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VOLUME  2  NUMBER  2012-2013                                                               Dr.  Michael J. Cohen, Editor

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Alternatives to the Human-Centered American Dream and Industrial/Capitalist Lifestyle:

How Applied Ecopsychology Educates and Nurtures Holistic, Ecologically Sustainable Education, Economy, and Lifestyle.

Dan Shelton, April 2012)


The average American lifestyle and the values shaping those lifestyles indicate that the primary focus of value in America is consumerism and the money necessary for such a lifestyle of affluence/materialism.  This article introduces support for the above claims, and offers alternative and ecologically sustainable lifestyle practices using key elements of a Holistic Educational and Ecological Lifestyle alternative through the science of Applied Ecopsychology (  The article is also intended to express how the material presented has helped the author, through his doctoral process in Applied Ecopsychology with The Institute of Applied Ecopsychology at Akamai University, and Project NatureConnect at the Institute of Global Education.  I sincerely hope this article is helpful to other students, as I consider myself an on-going and lifelong student, as well. 

There are two overall purposes of this article.  First, is to offer a brief history and background of attitudes and beliefs that contributed to a Value-Narrowed Unsustainable American Dream lifestyle.  Second, is to offer existing and sustainable alternatives that will contribute to an individual's ability to determine greater ecological meaning, sense of belonging, value, and quality of life when applying the key elements and/or coursework of Applied Ecopsychology Certification or Degree programs at the Institute of Applied Ecopsychology, Akamai University, Hilo, Hawaii  ( 

The following key questions will serve as guiding themes throughout the article:
1.    How can we re-evaluate for ourselves what is meaningful, wholesome and valuable in a Society that promotes a dominant, exploitive, and “for humans only” value toward our whole self-organizing and life supporting system of Nature?
2.    In what ways can individuals in our Industrial/Capitalist Economy and Society engage more wholesome and ecologically sustainable lifestyles?

Value-Narrowed Human-Centered Lifestyle

In the mental and spiritual realm, the counterpart of technology is culture, which modifies and even supersedes human nature in the same way technology modifies physical nature. In thus mastering nature with technology, and mastering human nature with culture, we distinguish ourselves from the rest of life, establishing a separate human
realm (Eisenstein, 2007; p.6).

Value-Narrowed and Human-Centered Lifestyle is used in this article to indicate the attitudes and behavior of human-centered dominance over nature and economically conditioned attitudes of self and/or ego.

In Andrew Schmookler's article, “Why Are We DeVouring The Earth”, he makes the following statement of American culture,

Our cultural fetish of economic growth is a clue that our consumption is not nourishing us. And our national cult of growth is a sign of the triumph of hope over satisfaction, of the life of promise over the life of fulfillment (Schmookler, 1990, p.22).

The root meaning, “Eco”, of both economy and ecology originates from the Greek word “Oikos” or household.  Thus the original meaning of economy was “household management” and household included the greater natural world where one lives.  In the late 1700's, the word economical “Meaning "pertaining to political economy" is from 1781” (On-line Etymology Dictionary), became more widely used and popularized.

Within this past half-century or more, human preference for indoor leisure, harmful consumer practices, and increasingly abstract technological recreation has created an alarming estrangement with natural systems that support our life (Worldwatch Institute, pp. 1-5). U.S.  Census Bureau reports show that “By the time the baby boomers came along, approximately half of our homes were air-conditioned. By 1970, that figure was 72 percent, and by 2001, 78 percent” (Louv, 2005, pp.56-57). Prior to this time-period, people lived without air-conditioning, slept with their windows open, engaged a more direct relationship with the origins of their food, and practiced a more genuine relationship with their natural surroundings (Louv, 2005).

Throughout human civilization's global existence with this Earth, the most destructive premise and issue in human thinking, development, and economic practices is the belief that human beings are separate from and thus dominant over the natural world that supports them.  “Whether we believe that our dominion derives from God or from our own ambition, there is little doubt that the way we currently relate to the environment is wildly inappropriate” (Gore, 1993, p. 238).

