Sean Esbjorn-Hargens - Integral Ecology Part 2: No Single Tree
May 06, 2009 18:28

Integral Ecology. Part 2: No Single Tree

Sean Esbjorn-Hargens and Ken Wilber


Sean Esbjorn-Hargens and Ken Wilber continue their in-depth look at Integral Ecology: Uniting Multiple Perspectives on the Natural World (recently published by Integral Books) by discussing some of the more important theoretical points made in the book.

Topics Include:

- Mapping the Territory: By applying the Four Quadrants to ecology and environmental science, we are able to honor and include the most important perspectives on nature. Almost every field or discipline of human knowledge is divided into several different schools, each tending to fundamentally disagree—usually because a particular approach only focuses on one quadrant, at the expense of the others....

- The Ghost vs. the Machine: Many people who have achieved a postmodern/pluralistic stage of development become aware of two crucial dimensions of reality for the very first time—1st-person interconnection and 3rd-person systems—often confusing the language and purview of these very different dimensions.

- Quantum Fizzle: Systems theory is not the only aspect of 3rd-person truth that has been inappropriately colonized by 1st-person notions of consciousness. Ken and Sean discuss some of the disasterous misinterpretations of quantum physics, revealing the main sources of confusion and explaining why we should not be confining our search for God to the basement levels of reality.

- No Single Tree: There is no monolithic, pre-given world "out there" waiting to be discovered, but instead a succession of world-spaces that are enacted from a long and ever-expanding chain of perspectives....

- Signs of Life: A look at the work of Jacob von Uexküll in the field of biosemiotics, demonstrating how communication and meaning are intrinsic to the natural world, and how a common scene looks completely different from the points of view of several different organisms.

- The Spectrum of Ecology: Sean and Ken offer a guided tour through eight major stages of ecological concern, drawn from the work of Carol Gilligan and Susanne Cook-Greuter.  They offer an in-depth explanation of each stage, while noting the different ways each would respond to the threat of ecological crisis.


The 8 Eco-Selves

By Sean Esbjorn-Hargens
Excerpted from Integral Ecology

One of the most important lines of psychological development is the self identity line due to its defining relationship with the other self-related lines (cognition, interpersonal, and moral). As we mentioned in chapter 4, according to Cook-Greuter, ego development refers to an integration of several developmental lines at a given altitude. The cognitive line (i.e., the capacity to take perspectives), which drives self-understanding and the concomitant self-identity, is always at the same level as a person's ego stage or higher. Ideal ego development occurs when lines are actually integrated into a coherent self-system, so they are a good indicator of an individual's center of gravity. In this section we apply Cook-Greuter's research to 8 ecological identities. These eco-selves describe how an individual at specific levels of ego development identifies with aspects of the natural world. In other words, we are taking a single line and exploring what it looks like when directed at the natural world (context versus content).

Cook-Greuter identifies at least eight basic levels of development that arise individually and collectively. Each level corresponds to an ecological self. These selves represent the various ecological perspectives that can exist non exclusively within all individuals. Most people embody multiple identities, while others are more embedded in a single perspective. A growing number of integrally aware individuals are able to relate to all eight of these perspectives. Different ecological selves tend to gravitate toward different aspects of the natural world and often prefer specific methods of investigating or making contact with nature.

Each eco-self has a unique way of relating to itself, others, and the natural world. In brief, the Eco-Guardian respects and fears nature; the Eco-Warrior wants to conquer nature (or in some cases culture); the Eco-Manager is dedicated to managing nature from a religious or secular position; the Eco-Strategist not only wants to manage nature but wants to use nature, and in many cases exploit it for some kind of profit (usually capital); the Eco-Radical wants to save nature for all of humanity and often for its ground value; the Eco-Holist wants to unite nature's multiple flows so the complex system can flourish; the Eco-Integralist celebrates nature as holonic and honors all ecological perspectives; the Eco-Sage is "one with" nature (and Nature and NATURE).

All eight of the eco-selves have strengths and weaknesses, dignities and disasters. They all have an environmental ethos appropriate to their worldview and the capacity to be ecologically destructive. One ecological self is not necessarily more environmentally friendly than another. This is an extremely important point because most green-environmentalists are not aware of how they themselves are harming the planet, nor are they aware of how amber-fundamentalists and orange-capitalists are sometimes helping to save it. See figure 7.3.


