of the Mountain
Arne Naess and the
Deep Ecology Movement
Transcript of the film
Interview: Jan van Boeckel
© ReRun Producties, 1997
Blokzijlerdijk 4, 8373 EK Blankenham, The Netherlands
[Footage of Arne Naess walking up towards his mountain hut]
Already when I was ten years, and eleven years, I was walking sometimes by myself in this direction, towards the mountain. Already then, I looked upon this mountain as a kind of benevolent, great father. (...) So I, somehow, interpreted that as equanimity, that far inside here it is completely - not harmonious, harmony is a too strong word, but there is a balance inside here... (...) And this big mountain - this great mountain, I mean - seems to be such an entity! So it was alive for me, and therefore I decided the best thing would be to live either on top of the mountain, or further down, on the mountain itself.
Perhaps, people coming from other countries, visiting Tvergastein, think that there are many huts, privately owned, on this level. But there is nobody else, it's the highest privately owned hut. What you have higher is meteorological stations, et cetera. But the highest hut in the Nordic countries of Europe, nothing like it.
And there are good reasons for it, because of the climate, I mean, why should you have a Arctic climate...
But it is Hallingskarvet that I'm for. It is not the Arctic climate, it is Hallingskarvet. I'm obeying, obeying the urge of Hallingskarvet to come!
[Footage of evening view of Tvergastein mountain, title appears:
The Call of the Mountain: Arne Naess and the Deep Ecology Movement]
[View of skyline of San Francisco]
Well, the impression he made was of someone vastly more alive than the average person, far more joyful and in fact very similar to the Tibetan people that I had lived with in the Himalayas. There is a similarity and I think it has to do with that deep connection to the natural world.
When you meet Arne in person, there is a kind of playfulness, which you also see, that I see, in a lot of Zen teachers, playfulness. And he is playing with language, he's playing with words and his ability to engage in a kind of dance with deep ecology. - A dance? - Yeah, I would say very much a dance that he has with deep ecology, with... playing with the trees, with flowers, and with the ideas. So there is a kind of serious lightness, which sounds paradoxical, but it's a serious lightness to his whole presentation, his whole being, the way he presents his being.
And what has always impressed me very deeply about Arne is the combination of innocence with extreme brilliance of the mind. Usually you get intelligent people becoming partly arrogant, partly self-centered, they just lose the spirit of freedom in themselves, as a person. And Arne has always maintained it, yeah. He is so childlike in his enjoyment of every moment of life.
Well, of course people think it is very strange how a mountain could be a father. But not to me, at all. Because, very soon, I saw that humans live in symbols. So much of their life really in terms of symbols. And that a mountain is just minerals. No culture exists, no old culture has looked at the mountain as minerals! On the contrary, they have always looked at very strong symbols. For instance, the contact between the earthy life and heaven. Gods are very rarely thought of to live anywhere. They live in heaven or they live on top of mountains or are mountains. Some mountains are holy in so many cultures. You speak to them and you ask them for good advice, and so on.
Only a mountain can get me that view with this fantastic horizon, and where you feel also powerful, at the same as you are very, very small, that is important philosophically. That the less you are in relation to the surroundings, the stars and the mountain, the more you intensely feel that you somehow symbolically get part of it. You get greater. You get on par with it. You get to feel good with it. So, the more tiny you are, the more in some sense you are together with something great and therefore, get something of that greatness.
[Footage of Arne walking inside his cabin Tvergastein with some fire wood, and later sitting in chair]
The term "deep ecology", or better, "to be a supporter of the deep ecology movement", that is a long term, but is more basic. That is: to join in activism, to get rid of the ecological crisis. To join on the basis of your life-philosophy or religion. That is to say: your motivation comes from your total view or your philosophical, religious opinions, so that you feel, when you are working in favour of free nature, you are working for something within your self, that demands that, demands changes. So you are motivated from what I call the "deeper premises". You go all the way back. If we ask you: "Why do you do this, why?", the supporters of the deep ecology movement do not stop with for instance: "It is bad for the health when you have such pollution, it is bad for this, bad for that."