This dominion over nature mentality provides the ambition for humans to think they have the right to manage and control nature, for their benefit alone.  Control of the household's year-round indoor environment has also allowed for the occupants' extended exposure and influences of the electronic and technologic media, recreation, and entertainment industry. This separation and fragmentation of people's sensory relationship with their natural outdoor environment has also lead to a decrease in association with one's neighbor. “We are increasingly indoor people whose sense of place is indoor space and whose minds are increasingly shaped by electronic stimuli” (Orr, 2004, p.163).

Along with twentieth century economic and housing developments, connection with place became psychologically associated with controlled environment, to the point where sustainability is now commonly thought of as “ the stewardship of the 'house of humans,' specifically, with their production and distribution of wealth” (Naveh, 2000, p. 357). Square footage of built space often equates to a higher economic value of a residential house, for the monetary benefit of the individual owner and the local tax-base. The following statistic gives indication of an economic and human-centered trend, and the value narrowing of home, and sense of place, with disregard for the more-than-human natural habitat of place.  “New houses in the U.S. were 38% bigger in 2002 than in 1975, despite having fewer people per household on average” (Worldwatch Institute, p. 3).

The American Dream

We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect (Leopold, 1949, p. viii).

According to Gus Speth's article: “What is the American Dream?: Dueling dualities in the American tradition.”  Speth, and his references to Darrin McMahon's book: Happiness: A History, claim that the conceptual framework of The American Dream came about “in the early Republic, offspring of the ambiguity in Jefferson's declaration that we have an unalienable right to 'the pursuit of happiness.” (Speth, 2011).  This phrase became distorted in two directions: the pursuit of personal pleasure, and public good from civic virtue. (Speth, 2011). 

The American Dream has predominately become understood and engaged as an unsustainable and rugged individualistic pursuit of material wealth, through money and consumerism, image, 'might is right', and “Survival of the Fittest”. 

Social Darwinism and “Survival of the Fittest”

One of the key underlying premises of Industrial/Capitalist Society is Social Darwinism of the mid 1800's.  One does not have to look too hard into the current American economic and social model to see strong elements of Social Darwinism in American Industrial/Capitalist Society, psychology and behavior of today.  One indicator would be the recent Stock Market/Wall-Street, and Corporate Scandals.  “Herbert Spencer, the father of Social Darwinism as an ethical theory, was thinking in terms of elitist, “might makes right” sorts of views long before Darwin published his theory.” (Think Quest).  

When Darwin's theory, dealing with the more-than-human natural world, came out, Spencer took Darwin's concept of “natural selection” and distorted/capitalized on the idea by manipulating Darwin's framework to include humans, in a socio-economic context.  Spencer thus coined the term “Survival of the Fittest” to fit his elitist views of a human social order.  Specifically, Darwin's idea of adaptation prompted Spencer to claim that “the rich and powerful were better adapted to the social and economic climate of the time, and the concept of natural selection allowed him to argue that it was natural, normal, and proper for the strong to thrive at the expense of the weak…..However, Social Darwinism in its basic (and extremist) forms are based on a logical fallacy, and do not really follow from Darwinian thinking in any way.” (Think Quest). 

It is very important to note the difference between Darwin's scientific theory and Spencer's social elite concepts.    
Other references to Social Darwinism:
o    Encyclopedia Britannica Mobile (see Reference section)
o    Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Weinstein, David. Summer 2012 Edition)

Within the scientific community, further understandings of social behavior and evolutionary/natural selection theories were advanced in the early 1950's by James Watson and Francis Cricks' description of the DNA molecule as the “building block of all life.” (Bannister, R.C. 2000).  Anthropologists continued research along these lines with studies on DNA relationships with behavior in the 1960's.

Biologist Edward O. Wilson's work in “Sociobiology: A New Synthesis (1975) carries on the scientific application of evolutionary theory in Social behavior, arguing:
… genetics exerts a greater influence on human behavior than scientists had previously believed. Wilson claimed that human behavior cannot be understood without taking both biology and culture into account. Wilson's views became the foundations of a new science-sociobiology-and were later popularized in such studies as Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene (1976).” (Bannister, R.C. 2000).

In the 1970's Wilson's theory sparked a mean and angry debate among evolutionary scientists such as Stephen Jay Gould.  These debates can be reviewed in multiple references to Sociobiology.  One very good review is (Dusek, V, 1998).  

