An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

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Tomislav MarkusTomislav Markus works at the Croatian Institute of History, Zagreb, Republic of Croatia. He is the author of "Limits of Spiritual Enlightenment", "Two Roads Diverging: Integral Theory and Contemporary Science", "Twilight in the Integral World: Integral Theory and the Desintegration of Industrial Civilization", "Pitfalls of Wilberian Ecology: A Critical Review of Integral Ecology" and "Paul Shepard and Integral Theory", all published on Integral World.


Tomislav Markus (1969-2010)

I. Main features of Shepard's ecological philosophy

Wildness is our natural ecological context in which we have been living for millions of years.

In Shepard's[1] early philosophical work an idealistic approach, with a primacy of ideas and worldviews, was dominant. Then he thought that the preservation or destruction of nature primarily depends on a personal and social cosmology.[2] In the book Man in the Landscape (1967) Shepard analyzed different ways of showing of organic environment and nature in European and American art and literature from the 15th to the 20th century. In the book his main conviction was that an adequate vision of the natural world – with an acknowledgment of the biological and ecological continuity of man with other species – was a fundamental condition for the betterment of our ecological situation.[3] In the well-known article „Ecology and Man: A Viewpoint“ (1979) Shepard argued for ontological extensionism, or and understanding of the human self as a small part of the natural world, or a vision of nature as an enlarged self.[4] Shepard's early idealistic convictions or faith in a change-of-consciousness were quickly lost in his work. In the forword of his last book Shepard mentioned his disappointment in the ecological movement in the early 1970s and the disappearance of his faith in a philosophically founded ecology as a basis for better ecological behaviour.[5] In Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game (1973) he consistently argued for a materialistic position with a primacy of material factors – population, technology, standards of living, genetic adaptation etc. – as crucial for the ecological state of a given human society. A fundamental thought in all of Shepard's work, from the early 1970s on, is a conviction about the destructive and pathological character of civilization. Neolithic domestification and civilization meant the abandonment of a hunter-gatherer life which is suitable for human biogrammacy and evolved human nature. Already in his first book Shepard emphasized the importance of the human deep evolutionary past, without which later civilized history can't be explained. This evolutionary past is our firm connection with other species and the natural world as a whole. Wildness is not just outside, in the wild habitats and species, but also inside, in the form of a wild pleistocenic genome and our biological heritage. Shepard wrote that the wild pleistocenic world lives inside us even today, despite big changes in social organization and the human way of life.[6] That means that man can be civilized, but he/she cannot be domestificated.[7]

Paul Shepard (1925-1996)

The theory of bio-social discontinuity, a crucial component of Shepard's human ecology, can't be reconciled with the myth of historical progress (a central meta-narative of all modern secular ideologies) and the vision of civilization as a rise-and-achievment. For Shepard, nothing is further from the truth then the myth of historical progress. In Shepard' vision, the abrupt (from a deep evolutionary perspective, that is) appearance of domestification and civilization was the main cause of many anthropogenic problems and human misery. Human intelligence, suitable for small groups, became disfuctional and misadaptive in the overpopulated agrarian and urban environment.[8] Man can survive in a civilized environment, but only with an ever decreasing quality of living and a creation of many ecological and social disturbances.[9] The conviction that man is his/her own construction is ideological, not scientifically, founded. Social forms are not limitless, because men can create society only within constraints from their evolutionary past.[10] Human beings, like every other, need specific environments in which their fundamental psychological and physiological features are formed through eons of evolutionary time. But the confession of the evolutionary limits are not welcome in a modern ideology of unlimited expectations.[11]

