Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Avatar and Deep Ecology

Sara and I finally succumbed to the ranting and raving and checked out “Avatar” over the weekend. I have a natural pre-disposition to sci-fi-esque movies, so I went in there biased. But what I left there thinking was more than skin deep.

While the story is somewhat predictable, any let down in plot was offset by the amazing quality of the production. Accolades abound and it will surely set the bar even higher for Hollywood. Clearly, that is part of the draw – and its reaping of over one billion dollars world-wide so far.

I agree with the critics that there is significant commentary on many fronts – political, social, environmental. But I see nothing wrong with that. Allowing creative expression – regardless of the muse – to be a vehicle for social commentary is nothing new. It’s healthy and needed.

So what does Avatar have to do with this humble little blog?

The film caused me to remember some research I had done years ago on the topic of ‘deep ecology’. A Google search will turn up more pages than you can shake a stick at. In a nutshell though, the deep ecology philosophy is one that places human kind on equal footing with the rest of the ecosphere. We are not above the environment or anything that calls it home (an anthropocentric view) but just another thread in the fabric of life. As such, the exploitation of nature for the gain of humankind is a fatal error that will lead to eventual demise.

Deep ecology sets forth eight basic principles around which the philosophy/movement is grounded*:
  1. The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value, inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.
  2. Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.
  3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital human needs.
  4. The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.
  5. Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.
  6. Policies must therefore be changed. These policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.
  7. The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent value) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.
  8. Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to try to implement the necessary changes.
Such a platform challenges most modern (in particular, Western) thought, living, religious belief, and supposed strategies and tactics for economic “progress”. 

This equality, balance, and interdependence within the ecosphere is nothing new, however. Native peoples have ascribed to it for millenia (clearly, the inspiration for James Cameron's Na'vi people). The Buddhist concept of ‘interbeing’, often espoused by famed monk, author, and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, also points us towards such a view. But alas, Western culture marches to the beat of a different, more ego-centric drum.

Of course, deep ecology has its critics and detractors. But at the end of the day, the details of who’s really ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ doesn’t matter. What’s important is the dialogue that surrounds it. Because no matter how you look at it, there is no way humans can keep on multiplying and consuming at the pace we’re at and not tap this proverbial well dry. My opinion is that we’ll start to see the beginning of this unraveling in my lifetime; our kids and grandkids – that’s a whole different story.

Man, the scope of all of this hurts my head. Where do we go from here? Maybe Hollywood can help. ;-)

Some additional resources for deep ecology:
Foundation for Deep Ecology

“Introduction to Deep Ecology”, Context Institute

* Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_ecology#Principles 


Ueno Murakami said...


Nice post brotha. I hear ya on the movie and the deepness within it. Hopefully it sets off a storm that affects more than just effects. I think the story was simple and predictable because the movie had so many different angles to work with. Any more complex a story and you might not be talking about it like this.

I feel you man on the environment and this deep ecology thing. The thing is are we prepared to do what is necessary to live in balance? When the goal of our economic structure is to make as much money as possible, do it at any cost, and consume as much as possible, something has to give. Are we ready to live comfortably, and without excess according a to a middle-class definition of those words?

I think if we can answer these questions, truthfully we can get a glimpse of where we will be headed.

Thanks for the inspiration.




What a great surprise to hear from you. Always good to get a shout out from Japan, brother.

The task at hand feels so daunting sometimes. I've picked up on the deep ecology reading from when I last touched it. It's way deeper than just awareness. It's a fundamental shift in consciousness; how we see ourselves and our place on this Pale Blue Dot.

What's the general sense of things over in Japan? Are people recognizing the situation? The need to change ways?

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