Shifting values will profoundly alter the ways we relate to each other and to the Earth.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the major problems of our times cannot be understood in isolation. The threat of nuclear war, the devastation of our natural environment, the persistence of poverty along with progress even in the richest countries — these are not isolated problems. They are different facets of one single crisis, which is essentially a crisis of perception.
crisis derives from the fact that most of us and especially our large social
institutions subscribe to the concepts and values of an outdated worldview,
which is inadequate for dealing with the problems of our overpopulated,
globally interconnected world. At the same time, researchers at the leading
edge of science, various social movements, and numerous alternative networks are
developing a new vision of reality that will form the basis of our future
technologies, economic systems, and social institutions.
paradigm that is now receding has dominated our culture for several hundred
years. This paradigm consists of a number of ideas and values, among them the
view of the universe as a mechanical system composed of elementary building
blocks, the view of the human body as a machine, the view of life in society as
a competitive struggle for existence, the belief in unlimited material progress
to be achieved through economic and technological growth, and last but not
least, the belief that a society in which the female is everywhere subsumed
under the male is one that follows a basic law of nature. In recent decades, all
of these assumptions have been found to be severely limited and in need of
New World View
newly emerging paradigm can be described in various ways. It may be called a
holistic worldview, emphasizing the whole rather than the parts. It may also be
called an ecological worldview, using the term “ecological” in the sense of
deep ecology. The distinction between “shallow” and “deep” ecology was
made in the early seventies by philosopher Arne Naess and has now been widely
accepted as a very useful terminology to refer to the major division within
contemporary environmental thought.
ecology is anthropocentric. It views humans as above or outside of nature, as
the source of all value, and ascribes only instrumental or use value to nature.
Deep ecology does not separate humans from the natural environment, nor does
it separate anything else from it. It does not see the world as a
collection of isolated objects but rather as a network of phenomena that
are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. Deep ecology recognizes
the intrinsic value of all living beings and views humans as just one particular
strand in the web of life.
ethical framework associated with the old paradigm is no longer adequate to deal
with some of the major ethical problems of today, most of which involve threats
to non-human forms of life. With nuclear weapons that threaten to wipe out all
life on the planet, toxic substances that contaminate the environment on a large
scale, new and unknown microorganisms awaiting release into the environment
without knowledge of the consequences, animals tortured in the name of
consumer safety — with all these activities occurring, it seems most important
to introduce ecologically oriented ethical standards into modern science and
reason why most old-paradigm ethics cannot deal with these problems is that,
like shallow ecology, it is anthropocentric. Thus the most important task for
a new school of ethics will be to develop a non-anthropocentric theory of value,
a theory that would confer inherent value on non-human forms of life.
the recognition of value inherent in all living nature stems from the deep
ecological awareness that nature and the self are one. This, however, is also
the very core of spiritual awareness. Indeed, when the concept of the human
spirit is understood as the mode of consciousness in which the individual
feels connected to the cosmos as a whole, it becomes clear that ecological
awareness is spiritual in its deepest essence and that the new ecological ethics
is grounded in spirituality.
view of the ultimate identity of deep ecological and spiritual awareness, it is
not surprising that the emerging new vision of reality is consistent with the
“perennial philosophy” of, for example, Eastern spiritual traditions, the
spirituality of Christian mystics, and the philosophy and cosmology underlying
the Native American traditions.
our contemporary culture, the spiritual essence of the deep ecological vision
seems to find an ideal expression in the feminist spirituality advocated within
the women’s movement. Feminist spirituality is grounded in the experience of
the oneness of all living forms and of their cyclical rhythms of birth and
death. It is thus profoundly ecological and is close to Native American
spirituality, Taoism, and other life-affirming, earth-oriented spiritual
mechanistic worldview was developed in the 17th century by Galileo, Descartes,
Bacon, Newton and others. Descartes based his view of nature on the fundamental
division into two separate, independent realms: mind and matter. The material
universe, including the human organism, was a machine that could in principle be
understood completely by analyzing it in terms of its smallest parts. Like the
Cartesian metaphor of the body as clockwork, the metaphor of the brain as a
computer has been very useful, but both are now outdated. Our brain may seem to
carry out computer-like functions, but it is not a computer. The brain, too, is
a living organism. This difference is crucial, but it is often forgotten by
computer scientists and even more by lay people. And since computer science uses
expressions like “intelligence,” “memory,” or “language” to describe
computers, we tend to think that these refer to the well-known human phenomena.
This grave misunderstanding is the main reason why modern computer technology
has perpetuated and even reinforced the Cartesian image of human beings as
tasks should never be left to computers: all those tasks that require genuine
human qualities like wisdom, compassion, respect, understanding, or love.
Decisions and communications that require these human qualities — such as
those of a judge or a general — will dehumanize our lives if they are made
by computers. In particular, the use of computers in military technology
should not be increased but, on the contrary, should be radically reduced. It is
tragic that our government and the business community have removed themselves
very far from such considerations.
characteristic of the old world view is the obsession with domination and
control. In our society, political and economic power is exerted by a hierarchically
structured corporate elite.
science and technology are based on the belief that an understanding
of nature implies domination of
nature by man. I use the word “man” here on purpose, because I am talking
about a very important connection between the mechanistic worldview in science
and the patriarchal value system, the male tendency of wanting to control
the 17th century the goals of science were wisdom, understanding of the natural
order, and living in harmony with that order. Since the 17th century, the goal
of science has been knowledge that can be used to control, manipulate, and
exploit nature. Today, both science and technology are used predominantly for
purposes that are dangerous, harmful, and anti-ecological.