Shepard wrote that culture doesn't replace biological evolution – for him „cultural/social evolution“ is a misnomer or wrong analogy – but can be deformed by its too fast rate, as in the recent human history. Chaos, loneliness, anomie, sporadic violence, isolation, an overpopulated and polluted environment are typical features – or different forms of collective pathologies - of all cities in all civilizations, symptoms of very poor human adaption to civilized conditions.[12] Men are pleistocenic beings who need, as always, wildness and open spaces, but, in civilized conditions, they are trapped in an overpopulated, biologically impoverished and ecologically devastated environment.[13] Shepard has criticized common assertions about man's domestification, because human beings were not subject of sexual selection, as domestic animals. Humans are today equally wild as their pleistocenic ancestors, 10.000 years ago.[14] Genetically, we are wild pleistocenic species which can survive in fundamentally different environments, but only with many problems and a low quality of life.[15] According to Shepard, wildness within us is the best part of us because an appreciation of our evolutionary heritage is the main precondition for human happiness and a good life. Some cultures are better than others if they appreciate more our natural context and evolutionary past.[16] Human beings can create very different cultures – and they did it for last several thousand years – but there is a catch. Men cannot control consenquences of their behaviour and every culture cannot satisfy fundamental human needs equally well. Not all cultures work equally well.[17]

In the last several decades a critique of civilization has become quite common and Shepard was one of the first to express it. According to him, the degradation of women was a consequence of agriculture and pastoralism and their transformation into a „machine“ for child-birth. The low status of women in civilization culminates in civilization because of the absence of the sanctification of place and mythology rooted in nature.[18] War, state repression, many diseases, interpersonal exploitation and other anthropogenic problems were fundamental features of civilization from the beginning. Civilized men have been making genocide over hunter-gatherers and ecocide over wild habitats and species for 10.000 years.[19] Pathological behaviour of civilized humans – wars, genocides, urban violence, ecological destruction etc. – are not a consequence of some moral failure or an omission of respect of „high moral standards“ of civilization, but consequences of evolutionary non-adaptation. Our problems are manifestations of a deviation from our genetic core, not consequences of some social or technical defects which can be repaired by technological fixes or political revolutions. Civilized human have been living under tyrans, demagogues, dictators, kings and emperors for thousands of years. Desperation and homelesness of civilized man culminate today, because industrial societies are the most artificial and abnormal social order in human history.[20] Industrial order is just an extension of the fundamental mistake made in neolithic domestification. War and obsessive territoriality are consequences not of our biogrammacy but of overpopulation and other pathological circumstances of domestification and civilization.[21]

The theory of bio-social discontinuity has a central place in Shepard's theory. So, he cannot be accused of the „fallacy of the noble savage“, the standard objection for all positions which maintain that civilization (including domestification) can be – or is – the deepest root of all chief ecological and other anthropogenic problems. As we already said [22] - but what must be constantly repeated – the theory of bio-social discontinuity has nothing to do with morality (nobleness) and everything with genetic adaptation. It is relatively the best explanation of anthropogenic problems as main characteristic of all civilizations. Two dominant interpretations – the standard model of the humanistic disciplines (man as a tabula rasa, problems are particular social circumstances) and the standard model of social darwinism (the problem is agressive/selfish/competitive human nature) – can explain neither our anthropogenic problems nor our fundamental human needs.[23] Shepard criticized the concept of „social/cultural evolution“ as a wrong analogy with biological (darwinian) evolution and as a quasi-scientific justification of the myth of historical progress.[24]

In Shepard's work there was a detailed critique not only of civilization, but of agriculture and pastoralism as well. According to Shepard, cattle-herding has been causing a vast destruction of wild habitats, especially deforestation. Domestic animals have been creating a domestificating habitat for thousands years. Pastoralism and nomadism have been making a big contribution to anthropocentric philosophy, theoretically, and ecological destruction, practically.[25] Agrarian domestifican was the beginning of a gradual but permanent decrease of the quality of human life: „Domestification would create a catastrophic biology of nutritional deficiencies, alternating feasts and famine, health and epidemics, peace and social conflict, all set in millenial rythms of slowly collapsing ecosystems.“[26] For Shepard, agriculture, pastoralism and urban civilization are all parts of social macrodynamics, leading to an ever-increasing alienation of humans from natural social and ecological conditions. Urban men have been always idealizing the surrounding country, but, historically, country and city are two sides of the same coin. The idealization of agrarian life – as the „arkadian“ or „bucolic“ garden-environment – is one of the most popular and dangerous illusion of urban man. Agrarian life – characterized by dull, hard and monotonuos labour – can be idealized only by urban men, who live in an even more degradated and overpopulated environment.[27] Agriculture is the real historical source of warfare, because increasing competitions between human groups were caused by demographic pressure and the disappearance of wild nature. Agriculture and pastoralism had catastrophic social and ecological consequences: hunger, many diseases, warfare, increasing inequalities, a degradated and polluted environment, the vast destruction of wild habitats and species, genetic degeneration of domestificated species etc. Urban societies have been only a continuation of these tendencies.[28] For Shepard, „modern“ industrial societies are just part – and, in many ways, a culmination - of long-term trends of an ever-increasing alienation of humans from their natural social and ecological conditions. Fanatical efforts of civilized man for separation from other species and pathological illusions about human omnipotence and independence from nature are especially strong in industrial mega-cities. The modern myth of „historical progress“ is a symptom of a fanatical desire of industrial man to control everything and to convert everything into a commodity for mass consumption and an object of technological manipulation.[29]

