Ecology is “the investigation of the total relations of the animal both to its inorganic and organic environment”. Pivotal, Murray realised, because it cannot be ignored without bringing into question “the survival of man and the planet itself”. What is now an all too familiar tale was once the first cry of a burgeoning environmental movement.
Ecology studies the balance of nature which, due to the continued expansion and technological advancement of man we are threatening. Since 1965, when Murray Bookchin was writing, the annual level of CO2 emissions has almost tripled. Nevertheless, even as we erode the soil and pollute the seas, ecology shows us that the totality of nature overwhelms all human pretences to mastery over our planet.
The logic of perpetual growth, the logic of cancer cells has resulted in a parasitic effect on our planet. Ecology however also shows that destructive behaviour often results from a distortion of circumstances so “what is the disruption that has turned man into a destructive parasite?” The reason, Murray argues is imbalances in the structure of human relationships and society. “The notion that man must dominate nature emerges directly from the domination of man by man”, his claim is that harmony with nature will remain impossible until we can achieve harmony within our societies. A crisis of social ecology that has resulted in a crisis of natural ecology.
The problems of modern society result from life in urbanised centralised society, “the logistical problems of vast sprawling urban belts reliant upon industrialised agriculture”. This leaves society with incredible logistical difficulties and an expansive and often corrupt bureaucracy and political class. All that is human, creative and spontaneous is crushed as efficiency and productivity are maximised and these forces which perhaps where once progressive now threaten to destroy not only the human spirit but the self-regulating mechanisms of our planet.
Once we confront this reality what was once seen as utopian or backwards becomes imminently necessary. Murray’s solutions, de-centralised communities practicing direct face to face democracy, diversification of energy sources, humanistic values and the utilisation of technological potential. We must learn from ecology to see and understand our world as the unified whole it is, in order to be more harmonious with each other and our planet.