Impasse of Economics
the same pattern, most economists fail to recognize that the economy is merely
one aspect of a whole ecological and social fabric. They tend to dissociate the
economy from this fabric, in which it is embedded, and to describe it in terms
of simplistic and highly unrealistic models.
to conventional economics, only the monetary sector is accessible to economic analysis. Everything else is called “external” and
is excluded from the theoretical framework. Thus the basic economic concepts
have been narrowly defined and are used without their wider social and
ecological context. This narrow, reductionist framework has driven economics
into an impasse. Most current economic concepts and models are no longer
adequate to map economic phenomena in a fundamentally interdependent world, and
current economic policies can no longer solve our economic problems.
narrow, reductionist framework of conventional economics has resulted in an
orientation of economic policies that is fundamentally erroneous. The essence of
these policies is the pursuit of economic growth, understood as the increase of
the gross national product, i.e.
as purely quantitative in terms of maximization of production. The
assumption is that all growth is good and that more growth is always better. It
makes you wonder whether these economists have ever heard of cancer.
shift to the paradigm of deep ecology is now crucial for our well being — even
for our survival! And, such a shift is indeed occurring. Researchers at the
frontiers of science, various social movements, and numerous alternative
networks are now developing a new vision of reality that will be the basis of
our future technologies, economic systems, and social institutions.
natural systems are wholes whose specific structures arise from the interactions
and interdependence of their parts. Systemic properties are destroyed when a
system is dissected either physically or theoretically, into isolated elements.
Although we can discern individual parts in any system, the nature of the whole
is always different from the mere sum of its parts.
systemic or deep ecological way of thinking has many important implications not
only for science and philosophy, but also for our society and our daily lives.
It will influence our attitudes toward illness and health, our relationship with
the natural environment, and many of our social and political structures.
application of systems concepts to describe economic processes and activities
is particularly urgent because virtually all our current economic problems are
systemic problems that can no longer be understood through the fragmented
approaches of Cartesian science. The systems approach to economics will make
it possible to bring some order into the present conceptual chaos by giving
economists an urgently needed ecological perspective. According to this systems
view, the economy is a living system composed of human beings and social
organizations in continual interaction with the surrounding ecosystems on which
our lives depend.
the past ten years, such a new approach to economic problems, based on systems
thinking and grounded in deep ecology, has been slowly emerging. It is not yet a
fully elaborated economic theory, but its main concepts and ideas are now quite
clear. The most recent and best synthesis of the new thinking in economics can
be found in The Living Economy, edited
by Paul Ekins and based on papers presented at The Other Economic Summit (TOES).
Because of its ecological foundation, I call this new approach “green
aim of the new economic thinking, Is of conventional economics, is to further
economic development. However, this concept is given a different meaning.
Instead of being defined as maximization of production and consumption, it is
defined as maximization of human welfare. Human welfare has to do with health
and human needs; with mental, emotional, and spiritual matters; with social and
many aspects of such a qualitative concept of economic development cannot be
given monetary values, they will have to be implemented through the political
process. The non-monetary choices to be made are political choices based on
shift to a new world view and a new mode of thinking goes hand in hand with a
profound change in values. What is so fascinating about these changes, to me, is
a striking connection between the change of thinking and the change of values.
Both can be seen as a shift from self-assertion to integration. As far as
thinking is concerned, we can observe a shift from the rational to the
intuitive, from analysis to synthesis, from reductionism to holism, and from
linear to nonlinear thinking. I want to emphasize that the aim is not to replace
one mode by the other, but rather to shift from overemphasis on one mode to a
greater balance between the two.
far as values are concerned, we observe a corresponding shift from expansion
to conservation, from quantity to quality, from competition to cooperation, and
from domination and control to nonviolence.
new values, together with new attitudes and lifestyles, are now being promoted
by a large number of movements: the ecology movement, the peace movement, the
feminist movement, etc. Since the early eighties, several of these movements
have begun to coalesce, recognizing that they represent merely different facets
of the same new vision of reality. They have started to form a powerful force of
social transformation. The political success of the European Green movement is
the most impressive example of that process of coalescence.
I have called the
newly emerging social force the “rising culture”, borrowing this image from
Arnold Toynbee’s description of the patterns of rise and fall in the process
of cultural evolution. In the current cultural transformation, the declining
culture — represented by the established political parties, the large
corporations, the large academic institutions, etc. — is still dominating
the scene. It refuses to change, clinging ever more rigidly to its outdated
ideas. However, being based on a framework of concepts and values that is no
longer viable, today’s dominant culture will inevitably decline and will
eventually disintegrate. The cultural forces representing the new paradigm, on
the other hand, will continue to rise and, eventually, will assume the leading
process of transformation is now clearly visible in our society and can also be
experienced by each one of us as an inner transformation. One question arises:
Will there be enough time? Will the turning point be reached soon enough to save
the world? As my reply, I would like to quote the late E.F.Schumacher, author of
Small is Beautiful and prophet of the
we rely on it that a ‘turning around’ will be accomplished by enough people
quickly enough to save the modern world? This question is often asked, but no
matter what the answer, it will mislead. The answer ‘Yes’ would lead to
complacency, the answer ‘No’ to despair. It is desirable to leave these
perplexities behind us and get down to work.” •
Fritjof Capra, physicist, systems theorist and author, is the founder of
the Elmwood Institute, an international organization dedicated to nurturing new
ecological visions and applying them to the solution of current problems. The
Elm wood Institute is a membership organization with a quarterly newsletter.
P.O. Box 5805, Berkeley, CA 94705. This article is reprinted from the Earth
Island Journal, Fall 1987.