There is, however, a growing realization of the inherent value of Nature quite apart from its usefulness to humanity. This is perhaps the central insight of what has come to be known as Deep Ecology. One might think this less than a monumental paradigm shift, but it is in fact so counter to the default human self-absorption that the means to its actual realization in conscious experience requires a transformative experience typically described as “spiritual”. It is here, we believe, that a new philosophical Daoism can make a significant contribution.
We have an inkling of this appreciation in a famous quote from Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Walking”: “In Wildness is the preservation of the world.” Thoreau’s concern was still principally with the preservation of humanity, however. He was concerned that “civilization” has so distorted humanity’s innate connection with Nature that it is in danger of losing itself. “I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil—to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society”. This sentiment is in complete harmony with a more fundamental affirmation of the value of Nature quite apart from its benefits to humanity, for it is that very self-value that makes it useful, yet it does not explicitly enunciate that insight. What it does do, is point out the inviolable interconnectness of humanity with Nature and the realization that the health of the human psyche depends on the nurture of that connectedness. Humanity is Nature. This is more than simply a statement of biological fact, important as that is, but also touches on what, in general parlance, is described as “spiritual”, or more philosophically, as metaphysical. This connectedness is organic and as such cannot be experienced cognitively. It requires some form of “mystical” experience.