  Environmental Ethic Ecological Violation
Eco-Sage Experiences the unity of All and identifies with the totality of manifest creation Is too otherworldly. Can be disembodied and removed from pragmatic action in the world.
Eco-Integralist Honors and integrates multiple approaches to the environment. Sees value in all perspectives. Includes too much and gets bogged down in conflicting views.
Eco-Holist Maps the complexity of relationships within and between ecosystems. Over-relies on exterior systems and as a result commits subtle reductionism.
Eco-Radical Promotes eco-social justice. Exposes the disaster of modernity. Advocates a flatland ecology through guilt and shame tactics. Ignores the dignity of modernity.
Eco-Strategist Conserves resources for consumption over the long term. Exploits nature as a result of greed and a focus on short-term profits.
Eco-Manager Passes laws and establishes institutions to act as stewards over nature. Promotes dominance of humans over the natural world.
Eco-Warrior Challenges the system through tactical and non-conventional ways. Mistakes one's own will for nature's. Can be aggressive: striving to conquer nature.
Eco-Guardian Performs rituals to maintain control and power. Sees nature as ensouled. Is one with aspects of nature but not one with humanity. Approaches nature with slash-and-burn tactics.
Figure 7.3. The dignity and disaster of each ecological self.


As figure 7.3 demonstrates, the shadow of the Eco-Radical (e.g., browbeating people with guilt, shame, and apocalyptic messages) is arguably less in service of a sustainable ecology than the virtue of the Eco-Manager (e.g., passing and enforcing laws and establishing institutions to protect the natural world). Making the distinction between the dignity and disaster of each ecological self provides a nuanced framework for analyzing environmental problems. It is important to cultivate the capacity to understand as many of these perspectives as possible and the developmental dynamics that guide them.

These examples are intended to be illustrative, not exclusionary. Examples here (and throughout this book) are to serve as pointers to important distinctions and qualities, but not at the expense of the complexity held by each approach. Many approaches to the environment and their proponents can and do inhabit multiple sites of ontology, epistemology, and methodology. We are not interested in compartmentalizing or restricting the multifaceted nature of any approach. On the contrary, we want to identify which voices are most qualified to speak on behalf of which aspects of reality. In so doing, we can coordinate and build bridges between divergent but essential perspectives.

The rest of the chapter is devoted to providing a brief overview of each eco-self, building on the discussion of developmental psychology in chapter 4.


The Eco-Guardian (Romantic Ethos)

The Eco-Guardian is an impulsive self who connects with the cosmos by balancing good forces against evil dynamics. This self focuses on creating safety and satisfying basic needs.  It has a sense of unbridled power mixed with superstitious and magical belief.  Eco-Guardians view other people in light of self-gratification.  The complexity of the world makes them uneasy.  Very few adults have this exclusive identity, though many approaches to the environment, especially New Age and Romantic schools, make use of the content of this structure of identity.

When applied to the natural environment, this self often focuses on returning to a lost ecological paradise.  Sometimes the "Fall" from ecological grace is associated with horticulture (some deep ecologists), agriculture (some ecofeminists), or industrialization (some social ecologists). Eco-Guardians often emphasize magic or unseen forces. This approach is very "tribal" in that they place importance on ancestral ways; they hold naive animistic beliefs and maintain customs such as ceremonial rituals and rites of passage as important and a way to connect with the natural world. They appeal to the mystery of nature, especially through signs and omens. They respect councils, especially of elders, and lineage connections. Leadership is often based on age. Shamans and witches are seen as the gatekeepers of the world of Spirit.

Examples of the Eco-Guardian can include aspects of earth goddess groups; nature worship; totemism; eco-rituals; wicca; paradise lost perspectives; the cultural appropriation of indigenous practices; and some forms of deep ecology and ecofeminism.


The Eco-Warrior (Heroic Ethos)

Eco-Warriors are self-protective and self-serving. Their impulsive nature is now placed in service of supporting an idea of the self, rather than just the self's immediate needs and wants. People operating at this altitude often perform heroic acts, which serve to magnify their own status. They identify the self in terms of effort and preferences. Self-preservation is central. Their feelings are guarded and inaccessible. Over-generalization is very common, with many judgments and simple ideas. They see others as competitors for space, goods, and dominance, and have little capacity for insight into self and others. Due to their lack of trust of others they are hypervigilant and bullying. For them the world is a risky game that can be quite dangerous.

As such Eco-Warriors take a heroic approach to the environment. They focus on the assertion of the self over the system or nature. They are driven by impulsivity and immediate reward. Leaders establish themselves through power and strength. They often have a "to hell with others" attitude. They emphasize obtaining power and not being constrained. They desire respect and have an appreciation for the "law of the jungle" and "nature red in tooth and claw." They have a macho quality that feeds a heroic images of themselves as one person against everything. They highlight toughness and their groups are often gang-like. They value "hands on," "survival," and "street" skills. Various types of turf-wars are common for Eco-Warriors, and they experience minimal guilt.