A critique of the illusion of human excemptionalism was a common theme in Shepard's work. He criticized civilized humans' effort to dig up a gulf between themselves and other species and to forget their evolutionary past. Reason, culture, learning and language are features of a living world as a whole, in less or more measure, and not specialities of one species. Human culture is a part of broader ecological and organic realities and energy's flow through eco-systems and the web of life.[30] Humans are really cultural animals, but that fact doesn't emancipate them from nature. Culture is a system of information transfer, genetically founded and under biological constraints. Without respect of biological constraints culture becomes the center of a fantastic world with no connection with reality.[31] We should not overemphasize cultural difference and ignore universal human nature as the product of the long-term evolutionary processes. Other species, eco-systems, soil, air, water and other ecological realities are not cultural constructions but foundations of human existence.[32] Efforst of secular humanists to replace the Christian God with Man were and are pointless. Despite several centuries of secular humanism's humans are not their own construction. Social sciences and humanistic philosophy are mainly part of an anti-naturalistic ideology of modern civilization with ancient roots in axial religions and philosophies. This ideology argues that humans can do whatever they want and that there are no ecological and biological contraints for human adventures.[33] Shepard criticized postmodern deconstructivism as the last humanistic fad and another example of the old anti-naturalistic philosophy, alienated from nature and organic processes. Conventional feminism, which tries to integrate women into destructive society, is also a symptom of the negation of ecological and biological realities, especially in the form of moral vegetarianism.[34]

Shepard was aware that science can be (mis)used for destructive goals, like the production of weapons or ecological destruction and it can stimulate anthropocentric arrogance toward nature[35] but he never argued for relativism and antiscientific irationalism. He show up that a search for scientific objectivity hasn't meant an apology for industrialism or some other kind of social particularities. According to Shepard, modern scientific naturalism is not a source of desperation and sense of meaninglessness which persecutes modern man. Especially ecology has significant role in more balanced vision of man as small part of the natural world. Towards the end of 1960s, Shepard believed that ecology as a science has a radical and subversive character because it „requires a kind of vision across boundaries.“ Modern languages, with many idealistic and dualistic overtones, cannot easily express ecological realities. Ecology implies unity and makes possible to regard the world from a human perspective but not with human chauvinism.[36] In Shepard's work human ecology was always founded in evolutionary (darwinian) biology because humans are animal species and the product of eons of biological (darwinian) evolution. He wrote that the dominant indifference or even the hostility towards Darwin's theory among humanistic intellectuals is a consequence of its irreconcilableness with anthropocentric humanism and humanistic illusions of human excemptionalism. Humanists don't like statements about human kinship with other creatures or man as a small part of the natural world: this is some kind of offence for „human dignity“. The confusion of evolution and progress – the only way to make Darwin's theory acceptable in humanistic circles – created a lot of damage, even more than the overemphasis of competition and violence in nature. But darwinian natural selection and darwinian evolution are not progressive processes. Evolution is not some kind of upward movement with a culmination in one species, but a branching bush with man as the last shoot of the genus homo on one small and recent branchlet.[37] Evolutionary theory could help to overcome man's alienation from the natural world but instead it was used as a vindication of social inequalities and exploitation. Modern humanism never forgave Darwin, who demolished illusions of human independence and uniqueness.[38] Shepard had great sympathy toward ethology, sociobiology and other neo-darwinian theories and their extension into the domain of the social sciences. Morris, Fox, Wilson and other contemporary neo-darwinians rightly emphasize the great significance of our evolutionary past and criticize prejudices of anthropocentric humanism. Contemporary humanistic critiques of sociobiology are a continuation of the old humanistic anti-naturalism, as a secular version of the ancient religions of agrarian civilization.[39]

