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Arne Naess: ambiguous depth.

Arne Naess has written numerous works on linguistics, the philosophy of science and "ecophilosophy." In the great tradition of Henry D. Thoreau and Aldo Leopold, he has always liked to retreat to life in his cabin in the country, in Tvergastein, in the mountains between Bergen and Oslo, and this has played an important role in the development of his ideas. Arne Naess's "deep ecology"--even if his "deep" biocentrism is rather surprising--is very different from the gross devaluation of humanity made by some of his professed followers, who are distorting Naess's ideas. This excerpt was selected from an interview, and is a good demonstration of the differences between Naess's ideas and those advanced by ecocentric fundamentalists.

One of the basic norms of deep ecology is that every life form has in principle a right to live and blossom. As the world is made, of course, we have to kill in order to eat, but there is a basic intuition in deep ecology that we have no right to destroy other living beings without sufficient reason. Another norm is that, with maturity, human beings will experience joy when other life forms experience joy, and sorrow when other life forms experience sorrow. Not only do we feel sad when our brother or a dog or cat feels sad, but we will grieve when living beings, including landscapes, are destroyed. In our civilization, we have vast means of destruction at our disposal but extremely limited maturity in our feelings. Only a very narrow range of feelings has interested most human beings until now.


For deep ecology, there is a core democracy in the biosphere. The shallow ecology movement tends to talk only about resources for humans, whereas in deep ecology we talk about resources for other species. Shallow ecology is concerned about overpopulation in the developing countries but not about overpopulation in the industrial countries--countries which may destroy one hundred times more per capita than a country like Bangladesh. In deep ecology, we have the goal not only of stabilizing the human population but also of reducing it to a sustainable minimum by humane means which do not require a revolution or a dictatorship. I should think that we would not need more than one billion [=thousand million] people in order to have the variety of human cultures we had one hundred years ago. We need the conservation of human cultures, just as we need the conservation of animal species. We need diversity of both human and non-human life!

Excerpt from Deep Ecology for the Twenty-First Century, edited by George Sessions Reproduced with the agreement of Shambhala Publications, Inc.

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Publication:Encyclopedia of the Biosphere
Article Type:Excerpt
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2000
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