The Critical Task:

To Engage in Ecopsychologically Based Criticism

The rising exploitation of the natural world by our society has been justified only through a historical process of despiritualising and depersonifying other-than-human beings so as to rule out any kind of ethical or sensitive relations with them.

Andy Fisher, Radical Ecopsychology1

As Fisher conceives it, the critical task begins with a process of active engagement with the radical social and cultural criticism that can be found in both ecology and psychology. He points out that most of the criticism currently encountered within ecopsychological discourse is along “cultural” (e.g. criticism of anthropocentrism) rather than “social” lines. However, without challenging both the cultural circumstances (beliefs, values, attitudes) and social arrangements (institutions, material conditions) that have historically sanctioned environmental destruction, nothing much will change.

Because of it’s lack of social and political depth, ecopsychology is currently succeptible to the same criticisms as the deep ecology movement. Many deep ecologists argue that a shift to an ecological mode of consciousness is a necessary step towards an ecologically mature society, the idea being that as one develops a sense of self that is both transpersonal (spiritual) and ecological, one will care for the earth without being morally persuaded to do so because one will identify with it as self. As this perspective indicates, proponents of deep ecology generally view the ecological crisis as a crisis of character and culture. Critics of deep ecology point out however that our character and culture have a social context, and that this context has been largely ignored by deep ecologists, who at times give the impression that worldviews change merely within revolutions in thought or through the introduction of a new science.

In contrast, ecofeminists bring attention to the historical fact that under patriarchal rule the repressing and exploitation of women has gone hand in hand with the repression and exploitation of the natural world. The domination of nature, say ecofeminists, cannot be satisfactorily understood unless viewed as a feminist issue. Many ecofeminists argue that as a movement, deep ecology is insufficiently sensitive to the complex ways in which naturism (domination of nature), sexism, racism and classism interlock, and the strategically crucial role that gender analysis could play in dismantling all of them. The ecofeminist Ariel Salleh argues that the attraction of transpersonal psychology hangs on the self actualising logic of middle class individualism.2

The dark side of men is clear.

Their mad exploitation of earth resources, devaluation and humiliation of women, and obsession with tribal warfare are undeniable. Genetic inheritance contributes to their obsessions, but also culture and environment. We have defective mythologies that ignore masculine depth of feeling, assign men a place in the sky instead of earth, teach obedience to the wrong powers, work to keep men boys, and entangle both men and women in systems of industrial domination that exclude both matriarchy and patriarchy.

Robert Bly, Iron John 3

Discussions about the transpersonal self are of course intregral to ecopsychology, but the more likely reality for most of us is a depersonalised self created through violent social conditions. If our goal is ecological consciousness, and if our society produces a devitalised, narcissistic consciousness instead, then it is imperative that ecopsychology gives attention to the social order.

References

  1. Fisher, A. (2013). Radical Ecopsychology: Psychology in the Service of Life. New York, Albany: SUNY Press. pp.29-31.
  2. Salleh, A. (1993) “Class, Race, and Gender Discourse in the Ecofeminism/Deep Ecology Debate” in Environmental Ethics, 15. pp.225-244.
  3. Bly, R. (1990). Iron John. Shaftesbury, Dorset: Element Books. p.x.

Notes from a journey towards ecological consciousness