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CLARK, John. A Social Ecology. 08. Freedom and Domination
Article published on 31 May 2004
last modification on 25 April 2015

by r-c.
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Presentation

1. The Social and the Ecological

2. A Dialectical Holism

3. No Nature

4. The Ecological Self

5. A Social Ecology of Value

6. An Ecology of the Imagination

7. An Ecological Imaginary

8. Freedom and Domination

Freedom and Domination

The larger processes of self-realization and unfolding of potentialities have often (since Hegel) been described as the emegence of freedom in the history of humanity, the earth, and the universe. A social ecology carries on this tradition and seeks to give an ecological meaning to such a conception of freedom. It rejects both the «negative freedom» of mere non-coercion or «being left alone» of the liberal individualist tradition, and also the «positive freedom» of the «recognition of necessity» found in many strongly organicist forms of holism. A social ecological conception of freedom focuses on the realization of a being’s potentialities for identity, individuality, awareness, complexity, self-determination, relatedness, and wholeness. In this sense, freedom is found to some degree at all levels of being : from the self-organizing and self-stabilizing tendencies of the atom to the level of the entire universe evolving to higher levels of complexity and generating new levels of being. In our own planetary history, embryonic freedom can be found in the directiveness of all life, and takes on increasingly complex forms, including, ultimately, the possibility of humans as complex social beings attaining their good through a highly-developed and respectful relationship to other humans and the natural world. The realization of such freedom requires that humanity attain consciousness of its place in the history of the earth and of the universe, that it develop the ethical responsibility to assume its role in larger processes of self-realization, and that human social institutions be reshaped to embody the conditions that would make this knowledge and ethical commitment into practical historical forces. Bookchin’s conception of «free nature» focuses on the way in which human self-realization, culminating in creation of an ecological society, establishes a growing planetary realm of freedom. This occurs as humanity «add[s] the dimension of freedom, reason, and ethics to first [i.e., non-human] nature and raise[s] evolution to a level of self-reflexivity . . . .» [1] The activity of humanity and human self-realization are thus seen as central to the achievement of freedom in nature.

But there is another, larger ecological dimension to freedom. The realization of planetary freedom requires not only the human self-realization that is emphasized in Bookchin’s «free nature,» but also the human recognition of limits and the human forbearance that is expressed in Arne Naess’s usage of that same term. [2] In this sense, «free nature» is the spontaneous, creative nature that has given rise to the entire rich, diverse system of self-realizing life on this planet. It has also given rise to humanity itself, and dialectically shaped humanity through our interaction with the all the other expressions of this free activity, and made us the complex beings that we are. As necessary as it is for humanity to rectify its disastrous disruptions of natural processes, and although a restorative ecological practice is undoubtedly required, a social ecology must also help humanity regain its capacity for creative non-action, for the Taoist wu wei, for «letting-be.» The social ecological conception of freedom as spontaneous creative order points to the need for a larger sphere of wild nature so that biodiversity can be maintained and evolutionary processes can continue their self-expression, not only in human culture and humanized nature, but in the natural world substantially free of human influence and control. A social ecology therefore implies the necessity not only for wilderness preservation but for an extensive expansion of wilderness (and relative wilderness) areas where they have been largely destroyed.

A social ecology’s vision human freedom and «free nature» is closely related to its fundamental project of critique of the forms of domination that have stood in the way of human and planetary self-realization. However, there have been some widespread misconceptions about the social ecological analysis of domination. These result in part from Bookchin’s definition of social ecology as the view that «ecological problems arise from deep-seated social problems,» [3] and his claims that the «quest to dominate nature» results from actual domination within human society. In a sense, contemporary ecophilosophies in general assert that ecological problems stem from social ones. For example, deep ecology holds that ecological problems result from the social problem of anthropocentrism, and ecofeminism holds that ecological problems result from the social problem of patriarchal ideologies and social structures. But there remains a fundamental dispute between those who, like Bookchin, give causal priority in the creation of ecological crisis to social institutions (like capitalism or the state) and others who stress the causal priority of social ideologies (like dualism, anthropocentrism, or patriarchal values).

But both sides in this dispute have often seemed less than dialectical in their approach. The roots of ecological crisis are at once institutional and ideological, psychological and cultural. A critical approach to the issue will avoid both one-sided materialist explanations (identifying economic exploitation or other «material conditions» as «the problem») and one-sided idealism (identifying a system of ideas like anthropocentrism as «the problem.») It is indeed tempting to see the emergence of certain hierarchical institutions as the precondition for human destructiveness toward the natural world. Yet these very institutions could only emerge because of the potential for domination, hierarchical values, objectification, and power-seeking that have roots in the human psyche and which are actualized under certain historical conditions. Furthermore, as a system of domination develops it does so through its dialectically interacting institutional, ideological and imaginary spheres, all of which are related to a «transhistorical» human nature developed over a long history of species evolution. Any account of the origins of hierarchy and domination and of their possible «dissolution» must therefore address at once the material, institutional, psychological and even ontological moments of both the development of these phenomena and the process of reversing it.

Continued:

9. Eco-Communitarian Politics

10. Social Eco-nomics

11. The New Leviathan

12. The Future of Social Ecology

Notes :

[1Murray Bookchin, The Philosophy of Social Ecology (Montréal : Black Rose Books, 1990), p. 182.

[2The extent to which Bookchin holds a Promethean view of human activity is suggested when he asks how humanity is «to organize a ’free nature.’« («What Is Social Ecology?» in Zimmerman, et al. Environmental Philosophy, 1st ed., p. 370.

[3Ibid., p. 354.


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