You do not talk so much about pragmatic... what you call pragmatic goals, as that you... "It cannot be done, we cannot live as we do. It is against my deepest concern for myself, as well as for nature itself", and these supporters then have a job to do, together with the others, which we call then, mostly, the reformist people, who say: "This is what's going on. In order to overcome the crisis has to do with practical things, technology and other things and you need not go back to your own philosophy or your own religion. That's unnecessary." Those who go all the way back to what I call the ultimate premises, they are generally in favour of very harsh policies that seem to make a lot of trouble for you. But they say: "Hah, if it is necessary: no car. If it is necessary, I will not go by airplane in my vacations, I will not so-and-so. And I need no such-and-such products, which require a lot of energy to be made." So it's... it flows from their inclination to live in a way that is universalisable.
Deep, long range, ecology movement: Deconstructing those phrases, first of all: it is a movement, it is a social movement. It is not an ideology, it is not a specific church, it is not a specific religion, it is a social movement. "Social" meaning: people working together in community. It is a... based upon ecology, the relationship between organisms and their habitat. It is "long range" because it does not attempt in this movement to discount the future, but to take in account potentialities and possibilities of evolution of the system. And it is "deep" in that it encourages participants to ask questions of why. Most importantly, why am I here? What is meaning? So the deep long range ecology movement, I think we're, basically, a search for meaning in a world of fact.
Another word that we use for shallow environmentalism is reform environmentalism. Instead of a radical change in society, they're merely trying to reform society ecologically. I think "sustainable development", the concept of "sustainable development", is a good example of what we call shallow environmentalism, because the idea is that development won't stop, we're gonna continue to develop, we just want to develop sustainably, or ecologically.
Now, as long as you've got this tremendous society that's causing so much ecological problem, you got to have the reform environmentalists, you've got to pass the laws, you've got to take steps, and eh, without the shallow environmentalists, I think we would have lost, lost just about everything by now, so we're very indebted to the, to this type of work that reform environmentalists are doing. It's absolutely crucial.
The deep ecology point is that it's not enough. We got to go beyond that and start making fundamental changes in society.
To me, the essence of deep ecology is moving beyond a type of environmentalism which is still based on a highly reductionist and a highly distant approach to the living world, to the natural world. To me, the essence of deep ecology is an expression of the need to develop a deep spiritual and, and - both spiritual, intellectual and physical connection to the living world around us, to the cosmos. That's, for me, the essence of deep ecology.
Naess would say that people who are working in what's now referred to as the reform environmental approach, Naess would say: we all should get together and collaborate and we should encourage people who are working from what people refer to now as a more reform based approach, to be looking at more fundamental questions. That when one decides, that, say, recycling, or energy efficiency improvements, or certain improvements with respect to farming are enough; they may not be enough, because even organic farming could encroach upon wilderness areas. Or when you are recycling, you are actually taking a consumer based product, and then trying to re-use certain elements. But maybe it makes sense to not even think about using that product in the first place.
So Naess would always argue that we need to engage more fully, in terms of questioning, all of our actions in live, from this deep questioning perspective.
[Footage of Arne outside, against a rock, near Tvergastein]
The relation between ecology and philosophy, has to do also with this concept of spontaneous experience, because people would for instance say: "We make a road now through this forest, and it's through the center of the forest." But, the square meters of this road is tremendously small. The square meters of it. But then I would say: "It goes through the heart, the heart of this forest. And this is the heart of the forest!" "That's nonsense. We have a road here and it is so small part of the forest that it makes no difference." So the spontaneous experience, when you get into the forest, deeper and deeper, you have this feeling of being deep in the forest. And if you then hit the road, this completely disappears. And then people say: "Well, that's your imagination. There is no heart here." But if you start this way, saying there is no heart, it's just certain distances, you get into a worldview which resembles that of Immanuel Kant, the great philosopher. Where you end up saying: "Nature is without colours, even without shapes, and even without cause and effect. Because relations of cause and effect is something created by humans. So there is nothing there. In short: there is nothing in nature in itself! You have no access to nature in itself." You see, you end up in complete nonsense. That's what many people do who are in philosophy.