Not suprisingly for a ecocentric and naturalistic thinker, wildness has a central place in Shepard's work. He made a difference between wildness and wilderness. Wildness is the living world of Earth, a complex of wild habitats and species which perpetuates the biosphere, a real framework of human existence, a unity of place, a specific environment of evolutionary adaptation for some species and a genetic state. Wilderness is a social construction of urban man, a landscape and a touristic attraction, a form of escape of urban men from the boring and desperate conditions of civilized existence. Corporative forces try to destroy wildness in favour of wilderness or to convert wildness into many landscapes for touristic consumption.[40] Wildness is our natural ecological context in which we have been living for millions of years and which cannot be erased by several thousands of years or agro-urban existence. The disappearance of wildness is like the amputation of a body's part.[41] Shepard has given detailed critique of the concept of „landscape“ as a symptom of the anthropocentric reduction of nature to a human nice-to-see picture. In the new mechanical paradigm wild nature is reduced to quantitative abstraction and landscape as an interesting touristic attraction, a thing of faddish and ever-changing taste. Adherents of nature-as-landscape were never enemies of promethean hybris, but only its helpers and suggested the humanization of wild nature. But even that crippled concept of nature can be a symptom of the healthy human need for organic and wild nature.[42]

Shepard has sharply criticized the traditional (institutional) or axial religions, like Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism etc., but especially Christianity as the dominant western religion. Hatred toward wild nature was and is deeply ingrained in Christianity as the most urban of all religions. Christianity takes its part in the destruction of the natural world which was understood as a temporary way-station and valley of tears or, in the best case, as a background or stage on which the human drama was played.[43] The central religious and philosophical dogma of the West is the effort to radical distinguish between the spiritual and the natural world. The New Testament is perhaps the most anti-organic and anti-naturalistic example of human thought ever.[44] But according to Shepard, there is no significant difference between occidental (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) and oriental (especially Indian) religions. All world religions are anthropocentric and other-wordly oriented and contain a deep hate or indifference toward wild nature. They cannot much help, because they are a symptom of the fundamental alienation of our natural evolutionary context and a consequence of the abandonment of the hunter-gatherer life. Their otherworldly orientation and individualistic salvationism are consequences of increasing social and ecological desintegration, meaningless life and abnormal social conditions of civilized humans.[45] Jainism and Buddhism are not manifestations of a proto-ecological love of nature, but a hate of organic processes and a desire to escape from an intolerable, socially repressive and ecologically devastated world of agrarian India.[46] Sacrifice – a typical characteristic of all pastoral and agrarian religions – is a symptom of the abandonment of the ancient conviction, typical for hunter-gatherers, that humans are ghosts who receive gifts, in favour of bargaining with supernatural beings, full of envy and greed. The liturgy of sacrifice reveals a de-spiritualized natural world, full of scarcity and violence, becoming resource for human bargaining. Part of this change is shamanism, because a shaman is not the embodiment of ecological consciousness but a latecomer and usurper who misuses fear of pastoral and agrariran population due to increasing scarcity and wars. Shamanism has been creating de-spiritualization of wild habitats and species in favour of an abstract and decontextualized celestial world. Shaminism is probably the first case of patriarchal domination, because shamans were and are always men.[47]

