ECOZOIC IDEAS

By Herman F. Greene

 

As the year begins, here are some thoughts about ways we might better understand and move forward into the Ecozoic.

Terminology

A shared understanding of terminology is necessary for clarity. As well, I think it’s helpful for an author to explain his personal usage.

As Thomas Berry has said, we need a new language. The first word in this new language would have to be "Ecozoic." As used by Thomas, "Ecozoic" most often appears in conjunction with "Era." An "Ecozoic Era" would be a period of mutually enhancing relationships between humans and the larger community of Life. "Ecozoic" would also be used to refer to a geo-biological period in Earth’s history, succeeding the current Cenozoic Era, which Thomas and others believe is coming to an end due to a mass extinction of species and alteration of Earth’s geo-, hydro-, bio-, and atmospheres, resulting from human disruption of natural processes. As such, the Ecozoic Era does not yet exist and would only come into existence as a result of increased human awareness and conscious human choices. If appropriate choices are made, humans may yet live in an integral relationship with the Earth community. If they are not made, some believe natural disasters will sweep over Earth, radically altering life in ways that are unforeseeable, but are expected to severely diminish complex webs of life and render whole species and species groups extinct.

Your alternative or additional definitions of "Ecozoic" will help us to supplement our understanding of the term and broaden the base of those who are who are generally drawn to the ideas in Thomas Berry’s writings. For my part, I have found several other uses of "Ecozoic" to be informative.

Ecozoic: A Particular Strand Within the Environmental Movement

Many writers describe several phases of the environmental movement. One was the conservation movement which began perhaps with John Muir at the end of the 19th century. The second was the anti-pollution/anti-toxin movement beginning perhaps with Rachel Carson, and the third was the ecological (lifestyle, biodiversity, sustainability, whole-systems thinking) that began perhaps in the 1980s. In this context Ecozoic is an expansion and radicalization of what the ecological movement has become. The Ecozoic focuses on the role of the human in the ecosystem. Two thoughts in Thomas Berry’s The Great Work (GW) define the Ecozoic movement: This movement proposes that (1) the "central flaw" in human development is our "mode of consciousness that has established a radical discontinuity between the human and other modes of being and [has bestowed] all rights on the humans," GW, p. 4; and (2) "[t]he historical mission of our times is to reinvent the human—at the species level, with critical reflection, within the community of life systems, in a time-developmental context, by means of story and shared dream experience." GW, p. 159. The task described in clause 2 is "The Great Work."

The term "The Great Work" is widely used by people who follow Thomas’ thought. In common usage, it refers to any significant effort to bring about greater awareness of the interrelatedness of humans and nature or to preserve and enhance the health of nature. It is probably not often used specifically to refer to clause 2 above, and when it is so used, the parts of clause 2 concerning the means of accomplishing this mission—critical reflection, story, and shared dream experience—are probably not self-consciously appropriated. I invite you to consider the proposition that clause 2 above is the clearest statement of what "The Great Work" is and, from Thomas’ perspective, the central issue to be addressed in the Great Work is clause 1.

Ecozoic: A Particular Strand Within the Humanities

Another proposition to consider is that what distinguishes the Ecozoic movement from other ecological efforts is its emphasis on the humanistic dimension—on what it means to be human and on human culture. The Ecozoic understanding is that the environmental crisis cannot be solved solely by addressing the human impacts on the environment or even by focusing on human behavior as regards the environment. The environmental crisis can only be forestalled when there is a broad new cultural understanding of what it means to be human. The sources of this new understanding would be (i) myth, in particular the "New Story" of the evolutionary development of the universe, (ii) spirituality, especially spirituality based on an understanding of nature as the primary revelation of the divine, (iii) understanding the nature of existence as relationships occurring in community with an emphasis on bioregional community, (iv) becoming aware of subconscious archetypes of new modes of living such as those present in sleep dreaming and awake dreaming within an ecological context (it is in this way that the dream of the Earth that Thomas writes about becomes known to us), and (v) rational understanding and judgment informed by ecology as the foundation of learning where the ways of nature are understood as the primary teacher, healer and law-giver.