Even in contemporary so-called "postmodernism", nature is something, only a limiting thing, which you never can really see or appreciate. You appreciate only your own ways of thinking and feeling and you are completely determined by your culture, and so on. So, this protection of nature is a sham in a sense. There is something there, but you don't have any access to it. So it is undermining for some people the believe in protection of nature as a fast undertaking for the next century.
One of the main messages that ecology, the science of ecology, the ecological perspective brought to us in the 1960's was that we see the landscape, the animals, humans, everything, as interrelated. There's been a tendency in Western culture to see things as isolated entities. You know: this person, this rock - they're all separate.
Eastern thought has, Zen Buddhism and so on... one of the legacies of Zen Buddhism, when it was introduced into America, was to see things in terms of process and interrelatedness. So, the deep ecology movement is: you can't just focus on protecting the panda or the elephant over here, or the Siberian tiger, or this particular type of endangered flower, because the whole thing is interrelated. You have to look at ecosystems. And we try to protect ecosystems and landscapes.
Arne Naess provides a philosophical basis for that, in terms of what he calls "Gestalt thinking", the Gestalt ontology and Gestalt perception. Because again, the typical Western, reductionist way of looking at things is in terms of isolated entities: the tree, the rock. Gestalt thinking, or Gestalt perception, is a perception of interrelatedness where we see, we look at a landscape and we see the tree in relation to the grass, in relation to the animals. And it's a perception of the whole, so to speak.
[Footage of Arne leaning against rock]
There is a mountain in southern Norway which has been used as an object for artists to paint, and it is quite clear that many artists or non-artists find that the shape is that of a troll. A big, big fellow, trees are the hair. And Gestalt thinking is such that this spontaneous perception of a troll is completely on par, is completely as adequate a description of reality, as somebody saying: "It is a heap of stones." (...) And the Gestalt of course is then not only the shape of a troll but also the being as a troll. (...) You get then all the mythology about trolls into what you see. You don't see then a troll in the mountain. But what you see is a tremendously complex, culturally complex, thing.
When I talk so much about Gestalt, it is because I have this opinion that science, and I think especially about natural science, only asserts something about the abstract relations in reality. (...) Not about the content of reality. The content of reality, you get directly through spontaneous experience.
Children are more spontaneous in the sense that reflection and conventional views of things do not yet play such enormous role. So, if we could be able to see a little bit more like children, we would gain very much. But, that's a very difficult re-development, to get into this state of children's inner life.
[Arne shows his "irrigation channels" near Tvergastein]
Well, I try to get the water from the top of the mountain, disappearing there, that you have a source, it's coming up again there, and I have then channels. And eh, when it is quite flat like this, I don't destroy anything by erosion. And you see here: I try to make it flow all the way down to the neighbourhood [laughs], which is absolutely unnecessary. But it's so amusing. It's very amusing to be engineer also!
Interviewer (Jan van Boeckel):
A lot of people will say: it are very tiny flowers, what's so special about them?
Yes, because they are accustomed to this tremendous big, unnecessarily big, tulips and so on, that is nothing for me. If you have been here some weeks, to go and look at those tulips. You say: "Ahh! Unnecessary! Just material." But the soul! The internal life of the flowers is just as intense here, as down in the cities.
And here you have the contrast between the mineral kingdom and the flower kingdom. The contrast is so inspiring.
This one here, for instance, is nothing, is lacking nothing! There is no soil, practically no soil. Practically no soil, but having a good time! [laughs].
I like to see Gentiana Nivalis, that's one of the most beautiful flowers here. It's said in, in the botany, you say it's like this. And here, it's maybe this, so... And you have to go all the way down, and then you see it's flowering, blooming, like this. So.
Do you spend a lot of time writing here?
Yaah, between ten and fifteen books I've... sitting in this. It doesn't disturb when you look out for some time, and then you write something and you look out. And this horizon cannot disturb you, and the wind cannot disturb you. I don't think so.
Naess, in following the Buddhist tradition and Gandhi, talks in terms of spiritual development or psychological development. Psychological development of the individual. So Naess went back through Kant's works and found that Kant talked about what he called a "beautiful act" and what he called a "moral act". Of course, Kant himself was primarily an ethical theorist. An act was moral for Kant if it, if it accorded with your duty - these are ethical terms, duties and obligations, and so on - so you had a duty and an obligation to do something. And, normally, these would go against your inclination, what it is you wanted to do. So that a moral act was an act which was in accordance with your moral or ethical duty and it ran against what you wanted to do, against your inclinations.