There is a significant and extensive critique of the concept of „history“ in Shepard's work. Shepard argued that the central theme of history, as western construction, is the «rejection of habitat. It formulates experience outside of nature and tends to reduce place to location… History is inimical to compliance with nature, having arisen in a tragic perspective of man against nature, or nature as neutral. Using nature as a parable of politics, it sees all events in ideological texts.»[48] Jewish and Greek demytologisators had destroyed the myth about eternal return which was the beginning of the later model of nature-as-alienation. History refuses «ambiguities of overlapping identity, space and time, and creates its own dilemmas of discontent and alienation from Others, from nonhuman life, primitive ancestors, and tribal people.» It creates continual neuroses and a life of quiet desperation under the yoke of illusions and forgeries.[49] History is a «declaration of independence from the deep past and its peoples, living and dead, the natural state of being, which is outside its own domain». History means a desacralization of past, place and nature, it is an ideological construction of civilzed man, which makes a great contribution to collective pathology and insanity.[50] History denies the ancient mythological interpretation of the world «which sees time as a continuous return and space as sacred, where all life is autochonous». History creates a state of alienation from other species, human ancestors and the (local) homeland. Historical consciousness had gradually «weeded out animal metaphors, organic continuities, and especially the perception of nonhuman spirits of the earth». Historical thought can't answer to question how to become native in place, because it is a «great de-nativizing process, the great deracinator. Historical time is invested in change, novelty, and escape from the renewing stability and continuity of the great natural cycles that ground us to place and the greater of life on earth.“[51] History is not a neutral recording of past events, but «an active, psychoogical force that separates humankind from the rest of nature because of its disregard for the deep connections to the past.» History is also a declaration of independence from nature which remains important only as object of science and technological manipulation.[52] History is an «ideological framework exempting (Western) man from the contraints of season, place, nature, and their religious integrations. History is the desacralizing of the world based on writing, prophetic intrusion, and opposition to the natural order. It is precisely not what it seems – the evidence of continuity with the past. It is instead a convulsive break from the true deep past, a divine intercession, full of accident and radical novelty.»[53]

II. Paul Shepard as a integral thinker

Our naturality and animality mean something deeper, that is, a genetic adaptation to specific social and ecological conditions.

As it said, one of the great strenghs of Shepard's philosophy is the connection between ecology and evolutionary biology or the foundation of human ecology in darwinian biology. Many philosophers, theologians, sociologists and other thinkers were „discovering“ ecology in the last 30-40 years, but for them ecology was (and, mainly, still is) remaining separated from biology. The majoritiy of these thinkers have a humanistic education and they feel uncomfortable with darwinism, especially if they cannot separate Darwin's original insights from so called social darwinism. Without biology, a „greening“ of social thought remains quite superficial and skin-deep. Very often, „darwinism“ has negative connotations in contemporary ecological thought or it is simply ignored. Pop-darwinism usually means a primacy of competition and a dark vision of nature as bloody battlefield[54] or confusion evolution and progress. But Shepard knew better recognizing that so called social darwinism is a misnomer or misapplication of Darwin's theory for the purpose of justifying different inequalities in human society. The „essence“ of darwinian evolution is the genetic adaptation to changes in the local environment and it cannot be used for a justification of some important aspects of complex societies which are the product of social macrodynamics in the recent human past. There is one normative implication of Darwin's theory – every living being should live in his/her natural environment – but for humans that means that we should live as hunter-gatherers. Civilizations are recent phenomena and they cannot be a product of long-term processes of darwinian evolution. Contemporary darwinian thinkers – evolutionary psychologists, sociobiologists, bio-anthropologists and others – accept the existence of evolutionary framed human nature which means nothing else but the genetic adaptation to living in small nomadic groups in a wild environment. Shepard made a clear disctinction between evolution and progress and, from the early 1970s on, he consequntly argued for a theory of bio-social discontinuity. Integrating three crucial perspectives about human behaviour – ecological, evolutionary and socio-historical – he was an early integral thinker.

Shepard has united three „revolutions“ – or paradigmatic shifts – in contemporary human sciences: historical/anthropological (a significantly different interpretation of recent human history, civilization and hunter-gatherers), evolutionary/darwinian (the significance of the deep human evolutionary past) and ecological (man as a part of nature and the significance of the natural world for human health and well-being, not only for physical survival). Shepard was a true integral thinker because he has united three crucial aspects of human life and three perspectives crucial for the understanding of human behaviour: ecological (our belonging to a wider natural world), socio-historical (social macrodynamics) and biological (our evolutionary past or genetic heritage). This is a scientifically valid integral approach, not some confusing and obscure New Age consideration about an „inner dimension“, „spirituality“, „subjective life“ etc. These terms have meaning as the expressions of the human genetic heritage or human biogrammacy, that is, our genetic adaptation to specific, evolutionary framed, social and ecological environments.[55] It is unfortunate that integral theory – at least in the USA – was developed in some kind of opposition to naturalistic science and was (and is) much closer to the „great spiritual traditions“. Their „greatness“ was nothing else but an effort to restore some aspects of human natural evolutionary context and protest against abnormal (civilized) social conditions.

