Box 15, item 1165: Paradigmatic roots on environmental problems


Box 15, item 1165: Paradigmatic roots on environmental problems


Uncorrected paper (typescript) dated 3.7.95.


Title in collection finding aid: Paradigmatic Roots on Environmental Problems uncorrected ts 3.7.95.



The University of Queensland's Richard Sylvan Papers UQFL291, Box 15, item 1165




This item was identified for digitisation at the request of The University of Queensland's 2020 Fryer Library Fellow, Dr. N.A.J. Taylor.


For all enquiries about this work, please contact the Fryer Library, The University of Queensland Library.


[31] leaves. 31.90 MB.




Lake George - Desk Pile 7


Abstract. Virtually all diagnoses of the roots, and sources, of environmental
problems are defective. While defective diagnoses persist, problems will not
be adequately addressed.
Focal questions ask why human communities so frequently degrade,
impoverish or even destroy their own environments, and more generally why
the whole earth is now in jeopardy through human enterprise. More
immediate answers, sometimes correct so far as they go (which is not deep
enough), look to components of environmental impact equations. More
thorough-going answers fall into two classes: first those that do not question
entrenched paradigms, but seek (unsuccessfully) to explain widespread
problems simply through defective practice, and secondly those that, rightly
recognising that defective practice is no adequate answer, look to deeper
paradigmatic sources of problems. A fatal flaw in most of the latter answers
lies in their monistic concentration on a single paradigm, or single narrow
band of paradigms. These flaws are exposed, whence a wider, more
satisfactory answer can be broached.
Background busywork includes firstly, explaining problems and relevant
paradigms and how paradigms operate regarding environmental problems,
and secondly, detailed disentangling of proposed and alleged sources of the
problems. With this done, it is argued that none of these answers,
fashionable or other, to the focal questions is satisfactory. Here lies the
important hard, but very negative and decidedly incomplete, work of the
present investigation.
. . .
A different more complex investigation is accordingly instigated. An initial
answer is located through broader classes of paradigms : environmentally
friendly and unfriendly. Further effort is expended, profitably, in trying to
characterize these classes. Among significant corollaries, one is striking,
philosophy as portrayed through its standard history is dismal environmental



Broaching focal questions, and searching for deeper answers.
Human activity is now degrading terrestrial eco-systems at an extraordinarily rapid rate
(liquidation of natural forest systems affords just one striking example). In modem times

humans have devised sophisticated and sophistical idea-systems which justify such system


Often in the past they would not have seen such transformation as mattering,

many remain so programmed, regarding transformation as increasing wealth (a presumption

encouraged under mainstream economics). More recently dominant human cultures have

developed social systems which induct most humans into degradation procedures (through
need, tax impositions, pressure to engage in cash economies, and so on) and which weave

entrapping justificatory webs (through agencies, councils, courts, educations, missions, and so

Whence arises an increasingly broached question1: Why is this happening? More

explicitly, why do human communities so frequently degrade and impoverish their
environments, their own habitats? Indeed why do they sometimes, persistently, perhaps over a

long period, destroy their own habitats? More sweepingly, why is the whole earth now perhaps

in jeopardy through human enterprise? For those eager to anticipate the main outcome, the
unremarkable answer to be eventually found to these focal questions is in essence this: because
too many humans, especially those in control of environmentally impacting enterprises, remain
committed to or caught within environmentally unfriendly paradigm?, diverse paradigms but all

displaying quite insufficient regard for the health and well-being of relevant habitats and of the


Parts of any answers to such focal questions come immediately through environmental
impact equations, conservation laws, and such like. For example, degradation is occurring

through the impact of overpopulation, excessive pollution, damaging or faulty technologies,

and so on.

While such answers are important, and often correct as far as they go in

combination, and while they may correctly indicate what has to be changed somehow, they are

nonetheless somewhat superficial, and they leave much to be explained. For example, they do

not explain why a community persisted upon a course that deliberately led to such problems, or

why it is so resistant to changes that might reduce impacts and pull it out of its problem-holes.
Less superficial answers look to ideologically entrenched attitudes and commitments, to


In sources as diverse as Shepard (first page) and Jacobs (p.23). Contrary to other sources, such
as Marshall, humans are by no means the only biological species that proceed to degrade or
impoverish their own environments. Introduced “pest” species, such as rabbits and mynahs in
the Antipodes, also do so; perhaps some botanical species contrive to as well.


pervasive paradigms that underwrite anti-environmental practices, as for instance the wood­
production ideology does forestry practice, even so-called “new forestry”, and market ideology

does economic practice, even so-called “environmental economics”.2
An illustrative example which reveals the power of paradigms in blocking or facilitating
action will shortcut a more elaborate argument, through action theory, to the efficacy of idea­
systems. Consider an unwanted pregnancy, resulting despite due precautions or whatever.

Observe that, more and more there are comparatively safe technologies available to effect
termination and seemingly solve the immediate problem. Ask: why so many people are

opposed to choice of abortion? A very common answer is: because they are operating under an
elaborate paradigm, typically organised religion (bureaucratic Christianity in the West), themes

of which, the creeds of which, prohibit such choices.3 Of course pro-choice considerations are
also paradigmatically embedded, for instance in forms of liberalism. Picturesquely, a social

paradigm imposes controls on action, a system of red and green lights on a captured agent s
routing procedures.

Or with a different picture, paradigms project a steeply impeding

topography on action space.

Paradigms not only guide, control and limit; they also

correlatively give permission—as, for instance, space to play god, freedom to release a new
species or variety which may or has proved a pest or noxious or has been biologically

engineered, liberty to neglect or degrade or vandalize. But paradigms do even more; they
facilitate explanation, above all they make understanding possible. In these regards, they may
work for better as well as for worse. Thus it is not a matter of getting rid of them, were this

even feasible, but of getting right paradigms.
The settings in terms of which agents such as humans act and operate, even down-toearth everyday agents, invariably include, not far in the background, paradigms, cultures,

creeds, ideologies, pervasive myths or the like, all idea-systems, all involving models (in a
technical sense) of one sort or another. Even the most practical (and vociferously practical) of

humans are governed by background ideosystems.

It is in terms of these background

ideosystems that a great deal concerning human practices with respect to natural environments

can be explained, what would otherwise lack satisfactory explanation.4
That explanation comes not however through a single paradigm, as has too often been
supposed in trying to answer focal questions, but through a bundle of somehow aligned

paradigms. Compare how a person may be represented, in social science, not through a single



For more on this style of explanation, see further RP.
It is not, going to be contended that religion—or a certain Abramic religion, such as
Christianity—is the main villain of the environmental piece. It is now well enough appreciated
that religions in general borrowed much in their damaging articles from ancient philosophies.
What will however, be suggested is that dominant philosophies do have much to answer for in
this regard.
Further, as logical positivists observed, explanation and justification patterns tend to overlap.
How people justify their practices offers an explanation, though perhaps a misleading or
superficial explanation, of them.
As well, positivistic theories show, though in an oversimplified way, how models, which
paradigms are, serve in explanation justification and understanding. See e.g. Hanson.


role or program, but by way of a set of interconnected roles. What has been regularly

overlooked in seeking deeper paradigmatic sources of environmental problems is systematic
plurality. In part this neglect of plurality can be explained through countervailing propensity to

seek single answers, and to try to locate uniqueness, where however causes and sources are
plural. So it is with paradigmatic sources and roots of environmental problems. They are
As to what is going on theoretically, there is a fairly complex story to be told, an easier

working image for which is appropriately ecological. That image focusses upon the structure of
a perhaps impenetrable thicket or tangle, such as a dense rainforest patch, or, itself simplified, a

fig or bamboo thicket. Below an emergent top layer representing the problems concerned,

those raised by the focal questions, there is the canopy layer, of interlinked proximate causes.

Below that again stands a plurality of stems, plural supports, which can be construed as
supporting sources, and below them again, ultimately sustaining the whole structure, a
multiplicity of intertwined roots, representing paradigmatic basics.
What is sought are ultimate sources, and roots, not immediate causes. The cause of local

pollution may be a factory that an agent installed, to produce more flim-flam. That too may be
the physical source of the immediate problem. But deeper questioning seeks the reasons for

such production and such factories. While there may be problems with ideas and idea­

structures as causes, as causally efficacious, these problems do not transfer to reasons and
sources. Nonetheless there are buried metaphors, and linkages, to be unscrambled: how are ‘‘A
is source of B” and “A is a root of B” to be explicated?
While there is much written on roots and sources of environmental problems or

developments virtually none of it addresses the question of what is meant by the partially
buried metaphors of roots and sources . One striking example is supplied by Pepper's useful
introductory text, The Roots of Modem Environmentalism. Although this text presents itself
specifically as concerning roots, there is in fact no explication offered of the crucial roots

metaphor on which it turns. For that matter there is no direct account of what the roots of

environmentalism—still less, though quite different, of environmental problems to which
environmentalism answers—are supposed to be (granted there is much oblique material). It is

apparent also that Pepper has become rather carried away with the roots metaphor, throwing it
into several chapter headings and applying it pretty indiscriminately to mean simply elements

(from some earlier occurrence); thus for instance, ‘the roots of the theme of reconciliation of
freedom and authority’ (p. 193). Such usage is unsound. Because rudiments of some idea make
an earlier appearance in some authority or work, later workers may not have arrived at such an

idea by expanding on these rudiments; they may have arrived where they did quite

independently or by a different route. The mistake is that of reading a source or (genetic)

causal linkage into a mere temporal conjunction: post hoc, propter hoc.
Neither roots nor sources are mere beginnings or simply early occurrences; there have to
be continuing connections, with directional relationships such as supply or sustenance. But for


roots and sources different connections and elaborations are to be expected. After all, the
metaphors, and likewise what they give rise to, are evidently different; more literally, plants
have roots, normally below them, springs and streams rise from sources, not roots, often above

them, and so on. Both differ from another popular basis-beginning buried metaphor, that of

foundations. Foundations bring in other features such as solidity, stability and comparative
permanency, while severing critical transmission features (for foundations may merely
passively support, not sustain supported superstructure).

