The Ecology of Freedom : Introduction

Revolt Library >> Anarchism >> The Ecology of Freedom >> Alpha Material-002

Not Logged In: Login?



(1921 - 2006) ~ Father of Social Ecology and Anarcho-Communalism : Growing up in the era of traditional proletarian socialism, with its working-class insurrections and struggles against classical fascism, as an adult he helped start the ecology movement, embraced the feminist movement as antihierarchical, and developed his own democratic, communalist politics. (From : Anarchy Archives.)
• "The historic opposition of anarchists to oppression of all kinds, be it that of serfs, peasants, craftspeople, or workers, inevitably led them to oppose exploitation in the newly emerging factory system as well. Much earlier than we are often led to imagine, syndicalism- - essentially a rather inchoate but radical form of trade unionism- - became a vehicle by which many anarchists reached out to the industrial working class of the 1830s and 1840s." (From : "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Murray Book....)
• "Or will ecology groups and the Greens turn the entire ecology movement into a starry-eyed religion decorated by gods, goddesses, woodsprites, and organized around sedating rituals that reduce militant activist groups to self-indulgent encounter groups?" (From : "The Crisis in the Ecology Movement," by Murray Bo....)
• "Broader movements and issues are now on the horizon of modern society that, while they must necessarily involve workers, require a perspective that is larger than the factory, trade union, and a proletarian orientation." (From : "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Murray Book....)


On : of 0 Words (Requires Chrome)



This book was written to satisfy the need for a consistently radical social ecology: an ecology of freedom. It had been maturing in my mind since 1952 when I first became acutely conscious of the growing environmental crisis that was to assume such monumental proportions a generation later. In that year, I published a volume-sized article, "The Problems of Chemicals in Food" (later to be republished in book form in Germany as Lebensgefiihrliche Lebensmittel). Owing to my early Marxian intellectual training, the article examined not merely environmental pollution but also its deep-seated social origins. Environmental issues had developed in my mind as social issues, and problems of natural ecology had become problems of "social ecology" — an expression hardly in use at the time.

The subject was never to leave me. In fact, its dimensions were to widen and deepen immensely. By the early sixties, my views could be summarized in a fairly crisp formulation: the very notion of the domination of nature by man stems from the very real domination of human by human. For me, this was a far-reaching reversal of concepts. The many articles and books I published in the years after 1952, beginning with Our Synthetic Environment (1963) and continuing with Toward an Ecological Society (1980), were largely explorations of this fundamental theme. As one premise led to another, it became clear that a highly coherent project was forming in my work: the need to explain the emergence of social hierarchy and domination and to elucidate the means, sensibility, and practice that could yield a truly harmonious ecological society. My book Post-Scarcity Anarchism (1971) pioneered this vision. Composed of essays dating from 1964, it addressed itself more to hierarchy than class, to domination rather than exploitation, to liberatory institutions rather than the mere abolition of the State, to freedom rather than justice, and pleasure rather than happiness. For me, these changing emphases were not mere countercultural rhetoric; they marked a sweeping departure from my earlier commitment to socialist orthodoxies of all forms. I visualized instead a new form of libertarian social ecology — or what Victor Ferkiss, in discussing my social views, so appropriately called "eco-anarchism."

As recently as the sixties, words like hierarchy and domination were rarely used. Traditional radicals, particularly Marxists, still spoke almost exclusively in terms of classes, class analyzes, and class consciousness; their concepts of oppression were primarily confined to material exploitation, grinding poverty, and the unjust abuse of labor. Likewise, orthodox anarchists placed most of their emphasis on the State as the ubiquitous source of social coercion.[1] Just as the emergence of private property became society's "original sin" in Marxian orthodoxy, so the emergence of the State became society's "original sin" in anarchist orthodoxy. Even the early counterculture of the sixties eschewed the use of the term hierarchy and preferred to "Question Authority" without exploring the genesis of authority, its relationship to nature, and its meaning for the creation of a new society.

