.What are needed are 'remedial', 'medicinal' lies. These a wise government must not expect from its poets. The state alone should have the privilege of inventing the 'lies'.Here the one fundamental fiction (gennaion pseudos), the 'royal lie', or the 'noble lie' as it has been traditionally rendered, or the 'spirited fiction'. on which the stability of the state is to rest, is introduced. This 'needful falsehood', this 'audacious fiction' is to be communicated gradually, first to the rulers, then to the soldiers, and lastly to the people. It will not win immediate credence, but given the passage of a couple of generations, it may be trusted to establish itself..(B. Farrington on Platonic political theory in The Faith of Epicurus, Basic Books, NY, 1967, page 66.)
The following is a review of Finding Our Way, Rethinking Ecofeminist Politics, by Janet Beihl, published by Black Rose Books of Montreal/New York in 1991.
In the 1980s Beihl and her comrade, Peter Staudenmaier, scored a major hit among the enviro-skeptic community with their book, Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience. This work appears in the "links" sections of a number of web sites devoted to challenging Big Green. "Ecofascism" is a two-part piece the first of which, by Staudenmaier, shows the astonishing similarities between the modern environmental movement and the German Nazis. Beihl's companion piece shows how this fascist trend is alive within the modern German environmental movement. Beihl's Finding Our Way was written several years later and again reveals a disturbing arch-reactionary tendency within the modern environmental movement; this time focussing on the popular ecofeminist current.
Environmentalism and Ecofeminism
The book's overriding flaw is its failure to place ecofeminism within the context of the larger international environmental movement. The global green movement is far bigger, older and wiser than ecofeminism. The ecofeminists are merely a single division, a women's auxiliary, within a massive, male-dominated army. By way of analogy - it is hard enough to describe what the 1st Infantry Division is up to around Baghdad and it would be impossible to explain their behaviour without contextualizing them within the larger Coalition Forces. Similarly, there is no understanding ecofeminism without understanding environmentalism.
In a procrustean nutshell: the "environmentalists", also known as the "ecological movement" or simply the "greens", are an ancient political tradition that underwent considerable repackaging and expansion during the 1960s. Prior to the 1960s much of the activity now ascribed to "environmentalism" was referred to as "conservationism" and/or as "eugenics". Previous to this there was a centuries old effort by the European landed aristocracy to prevent lower classes from expanding onto undeveloped land. This became primarily an aristocrat-versus-capitalist struggle but in America, especially in New England, after certain wealthy industrialist dynasties accumulated vast amounts of developed land of their own, they too embraced the aristocratic land ethic and have since sought to preserve high land prices through, amongst other things, suppressing westward expansion. (There is also much overlapping interest here between the land-barons and the inflation-phobic bankers.)
Environmentalism from its inception has been a social movement by and for the oligarchy. A few dozen families are responsible for raising funds for the great green crusade, often from their own deep pockets, to the tune now of several billion dollars per year. And these plutocrats are very adept at getting lavish media support and state subsidy for their pet projects. Employed by the eco-elite are scores of thousands of environmental educators, eco-activists, and enviro-journalists etc. "Ecofeminism" emerged within the broader environmental movement definitely after Nixon's first Earth Day (1970) and after the UN's Stockholm Conference (1972) i.e. after "environmentalism" had been elevated, by circles within the oligarchy, to become the dominant ideology of the main Western states.
Beihl makes it clear from the outset that Finding Our Way is a personal polemic written to expose and oppose ecofeminism. She wrote the book to defend the feminist and ecologist movements from a:
"disquieting tendency that has arisen from within its midst - ecofeminism. This effort is one that I have found very painful to perform."
She had been working on the project for a while. A few years prior to writing the book Beihl wrote the essay "What is Social Ecofeminism?" in response to those who were trying to combine traditional leftish rhetoric with the new ecofeminist trend. Beihl rejects this:
".for my part the very word ecofeminism has by now become so tainted by its various irrationalisms that I no longer consider this a promising project."
Although Beihl does not date the origin of the ecofeminist movement, the oldest books she identifies as being of the ecofeminist line, with a few exceptions, date to the mid 1970s. Most of the publications she draws on as examples of ecofeminist thought were published around 1988-90.
She is fully aware ecofeminism is more than an academic fad. Ecofeminism is an organized social movement, an activist project, a mass mobilizing campaign, etc. And whereas she does not develop the point, she is also aware the ecofeminist movement is blessed by the mainstream green movement and by the American university system:
"Some of the more highly visible ecofeminists have been well served by this body of "ideas", leading to careers in academia and on the ecology movements' lecture circuits."
Hence what Beihl witnessed, up close and personal, in the late 1980s and early 1990s was the surfacing of a rival circle of women who were achieving "darling" status within her own political milieu.