“Sociobiologists claim that many social behaviors have been shaped by natural selection for reproductive success, and they attempt to reconstruct the evolutionary histories of particular behaviors or behavior strategies.” (Holcomb, Harmon and Byron, Jason, Fall 2010).

In conclusion of this brief review of the various scientific and/or social ethical theories influencing Industrial/Capitalist social trends, it is important to point out how scientific theories have been and are often wildly misunderstood and distorted by the few, for exploitive purposes of the under-educated many.  Spencer and Hitler are good examples.  As an example of wildly misunderstood theories of science, consider the common acceptance in our Industrial/Capitalist society that competition is wholly human nature, and therefore the natural driving force of our competition-driven economy.  This distorted concept is widely accepted and exploited in the context of our economic system in America.  Scientific theories we must remember are only theories, not whole and conclusive facts, although some facts may support parts of the theory.

Applied Ecopsychology and Ecologically Sustainable Alternatives

“Psychology closely relates to spirit. The word psyche means air, spirit, or soul. Psychology means the study or logic of the emotions/spirit/soul. Ecopsychology extends the human soul to include its ties with the environment.” (Cohen, M.J. 1997, p.216).
Ecopsychology may be described as the study of the human-nature relationship as it integrates with our natural, cultural, societal, and psychological development.  Unlike conventional psychology, Ecopsychology is, at its core, concerned with the Nature of an individual's soul or inherent being as related to the whole of Nature, and the more-than-human natural world of which humans are only a part.   

In contrast to scientific theories of genetically determined social behavior, Dr. Michael J. Cohen's sensory science of Applied Ecopsychology integrates studies and literature, yet moves beyond indoor intellectually abstract theories and studies, to a holistic, direct sensory and fully participatory communication relationship within Nature.  This process or method re-stimulates a sense of ecological identity, community, belonging, and love within the whole person.  We, therefore, relearn how to think and feel with Natural Systems.  This experiential approach, developed over nearly 60 years by Dr. Cohen Ed.D./Ph.D., director of Project NatureConnect(TM), is called “The Natural Systems Thinking Process” (Cohen, 2003, pp. 9-15).  The process draws upon our inborn sensory communication system with Nature, and is valuable to redeveloping a cultural lifestyle that is ecologically sustainable with all things. The process contributes to developing human consciousness toward Global Citizens of peace and ecological sustainability with/in Earth, of which we are a part.

Within “The Natural Systems Thinking Process”, Cohen also integrates what he refers to as the “Webstring Model” (our inherent sensory connection and communication with Nature), which became the basis of his second doctoral dissertation.  Dr. Cohen published his dissertation work on the “Webstring Model” in a general-public book titled “Educating, Counseling and Healing With Nature: The Sensory Science of Natural Attraction Ecology: Creating Web-of-Life-Moments, Backyard or Backcountry, that Help Us Increase Personal Social and Environmental Well-Being.” (Cohen, M.J. 2008).

Key elements of Applied Ecopsychology and The Natural Systems Thinking Process are the Webstring Model and Natural Attraction Ecology.  Each of these elements weave together a pedagogy of unique direct sensory science, based on empirical evidence (the foundation of all science), which helps us think in supportive and self-organizing balance with Nature, in-the-moment. This pedagogy is also unique in that there is no other coursework or academic degree program that comes close to the emphasis of “Letting Earth Teach” through direct Natural Attraction Ecology sensory connection, which is our authentic inherent non-verbal communication system with Nature.  Direct sensory science experiential activities re-educate an individual to re-activate at least 53 natural senses, which we are born with from Nature.  Once this process is engaged, a whole and hidden part of our being comes alive again, informing us that information gathering intelligence is no longer limited to abstract human-created theory, language and literature.  The Natural Systems Thinking Process is direct empirical evidence and behavior modifying intelligence, in the immediate moment, within Nature.  This process no longer limits us to our cultural disconnected distortions that intelligence comes from what we can learn from a book or voice and technological instruction.  We can perceptually gather this intelligent sensory communication within Nature and authentically process/cognate directly from what Nature in and around us can teach, in-the-moment.