So foundations, for all their

importance in epistemology and elsewhere if foundationalism is correct, can be set aside.
So far dictionaries do better than popular and philosophical texts. For instance, a short

listing for the figurature use of ‘root’ runs: ‘the basis, bottom, the fundamental part, or that

which supplies origin, sustenance, means of development, etc. (Concise English Dictionary).
Such a two component account will serve nicely, for a start. However conjunctions should
substantially displace disjunctions, else roots could collapse to foundations or could collapse to

mere trace element supplements. Roots both give a basis and bottom binding into a substratum
and supply sustenance and means of development. Roots connections are richer as well as

more specific than sources, which may merely show from where an item comes or is obtained.

Further that place of derivation that may not be a basis or bottom, but for instance a source­
book. With roots, like normal foundations, a basis or bottom is reached, whereas sources may

have further sources (hence the search for ’‘deeper”, even ultimate, sources). Finally, root and

source connections carry explanations, at least genetic explanations—concerning how items got
to be what and the way they are—because roots and sources are characteristically that from

which items develop. Sometimes even more information, including a whole control system,
gets transmitted. As much happens where roots are paradigmatic, to return to that strange mix
of buried metaphors.
Reaching deeper roots is important. Without locating them, perhaps all the roots (should
they resemble blackberry), problems may not get properly addressed. Should we wrongly

locate roots, then proposed resolutions directed at these, cutting them off or replacing them, will

also go astray, wrongly directed or whatever. Such is the fate of many proposals concerning
environmental problems.
There are several parts to the approach sketched, if it is to be properly elaboratedincluding a working classification of environmental problems and their proximate solutions,
and an account of paradigms and their roles—before getting to paradigmatic answers to focal

questions. But we can be brief on these necessary preliminaries, because main details are

already in circulation and because they have been addressed elsewhere.
1. Problems and paradigms.

Despite a referee’s suggestion that discussion of “roots” ‘could be improved by a contrast of the
“roots” metaphor with the “foundations” metaphor, the fact is that we are decidedly not
concerned with foundations of environmental problems; to the contrary, we do not wish to see
them supported (if shoddily), established and so on. On the growing complexity and varying
interpretations offoundations, an emergent bog, see for instance Chisholm.

Although these will be duly connected, with paradigms implicated in problems, they are
different components, and admit and deserve separate explanation.

la. Environmental problems and proximate solutions.
Definitions of ‘environmental problem’, and classifications of such problems, have already
been ventured.6 What problems emerge as environmental depends upon background value

framework. What counts as a major problem on deeper environmental perceptions may be but
a minor problem, or written off as not a problem at all, on shallower perspectives. Among such

indicator problems, ones here taken as serious problems, are those of

• sustaining biodiversity and
• maintaining significant wilderness.7
Even if the broad impact of human enterprise were sufficiently reduced to guarantee
comfortable survival of future humans, these desiderata may well not be guaranteed. There

would be outstanding problems.
In any event, it is not too difficult to say more or less what environmental problems are

(at worst by furnishing familiar lists), and in many cases to indicate at least in principle how

they might be resolved. Environmental impact equations, encountered in a more perceptive

classification of problems, reveal how they can be resolved. Namely, by altering relevant

impact parameters.
Given this why are they proving so intractable? Why is so little done? Why is so very
little spent, despite all the talk.8 Proximate solutions, about as far as positive science conveys

us, are not however satisfactory stopping points.

How is it, given so much scientific

information and expertise, that humans are continuing to sharply degrade, and risk substantially
destroying, their habitats.
To these, the focal questions of this exercise, there is an array of competing answers on

offer or to be met in an extensive literative. As we will soon discover, most of these answers
are too simple; and taken, as intended, as comprehensive, they are wrong. Correct answers to

the questions are however important, because if we fail to get to the bottom of the issues, there
is even less prospect of satisfactory action to mm around a difficult and deteriorating situation.

That these issues do not matter, that casual human relationships, or how many devaluing
dollars uncaring humans can briefly stuff in their pockets, matter more than whole islands of

habitats—these sorts of value judgements (after all matter is a value term par excellence)
derive from and are supported by particular ideologies.
lb. Model-like objects: paradigms, ideologies, cultures ,and so on.
A paradigm can be explicated, technically, as a model in precisely a generous logical sense.9


See for example GE, which duly details connections of the problems with impact equations and
proximate solutions.
As to the extent of the problem (even) in North America, and a proposed remedy, see The
Wildlands Project.
See e.g. The cost of past environmental policy in OECD countries, Box 1.7, in Pearce et al, p.24.
See RP, where many environmentally relevant illustrations are given and explained.

That is, a paradigm amounts to a structure supplied by an elaborate interpretation function on a
general system, i.e. semantical and other evaluations defined on an integrated relational

structure. Naturally it is required to be faithful to what it models, the social forms and norms,
scientific research programs, or whatever. A social paradigm, in contrast to a scientific

paradigm, is a paradigm where the propositional and action theory, the socio-political themes

and value judgements, is that of a social group. A pure culture is but a comprehensive social
paradigm, where by “comprehensive” is meant that it covers a sufficiently comprehensive part

of the life-styles and life-forms of the community concerned. There are now many examples of
formulations of the themes delivered under rival social paradigms and under different cultures;

from these, mostly sketchy formulations we can work back towards the underlying models.
The basic vehicle, a situations or worlds model, is a semantical object, an item like a
complex universal10 similarly open to a range of construals and reduction attempts, e.g.

metaphysical, conceptual, epistemic, linguistic and so on. Once this is realised, it can be seen
that successive cohorts of philosophers and sociologists, historians and geographers have

repeated one another in vaguely discerning essentially the same sorts of underlying structures

under different categorisations: thus, for instance, forms of understanding (Kant), of
consciousness (Marx), of life (Wittgenstein), conceptual schemes (Conant), presuppositions

(Collingwood), discursive formations (Foucault), Weltanschauungs, total views (Naess),

traditions (MacIntyre), traditions of thought, cultures, perspectives, outlooks, ideologies,
programs, .... An ideology, for instance, in the non-derogatory (non-Marxist) sense is an ideas-

system, initially a propositional system or theory with a relevant domain of ideas operative,

from which a paradigm can be discerned and elaborated.
Such models are typically presented in extremely truncated form, for example through a
tabulation of capsule themes. Here is a combination example:
TABLE 1: Elements of Taoism as contrasted with Deep Ecology and with the dominant

paradigm: an initial capsule formulation -11

Deep Ecology

Dominant (Western)

Harmony with nature,
through Tao

Harmony with nature

Domination over nature

Nature valuable in itself;
“humanism” rejected

Natural environment
valued for itself

Nature a resource;
intrinsic value confined
to humans



It resembles a structured universal; compare e.g. Plato’s system of forms, Locke’s of complex
ideas. Naturally there are differences between, for instance, traditions (of thought) which are
historically bound, cultures, which are geographically and otherewise connected, and conceptual
schemes (where a conceptual reduction is insinuated), but all are, at logical bottom, models of
paradigmatic sort.
This tripartite example is adapted from UTD, where capsule elements of Taoism are duly


Levelling of differences;
wide impartiality

Biocentric egalitarianism

Human supremacy

Supplies ample

Earth supplies limited

Ample resources with

Following Tao-te

Spiritual goals,
especially self-realisation

Material economic growth
a predominant goal



Personal (material)

Doing with enough
(recycling inappropriate)

Doing with enough;


Non-competitive lifestyle;
voluntary simplicity

Cooperative lifestyle

Competitive lifestyle

Decentralised/neighbourhood and village focus

/neighbourhood focus

Centralised/urban centred/
national focus

Hierarchy without
power structure;

grassroots democracy

Power structure

Limited technology

Appropriate technology

High technology

Considerable caution

Precautionary practice

Risking taking (verging
upon adventurism)

Paradigms control action space by some equivalent of directives; under an earlier analogy, red
and green lights duly interpreted. They may not supply direct commands, general obligations
and prohibitions, but may operate more indirectly. For instance an enlightened person, a role

model, a person following Tao, would act this way, not that. (Taoism, like certain modem

ideologies, eschews deontic judgements.)
Paradigms are absorbed and they guide practice. They commonly form part of actors'
worlds; they are certainly part of actors' programs for practice and considered action in a world.
In a sense then, they are things, programs actors carry round in their heads; so heads (or rather

consciousnesses) have to be changed, not rolled.
2. Proposed answers to focal questions: a preliminary classification of inadequate answers

and suggested remedies.
Most of the extraordinary range of answers proposed supply but a single source, and are
accordingly defective for this reason, usually among other reasons. Indeed it is not much of an

exaggeration to assert that virtually everything proposed, in a now extensive literature, is

TABLE 2. Main tabulation of answers and remedies , in three stages.
D. Defective
practice answers







now available


Unintended consequences


now available


Faulty technique,
or technology


Repairs already


Deviation (from
theory, etc.)
Education (for failure
to limit deviance)


a. Deviation
uneliminable, or
b. Adherence
no remedy


Systemic lock-in
(through poverty,
ensnarement in
market forces, etc.)

