THE WEB OF LIFE… and the Global Grass-Roots Ecology Movements (By Fritjof Capra)

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Fritjof Capra (1939 – )

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FOREWORD

“Questions that have puzzled scientists and philosophers for hundreds of years: How did complex structures evolve out of a random collection of molecules? What is the relationship between mind and brain? What is consciousness?  (…) “How does a wounded organism regenerate to exactly the same structure it had before? How does the egg form the organism?” (BRENNER, Sidney.) A new language for understanding the complex, highly integrative systems of life has indeed emerged. (…) The new understanding of life may be seen as the scientific forefront of the change of paradigms form a mechanistic to an ecological viewpoint. The synthesis of current theories and models I propose in this book – The Web of Life – may be seen as an outline of an emerging theory of living systems that offers a unified view of mind, matter, and life.” – FRITJOF CAPRA, Intro

CRISIS OF PERCEPTION

“Environmental concerns have become of paramount importance. We are faced with a whole series of global problems that are harming the biosphere and human life in alarming ways that may soon become irreversible. The more we study the major problems of our time, the more we come to realize that they cannot be understood in isolation. They are systemic problems, which means that they are interconnected and interdependent. Scarcities of resources and environmental degradation, combined with rapidly expanding populations, lead to the break-down of local communities and to the ethnic and tribal violence that has become the main characteristic of the post-Cold War era. Ultimately these problems must be seen as just different facets of one single crisis, which is largely a crisis of perception.  It derives from the fact that most of us, and especially our large social institutions, subscribe to concepts of an outdated worldview, a perception of reality inadequate for dealing with our overpopulated, globally interconnected world.

The solutions to the major problems of our time require a radical shift in our perception, our thinking, our values. And, indeed, we are now at the beginning of such a fundamental change of worldview in science and society, a change of paradigms as radical as the Copernican revolution.  But this realization has not yet dawned on most of our political leaders. The recognition that a profound change of perception and thinking is needed if we are to survive has not yet reached most of our corporate leaders, either, or the administrators and professors of our large universities.

The only viable solutions are those that are “sustainable”. The concept of sustainability has become a key concept in the ecology movement and is indeed crucial. Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute has given a simple, clear, and beautiful definition: “A sustainable society is one that satisfies its needs without diminishing the prospects of future generations.” [1] This, in a nutshell, is the great challenge of our time: to create sustainable communities – that is to say, social and cultural environments in which we can satisfy our needs and aspirations without diminishing the chances of future generations.

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BROWN, Lester R. Building a Sustainable Society. Norton, New York, 1981.

The paradigm that is now receding has dominated our culture for several hundred years, during which it has shaped our modern Western society and has significantly influenced the rest of the world. This paradigm consists of a number of entrenched ideas and values, among them the view of the universe as a mechanical system composed of elementary building blocks, the view of the human body as a machine, the view of life in society as a competitive struggle for existence, the belief in unlimited material progress to be achieved through economic and technological growth, and – last, but not least – the belief that a society in which female is everywhere subsumed under the male is one that follows a basic law of nature. All of these assumptions have been fatefully challenged by recent events. And, indeed, a radical revision of them is now occurring.

The new paradigm may be called a holistic or ecological worldview, seeing the world as an integrated whole rather than a dissociated collection of parts. Deep ecological awareness recognizes the fundamental interdependence of all phenomena and the fact that, as individuals and societies, we are all embedded in (and ultimately dependent on) the cyclical processes of nature. (…) The sense in which I use the term “ecological” is associated with a specific philosophical school and, moreover, with a global grass-roots movement known as “deep ecology”, which is rapidly gaining prominence. The philosophical school was founded by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess in the early 1970s (you can download for free his e-books: Life’s Philosophy: Reason and Feeling in a Deeper WorldEcology, Community and Lifestyle: Outline of an Ecosophy and The Selected Works of Arne Naess: Volumes 1-10).

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Arne Næss: Philosopher, Professor, Environmentalist – Watch documentary about him

Shallow ecology is anthropocentric, or human-centered. It views humans as above or outside of nature, as the source of all value, and ascribes only instrumental value to nature. Deep ecology does not separate humans – or anything else – from the natural environment. It sees the world not as a collection of isolated objects, but as a network of phenomena that are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. Deep ecology recognizes the intrinsic value of all living beings and views humans as just one particular strand in the web of life.

The new vision of reality based on deep ecological awareness is consistent with the so-called perennial philosophy of spiritual traditions, whether we talk about the spirituality of Christian mystics, that of Buddhists, or the philosophy and cosmology underlying the Native American traditions.

The common ground of the various schools of social ecology is the recognition that the fundamentally antiecological nature of many of our social and economic structures and their technologies is rooted in what Riane Eisler has called the ‘DOMINATOR SYSTEM’ of social organization. Patriarchy, imperialism, capitalism, and racism are examples of social domination that are exploitative and antiecological.

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FROM HIERARCHIES TO NETWORKS

If we look at our Western industrial culture, we see that we have overemphasized the self-assertive values – competition, expansion, domination – and neglected the integrative tendencies – cooperation, partnership etc. (…) Power, in the sense of domination over others, is excessive self-assertion. The social structure in which it is exerted most effectively is the hierarchy. Indeed, our political, military, and corporate structures are hierarchically ordered, with men generally occupying the upper levels and women the lower levels. Most of these men, and quite a few women, have come to see their position in the hierarchy as part of their identity, and thus the shift to a different system of values generates existential fear in them.

However, there is another kind of power, one that is more appropriate for the new paradigm – power as influence of others. The ideal structure for exerting this kind of power is not the hierarchy but the network, which, as we shall see, is also the central metaphor of ecology. The paradigm shift thus includes a shift in social organization from hierarchies to networks.

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FRITJOF CAPRA. The Web Of Life – A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems.

Download Capra’s e-books here.

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