During these years I also concentrated on how a truly free society, based on ecological principles, could mediate humanity's relationship with nature. As a result, I began to explore the development of a new technology scaled to comprehensible human dimensions. Such a technology would include small solar and wind installations, organic gardens, and the use of local "natural resources" worked by decentralized communities. This view quickly gave rise to another — the need for direct democracy, for urban decentralization, for a high measure of self-sufficiency, for self-empowerment based on communal forms of social life — in short, the nonauthoritarian Commune composed of communes.

As I published these ideas over the years — especially in the decade between the early sixties and early seventies — what began to trouble me was the extent to which people tended to subvert their unity, coherence, and radical focus. Notions like decentralization and human scale, for example, were deftly adopted without reference to solar and wind techniques or bioagricultural practices that are their material underpinnings. Each segment was permitted to plummet off on its own, while the philosophy that unified them into an integrated whole was permitted to languish. Decentralization entered city planning as a mere strategem for community design, while alternative technology became a narrow discipline, increasingly confined to the academy and to a new breed of technocrats. In turn, each notion became divorced from a critical analysis of society — from a radical theory of social ecology.

It has become clear to me that it was the unity of my views — their ecological holism, not merely their individual components — that gave them a radical thrust. That a society is decentralized, that it uses solar or wind energy, that it is farmed organically, or that it reduces pollution — none of these measures by itself or even in limited combination with others makes an ecological society. Nor do piecemeal steps, however well-intended, even partially resolve problems that have reached a universal, global, and catastrophic character. If anything, partial "solutions" serve merely as cosmetics to conceal the deep-seated nature of the ecological crisis. They thereby deflect public attention and theoretical insight from an adequate understanding of the depth and scope of the necessary changes.

Combined in a coherent whole and supported by a consistently radical practice, however, these views challenge the status quo in a far-reaching manner — in the only manner commensurate with the nature of the crisis. It was precisely this synthesis of ideas that I sought to achieve in The Ecology of Freedom. And this synthesis had to be rooted in history — in the development of social relations, social institutions, changing technologies and sensibilities, and political structures; only in this way could I hope to establish a sense of genesis, contrast, and continuity that would give real meaning to my views. The reconstructive utopian thinking that followed from my synthesis could then be based on the realities of human experience. What should be could become what must be, if humanity and the biological complexity on which it rests were to survive. Change and reconstruction could emerge from existing problems rather than wishful thinking and misty vagaries.

My use of the word hierarchy in the subtitle of this work is meant to be provocative. There is a strong theoretical need to contrast hierarchy with the more widespread use of the words class and State; careless use of these terms can produce a dangerous simplification of social reality. To use the words hierarchy, class, and State interchangeably, as many social theorists do, is insidious and obscurantist. This practice, in the name of a "classless" or "libertarian" society, could easily conceal the existence of hierarchical relationships and a hierarchical sensibility, both of which — even in the absence of economic exploitation or political coercion — would serve to perpetuate unfreedom.

By hierarchy, I mean the cultural, traditional and psychological systems of obedience and command, not merely the economic and political systems to which the terms class and State most appropriately refer. Accordingly, hierarchy and domination could easily continue to exist in a "classless" or "Stateless" society. I refer to the domination of the young by the old, of women by men, of one ethnic group by another, of "masses" by bureaucrats who profess to speak in their "higher social interests," of countryside by town, and in a more subtle psychological sense, of body by mind, of spirit by a shallow instrumental rationality, and of nature by society and technology. Indeed, classless but hierarchical societies exist today (and they existed more covertly in the past); yet the people who live in them neither enjoy freedom, nor do they exercise control over their lives.

Marx, whose works largely account for this conceptual obfuscation, offered us a fairly explicit definition of class. He had the advantage of developing his theory of class society within a sternly objective economic framework. His widespread acceptance may well reflect the extent to which our own era gives supremacy to economic issues over all other aspects of social life. There is, in fact, a certain elegance and grandeur to the notion that the "history of all hitherto existing society has been the history of class struggles." Put quite simply, a ruling class is a privileged social stratum that owns or controls the means of production and exploits a larger mass of people, the ruled class, which works these productive forces. Class relationships are essentially relationships of production based on ownership of land, tools, machines, and the produce thereof. Exploitation, in turn, is the use of the labor of others to provide for one's own material needs, for luxuries and leisure, and for the accumulation and productive renewal of technology. There the matter of class definition could be said to rest — and with it, Marx's famous method of "class analysis" as the authentic unraveling of the material bases of economic interests, ideologies and culture.

