Deep Ecology is Utopia

by Slow Factory

The Slow Factory’s Applied Utopia program comes in the wake of our “Deep Ecology” launch, which is our anti-colonialist programming and approach to environmental justice, science, spirituality, culture and the natural world, particularly in communities impacted by climate change. In this volume you’ll be seeing numerous large and interconnected concepts from a wide range of writers that work to link together these two Slow Factory initiatives and the ideas that form them. We believe that our Deep Ecology approach, embodied in our first collaboration with the O’ahu Water Protectors, has core elements that will help the curious minds and participants joining us on our Applied Utopia journey to understand this new effort and build their practice of applying utopia in your own lives and work.

On the biggest scale, deep ecology demands that we go far beyond the easily quantifiable, the immediate and even the long-term limits circumscribed by science to define the field of ecology. It insists we learn from what humanity has experienced over hundreds of thousands of years, a timeline much longer than what is conventionally labeled civilization today. Primarily it insists that we learn from the symbiotic relationship that our ancestors forged with the natural world. For the vast majority of our species’ history, intricate and complex relationships with plants and animals and entire ecosystems were developed outside of what is now formally labeled science.

In fact, science continues to reject much of the indigenous wisdom and practices that were developed over millennia, despite their success not only at keeping our ancestors alive, but also at helping our species to stay in balance with the rest of the world. Deep ecology, on the other hand, not only respects and acknowledges the generations of accumulated knowledge that came before us, it seeks to uplift these knowledges, and to do so in a manner that does not pick and choose certain components to extract or exploit, but rather to holistically elevate bodies of wisdom, the needs and rights of the purveyors of that wisdom, and the protection of the ecosystems in which that wisdom was found and formed.

This approach requires a radical shift, many radical shifts. Yet it is not just asking us to shift into the unknown, it’s asking us to shift back towards the past in many ways. It is our hope that approaching deep ecology with a reverence for the knowledge of our ancestors will make this work easier and more accessible than imagining a future we’ve never seen before, but we know that this still presents difficulties.

Many of us grew up with a reverence for progress, even a worship of progress. The faith in linear progress that has become almost a fact in much of Western thought has come to hold a nearly religious fervor, particularly in the realm of science, but also across other disciplines, seeping into the water of the broader culture and society. Therefore, unlearning is a crucial first step. We do believe that certain forms of progress are necessary, even inevitable, or at the very least that change itself is inevitable. However, we must unlearn the idea that progress should mean moving away from the past. On several different tracks our “progress” needs to look more like the past than the present, more like ancient civilizations than a fictional sci-fi utopia.

For this reason we think that deep ecology is a powerful and necessary starting point in working towards a better world. **It is only by having a deep understanding of indigenous practices, ecosystems, and the rhythms of nature that we can begin to design a world that is sustainable and just. **Without this foundation we see the world running further and further along an extractive path towards warming, pollution, chaos, and harm. With an understanding of deep ecology we see a window of possibility that can lead us towards the world we need.

Given this understanding, we can begin to see how deep ecology shapes our vision of utopia, how deep ecology allows us to begin applying utopia in a way that really works over long segments of time. In this volume you’ll read people discussing circular systems, climate justice, waste-led design, and more. We see these principles and practices as ways of taking insights from deep ecology, which goes by many names and intersects with many disciplines, and using what we learn to apply utopia right here and now. One of the themes we’ll keep coming back to with the scholars and writers and artists and thinkers and doers in this volume is that nature is not perfect in the way we’ve been taught to think about perfection. It’s messy. It can be violent. It’s chaotic at times. And that’s okay. We don’t need to force nature into a limited humanistic idea of perfection - in fact we can’t, it doesn’t work. Forcing an anthropocentric idea of what the world ought to look like is a failed concept, one that helped bring us to this period of climate chaos and one we need to let go of.

In place of anthropocentrism, in place of the idea that human beings are at the center of the universe, the Slow Factory offers a synthesis of applied utopia and deep ecology. Nuanced, thoughtful understandings of our ecosystems and the living beings that inhabit and help to compose them are a far better grounding for designing the world we need. In this volume you’ll read about spider silk, which is nature producing an incredibly strong material that is biodegradable at the same time. You’ll see a deep analysis of the importance of indigenous land stewardship, which is itself rooted in a deep relationship between people and their specific ecologies.

You’ll learn about mycelium, which allows mushrooms to network and communicate underground. These are not fanciful examples. They’re real and practical and vital to a sustainable future. But we can’t simply mimic them through callous extraction. In order to work with these resources and systems that nature and our ancestors developed we need slow, thorough, respectful study and conversations and understanding. We must cast aside an attitude that says people are masters of nature, and adopt one that says people can live in harmony with nature through intentionality and humility. Only then can we see and practice the many small pockets and massive systems that can allow us to apply utopia in ways big and small to this imperfect world.

In time it is our hope that these bits of utopia, these oases that are sometimes bold and beautiful and sometimes hidden in plain sight in everyday life, will begin to change the world. It will take the intentional redesign at the systems level, together with the work from the bottom up with projects that shoot flowers up through the cracks, but we believe it’s possible. In fact, more than possible, we know it’s necessary. And through our study of deep ecology we know that life endures. We have faith that people working together can apply utopian elements to our lives, with our communities, and in society at large. We hope you’ll join us on this journey to the better world we seek, and need.