A strong and clear way out of the problems that surround us these days is to be found in Deep Ecology, a scientific/spiritual/holistic term coined by Norwegian activist and philosopher, Arne Naess to express the global interconnectedness of all living things. Building on thousands of years of spiritual traditions and mixing in system science and modern biology, Deep Ecology sees everything that grows, squirms, roots, swims, flies, walks, or crawls -- either on our planet's surface or in its depths or atmosphere -- as part of the superorganism we call Earth. Deep Ecology is a movement and a scientific philosophy, but it is not a religion. It worships no deity, does not discriminate against any system of belief, and has no political agenda beyond protecting our world so that our grandchildren will have a habitable planet.
One way to understand the concept is to first focus our attention on the human body. When a bacteria, fungus, virus or cancer begins to grow out of its prescribed limits inside us -- when an interior population runs amok -- the threat stimulates an immune response. White blood cells arrive, the "infection" may be walled off, its toxins are, when possible, neutralized, and the damage is contained. Eventually, the overgrowth is either eliminated completely or returned to normal population levels. If this effort fails, the host, the body, the person dies.
Now let's zoom out and focus on the entire planet, which features an ever-changing balance between its plant and animal inhabitants and the physical environments that support them. The evolutionary fossil record reveals that in the past, various species of plants and animals have exhibited huge populations surges. These have always been countered by a response from the system deep ecologists call Mother Nature, Gaia, or simply Planet Earth. Predators have evolved, diseases have run rampant, climates have changed, or competition from other organisms has developed.
Homo sapiens as a species exhibits all the signs of having run rampant in groundbreaking fashion. Our numbers are too high for our environment to sustain us in a way that allows the planetary superorganism to flourish. All the evidence is there, from mass extinctions in every phylum around us to habitat destruction, unprecedented levels of toxic products in the environment, and more. Deep ecologists would say that in the face of this imbalance, the planet is fighting back.
How does a planet fight back? Perhaps with climate change, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, and threats to the food supply such as the dying off of bees, but more definitely with more personal weapons, maybe even triggers inside our own DNA. Autoimmune diseases spring immediately to mind, as do sexual activities and proclivities that don't lead to reproduction (no babies means no population growth) heart disease, cancer, and mutating pathogens such as new flu and malaria strains. The automobile, too, is an uncannily effective human-slaughtering device.
Then, of course, there is ideological war. When it comes to wiping out huge swatch of humankind, war is tough to top, and next to squabbles over territory religious crusades cause more wars than anything. As ironic as it may be, since religion is supposed to help us see the big picture and get along with each other, ever since the chiefdoms of Polynesia, the city-states of Mesoamerica, and the early imperial dynasties of China, leaders claiming divine mandate have led lambs to the slaughter with faith as a rallying cry.
As planetary resources diminish and the demands on those resources grow, domestic and international conflicts intensify. Similarly, as challenges to institutional religion grow and the zeal with which those religions are protected burgeons. Such zeal manifests as religious fundamentalism, whether Islamic, Jewish, Christian, or other. People who believe that their beliefs are the valid ones, that only their gods exist, and that anyone who doesn't share their beliefs must be subjugated or annihilated are tyrannical despots both on the map of the mind and the map of the Earth. They are intolerant bullies, and from the point of view of Deep Ecology they are puppets whose strings are being pulled by a planet bent on reducing the human population.
What must we do about such individuals and movements? While recognizing and respecting the contribution that religiously derived morals and ethics have made to the development of our individual characters and the characters of our state, we must stand up to fundamentalism wherever it appears. Internationally, we must confront the agents of radical Islam who threaten borders, freedoms, and life around the world. Domestically, we must shine an especially strong light on fundamentalists with political ambitions. Among these are radical Christian Dominionists, whose expressed ambition is to subject our government to its denominational agenda, and who find champions in presidential contenders Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann.
Thus elevated, we must find a way to work in the best interests of all Earth's inhabitants by bringing our populations and activities back into balance without slaughtering innocents and relinquishing our liberty. It wouldn't be a bad start to turn serious and concerted attention to the economic and social problems that create fertile ground for the growth of extremism around the world, and of course we must counter the brainwashing of fragile and susceptible young minds, here and abroad, with education about tolerance, spirituality, and planetary interconnectedness.
Our country was founded on ideals of liberty and justice and the separation of church and state. Especially around the anniversary of 9/11, we must not dance to the drumbeats of politicos who would cloud our minds and keep us from seeing their ultimate goals clearly, nor may we cower from speaking out against those who wield influence and rouse the rabble with provocative rhetoric. Instead, let's find solutions to our problems while holding our interconnectedness in mind. Keeping religious extremists out of office and out of power is the wisest way to save our planet and ourselves.
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