Hierarchy, although it includes Marx's definition of class and even gives rise to a class society historically, goes beyond this limited meaning imputed to a largely economic form of stratification. To say this, however, does not define the meaning of the term hierarchy, and I doubt that the word can be encompassed by a formal definition. I view it historically and existentially as a complex system of command and obedience in which elites enjoy varying degrees of control over their subordinates without necessarily exploiting them. Such elites may completely lack any form of material wealth; they may — even — be dispossessed of it, much as Plato's "guardian" elite was socially powerful but materially poor.

Hierarchy is not merely a social condition; it is also a state of consciousness, a sensibility toward phenomena at every level of personal and social experience. Early preliterate societies ("organic" societies, as I call them) existed in a fairly integrated and unified form based on kinship ties, age groups, and a sexual division of labor.[2] Their high sense of internal unity and their egalitarian outlook extended not only to each other but to their relationship with nature. People in preliterate cultures viewed themselves not as the "lords of creation" (to borrow a phrase used by Christian millenarians) but as part of the natural world. They were neither above nature nor below it but within it.

In organic societies the differences between individuals, age groups, sexes — and between humanity and the natural manifold of living and nonliving phenomena — were seen (to use Hegel's superb phrase) as a "unity of differences" or "unity of diversity," not as hierarchies. Their outlook was distinctly ecological, and from this outlook they almost unconsciously derived a body of values that influenced their behavior toward individuals in their own communities and the world of life. As I contend in the following pages, ecology knows no "king of beasts" and no "lowly creatures" (such terms come from our own hierarchical mentality). Rather it deals with ecosystems in which living things are interdependent and play complementary roles in perpetuating the stability of the natural order.

Gradually, organic societies began to develop less traditional forms of differentiation and stratification. Their primal unity began to break down. The sociopolitical or "civil" sphere of life expanded, giving increasing eminence to the elders and males of the community, who now claimed this sphere as part of the division of tribal labor. Male supremacy over women and children emerged primarily as a result of the male's social functions in the community — functions that were not by any means exclusively economic as Marxian theorists would have us believe. Male cunning in the manipulation of women was to appear later.

Until this phase of history or prehistory, the elders and males rarely exercised socially dominant roles because their civil sphere was simply not very important to the community. Indeed, the civil sphere was markedly counterbalanced by the enormous significance of the woman's "domestic" sphere. Household and childbearing responsibilities were much more important in early organic societies than politics and military affairs. Early society was profoundly different from contemporary society in its structural arrangements and the roles played by different members of the community.

Yet even with the emergence of hierarchy there were still no economic classes or state structures, nor were people materially exploited in a systematic manner. Certain strata, such as the elders and shamans and ultimately the males in general, began to claim privileges for themselves — often merely as matters of prestige based on social recognition rather than material gain. The nature of these privileges, if such they can be called, requires a more sophisticated discussion than it has received to date, and I have tried to examine them carefully in considerable detail. Only later did economic classes and economic exploitation begin to appear, eventually to be followed by the State with its far-reaching bureaucratic and military paraphernalia.

But the dissolution of organic societies into hierarchical, class, and political societies occurred unevenly and erratically, shifting back and forth over long periods of time. We can see this most strikingly in the relationships between men and women — particularly in terms of the values that have been associated with changing social roles. For example, although anthropologists have long assigned an inordinate degree of social eminence to men in highly developed hunting cultures — an eminence they probably never enjoyed in the more primal foraging bands of their ancestors — the supersession of hunting by horticulture, in which gardening was performed mainly by women, probably redressed whatever earlier imbalances may have existed between the sexes. the "aggressive" male hunter and the "passive" female food-gatherer are the theatrically exaggerated images that male anthropologists of a past era inflicted on their "savage" aboriginal subjects, but certainly tensions and vicissitudes in values, quite aside from social relationships, must have simmered within primordial hunting and gathering communities. To deny the very existence of the latent attitudinal tensions that must have existed between the male hunter, who had to kill for his food and later make war on his fellow beings, and the female food-gatherer, who foraged for her food and later cultivated it, would make it very difficult to explain why patriarchy and its harshly aggressive outlook ever emerged at all.

