beautiful or ugly, big or small, sentient or not 15 . Naesss claim of the importance of starting through widening our identification with other beings is supported today by abundant scientific research. E. O. Wilson, the author of the Biophilia hypothesis, writes: For human survival and mental health and fulfillment, we need the natural setting in which the human mind almost certainly evolved and in which culture has developed over these millions of years of evolution 16 . The goal for all beings, according to Naess, is Self-realization, what means: full development of all the potentials of the individual (including the transcendental level, which is signified by the capital S). Self-realization is also a much better term than 8

happiness, according to Naess, to describe the ultimate goal that can encompass all living beings. Deep ecology was born from an intuition: everything hangs together. We are not the same without our connections. Our full development depends on everybody and everything elses development, in the same way that our development influences theirs. I consider this such an important ecological consideration for educators that, at this point, I would like to invite the reader to consider the educational consequences that may derive from a style of education whose foundations hold firmly to the awareness of a totality of relationships, by contrast with the educational style that overestimates the individual as separated from its surroundings and, most of the time, in situations of competition (exclusion) such as not cooperation. Our identification with the outside world (which includes human and nonhumans), requires for Arne Naess an attitude that he calls deep questioning. This attitude of questioning is active, in as much as it involves the whole person, and it is positive, because it is not pushed by the desire to de-construct what others have done (just because it doesnt fit well when analyzed from our personal filter). This questioning is comparative in its nature and all embracing because Naess is firmly convinced that everything hangs together and that, as a consequence, we all have something to do: we can all make a difference. (As a consequence, Naesss philosophical system remains always open, given its main tool (the deep questioning), which keeps it susceptible and vulnerable even to changes that new information or experiences may suggest as convenient). The identification proposed by Naess is not, however, a merely intellectual doing. In most of my work on Arne Naess and Deep Ecology, I have continuously presented the strong implication in Naesss thought of the importance of reason as much as of feelings. For him, both aspects need to receive the same attention, and the balance between them should be one of the most important goals from an educational perspective. The wide identification that Arne invites to extend to everything doesnt occur only as a rational 9

achievement (although it definitely requires rational articulation). Such identification takes place when both reason and emotions are working together. In order for the emotions to respond, experience is a condition sine qua non (indispensable condition). This perspective might help us to discover that education has a lot to do with teaching to evaluate our experiences from the quality of our feelings, which is for all a very challenging opportunity. It is mainly our feelings what makes us aware of such identification through the experience of intense empathy. Our self expands by connecting with others, by suffering and-or feeling with them, after acknowledging them. This identification relies on the intellect that recognizes ourselves in others; but it is never just recognition: knowing others truly, requires knowing ourselves first and overriding our ego by our self. Seeing ourselves in others it is not only a reasons achievement, but also an emotions task. The combination of both makes it a human task; Naess would claim that it would not be a properly human action the one that doesnt play indefectibly both sides. From Naesss ecological perspective, the human being is unavoidably a contextual being and, although he/she is not entirely determined by his/her context, he/she cannot occur without it either. The same occurs in respect to his/her body. Naesss reflections on the ecological crisis (profoundly rooted in a Gestalt view), gently take his readers toward a human re-encounter with our deepest emotions and feelings. I believe that the union of reason and feelings, as presented by his perspective, works as an efficient and adequate healing tool to re-create (or re-make) our relationship with nature, which would unavoidably start with an improved understanding and acceptance of ourselves in all of our dimensions.

Bibliography Berry, Thomas. The Viable Human, in Sessions, George, ed. Deep Ecology for the 21st Century: Readings on the Philosophy and Practice of the New Environmentalism. 1st ed. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1995.. 10

Eisler, Riane. The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future. 1987. 1st ed. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1995. Garca Notario, Margarita. Deep Ecology and Education: A Summary. Plattsburgh, NY, 2004. Katz, Eric, Andrew Light and David Rothenberg, Beneath the Surface : Critical Essays in the Philosophy of Deep Ecology (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2000). Naess, A. Self-Realization. An Ecological Approach to Being in the World, in George Sessions, ed., Deep Ecology for the 21st Century: Readings on the Philosophy and Practice of the New Environmentalism, 1st ed. (Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1995), Also published in The Trumpeter 4 (3) (1987): 35-42 and in John Seed, Thinking Like a Mountain : Towards a Council of All Beings (Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers, 1988)., pp. 19-31. --- Self-Realization. An Ecological Approach to Being in the World, Seed, John Thinking like a Mountain. ---, and Rothenberg, Ecology, Community, and Lifestyle : Outline of an Ecosophy., p. 2. Rothenberg, David. "No World but in Things. The Poetry of Naess's Concrete Contents." En Katz, Beneath the Surface. 151-168. Wilson, E. O. Arousing Biophilia: A Conversation with E. O. Wilson. 1990. Internet website. The EnviroLink Network. Available: http://arts.envirolink.org/interviews_and_conversations/EOWilson.html. June, 8th 2005.

Berry, Thomas. The Viable Human, in Sessions, George, ed. Deep Ecology for the 21st Century: Readings on the Philosophy and Practice of the New Environmentalism. 1st ed. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1995, p. 9. 2 Garca Notario, Margarita. Deep Ecology and Education: A Summary. Plattsburgh, NY, 2004. 33 Nowadays, if we listen to the results from the most recent discoveries in quantum physics, we will have to enlarge such interconnection and interdependence to everything that exists 4 These two concepts have been, unfortunately, used interchangeably in most of the ecological literature, which is a mistake. 5 See Eisler, Riane. The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future. 1987. 1st ed. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1995. 6 This has often been referred to as the Middle Landscape. 7 Cfr. ibidem, p. 11. 8 Rothenberg, David. "No World but in Things. The Poetry of Naess's Concrete Contents." En Katz, Beneath the Surface. 151-168. 9 Eric Katz, Andrew Light and David Rothenberg, Beneath the Surface : Critical Essays in the Philosophy of Deep Ecology (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2000)., p. iv. 10 Nss, and Rothenberg, Ecology, Community, and Lifestyle : Outline of an Ecosophy., p. 2.

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Cfr. Naess, Self-Realization. An Ecological Approach to Being in the World, in George Sessions, ed., Deep Ecology for the 21st Century: Readings on the Philosophy and Practice of the New Environmentalism, 1st ed. (Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1995), p. 236. Also published in The Trumpeter 4 (3) (1987): 35-42 and in John Seed, Thinking Like a Mountain : Towards a Council of All Beings (Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers, 1988)., pp. 19-31. 12 Ibidem, p. 22. 13 The maturity of the self has been considered to develop through three stages: from ego to social self (comprising the ego), and from social self to a metaphysical self (comprising the social self), Ibidem, p. 20. 14 Ibidem 15 Naess, A. Self-Realization. An Ecological Approach to Being in the World, Seed, John Thinking like a Mountain, pp. 20. 16 Wilson, E. O. Arousing Biophilia: A Conversation with E. O. Wilson. 1990. Internet website. The EnviroLink Network. Available: http://arts.envirolink.org/interviews_and_conversations/EOWilson.html. June, 8th 2005.

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