Posted by: Michael George Daniel | December 28, 2007

Eco-pathic

One of the things about this work is the opportunity to use words in news ways, even invent new words, to put forth ideas and concepts; indeed to offer unexpected arrangements of concepts to try to illustrate new thinking and new paradigms. Derrieck Jensen, in his book Endgame (Vol. II) offers a section on psychopathology in which he references the definition of a psychopath from the IDC-10 Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders, World Health Organization, Genevea, 1992, section F60.2 on Dissocial (Antisocial Personality Disorder). I am quite sure that Jensen appreciates his use of a paragon of civilization, the World Health Organization, to bolster his discourse against civilization in the name of the rest of the natural world. He would tell you that his anti-establishment views don’t prevent him from using the most appropriate tool available for whatever task might be at hand. In this case, it is a credible definition of psychopathy.

Jensen is the epitome of anti-social if you only consider the definition in the context of what we consider to be social. Jensen’s point, which we will get to more thoroughly in a moment, and hopefully elaborate upon (otherwise this post wouldn’t have much value, the magnitude of which still remains to be seen), is that the WHO’s definition of a psychopath can quite easily be used as a framework for understanding the workings of our culture and civilization in general as psychopathic with regard to the broader social structure of ecology. Thus, offered here is the word ‘eco-pathic’ to summarize this idea.

Jensen’s intention is to honor and restore the wild, ecologic relationship of life and things on Earth. He views the root of ecological problems to be our current culture and civilization. I am hard pressed to disagree. What we each do about such a belief is, of course, another matter. For Jensen, someone that I believe you could call a Libertarian, it is perfectly in keeping with his beliefs that we should all decide for ourselves how we respond to the current state of affairs. Some might view Jensen as sociopathic in the context of an ecopathic world; in other words, given the culture’s anthropocentrism, people like Jensen that believe the well being of the natural world should come before humans are the exception to society. Of course context is everything. If you believe the way Jensen believes, their is nothing sick or psychopathic in his ideas at all. They actually reveal the truth in a world afraid to hear it.

If you are courageous enough, there is room for us to step out of the box we have been raised in, the paradigm of our society and culture, and begin to view broader trends in the context of ecology. When we do that, we realize something is gravely wrong. What we do next, when given the opportunity to wake up, is partly the subject here. It is precisely because we as individuals, as a culture and as a civilization, don’t do anything about it, that the label of ecopathic is justified. In this case, rather than violating social norms as a sociopath does, we violate ecological norms with the corresponding lack of guilt, conscience and remedial action.

Just what is ecology? Wikipedia defines ecology as the scientific study of the distribution and abundance of living things, the interactions between them, and the interaction between them and their environment. It further points out that in common usage, it is often used to describe the actual web of relationships it professes to study. The word was originally coined to describe the study of this web by German biologist Ernst Haeckel in 1866. It is, however, valuable in describing the subject of the study, not just the study itself. Ecology is the web of relationships that exist among living things and their environment on Earth.

The narrow orientation of the word ecology insofar as it is used to describe the human activity of studying something is emblematic of the problem. We need to recognize our integral place in the natural world and in the cosmos as a reality, not just a subject of study. This entails experience, not limited, rational evaluation. It is not just about us, but about us and them, us and everything. Our continued existence does not rely on our study and understanding of ecology so much as it entails our sensitivity and empathy. These are not attributes of an ecopath. The absence of these traits in our society are telling. So let us reject definitions of ecology and cosmology as human study, and substitute the reality of these things, recognizing that study is but one relationship we have with them.

We offer the word ‘ecopathic’ to help explore the definition of psychopathic in the context of ecology so that we might have the benefit of understanding the sickness that pervades the culture and civilized world. The framework for our definition, then, of ecopathic, from WHO via Jensen, modified for our use here is:

– Callous unconcern for the feelings of other things in the environment.

– Gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility and disregard for ecological norms, rules, and obligations.

– Incapacity to maintain enduring ecologic relationships, though having no difficulty in establishing them.

– Very low tolerance to frustration and a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence toward the environment.

– Incapacity to experience guilt and to profit from experience, particularly punishment or responses from the Earth viewed as a living unit.

– Marked proneness to blame others, or to offer plausible rationalizations, for the behavior that has brought the culture into conflict with ecology.

The Bible says “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”

So already there is a problem. The other night, I watched the CNN Republican Debates in which the candidates fielded questions from YouTube users who submitted their questions using video cameras and the internet. For one question, the submission consisted of a young man holding up a Bible asking all the candidates if they believe every word in ‘this book’. Most, if not all of the candidates said they did believe the Bible. They answered the question by not really answering it, by saying things like, ‘I believe the Bible is the word of God’, etc. Guilliani was clear that he thought ‘some’ of the Bible was allegorical and, therefore, did not believe everything in it ‘literally’. But here’s the point: the country, and national broadcasting channel CNN, and the Republican National Committee thought it was important to broadcast this question. The implication is that the President of the United States must, at least, have a strong basis and orientation to the Bible. Never mind that there was no distinction between the old and new testaments. Never mind that there was no acknowledgment of other religions that might not be so oriented. For our purposes, how about the fact that the Bible teaches us that God himself has granted us dominion over all other creatures? This simple fact is indicative of the deep conditioning that exists running counter with ecological principles.

