Ecofeminism and Deep Ecology - a Personal Response

By Devall, Bill | Canadian Dimension, June 1991 | Go to article overview

Ecofeminism and Deep Ecology - a Personal Response


Devall, Bill, Canadian Dimension


Thank you for allowing me to respond to Jennifer Sells' article "An Eco-Feminist Critique of Deep Ecology" (CD, Vol. 23, No. 6).

I am pleased that she sees the similarities and common ground between her version of ecofeminism and the principles of the deep, long range ecology movement. I do have several comments however.

I remained perplexed by some of her statements and statements by others who call themselves ecofeminists. I have been taught that postmodern, feminist approach to philosophy and politics and value differences is to engage in negotiation. Try to find common ground. Keep the dialogue open. Be inclusive. That is the approach that I, Arne Naess, Alan Drengson and many of the other writers on deep ecology have taken.

Jennifer Sells says that she wants to keep distinctions between ecofeminism and deep ecology clear so that we can learn from each other. I strongly agree, however, some of the differences she states I don't see as differences. I see strong similarities and parallels between ecofeminists and supporters of deep ecology.

I also find some of her comments to be lacking in justification.

She says that spokespeople of deep ecology seek a comprehensive philosophical system. In my reading of Arne Naess, George Sessions and other predominant philosophers writing on deep ecology, I see no attempt to state a comprehensive philosophical system. I see, rather an emphasis on ecological consciousness, on exploring ecological self as a prerequisite for developing an environmental ethic. When we have empathy and love for the 'distant other' as part of ourselves, then we are mindful. If we have a caring attitude, then an ethic of healing emerges. We act not out of a sense of imposed obligation but from a deep sense of joy and identification. An ecological conscience emerges from ecological consciousness.

When Sells says "...for ecofeminists, the nature which must be identified with is not only that which exists outside us in the wilderness but also that which exists within us and between us," I think she perpetuates the dualism which supporters of deep ecology have criticized. For supporters of deep ecology, exploration of our 'wild self' helps us break down the artificial barrier between 'Self' and 'other.' Gary Snyder in his book The Practice of the Wild, writes clearly and explicitly on the 'etiquette of freedom' where wilderness may disappear but wilderness will always be with us.

Sells as well as some other ecofeminists continue to assert that supporters of deep ecoclogy lack a social consciousness or have a lack of concern with social justice. I don't see that either in my own career or in the careers of Arne Naess, Gary Snyder, Alan Drengson, George Sessions or Robyn Eckersly and Warwick Fox or other supports of deep ecology with whom I have worked over the past two decades.

I came to the deep, long-range ecology movement out of a deep concern for social justice. I worked in the civil rights movement and anti-war movements during the 1960s. During the 1970s I wrote and published articles on cultural and social oppression of gays and lesbians and published a book calling for gay liberation (The Social Organization of Gay Males, with Joseph Harry).

I have worked with American Indians on numerous issues relating to traditional rights on forest lands in northwestern California. I have written articles discussing the vital need for social justice for American Indians seeking protection of sacred lands controlled by the US Forest Service.

I see no contradiction between working for social justice and exploring our ecological self. I encourage my students to work as volunteers in some community program such as Hospice, the task force on homelessness or home care for the elderly as well as working on environmental issues.

Arne Naess, the Norwegian philosopher who coined the term deep ecology, was active in nonviolent resistance to the Nazi invasion of Norway. …

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