Shepard's approach was a completly naturalistic one, but this is, in our opinion, his greatest strenght, not a defect. He showed quite convincingly that the naturalistic approach and scientific materialism don't lead into nihilism and moral relativism. Quite the opposite, a naturalistic approach – not necessarily with all of Shepard's conclusions, of course – is the only way to avoid subjectivism and metaphysical obscurantism. Science – and it means chiefly evolutionary biology – can tell us what meaning and a good life means or how we should live – and if not science, what else can?[56] But an affirmation of scientific materialism does not lead into an apology of modern society, industrialism or capitalism either because Shepard knew that the foundations of scientific objectivity are in the cognitive structure of human brain – a product of hundreds of millions of years of biological evolution – and not in this or that socio-historical particularity. He has integrated the best parts of modern science and its ecocentric (non-anthropocentric) tradition. So, a defence of scientific rationality and objectivity cannot mean a defence of industrial civilization or civilization as such. This conclusion is especially relevant for his countrymen in the USA, where fundamentalist religion and attacks on scientific naturalism were and are very strong. Shepard knew that we can find meaning and a good life in this world, but not in industrial society or some other unnatural social order but in the wild natural world to which our genome was and is adapted. He had no patience for humanistic talk about the „social construction“ of meaning which has to be imposed to meaningless world.

Shepard's theory, founded on the theory of bio-social discontinuity, is a succesful alternative for two opposite but comparably one-sided approaches: the standard model of the social sciences (man is a tabula rasa, only socio-historical contingency matters, social macrodynamics is the only important thing) and the standard model of social darwinism[57] (only human nature matters, biology is the only important thing). For Shepard, human behaviour changes – and very much, along with „ideas“ and other idealistic baggage – but not human nature. Shepard was not a biological determinist, because he acknowledged the big significance of social macrodynamics (with mainly harmful consequences) and different forms of human behaviour in different societies. Shepard avoided false dichotomies of cultural and biological determinism, typical of two standard models, but also obscure metaphysics and idealistic/subjectivistic spirituality typical of many New Age and (especially with a Californian spin), so called integral thinking. Shepard knew that an acknowledgment of elementary facts about humans as an animal species and a part of nature is not enough. These are true, but superficial statements. Our naturality and animality mean something deeper, that is, a genetic adaptation to specific social and ecological conditions and the existence of universal human biogrammacy.

In scholarly literature, Shepard is mainly understood as an adherent of the deep ecology „school“. This is true as a critique of anthropocentrism and the „cult“ of wildness are typical for deep ecology. But there are significant differences as well, because Shepard was much more consistent in this approach than most deep ecologists are. For example, Arne Naess, the creator of the concept of „deep ecology“, knew nothing about the theory of bio-social discontinuity and the darwinian approach and a critique of civilization wase quite alien to him.[58] Lack of evolutionary (darwinian) perspective is a big defect in mainstream deep ecology's literature. In deep ecology, the idealistic approach – e.g. G. Sessions, B. Devall, A. Drengson and many others – often is the most significant one. But, as we have seen, for Shepard ideas, consciousness and worldviews are much more symptoms and consequences than causes of ecological and other anthropogenic misfits. Most advocates of deep ecology accepted Naess' fundamental ideas – Self-realization and identification – as being crucial to this kind of ecological philosophy. But Naess' understanding of these ideas was very confusing, appearing as some kind of obscure psychologizing metaphysics. From Shepard's work, Self-realization (that is, the satisfaction of fundamental needs) and identification (that is, with a local social and ecological context, or environment of evolutionary adaptation) have a sense from a darwinian perspective. But, for Naess and most of the deep ecologists, that darwinian approach was very much terra incognita.