The work of E. Maynard Adams is another important source of this needed new cultural understanding. Adams has produced an extensive critique of the development of the modern mind and culture since the sixteenth century. In his view scientific naturalism has become the guiding human philosophy. He has argued that, according to scientific naturalism, existence is factually constituted and lacks a normative dimension. "Reality was understood as imposing factual limits on our will, limits that could be progressively pushed back by advances in science and technology." With such a view, the quest for wealth and power became the overriding concern of the human community and the moral and meaning dimensions of humanity were subverted. In response to this situation, Adams has called for a humanistic revolution.

Adams’ critique of modernity, his analysis of the distinctness and unique role of humans and his exposition of the humanistic categories of value and meaning are important for the success of the Ecozoic movement. At the same time, unless those who develop Adams’ work do not do so in an ecological framework, the significance of his work will be greatly diminished. While Adams writes primarily about human affairs, his overarching argument is that the humanistic categories of value and meaning are part of the descriptive-explanatory structure of the universe, and by establishing the philosophical basis for this position he has provided grounding for Ecozoic writing on the psychic-spiritual dimension of existence (which is dependent on value and meaning concepts). Adams work is consistent with that of Thomas’ and he feels that Thomas in writing, for example, about "the dream of the Earth" or the "unfolding" of the universe story, is using humanistic categories, i.e., value and meaning concepts, that are outside the range, and properly so, of the explanatory categories recognized in the scientific naturalism (what Berry might refer to as mechanistic science) that so dominates the modern mind.

Adam’s work complements Thomas’. Thomas is aware that the natural world and all of its beings (each of which has a subjective dimension) affects human consciousness and that this interrelatedness is necessary for humans to be fully human. This concept is not developed in Adams’ work, nor does Adams explore the significance of the new cosmology (New Story) that is so central to Thomas’ thought. Conversely, Thomas does not develop extensively the significance of the loss of the value and meaning dimensions of life other than in an ecological context. Further, Thomas does not go into the analysis Adams gives of the unique dimensions of the human (around which humans must define their role "at the species level" and "within the community of life systems") and of human problems in contemporary culture; and Adams’ critique of modernity and his philosophical argument for value and meaning categories are distinct and crucially important. Both Thomas and Adams would agree that it is the human that is the central problem in nature and on the importance of developing a new understanding of humans in relation to nature and of addressing the current ecological crisis.

Ecozoic as a Philosophical/Metaphysical Concept

Thomas’ understanding of the nature of reality is dependent on several key concepts:

1. The Unity of the Universe. The Universe as a whole is an interacting community of beings inseparably related in space and time. From its beginning the Universe has had a psychic-spiritual dimension. The Universe is a communion of subjects not a collection of objects.

2. Modes of Expression. The Universe expresses itself at all levels of reality through differentiation (diversity), subjectivity (interiority, self-organization), and communion (intimacy, interrelatedness).

3. Cosmogenesis. The Universe is a creative, emergent, evolutionary reality that has developed from the time of the primordial flaring forth, and is still developing, through a sequence of irreversible transformations.

The development and exposition of this understanding of the nature of reality is an essential part of the Ecozoic movement. This set of concepts has profound philosophical/metaphysical meaning. Teilhard de Chardin, drawing on his knowledge as a paleontologist, articulated these concepts. The most systematic elaboration of these concepts, however, is found in the writing of Alfred North Whitehead. Thus I propose that the Ecozoic movement would be constructively informed by Whitehead’s process philosophy. Understanding this philosophical framework permits the application of the wisdom of the New Story to every dimension of human expression. Yet, as with Adams’ work, unless process philosophy is grounded in an ecological context, it loses relevance, and, conversely, the process philosophy movement has much to gain from greater exposure to and understanding of the Ecozoic as articulated by Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, Mary Evelyn Tucker, and others.

However, if the Ecozoic movement is to succeed, no one line of thought or set of understandings should become doctrine, not even Thomas Berry’s. There are those who will disagree with the formulation of the nature of reality given above, and one very well known member of the Ecozoic movement has already objected on the basis that it is contrary to "emergent biology." Right living is far more important to the Ecozoic than right thinking. Yet, because we are human, our actions are guided by our thinking, therefore, as a movement, we cannot ignore dealing with our thinking, including those parts of our thinking that may be labeled "philosophical." Philosophy examines the basic presuppositions out of which humans operate and certainly those are in question and subject to examination and development in the move to the Ecozoic.

