Deep ecology

I’m not much interested in ethics or morals. I’m interested in how we experience the world.” – Arne Næss.

As a student of philosophy, I read the Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss’s books about modern philosophy. He wrote in an engaging and clear style that demonstrated deep philosophical breadth and he invited the reader to think along with him.

One of his strengths as a philosopher was this inviting, almost conversational style, which was related to his intuitive approach to life. By “intuitive,” I refer to something necessary—an open approach in which you follow life wherever it takes you, because it leaves you no possibility of escape.

To some extent, Næss made philosophy available to all. Ever since, I’ve always liked the idea that all people can learn to philosophize with a little training.

Years later, I was hiking in Norway and it was here I that I really came to appreciate Næss’s work on the deep ecology movement. On an intuitive level, I experienced the harmony and co-existence with nature that he often mentioned.

I hiked with a friend for 20 days. We spent the days walking, sitting, and observing. At one point, I noticed that I shared the same rhythm with the life around me. I experienced the interconnectedness found in nature.

Becoming one with nature

Næss called his brand of philosophy “eco-philosophy,” or “ecosophy,” which fuses the words “ecology” and “philosophy.”

In his work, he expanded on the concepts of existentialism and life-philosophies. At first, this might seem banal, but he treated both concepts with scholarly depth while connecting them with real-life experiences. This is always risky, especially for philosophers, who fear nothing more than being called “shallow” or having their views labelled “pop.”

However, what Næss emphasized was, for instance, that based on solid scrutiny of some part of your life (such as your work or your partner), you can evaluate how much joy or sadness that particular aspect brings. Furthermore, we always have the choice of changing how we respond to what happens, so we have to assume some responsibility for the quality of our lives.

Næss was, among others, inspired by Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring, which alerted the world to the dangers of the misuse of pesticides. The book opens dramatically with, “There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings.”

Nature was once noisy and full of life, and then came devastating silence, according to Carson—the silence of the death of nature. “No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves,” she said.

The challenge for Carson, and later Næss, was figuring out how to change human attitudes towards pollution and pesticides; that is, how to change our relationship with the world.

Within his “ecosophy,” Næss linked people and nature. Ecosophy is “relational thinking,” he said, emphasizing that nothing lives in isolation. “The larger world becomes part of our own interest,” he wrote in Ecology, community, and lifestyle: Outline of an Ecosophy. Thus, everything is connected.

One of Næss’s key concepts was “self-realization,” which shouldn’t be mistaken for self-centeredness or egoism. Rather, it’s more of an ongoing and respectful process of becoming one with nature.

This is what many, including myself, often experience during longer periods of engagement with the natural world. Some experience something similar during meditation as a way of fine-tuning their relationship with the world.

Everything has intrinsic value

Another key idea for Næss was that everything has intrinsic value. Therefore, we shouldn’t use nature as a means to achieving something else.

Unfortunately, many see nature as a resource to be used for our benefit, which is partly due to the instrumental thinking that seems to permeate most of our education and activity today. For example, many view nature as something “out there,” whereas nature is actually part of us.

Similarly, the destructive mantra of economic growth, which only leads to stress, has nothing in common with spiritual growth. Nurturing your spiritual growth also means nurturing the growth of all other forms of life.

For this reason, Næss tried to move our care for the environment from the sphere of ethics to the sphere of ontology. For this to be helpful, we need to re-examine how we perceive and understand our world as we gradually become one with it, and develop a participatory and compassionate understanding of our relationship with life.

Næss was not only highly skilled in the classical history of philosophy, he was also influenced by Gandhi’s thinking. His meshing of Gandhi’s thoughts and Spinoza’s ethics of joy made his philosophy rather original. He emphasized the importance of respecting alternative ways of living even when he disagreed with them.

As he said in an interview, cited in Ecology, community, and lifestyle, “I think that intellectuals might consider their intellects in a more Spinozistic way, and cultivate … a loving attitude towards what (they) have insight into … without making the terrible mistake of becoming sentimental or fanatical.”

The deep ecology movement

A good introduction to Næss and the deep ecology movement is The Ecology of Wisdom: Writings by Arne Næss, which has an excellent preface and introduction by Alan Drengson and Bill Devall (two other prominent figures within this environmental movement). As it says in the introduction, “Mindful practice brings our ecosophy alive from moment to moment. Love and care live only in the present.”

