PROJECT: Select a cultural value or choose one listed below. Then imagine that this value has been indicted in a court of environmental law for its role in violating Mother Nature. You can pose as the defender or the prosecutor of this value. Provide compelling evidence to convince the jury of its guilt or innocence.
Social ecologists maintain that economic, ethnic, cultural, and gender conflicts are root causes of environmental woes and must be resolved in order to protect the environment from further degradation. The acknowledged founder of social ecology, Murray Bookchin (1921 – 2006), noted that people create environments that suit their mode of existence, “On this very simple level, human beings are, in principle, doing nothing that differs from the survival activities of nonhuman beings – be it building beaver dams or gopher holes. But the environmental changes that human beings produce are significantly different from those produced by nonhuman beings….. Human societies are “bonded” together by institutions that change radically over centuries. Nonhuman communities are notable for their fixity in general terms or by clearly pre-set, often genetically imprinted, rhythms. Human communities are guided in part by ideological factors and are subject to changes conditioned by those factors.”4
The specific institution that Bookchin blamed for current environmental woes was the capitalist economic system. The ideologieshe decried are encouraged by this system. He explains, “…the direction it (capitalism) follows depends not upon ethical factors but rather on the mindless “laws” of supply and demand, grow or die, eat or be eaten.”5 Bookchin maintained that ethical, religious, psychological, and emotional factors are excised from the impersonal world of production, profit, and growth. He uses the words “brutally materialistic”6 to describe this world. Bookchin advocated, as an alternative, localized, self-governed communities. “Such a change would mean a far-reaching transformation of our prevailing mentality of domination into one of complementarity, in which we would see our role in the natural world as creative, supportive, and deeply appreciative of the needs of nonhuman life.”7
Capitalism was the social institution that Bookchin accused of tolerating pollution and the plundering of the environment. The artists in this section spread the blame. They provide a radical make-over for a variety of social construction: industry (Beehive, Eke, HeHe), corporations (Superflex), municipal agencies (Haacke, Ukeles), educational institutions (Beuys, Sherk), governments (Chin, Dory, Harrisons, Yeh), the media (Zurkow), cultural institutions (Greenfort), architecture (Hundertwasser, Potrc), science (Jeremijenko), and drug cartels (Reyes).
Eliminating the hierarchical and class edifice seems to be the quality that all these social constructions share. This implies the need to balance the relationship among humans and between humans and the nonhuman environment. Bookchin refers to this as “an ethics of complementarity in which human beings must play a supportive role in perpetuating the integrity of the biosphere”8
READ TO LIFE! Any three chapters listed above.
PROJECT: Select a cultural value or choose one listed below. Then imagine that this value has been indicted in a court of environmental law for its role in violating Mother Nature. You can pose as the defender or the prosecutor of this value. Provide compelling evidence to convince the jury of its guilt or innocence. Your work may either take the form of a performance (you act as a lawyer presenting his/her case), or you may create a graphic or material “exhibit” to show the jury in support of your case:
-Trade for profit
RESEARCH / DISCUSSION: Murray Bookchin was skeptical about “green capitalism” explaining, “We live in a highly co-optative society that is only too eager to find new areas of commercial aggrandizement and to add ecological verbiage to its advertising and customer relations.” He explains that companies that proclaim their environmental stewardship must still abide by grow-or-die mandates in order to survive. This all-pervasive imperative “must necessarily have a devastating ecological impact.”9 Provide evidence to either support or disprove Bookchin’s assertion that ‘green capitalism’ cannot fulfill ‘green’ reforms.