Trap removal

a. Explains
only certain
cases, and
b. Due to


Insensitivity or


Remedy tried;


When pursued, objections like those noted either force defective practice out as unsatisfactory,
or push it back to paradigmatic features.

Source single paradigm

Remedies proposed (among others)


Christianity (mainstream

Scientific enlightenment, or
alternative (Eastern) religion


Protestantism and its ethic







P. Defective paradigm

Substance metaphysics
P3a Possessive individualism
P3aa Personalism


Modified holism

Process metaphysics






Pre-industrialism (romanticism)

P5a Technocratic bureaucracy
P5aa. Transnational business









Patriarchy, andocentrism
Human domination
of humans


Observe that what some have proposed as remedies, others have seen as sources; remedies
proposed tend to share defects of sources.
PS. Further sample listings of this paradigmatic sort (but with the paradigms often subject

specific or partial) include:
Typical remedy suggested


Anglo-American philosophy12
Economism (economic imperialism as

New metaphysics
New metaphysics

Continental philosophy
Alternative ethics

New social science; ethics

contrasted with straight economic roots)



Domination transfer

Domination removal

Human nature (esp. aggression)
Infantilism (from Freudian physchology)


And so on.
A very rough recipe runs as follows: draw up a potted list of major movements and factors in
dominant Western thought. Then many—perhaps it is not excessive to say most—entries in
that list will have been nominated, likely separately, by someone as the source of the problems.

That list accordingly continues (even including, sometimes, entries like Taylorism, i.e.

reorganisation of industry along lines popularized by Taylor), but what is included is

representative of the important and more interesting answers to be encountered. There are other
allegedly nonparadigmatic answers however, varying from interesting to crazy, that should also

be taken into some account, for instance answers like Shepard’s challenging answer. Although
Shepard dismisses ideologies, what he offers is a further ideosystem, of similar dubious or false

cast. Strange answers include pushing it all back to human psychology (thus not only Shepard,
but also Fox, and Ehrlich and other gurus with insistence upon ‘mental maladaptation’).


The mainstream form, analytic philosophy, appears to comprise empiricism-cum-utilitarianism
in Britain, tempered in America by pragmatism.

Basically, there is something wrong with a society that does that to its habitat. It is sick
—in a popular sense, yes, it is sick. It is the slides that follow, however, along psychological

routes, that are to be resisted. One slide begins invitingly: As it is not literally sick, well not
physically usually, it must be mentally sick; that is, sliding further and fast, insane or mad. But

the sources of mental sickness lie in childhood (as Freudianism erroneously insists). The slide
continues to: what we have are immature societies, frozen at an early stage of development. No
doubt there is something to the theme that dominant societies, USA especially (which now
influences so much in other cultures), are locked into youth culture, a sort of late consumptive
adolescence.13 No doubt, too, that maturity—but an environmental maturity—is desirable,
even mandatory.
Meanwhile, immaturity is fostered right through human life. Considerable effort is put
into trying to induct older people, who are often marginalised, into active consumptive society,
to spend their money through tourism, on new compact housing, in those most wasteful of

modem institutions such as airliners and hotels, hospitals and old-age homes, and so forth.
3. Documentation as to some of the acclaimed purer sources.
Like the lists of proposals and intricated paradigms, the documentation too is somewhat

perfunctory, tending here and there towards notes. Of course there are excuses. While whole

theses could be spun out on several of these topics, already beginning to elicit such treatment, a

prime objective here is different from usual: neither to convict, nor to clear or excuse, but to
partially implicate most items cited in the main tabulation above. Consider, in brief, some of

the usually accredited sources:
• Western religion, above all Christianity. The theme that the source of ecological problems,
‘the historical roots of our ecological crisis’, are to be found in Western religion, and
specifically in ‘the Judaeo-Christian belief that mankind was created to have dominion over
nature’, was repeated in a particularly pointed and subsequently influential way by White.14

One helpful summary of White's line of argument runs as follows:
Allied with technological and scientific developments, orthodox Christianity
has produced arrogant exploitation of nature, and a contemporary ecological
crisis. White's thesis is that the West's successful science and technology
developed between the 8th and 12th centuries — it is much older than the
scientific revolution though it was not until about 1850 — following the
democratic revolutions — that the science and technology were combined to
produce truly immense powers to change nature. The early development,
however, was paralleled by the development of exploitative attitudes to
nature which seemed to be ‘in harmony with larger intellectual patterns’,
namely the victory of Christianity over paganism. This destroyed the
animistic beliefs whereby men thought twice before they plundered and
destroyed natural objects. It substituted instead a faith in perpetual progress,


It interestingly matches the locking of primary production systems into pioneering stages such as
preclimax formations. Shepard’s dialectic is investigated in more detail in the Appendix .
White's article has generated an enormous defensive literature, primarily from Christian
apologists, but also from softer environmentalists and from testy historians of ideas. The whole
area looks in danger of disappearing from intellectual view under a heavy blanketing snowfall,

a belief that God designed nature for man's benefit and rule, and that action,
not contemplation, was the correct Christian behaviour. Science formed an
extension of theology (for to know God you had to find out how his creation
worked), and technology provided the active means to carry out God's will.
Because today's attitudes are essentially inherited from Christianity, then it
‘bears the burden of guilt’ for contemporary ecological disruption.15
What has happened with the divisive charge, advanced by White, that Christianity was
the prime source of environmental problems, is particularly instructive. In an attempt to diffuse

the charge Christian apologists pointed to, what there undoubtedly were, recessive strands or
isolated seeds in Christianity which were much more environmentally benign (though some
such as stewardship, which has evolved toward total managerialism and sustainable

development, have proved increasingly problematic). That does little or nothing to meet a more
sensitive and telling criticism that mainstream (or dominant) Christianity has much to answer
for as regards destruction and degradation of natural environments.16 Similar responses are

apposite for attempts to exonerate their wider sources, such as Western philosophy.
Against the sheeting of responsibility to religion, dominant forms of which should

undoubtedly cop some heavy criticism, it has been contended that
philosophy ... is the primary source of most Western ideas [and] is ...
responsible for the ideas and attitudes that inhibit environmental protection
today. ... Religion ... though often criticized ... as the chief culprit, has played
a much less fundamental role. Most of the environmentally offensive ideas in
Western religion originated not in religion but in Western philosophy.17

• Classical Greek philosophy, above all the peak philosophies of Plato and Aristotle.
Greek philosophers approached natural phenomena in a way that (1)
prevented the development of an ecological perspective, (2) discouraged the
aesthetic appreciation of the natural world, and (3) promoted a conception of
reality that made the idea of nature preservation conceptually difficult, if not
More sweepingly, they set Western philosophy on a ruinous environmental course, a course
accentuated with the appearance of modem rationalist and empiricist philosophies.

• Cartesian philosophy.





The dominant modern environmental approach is sometimes

Pepper pp.44-5. Pepper then embarks upon the murky story of alternative interpretations of
Biblical data and the Christian tradition, dredged up by a series of White's critiques. The issue
continues to be debated; for an older survey of traditions see Passmore, for a challenging recent
contribution to the debate see Callicott.
Each religion is multistranded. But we should look hardest at dominant operative forms: Ask,
not merely what they say, but what they do, and would do. For an outline of just such a telling
criticism of mainstream Christianity, see Singer esp. pp.265-8.
Hargrove p.15. Certainly the sort of message that Pentecostal missionaries even now try to
preach to resistant Australian Aboriginals, that the earth is just filth, mere rubbish, can be traced
back in direct line to Plato’s attitude to the land, an attitude Hargrove and Plumwood help
Hargrove p.21. Hargrove’s claims may appear to have been confuted by Attfield, but really,
while they have been subject to minor qualification, they have been highlighted. There is a
much fuller story still to be told about classical Greek philosophy reassessed environmentally, of
the very different roles and impacts of Plato (with his unearthly philosophy), of Aristotle (with
his earthier chauvinism), of Stoics and of Epicureans, and of neo-Platonists. For a modest
beginning, see Plumwood on Plato, Toulmin on Stoics as contrasted with Epicureans, and
Glacken on lesser or lost Greek strands.

denominated Cartesianism, or the Cartesian Technocratic paradigm, in honour of Descartes,
upon whom (as a conveniently select individual from a swag of like-minded people) several of

the leading themes and ideas can be pinned.19 While Descartes was undoubtedly
extraordinarily influential, so were others; Newton for one, Locke for another. The paradigm is
accordingly better denominated the Atomist-Empiricist-Technocratic paradigm, or some such.

