Dead Mirrors

Nature, Ideology, and the Intellectual Intuition


  • Robert O’Shea Brown York University


In his essay “Constructing the Natural: The Darker Side of the Environmental Movement” (1985), cultural ecologist Neil Evernden questioned what he described as the use and abuse of ecology. The growth of a popular or vulgar environmental movement—from which the first signs of a bourgeoning neoliberal environmentalism emerged—was proof enough: the conceptual organon of ecology and its associated natures could be used to serve a wide variety of ends, few of which had anything to do with social and ecological justice. The ecological turn could not be relied upon to provide a principle capable of securing and maintaining the ideological intent of a left-leaning academic holism. Ecology was just as equally a means of rebranding the status quo. Ecology was both the “mask” and “blunt instrument” for certain kinds of societies, a kind of “institutional shaman that [could] be induced to pronounce natural anything we wish to espouse.” Indeed, and in retrospect, Evernden’s critique exposed a tendency within environmentalism, as many of the Deep Ecologists surrounding him started openly expressing misanthropic tendencies that allied them with radicalizing forms of neoconservatism. As it turned out—as the legacy of Deep Ecology should teach us—creating an environmental movement capable of critiquing the failures of the neoliberal project while remaining free of crypto-fascist tendencies was harder than it first seemed. In Evernden’s words, our recourse to ecology and nature “justifies nothing, or anything.”3 All ecology was ideology—all ecology was an ecologism.