Ecozoic as the Name of a Human Historical Period to Succeed the Modern Period and a Synonym for Constructive Post-Modernism

The achievements of modernity are extremely significant—democracy, human rights, modern science, the industrial revolution, and so forth. The way to the future is through modernity, not by going backwards to a neo-traditional worldview. At the same time the limitations of modernity are increasingly evident. We need a perspective that is post-modern, and, more particularly, constructively post-modern. A truly constructive post-modernism must be termed "Ecozoic" in order to capture the idea that humans and other-than-human nature must move into the future together as a single community of being.

The Ecozoic Movement as It Resembles the Modern Movement.

We must think of the Ecozoic movement as being like the Enlightenment or as the modern movement as a whole, which began in the 16th century. Hundreds of years and a systematic development of key ideas were required for the modern movement to take full effect. Where we are now, at the end of the period, George W. Bush can say that "we must protect freedom and democracy" as if it were inarguable and self-evident. At the beginning of the 16th century, this mandate would have been literally inconceivable. Here’s a short history of the philosophical journey from then to now:

By moderns we mean the intellectual and psychic inheritors of the civilizational movement, largely based in the West but now influential throughout the world, that began in the sixteenth century with (i) the scientific revolution initiated by Copernicus, 1473-1543—the separation of theory from observable phenomenon; Galileo, 1564-42—"the separation of physical science from philosophy, the abandonment of authority as a criterion of scientific truth, the distinction between objective and subjective qualities in observable phenomena and the introduction or reintroduction of empirical and skeptical elements into philosophical investigations"; Bacon 1561-1626—the father of the scientific method who separated metaphysics, as that which is concerned with final causes, and physics which was concerned with physical and efficient causes, i.e., cause and effect relationships based on the observed regularities of nature; and Isaac Newton 1642-1727—who established mechanistic science as the study of objects in motion where transformation in the phenomenal world was based on the laws of locomotion (absolute space and time, and no action at a distance), and in doing so doing relegated metaphysics and God to the beginnings of the cosmos; (ii) the Protestant Reformation (1517) that separated individual consciousness and choice from metaphysically authoritative social systems; and (iii) the philosophical transformation led by Rene Descartes, 1596-1650, who separated human consciousness from the mechanistic natural world, and within the human, mind and spirit from body. From this beginning, and partly coincident with it, rose the modern nation state (Machiavelli, 1469-1527; Thomas Hobbes 1588-1679; John Locke 1623-1704 and secular historical developments) with the requirements of the state to maintain order, establish the public good, and defend human rights. This was followed by the Enlightenment in the 18th century with the declaration of human rights (for example, Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man, 1792), capitalistic enterprise (Adam Smith 1723-90), democracy (the American Revolution, 1776, and the French revolution, 1789), and the belief in progress (for example, the Marquis de Condorcet’s Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of he Human Mind, published in 1795 expressing "an extraordinarily optimistic utopia of indefinite progress toward . . . a doctrine of ‘natural salvation’—the attainment by everyone of immortality in this flesh on this earth").

The Ecozoic movement will require this same kind of effort and evolution through time. Because of the gravity of the ecological problem, however, the time period must be reduced. This may be possible given modern communication. Still, it is important to note that, historically, a long time lapses between the birth of an idea and its broad inclusion in culture and human behavior, often centuries. It is not clear how or whether such a transformation can forced to occur in culture in a short time-period.

The point here is that the Ecozoic movement is, in part, a movement to deal with immediate environmental problems, but more broadly, it is a movement based on ideas which will be developed and taught with great care and effort over a long period of time. Probably most of the ideas for the Ecozoic came into being in the 20th century. They have not, however, been put in the service of a guiding or unifying vision. A catchword or meme is needed, like "democracy!" or "freedom!," for which we can hoist a banner, fly a flag, and march off to do battle with current levels of human understanding. The term "Ecozoic" could be such a catchword. Its use can weave strands of thought into a broad historical movement with a transformative set of ideas.

