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Monkeywrenching Or Ecological Sabotage Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 2109 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Ethics is a set of moral principles which concern the right and wrong doings in which those values. There are two approaches in ethics: Descriptive and Normative approaches. Descriptive approach is the process of identifying and analysing existing values or norms. It aims to describe and explain what attitudes people have, to create a normal and acceptable behaviour. The other approach (normative) are derived from sets of prescriptions and the process. It setting standard of rules to produce standard behaviour. there are three theories in normative approach: Consequantialism, Deontology, and Virtue (Jamieson 2008).

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Consequentialism is the view that an agent is morally required to perform the act with the best consequences. Most consequentialists are utilitarians. They focus on welfare and insist that the best consequences are those containing maximum welfare. Deontology is the view that certain types of act are morally forbidden even when the performance of those acts would bring about the best consequences. In principle, deontologists can disagree over whether the deontic rules function as absolute prohibitions or are somewhat weaker and can be broken if enough is at stake. They can argue the kinds of action that are morally forbidden. A biocentric deontologist might claim that we are morally forbidden from killing living organisms intentionally (Jamieson 2008).

Virtue theory the focus is not so much on what kinds of act are right, but what a virtuous person would do. Virtue ethicist might claim that the moral evaluation of something like deforestation cannot be based exclusively on consideration of what consequences that would have, or on the question whether there is a constraint on acts which lead to deforestation. Instead we must look at the character of the person who performs the act (Jamieson 2008).

Environment ethics

Environmental ethics is a new sub-discipline of philosophy that deals with the ethical problems surrounding environmental protection. It aims to provide ethical justification and moral motivation for the cause of global environmental protection. It is also known as the study of ethics in the context of the natural world, on both individual and societal levels; the part of ethics which deals with human choices about the environment. It does not concerns only cutting back on pollution, reduce waste, and saving endangered species, it goes beyond that (Alder & Wilkinson 1999).

Environment ethics begins where the ethics of concern for animals becomes an issue. It concerned with the rights and wrong of how human treat the nonhuman and a quality environment. Thus it considered not only natural but also urban environment: how human are being affected physically, mentally and spiritually by the design and materials of the building in which they live and work, the layout of cities, provision of public services and so on (Alder & Wilkinson 1999).

Varieties of Environment Ethics

Environment ethics was basically divided into two main school of thoughts: anthropocentric perspective and non-anthropocentric perspective. Anthropocentric theorists rely on traditional values based on human well being or human rights while non-anthropocentric theorists claim that natural objects have value irrespective of human concerns (intrinsic value). It also can be distinguish between approaches: individual and collective approach. Individual approach (biocentric) believe that all species have inherent value, and that humans are not “superior” in a moral or ethical sense while collective approach (ecocentric) values groups such as species or ecosystems and treats the individual as morally considerable only in relation to the group (Alder & Wilkinson 1999).

There are different perspectives of anthropocentrism. There are traditional, enlightened and extended anthropocentrism. Traditional anthropocentrism during 1800’s abranch of consequentialist (Gilbert Pinchot and James Watt) theory, human centeredness. This perspective focus on environmental consumption. For example, Aristotle’s saying: “Everything in nature fulfils a purpose and that ultimate purpose of nature is the satisfaction of human needs.” (Benson 2000)

Enlightened anthropocentrism perspective took place later in 1950’s to 1960’s. It taught the people to be careful on using the resources (conservation steps). It was a branch of deontology and virtue ethics. They believe that we are part of the nature and that in our own interests we should respect nature for its existence and a resource.The third perspective, extended anthropocentrism surfaced in late 1970’s. This concerns more about future generations where people have started to plan on sustainable development. It is a branch of deontology and virtue theory (VanDerVeer & Pierce 2004).

Non-anthropocentric argues that natural objects have value irrespective of human concerns (intrinsic value). Subject matters include animal welfare, biocentric ethics (respect for nature/reverence for life) and aesthetic approach (nature as art). Ecocentric perspective value the ‘systems’ as a whole (for example, species that form a biological life line or ecosystems or the whole biotic community). It looks at all living things as part of systems.

Land ethics: “changes the role of Homo Sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the [land-] community as such.” It was founded by Aldo Leopold to put forward the basis of environmental preservation. Te overall well being of the ecosystem is the measure of what is right or wrong. Deep ecologist, Arne Naess, has tried to synthesize the anthropocentric and ecocentric and re-orientate how we perceive nature and to cultivate a mental ‘state of being’ in harmony with nature (live an environmentally friendly lifestyle). Naess believed that we should cultivate direct, hands-on sensuous, experiences of natural objects (Benson 2000).