There is some discrepancy between a materialistic and an idealistic position in Shepard's work. The theory of bio-social discontinuity is basically a materialistic position, but Shepard often emphasized, in giving some practical suggestions, the great significance of worldviews and ideas. He argued for some kind of transcultural utopianism or an effort to restore some vital aspects of hunter-gatherer life within industrial society (or to construct a way of life that is better suited to our genetic legacy), but he never explained how it is possible. His suggestions oscillated between inpractical utopianism and lofty idealism. Community, homeland, equality, a clean and wild environment are integral part of the hunter-gatherer life and they probably cannot be implemented into a fundamentally different social order. Perhaps Shepard would think differently today, when demographic and social collapse is a much greater possibility than it was in his life-time. The contemporary mega-crisis of industrial civilization as a whole would not be much a suprise to him, but a logical consequence of overshoot, one more symptom of the culmination of ten thousands of years of crisis.


Esbjörn-Hargens, S. – Zimmerman, M. 2009. Integral Ecology: Uniting Multiple Perspectives on the Natural World, Boston: Integral Books

Markus, T. 2006. Dubinska ekologija i suvremena ekološka kriza [Deep Ecology and the Contemporary Ecological Crisis], Zagreb: Hrvatsko sociološko društvo

Shepard, P. 1996. Traces of an Omnivore, Washington: Island Press

Shepard, P. 1997. The Others: How Animals Made Us Human, Washington: Island Press

Shepard, P. 1998a. Nature and Madness, Athens: University of Georgia Press

Shepard, P. 1998b. Coming Home to the Pleistocene, Washington: Island Press

Shepard, P. 1998c. The Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game, Athens: University of Georgia Press

Shepard, P. 1998d. Thinking Animals, Athens: University of Georgia Press

Shepard, P. 1999. Encounters with Nature, Washington: Island Press

Shepard, P. 2002. Man in the Landscape, Athens: University of Georgia Press

Shepard, P. 2003. Where We Belong, Athens: University of Georgia Press.