Beihl's volley of criticism onto ecofeminism is sustained and accurate. She exposes a cultish, elitist social movement shamelessly dedicated to a myth-making project. Ecofeminism is described as an irrational religious force disseminating clearly fictitious versions of human history along with a litany of hoary patriarchal stereotypes about the nature of women. It is a movement with no commitment to women's, or to humanity's, emancipation and it is fundamentally hostile to the best traditions of the Western Enlightenment.
Particularly irritating for Beihl is the existence of open contradictions within ecofeminist literature which none of the ecofeminist writers or anthologists care enough about to even address. In any conventional political movement these differences would be hashed out and the line refined. However within ecofeminism contradictions get glossed over and ignored. Moreover at ecofeminist meetings themselves "criticism-self-criticism", once the hallmark of serious grassroots activist groups, is discouraged. Starhawk, a leading propagandist of ecofeminism, begins her meetings shouting:
"All you voices.telling us we're bad or wrong or stupid or crazy - leave right now! ...increase the power of the banishing, accompany the word with shouts, yells, foot-stomping." (Hardly an invitation to a frank, give-and-take, discussion.)
Beihl describes the meetings of ecofeminists as being full of "chanting, breathing together", "hand-clapping, drum-beating, dance movements, drawing in trances" during which "the cultic leaders of goddess theology cast spells while the congregants are asked to stomp and chant." She believes the congregants are made less questioning through these rituals. The initiating rituals frequently involve getting the recruits to engage in meditative "channelling" where they are told to think of themselves as trees and mountains. (Ecofeminist Sharon Doubiago assures us women have always thought like mountains.) The congregants are also implored to engage in silly pseudo-primitive rituals that Beihl rightly says: "many tribal people would disdain as a caricature of their traditional beliefs."
These are clearly cult practises exposed with greater clarity by the presence a "responsive leadership" of initiates who form the "brain" of each grouping. As well, ecofeminists are dedicated to consensus decision-making, requiring unanimity on decisions, as opposed to common majority-rules formulas. Consensus can work well in small intimate groups but as many have learned consensus can lead to a "unity or else" situation in which diversity is erased through moral coercion. In the words of ecofeminist high priestess Caroline Estes, "we no longer have majorities and minorities: we need collective unity." Beihl remarks on how the words "unity" and "integration" are given quasi-religious qualities by ecofeminists. Groups engaged in consensus decision making are prone to authoritarian control by the core clique of group-founders who can use the systems' inherent hostility to diversity to foster passivity, compliance and fear of voicing one's opinion among the congregation. Discussion becomes superficial, and differences of opinion get absorbed and ignored, as the group's agenda is pre-ordained by members of the movement's core clique. To Beihl this is:
"Perhaps the major irrationalism of ecofeminism itself is that blatantly contradictory ideas are to be accepted as "diverse" parts of a "whole".
This is hardly the major irrationalism of ecofeminism as the entire movement is openly hostile to reason. They revel in superstition and expressly advocate witchcraft. Spretnik calls it a quest for "suprarationality" whereas Starhawk beseeches her followers to achieve "levels of consciousness beyond the rational" and describes ecofeminism as a "magico-spiritual movement". The cultish pseudo-pagan rituals are justified because to Starhawk "ecstasy is the heart of witchcraft."
But it is upon the substance of ecofeminist philosophy, rather than upon their organizational practices, which Beihl trains most of her fire. In general, the ecofeminist mythological line has it that Earth is a living organism like a cell whose human inhabitants were originally organized in peaceful, environmentally friendly, earth-worshipping, women-centered communities which were tragically overthrown by war-mongering, patriarchal planet-smashers a few thousand years ago. Ecofeminists are passionate subscribers to the myth of ecological destruction, in fact it is their raison d'etre, but the same could be said of Beihl's brigade).
As for the spurious idea that the Cosmos and/or the Earth are actually living organisms it is important to point out this is a belief held widely throughout the rank-and-file Green movement, not just by the ecofeminists. The "Gaia hypothesis", which Beihl prefers to call "hylozoism", has been widely disseminated by environmentalist groups and the mass media (there is even an entire college in Europe dedicated to promoting this myth). Beihl is quite correct when she calls this theory nothing but a poetic metaphor. Yet so prevalent is this belief she finds it necessary to repeat:
"What is wrong with hylozoism, vitalism, and divine immanence, particularly when they are associated with women, is that they are false in terms of what we now know. Ultimately, the universe, the solar system, and the earth are not living organisms, however much there may be life in the cosmos."