Monkeywrenching, eco-sabotage (ecotage), ecodefense, eco-terrorism carry the same meaning: they are illegal acts of sabotage associated with environmentalism. It is said to be focusing on creating serious economic damage that will cause temporary or permanent stop to activities that are considered unwanted. Even though the activists might believe in different ethical codes, the activity is directly related with the environmental movement. The term monkeywrenching comes from Edward Abbey’s novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang that was published in 1975. The novel tells a story of people doing campaign of eco-sabotage in the south-western United States. They set fire to billboards, disable construction equipment, and pull up survey stakes (VanDerVeer & Pierce 2004).

Monkeywrenching occurs long back in time. From a novel to manual, monkeywrenching act has managed to make its way to recent world. The novel (The Monkey Wrench Gang) was published in 1975 written by Edward Abbey (writer and essayist) and manual (Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching) published by Dave Foreman (US environmentalist and co-founder of the radical environmental movement, Earth First!) were and still being used at some point as references to monkey wrench.

The act might occurs gently or very dangerous. The group might try to either permanently or temporarily damage the machineries and equipments. Thus monkeywrenching can either cause the development to stop or buy time to negotiate and discuss about the issue.

Authorities refer this group of people as eco-terrorism (to purposely relate their doing with terrorists) and as expected many environmentalists, strongly disagree with this usage. They prefer to distinguish between eco-sabotage (an assault on inanimate objects) and terrorism (an assault on people or living things). The environmentalist David Brower, for instance, has argued that the real terrorists are those who pollute and despoil the earth, not those who seek to protect it.

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Monkeywrenching with regard to Environment Ethics

Many consequentialists are utilitarians. They believe that an ethical act is one which increases utility or pleasure, happiness or absence of pain. Despite being violent or out of control for example, that monkeywrenching is acceptable as long as it give desired outcomes and loss nothing in the end. For example, a consequentialist could claim that his/her action of starting a fire in the forest (which is very dangerous) is right since he/she managed to keep the logger from coming into the forest.

Deontology, on the other hand, is the view that certain types of act (for example threatening to harm the innocents) are morally forbidden even when the performance of those acts would bring about the best consequences. Deontologists define morality in terms of rights and duties. Monkeywrenching might be accepted depending on the leader or the leading principle. For example, the Earth First!ers strongly believe that monkeywrenching will help them keep the environment save and have a leader with high knowledge of it.

Virtue theory focus on the act of a virtuous person and not what kinds of act are right. A virtuous person might think that monkeywrenching is ethical without looking at its consequences whether it’s positive or negative. But once the outcome become the main concern, that person would not get involve it. Ecofeminism is one example of virtue ethics. Ecofeminism exists as its practitioners pointed out that the domination of male character in protecting the environment causing the aesthetic value of the nature becoming less appreciated.

Anthropocentrism concerned the human interests above everything else. The act of monkeywrenching (or the act of sabotage of protecting the environment) most probably being viewed as a waste of time and resources since it does not give any direct benefit to human.

Holistic approach believes that something is greater (and more valuable) as the whole than the individual parts. Biocentrism (life-centred ethics), ecocentrism (ecosystem-centred ethics) and deep ecology (identification’ and kinship ethics) are included in this approach. According to biocentrism, living things have their own desire making them having the intrinsic value. This group of people believe that monkeywrenching can be useful as a mean to protect the environment as they feel morally responsible to protect the nature.

Same thing goes with ecocentrism. Ecocentrism looks at living things as parts of system hence making human having responsibility for being a part of nature.

Deep ecologists believe that all life systems are sacred and valuable despite being unuseful to human beings. All living things evolved and bound to responsibility. Being a part of radical environmentalists, deep ecologists approved of monkeywrenching as a medium to protect the nature.


Environmental activists are divided into two when discussing monkeywrenching. Some approved of monkeywrenching as a way to prevent environment while others disagree of the methods and prefer softer way (such as letters to authorities and public converence). Supporters also divided into two: some accepted the act as they thought it will bring safety to nature’s living things while others think of negative impacts (cause injury or death, or it might turn public opinion against wilderness preservation) when it come to monkeywrenching. Thus, it is encourage to make sure all participants know about the risks they are going to face by joining the act.

Monkeywrenching is considered ethical as long as it does not involves violence and being conducted with care. The practitioners are encourage to follow the guidelines provided by non-government organization when conducting it to avoid any defect. However, authorities do not approved monkeywrenhing as it can cause million and billion of loss for the country and encourage public to be disobedient.

Personally, I prefer a gentler way of preventing environmental damage, instead of monkeywrenching the whole development operation. Plus, judging by the way monkeywrenchers function (under cover not and anonymously to avoid being capture by the authorities) itself, shows that monkeywrenching is not an ethical way to do things. I think it is not overrated to say that monkeywrenching is simply an act of a coward.


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