Social ecology (Bookchin)
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Social ecology is a philosophical theory about the relationship between ecological and social issues. Associated with the American social theorist Murray Bookchin, it emerged from a time in the mid-1960s, under the emergence of both the global environmental and the American civil rights movements, and played a much more visible role from the upward movement against nuclear power by the late 1970s. It presents ecological problems as arising mainly from social problems, in particular from different forms of hierarchy and domination, and seeks to resolve them through the model of a society adapted to human development and the biosphere. It is a theory of radical political ecology based on communalism, which opposes the current capitalist system of production and consumption. It aims to set up a moral, decentralized, united society, guided by reason.
Bookchin's theory presents a utopian philosophy of human evolution that combines the nature of biology and society into a third "thinking nature" beyond biochemistry and physiology, which he says is more complete, conscious, ethical, and rational nature. Humanity, according to this line of thought, is the latest development from the long history of organic development on Earth. Bookchin's social ecology proposes ethical principles for replacing a society's propensity for hierarchy and domination with that of democracy and freedom. He wrote about the effects of urbanization on human life in the early 1960s during his participation in the civil rights and related social movements. Bookchin then began to pursue the connection between ecological and social issues, culminating with his best-known book, The Ecology of Freedom, which he had developed over a decade. His argument, that human domination and destruction of nature follows from social domination between humans, was a breakthrough position in the growing field of ecology. Life develops from self-organization and evolutionary cooperation (symbiosis). Bookchin writes of preliterate societies organized around mutual need but ultimately overrun by institutions of hierarchy and domination, such as city-states and capitalist economies, which he attributes uniquely to societies of humans and not communities of animals. He proposes confederation between communities of humans run through democracy rather than through administrative logistics.
Bookchin's work, beginning with anarchist writings on the subject in the 1960s, has continuously evolved. Towards the end of the 1990s, he increasingly integrated the principle of communalism, with aspirations more inclined towards institutionalized municipal democracy, which distanced him from a certain evolution of anarchism. Inspired by anarchism (mainly by Kropotkine) and communism (the writings of Marx and Engels). Social ecology refuses the pitfalls of a Neo-Malthusian ecology which erases social relationships by replacing them with "natural forces", but also of a technocratic ecology which considers that technology must be relied on and more of power in the States. According to Bookchin, these two currents depoliticize ecology and mythologize the past or the future.
Thus, social ecology is articulated through several key principles:
- Interdependence and the principle of unity in diversity. Social ecology seeks to oppose the standardization of beings and thoughts and wants to promote the contribution of diversity, of the organic union of different parts of society. The differences must be promoted as bringing a diversity of talents, points of view, styles allowing to make evolve the company while making it more stable.
- Decentralization. A social ecology society would take the form of a confederation of decentralized municipalities linked to each other by commercial and social ties. Dispersed renewable energy sources would feed these communities on a human scale and provide for each according to their needs.
- Direct democracy. Structured around the principle of a form of communalism called libertarian municipalism, social ecology advocates the development of municipal assemblies, a modernized version of the type developed by the Athenians in Antiquity or implemented during the Paris Commune for political decision-making. The decisions concerning the life of the commune are discussed and voted by majority in these assemblies. Similarly, at the higher level, representatives with imperative mandates, and therefore revocable, are appointed to represent their municipality at regional, national, etc. assemblies. It is a horizontal system, a non-hierarchical popular democracy, whose decisions go from the bottom up and are taken transparently face-to-face.
- A renewal of citizenship. At the base of the social ecology system are the citizen and the community. Each person must relearn to participate in the choices concerning local life, and to do this he must relearn to decide in common. The citizen must become responsible again and know the minimum allowing him to take an active part in the management of the company, in particular, what has a direct repercussion on his life and that of others.
- A liberating technology. Social ecology is not opposed to modern technologies but is in favor of developing them to put them at the service of human beings. Science must regain its moral meaning and develop for humans, not enslave it. Modern machines and tools must become multifunctional, durable, environmentally friendly and easy to use and maintain. By becoming a master of the technique he uses, the citizen will be able to free himself from strenuous work and concentrate on the creative and positive aspects of the tasks.
- A social vision of work. Developing machines have, in social ecology, the aim of freeing human beings from a large part of manual work (factory work) that can be done by machines, in order to leave the creative work and reduce working time. The time saved could allow him to participate in the political life of his district and to enjoy social life more fully. The model is thus articulated around diversified partial times, combining as much work as possible inside and outside, intellectual and concrete, etc. The hierarchies at work will be replaced by supervisors whose sole purpose is to provide a global vision on the work of a company.
- Dialectical naturalism. Dialectical naturalism is a dialectical philosophy developed to serve as an ethical foundation for a society based on the principles of social ecology. In order to fight against the ravages of Western binary representations, this philosophy is based on "developmental" thinking to understand the complexity of living things. Thus, dialectical naturalism invites us not to study species by isolating them from each other, which is "a reflection of the entrepreneurial bias of our culture" but to think about their interrelations. Its principle is that "what should be" must serve as an ethical basis for "what is", with the aim of accompanying freedom in germ in nature.
In May 2016, the first “International Social Ecology Meetings” were organized in Lyon, which brought together a hundred radical environmentalists, decreasing figures and libertarians, most of whom came from France, Belgium, Spain and Switzerland, but also from the United States, Guatemala and Canada. At the center of the debates: libertarian municipalism as an alternative to the nation state and the need to rethink activism.
Bookchin's reflections on social ecology and libertarian municipalism also inspired Abdullah Öcalan, the historical leader of the Kurdish movement, to create the concept of democratic confederalism, which aims to bring together the peoples of the Middle East in a confederation democratic, multicultural and ecological communes. Adopted by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) since 2005, the Öcalan's project represented a major ideological shift in the Kurdish nationalist movement, once engaged in the armed struggle for an independent state, to go beyond early Marxism-Leninism's notion of nation-state. In addition to the PKK, Öcalan's internationalist project was also well received by its Syrian counterpart, the Party of Democratic Union (PYD), which would become the first organization in the world to actually found a society based on the principles of democratic confederalism. On January 6, 2014, the cantons of Rojava, in Syrian Kurdistan, federated into autonomous municipalities, adopting a social contract which established a decentralized non-hierarchy society, based on principles of direct democracy, feminism, ecology, cultural pluralism, participatory politics and economic cooperativism.
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