Beihl is opposed to the liberal use of metaphor in politics; something she correctly associates with the romanticism of the radical right. Her commentary on metaphor is part of a broader critique of ecofeminism which she accuses of not merely philosophical idealism but of "religious determinism." This is a criticism many leading ecofeminists would not deny. She quotes practitioners like Lynn White who believe:
"Since the roots of our trouble are so largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious, whether we call it that or not."
Premier ecofeminist Riane Eisler describes the whole ecofeminist project as an effort to create a "critical mass of new images and myths."
A major component of ecofeminist thought is the belief that patriarchal sky-god worship is enabling the alleged environmental destruction. Hence ecofeminists believe in order to "save the planet" conventional religions must be replaced with earth-goddess worship. Beihl has a number of problems with this. On the philosophical continuum between those who view the evolution of abstract ideas about gods and justice as being the driving force of social change (the idealists) and those who seek technological and economic explanations for social change (the materialists), Beihl claims to be in the latter camp. Moreover, she is radical. She does not want superficial changes but rather believes we need a wholesale reorganization of economic relations so as to "save the planet". Beihl does not believe the manufacture and sale of a new canon of myths, a new religion, will bring about the necessary change. She cites ecofeminism's "philosophical idealism" as one of its "greatest failings".
Secondly, she points out, there is no correlation between goddess worship, or even matriarchy, and the existence of an egalitarian, or pacifist, society. She holds out the Iroquois as an example of a female-centered culture yet still ferociously warlike. Nor is there any correlation between hylozoism and beneficence. Beihl points to the hylozoist Stoics of ancient Rome who cared little for people. On this note she also quotes passages of certain modern ecofeminists who, in a manner similar to the fatalistic Romans, clearly care more about pretty meadows of flowers than they do about humanity. (Amazingly, she neglects to mention the obsessive Roman worship of the goddess Venus which corresponds precisely with the most violent and predatory phase of Roman imperialism.)
Beihl also tackles the canard of Neolithic goddess worship. It is now widely held by the Green multitude that there was a period of goddess worship in the late Stone Age. This is unproven speculation. For starters there is not one, but a thousand and one, distinct Neolithic cultures. As well, the boundaries between the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic and Chocolithic epochs are, I dare to say, not set in stone. Beihl correctly states that the existence of plentiful carvings of women means little. Images of naked women abound in our society but few feminists hold these out as evidence of female-centered religious institutions. Moreover, those who have plumbed a little deeper into the field of archaeology know it is impossible to separate "religion" from "art" from a distance of millennia. That which we now call organized "religion" is an early Bronze Age invention. Presentism abounds in pop history and the notion of Stone Age goddess worship is a self-serving projection.
Ecofeminists espouse a mythic history. Beihl relays detailed accounts from ecofeminists who describe the conquest of the female-centered "old Europe" by chariot and horse riding patriarchs around 4500 BC. There are a few problems with this which Beihl only lightly touches upon. For instance, the wheel makes its debut around 3000 BC and then only in the Mesopotamian area. The chariot as a major weapon of war dates to the 1500 to 1000 BC era and is once again largely confined to the Middle East. The charging warrior on horse back is an even later development. Not only are these numerous, published accounts (by Ph. D. ecofeminists no less) about this pre-historic conquest dubious; they are ridiculously impossible.
Additionally, ecofeminist scholars have latched onto Minoan civilization as an example of a past golden age of passive, naturalist, female-centered theocracy. Once again this is pure speculation based simply on the abundance of statues and frescoes of women. A comprehensive depiction of Minoan society is historically inaccessible. The Minoans definitely drew their name from a male patriarch and their most common artistic/religious image is the thoroughly macho man-leaping-over-bull. They were definitely an imperialist civilization and moreover, in the grander scheme of things, Minoan civilization was a derivative flash-in-the-pan.
Perhaps most damning and maddening about ecofeminists is that they are deliberately creating a mythology. They can rationalize doing so because they share the widespread contempt within academia for the Enlightenment staples of empiricism, reason and truth. Beihl quotes one popular ecofeminist as stating that even if the idea of woman=nature is a socially constructed myth unsupported by scientific evidence it still should be disseminated so as to achieve eco-political ends.
The mythic women=nature metaphor angers Beihl the most, as well it should. Ecofeminists traffic in some of the worst male-chauvinist stereotypes about women:
"The attempt by ecofeminists to formulate a new ontological ground for an ecological ethics on metaphors may be a failure from a rational viewpoint, but it may be a flaming success in an ugly way - namely by reinforcing gender stereotypes. If metaphors of nature cannot form the basis of an ecological ethics, metaphors of women as "nature", alas, are all too likely to provide the basis for sexist notions of women. Sexist characterizations like "intuitive", "irrational", "hysterical" and "unpredictable" have been slapped on women for centuries."