The Ecozoic as a Religious Movement

Probably the greatest parallel to what would be needed to bring the Ecozoic into being is a religious movement, like the birth and spread of Christianity or Islam in their beginnings. Thomas believes we are being led by the dream that gave form to the Universe, the dream of the Earth. He and others also believe we are hearing the cry or voice of the Earth. Thus, Thomas also speaks about a meta-religious movement. In so doing, he is not talking about a new creed or set of practices. He is referring to a universal awakening to Earth as a single, sacred community of being. It is by means of such a meta-religious movement that the necessarily rapid transformation of culture will occur, if at all. Such a breakthrough is coming into being in a million, often confusing and divergent and sometimes disconcerting, ways—from eco-tourism, to the new paganism and goddess worship, to blessings of animals and animal rights . . . to conservation movements and the widespread interest in gardening, especially organic gardening, and natural living. Someone defined theology as "faith seeking understanding." Perhaps the Ecozoic is the awakening to the dream of the Earth seeking understanding.

The Ecozoic as a Transformation of Human Civilizational Presence

"Ecozoic" has special meaning when used in conjunction with "society," as "Ecozoic society." An Ecozoic society is a human society based on an organic understanding of nature, rather than a mechanistic or extractive/use understanding. An Ecozoic society will involve changes in government, business and education, the arts, religion . . . in every aspect of human society.

The Ecozoic as an Environmental Movement

In the end we have to return to the Ecozoic movement as an environmental movement. Throughout the coming into being of the Ecozoic Era and in its full manifestation, a fundamental concern of the Ecozoic movement must be the health of non-human species and natural processes. Action to this end will include pollution control, preservation of natural areas and many other things, and will be accomplished through protest and transformational activity. Each of these and similar activities is an important part of the Ecozoic.

Summation - The Ecozoic as the House of Life

The root words for Ecozoic are "Eco," which means "house," and "zoic," which means "life". Ecozoic means "house of life,"—it is the hope for the future and provides a guiding vision. Bringing about the Ecozoic Era is the Great Work of our time.

Actions for the Ecozoic To Be Taken in 2002 . . . Or at Least To Get Started

What the Issue Is

For those of us who operate out of the vision expressed by Thomas Berry (or by others who express a similar vision), the issue we face is that it is not enough to understand this vision or simply to teach it to others. Our success, the achievement of an Ecozoic Age, can only be measured by whether or not human civilization is changed. It is not enough to be the disestablishment. We must become the establishment. That is, Ecozoic-thinking, doing and being must become the established way for humanity as a whole. In itself it is not necessary that people use the term Ecozoic. However, unless the term comes into general use among leaders of society, the revolution in collective thinking will not occur. The term is needed because it is novel and because it is the best term to identify the multi-dimensional, multi-faceted reality it describes. As Paul Tillich said, the symbol (in this case the word-symbol "Ecozoic") participates in the reality of which it is a part. As Maynard Adams also emphasizes, language is an essential part of human make-up. Finally, as Thomas’ has stated, the Ecozoic Era will come about through critical reflection as well as story and shared dream experience. The term "Ecozoic" focuses reflection and attention where it needs to be focused.

So the issue we should be considering is how we as a movement can bring about broad scale social change, such as that which occurred as a result of the Enlightenment. It is not enough for us be effective in our individual endeavors or in our individual institutions, we must become a broad cross-cultural movement based on critical reflection, story (in particular the New Story), and dream experience, and we must be unified by the term "Ecozoic," which defines our Earth as "the house of life."

Some Ideas

Context is everything. Thus, the main offering of this article is the context set forth above. We hope you will submit your ideas about what it might mean to begin to operate out of this context in your bioregion and on our shared Earth in the years ahead. Here are a few of mine, some of which pertain especially to my own bioregion and North Carolina.

Idea One - Let’s Understand Ourselves as a Self-Organizing Ecozoic Movement. We don’t need a movement like the Maoist movement with a little red book and a set of orthodox ideas. We need a self-organizing movement based around the one common concept of the Ecozoic. Since this movement will affect everything, there is no right place to be. The work of the movement is done everywhere—from how we deal with insects in the kitchen, to political reform, to how we teach in universities . . . and in kindergartens and when we kiss our children goodnight. Thomas’ work will be central for some, but should not become the Bible. The one thing Thomas should always be given credit for is the term "Ecozoic," and, also, for the central thoughts that lie behind the term—his understanding of history under which (i) the central flaw in human development is the separation of the human community from nature and (ii) we are in a terminal Cenozoic Era and need to move to an Ecozoic Era where humans become an integral part of the Earth community.