As we have acted upon this belief of dominion it can be argued that we have disregarded to an uncanny extent, the norms, rules and obligations of ecology. The prima facie evidence of this is the progressive murder of the planet and its life forms. Our incapacity to appreciate the relationships among the creatures of the earth and between these creatures and the environment is revealed in our economic principles based on consumption and so-called ‘production’. In this case, production has come to be understood as the output of an effective economy. In reality, this output is simply the draw down and conversion into waste, consistent with the thermodynamic principle of entropy, of finite resources. With this depletion, we have increased our dominion over the food and energy producing capacity of the Earth, and in fact have vastly exceeded it. This expansion of our use of Earth’s resources has, obviously, given that these resources are finite, been at the expense of all other things, not to mention future generations. Thus we can start to get a sense of our inability to maintain long-term relationships. The Earth is, in fact, dying a rather rapid, unprecedented death.

This is not to say that humans haven’t ever been able establish more lasting relationships, we have. Indigenous populations provide us with long histories of living in concert with their immediate environment. This isn’t to say that they did not change nor influence the environment; they most certainly did. But there is a fundamental difference between the means with which indigenous cultures sustained and prospered inside of the interconnected web of life of the local environment and the exploitation that characterizes modern civilization. Empirically, ancient cultures survived for thousands of years without serious degradation to the natural world sustaining them. With the success of some cultures, and the eventual dominance of the people of these cultures over other cultures, devastating changes occurred. Notwithstanding this so-called perception of victory of one culture over another, that is not evidence of long term value or viability. In retrospect, it has been a disaster.

Our attitude of disregard for ecological balance for the last 6,000 years, has of course been persistent. It persists today, but is characterized by economic zeal that has replaced religion and spirituality. As we observe the unprecedented die off of species, it is clear that we are not currently in a long term relationship with the creatures of these species. Moreover, we rely, increasingly, on violence to have our way. Whether it is to secure resources from other people, or to wrest it from the ground by strip mining, blowing the tops off of mountains, drilling in wilderness areas or damming rivers, our prosthetic tools and cheap, fossil fuel driven machines are now capable of making quick work of drawing down finite resources. There is, indeed, a certain callousness here.

All of this history ultimately has required an amazing amount and depth and strength of denial. Denial, in any form, is awesome to behold. Any one with any semblance of groundedness in this primary physical reality we all inhabit can testify to the mind blowing nature of others we have encountered that are in the midst of denial. It can leave you speechless, scratching your head, backing away with caution. Yet, it is the denial with which we have been enculturated that is even more frightening. When we encounter denial in another person, we back away cautiously in part because we realize, if it is happening to them, it could happen to us. We see that they don’t even know it is happening. We think, what is happening to me, what am I doing, how am I acting in ways in which I am not aware? We read that the symptom of an ecopath is an absence of guilt. We examine our own feelings and realize, if we are lucky, that there is guilt but it is buried. Many, most of us, won’t even get that far. If a tree falls in the woods….If there are no guilt feelings, because they are so deeply buried, how do I know the circumstances for guilt are there in the first place? What does the devastation of the world tell you? If you were to open your eyes to what is happening due to civilization and our culture, would you feel guilt? What is the moral implication of the benefits we receive from this culture while knowing, at least in some measure, that we are causing untold damage? Facts: we are doing this damage. We do not feel guilt. It is a symptom of ecopathy.

But we don’t stop there. We carry on moral lives. We talk morality in our communities, in our families and churches and meetings. We, of course Americans, but don’t think it isn’t the same everywhere, take the high road in our everyday lives. Yet, the institutions, including governments, act in immoral ways to provide this life we have, in which we can live our moral lives. And it is at the expense of the natural world. We blame the institutions, the government, other countries. We blame the Federal Reserve. Last night, the business television station CNBC was rife with indignation that the Fed only cut interest rates 25 basis points. That’s not enough for us to prosper, they said. It is the Fed’s fault – they see what is happening, the wholesale building of our economy on extended credit – the literal production of more dollars in lieu of actual value – yet they will not bail us out. So the stock market slaps the wrist of the Fed by dropping. A good excuse to take profit so they can run it up again and do it over and over. And a good way to keep the discussion away from anything that matters. Isn’t this a vibrant example of abuser dysfunction, to distract with nonsense so the realities aren’t noticed, aren’t able to be understood.

The stock market illusion will oscillate until the conditions are in place for another temporary surge of value based on future expectations and perceptions of technological salvation. This is the Cargoist mentality, that something, somewhere, sometime will save us in the future. Technologist tell us technology will be the savior. Christians tell us Christ will save us. Meanwhile, we sink deeper in to the shit, the denial, the blame. We blame the lack of economic strength and the constraints on technology for our lack of satisfaction in this world, but we do not look to the fact that we are killing the very thing that keeps us alive – the web of life.

If we were to tune into this denial, we would see an additional symptom of our ecopathy. I read Investors Business Daily’s opinion page from time to time looking for examples of economic sociopathy. They are always there, but what I found most interesting recently, is the use of blame by this particular perspective as a tool for keeping the denial in place. Look for it yourself as you go about. There most surely is a reason for the way things are. It may, in fact, be ingrained in the system so deeply, a system that we have grown up with over 6,000 years, that we can’t see it because we are the system. We would need to see beyond the system to know something different. Look for examples of blame that are simply a diversion from the task of trying to look beyond our conditioned perceptions. Realize that this truly holds us from moving toward a cure for our ecopathy. Make these examples conscious so perhaps a different choice might be made in the future.

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