Although the changes I have adduced were technological and partially economic — as terms like food-gatherers, hunters, and horticulturists seem to imply — we should not assume that these changes were directly responsible for shifts in sexual status. Given the level of hierarchical difference that emerged in this early period of social life — even in a patricentric community — women were still not abject inferiors of men, nor were the young placed in grim subjugation to the old. Indeed, the appearance of a ranking system that conferred privilege on one stratum over another, notably the old over the young, was in its own way a form of compensation that more often reflected the egalitarian features of organic society rather than the authoritarian features of later societies.

When the number of horticultural communities began to multiply to a point where cultivable land became relatively scarce and warfare increasingly common, the younger warriors began to enjoy a sociopolitical eminence that made them the "big men" of the community, sharing civil power with the elders and shamans. Throughout, matricentric customs, religions, and sensibilities coexisted with patricentric ones, so that the sterner features of patriarchy were often absent during this transitional period. Whether matricentric or patricentic, the older egalitarianism of organic society permeated social life and faded away only slowly, leaving many vestigial remains long after class society had fastened its hold on popular values and sensibilities.

The State, economic classes, and the systematic exploitation of subjugated peoples followed from a more complex and protracted development than radical theorists recognized in their day. Their visions of the origins of class and political societies were instead the culmination of an earlier, richly articulated development of society into hierarchical forms. The divisions within organic society increasingly raised the old to supremacy over the young, men to supremacy over women, the shaman and later the priestly corporation to supremacy over lay society, one class to supremacy over another, and State formations to supremacy over society in general

For the reader imbued with the conventional wisdom of our era, I cannot emphasize too strongly that society in the form of bands, families, clans, tribes, tribal federations, villages, and even municipalities long antedates State formations. The State, with its specialized functionaries, bureaucracies, and armies, emerges quite late in human social development — often well beyond the threshold of history. It remained in sharp conflict with coexisting social structures such as guilds, neighborhoods, popular societies, cooperatives, town meetings, and a wide variety of municipal assemblies.

But the hierarchical organization of all differentia did not end with the structuring of "civil" society into an institutionalized system of obedience and command. In time, hierarchy began to invade less tangible fields of life. Mental activity was given supremacy over physical work, intellectual experience over sensuousness, the "reality principle" over the "pleasure principle," and finally judgment, morality, and spirit were pervaded by an ineffable authoritarianism that was to take its vengeful command over language and the most rudimentary forms of symbolization. The vision of social and natural diversity was altered from an organic sensibility that sees different phenomena as unity in diversity into a hierarchical mentality that ranked the most minuscule phenomena into mutually antagonistic pyramids erected around notions of "inferior" and "superior." And what began as a sensibility has evolved into concrete social fact. Thus, the effort to restore the ecological principle of unity in diversity has become a social effort in its own right — a revolutionary effort that must rearrange sensibility in order to rearrange the real world.

A hierarchical mentality fosters the renunciation of the pleasures of life. It justifies toil, guilt, and sacrifice by the "inferiors," and pleasure and the indulgent gratification of virtually every caprice by their "superiors." The objective history of the social structure becomes internalized as a subjective history of the psychic structure. Heinous as my view may be to modern Freudians, it is not the discipline of work but the discipline of rule that demands the repression of internal nature. This repression then extends outward to external nature as a mere object of rule and later of exploitation. This mentality permeates our individual psyches in a cumulative form up to the present day — not merely as capitalism but as the vast history of hierarchical society from its inception. Unless we explore this history, which lives actively within us like earlier phases of our individual lives, we will never be free of its hold. We may eliminate social injustice, but we will not achieve social freedom. We may eliminate classes and exploitation, but we will not be spared from the trammels of hierarchy and domination. We may exorcize the spirit of gain and accumulation from our psyches, but we will still be burdened by gnawing guilt, renunciation, and a subtle belief in the "vises" of sensuousness.