Now what Naess has tried to do is to shift the whole ground away from ethics, as we normally understand it in the Western ethical tradition, or Western philosophical tradition, and move more over to what's called "ontology", or the nature of reality, so that that becomes the ground. Now, through spiritual development, or psychological development, as we move away from the ego, and then we start to identify with other humans, and then we identify with animals and plants and the ecosystems; when we actually identify with them, this becomes part of our being: we see ourselves in these other creatures, in humans and so on. Then he shifts it over to ontology. Now a beautiful act, for Kant, is an act where we act with our inclinations, so that it's what we want to do, so we want to protect the animals, we're not acting against our inclinations. And Naess then says, OK, what we want, what we want to promote, are beautiful acts as opposed to moral acts. So if our personality, our psychology, is changed, then we'll want do these things. So they won't be a moral act, they will be a beautiful act. They will be coming out of our inclination, what it is that we want to do.
Well, to me, self-realization is realizing ourselves as a part of an intricate web of living relationships. And I believe that to be, as it were, our true selves. I believe that many ancient traditions have thought that truth. That is the essence at the heart of many spiritual traditions; that we are at one with the cosmos, with the living world. And... when we cut ourselves of from that reality, when we allow ourselves to think, to think of ourselves and live in a way where we feel separated from that, we become frightened little selves. We become very needy of power and control. We feel inadequate, we feel inferior, we feel unseen, unheard and... And in that process we become often hungry for power, hungry for control.
When, on the other hand, we allow ourselves - and I think this is, it's very important for children to grow up in this way - when we develop a sense of self in relationship to the living world; when we grow up in contact with animals, with the soil, with the water, with the trees and more relating to and experiencing that, particularly as part of everyday life, then we realize ourselves as part of something alive, as part of something much bigger than ourselves. And it is a very joyous experience, it's a very positive experience.
[Footage of Arne leaning against rock]
The Sami people, they astonished me; one young men there, a Sami young man, who was caught by the police, standing where they should make a road. It was part of a direct action in favour of the river that should not be used for hydro-electric dams. And the police: "Why do you stay here? You are not supposed to stay here. Why do you stay here?" "Well, this here, is part of myself." It was the area of the river where his reindeer were crossing and he had been since boyhood. And to stay there, and to be there, so close connection with his self, that he could say: "It is part of my self." And that is typical of deep ecology movement, that you feel yourself is hurt when they hurt the place with which you identify. You identify with a place in such a sense that cutting up and destroying, it's like cutting yourself. And it is cutting yourself. Because your self is much more than your ego. The self has to do with that with which you identify.
The part of India that inspires me constantly for my ecological work, is an India where there is such a generosity of space. And that generosity shrinks with the eh, with the robbing of intrinsic value of other species. With defining other species as merely being of value according to how they can bring you better functions for meeting human needs, or profits, even more usually profits. Which puts only two options for our relationship with other species.
One is dispensability. If they are not useful, push them to extinction. And if you, in the short term in which "use" is being determined, don't understand that a whole ecological chain is maintained by this one species that you thought useless; that by declaring a death sentence for it, you have basically, in a way, declared a death sentence for your own conditions for life, because that is so crucial to maintaining life's balance.
The second thing is, even for the species that are found of value, you manipulate them, you distort them, you mutilate them, basically using a machine metaphor in your relationship with life. Which is, it is not a surprise that we get the Mad Cow Disease. It is not a surprise we get outbreaks of epidemics. Because these are consequences of us treating life as if it has no intrinsic worth and no intrinsic organization, it has no intrinsic intelligence.
I think the problem with humanism is its arrogance and its... hubris. To say that humans are superior to nature or separate from nature, is to deny, or defy, the laws of ecology. Humans have crossed from the first world of nature into the second world of culture, but to say that it is the destiny of humans to control something that is larger than ourselves, to control a system which is larger than ourselves, is to place humans as, basically, gods on this planet.