Applied Ecopsychology and The Natural Systems Thinking Process, through direct sensory connection within a Natural area reconnects us to the deep sense of belonging in Nature that we had long forgotten.  This deep sense of primal (first) belonging, as well as other qualities from our Natural Attractions, often leads to a deepened sense of peace within the individual, thus bringing about relaxation and stress relief in ways we had not remembered or had been conditioned to de-value.  Applied Ecopsychology reconnects us with our Soul and heals our fragmented stressful lifestyles so we may begin to think like Nature in and around us works.  Relearning how to “Let Earth Teach” brings us Home again to how all of Nature works and cooperates in balanced self-organizing harmony, without waste.  Ecological sustainability can easily be learned through direct nature-connected relationship with what produces it…Nature.  We learn how to learn, all over again, in a healthy and holistically sustainable way. 

Eco-Communities and Eco-Villages

Ecovillages, by endeavoring for lifestyles which are "successfully continuable into the indefinite future", are living models of sustainability, and examples of how action can be taken immediately. They represent an effective, accessible way to combat the degradation of our social, ecological and spiritual environments. They show us how we can move toward sustainability in the 21st century (Agenda 21).
In 1998, ecovillages were first officially named among the United Nations' top 100 listing of Best Practices, as excellent models of sustainable living. (Global Ecovillage Network).
In his book The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, David C. Korten states:

“The turning from Empire to Earth Community has two primary elements.  First is a turning from money to life as our defining value.  Second is a turning from relations of domination to relations of partnership based on organizing principles discerned from the study of healthy living systems. (Korten, 2006. p. 295)

Korten continues:

“The basic framework for the work of birthing Earth Community is simple: make the life-affirming values of Earth Community the values of the prevailing culture; renew the democratic experiment to restore to people, families, and communities the power to give expression to those values; and do it all on a global scale.” (Korten, 2006. p. 341)

The ecologically sustainable and healthy alternatives of an unsustainable American Dream are many, but only a few make authentic and ecologically sustainable sense.  First, we must face the fact that we are not separate from the Natural world.  This Planet Earth and whole Universe is both physically and soulfully within each of us, and constantly shares it's infinite intelligence and wisdom.  Particularly, this Earth is our habitat of life-sustaining support and we need to learn how to “Let Earth Teach”, in each and every moment.  Second, a practical and effective choice to revalue our holistic being and learn to “Let Earth Teach” through the sensory science of Applied Ecopsychology, the Webstring Model, and The Natural Systems Thinking Process, is readily available, with full-scholarships.

Eco-communities are already a very strong and active ecologically sustainable and vibrant social and global movement.  We need to consider how we may develop, in our own regions and place, a human support system that desires to value our loving relationship with Nature, and establish eco-communities and values where we are. 

If we consider for a moment that the Buddha is an essence of Enlightenment, or one with Nature, we may appreciate the following quote.

“The next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community; a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the earth.”

- Thich Nhat Hanh


“Human beings are part of the Whole…We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest…a kind of optical delusion of our consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures, and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

- Albert Einstein

From this brief overview of contributing operants to an unsustainable Industrial/Capitalist lifestyle orientation in America, it is important to note how a few social elitists can distort and exploit scientific theory to manipulate the behavior of an under-educated mass society of people.  When people resort to following what the few present as fact or popular trend in any give society, cultural and ecological diversity deteriorates and can lead to what this article refers to as Value-Narrowed lifestyles. 

In America, it is not difficult to understand how the average American today is physically, emotionally, and spiritually fragmented and consumed by their occupational lifestyle of work for money.  I personally experience many of my friends and acquaintances work themselves into exhaustion, mostly to have more stuff, or feel as if they are “making it” in an insane ecologically unsustainable American idea of lifestyle.

From the perspective of material presented in this article, Eisenstein and Einstein's words are central points for us to ponder.  Most importantly, how we educate ourselves is in critical need of diversity.  Our public education system in America (including higher education), has become narrowly standardized to fit a “learn-to-earn” unsustainable political economy of consumerism.  Abstract, elitist-focused and standardized education has become the norm in America. 