Another series of distinctions appears in this book — the distinction between morality and ethics and between justice and freedom, Morality — as I use this term — denotes conscious standards of behavior that have not yet been subjected to thorough rational analyzes by a community. I have eschewed the use of the word "custom" as a substitute for the word morality because moral criteria for judging behavior do involve some kind of explanation and cannot be reduced to the conditioned social reflexes we usually call custom. The Mosaic commandments, like those of other world religions, for example, were justified on theological grounds; they were the sacrosanct words of Yahweh, which we might reasonably challenge today because they are not grounded in reason. Ethics, by contrast, invites rational analyzes and, like Kant's "moral imperative," must be justified by intellectual operations, not mere faith. Hence, morality lies somewhere between unthinking custom and rational ethical criteria of right and wrong. Without making these distinctions, it would be difficult to explain the increasingly ethical claims the State has made on its citizens, particularly in eroding the archaic moral codes that supported the patriarch's complete control over his family, and the impediments this authority has placed in the way of politically more expansive societies like the Athenian polis.

The distinction between justice and freedom, between formal equality and substantive equality, is even more basic and continually recurs throughout the book. This distinction has rarely been explored even by radical theorists, who often still echo the historical cry of the oppressed for "Justice!" rather than freedom. Worse yet, the two have been used as equivalents (which they decidedly are not). The young Proudhon and later Marx correctly perceived that true freedom presupposes an equality based on a recognition of inequality — the inequality of capacities and needs, of abilities and responsibilities. Mere formal equality, which "justly" rewards each according to his or her contribution to society and sees everyone as "equal in the eyes of the law" and "equal in opportunity," grossly obscures the fact that the young and old, the weak and infirm, the individual with few responsibilities and the one with many (not to speak of the rich and the poor in contemporary society) by no means enjoy genuine equality in a society guided by the rule of equivalence. Indeed, terms like rewards, needs, opportunity, or, for that matter, property — however communally "owned" or collectively operated — require as much investigation as the word law. Unfortunately, the revolutionary tradition did not fully develop these themes and their embodiment in certain terms. Socialism, in most of its forms, gradually degenerated into a demand for "economic justice," thereby merely restating the rule of equivalence as an economic emendation to the juridical and political rule of equivalence established by the bourgeoisie. It is my purpose to thoroughly unscramble these distinctions, to demonstrate how the confusion arose in the first place and how it can be clarified so it no longer burdens the future.

A third contrast that I try to develop in this book is the distinction between happiness and pleasure. Happiness, as defined here, is the mere satisfaction of need, of our survival needs for food, shelter, clothing, and material security — in short, our needs as animal organisms. Pleasure, by contrast, is the satisfaction of our desires, of our intellectual, aesthetic, sensuous and playful "daydreams." The social quest for happiness, which so often seems liberating, tends to occur in ways that shrewdly devalue or repress the quest for pleasure. We can see evidence of this regressive development in many radical ideologies that justify toil and need at the expense of artful work and sensuous joy. That these ideologies denounce the quest for fulfillment of the sensuous as "bourgeois individualism" and "libertinism" hardly requires mention. Yet it is precisely in this utopistic quest for pleasure, I believe, that humanity begins to gain its most sparkling glimpse of emancipation. With this quest carried to the social realm, rather than confined to a privatized hedonism, humanity begins to transcend the realm of justice, even of a classless society, and enters into the realm of freedom — a realm conceived as the full realization of humanity's potentialities in their most creative form.