Examples of the Eco-Warrior can include aspects of EarthFirst!; monkey wrenching; ecotage; ecoterrorism; the stoic mountain climber; extreme sports such as mountain biking, river kayaking, rock climbing; trophy and sports hunting; frontier mentalities; survival skills; off-the-grid housing; social Darwinism; and Warwick Fox's "desiring-impulsive self."


The Eco-Manager (Stewardship Ethos)

The Eco-Manager is a conformist self who is rule-oriented and concerned with group membership. Eco-Managers get their self-identity from others. It is hard for them to differentiate between themselves and the group. Projection and introjection are common defenses. Positive feelings are used to suppress negative ones. "Us" versus "them" drives their sense of group belonging. Their world is based on concrete-literal interpretations.

Thus Eco-Managers take a stewardship approach to the environment. They focus on maintaining order and following the law, either the divine order or the laws of the state. They believe that order must be maintained to keep harmony and stability. They manage nature now so the future will hold nature's bounty. People follow a higher authority (God, the law, a political or religious leader) and comply with rules and regulations to avoid punishment. Leaders are those who have seniority or those who are in the rightful position. Honor and obedience are prized attributes. Justice and fairness are provided to those who follow the rules.

Examples of the Eco-Manager can include aspects of the Earth viewed as Garden of Eden; Puritan ethos; Boy and Girl Scouts; Environmental Protection Agency; environmental legislation; fish and game wardens; national and state parks; wildlife management; Endangered Species Act; Ducks Unlimited; and the Audubon Society.


The Eco-Strategist (Rational Ethos)

The Eco-Strategist is a conscientious self who is defined by an orientation toward scientific empiricism. This approach is placed in service of a newly emerging separate self-identity, which competes for wealth, influence, and social standing. This eco-self values independence and confidence. Eco-Strategists lead with rationality but are interested in their emotions. They emphasize efficiency and efficacy as a means for success. The world is viewed as being measurable and predictable. They value others for their own sake (e.g., supporting universal rights).

The Eco-Strategist employs a rational approach to the environment. They use technology to enhance the standard of living. They emphasize progress and seek the "good life." They value autonomy and independence. Life is a game to be played and won. They measure success by financial achievement. There is a desire to make things better and to use competition to accomplish this. They highly value science and universal rights for humans, and embrace an opportunistic vision of the future. They respect the invisible hand of the economy.

Examples of the Eco-Strategist can include aspects of natural capitalism; conservationism; resourcism; the Lockean worldview; the science of ecology; deontological ethics; urban planning; utilitarian perspectives; environmental pragmatism; environmental psychology; behavioral approaches; industrial agriculture; and Warwick Fox's "rationalizingdeciding self."


The Eco-Radical (Equality Ethos)

The Eco-Radical is an individualistic self who highlights how we are all connected through similar experiences, shared contexts such as race or gender, and various systems (e.g., political and ecological). Eco-Radicals are sensitive to people's experiences and are willing to consider contradictory truth claims. They supplement objectivity and logic with subjective and more holistic approaches. They value personal experience and express feelings easily.

Eco-Radicals take a postmodernist approach to the environment. They focus on the liberation of humans and animals from greed and domination. They promote community, unity, and sharing resources across class, gender, and racial divisions. They make an effort to explore the interiority of other people and beings and to connect with Spirit. They prize consensus as a way of making decisions and avoiding hurt feelings. They highlight participation and teamwork. They expect social responsibility, political correctness, sensitivity, and tolerance. Often the community comes before the individual. Socially engaged activism is used to overcome oppressive hierarchies and power structures.

Examples of the Eco-Radical can include aspects of deep ecology; ecofeminism; social ecology; animal rights; biocentrism; ecocentrism; ecopsychology; environmental justice; green politics; David Abram's eco-phenomenology; the analysis of historicaI conccpts; bioregionalism; various doomsayers and apocalyptic approaches; and the social construction of nature.


The Eco-Holist (Holistic Ethos)

The Eco-Holist is an autonomous self who is comfortable amidst complexity. Eco-Holists recognize that individuals occupy multiple contexts. They embrace the many layers of self (including shadow material) through a complex psychology. They see the importance of various, even contradictory, values and perspectives and have a high tolerance of others' "negative" traits. Their world is multidimensional and dynamic.