Evidently it substantially overlaps other modem ideologies, such as that of the Enlightenment,
widely implicated as major sources of environmental problems.
• Western metaphysics. While some conglomeration of the preceding sources and others

(some potted history of Western metaphysics, so to say) may be offered, more often what is
presented is some selection of Western metaphysical elements. Here is one example, plainly
exhibiting a heavy Heideggerean influence:
The roots of our environmental problems lie in Western metaphysics. For
metaphysics, Being is presencing; no allowance is made for any other mode
(sheltering, declining, concealing). Once metaphysics has established the
absolute dominion of the present over the not-present or no-longer-present,
the way is paved for the scientific method, with its emphasis on replicability
of results, predicability, quantification, and control. Nature becomes a
“natural resource” —and people become “human resources . The sources of
anthropocentricism, imperialism, colonialism, sexism and consumerism can
all be traced back to metaphysics.
Western metaphysics has more or less conquered the world, and there is no
going back. Western metaphysics is more than simply a false consciousness
overlaid on top of “authentic” experience. Being changes historically, and
metaphysics is the index of that change... Metaphysics has a conquering,
exclusive imperative, ... and different [former] modes now exist only as
vestigial traces. They cannot be resurrected through ancient wisdom, native
healing, goddess worship, or any other supposedly intact, dormant system.
We cannot create a “new order”. That would simply be another form of the
Will to Power... We can—and must—turn away from the dominant rhythms
of western metaphysics if we are to avoid the nihilism of a perpetually
ensconced technocratic rationalism.20
An alternative to turning entirely away from Western metaphysics, consists in combining

rejection of standard Western metaphysics (or, less sweepingly, of dominant metaphysics,
characteristically individualistic and atomistic) in favour of development of recessive traditions

or mere Western seeds.

Such a more sophisticated approach, also critical of Western

metaphysics, with atomism a main villain, is pursued by those who promote instead process or

plenum metaphysics.21



For encapsulation of the Cartesianism paradigm (a dominant dualistic form), summarising
Drengson’s exposition, see RP, table 5. Drengson, for one, has helped portray Descartes as the
environmentally evil genius (or demiurge). That some orthodox philosophers, not merely
maverick philosophers, are now rushing to the defence of Descartes should be seen as entirely in
keeping with the character and roles of Western philosophy.
Undisclosed source. Amusingly, I have seen myself accused of ‘rejecting] in its entirety
mainstream western philosophy and science, ... seen as the cause of the [environmcntalj
problem’ and instead basing my ‘ecocentric values on Eastern philosophies’ (thus Bellett). This
charge was levelled on the strength of a peripheral exercise on classical Taoism and Deep
Ecology (now included in UTD).
For the first process option, see Gare; for the second, where the plenum is that of a holistic
relativity theory (more exactly holistic relativistic geometrodynamics), see Mathews.


• Enlightenment. The source of problems lies in ‘the intellectual heritage of the Enlightenment’
(e.g. Dobson). Of course the main doctrines of the Enlightenment substantially overlap those
of modern mainstream philosophy and of Descartes’ philosophy (but they shed dualistic and

theistic scholastic hang-overs).
• Capitalism. The assumption that capitalism is responsible for environmental as well as social

evils, widespread until recently in state-socialist countries (when their own records were
revealed), can be traced back to Marx. According to Marx, with capitalism
for the first time, nature becomes purely an object for humankind, purely a
matter of utility; ceases to be recognised as a power for itself; and the
theoretical discovery of its autonomous laws appears merely as a ruse so as to
subject it under human needs, whether as an object of consumption or as a
means of production.22
But, as observed, a main embedded theme had appeared in earlier philosophy; for instance, the

idea of nature as purely an object for humankind, was advanced in Aristotle: ’Now if nature
makes nothing incomplete and nothing in vain, the inference must be that she has made all
animals for the sake of man’.23 Aristotle adopted a similar stance on nature as on other species.
The theme was to be oft repeated in subsequent Aristotelianism, and reiterated apparently in
shallower Stoicism. But the subjection of everything to utility, no doubt a relative of
capitalism, appears to be a distinctively modem contribution.

Modern industrial society or industrialism. Modem industrialism (‘the smooth­

superhighway of industrial progress’) is the source, such is an extraordinarily popular theme:

‘... the root causes of the present crisis lie deep with the very foundations of the industrial
paradigm’.24 Similarly ‘roots [of] the environment crisis ... go deeper to the foundations of

modem industrial society’.2526Again, ‘the structural roots of the environmental crises [are found
in] industrialism, in commoditization, in commercialism, and in competition and greed


popular theme, that industrialism is the source, tends to confuse mere means— industrial

technology can without any doubt at all vastly facilitate environmental degradation (as well as,




It should not be overlooked that some of those who nominated metaphysics meant thereby
paradigm or paradigms or an equivalent. But what they may gain thereby in verisimilitude, they
tend to lose in confusion.
Grundrisse p.409f.
Aristotle, Politics, Book 1, ch.8. What an inference, you might well exclaim. See further
Hargrove p.25.
M. Gabriel, ‘How “attitudes and implements” have brought us to “the end of nature”’, a paper
presented at UNE Environmental Paradigms Conference, April 1993. Gabriel proposes a
managerial resolution: ‘for us to learn to manage both our relationship to our environment, and
more broadly the environment itself (quotes from abstract of paper). This amounts to the flip
side of an old problematic record. For the “solution” derives from the same defective box as the
evident problem.
Gabriel ibid. Similarly industrialism is assumed as the source throughout McLaughlin (the
theme pervades his book) and as the root of the modem problem in Marshall (p.5ff). While
seriously astray as to roots and sources, those critical of industrialism have a significant case.
For, as well as functioning as a major inflator of intact problems, industrialism has helped
generate side problems of its own, as with new types of chemical and nuclear pollution.
Editorial in The Ecologist, Jan-Feb 1992, p.2.


less satisfactorily, subsequent clean-up and environmental repair)— with sources and causes,

what directs and powers those uses of industrial technique and practice.
• Economic growth or economic development. ‘According to a common and currently
influential diagnosis, the environmental crisis has essentially economic roots’.27 One
widespread misconception is that economic growth is the source of environmental problems.

The assumption is astray for several reasons. For one, growth is at best a proximate cause,

itself in need of explanation. More importantly, growth may occur in sectors of an economy,
such as information technology or religious or artistic services, which have little or no

environmental impact. Also conversely, an economy which fails to grow, but is desperately
trying to survive, may exact heavy environmental costs (e.g. the forests are clear-felled to pay

for continuing employment). No doubt though, stock economic growth is intimately intricated
with proximate causes of environmental problems (through environmental impact equations).

Similar considerations tell against the familiar proposition that the source of the problems
is economic development itself or, what is different, the entrenched model of economic
development. While it is no doubt correct, and important to emphasize, that ‘the Western

model of economic development, far from being the solution to’ environmental and social
problems, is ‘actually fuelling’ them, it is not the sole or distinguished source of the

• Human nature. "... the roots of our ecologic crisis reach beyond the variable topsoil of
intellectual history, whether Eastern or Western, into the common substrata of human nature
itself.’29 What such “nature” amounts to and how it functions as roots, both commonly left

obscure, turns upon background hypotheses as to the nature of this nature. Different false




Goodin, p.573. While not contesting the theme, Goodin does continue: ‘the problem is not just
that there are too many people, or even that they are enjoying too high a standard of living. All
that is true, too, of course. More fundamentally, however, problems of environmental
despoliation are said to derive from skewed incentives as they pursue their various goals’
(p.573). That too will be seen to be seriously astray, though it contains large grains of truth; it
presumes unchanged the prevailing economically-skewed dominant social paradigm.
Both socialists and other opponents of capitalistic conspicuous consumption tend to select the
living-standard component of the main environmental impact equation as the source of the crisis.
Thus Cuban luminary, Castro, in a recent stunningly succinct speech: ‘Less luxury, less wastage.
Otherwise it will be too late’.
Quoting claims of E. Goldsmith, advanced in an interview in Forest and Bird 273 (August 1994)
pp.46-7. The need for emphasis will persist while locally prominent political figures like the
present Prime Minister of Australia travel around the Earth with the hackneyed message that
only economic growth will solve environmental problems.
Seeing growth as the problem affords only a superficial analysis, like that of pointing to
overconsumption with which growth is interconnected. As deeper inquiry reveals, underlying
both issues of economic growth, employment and consumption, and alternatives taken, are
models, paradigmatic models. Growth is but a means to objectives assumed in the dominant
paradigm. A deeper analysis shows too why more growth will not ultimately solve relevant
Callicott and Ames, ‘Epilogue: On the relation of idea and action’ p.282 (see also p.281), in a
desperate and apparently unsuccessful attempt to reconcile the claim (repeatedly advanced in
their book) that Asian traditions of thought can make a significant contribution to much
improved treatment for natural and built environments, with ‘the deplorable environmental
conditions prevailing in contemporary Asia’ (p.280).