If I were asked to single out the one underlying contrast that permeates this book, it is the seeming conflict between the "realm of necessity" and the "realm of freedom." Conceptually, this conflict dates back to Aristotle's Politics. It involves the "blind" world of "natural" or external nature and the rational world of "human" or internal nature that society must dominate to create the material conditions for freedom — the free time and leisure to allow man to develop his potentialities and powers. This drama is redolent with the conflict between nature and society, woman and man, and body and reason that permeates western images of "civilization." It has underpinned almost every rationalistic account of history; it has been used ideologically to justify domination in virtually every aspect of life. Its apotheosis, ironically, is reached in various socialisms, particularly those of Robert, Owen, Saint-Simon, and in its most sophisticated form, Karl Marx. Marx's image of the "savage who wrestles with nature" is not an expression so much of Enlightenment hubris as it is of Victorian arrogance. Woman, as Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer observed, has no stake in this conflict. It is strictly between man and nature. From Aristotle's time to Marx's, the split is regarded as inevitable: the gap between necessity and freedom may be narrowed by technological advances that give man an ever-greater ascendancy over nature, but it can never be bridged. What puzzled a few highly sophisticated Marxists in later years was how the repression and disciplining of external nature could be achieved without repressing and disciplining internal nature: how could "natural" nature be kept in tow without subjugating "human" nature?

My attempt to unravel this puzzle involves an effort to deal with the Victorians' mythic "savage," to investigate external nature and its relationship to internal nature, to give meaning to the world of necessity (nature) in terms of the ability of the world of freedom (society) to colonize and liberate it. My strategy is to reexamine the evolution and meaning of technology in a new ecological light. I will try to ascertain how work ceased to be attractive and playful, and turned into onerous toil. Hence, I am led to a drastic reconsideration of the nature and structure of technics, of work, and of humanity's metabolism with nature.

Here, I would like to emphasize that my views on nature are linked by a fairly unorthodox notion of reason. As Adorno and Horkheimer have emphasized, reason was once perceived as an immanent feature of reality, indeed, as the organizing and motivating principle of the world. It was seen as an inherent force — as the logos — that imparted meaning and coherence to reality at all levels of existence. The modern world has abandoned this notion and reduced reason to rationalization, that is, to a mere technique for achieving practical ends. Logos, in effect, was simply turned into logic. This book tries to recover this notion of an immanent world reason, albeit without the archaic, quasi-theological trappings that render this notion untenable to a more knowledgeable and secular society. In my view, reason exists in nature as the self-organizing attributes of substance; it is the latent subjectivity in the inorganic and organic levels of reality that reveal an inherent striving toward consciousness. In humanity, this subjectivity reveals itself as self-consciousness. I do not claim that my approach is unique; an extensive literature that supports the existence of a seemingly intrinsic logos in nature derives mainly from the scientific community itself. What I have tried to do here is to cast my speculations about reason in distinctly historical and ecological terms, free of the theological and mystical proclivities that have so often marred the formulations of a rational nature philosophy. In the closing chapters, I try to explore the interface between nature philosophy and libertarian social theory.

I am also obliged to recover the authentic utopian tradition, particularly as expressed by Rabelais, Charles Fourier, and William Morris, from amid the debris of futurism that conceals it. Futurism, as exemplified by the works of Herman Kahn, merely extrapolates the hideous present into an even more hideous future and thereby effaces the creative, imaginative dimensions of futurity. By contrast, the utopian tradition seeks to permeate necessity with freedom, work with play, even toil with artfulness and festiveness. My contrast between utopianism and futurism forms the basis for a creative, liberatory reconstruction of an ecological society, for a sense of human mission and meaning as nature rendered self-conscious.

This book opens with a Norse myth that depicts how the gods must pay a penalty for seeking the conquest of nature. It ends with a social project for removing that penalty, whose Latin root poenalis has given us the word pain. Humanity will become the deities it created in its imagination, albeit as deities within nature, not above nature — as "supernatural" entities. The title of this book, The Ecology of Freedom, is meant to express the reconciliation of nature and human society in a new ecological sensibility and a new ecological society — a reharmonization of nature and humanity through a reharmonization of human with human.

A dialectical tension pervades this book. Throughout my discussion I often deal with potentialities that have yet to be actualized historically. Expository needs often compel me to treat a certain social condition in embryonic form as though it had already reached fulfillment. My procedure is guided by the need to bring the concept out in full relief, to clarify its complete meaning and implications.