Idea Two - Let’s Identify Centers of the Ecozoic Vision. This Ecozoic thing is such a new and big thing that light has to be shone on it from a thousand different directions for us to see and understand it. There are already a number of centers that are "centers of the Ecozoic vision" and each has a unique and unrepeatable role to play. The author hesitates to name a center for missing one that is important, but here are a few: Genesis Farm, Whidbey Institute, Earthlight Magazine, the Sophia Center, the Ecozoic Monastery in Vermont, the Center for the Story of the Universe, the Forum on Religion and Ecology, and so on and so forth. There are already hundreds of such centers, and some are just individuals who are consciously exploring the Ecozoic. Margaret Berry, Thomas’ sister, suggested we should have a map of the United States with little pins where these centers have come into being. This would be a good idea, but it should be a map of the world. It isn’t clear who gets to decide what merits being called a "center of the Ecozoic Vision," but there are already some places, such as those named above, which are widely recognized.

After we identify centers of the Ecozoic vision, we should as a movement get to know them. In The Ecozoic Reader we will run articles on these centers. Let’s hope others will do this as well.

Idea Three - Let’s Work on Concepts that Are Essential to an Ecozoic Society Whether These Concepts are Philosophical or Practical. Just as people who shaped the Enlightenment hoped for an enlightened society (rational, guided by science, concepts of human rights, democracy, etc.) and mapped out the framework for such a society, so we must now state what is needed for an Ecozoic society.

Idea Four - Let’s Create a Dialogue Among Philosophical Schools of Thought That Are Likely to be Particularly Important in Developing and Teaching Ecozoic Ideas. In Appendix B to A Society Fit for Human Beings, Maynard Adams sets forth a suggested "Mission and Issues Charter" for a University Center for Philosophy and Cultural Criticism. This provides a way for viewing a central historical task for philosophy. He has also written about this in an essay entitled "The Mission of Philosophy Today," published in Metaphilosophy (July 2000). Adams presentation provides a framework for understanding how philosophers, theologians, political theorists, economic theorists, etc. can work on a critique of the present cultural understanding and governing values and speak to the changes that are needed. If his presentation is recast in terms of the Ecozoic rather than only the humanistic (the Ecozoic includes the humanistic), it can serve as a guide to Ecozoic thinkers.

People working with the thought developing around the work of Adams, Thomas Berry, and Whiteheadian process philosophy may be particularly helpful in carrying out this mission and should be in dialogue with one another. A major conference should be planned where these different schools can dialogue. There are, no doubt, other philosophical schools that should be included in this dialogue as well.

Idea Five - Let’s Develop Some Thought Centers Focusing on the Ecozoic. We need some centers like the Hoover Institution, the American Enterprise Institute or the Brookings Institution that are focused on the Ecozoic. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is developing a tract of land known as the Horace Williams property. This could be a site for such a center. North Carolina, as the home of Thomas Berry and Maynard Adams, would be an appropriate home for such a center.

These centers should be multi-disciplinary and offer thought on various sectors of society. One or more Journals of Ecozoic Studies should be published.

Idea Six - Let’s Harness the Power of Business and Technology. Stuart Hart of the Kenan-Flagler Business School at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has written or co-authored articles on "Beyond Greening: Strategies for a Sustainable World," "Global Sustainability and the Creative Destruction of Industries," and "Raising the Bottom of the Pyramid" that give an understanding of a new role that can be played by business and technology in bringing about a sustainable and just economy. These and other ideas need to be used to enable businesses to see a new role in the economy and new uses of technology. The re-design of the economy is an extraordinary and necessary business opportunity.

Venture capital resources and entrepreneurial energies need to be focused on the opportunities presented by sustainable enterprise (creation of totally new ways of doing things, re-designing human communities, production and transportation, etc.)