Another option is the film The Call of the Mountain: Arne Naess and the Deep Ecology Movement (1997), which offers an interesting portrait of the man, his philosophy and the movement. Filmmaker Jan van Boeckel teamed up with Arne Næss himself to capture the spirit of the philosopher in his natural habitat, the mountains of Norway.

Regardless of what medium you choose to use, studying Næss is always a good place to start when you want to awaken or reawaken your relationship with nature.

First published in The Mindful Word

Catching life

Recently, I bought a boxset with the Television series Twin Peaks and David Lynch’s book Catching the Big Fish

“Ideas are like fish”, Lynch writes. “If you want a little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper.” It is well-known that Lynch uses transcendental meditation to go deeper. Everything there is, comes from the deepest level, he says, which modern physics call the Unified Field.  “The more your consciousness—your awareness—is expanded, the deeper you go towards this source, and the bigger the fish you can catch.”

Reading this little book while watching Twin Peaks was illuminating. For example, the series opens with the log women speaking and telling us what it’s all about, she ends up saying: “Laura is the one.” 

She, Laura Palmer, is the Unified Field. Everything that happens in Twin Peaks, is related to her: Laura Palmer. 

The whole series is drawing a map of a complex totality as a way of gradually going deeper and deeper. For example, in later episodes, the log women speaks about dreams and ideas. The FBI special agent Dale Coper often gets his ideas, or clear up a misunderstanding, in his dreams, perhaps as an illustration of the “hidden” potential that lies deep within – something unconscious, something still unknown, waiting to actualized.

I recall seeing the series when I lived in small town (some years younger than the young bunch of main characters, some of which I found both cool and very attractive back then). Twin Peaks caught my attention like no other series had before (and not like anyone else had until I saw the first season of True Detective). 

Lynch, reminds me of the Danish poet and film instructor Jørgen Leth, who I once wrote a book about. (I encountered Leth’s poems and films more or less at the same time, I saw Twin Peaks). Leth is also semi-inspired by a humble philosophy where you’re open for whatever happens; you take it, whatever it is, and use it as good as you can. In continuation of Leth (and later with the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño), I’ve tried to develop a poetic and attentive philosophy, where the senses are all active

Both Lynch and Leth mention how certain coincidences that happened at their filmset later were integrated into their films, making them better. They both believe that time should be allowed to unfold as it unfolds. Time is not a passive medium within which acts are placed; rather, time is immanent “within” action, when opening for or making another possible future actual. They both believe that everything is connected.

I emphasize that everything is connected or interconnectivity, recalling the Norwegian eco-philosopher Arne Næss who once said something like: if I destroy another life, I also destroy myself to some degree. Why? Because relations compose who I am, who we are. Relating this idea to a small community like Twin Peaks, then the life of each one of the characters is not sustainable without the others, and vice versa. The death of Laura Palmer is, therefore, not only a tragedy for her and her closest relations; rather, it’s an attack on the social bonds that holds this community together. 

Perhaps Twin Peaks can be seen as how fragile or vulnerable these social bonds are when we focus on money, power, greed and hate, and how these bonds can be strengthen through friendships, honesty, trust … stressing something like an equal value of all lives. For example, special agent Dale Coper listens to all citizens with equal care and interest, even those we (the viewers) might look at with skepticisms. He is a fairly good person.

Seeing Twin Peaks and reading this little simple book brought me back to my own youth—perhaps not as something deeper (not sure I agree with Lynch’s vertical metaphor)—but as an expanding of my consciousness, reconnecting with these basic social bonds of love, care and friendships. Catching moments of life.

In a way, re-watching Twin Peaks made me recall how ethics is generous. It gives or shares without asking for anything because it passes on what cannot be owned: love, friendship or social bonds.  

Isn’t philosophy’s first virtue to be humble as in curious, open, available?  

Love and care in the present moment – the philosophy of Arne Næss

I’m not much interested in ethics or morals. I’m interested in how we experience the world.” – Arne Næss.

As a student of philosophy, I read the Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss’s books. He wrote in an engaging and clear style that demonstrated deep philosophical breadth and he invited the reader to think along with him.

One of his strengths as a philosopher was this inviting, almost conversational style, which was related to his intuitive approach to life. By “intuitive,” I refer to something necessary—an open approach in which you follow life wherever it takes you, because it leaves you no possibility of escape.

Read the rest of the essay at The Mindful Word.

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