The basic premise of deep ecology is that all plants and animals have intrinsic value, whether recognized by humans or not. An action is judged as proper if it maintains the beauty and sustainability of the natural environment. A true community is a harmonious relationship of all living beings and natural forces that make up a region of the planet.

In his novel,
Ishmael (New York, Bantam, 1995), Daniel Quinn explains the evolution of present day attitudes toward the relationship between cultures and the Earth. Mankind is seen as having split, some 10,000 years ago with the advent of agriculture, into two groups -- the civilized 'Takers' and the primitive 'Leavers.' The Takers place 'man over nature,' the Leavers place 'man in nature.' Most societies today are Takers which accounts for the disruptions among cultural groups and between man and the environment.

According to Quinn, the Taker attitude is entrenched in a 'mother culture' myth that is unconsciously accepted and enacted. The first part of the myth is that we view the birth of man as the central event in the history of the cosmos. Takers place mankind as the culmination, the end product of the fundamental creative processes of the universe, the point of evolution. Since the world was incomplete without man, a jungle, it needed man to put it in order. "The world was made for man, and man was made to rule it." (pg. 72)

But, the world would not submit meekly to human rule. It produced storm, flood, famine and disease. Other animals were stronger, or more numerous, and stole things away from man. So, before he could rule, man had to conquer -- the deserts with irrigation, the rivers with dams and levees, the insects and plants with chemicals, annoying animals with extinction, the oceans, the atom, space and on and on. The Takers also had to do away with the Leavers, the more 'primitive' cultures. Man, in fulfilling his destiny, is "enacting a story that casts mankind as the enemy of the world." (pg. 75)

The fact that things are not working out to be a paradise under man's rule can be attributed to the fact that the Takers have ignored the basic law of nature that cannot be broken if a species is to survive. The Takers exterminate their competitors; systematically destroy their competitors' food to make room for their own; and deny their competitors access to food. The law "defines the limits of competition in the community of life. You may compete to the full extent of your capabilities, but you may not hunt down your competitors or destroy their food or deny them access to food. In other words, you may compete but you may not wage war." (pg. 129)

The end result of mankind exempting itself from this law is that we end up with a community in which diversity is progressively destroyed in order to support the expansion of a single species. Everything in the world except our food, and food of our food, becomes an enemy to be exterminated. Constantly expanding the food supply leads to constantly increasing population that puts more pressure on the need for food, a vicious cycle that can't be broken until all the resources are gone, and death, the penalty for breaking the law of limited competition, occurs. (pg. 132-133)

The Leaver myth is quite different. It places man in nature and does not view the world as having been made for any one species. Their story is that "the gods made man for the world, the same way they made salmon and sparrows and rabbits for the world; this seems to have worked pretty well so far, so we can take it easy and leave the running of the world to the gods." (pg. 241) The Leavers live as they live, and are willing to let others live their lives as they see fit. They appreciate diversity and recognize that there is no 'one right way' to live on the earth, providing the law of limited competition is not broken.

Which brings us back to deep ecology. The knowledge of what works well for things or production is valued in Taker culture. The knowledge of what works well for people is valued in Leaver culture. Taking and living as if man is separate from and the pinnacle of the rest of creation is a deadly course. Only through humility and respect for other creatures, other people, and the processes of the earth can survival and continued evolution be given a chance. Hence the need to recognize and act as if all living things have material and spiritual rights.


Deep Ecology