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biocentrism

Earth First! The Underbelly Exposed

By Chris Shillock - Libertarian Labor Review (Anarcho Syndicalist Review) #6, Winter 1989

Several years ago the activist community was fired by news of a group of militant ecologists who called themselves Earth First!. Anarchists particularly felt a kinship. Earth First!’s uncompromising defense of the environment and their rejection of government stewardship of the wilderness echoed our own experience of the futility of working within the system. Their use of direct action was taken from our own history. Their full-blooded all-out enthusiasm for nature promised a robust, holistic radicalism.

Lately, as people learned more about the group, some truly disturbing facets of Earth First!’s ideology have come to light. By now it is clear that not only is Earth First! hostile to any meaningful social analysis, but it is freighted with so much nationalist and racist baggage as to make them obnoxious to any worker.

Earth First!’s philosophy, also known as Deep Ecology, is set out in a book of that name by Bill Devall and George Sessions (Peregrine Smith, Salt Lake City, 1985). It borrows from Zen Buddhism, Native American religions and from Heidegger, but is based on an immediate intuition of the “wilderness experience.” They urge us to go into the woods, to just feel. The result will be that feeling of the oneness of all creation which we have probably all known when we find ourselves alone under the stars.

Deep Ecologists go on to reason that “The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman Life on Earth have value in themselves…These values are independent of the usefulness of the non-human world for human purposes.” Deep Ecologists condemn other social and scientific views as “anthropocentric” in contrast to their “biocentric” outlook. This epithet is hurled throughout the pages of their journal, Earth First!, to clinch a point or to dismiss opponents.

So far, okay, aside from a few quibbles in logic. Earth First! has the potential to be a noble and passionate worldview. Instead their concept of “biocentric egalitarianism” turns the corner into a Malthusian blind alley shadowed with dark visions of a vengeful Earth lashing back at the species that uses her. Malthusianism has always been a pseudoscience serving the need of right wing ideology. In the Nineteenth Century, Social Darwinists used Malthus’ simplistic predictions of a dwindling food supply to justify doing nothing to alleviate the misery of the poor. Variations of this philosophy have been used in the Twentieth Century to buttress everything from eugenics to Third World starvation.

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