hypotheses, that humans are invariably driven by aggression, sexual or reproductive
imperatives, economic needs, yield different defective accounts. In Catholic orthodoxy such a
source, human nature, comes burdened with original sin; the source of a sweep of problems,

including now environmental ones, is “man’s fallen nature”. That astonishing source also
comes contaminated, as for instance gender biassed.
• Patriarchy. The source is patriarchy, and androgyny; problems derive from mistreatment of
women. ‘Our troubles begin with the invention of male deities located off the planet’.30
‘patriarchy is the source of the environmental crisis’.31 One sample linkage statement runs as


there is a huge denial ... of the violence perpetrated on women both
historically and ... presently] and ... this is the same energy that, turned
against the Earth, is destroying the very life-support systems and rapidly
destroying the conditions that makes complex life possible. The fires that
consume the Amazon are the very same fires that burned 9 million witches
and I believe that there can be no solution of our ecological problems unless
we simultaneously address our gender issues.32
Patriarchy, as source, is evidently a special case of long invoked domination transfer themes:
• Human domination and exploitation of humans'. It is an extraordinarily widespread

assumption that the impact of humans (or, until recently, of Man!) on the environment, or
creatures or things in it, is a product of that of humans with each other, typically of groups or

classes. In misleadingly brief form, the source is social: Man’s inhumanity to Man; and the

solution correspondingly is social. Unremarkably, this unlikely assumption comes in a variety
of different forms: early, concerning the mistreatment of animals as an (inevitable) spill-over

from mistreatment of humans, recently concerning maltreatment of nature spilling over from, or
being one with, that of women. The fashionable assumption runs, in one form or another, from

Aquinas through Kant to a range of recent trend-setters, including Marcuse, Illich, Passmore,
Bookchin ... and some leading feminists. In particular, it is part of the very meaning of social
ecology, an ideology shaped and championed by Bookchin: ‘ecological problems arise from
deep-seated social problems’.33 On this theme among others, Bookchin simply follows a
prominent trend in social anarchism set by Kropotkin and his contemporary Reclus:
all see that the domination and exploitation of nature by man is but an
extension of the domination of man by man. Thus, ‘Both Kropotkin and
Reclus ... laid the foundations of a radical theory of human ecology.
Ecological despoliation was seen to reflect imbalances in human relationships


Quoted in Eckersley p.64, who develops and begins to assess patriarchical source themes. For a
more critical assessment see the sequel to GE.
See Seed, quoted in the sequel to GE; also Salleh (e.g. in EP3).
John Seed’s Workshop Schedule 1992, Rainforest Information Centre, Lismore, 12. 12.91.
Seed’s extravagant identity claims are but a dramatic extension of that popular tendency to
transform comparison and similarity statements into identity claims. Indeed reductionism often
reaches further, with attempted conversion of all relational statements into identity ones, along
with unrelational property claims.
Bookchin sometimes qualifies this central claim, with ‘nearly all present’, e.g. EP3 p.354. But
he is not strictly entitled to any such qualification, given his invariant theme that the domination
of nature always results from humans’ domination of other humans (see e.g. Clark EP3, p.346).
The text EP3 contains a sizeable section providing a useful introduction to social ecology.

—domination of nature thus following from human domination’.... It follows
that if domineering and exploitative human relationships can be avoided in
small-scale decentralised societies then such societies are also best for a
harmonious man-nature relationship.34
Domination and exploitation of one division by another can in turn be seen as a case of
dualism at work, between the one, the dominator or dominating class, and the other, the

• A snare of dualisms. Environmental problems derive from operation of a set of connected
ideologically-entrenched and defective dualisms.35
• Modern educational systems: Roots of environmental problems lie in educational systems.

Or if roots don't, solutions do. However, roots of environmental or social problems do not lie in
educational systems. Parts of their solutions may however. For education is critical, for

instance, in correcting insufficient adherence to established satisfactory arrangements, such as,
so it is claimed, Enlightenment ideals or traditional ethical systems.36 Therewith we are
transported full circle back to defective practice answers.

4. A selective commentary on, and objections to, proposed answers

A main part of this exercise consists in a detailed critical commentary on the entries in the
main tabulation, and on proposals like them. Small beginnings are made on the exercise, in two

stages reflecting a major division in the main tabulation.
ad D. Defective practice answers tend to come from those who presume we are already in
possession of adequate theories, or what approximates them or supplies main elements of them.
(Such answers are also more liable to emanate from conservatives, opposed to new or radical
theories, advanced on the basis of inadequacy of prevailing theories in practice.)

Defective practice answers are especially popular in economic reaches. There was a time,

perhaps not past yet, when all market failures in the shape of negative externalities were passed

off as unintended consequences of economic activity. While “consequences” or outputs such
things as pollution certainly are, unintended they mostly are not now, without emptying
‘unintended’ of its normal sense. For example, industrialists, apprised of conservation laws and
unsurprised by polluted wastes, who dump their waste where and when regulators and waste­

watchers are not looking, can hardly pretend that that output is an unintended consequence of
their industry. That should now be a rotten joke, itself with serious consequences.
Accordingly new ecological economics insists that we dig deeper—without however

exceeding economic settings or a shifting dominant paradigm—to discover why markets may




Pepper p.192, with internal quotation from Breitbart. Unfortunately it is all too evident, given
humans could so socially organise, that they could settle into harmonious small-scale
communities which retained but little of pristine natural environments.
Such a proposition obtains a much fuller elaboration within Plumwood. In an interesting way,
such a proposal can hardly be wrong, given the conclusion reached below that a set of defective
paradigms is at work. For evidently paradigms can be covered by dualisms, represented by a set
of them in each case, somewhat as numbers can be represented in binary terms, generated from a
basic two-oneness duality.
Thus Passmore, Attfield, and others. For a critical assessment of education, see GE

foreseeably fail and why environmentally rectifying technology is not delivered.3738Where they
usually arrive, travelling within such unduly confined settings, is, like welfare economics
before ecological, at better regulated markets, with business set as before within frameworks of

plans and incentives, controls and penalties. Environmentally, however, such approaches do
not reach very deep, or tap into underlying paradigmatic problem-sources.
But these sorts of defective practice answers do not always derive from standard
economic sources. A deviation-style answer is much favoured by Marxists to explain failure,
environmental and other, of the former Soviet Union and other Eastern block countries, namely
that true, or authentic, Marxism was not practiced. Unfortunately, even if it had been,

environmental consequences would be little better, given the heavy industrial commitments and
environmental shallowness, at best, of true Marxism.3^ Differently, enlightenment liberals like

Passmore try to ascribe failures in Western environmental practice, not to any deficiencies in
mainstream theory, but to deviation from well established principles. Unfortunately adherence
to these “well established principles” is just one way in which the Earth will lose what remains
of its wilderness and remarkable diversity.
Now there are no doubt cases, past especially but also present, some resulting

(collectively) in extensive environmental degradation, where defective practice answers may be
correct. For example, there is harrowing case after harrowing case (brought together in texts
like Topsoil and Civilization and Agricultural Origins and Dispersal) of degradation of prime

agricultural lands by imposed farming practices, where at least early on (before damage became
visible) ignorance and unintended consequences could be legitimately claimed. In most
historical cases we do not have enough information to be able to say with much assurance that
agriculture proceeded until effective collapse because of continuing ignorance, or because
practices were locked-in in one way or another, or because of sheer obduracy. But we do know

more about present agricultural practices, for example in more arid parts of Australia,

concerning both irrigated and dry-land agriculture. Many of these practices are undoubtedly
sharply degrading lands, and the consequences of the practices, which cannot plead or pretend

ignorance, are sufficiently appreciated. But the practices persist, and are encouraged by a
sweep of subsidies or concessions. No doubt some of the practitioners can reasonably claim

that they are locked into bad practices through circumstance, circumstances now beyond their
control such as financial pressures, unfavourable terms-of-trade, and so on, coupled with the

need to make a living. But some, such as companies controlling large tracts of land, can make
no such claims or excuses, nor can claim such things as family precedence, attachment to place,
and similar. Their obdurate practice has to be attributed to something else, most obviously not


Thus e.g. Jacobs, p.24.
It is surprising how much of the practice of later Socialist states is prefigured in texts like The
Communist Manifesto. Thus “industrial armies” are to be set up; credit, communications and
transport are to become state monopolies; “migrants and rebels” are to have their property
confiscated; and so on. All this runs contrary to much Marxist apologetics (as A. Urquhart, who
made those points, also observed).

deviation from theory, but commitment to an environmentally defective paradigm.
ad P and PS. Dealing with defective paradigm answers is an even more complex, and vexed,

business. Let us try to condense main matters to a few broad themes:
Many of the (incomplete) paradigms listed are not even sufficient for environmental
impasses. They may be seriously mistaken, they may have undesirable intellectual and perhaps

social effects, but a society could persist sustainably with those drawbacks. Thus, for example,
substance metaphysics (under modified Spinozism), dualisms, even patriarchy. The same

might even hold for materialism and mechanism, (assuming these practices can be coherently
made out, that depending on how differentiated ideologies and values are accommodated, and

so forth).
To illustrate: a metaphysics, of any sort, cannot be the whole story, because it does not,

on its own, account for action, anti-environmental or other. Without special bridges, link

principles, from metaphysics to value-intricating action theory, a sort of naturalistic fallacy

Thus subverted, in essentially Hume’s way, are all the vulgar sources of

environmental problems which take them as derived from metaphysics of one sort or another.

