Here's a nice long rant I wrote for an English class last semester.

Environmentalism and the Re-emergence of the Mythopoeic

The environmentalist movement as a loosely knit political organization to improve the quality of human life by taking better care of the ecology sounds innocuous enough. However, environmentalism as a doctrine, as an end in itself, presents some rather interesting questions about how we as humans view ourselves in relation to the world. In fact, radical environmentalism is directly opposed to the very tenets of Western thought and philosophy upon which our civilization was built.

Prior to the emergence of ancient Greek civilization and philosophy, humankind had a consciousness of self as part of a greater story or myth. The word "mythopoeic," which is used to describe this mode of thought, literally means "making" (from the Greek word, poieîn) and "myth" (from mûthos). Thus, mythopoeic thought was centered upon myth. Myth, for the ancients, was not just a story or fable, but rather truth itself. The Pharaoh of Egypt was not just the personification of a god or his high priest, he literally was a god. Myth allows for a multiplicity of explanations. The explanations are not logically exclusive, which is to say that they can contradict each other.

Greek philosophy stands in stark contrast to the mythopoeic mode of thought. Even the theories of the earliest Greek philosophers, such as Anaximander and Heraclitus, are systematic and internally coherent. They presented a radically different way of looking at life and the world. At last, humanity moved from local, temporary explanations for phenomena to universal, immutable laws. Rather than fearing that a rising river was angry, humans understood that the river rose due to natural weather patterns. Man was at last no longer at the mercy of fickle, unknowable gods and demons.

The mythopoeic tradition regarded mankind as largely inconsequential, the pawn or victim of larger forces. Greek philosophy, on the other hand, regarded the world as something to be understood and used and regarded human life as central to itself. "Man is the measure of all things," says the Sophic philosopher, Protagoras.

Myths are self-justifying. The inspiration of the gods was enough to ensure their validity, and there was no other explanation for the creativity of poets, seers, and prophets than inspiration by the gods. Thus, myths are not argumentative. Philosophy, by contrast, must justify its truth and its worth, and in doing so, the ancient Greek philosophers established the tradition of rationalism as a method of differentiating fact from falsehood.

This tradition of rationalism, anthropocentric philosophy, and systematic inquiry was the foundation of a long and distinguished line of Western philosophers. The development of the scientific method was a natural flowering of the seeds planted by the Greek philosophers, leading to the industrial and technological revolution in the 18th century. Admittedly, many ecologically and sociologically disastrous mistakes have been made in the name of progress, but overall, the upward climb of the human race has been undeniably to our benefit as a species.

The environmental movement (and when I speak of the environmental movement, I am specifically addressing the more radical segments of the movement such as Greenpeace and Earth First!) challenges the ideas that form the basis of Western civilization. Nature, they insist, has intrinsic value, to be revered for its own sake, regardless of any benefit to man. As a consequence, man is to be prohibited from using nature for his own ends. Since nature is deemed to have value and goodness in itself, any human action which changes the environment is necessarily branded as immoral.

In making these claims, those who espouse radical environmentalist philosophy echo pre-philosophic ideas, which imply that Nature, and this planet in particular, is not an "It" but a "Thou" and further, is something to be worshipped or revered. The parallels between the mythopoeic viewpoint and modern environmentalist philosophy are further accentuated by the Gaia hypothesis, which is espoused by a large number of radical environmentalists. James Lovelock first formulated this hypothesis in 1979. The Gaia hypothesis states that our planet is a living being and all life forms are her offspring. It is quite easy to see the similarities between early human perceptions of Nature as a living force and awe-inspiring entity and the Gaian view of Earth as an actual living organism.

The difference between the ancient mythopoeic view of the world and some groups of environmentalists is that while early humans saw themselves as an integral part of nature, these groups see humankind as a kind of vermin or disease that the Earth must be rid of. I here quote philosopher Paul Taylor:

"Given the total, absolute, and final disappearance of Homo Sapiens, not only would the Earth’s community of life continue to exist, but in all probability, its well-being would be enhanced. Our presence, in short, is not needed. And if we were to take the standpoint of that Life Community and give voice to its true interests, the ending of the human epoch on Earth would most likely be greeted with a hearty ‘Good riddance!’ "(Taylor 115)

In going this further step, Taylor not only rejects the Western doctrines of human advancement, he also rejects any purpose, reason or even excuse for his own existence. While I freely admit that most people who consider themselves to be environmentalists might even be shocked by such malevolence, I contend that ideas such as these are a key part of radical environmentalist philosophy.

The idea that the ecosystem has intrinsic worth is often referred to as "Deep Ecology." The Norwegian environmental activist and philosopher Arne Naess coined this term in the early 1970’s. This concept of putting the welfare of the planet before that of humanity is well documented in Confessions of an Eco-Warrior by David Foreman, cofounder of Earth First. In the book, he states the "principles of the Earth First movement."

"A placing of Earth first in all decisions, even ahead of human welfare if necessary…In everything human society does, the primary consideration should be for the long-term health and biological diversity of Earth. After that, we can consider the welfare of humans." (Foreman 25)

Why, may I ask, should we as humans put anything above the welfare of the species? The primary imperative of any living entity is its own survival and well-being. To consider such an ephemeral and impossible-to-define notion as the "health of the planet" as superior to the survival of Homo Sapiens is cultural suicide. This self-destructive attitude is highly evident in the means that groups such as Earth First! use to "defend the Earth." These means are outlined by David Foreman.

"An acceptance of monkeywrenching as a legitimate tool for the preservation of natural diversity…Look at an EF! T-shirt. The monkeywrench on it is a symbol of resistance, an heir of the sabot—the wooden shoe dropped in the gears to stop the machine, from whence comes the word sabotage." (34)

Far from helping either their cause, or the ecosystem of which these individuals seem so fond, they demonize themselves, and alienate would-be supporters. By showing antipathy towards technology, they not only fight a battle they are doomed to lose, they also fight against the one thing that, in the long run, will ever preserve the ecology without need for extermination of the vast majority of the human population. This idea, not surprisingly, they see to be a feasible solution.

Long-standing Western philosophical concepts make the claim that individuals have a right to live their lives for their own sakes. This means that humans are not compelled by some kind of planetary consciousness to sacrifice their prosperity, their well being, their very lives to benefit the ecosystem. Obviously, it would behoove society to take care of its environment, not for the sake of the environment, but rather for the sake of society itself. A flourishing biosphere is, of course, quite necessary for human well-being, and long-term planning to insure the proper measures are taken to preserve the ecological balance is of high importance.

We as a society must weigh and assess the choices that we will make. We surely must protect our ecosphere from damage, but we must also ask why and for what purpose we should do this. Ecology for ecology’s sake is not the answer. Human survival is of far greater importance to us than a hypothetical state of environmental utopia. The "needs of the environment" should not be a factor in making decisions which affect people. No reason exists why we as a species should put anything above our own survival. The reason for preserving the ecosystem should be, according to the principles of Western thought, as a habitat for mankind. One must set priorities and choose: man or nature- compromise in this matter is inherently self-contradictory.