Do or Die

An article from Do or Die Issue 9. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 46-47.

Reflections on Biocentrism

Impressions of UK EF! by a Roving American

I had a bit of a weird experience at the UK Earth First! Winter Moot in January 2000. After hearing a lot of brilliant (and at times not so brilliant) discussion on topics such as social revolution, global resistance to capitalism, anarchist theory and the fine art of snogging, it struck me that I hadn't heard one word about other species aside from humans.

I looked around to double check that I was in the right place and not at the local Socialist Workers' Party meeting, and was reassured by seeing one of your intrepid Do or Die editors in the room. Since I was in fact at an Earth First! activist gig, I raised my hand and made a comment about Deep Ecology and biocentrism. While a couple people nodded their heads in agreement, most returned my comment with blank stares, and one gentleman rolled his eyes at the ceiling and harrumphed, most likely because he thought I must be some kind of dinosaur to be even mentioning those pre-historic words.

Throughout the whole Moot, the only time I heard anything about other forms of life, except for indirect references to ecosystems or the biosphere, was when I chirped in with seemingly annoying relics of radical eco-theory. What a strange situation! To be at an Earth First! Gathering and to only hear human-centered discussions.

To be fair, I believe that every activist there felt a deep passion for preserving the land. And I know that in the course of their activism, those people considered and fought for their animal and plant relations. But I believe an ecological world-view needs to be integrated into every revolutionary discussion, just as a social perspective needed to be integrated into the EF! movement, an achievement that seems to have happened first in the UK and then later in the US.

Mostly what I want to express to folks in the UK is that things have changed a lot in the American and Canadian EF! movements since days of yore. Yet the following stereotype of an American EF!er still remains in Europe: a socially conservative, regressive, dull, dogmatic, xenophobic, booze-swilling, single-issued, rednecked wilderness freak. Moreover, Murray Bookchin and his crowd seem to have succeeded overseas in their task of painting Deep Ecology as an eco-fascist philosophy.

Indeed, many of the original proponents of Deep Ecology have dodgy perspectives on social issues, such as shutting down the border to immigrants (as if that's a solution to anything). And some of them made comments (or were misquoted) that still haunt us today, like the infamous "AIDS is a good thing" and "Africans can starve" debacles.

What inspires me about EF! nowadays where I live is that due to an influx of anarchists, native sovereigntists, squatters, Wobblies, punks, train hoppers and the like, a dimension has been added to our movement that was lacking when it was just a single issue campaign group. Critics say that EF!'s uncompromising defense of Mother Earth has been watered down by "leftist politics" or the misguided kids, but I think that's a load of bollocks. The defense of wilderness and biodiversity is what matters to me the most, yet I've come to believe that one of the best ways to achieve that is to make connections with other struggles. N30 in Seattle showed this strategy come to fruition. It's painfully obvious that fighting the land-rapers in desperate rearguard battles over every single development is bound to fail in the end. Instead, we need to attack the roots of the problem (i.e. capitalism, patriarchy, racism, sky god religion, alienation from nature, etc.) which is one reason why it's important for wilderness nuts to learn about and network with other movements.

In order to explain or defend the anthropocentric (human-centered) discussions at the Moot, one mate said that "Well, what do you expect? We have no wilderness left," while another said "Yes you're right, but EF! is really a crap name that we can't seem to get rid of." While acknowledging all that, I believe it's critical to have a biocentric-based foundation for any radical ecology movement (or whatever y'all would call yourselves, if you would give yourselves a label at all).

I'll offer two reasons for this. First off, I noticed something pretty stark when I left the urban sprawl of southern England and went straight to the ancient forests of the American West Coast, otherwise known as Cascadia: people are nicer and happier when they live in a beautiful natural environment and/or hold a connection to the land. Some EF!ers in the UK may have a more spot-on political critique than some of us do, but due to the headstart your society has had in stripping the land, I've noticed that urban harshness creeps into your interactions, which I see as a detriment.

The reason I mention this is because to me, the only way at times I can find the strength to go on is to try and maintain a connection with the land through a biocentric spirituality of sorts, though one that has no relation to New Age commodity religion. Thus, even if one lives in a concrete sprawl, it will help the radical ecologist to look, feel and think beyond the detritus of syphilization and gain strength from the power of the life force we are working to defend. Maybe that sounds hokey. But keeping that connection gives a patch of ground to take root in (in an industrial society of rootless apathy) while we fight the destruction. John Seed talks about how after a meeting with Australian aboriginals in Sydney, he noticed a man looking over the cityscape. John asked him what he was looking at, and the man replied that he could still clearly see the land as it once was under all the concrete and metal. If we are going to endure, we may have to develop a similar vision.

Secondly, it seems inherently flawed not to integrate biocentrism into a radical ecology movement, and possibly even dangerous. Dangerous in the sense that during the Spanish Civil War, one debate was whether to begin the revolution immediately (including all that entailed, such as land distribution and different work arrangements at a time when people could barely produce the food and materials they needed), or whether to focus on fighting the fascists and then sorting things out after victory. In our struggle today against the eco-fascists, if we ever do "win," it will be too easy to fall back into the patterns and habits that have brought us to the current global biological meltdown. We need to integrate an Earth-based consciousness now, we need to live the revolution now, both to have any chance of success as well as to insure that there isn't a new regime that will be as bad or worse than the old..

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