Such a criticism does not however extend to more comprehensive paradigms which connect
appropriately with practice.
While several—not just one—of the paradigms listed are sufficient—in the right

circumstances (given long historical development, accumulation, and so on39)—none are
necessary. Similar impasses could arise, and locally have arisen, given significantly different


for example given, instead of main Western trouble-making paradigms,

Confucianism or advanced Polynesianism.
At this stage in dialectic, green history and the like—bio-history, eco-history, and related
virtual histories (concerning what would have happened)—enter decisively. For instance,
Ponting's Green History of the World begins with a graphic account of the rise and ecological
fall of Easter Island under the impact of Polynesian projects. The work also conveniently

documents many other examples, well-known to biohistorians, of ecological degradation or
collapse, far from the influence of Western paradigms.40 An important example (much less
speculative than some of the numerous other examples because of a comparative wealth of

primary documentation) outlines the destruction of accessible Chinese ecosystems under

Confucian dynasties. What several of these examples—Polynesian, Mayan, Sumerian and
others—also reveal is that no very high level of technology is needed to inflict serious

environmental damage; persistence in pursuit of an ideological project (with nothing directly to


While it is easy to imagine ineffectual or incompetent tribes which live benignly
environmentally, by just muddling along, under even the worst of paradigms, that is not really to
the point. A pertinent tribe needs to have developed the structure which leads to problems, to
have the means, and so on.
Ponting’s valuable though rather simple book is but one of several bleak texts. Another is
Hillel’s, and there is a succession of earlier classic works by geographers: Lowdermilk, Dale,
Mallory, Thorp and others. In general however, geographers and historians do not dig deep
enough, to paradigmatic roots.


do with basic needs) will suffice.
Other cultures did wreak, or would (given the technology and numbers, both of which
some were gaining) have wreaked similar damage. For instance, deforestation, salination,

megafaunal elimination, and so on, were well established, and expanding, before (or effectively

outside) the rise of modem Western paradigms, or in extensive regions outside their influence.
The list of paradigms, as so far assembled, is substantially Western in orientation.
Moreover environmental woes are regularly ascribed to Western sources
wrongly. For nonWestem paradigms have led, or would lead given the opportunities (including access to the
technologies), to outcomes as undesirable as under dominant Western paradigm. Witness

again Confucianism, for instance, and its role and influence in Asian regions. Confucianism

incorporates human chauvinism par excellence (as well as, some might say, Chinese
chauvinism).41 Or consider Islam, with its reach across the Middle East and beyond.
The main tabulation (of table 2) should accordingly be extended to take due account of

non-Westem paradigms, including for example:
Other Abrahamic religions



Polynesianism, at least in advanced forms as on Easter Island.

What is “Western” is tending to blur also. Is Judaism Western, how western, or Islam? There
is also a tendency to suppose that more Western religions, Abrahamic religions, with their

intense monotheism, are significantly ideologically worse than non-Westem. But the contrasts
are different and much more complex than that. A better divide is into monistic and pluralistic.
Even so, many undesirable social and environmental features are incorporated in, or
encouraged by, religious pluralisms from the Indian subcontinent.
All the single paradigm answers are inadequate, all are too simple. Even so some are
less inadequate than others. It is the same, more or less, for the combined answers, often to be
encountered. For generally they represent but one thin cross-section of Western paradigms.

While all the single one-source one-shot paradigmatic answers, occur on their own, often
they are combined. For instance, although Descartes is often cited as a villain, more often

criticism of Cartesianism is combined with criticism of other concurrent ideological elements,

such as Baconian empiricism (less incompatibly, Drengson, for one, regularly combines

criticism of the technocratic paradigm with criticism of Cartesianism

though Descartes, for all

his rich and appalling thought, contributed little to the rise of technocratic organisation.)

Similarly Hargrove combines Greek philosophy, as original source, with modem rationalism
and much else.


Its net of effects extends widely. Consider, e.g., the role of Chinese medicine in decline of large
fauna worldwide.


A general method of showing the inadequacy of all the paradigmatic answers tabulated,

and others, is familiar from logical theory: namely, the method of counter-models, of which the

counter-examples (under head 2) provide special cases. A presently important illustration
concerns patriarchy as a source of environmental woes. Counter-models reveal the substantial
independence of mistreatment of women and mistreatment of environmental items such as

animals or ecosystems. One the one hand, it is easy to envisage situations, not far from the

actual in some regions, where the lot of women is significantly improved, but the lot of
environmental items is not (e.g. men change their behaviour and attitudes relevantly as regards

women, are forced to change, or whatever); just such an outcome would accord with persisting
human chauvinism. More relevant, on the other, there are situations where the position of
environmental items is much improved, for instance under much more careful husbandry, but

that of women is not, for one reason or another (e.g. they remain other, different, second class,
etc.). It follows from the elaboration of such counter-models that patriarchy is not the source of
environmental problems, as there can be continuing patriarchy without the present range of

environmental problems (problems can dry up while patriarchy continues to operate). There is
no need to deny that patriarchy as (contingently) practised, with its sweeping supremacist

attitudes which make no due distinctions between inferior items, may be a major contributing

factor in present problems. Such slack contingent conjunctions do not convert to roots or
sources. Similarly with other social roots of environmental problems, for instance with human

domination of humans as the supposed source of all problems.
5. Towards a more satisfactory explanation.
Not only are the paradigmatic roots seriously intertangled (because of connections of one

paradigm with another, because for instance of heavy philosophical inputs into religious

paradigms), but further there is not a single defective paradigm. Rather there is a family or
sheaf of paradigms, commitment to any of which, or any suitable combination of which, in

requisite circumstances, appears to have yielded environmentally untoward outcomes (requisite

circumstances including availability of technology, extent of social support, and so on). Within
that plurality there are of course gradations—and not only gradations but major differences


calibre, in environmental friendliness. For example, Cartesianism which regards animals as
mere automata incapable of feeling genuine pain, is significantly worse as regards other life­
forms and their decent treatment than a utilitarianism which positively values animal sentience.
The family is not exclusively Western, nor somewhat more plausibly Northern, even
though as a result of forces like migration, colonialism and cultural imperialism, paradigms of

these sorts now predominate. Paradigms and cultures of less “advanced” and of third world

communities have also operated to enhance environmental vandalism and degradation locally
and regionally.
Nor are major inflators of environmental problems essentially Western. Industrialization
and technological advance—neither intrinsically Western, both manifested in varying degrees

in other cultures—are, without much doubt, what have inflated environmental problems from

rather localised ones, damaging for instance islands and river catchments, to grander and even

global ones. They are the engines, powerhouses, of major problems, generating thereby spin­
off problems as well. But, once again, they are not deeper sources, but only means. (For again
push questioning deeper, and ask: why bother or persist with industry, the effort and dirt and

mess involved?) Nor, however, did they run on their own, nor do they continue on their own.
Such engines were not designed and built, fuelled and tended, independently.42 They evolved
primarily in the specially favoured culture of capitalism, though parallel developments could

have occurred, and later did, in other prepared and heavily controlled surroundings, such as
state socialism or post-imperial Confucianism. Now however these engines have been rendered
more reliable and less dependent on careful cultural support, and have been transformed to run

in less favourable settings.

Thus inflation can escalate from a multiplicity of prepared sources, thereby intensifying
problems and spreading them to larger regions. The intensification and spread is much

facilitated by the joint transfer of technology, industry and coupled problems from region to
region. As a result of transfer, inflation can occur within settings of quite different paradigms.
Even if the whole “West” went into a terminal decline, and its paradigms disappeared into

history, serious environmental exploitation and degradation would continue, driven by other

enthusiastic cultures. For instance, the West could in theory collapse through protracted war,
through pollution and congestion, or climate change and agriculture failure (there are many
unexcludible routes to catastrophic decline, outlined in “Limits to Growth” scenarios, that could

differentially impact on the West). Degradation would now continue however; there would be

only temporary respite from environmental crises.
While most of the conspicuous problems, awfully aggregated in contemporary

environmental crises, are accelerated by—what connects them—contemporary industrial
society, not all environmental problems are or have been of this sort. However, too many of the
other problems, such as destruction of rainforests by itinerant peasants, can be seen as by­
products or similar of the main generators. Thus, in the illustration, the peasants displaced by

agribusiness or absentee wealth-holders, arrived there on industrially-made roads opening the

forests, and often wrecked this damage using industrial machinery.
An environmental friendly culture has to be much more critical concerning certain types

of industrialization, and much more selective regarding technology than present dominant
cultures, Western or non-Westem. A friendly paradigm would not only ensure much more

Lacking favourable ideological settings, earlier technological “break throughs” were not duly
developed: thus early wheels, steam engines, dyes, gunpowder, etc. Western cultures did not
enjoy a monopoly upon technology powerful enough, when massed, to induce global crises.
The pictuie of development of large-scale environmental problems being sketched bears
superficial resemblance to that now tendered for development of the early Universe, where, to
achieve presumed size, a source event, the Big Bang, was followed by huge inflationary
phenomena. Naturally the resemblance has limitations; for instance, universe inflation is not
terrestrially replicable in the way industrialization now is (hired or delivered off the shelf,
pollution problems and all, with a big price tag).

selectivity and care, but would sharply limit impacts of damaging technology and
industrialization. While there are such paradigms, on the ideas market, they mostly lack

sophisticated contemporary elaboration and they may be flawed in other respects. Examples of

more friendly paradigms, that do not lead of themselves to massive environmental problems
and crises conditions, include those now tabulated:
TABLE 3: Examples, some flawed, of environmentally friendly paradigms.