Eco-Holists approach the environment from a holistic-complex perspective. They focus on the dynamic systems that overlap in any given situation. They are capable of holding conflicting truths. The Eco-Holist demands a flexible, open system that allows for the full range of reality to express itself. There is an existential emphasis on being and personal responsibility. Hierarchies are replaced with holarchies. They grant leadership to those who can hold a multiplicity of perspectives. The diversities of people and perspectives are celebrated on their own terms. Eco-Holists see partial value in all perspectives. They use skillful means to meet people where they are. They understand complex systemic interactions. Chaos and complexity are valued and paradoxes are embraced. Nonlinear capacities are cultivated. Transparency becomes important.

Examples of the Eco-Holist can include aspects of Felix Guattari's three ecologies; the new cosmology; Teilhard de Chardin's noosphere; the Gaia hypothesis; Gregory Bateson's ecology of mind; the system sciences of chaos and complexity; Charlene Spretnak's ecological postmodernism; Aldo Leopold's land ethic; sustainable development; Edgar Morin's complex thought; biodynamic agriculture; Duane Elgin's awakening earth; Daniel Kealey's application of Jean Gebser's work to environmental ethics; process ecology; Leonardo Boff's liberation theology; Dodson's perspectival approach to ecology; and Warwick Fox's "normative-judgmental self."


The Eco-Integralist (Inclusive Ethos)

The Eco-Integralist wave addresses the existential anxiety of meaning associated with the Eco-Holist. For the Eco-Integralist the heart opens and in'rcases the individual's capacity to feel the widespread suffering around the planet.  This capacity for remaining open to such suffering without being consumed by it is an important quality of the compassion that emerges with this Eco-Self.  Wilber has captured this paradox with the phrase "hurts more, bothers you less." The Eco-Integralist is deeply committed to the integration of transcendence and innocence. This is a marriage of wisdom and compassion, which recognizes that nothing needs to be done, because everything is always already perfect. The Eco-Integralist perceives the luminous nature of all life forms and manifestations. Thus, individuals at this altitude have the capacity to stay open and relaxed even while involved in arduous tasks. This eco-self has ongoing access to the experiential insight that the manifest realm is Divinized. The Eco-Integralist recognizes that no ecological reality lasts forever, thus they appreciate each phenomenon, without clinging to a view of how it should be but working hard to change things for the better.

Because both the Eco-Holist and the Eco-Integralist are expressions of the two newest waves of consciousness they are often collapsed into one wave or confused. Thus, it is worthwhile to note some important differences between the Eco-Holist and the Eco-Integralist. The Eco-Integralist uses multidimensional thinking/feeling (systems of systems of systems) without viewing the realities of one system through the realities of another system, whereas the Eco-Holist tends to make use of only one or two systems, usually through an interobjective framework. An Eco-Integralist embraces a participatory, nonrepresentational (i.e., post-metaphysical) perspective, while the Eco-Holist tries to map the world more accurately through modeling. Eco-Holists look at the maps they create, whereas Eco-Integralists place themselves in the map. Eco-Integralists are acutely aware that current solutions may contribute to future problems in ways they cannot imagine or recognize, while Eco-Holists tend to think that their multiperspective approach is the best solution to the problem. An Eco-Integralist embraces the interiority (experience and culture) at all levels of sentient beings, while the Eco-Holist often restricts interiority to the "higher" animals. The Eco-Integralist makes use of or honors all eight methodological families for disclosing reality, while the Eco-Holist honors just a few. The Eco-Integralist not only acknowledges that things are getting ecologically worse (e.g., increased planetary destruction), but that they are also getting better (e.g., increased planetary protection and ecological awareness). The Eco-Holist usually emphasizes one of the poles. Eco-Integralists seek and value paradox, whilc Eco-Holists try to account for it. Eco-Integralists' unwavering commitment to the biosphere is grounded in the recognition of the emptiness of all phenomena: they recognize the pneumasphere as transcending and including the noosphere and biosphere, whereas the Eco-Holist is often identified with just the physiosphere (matter), biosphere (life), and noosphere (mind).

Examples of the Eco-Integralist include Bhutan's "Middle Path" to development; Brian N. Tissot's work with marine fisheries in Hawai'i; Michael Zimmerman's environmental philosophy; Darcy Riddell's eco-activism in Canada's Great Bear Rainforest; Brian Eddy's Integral Geography; Cameron Owen's analysis of waste reduction in Calgary; Joel Kreisberg's environmental medicine; Kevin Snorf's integral eco-design; Gail Hochachka's Integral Community Development; Wade Prpich's analysis of the organic standard of Canada; David Johnston's market transformation in Alameda County, California; Daniel Wahl's "salutogenic and scale-linking" design; Ian Wight's "placemaking"; and Stan Salthe's developmental systems ecology.


