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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 8/3/20

Ecocentrism: What May Be Needed to Save Our Species

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Message Darcia Narvaez,Ph.D.
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How can we restore our heritage of nested, earth-centered living?

The dearth of virtue in (tested Western) populations has been lamented and assumed to be part of the human condition (Doris, 2002; Miller, 2013) but a natural history indicates otherwise. From a planetary perspective, industrialized humans have become highly destructive in comparison to 99% of human genus existence.

Humanity faces what has been called the four horsemen of the environmental apocalypse (Wilson, 1991), brought about in a matter of centuries: (1) massive toxification of water, air, soil, and food chains (e. g., Diaz et al., 2019); (2) degradation of the atmosphere, such as ozone depletion; (3) global warming(e.g., IPCC, 2014); and (4) the "death of birth"-the extinction of millions of species (Eisner, 1991; Kolbert, 2014). We are entering an unpredictable "hothouse earth" (Steffen et al., 2018).

Why have we reached these crises? One has to take an interdisciplinary approach to figure out the answers. I recently wrote and published the paper, "Ecocentrism: Resetting Baselines for Virtue Development," taking just such an interdisciplinary approach. The paper is a challenge to reset baselines for how we consider virtue and what it entails. Here is a brief summary of some of the main points.

We must understand who humans are, how they become human, and what can go wrong.

First, from ethology, anthropology, biology, and neuroscience, we understand that humans are social mammals who are born particularly immature with a lengthy, decades-long maturational schedule. Early life experience shapes brain function in multiple ways, many of which we hardly understand. But we do know that we are more plastic and epigenetically shaped than our cousins, the chimpanzees (GÃ mez-Robles et al., 2015), with early life experience influencing emotional development (Meaney, 2001), stress response (Lupien et al., 2009), and much more.

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Second, as one of many inheritances beyond genes, humans evolved an intensive developmental niche for raising the young. The common characteristics found around the world in small-band hunter-gatherer communities (our 99%), what my lab calls the evolved nest, include soothing perinatal experience, multiple responsive caregivers, extensive breastfeeding and affectionate touch, positive social support, self-directed free play with multi-aged mates in the natural world, and nature connection.

Third, neurosciences show that evolved nest components support normal development at all levels (e.g., neurobiological, social, psychological), laying the foundations for virtue, which depends on well-functioning systems (Narvaez, 2014).

Fourth, nest components are degraded in industrialized societies. Young children are often denied what they evolved to expect (the evolved nest components), which can undermine species-typical development.

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Darcia Narvaez is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame. Her prior careers include professional musician, classroom music teacher, business owner, seminarian and middle school Spanish teacher. Dr. Narvaez’s current research explores how early life experience influences (more...)
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