Whole Earth Review

The Way: An Ecological World-View.

The Way: An Ecological World-View. – book reviews

J. Baldwin

Edward “Teddy” Goldsmith, Founder of the noisy British magazine The cologist, here lays down the law in his usual no-nonsense manner. Hes Famous For hubris (‘consider that title I), in print and as an orator. The book is divided into 66 chapters, each of which illuminates a concept that has ordered human endeavor in past civilizations reputed to be more enlightened than our own. Most of them sound right presented like this, but they’re less convincing when someone asks “How should we do differently tomorrow morning?” Mr. Lewis (opposite) would consider most of them Green Delusions. Yet there is a lot to loam here; this is one of the Few eco-books I’ve read cover to cover without getting bored. The debate is heating up, and Mr. Goldsmith is one of the major stokers.

There is no reason to suppose that the ecological world view –in its different variants –is any more objective, less value-laden or less purposeful. Just as modern scientific knowledge is designed to rationalize the paradigm of science, so ecological knowledge is designed to rationalize the world view of ecology.

How then can the absurd notion of the randomness of life processes have been raised to the elated status of the central concept of modem biology? I shall suggest some possible answers.

To begin with, randomness was postulated as an argument against teleology, which was seen as ushering in all sorts of unacceptable supernatural principles, such as God, or various forms of vitalism. Second, it is essential in order to rationalize the reductionist nature of modern science. If the biosphere displays order — worse still, if the whole evolutionary process is seen as a single coordinated strategy, involving all life processes at all levels of organization — then the reductionist approach would make no sense. Third, the postulate of randomness is required to justify statistical method which in turn rationalizes other key features of the paradigm of science — the principle of causation, for instance, and reductionism itself.

Finally, randomness has been believed because it is impossible to justify the Promethean enterprise to which our industrial society is committed, and which insists on systematically transforming the Biosphere so that it may best satisfy short-term interests, if the Biosphere is seen as organized to achieve a grand overall project of its own. By seeing the Biosphere as random, on the other hand, it is possible to make out that what order there is in the world has been created by science, technology and industry, rather than by God or the evolutionary/process. ‘The cardinal tendency of progress’, as J.D. Bernal writes, ‘is the replacement of an indifferent chance environment by a deliberately created one.’

The insistence by mainstream scientists on maintaining the principle of the randomness of life processes in the teeth of all the evidence, both empirical and theoretical, provides an excellent illustration of how scientific theses are formulated to rationalize the paradigm of science, and hence the world-view of modernism which it so faithfully reflects.

Vernacular man diagnoses heterotelic diseases as the symptoms of social and ecological maladjustments brought about by diverging from the Way, thereby violating the laws of the cosmos and disrupting its critical order: maladjustments can only be eliminated by correcting the divergence and returning to the Way.

Modern man, on the other hand, interprets problems in terms of cause and effect relationships on the basis of which a disease is attributed to a discreet event such as the action of a bacterium, virus or other pathogen — which must then be eliminated, usually by waging chemical warfare against it. To do this, we build factories for manufacturing the chemicals, shops in which to sell them, hospitals in which to administer them and universities in which we train the chemical engineers, pharmacists, doctors and other specialists involved in manufacturing, selling and administering them. Thus we put our faith in scientific, technological and industrial development, or progress — precisely what our society is organized to provide. This may occasionally serve to cure individual sufferers; it will always serve the interests of industrialists and their political allies; but it will do nothing to reduce the incidence of the disease.

The Way

(An Ecological World-View) Edward Goldsmith, 1993; 464 pp. $20 ($23 postpaid) from Shamnbhala Publications/Order Dept., P.O. Box 308, Boston, MA 02117-0308; 6171424-0228 (or Whole Earth Access)

COPYRIGHT 1993 Point Foundation

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group