  1. Paul Shepard (1925-1996) was an American biologist, anthropologist and ecological philosopher. In his earlier years he was working in several national parks. From 1970. to his retirement in 1994. Shepard was teaching, as the Avery professor of Natural Philosophy and Human Ecology, at Californian Pitzer College and the Claremont Graduate School. Ignored for a long time, his work is often mentioned, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively, in contemporary ecological philosophy, psychology and other branches of human ecological theory. This article is a shorter version (but with some additions) of the article „Coming Home to the Pleistocene: Paul Shepard's Ecological Philosophy“ on our web-page (, see there for scholarly literature and more informations about different aspects of Shepard's theory and some of our comments).
  2. Shepard 1999:51.
  3. Shepard 2002.
  4. Shepard 1996:111-122.
  5. Shepard 1998b:2
  6. Shepard 2002:30-31, 97. This interpretation, which contains a radical distinction between human nature (or genetic adaptation to hunter-gatherer life) and social macrodynamics of recent human history, we have called the theory of bio-social discontinuity. More about it see parts of „Integral Theory“, also on our web-page and „Darwinism and History“ (forthcoming).
  7. Shepard 1998c:15-16.
  8. Shepard 1998c:98, 227.
  9. Shepard 1998c:113.
  10. Shepard 1998c:121.
  11. Shepard 1998b:135, 1998c:122.
  12. Shepard 1998a:XIX, 93-108; 1998b:137.
  13. Shepard 1997:317-319; 1998b:137.
  14. Shepard 1996:126.
  15. Shepard 1996:216-217, 1998:134.
  16. Shepard 1998b:34-38, 117, 145.
  17. Shepard 1998b:78. About Shepard's view of hunter-gatherers and hunting see parts of „Coming Home to the Pleistocene“.
  18. Shepard 2002:108, 1998c:96.
  19. Shepard 1998a:19-46, 1998b:32-33, 1998c:26-40.
  20. Shepard 1998:5, 148.
  21. Shepard 1998b:81-85, 1998c:40, 62, 90, 126, 154-155..
  22. Markus 2008, 2009.
  23. About these two standard models see our forthcoming article „Darwinism and History“.
  24. Shepard 1996:188-192.
  25. Shepard 1996:221, 1998a:3-6, 1998b:124, 154, 155, 2002:52-54, 73-76.
  26. Shepard 1996:182, 1998b:82-90, 93.
  27. Shepard 1998b:103, 1998c:16-20, 34-35, 241-243.
  28. Shepard 1998b:81-89, 1998c:237-239, 245-258.
  29. Shepard 1998a:99-105, 1998d:146.
  30. Shepard 2002:XXXIV-XXXVII, 16, 23-26.
  31. Shepard 1998c:60, 112, 219.
  32. Shepard 1999:158-169.
  33. Shepard 1999:12, 158-163
  34. Shepard 1996:153-163, 204, 1998c:120, 2002:107-108.
  35. Shepard 1996:117-118.
  36. Shepard 1996:112-113, 122.
  37. Shepard 1996:117, 310, 1997:309-310, 1998c:102-103, 1999:166.
  38. Shepard 1996:117, 1997:228, 1998:104.
  39. Shepard 1996:219-220, 1998d:146-147, 1999:170-175. About Shepard's views of wildness see „Coming Home to the Pleistocene“.
  40. Shepard 1996:192-195, 1998b:131-151.
  41. Shepard 2002:266-267, 274
  42. Shepard 1998b:13-14, 1998c:148, 2002:XXI-XXVIII.
  43. Shepard 2002:104, 220-226. Shepard's first critique of Christianity was published in 1967 – the same year in which the famous article of Lynn White „The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis“ was published – but his analysis, founded on a much broader historical and biological perspective, is superior to White's, although much less known. Shepard's critique was materialistic – not idealistic as White's – because for Shepard religious and philosophical ideas are much more symptoms and consequences of material conditions of human life than causes..
  44. Shepard 1998a:70-80.
  45. Shepard 1997:317, 325, 1998d:127, 210. Shepard didn't make comments on more recent efforts to a „greening“ of axial religions and the appearance of so called eco-Christianity/Islam/Buddhism etc. but he hardly could have any sympathy for it. This quasi-ecology-come-lately is a futile effort for additionally „greening“ of something profoundly anti-naturalistic and anti-organic. He probably would be more sympathetic towards (primitivist) neo-paganism.
  46. Shepard 1996:198, 1997:312.
  47. Shepard 1998b:91-92, 114-116, 1999:94-95.
  48. Shepard 1998a:46-47, 62.
  49. Shepard 1996:167-171.
  50. Shepard 1996:170-171.
  51. Shepard 1998b:9-13.
  52. Shepard 1998b:14-16.
  53. Shepard 1999:174. Professional historians would be very perplexed hearing what their profession actually means and what they are doing. I am a professional historian and well aware how convincing and devastating Shepard's critique of historical thinking is.
  54. Or „darwinism“ can be simply be immersed in some „modern scientific paradigm“ which means physical mechanicism and which has to be countered by some new ecological philosophy of nature ( e.g. Capra 1983, 1998, Goldsmith 1998, Rowe 2003, 2006). But, as Shepard has pointed out, it is not necessarily so. „Conventional“ interpretation of neo-darwinism – as genetic adaptation to local environment – is quite enough for understanding of our ecological predicament if we accept the theory of bio-social discontinuity. There is no need for hostility toward modern science which contains strong anti-anthropocentric elements.
  55. About our more detailed opinion what true integral theory would mean see: Markus 2009.
  56. Hostility toward science in radical ecological circles is a consequence of its reduction either to technology or physics and a mechanical paradigm, but neo-darwinism fits to neither. Unlike physics (or astronomy, geology etc.) evolutionary biology is very relevant for living beings, including humans. In evolutionary biology there is a place for „spirituality“ and „meaning“, not as concepts of vague metaphysics, but as a parts of human genetic heritage.
  57. That is, real social darwinism or darwinian social theory – as in contemporary sociobiology and evolutionary psychology – not so called „social darwinism“ (or, more correctly, social lamarckianism) in a popular sense.
  58. In fact, there is a big difference between Naess (who had a background in Spinoza, Gandhi and Continental humanistic philosophy) and Shepard (who was a biologist and field-naturalist). Shepard's basis for ecological philosophy was epistemologically better than Naess's, because ecology is naturally connected with biology and naturalistic thought, but not so with Continental or Indian traditional philosophy. With modern natural sciences, especially evolutionary biology, we don't need to look for some vague proto-ecological thoughts in the old philosophy.


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