The deep, long range ecology movement sees humans as having very unique qualities, very special qualities. There's nothing in the deep, long range ecology movement that is anti-human, that denigrates humans, either as individuals or as communities or as a species.
The critique of modernism and of humanism in the deep, long range ecology movement is that humanism has confused "bigness" with "greatness". Humanists attempt to develop bigger societies, bigger technology, mega-technology, and claim that with bigger technology humans are becoming greater. Greatness, in deep ecology, is cultivated through understanding of humility; that humans are plain citizens, in the words of ecologist Aldo Leopold, plain citizens of natural systems, not lords and masters.
In feeling compassion for the world, for the living world, of course we feel compassion for human beings. In fact I would say, if I have to choose, if, you know, if sacrificing an insect or a snake to help a human life survive, I would do that. But I, therefore, am not saying that the snake in a fundamental way is less important than a human being. But I think it is quite natural that we feel a greater affinity to human beings and I think it's very important that we spell out a very clear analysis which... which makes, well which makes it clear to people that we are as concerned about the human well-being as we are about the well-being of the Earth. And they are one and the same! They are inseparable.
[Footage of life musician in San Francisco city park (anonymous)]
...Here's to the mountains and the peaks of Idaho....
So Naess would very much agree, that people are different from other animals and certainly people are different from plants. And because of those differences, because of our ability to be self-aware, because of our ability to use foresight, and see the types of problems we have caused in the past, by using hindsight, that we have a responsibility (...), an obligation, to act in a way, to respond to the ecological crisis.
...we're gonna get to it, comes word of next year
Here's to the river bow may ever flow
Here's to the mountains and the peaks of Idaho
Here's to the miners and the finders of the gold
Here's to the spirit of the canyon
Well, the bears and the snakes
Are at home in Mell's canyon
There's no room for this tired old man
Forest Service wants to tear down the cabin
I'm gonna fight them as long as I can
Here's to the river bow may ever be
Here's to the freedom of the likes of you and me
Trying to believe in them
The kind I should be
Part of the spirit of the canyon
Arne's work has been deeply inspired by Gandhi, both in his philosophy as well as in his action.
As far as the action is concerned, of course, very clearly, it's Gandhi's action, concept of Satyagraha, of non-violent non-cooperation and direct action, that has made Gandhi, made Arne, such a pioneer.
I remember one of my first, the first time I heard about Arne was in relationship to this dam that was being built up in northern Norway. Where he had chained himself, or sat at the bottom of the dam site, or done direct action to block the dam. Action very, very directly inspired by Gandhi.
[Stock footage from the film 'The Taking of Sami Land']
Hydro-electric power stations are all over Norway. And then they built big dams. But in arctic Norway, far north, there was a plan to make a big dam that also would injure the Sami people. (...) So, there was a direct action. We stopped the building a road, which was necessary to start. I it was summertime and we didn't reach our goal. And then it was wintertime, it was very cold, and that made an impression, because we were more than thousand people and it was a very harsh time (...). But they sent... the government sent a big steamer with six-hundred police, to stop us. And according to the deep ecology attitude, you have to be very polite and very nice to people who oppose you. (...)
So, according to the Gandhian principles, and the Gandhian principles are adopted by the deep ecology direct actions: when they come like this to our camp, you see [grins], very angry: "Hwrrrhhgg..." "Please sit down, have some coffee" [grins], and they couldn't resist that temptation. And they set down, had coffee and they didn't turn round to opposition, but they were not opposing us in a violent way or anything like that, you see.
[Footage of Arne inside Tvergastein]
The slogan seemed to be very well chosen, it was: Let the river live! La Elven leve. In Norwegian: La Elven leve. Let the river live. Marvellous! I don't know who made that slogan but whooo, like fire, that was the thing! Let the river live. Not: We need not electricity, we can have electricity from other places here in Alta. (...) But: Let the river live. And that is typical deep ecology, you see.
Naess embraces I think a very important notion of Gandhi. Gandhi said: "Worse than not acting non-violently, would be to be a coward." And one of the essential tenets, I think, that motivates - one could say that there are essential tenets that motivate Naess - is his approach to the environmental crisis as the major crisis facing both society and the world as a larger entity, are. And his view there is: it absolutely requires an activeness, an activeness of the kind that Spinoza sponsored and talked about, in his Ethics. That one sees the world, and almost in, in an intuitional sense. One is compelled, to react and to respond.