Pedagogies of our Natural direct sensory nature-connected relationship within Nature, such as Dr. Cohen's pioneering research and experiential pedagogy of Applied Ecopsychololgy, The Natural Systems Thinking Process, Natural Attraction Ecology, and the Webstring Model are imperative to our social-cultural and planetary survival.  In addition, Dr. Cohen's life-long research and education methods can contribute profoundly to the Eco-Community and Eco-Village movements globally. 



Bannister, R.C. (2000). "Social Darwinism," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia
2000 © 1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.) Retrieved April 25th, 2012 from:

Cohen, M. J. (1997). Reconnecting with Nature: Finding wellness through restoring your bond
with the Earth (2nd ed.). Corvallis, OR: Ecopress.

Cohen, M. J., Sweeney, T., Edwards, S. A., Brittain, J. C., McGinnes, J. M., & McElroy, S. C.
     et al. (2003). The Web of life Imperative: Regenerative ecopsychology techniques that help
people think in balance with natural systems. Victoria, Canada: .

Cohen, M.J. (2008). Educating, Counseling and Healing With Nature: The Sensory Science of Natural
Attraction Ecology: Creating Web-of-Life-Moments, Backyard or Backcountry, that Help Us Increase Personal Social and Environmental Well-Being. Project NatureConnect Institute of Global Education. Friday Harbor, Washington.

Dusek, V. (1998). “Sociobiology Sanitized: The Evolutionary Psychology and Genetic
Selectionsim Debates.”  Science and Culture, 1998. 
Retrieved April 25th, 2012 from:  (Archives, Institute for the Study of Academic Racism)

Eisenstein, C. (2007). The Ascent of Humanity: The Age of Separation, the Age of Reunion, and the Convergence of Crises that is birthing the transition. Harrisburg, PA: Panenthea Press.

Encyclopedia Britannica Mobile. Retrieve April 25th, 2012 from:

Global Ecovillage Network. Retrieve April 25th, 2012 from:

Gore, A. (1993). Earth in the balance: Ecology and the human spirit. New York, NY: Plume.

Holcome, Harmon and Byron, Jason, “Sociobiology”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
(Fall 2010 Edition, Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Retrieved, April 25th 2012 from:    

Korten, D.C. (2006). The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community. Kumrian Press, Inc.
     Bloomfield, CT.

Leopold, A. (1949). A Sand County Almanac And Sketches Here and There. New York: Oxford
University Press.

Louv, R. (2005). Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit
 disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.

Naveh, A. (2000, April). The total human ecosystem: Integrating ecology and economics.
            Bioscience, 50(4), pp. 357-361.

On-line Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved, April 25th 2012 from:
0&search=Economy&searchmode=nl . 
Orr, D. W. (2004). Earth in mind: On education, environment, and the human prospect (10th
ed.). Washington, DC: Island Press.

Schmookler, A. B. (1990, Summer). Why Are We Devouring The Earth? In Context: A
Quarterly of Humane Sustainable Culture, 26, 22. Retrieved Feb. 27th, 2008 from:

Speth, G. (2011, June). What is the American Dream?: Dueling dualities in the American
tradition.  Retrieved April 25th 2012
Weinstein, David. (Summer 2012 Edition). "Herbert Spencer", The Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy  Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming
URL = <>.

Think Quest. Retrieved April 25th 2012.  

Worldwatch Institute. The state of consumption today. Retrieved May 22, 2007

About the Author

Dan Shelton grew-up working on a small family farm in Southern Illinois and has worked at educating himself through both academics and direct experience with Nature, shaping and focusing his offerings on helping people rediscover their human & nature relationship. He received his doctoral degree through the Institute of Applied Ecopsychology at Akamai University Hilo, Hawaii

Dan is faculty and steering committee advisor at Project NatureConnect, Institute of Global Education  and has over 20 years of experience in helping people rediscover the peace found in their inborn relationship with Nature. He has been awarded the “Rudy Mancke Award” for outstanding service in environmental education through the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission. Dan can be contacted at:

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Journal of Organic Psychology /
 Natural Attraction Ecology (OP/NAE)

Project NatureConnect  Akamai University Institute of Applied Ecopsychology
VOLUME 1,  NUMBER 2011-2012                                                      Dr.  Michael J. Cohen, Editor

... .Contact. ... .Contents. ... .Submissions. ... .Reviewers. ...Course