The Eco-Sage (Unity Ethos)

This level of development is so rarely stably reached (less than 1% of the U.S. population). This level corrcsponds to both Susanne Cook-Greuter's ego-aware self, and the unitive self. The Eco-Sage is an ego-aware self who integrates multimodal and multidimensional elements across contexts in the service of humanity. Eco-Sages are aware of the subtle ways the ego filters experience. They recognize paradox and the limits of "mapping." They desire to work through their own limits and blind spots and increase their capacity to witness themselves in the moment. They understand others in developmental terms and encounter them without judgment. They have a profound understanding of others' complex and dynamic personalities. They experience the world as a place full of potential and paradox. At this stage the environmental identity becomes even more of a transparent manifestation of Being, completely spontaneous and open. They have stable access to transpersonal realities such as the capacity to witness their experience and keep their boundaries open. They view others as manifestations of Being-Spirit. They experience the world as an immanent expression of timeless Spirit.

The Eco-Sage approaches the environment from an authentic transpersonal perspective that transcends and includes the previous eco-selves. Thus, it takes more than having peak states of union with the natural world to be an Eco-Sage. Eco-Sages focus on the subtle ways of being connected with the natural and human realm. They have an increased capacity for self-identification with members of the natural world. A variety of unitive states are experienced with Gaia in its gross, subtle, and causal manifestations. In fact, any of the eco-selves can have a peak experience of gross, subtle, causal, or nondual union with Gaia. The distinction between stages of development and states of consciousness is crucial to navigate the complexity associated with the 8 eco-selves and their multiple ways of relating to the natural world.

For the Eco-Sage, there can be the experience of subtle-realm beings both of the Earth plane (e.g., elementals and nature spirits) and other dimensions (e.g., the archetypal realm). The Eco-Sage has a deep commitment to all sentient beings (seen and unseen) and an increased capacity to work with the energetic systems of the manifest and subtle realms.

Examples of the Eco-Sage can include aspects of transcendentalism; J. W. Goethe's Urpflanze; St. Francis of Assisi's Canticle of Brother Sun; Ken Wilber's Eco-Noetic Self; Joanna Macy's ecological self; Chris Bache's species mind; some neo-pagans; nondual spiritual activism; McClellan's nondual ecology; and Warwick Fox's "transpersonal-ecological self."

There are numerous individuals or approaches that many people would be inclined to place in the list above. For example: Black Elk; Matthew Fox's creation spirituality; Masanobu Fukuoka's natural farming; Ralph Metzner's green psychology; ayahuasca visions; shamanism; vision quests; and deva gardening; just to name a few. These individuals and approaches include many extremely important "spiritual" qualities, insights, and dimensions, which are considered essential to Integral Ecology. Any of the eco-selves can experience altered states. In fact, as mentioned, each eco-self has access to gross, subtle, causal, and nondual experiences of the natural world. However, they will interpret these nonordinary states according to their "center of gravity" of psychological development. The distinction we are emphasizing is that the Eco-Sage represents a stabilized capacity (indigo altitude and above) to experience transpersonal dimensions and the distinguishing capacities of the other eco-selves. As a result there are at least 32 distinct varieties of nature mysticism - only 4 of which are associated with the Eco-Sage....




Additional Resources

I. Description of Integral Ecology: Uniting Multiple Perspectives on the Natural World

Today there is a bewildering diversity of views on ecology and the natural environment. With more than two hundred distinct and valuable perspectives on the natural world—and with scientists, economists, ethicists, activists, philosophers, and others often taking completely different stances on the issues—how can we come to agreement to solve our toughest environmental problems?

In response to this pressing need, Integral Ecology unites valuable insights from multiple perspectives into a comprehensive theoretical framework—one that can be put to use right now. The framework is based on Integral Theory, as well as Ken Wilber’s AQAL model, and is the result of over a decade of research exploring the myriad perspectives on ecology available to us today and their respective methodologies.

Dozens of real-life applications and examples of this framework currently in use are examined, including three in-depth case studies: work with marine fisheries in Hawai’i, strategies of eco-activists to protect Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest, and a study of community development in El Salvador. In addition, eighteen personal practices of transformation are provided for you to increase your own integral ecological awareness.

Integral Ecology provides the most sophisticated application and extension of Integral Theory available today, and as such it serves as a template for any truly integral effort.

Purchase Integral Ecology here.

Download a free 15-page PDF primer of Integral Ecology here.




II. Diagrams

Diagram 1: The Four Quadrants




Diagram 2: No Single Tree!



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