[Footage of Arne in his working room in Tvergastein]
Naess has spent over eleven years of his life at this hut. And it is very important, again, when we refer to the hut, and the relationship of deep ecology to all of Naess's earlier philosophical work, to remember that Naess hauled up the works of Spinoza, hauled up the works of Gandhi, to this hut. And that's where most of his major philosophical works were written. Even while he was teaching at the university of Oslo, he did most of his work at his hut.
This small room is the only room that is so well isolated that, in the winter, we can have a fair, a fairly high temperature and it's therefore very good to work here. (...) So this is really the room where we live as if we were in the wintertime in Greenland, or some place. Here, we really... this is the core of Tvergastein. (...) Here, sitting, with this contraption here, I have been writing most of my books, since 1938. I don't know how many, but many of them and... too many. According to Spinoza, it would be too many, I think.
No, I think in order to live deep ecology principles, life would not be poorer, on the contrary. When we understand, that maintaining, and now: rebuilding, diversity, the living fabric, gives us more, gives us more of everything. It gives us more food to eat, it gives us more building materials, it gives us more options as a global human family. So that, it might mean a life that is quite different from the urban consumer lifestyle, but I think at a level which answers most people's needs, their heartfelt needs, people would actually find life richer. And they would find it richer for those spiritual reasons, but also in pure material terms, when it comes to what we really need to survive, which is healthy, fresh food, clean water, clean air, adequate clothing, adequate shelter. Now of all of those things we would have more, and we would have greater comfort.
Deep ecological solutions are the only viable solutions to ensuring that every person on this planet has enough food, has enough water, has adequate shelter, has dignity and has a cultural meaning in life. If we don't follow the path of living in ways that we leave enough space for other species, that paradigm also ensures that most human beings will be denied their right to existence. A system that denies the intrinsic value of other species denies eighty percent of humanity, their right to a dignified survival and a dignified life. It only pretends that is solving the problems of poverty, it is actually at the root of poverty. And the only real solution to poverty is to embrace the right to life of all on this planet, all humans and all species.
[Footage of Arne in San Francisco]
I am, to the astonishment of certain journalists, an optimist. But then I add, I am an optimist about the twenty-second century. And they say: "Oh, you mean the twenty-first..." "No, twenty-second century!" I think that in twenty-first century, we have to go through very bad times and it will hurt even rich countries. Now it is all sailing smoothly - but it will hurt the rich. (...) So, I am a short-range pessimist, long-range optimist.
[Footage of Arne at a river near Tvergastein]
You can sit here and look at this... The longer time you use, the more it says. Communicating, more and more, the longer... You have all sorts of waves. Tiny, tiny ones and then little bigger, and little bigger. And movement this direction, that direction and it's flowing. Infinite complexity!
ReRun Producties thanks Arne Naess, Vandana Shiva, George Sessions, Harold Glasser, Bill Devall, Helena Norberg-Hodge for their contributions to this film.
We are especially grateful to Kit-Fai Naess, Harold Glasser, Doug Tompkins, Per Ingvar Haukeland, Jerry Mander and Elizabeth Garsonnin for their advice, assistance and moral support.
RERUN PRODUCTIES, 1997
Interviews: Jan van Boeckel
Camera and editing: Pat van Boeckel
Sound: Karin van der Molen
is a physicist and philosopher of science. She is currently Director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy in New Delhi, India.
is Chairman of the Philosophy Department at Sierra College in Rocklin, California. He is editor of the book "Deep Ecology for the 21st Century".
is Professor of Sociology at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California. Together with George Sessions he wrote "Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered".
is an environmental engineer, philosopher and policy theorist. He is currently General Editor of the nine volume "Selected Works of Arne Naess" at the Foundation For Deep Ecology.
is a Swedish philosopher, linguist and activist. She is Director of the International Society for Ecology and Culture in Dartington, England and Berkeley, United States.
Blokzijlerdijk 4, 8373 EK Blankenham, The Netherlands
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