In the industrial north we are largely brought up in a culture of individualism, which promotes the idea that humans are separate from, and superior to, the rest of nature.
The Ecological Self (central to the school of Experiential Deep Ecology) is well described by psychological theories that see the self as arising from a dynamic web of relationships.
Elizabeth Ann Bragg¹ sums up the concept in the following points:
- Ecological self is a wide, expansive or field-like sense of self, which ultimately includes all life-forms, ecosystems and the Earth itself.
- Experiences of ecological self involve:
- an emotional resonance with other life-forms;
- a perception of being similar, related to, or identical with other life-forms;
- spontaneously behaving towards the ecosphere as one would towards one’s small self (with nurture and defence).
- It is possible to expand one’s sense of self from the personal to the ecological.
The School of Experiential Deep Ecology, based on the work of Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss, argues that through the process of self-actualisation, one transcends the nations of the individuated “egoic” self and arrives at a position of an ecological self.
So long as one is working within the narrower concept of self, Næss argues, environmentally responsible behaviour is a form of altruism, a “doing good for the other”, which historically has been a precarious ethical basis, usually involved in exhorting others to “be good”.
Næss argues that in his Ecosophy, the enlargement of the ego-self to the eco-self results in environmentally responsible behaviour as a form of self-interest.
As deep ecologist John Seed has stated, “Deep ecology critiques the idea that we are the crown of creation, the measure of all being: that the world is a pyramid with humanity rightly on top, merely a resource, and that nature has instrumental value only”.
Between ECO and EGO
by Caroline Dear
Which is which?
ECO – the earth and it’s rhythms
EGO – one’s own self and actions
five sea washed stones
selected by me –
my action removing them from their natural place
rope made using rushes
collected from the field –
my action changing the plant’s natural cycle
the rush rope wrapped around the five shore stones
my action forming a finished piece
which encourages respect for the natural world
what is really natural?
we are all inextricably bound to the natural world
we are part of the ecosystem, we interact, we destroy, we create
¹ Elizabeth Ann Bragg. Towards Ecological Self: deep ecology meets constructionist self-theory (Journal of Environmental Psychology 16, 93–108, 1987).