Nature vs Culture: Human Social Relationships with the Environment
The relationships between humankind and its natural environment is an issue which requires a deep understanding of cultures, myths, religions, traditions, and economic, philosophical, and political systems. This kind of relationships also includes particular elements of philosophy as it analyses humankind’s position in the world. This paper is devoted to human social relationships with the environment. Historical aspects of these relationships were considered. The New Age movement was characterized. Environmental ethics and ecocentrism were analyzed.
It is impossible to imagine mankind outside of the environment; the social processes and world history may take place only in the environment which has its own perspective. It seems to be incorrect to discuss the history of humankind beginning only from the appearance of the written word and to define the earlier period as prehistory or protohistory since the history and past of humanity are closely linked to its environment, which always constitutes more than merely background scenery.
A number of researchers have concluded that interacting with technology increases the quantity of some but not all of the benefits and enjoyments of interacting with actual nature.
The environment may be considered as one of the key aspects affecting the history of mankind
Environmental history has been established as a scientific discipline comparatively recently. It is the subject of attention of not exclusively ecologists but also anthropologists and historians. There is a new scientific position (usually referred to as environmental determinism), which examines the role of the environment in the history of mankind.
The mutual character of the nature-human relationships is generally recognized. Mankind has had a strong influence on the environment since it began to use fire. People’s large hunting practices resulted in the extinction of fauna, and their agricultural methods led to desertification. These cases illustrate the evolution of natural systems and modern social systems.
Historical aspects of humankind’s attitude towards nature may only be analyzed from the perspective of religious approaches. It is recognized that people’s universal values are largely based on ancient religious beliefs; they also influenced the development of ethics in a number of ways.
These elements may be used as a key to understanding the human-nature relationship, especially its current status and development. It may help to analyze the essence of the environmental crisis.
The existing descriptions of different kinds of nature-human relations demonstrate that the biological and physical relationship between a rational creature and nature is similar to the relationship between the whole and its part. Thus, it seems that like an individual’s significant philosophy is to “know how to die”, the main process that people should do is to take their place in the permanently changing natural world which had a long history even before the arrival of mankind and may continue to exist even if mankind passes away. Therefore, moral reflection concerning the issues coming from the environmental questions becomes necessary. Usual scalar approach and the fuzzy, fractal, and unstable qualities of ecological elements may lead people to a comprehension of the significance of all human’s relations and to the precautionary principles in general.
The present historical period, characterized by some scientists as the information, postmodernist, or post-industrial age, may be summarised by the word “crisis”. The development of the “living” is in the process of being adjusted by the “cultural”. As a result, people as humankind, individuals, and communities should reconsider their place in nature and their perception of nature and, therefore, introduce a new paradigm, i.e. change from linear and mechanistic approaches to cyclical and organicist ones.
In 1972 the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess created the theory of “deep ecology”. This was one of the most influential moments contributing to the development of ecocentrism. In his opinion, shallow ecology may be characterized as anthropocentric. Naess suggested that biospheric egalitarianism may be expressed by introducing eight main principles of equal significance to human society and all species. These principles place human life and all other life forms on the same scale as all life forms have the same intrinsic value. Human activity should be explicitly identified as being responsible for maintaining the global environment and the solution should be found by modifying policies and ideological, economic, and technological structures.
In fact, radical ecology cannot be satisfied with the main barriers of race, sex, or age. Its theory also states that there are no differences between the individual and the existing environment, which explains its metaphysical and spiritual qualities.
The New Age movement plays an important role in the modern understanding of the problem under consideration. The concept “New Age” refers to an era of introducing new paths, using novel methods, psychological technologies and techniques in order to change individuals and encourage their transpersonalisation.
Deep ecology and ecofeminism may be considered as the branches of the New Age movement. New Age supporters usually rediscover and revive traditions such as different esotericisms or yoga and Zen methods and at the same time remain highly open to the achievements of modern science from which they take some ideas and some of their spokesmen, including Francisco Varela, Fritjof Capra, Arnold Graf Keyserling, Rupert Sheldrake and David Bohm. New Age philosophy may be considered as a kind of syncretism.
It may be summarised that whereas capitalism is based on the principle of individual freedom, socialism is founded on collective entities, and ecologism pays additional attention to the value of the survival of the human species, from both individual and collective perspective. It enables understanding of the emergence of socialism and ecologist in the capitalist societies.
Sustainability is another term which is widely used by economists, ecologists and politicians. Sustainable development enables introducing innovative solutions in order to reach economic prosperity and successful continuation of modern civilization. It also stresses the significance of regeneration and protection of natural resources. This type of development may be considered as today’s institutionalized answer to the environmental problems.
In relation to environmental results, socialism may be even more relevant than liberalism, although only a small fraction of socialist opinions can be applied to environmental policy. Though equal distribution, prudence, rational actions, and promoting community spirit may be considered beneficial to the environment, public ownership of the means of production does not lead to responsible methods of operation with natural resources. The former socialist republics provide objective examples of this in spite of some possible objections that could be provided.
Environmental ethics is one of the most influential types of the applied ethics. It uses a moral approach to the analysis of the relationships between humans and the environment and of the moral status and value of the present environment and its different components. Within the scope of this science, the issues for which solutions are sought are both practical and abstract.
The comparatively late spreading of environmentalist positions into the general public happened after the analysis of the human tendency to act by taking necessary measures only after some critical event has arisen, i.e. under public pressure.
It should be pointed out that the human’s reactions against the deterioration of nature and the significant use of natural resources appeared in American and Anglo-Saxon scientific papers written for ethical and other reasons.
Economic progress led to a historically new state of affairs: the importance of reforms imposed on nature, the reflection of the Earth observed from distance, local, national or multinational crises, and the spreading effect of some technical innovations generated significant problems for classical ethics.
Environmental ethics originated from the extentionist approaches and way of comprehending the reality, primarily in the Anglo-Saxon world. Environmental morality may be considered as the main type of morality that does not solely include culture. It analyses situations created by nature and the area at which culture and nature may intersect.
The ethical-environmental method is an important one: when humans have selected this way, nothing can be similar again; problems should be solved rather than ignored.
Some scientists suggested that a question about the origin of ethics made very little difference to the existing controversies between the different ethical schools.
However, ecocentrism may be easily misunderstood, deformed, or interpreted in a different way. Ecocentrism is usually preferred from an ecological perspective as ecosystems constitute the key elements of nature and the environment in which animals and humans participate. In spite of the existing differences, ecological theorists are unanimous in understanding the significance of diversity for societies and individuals as well as the strong necessity to detect solutions to the threat to environmental balance.
With each subsequent generation, the level of environmental degradation may increase. At the same time, each generation tends to take that degraded condition as normal experience; this situation may be characterized as environmental generational amnesia.
It is necessary to study highly sophisticated and pervasive forms of technological processes, which may provide some fraction but not all of the benefits of the real nature. It may be expected that there will be a downward change in the perception across generations for what constitutes a good measure of the human flourishing and experience.
Thus, social relationships with the environment represent a complex issue that should be analyzed and solved as soon as possible.
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