The philosophy of Max Stirner (1806-1856 C.E.), or Egoism as it is sometimes crudely called, essentially addresses the relationship between the individual and alienation; to use Stirner’s language, the alienation between the individual and their property. Property can be interpreted in different ways, such as the common understanding of it as something owned, but also as a quality or attribute. I personally choose to interpret it as a combination of these two definitions, as a quality or attribute that is owned. Ownership takes place through the use of an individual’s power over their property and alienation takes place when we no longer exert power over it.
Alienation can also lead to domination, through which a thing that we do not exert power over may exert power over us in turn. Individuals within our society find themselves dominated by their social and material conditions due to their alienation, or lack of power, over them. It is our lack of power over these conditions that has led society in an ecologically disastrous direction, as power is concentrated into the hands of a few individuals. I contend that in order for us to confront ecological collapse, we must seize property out of private hands and into our own.
That is to say, we must address our alienation from the biosphere. I contend that this is only possible by direct confrontation with Capitalism and the Nation-State. The ways in which these hierarchical social formations alienate the masses is countless, but of particular interest to us is the ways in which they alienate us from our ability to have power over our material surroundings. Capitalism as an economic system is based within private property, that is property that is exclusive to the Capitalist. This exclusivity is only possible through the existence of the Nation-State, which protects private property through a combination of laws, social internalization, and the direct power of police and military institutions.
These institutional mechanisms allow for the constant accumulation of wealth for the Capitalist, at the expense of the masses and the biosphere. Private property in this sense can be understood as alienated property, property that the masses are excluded from, and in turn exploited by, through the forced labor of the Capitalist system. The biosphere is not something we relate to through the use of our own power, but rather as an alienated resource privately controlled by Capitalists. From the places we live to the spaces in which we work, everything is simply a source of exploitation and domination by the Capitalist system, justified and enforced by the Nation-State.
Confronting this situation would mean expropriating private property into the hands of the masses, under the power of the people to consume as they want. Consumption in the sense used by Stirner means to exert power over a thing and to take it into ourselves, to “dissolve” it into the I that is myself. Rather than being defined by this thing, this thing becomes a part of the greater whole that is myself. The implication that this has about our relationship with the biosphere means to me “consuming” it, taking it into ourselves with the understanding that the stability and life of the biosphere inherently affects our own. As such, we must protect the biosphere as an extension of ourselves, which is only possible through our direct power to affect a meaningful relationship with the biosphere. Such a relationship is impossible under our current, hierarchical social conditions and as such must be confronted.
This in essence is what the theory of Social Ecology advocates as well. Founded by Murray Bookchin (1921-2006 C.E.), Social Ecology is based in the idea that human social conditions are the cause of the current ecological crisis. The evolution of our human society (Second Nature) out of the non-human realm (First Nature) involved the development of particular social hierarchies that laid the groundwork for the domination within society that we see today. In order to create a holistic society, one based in the recognition of “Unity in Diversity” or the idea that the complexity of life and interactions within an ecosystem are directly affected by its stability, humanity must build a society in which we are active participants within our biosphere, rather than treating it as merely a resource to be plundered and exploited.
Which, as I’ve already elaborated on above, is only possible through direct confrontation with our current hierarchical conditions, seizing the land and resources out of the hands of Capitalists and into our own. Such conditions would mean a direct interaction with individuals and their communities in regards to their immediate biological surroundings, allowing them to make rational decisions based within the knowledge and understanding that comes with localized living. When I say “their” communities, I really do mean that, insofar as the individuals who make up their communities are the “owners” of it, they exert power over it and consume it as they want. They are not restrained by hierarchical relations and as such may associate freely, as they please, not because they are guaranteed by external right, but by the conscious, direct power of individuals themselves.
Such a society would be a meaningful embrace of the Egoism of the individual, the power of the I, to build the conditions of a Free Nature. Free Nature exists when the human and non-human realms co-exist, through the unity of Second and First Nature. This requires us to have the power to understand our place within nature, which means recognizing that human social evolution folded out of natural evolution. That the concept of “Unity in Diversity” holds a valuable social principle for humanity, not as a moral value, but materially valuable in its understanding of biological and social stability. For individuals, this means recognizing that isolated we are limited in our capacities, but with others, we can accomplish much greater tasks collectively.
It is through our collective action as unique, diverse individuals acting together that we can confront the systems of domination and subjugation that oppress the masses and the biosphere. We can reclaim ourselves, to be able to freely decide how and in what way we desire to live as individuals, either alone or together. Our surroundings would no longer be alien to us, but rather our own, something that we actively take into ourselves and care for as an extension of us. Conditions in which society, ecology and the Ego are in co-existence.