Let’s explore 8 change processes that catalyze the revolution from anthropocentrism to ecocentrism, from apathy to empathy, toward conscious participation with nature.
The solution is elegantly simple.
Find out what you love.
If you love it, you will look after it.
How do we “look after” Nature, not in the sense of stewardship, but in the sense of engaging in intimate and tender relationship? Let’s use the familiar language of “being in relationship” to describe with Nature.
- Empathy. An empathic response to Nature’s suffering motivates us to acquire integrated climate change information in order to understand the stress, trauma and dis-ease experienced by Nature. Empathic relationship with Nature becomes more meaningful when we think of Nature metaphorically. Some relate to Nature as a Lover – someone that you love unconditionally, including the flaws and imperfections that make her special. Many people relate to the Earth as Mother whose body provides shelter and food for her children and enlivens them with spirit.
- Falling in love all over again. “… love leads us to identify ever more with the Earth, for love is the great unifying and integrating power of universe. For centuries we have thought about the Earth. We were the subject of thought, and the Earth was its object and content. After all that we have learned of the new cosmology, we must think of ourselves as Earth. Earth is the great living subject feeling, loving, thinking, and through us knowing that it thinks, loves and feels. Love leads us to identify with Earth in such a way that we no longer need to become aware of these things, for they have become second nature, Then we can be mountain, sea, air, road, tree, animal” (Boff Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor).
- Tenderness. Tenderness is the affection we give to others for themselves. Tenderness is caring without obsession. Tenderness is neither effeminacy nor renouncing of rigor. It is an affection that, in its own way, opens us to the knowledge of the other (Boff).
- Intentional. Amor mundi is the performance of liberty – the freedom of loving the world that is continually being created by all beings acting together (Arendt, p.13). Hannah Arendt, a Jewish refugee forced to flee the Holocaust, asserts that the most difficult thing is to love the world as it is, with all the evil and suffering in it. And yet she did just that. Loving the world means neither uncritical acceptance nor contemptuous rejection; it means taking responsibility for being a citizen of the world.
- Listening to nature’s voice.
- Spiritual. Deep connectedness to nature involves relational, unitive and expansive experiences that enhance well-being.
- Participatory. ‘Conscious participation’ describes an emerging relationship in which humans consciously merge with nature to experience “a new level of unity” through the “systematic use of imagination” to integrate conscious and unconscious aspects of nature (Barfield, p.163). The “unity and coherence of nature depends on participation of one kind or another” (p.168). Humans remember to think symbolically ”by valuing the Imagination as a mode of perception that brings knowledge…a way of knowing won through a total relationship” (Baring & Cashford, 1991, p.678).
Owen Barfield’s notion of “evolution” carries the sense of paradigm shift. A paradigm is a comprehensive framework derived from a belief system about the nature of knowledge (epistemology), existence (ontology) and responsibility (ethics). A paradigm shift is a revolution insofar as a society transitions from one belief framework to a replacement framework – creating the sense of different worlds or different civilizations. Barfield’s philosophy is relevant to climate change adaptation, which requires the world to deconstruct the systems that separated us from nature and to reconstruct new systems based on conscious participation with nature
Barfield’s trajectory of the shift to conscious participation is not linear; it is much more like a U. The left hand of the U traces the path from “original participation” to our current estrangement from nature. …Now we are just beginning to make our ascent back up, this time on the right hand of the U as we begin to participate actively in creating the world (Lachman, 2013).
Let’s explore how people who are located near the bottom of the U can move upwards on the right side of the U as they make the paradigm shift from anthropocentrism to ecocentrism.
Anthropocentrism is a worldview that separates humans from nature and justifies human domination over nature.
- Utilitarianism holds that nature has value only as a resource that can be developed into a commodity. It is informed by Cartesian dualism and reductionism which view nature as a machine, made up of inert objects without intelligence.
- Conservationism moderates this view by holding that humans must manage and harvest natural resources sustainably in consideration of both current and future generations. Conservationist ethics are concerned about degradation and species loss and are informed by the neoliberal pillars of sustainable development: economic growth and environmental responsibility.
In these hierarchal worldviews, humans are regarded as stewards and managers, responsible to manage natural resources.
Moving right up the U involves several locations as emerging ecocentrics move gradually toward conscious participation. The locations are distinguished by increasing depth of relationality with nature.
- The first location is ‘Green Ecology’. Emerging ecocentrics accept that nature has intrinsic value irrespective of its usefulness to humans. Rejecting a human/nature hierarchy, they recognize that humans are nature and participate interdependently and equally with all beings in the web of life. They may explore deep ecology, living systems theory and permaculture, and adopt an ethic of care that draws on the four pillars of the Earth Charter: environmental responsibility, economic health, social equality and cultural vitality.
- The second location is ‘Organicism’. Ecocentrics accept that nature is intelligent, autonomous and communicative. As nature is resacralized, many ecocentrics learn to participate consciously with nature in an empathic and mutual relationship, often through transpersonal experiences. Political action resists systems of dominance and begins to explore ecocentric alternatives. Voluntary simplicity, ecofeminism, anthroposophy and biodynamics may be explored as praxes.
- The third location is ‘Natality’ or ‘Regeneration’. Ecocentrics accept that the world is agentic and powerful; they invest in a tender reciprocal relationality that re-animates community. Participating with nature and being present to nature acknowledge its inner life, a communicative animated presence in its own right, capable of dialogue with us, if only we can learn to listen (Mathews, 2004, np; Barrett, 2011, p.128; Plumwood, 2010, p.45). Equality is expanded to acknowledge the rights of nature, as seen in the post-anthropocentric onto-epistemology of buen vivir. The Maternal becomes a first principle. Cosmology contributes groundedness by evoking imagination and a shared symbology to express the sacredness of the whole. This location is remarkably similar to indigenous philosophy.
The U begins to morph into a spiral as the two ends draw closer together when the Western ecocentric movement toward conscious participation with nature begins to learn from indigenous philosophies.
Reflection: Where do you locate yourself on the U?
Each section in The Space In-Between proposes a change process that facilitates the revolution from anthropocentrism to ecocentrism. The next change process is xxx.
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