The Way: An Ecological World-View - Edward Goldsmith (Themis Books, 1996)

The Way is difficult to follow, at least at the first reading. There is nothing concrete to grasp, nebulous ideas that disappear like a will o' the wisp, and yet at an intuitive level The Way has meaning, ineffable knowledge that can not be expressed. Even Edward Goldsmith is forced to admit 'Its structure is thus circular; there is thus no logical place to begin and the book can, in theory, only be understood by someone who has already read it.' Like the ecological world-view he tries to describe, The Way is more than the sum of the parts and each part depends upon the whole.

The underlying premiss is that of self-regulating, self-organising systems discussed by Fritjof Capra in The Web of Life, but whereas Capra looks at patterns and networks and the meaning of life, Edward Goldsmith looks at life as part of Gaia and elevates ecology to a philosophical, spiritual dimension.

The Way can be seen as a bridge between the ecology of systems and the deep ecology of philosophy and spirituality.

To ancient philosophers, Eastern religions, the Way was the path to be followed, it is only modern man who has deviated and thus poisoned the planet in his meanderings.

To Goldsmith, Gaia is all and the Way is the path we must follow to safeguard Gaia. To deviate from the Way is to destroy Gaia. Vernacular man understood the importance of following the Way and not disrupting Gaia, modern man in his arrogance and stupidity fails to believe in the importance of Gaia, believes that man-made is more important, that man is above and outside the rules of nature, conveniently forgetting that all is given by Gaia and ultimately returns to Gaia. By disrupting Gaia, by not observing the rules of nature, we will ultimately destroy ourselves.

Goldsmith puts forward the interesting hypothesis that Gaia is the unit of evolution, the exact antithesis of the selfish gene promoted by the widely discredited neo-Darwinist Richard Dawkins. Evolution of a species is no different to evolution of an ecosystem, both being complex self-regulatory systems. The evolution of a species can only be successful if it contributes to the maintenance of Gaia, evolution is thus purposeful and directed.

Goldsmith draws heavily on examples taken from chthonic or traditional Earth oriented religions and communities, philosophy, religion and the natural world. In chthonic societies, economics is subservient to the social needs of society, not as in the modernist world, the other way around. Major discontinuities, droughts, floods, epidemics, global warming, are seen as the consequence of Man's deviation from the Way and evidence that critical components of Gaia have been damaged. Application of technological fixes will only move further from the Way and cause yet more, possibly irreversible, damage.

The Way follows the path of natural ecosystems and is consistent with sustainable development. Followers of the Way would consider it to be the only path to sustainable development, whilst at the same time meeting social and spiritual needs.

The Way can be read in a linear manner, as is the norm for most books, but helped by the fact that each small chapter is self-contained it can also be read in a non-linear manner. The best way to read The Way is non-linearly - follow it linearly, whilst simultaneously jumping forwards and backwards to the various references. Thus to progress linearly from one chapter to the next may necessitate the reading of several chapters, if not the whole book, before the next chapter can be reached. When the end is reached, randomly dabble, then read it again linearly. Like a holistic system, the interaction of the parts forms the whole, and the whole creates the appropriate environment for the parts.

The Way contains an excellent glossary, absolutely essential for the terminology, especially as many of the words have been invented by Edward Goldsmith. Two indexes cover people and subjects, plus notes and an extensive bibliography.

The Way is the perfect complement to Fritjof Capra's The Web of Life. Fritjof Capra drew inspiration from the comparison between quantum physics and the Tao (The Tao of Physics), Edward Goldsmith does the same in drawing inspiration from the comparison between ecosystems, Gaia and the Tao.

Highly recommended.

Books Worth Reading
(c) Keith Parkins 1999-2000 -- February 2000 rev 1