Beihl questions how this sort of propaganda can be viewed as part of the women's liberation project:
"Blacks, for example, do not organize themselves against racism by using the metaphors of "laziness" and "shiftlessness" that were long used to buttress racism, but somehow these ecofeminists seem to think that comparably regressive metaphors can be liberating for women."
Beihl stops just short of calling ecofeminism "fascist" although the book discusses the similarities.
To say Beihl is hoist on her own petard is an understatement. She is a General who orders her troops to run through their own minefield. She criticizes ecofeminists for philosophical idealism yet she puts out idealism with a shovel even praising Hegel, the grandfather of this rubbish, as a brilliant thinker.
Beihl trashes ecofeminists for being anti-Enlightenment yet she denounces utilitarianism - the Enlightenment's pinnacle achievement. To Beihl "utilitarianism" seems to mean some twisted form of Machiavellianism. She sometimes uses utilitarianism synonymously with the term "instrumentalism"; or the reduction of people to crude tools for exploitation. Then, so as to underline her confusion, she accuses ecofeminism, an extreme form of environmentalism, of being utilitarian.
Utilitarianism simply means public policy should be made in the best interests of most people. To most modern Western citizens this principle is a given. When utilitarianism emerged in early 19th century Britain it represented a sharp departure from conventional continental ruling class thought for whom "the best interests of most people" was easily trumped by "the interests of the King", or by "the will of God", or by the desires of aristocratic high society.
Liberalism and socialism are both utilitarian political theories. They are the Romulus and Rhemus of utilitarianism. Both seek formulas for achieving the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people and both philosophies see this as being achieved through enhanced material prosperity and technological progress. They disagree bitterly over the policy formula required to achieve this, particularly over the appropriate degree of statism in economic affairs.
The only major modern political philosophy which is not utilitarian is environmentalism. The environmentalists care not about the great-many-headed mob but rather about the furry little critters of the sacred grove. They care about the "land" and seek to protect it from the masses. They care about hypothetical weather patterns in the year 2300 AD and not about mundane contemporary needs for energy and employment. Those in the know can quickly see through this mask to the visage of the aristocracy once again - the sworn opponents of public utility. Utilitarianism is a fundamentally republican, secular, egalitarian, enlightened and rational political philosophy. From the beginning it was bitterly resisted by the European aristocracy - the precise social class forming the base of support for modern environmentalism.
Another choice piece of hypocrisy from Beihl involves the "myth of regress"; something she accuses ecofeminists of believing in yet clearly embraces herself. It goes sort of like this: first humanity was living in a primitive state of harmonic bliss with nature before we dined on the forbidden fruit of knowledge and slid into the Neolithic Revolution. From here we degenerated to the medieval epoch which wasn't that bad but it unfortunately set the stage for the final descent into the Hades of the Industrial Revolution. As absurd as this is, Beihl, on a dozen occasions, betrays a belief that somehow a past golden age of feudalism has been lost and must be recaptured. This follows in the tradition of her great fountainhead Murray Bookchin; he of the Kropotkin-Proudhonist anarchist line which does verily hold that the Industrial Revolution was a big mistake.
Anarchists are a good match for reactionary aristocrats as both want to roll back progress. The absurd, childish, romantic goal of a stateless society, which Beihl is committed to, is compatible only with the most primitive forms of technological development. The "forces of production" left unchecked render this vision more ridiculous with each passing innovation. The growth of these same "forces of production" will also in time disempower the hereditary landlords and will profane all the superstitious chauvinistic, nationalistic, patriarchal and religious institutions they so cherish. Hence the common cause between the anarchists and aristocrats. Hence their mutual embrace of the anti-industrial 'myth of regress' and the even more dangerous 'myth of planetary destruction'.
The joke is really on Beihl and company. They have preserved sufficient empiricism to occasionally get a clear peak at environmentalism and whenever they do they uncover a nest of nazis. In ecofeminism Beihl sees a "big lie" myth-making project in progress and is repulsed. But there is a much larger myth-making project - one with grandiose tales of planetary destruction, mass species extinction, depleted resources and the like. This latter matrix of myths she has swallowed hook, line and sinker.
While the "social ecology" of the Bookchinites is withering to a dehydrated flake inside the great green crusade, the ecofeminists have emerged as a force much larger than they were when Beihl wrote this book. The twenty or so women Beihl identifies as ecofeminists have since produced scores of books, videos and conferences etc. A tour of the websites of the women Beihl criticises reveals how ecofeminism, now more than ever, is a ticket to a prosperous career in academia, writing and/or a host of other propagandistic and organizing ventures. It seems "social ecology" was a useful foil during environmentalism's Cold War years but has since been largely discarded by Big Green - a force whose true nature Beihl must now surely be able to discern.
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