Idea Seven - Let’s Become Actively Engaged in Green Politics, Maybe through the Green Party and Maybe Not. Politics has to do with the control of power. Power needs to be put in the hands of those who operate out of an Ecozoic understanding. Those involved in the Ecozoic movement must take seriously political involvement from local school boards to national elections. Strategies for how best to approach political involvement must be discussed. Dealing with the issues raised by ecology and political responses to these problems from support for research, to funding alternative energy and innovative technologies, restoration of habitats and ecosystems, and re-design and re-building of human communities must become top priorities in the political agenda.

Idea Eight - Use the Earth Charter and the Natural Step as Guides and Pay Attention to the Coming UN Conference on the Environment. The Earth Charter and the Natural Step provide a comprehensive overview of the issues that need to be addressed to bring into being the Ecozoic Era. The UN Conference on the Environment to be held in South Africa in September will be an important event to be participated in, watched, and understood.

Idea Nine - Let’s Develop a Lifestyle Movement and Support Each Other in Journeys to the Ecozoic. Anyone can decide to be about the Great Work. Such a decision should involve changes in personal lifestyle, action in support of the Ecozoic, continued learning, and financial contributions to groups acting on issues described in the Earth Charter. Until greater institutional support is available, contributions of individuals in affluent societies will be particularly important and a tenth of family income or some other meaningful standard should be used as a benchmark for giving.

Ecozoic study circles or other structures may be helpful in sustaining individual and family journeys toward the Ecozoic.

Idea Ten - Particular Emphasis Must Be Given to Preservation and Restoration of the Environment. Some significant portion of the work of the Ecozoic movement must remain focused on environmental/ecological issues. These efforts must be regarded as especially important. The concept of bioregionalism needs to play an increasingly important role in these efforts, because the Earth sustains itself in its bioregional modes of expression. A continuing effort needs to be made to define the nature and magnitude of the environmental issue, and the most critical needs to be addressed. Action should be guided, as much as possible, by the best available knowledge.

Final Idea - Let’s Work Together on Ways to Spread Ecozoic Awareness and Vision. It has been said that 85% of Americans say that they are environmentalists. If this is true then simply being an environmentalist is not the same as being an Ecozoan. We need to find ways to spread the Ecozoic understanding. This might mean identifying particular books to be published in various languages. This might mean conferences or websites, or any other number of means. The Center for Ecozoic Studies has a potential weekend program called "Our Great Work: Toward a New Earth Resolve." This might be a useful way of spreading the message. Eco-Logos in Toronto has proposed a traveling Universarium, this also could be very useful. The Northwest Earth Institute has several self-taught courses for groups that have been widely used. In their present format they present an Ecozoic vision. Thought should be given to a course specifically on the Ecozoic and the Great Work. The Foundation for Global Community has a traveling Walk Through Time that is important. Several new books and conferences are planned. These are only a few efforts underway. More should be developed and groups should work together to deliver these programs.

Concluding Remarks

For those who are concerned about the Ecozoic, 2002 should be a time to consider what actions can be taken that will bring about a long-term effect on human civilization. The Ecozoic movement should be viewed as something like the Enlightenment movement, as something that will take place over a long period of time and will depend on widespread adoption of new ideas—ideas that will spread through critical reflection, story and shared dream experience. It appears that the next 50 years is a critical period. This is a short period of time in which to effect widespread change. What is important is to work effectively at the change and leave the results up to history.

The Ecozoic movement will be self-organizing and should not be organized centrally. The term "Ecozoic" can unify this movement. The term "Great Work" is also important, but care needs to be given so that people do not co-opt the term for their particular agenda. The term needs to be understood as identifying a jillion different people working in a jillion different projects with a jillion different ideas, but unified by a some general, common sense notion of what is Ecozoic.

Ecozoic means caring for the larger community of life. Since, however, human activity is the cause of the current disruption, Ecozoic means giving a lot of attention to changing the human community.

Just as for a long time it has been cool to be modern, in the future it needs to be cool to be Ecozoic. It would be okay for a store to advertise that it sold Ecozoic furniture. A lot of uses will be made of this word if it becomes the name of the period of human history that succeeds the modern period and the name of the geo-biological era that succeeds the Cenozoic Era.

We have a lot to look forward to, and a lot of work to do!