Oriental ideologies:
Taoism (classical)

recessive traditions,
now with tiny
followings and little
political influence.


Indigenous cultures:

Australian Aboriginals (e.g. Aranda)
Amazonian Indians.
Western philosophies:

under certain




Deep-green theories, such as deep ecology.

Given the remoteness of most of these examples from predominant contemporary life, and
difficulties with their wide adaptability, it is a short step to a familiar conclusion that new

paradigms need to be worked out soon. Much much more intellectual effort should be devoted
to such enterprise.
One upshot, then, is a rough classification of paradigms into two families, the second

large: environmentally friendly, and unfriendly. No doubt there is a small fuzzy residue class
lying between major unfriendly and friendly divisions.
Environmental friendliness means more or less what it appears to mean, what a functional

break-down into components would yield: friendliness in approaches, practices and attitudes, to
environments, especially more natural environments, with friendliness including, as usual,

goodwill and kindliness towards (and substantially displaceable by these). As indicated, such
friendliness concerns not merely actual practices, but also attitudes held, as reflected in what

would be done in certain other sorts of situations.

Certainly a culture that manifests

unfriendliness, as a sweep of Northern cultures do, is unfriendly. But, as well, various

“primitive” cultures, whose practices are not hostile, for example because they lack means or
resources, energy or health, may nonetheless be unfriendly; for instance all members of a
culture hold thoroughly negative attiudes which they are in fact unable to put into practice.


In logical terms neither, perhaps as well as another residue class, both.

It is not too difficult to explain in outline which paradigms will, if duly, diligently or

religiously practiced, lead to environmental problems and impasse.

Certain family

characteristics, of unfriendly paradigms are worth elaborating:
* Direct untoward effects, illustrated through Cartesianism and Confucianism.


generally, direct impact is illustrated by any idea-system which attributes little or no value to
natural items, and typically much value to nature transforming or interfering human (or elite)

projects, and whose themes are linked to practice. So it is with Confucianism, which is entirely
human focussed. ‘Centering his attention on man in his present life, Confucius had as his goal
the achievement of a good society characterized by harmonious social relations.’44 The outside

world, the natural environment, was of no moral significance. It mattered only instrumentally,
to humans. Descartes went further. Human bodies too were automata, complex machinery.

‘The exception is [znznJ, or specifically] thought, and its external manifestation language: this

alone cannot be explained mechanistically—a thesis which leads Descartes to assert a

fundamental divide between human beings and “the beasts’”.45 The remaining world, the

natural environment—lacking humanity, thought, mind—was again of no moral significance.
It possessed derivatively only what value and meaning humans, or minds, chose to confer or
project upon it, typically little or none.
Since, either way, any way, a natural environment devoid of humans has no thoughts,

purposes or interests, no value or meaning of its own, it could hardly matter what happens to it.

It could be regarded and treated, justifiably, as nothing but a reservoir of resources for humans.
Cartesians drew just such conclusions; similar conclusions derive, by one route or another from
Platonism and Pentecostalism, and are implicit at least in Confucianism. Descartes again went

further than some others. His practices and methods, like those of Bacon, were aimed at
making men the masters and possessors of nature’ .46
Untowards effects result through linkage of ideological theory to heavy practice. Link
principles, reminiscent of “correspondence rules” used in explaining applications of scientific

theories and normally included in comprehensive paradigms, connect the theoretic level to
practice, they also serve to activate otherwise inoperative or uncoupled paradigms. Such

principles may take the form of directives; familiar examples include maximization directives,

such as maximize personal fun, tribal utility, national interest, or state GNP.
* Indirect combination effects, illustrated through Leibnitzianism. Any which yield satisfaction
of all or enough elements of the consumption impact equation, and so would generate excessive
impacts. To illustrate, consider what might be called Leibnitzianism, in honour of Leibnitz’s
fragmentary ideology. Leibnitz was substantially committed to all of human population


Reese p.102 For much more on the geographic impact of Confucianism, as also compared with
other (Asian) paradigms, see Tuan’s investigations.
Cottingham p. 15. The utter invalidity of Descartes' argument (reported in Cottingham) to this
divide is now comparatively easy to expose, given almost 400 years of hindsight. There are no
such status divides—-just as flamboyant forms of deep ecology maintain.
See Descartes, Discourse VI.


growth, unfettered technological advance, and human lifestyles of consumption,47 in short, to
precisely those factors that combine in the impact recipe to produce excessive human impacts
upon environments. However neutral Leibnitz’s metaphysics, his monadology, may have
been—by contrast with Plato’s or Descartes’, both of which explicitly devalued much or all of
the natural world—Leibnitz’s wider ideology is linked indirectly, through impact equations, to
damaging effects.
Some imagine that this oblique formalistic detailing, through direct and indirect classes,
can be simply cut through, retaining plurality and so forth. Surely environmental friendliness is
nothing but environmental depth? While the suggestion points in the right sort of direction (for

the relevant sort of depth) it too is astray.48 Depth is neither necessary nor sufficient. Take the
move plausible sufficiency half, plausible because depth helps, no end. Nonetheless depth can

be achieved in macho ways (as ecofeminism has emphasized against deep ecology), ways
which may not be altogether friendly to less favoured species, groups or habitats. For example,

depth can be satisfied through due selection and support of some super species and magnificent
habitats—requisite environmental impartiality (and reflected justice), critical for friendliness as

intended, being neglected.49 Still less in depth necessary. For kindliness can, both in principle
and in practice, extend far beyond humans, still ranked top, to much more of “creation . Such

extensive kindliness, observed in some humanistic humans, appears to be exhibited in some

sects and tribes not committed to depth, and it could well be considerably more widespread,
under changed but not deepened ideological conditions. Naturally, however, deepening would
afford an obvious, and excellent, reason for change.
As friendliness is not tantamount to depth, nor similarly is a prime part of what explains

depth, recognition of intrinsic value in nature outside humans. Some animal liberationists who

display high regard for creatures with capacity to suffer, show little goodwill towards forests
largely unpopulated by such creatures. Conversely, though shifting ground, an environmentally
friendly society may hold that value is but an anthropocentric construct, merely projected onto a

basically neutral world.
All the same, aspects of depth are normally reliable indicators of environmental

sensitivity and friendliness, and inversely, aspects of shallowness (as investigated in authentic
deep ecology) marks of unfriendliness.

Shallowness will work out satisfactorily

environmentally only with what is now rare (given ideological dominance), a right mix of
humans; and its any longer working widely is implausible. These reliable marks include such

familiar features as



For requisite details, see Aiton. The case against Leibnitzianism is developed in a sequel.
As to the relevant sort of depth, see GE. Other accounts of depth are also preferred in deep
ecology, some of which relate to the present exercise. In particular deep questioning should lead
to paradigmatic roots, to Naess’s “total views”.
Herein lies another reason why something like biospecies egalitarianism is essential in deep
ecology; such a requirement needs, not dilution away (as has happened in American and
transpersonal deep ecology), but rectification.


* short-term framework.
* devaluation of natural items as against human elements or artefacts (typically exhibiting
human chauvinism); and, as a corollary of heavy devaluation,

* entitlement to domination, dominion ove’r nature;
* appropriation of nature, its conversion to property.
* maximization assumptions concerning personal or societal aggrandizement, utility and size,
coupled with grand projects.
* technofix approach to environmental problems.
Friendly paradigms will tend to invert these features. An environmentally friendly
paradigm can be expected to yield environmentally significant corollaries, such as the following

* an end to degrading primary production; instead ecological forestry and ecological

agriculture will come to prevail.
* a strong selectivity regarding industrialization, which weeds out damaging forms.
* a calling off of grand ideologically-grounded projects, interfering with or damaging natural
environments, such as major dams, river diversions, demolished islands (e.g. for airports), new

mountains, terraforming, extensive rainmaking, climatic interference, and generally the sweep
of “playing God” projects. A little of this sort of unfriendly technology can go a very long way.

As unfriendly paradigms are decidedly plural, so likewise are answers to questions as to

why agents adhere, or continue to adhere, to environmentally unfriendly paradigms. Some of

the diverse answers match answers already encountered in the main tabulation. Reasons are
psychological, social and cultural (with a familiar circularity here encountered), and include

considerations of the following sorts and others: because that is how things are done, or have
always been done; because needs can be met, perhaps only met, in that way, so it is believed;

because there are no alternatives, or none seen, perhaps because none have been sought;
because negative outcomes can be overcome, or do not really matter; and so on.
A short answer can now be ventured to the focal questions: Because, in one way or
another, most agents are bound to—locked into, committed to, captured by, or just passively go

along with—environmentally unfriendly paradigms. As a result the (long-term) health of the

rest of environments does not matter, or matter enough.
6. Glimpsing an entertaining corollary: an unfavourable report upon dominant
It will hardly have escaped notice that virtually all dominant philosophical roads lead to
Rome, to environmentally unfriendly paradigms.