In my descriptions of the historical role of the elders in the formation of hierarchy, for example, some readers might surmise that I believe hierarchy existed at the very outset of human society. The influential role that the elders were to play in forming hierarchies is intermingled with their more modest role at earlier periods of social development, when they actually exercised comparatively little social influence. In this situation I am faced with the need to clarify how the elders constituted the earliest "seeds" of hierarchy. A gerontocracy was probably the first form of hierarchy to exist in society. But, owing to my mode of presentation, some readers might assume that the rule of the old over the young existed during periods of human society when no such rule really existed. Nevertheless, the insecurities that come with age almost certainly existed among the elders, and they eventually used whatever means available to prevail over the young and gain their reverence.

The same expository problem arises when I deal with the shaman's role in the evolution of early hierarchies, with the male's role in relation to women, and so forth. The reader should be mindful that any "fact," firmly stated and apparently complete, is actually the result of a complex process — not a given datum that appears full-blown in a community or society. Much of the dialectical tension that pervades this book arises from the fact that I deal with processes, not with cut-and-dried propositions that comfortably succeed each other in stately fashion, like categories in a traditional logic text.

Incipient, potentially hierarchical elites gradually evolve, each phase of their evolution shading into the succeeding one, until the first firm shoots of hierarchy emerge and eventually mature. Their growth is uneven and intermixed. The elders and shamans rely on each other and then compete with each other for social privileges, many of which are attempts to achieve the personal security conferred by a certain measure of influence. Both groups enter into alliances with an emerging warrior caste of young men, finally to form the beginnings of a quasi-political community and an incipient State. Their privileges and powers only then become generalized into institutions that try to exercise command over society as a whole. At other times, however, hierarchical growth may become arrested and even "regress" to a greater parity between age and sex groups. Unless rule was achieved from outside, by conquest, the emergence of hierarchy was not a sudden revolution in human affairs. It was often a long and complex process.

Finally, I would like to emphasize that this book is structured around contrasts between preliterate, nonhierarchical societies — their outlooks, technics, and forms of thinking — and "civilizations" based on hierarchy and domination. Each of the themes touched upon in the second chapter is picked up again in the following chapters and explored in greater detail to clarify the sweeping changes "civilization" introduced in the human condition. What we so often lack in our daily lives and our social sensibilities is a sense of the cleavages and slow gradations by which our society developed in contrast — often in brutal antagonism — to preindustrial and preliterate cultures. We live so completely immersed in our present that it absorbs all our sensibilities and hence our very capacity to think of alternate social forms. Thus, I will continually return to preliterate sensibilities, which I merely note in Chapter Two, to explore their contrasts with later institutions, technics, and forms of thinking in hierarchical societies.

This book does not march to the drumbeat of logical categories, nor are its arguments marshaled into a stately parade of sharply delineated historical eras. I have not written a history of events, each of which follows the other according to the dictates of a prescribed chronology. Anthropology, history, ideologies, even systems of philosophy and reason, inform this book — and with them, digressions and excurses that I feel throw valuable light on the great movement of natural and human development. The more impatient reader may want to leap over passages and pages that he or she finds too discursive or digressive. But this book focuses on a few general ideas that grow according to the erratic and occasionally wayward logic of the organic rather than the strictly analytic. I hope that the reader will also want to grow with this book, to experience it and understand it — critically and querulously, to be sure, but with empathy and sensibility for the living development of freedom it depicts and the dialectic it explores in humanity's conflict with domination.

Having offered my mea culpas for certain expository problems, I would like to emphatically affirm my conviction that this process-oriented dialectical approach comes much closer to the truth of hierarchical development than a presumably clearer analytical approach so favored by academic logicians. As we look back over many millennia, our thinking and analyzes of the past are overly informed by a long historical development that early humanity evidently lacked. We are inclined to project into the past a vast body of social relations, political institutions, economic concepts, moral precepts, and a tremendous corpus of personal and social ideas that people living thousands. of years ago had yet to create and conceptualize. What are fully matured actualities to us were, to them, still unformed potentialities. They thought in terms that were basically different from ours. What we now take for granted as part of the "human condition" was simply inconceivable to them. We, in turn, are virtually incapable of dealing with a vast wealth of natural phenomena that were integrally part of their lives. The very structure of our language conspires against an understanding of their outlook.

