The concept of progress can’t be criticized strongly enough, philosophically as well as practically. The very meaning of progress implies disturbing the equilibrium. Progress means wanting to know better than the spontaneous ordering mechanisms created by nature and ‘correcting’ them. Exhausting in a few generations the natural resources built up for millions of years, destroying the environment with pesticides, piling up waste and pollution are symptoms in this context. Add the population explosion and the illusion that all people can and should be made rich, and you’ll understand why rejecting progress is more than a matter of romantic nostalgia. The rejection of progress should be evident for every one having an ecological view of nature and society.
The mechanism of progress, concretely illustrated, looks as follows: insects eat part of the crops we want to keep for ourselves, therefore we use insecticides. Result: insect eaters die, for lack of food, crops become weaker through overprotection, the insects become resistant, andâ€¦ we need stronger insecticides. Natural process been replaced by a technological one, the environment has been made more monotonous and vulnerable to human error, sabotage and technical failure, and everything is much more expensive.
Intervention in a natural system (and both the human body and society can be considered as such) leads to its partial disintegration. This in turn leads to more intervention.
The two final options are thus:
1) going on with increasing the level of intervention until it simply can’t be kept up;
2) stop it and face chaos because the spontaneous ordering mechanisms aren’t working any more.
Politically speaking, a healthy society is always more or less anarchistic. Order is kept not primarily by a government issuing orders and commands, but by such spontaneous mechanisms as tradition, religion, social pressure, the will of the deceased, permanent group discussion. But as soon as the state starts replacing these mechanisms by outside factors (its own commands) the aforementioned negative spiral sets in.
Purposeness and the linear view of history
“You’ve got to have a purpose in life” is one of those moral prescriptions that are simply taken for granted. From the ecological point of view expounded here, that statement ought to be questioned. In fact, the chief ‘purpose’ of every healthy organism (biological or social) should be negative :to ward off threats to its integrity. Besides that, the only purpose should always be the stability and well-being of itself and of the higher-level wholes an organism or system is part of. When the cells of the body start having a purpose of their own, apart from and contradictory to the well-being of the body, the result is cancer. So the theory of individualism can rightly be described as social cancer: the social cells (individual human beings) only care about their own personal objectives.
Fascism, on the other hand, is the word we could use for a situation where the egotistic attitude is applied at the socio-political level. So what we need in fact is a kind of holism, directed at the interests of nature in its entirety. Ideally, these interests should not be pursued by continuously wondering what to do for nature or ‘the whole’, but simply by following the dictates of our own instincts and feelings, which have been programmed to coincide with the interests of the whole. The problem is, of course, that something seems to have gone wrong there (something probably related to the way we, as a species, came into being, and which made us too intelligent for our role in nature), so there is room for some corrective thinking about how to undo the negative results of our earlier excessive thinking, so that we can live simply and naturally again, like other creatures, based on our instincts and feelings, and with reason used only practically, functionally, especially to ward off dangers.
This dichotomy of organic, stability-directed behaviour vs. ‘purposive’, individualistic behaviour is linked to another one, that between the linear and the cyclical view of history. Traditional societies have a cyclic view of what happens in the world. They observe the many ever returning processes which are themselves part of bigger ones: night follows day, days become seasons, seasons become years. Although, from our human level of observation, we can’t experience this, they affirm that the whole process of history also returns upon itself. Time itself, just like space, is made up by organically related units. Christianity and other monotheistic religions, of which the modern world view is but the profane expression, broke up this time circle. History is now nothing but the succession of different phases: the past, which is gone and therefore non-existent, and the present, that fleeting moment we should use to obtain a better future (in heaven or on earth). Whereas for traditional societies the time cycle is a sacred reality, for christians and modernists the past and the present are the means to be used to improve the what reason they have to believe that ‘the next future’ will be any better.
Mankind is probably doomed, and its downfall will also mean the partial and temporary destruction of the eco-system he is part of. Fortunately, man is probably not capable of completely destroying nature, even if he wanted to, so nature will recover.
Is there a scenario possible which would not imply the complete destruction of mankind? Yes, there is, and one of the best is Richard Hunt’s of Alternative Green, as described by Arthur Brand in Perspectives NÂ°7: the breaking up of empires and big nations, ultimately culminating in the village community, a process which can only start at the exploited periphery. But the center, having to lose its whole standard of living, will resist, and that resistance won’t be peaceful. The fact that personally and socially we have become addicted to the unnatural living conditions our too big brain has created, will make the whole transition even harder.
When we read about ‘living in harmony with nature’ we all smile happily: we hear leaves rustle and the birds sing. But let’s be honest: how many of us would personally be willing or able to live like our ancestors did 10,000 years ago (and even that would be an approximation, as to really live in harmony with nature, we would have to go back more than a million years ago, to the time we were still hominid apes)?
If in another 10,000 years human beings are still around, it probably won’t be because some of us started using, say, biodegradable detergents (although that never harms, of course), but because aids, the poisoned soil, water, radioactivity, power failures, and our deteriorating physical and psychological condition have eliminated so many of us that the rest, remaining in complete disorganization, have no other choice but to live ‘in harmony with nature.’