Stripped of metaphor, there are

environmental conditions of adequacy, which most philosophical systems fail to meet. In an

environmentally friendly new world, most philosophy that is remembered, indeed most of the
humanities, is destined for scrapping. Prevailing philosophy is a serious impediment to

satisfactory environmental outcomes. Predominant philosophy, not just Western philosophy,
has by and large been bad environmental news.

It may be insisted that philosophy can make no difference, for instance to environmental

practice. It is not an expression of basic needs, or of any such practical matters. Exceptions to

such practical bravado have however to be recognised almost immediately; philosophy soon
enters for organizational, justificatory and explanatory ends. That concession still grossly
under-estimates the extent to which ideas, and more generally paradigms, influence and even
govern action and practice, especially reflective and rational action. The substantial point is not

therefore removed through any alleged practical impotence of philosophy.
Mainstream philosophy has supplied, or mightily assisted in supplying, dominant
unfriendly paradigms under which environments labour. Of course not everything has to be

trashed, as even defective enterprises or evil projects may include decent part or worthwhile
features; much can be salvaged, arguments, subtheories and so on (and with intellectual tipping

there need be little material waste). Nor therefore is it as if an entirely fresh start has to be
made. As well as salvaged bits and pieces (which need to be carefully tested for soundness),

there are brash new alternatives such as authentic deep ecology, and there are recessive
paradigms and neglected traditions to peruse for suggestions, for inspiration, and perhaps to

Richard Sylvan*

APPENDIX. On Shepard’s approach to focal questions.
A remarkably sustained investigation of the focal questions is found in Shepard s

intriguing books. In his Nature and Madness, he considers and quickly dismisses many of the
stock responses to focal questions suggested by contemporary luminaries (or by himself in

earlier work), such as lack of information, faulty technique, insensibility, greed, political
inertia, change to agriculture and settlement, 5<\.. . He would (and should, for his eliminative

argument) have also dismissed industrialization, state and corporate control, and so on.
More disconcertingly, for present purposes, Shepard claims that ‘a history of ideas’—
similarly no doubt a story of paradigms—will not serve; for it ‘is not enough to explain human

behaviour’ (p.3), it ‘seems too easy and academic’ (p.3), itself an easy and superficial criticism.
But if, for instance, the ‘dictum that nature should serve man’ and ‘insistence that animals feel

no pain’ should become widely entrenched, then they may well impact heavily on practice, as
accordingly appears to be the case. His slight further argument appears to miss the intended
An earlier, even rougher version of this article was presented at the Environmental Paradigms
Conference, University of New England, Armidale, April 1993. It would not have been written
without its solicitation for the Conference; also it might well not been thought through in
fashionable but confining and perhaps misleading paradigmatic terms.
A subsequent working draft has benefitted, slightly, from comments from very unimpressed
reviewers. Thanks certainly to Holmes Rolston for helpful comments.
No doubt a popular picture of human social changes with agriculture and settlement is simplistic:
that before societies lived in harmony, afterwards they did not. But it is also too simple to go on
to claim, as Shepard does, that ‘the economic and material demands of growing villages and
towns are ... not causes but results of this change’ (p.3). Some demands appear to derive from
factors, such as population pressures, which were among causes of the changes.

target: ‘The meticulous analysis of these philosophies and the discovery that they articulate an

ethos beg the question’ (p.3). How, it can reasonably be inquired? What is offered is but the

facile, false, ‘ideas are impotent’ consideration, fostered by thinking and operating in terms of
causes (e.g. lower p.3), rather than reasons and (rational) explanation, and encouraged through

an attempted move to (what is explanatorily inadequate) pure behaviour. For a simple example
of the familiar explanatory roles of ideas and paradigms, consider an alternative explanation

through them. The admittedly bizarre (“crazy”) ‘turning everything into something man-made
and [or] man-used’ (p.5) is readily explained through dominant paradigms: that is the way it
acquires value, otherwise it is worthless. There is no need at all for psychopathology here.
Correspondingly Shepard briefly reviews and rejects several of the very partial, and often

hopeless, solutions suggested under stock responses to focal questions such as making
information, or better information, more widely available, bringing people from all walks of life
together, encouraging conviviality, hitting problems with smart technology, practicing

conservation, and so on.
Shepard’s own resolution is more readily reached from a further (meta-focal) question
that he proceeds to ask: why do humans persist in degrading their habitats once sources and
solutions are made transparent? He effectively argues by elimination: other sources (read as

causes) do not succeed in providing an answer; but ‘the idea of a sick society’ (which he leaps

to, without argument, p.4) does. Wrong on both counts: On the first because a non-causal
explanation in terms of ideological wiring can provide answers (listen to politicians,

representative of the people, again, just a little time). On the second because some industrial
societies are not sick in a normal sense (though some may be), rather sickness has to be so
redefined (such low redefinitions are among underlying subplots51) that having certain
ideological commitments that are carried into practice counts as “sickness”.
So it is that Shepard arrives at his theme of ‘general, culturally-ratified distortions of

childhood, of massive disablement of ontogeny as the basis of irrational and self-destructive

attitudes towards the natural environment’ (p.ix). Succinctly, ‘there are profound psychic
dislocations at the root of modem society’ (p.xii). Psychic disorders have evolved: ‘over the

centuries major institutions and metaphysics might finally celebrate attitudes and ideas

originating in the normal context of immaturity [or]... adolescence ...’ (p. 15).
Having glided easily and invalidly to the idea of sick societies, in a mere three pages,
Shepard proceeds to diagnose in more detail the nature of the alleged sickness.52 It supposedly

arises, like other psychopathy with which it is immediately associated, in infancy, and is


For trickery through redefinition of sickness and madness, Wisdom has already prepared us.
Observe that Shepard’s redefinition of sickness to include sick (i.e. debasing and devaluing)
piactices with regard to natural habitats (and conjoined therewith, to, older people) does not
leave no contrast classes. For there remain benign ‘relic tribal’ societies, such as the Manus,
Crow and Comanche, Aranda and !Kung San (p.xii), ‘people who feel themselves to be guests
rather than masters' (p.6 empasis added)—an elegant analogy.
‘The idea of a sick society’, which as Shepard confesses (on p.4) is hardly new, is reached on the
third page of the main text.


manifest in life-long immaturity, with whole societies stuck in a kind of destructive
adolescence. No doubt there is something to some of what Shepard describes in child and

person development (not the ‘private demons’ and so on) or might well have described. There
is evidently, conspicuously in “new world” societies, wide commitment to a shallow juvenile
culture, adulation or imitation of immature media and sport models and flawed authority
figures, marginalization of the elderly, and so on, coupled with hyper-activity, violence and
vandalism. But, like political commitment to extensive economic activity, this is hardly

satisfactorily accounted for through psychopathological reduction, concentrating the whole
social problematic in the ontogeny of individuals.55 A superior explanation to widespread
individual psychic disorder proceeds through ideological commitment, that industrial humans

are raised and educated in, inducted into and committed to, defective ideologies, without
coming to know or properly experience alternatives.
The ‘portraits of maturity’ alluded to likewise appear individualistic and culture-bound,

resembling those of deep ecology, directed at embroidery of person and self, through personal
growth and identity, wider identification and relatedness, self-realization.*
54 They are not

exactly those of older and ecologically wiser societies. They do not reveal ecologically mature

mixed communities.
Furthermore, comparisons with relic tribal societies, which are important, can be
decoupled from psychopathological analysis and reduction. Different lifeways, commitments
and ideologies, are what they are and do not all reduce to matters of mental health.

Undoubtedly we can learn of and from these different societies. We can still witness smallgroup, leisured, foraging life-ways with[in] natural surroundings. ... there is the rub—... for us,

now, that world no longer exists’ (p.14 rearranged). Nor is it really true that such a world is no
longer accessible to most of us; more leisured small-group ways can be retrieved, some natural
surrounding can even now be restored.
In a curious fashion, Shepard has managed to invert likely causal relations. While a

certain interaction can no doubt be conceded, it is not so much human ill-health that is leading
to environmental degradation, but rather environmental degradation, generally brought about
for other reasons, that is increasingly leading to human ill-health, and in the longer term causing
erosion of life-support systems.



A psychopathic reduction is in part made plausible by reexpression in medical or psychological
terms of what would better be otherwise expressed. Consider, for instance the language of the
following clever paragraph, which infiltrates much with no argument:
. ‘The person himself is, of course, caught between his inner calendar and the surgeries of
society. His momentum for further growth may be twisted or amputated according to the
hostilities, fears, or fantasies required of him, as his retardation is silently engineered to
domesticate his integrity or to allow him to share in the collective dream of mastery (p.16).
But the trapping of agents between inner directives and social conditions and demands, or
between rival ideologies, can be retold in different, less medical and metaphorical terms.
Cf pp.12-14. Likewise there is a conservative underlay, more oppressive than that of deep
ecology: insistence on ‘one particular mother’ (p.7) even suggestion of unsatisfactoriness in
‘taking mothers off to work’ (p. 15)!

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Richard Sylvan, “Box 15, item 1165: Paradigmatic roots on environmental problems,” Antipodean Antinuclearism, accessed July 23, 2024,

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