Doubtless many "truths" that preliterate peoples held were patently false, a statement that is easily made nowadays. But I will make a case for the notion that their outlook, particularly as applied to their communities' relationship with the natural world, had a. basic soundness — one that is particularly relevant for our times. I examine their ecological sensibility and try to show why and how it deteriorated. More importantly, I am eager to determine what can be recovered from that outlook and integrated into our own. No contradiction is created by merging their ecological sensibility with our prevailing analytical one, provided such a merging transcends both sensibilities in a new way of thinking and experiencing. We can no more return to their conceptual "primitivism" than they could have grasped our analytical "sophistication." But perhaps we can achieve a way of thinking and experiencing that involves a quasi-animistic respiritization of phenomena — inanimate as well as animate — without abandoning the insights provided by science and analytical reasoning.

The melding of an organic, process-oriented outlook with an analytical one has been the traditional goal of classical western philosophy from the pre-Socratics to Hegel. Such a philosophy has always been more than an outlook or a mere method for dealing with reality. It has also been what the philosophers call an ontology — a description of reality conceived not as mere matter, but as active, self-organizing substance with a striving toward consciousness. Tradition has made this ontological outlook the framework in which thought and matter, subject and object, mind and nature are reconciled on a new spiritized level. Accordingly, I regard this process-oriented view of phenomena as intrinsically ecological in character, and I am very puzzled by the failure of so many dialectically oriented thinkers to see the remarkable compatibility between a dialectical outlook and an ecological one.

My vision of reality as process may also seem flawed to those readers who deny the existence of meaning and the value of humanity in natural development. That I see "progress" in organic and social evolution will doubtlessly be viewed skeptically by a generation that erroneously identifies "progress" with unlimited material growth. I, for one, do not make this identification. Perhaps my problem, if such it can be called, is generational. I still cherish a time that sought to illuminate the course of events, to interpret them, to make them meaningful. "Coherence" is my favorite word; it resolutely guides everything I write and say. Also, this book does not radiate the pessimism so common in environmentalist literature. Just as I believe that the past has meaning, so too do I believe that the future can have meaning. If we cannot be certain that the human estate will advance, we do have the opportunity to choose between utopistic freedom and social immolation. Herein lies the unabashed messianic character of this book, a messianic character that is philosophical and ancestral. The "principle of hope," as Ernst Bloch called it, is part of everything I value — hence my detestation of a futurism so committed to the present that it cancels out futurity itself by denying anything new that is not an extrapolation of the existing society.

I have tried to avoid writing a book that masticates every possible thought that relates to the issues raised in the following pages. I would not want to deliver these thoughts as predigested pap to a passive reader. The dialectical tension I value the most is between the reader of a book and the writer: the hints, the suggestions, the unfinished thoughts and the stimuli that encourage the reader to think for himself or herself. In an era that is so much in flux, it would be arrogant to present finished analyzes and recipes; rather, I regard it as the responsibility of a serious work to stimulate dialectical and ecological thinking. For a work that is so "simple," so "clear," so unshared — in a word, so elitist — as to require no emendations and modifications, the reader will have to look elsewhere. This book is not an ideological program; it is a stimulus to thought — a coherent body of concepts the reader will have to finish in the privacy of his or her own mind.

From :


November 30, 1981 :
Introduction -- Publication.

July 10, 2019 16:11:27 :
Introduction -- Added to

March 04, 2020 13:52:52 :
Introduction -- Last Updated on


Permalink for Sharing :
Share :


Login to Comment

0 Dislikes

No comments so far. You can be the first!


<< Last Work in The Ecology of Freedom
Current Work in The Ecology of Freedom
Next Work in The Ecology of Freedom >>
All Nearby Works in The Ecology of Freedom
Home|About|Contact|Search|Privacy Policy