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HOME > ON THE BOOKSHELF > Bookshelf Detail

Ecology and Environment


Vol. 62, No. 6 (November–December 1974)

ECOLOGY AND ENVIRONMENT: Civilized Man’s Eight Deadly Sins. Konrad Lorenz. Trans. by Marjorie Kerr Wilson. 107 pp. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974. $4.95.

This is the translation of the author’s 1973 work Die acht Todsünden der zivilisierten Menschheit, a thoughtful analysis by a distinguished zoologist–ethologist of mankind’s pathological deviations leading to ecological, environmental, and social crises.

The eight “deadly sins” Lorenz describes include overpopulation and inhuman enclosures of persons in small spaces; devastation of the environment and loss of awe; the blind pursuit of technology and loss of the resource of time. These three “sins” illustrate ecological and environmental decay.

Lorenz goes further, however; his analysis is never concerned with the merely physical, as was, for example, The Limits to Growth. Together with the above, he catalogs and describes five additional ills, each of which represents pathological disorders of mankind, the appearance of structures, institutions, and attitudes which fill no natural purpose in the survival of the species and which, in fact, defeat natural purposes. This concept, explained in an introductory chapter, is reinforced by reference to the concepts of homeostasis and feedback. The five further ills include the loss of strong emotion and the inability to experience joy; the failure to preserve instinctive norms of social behavior and the rise of infantilisms; the break with tradition and the growing schism between generations; the increased indoctrinability of the population; and, finally, the threat of nuclear armament.

Lorenz attempts to trace these ills to the doctrine of ontogenetic conditioning as counterposed to phylogenetic evolution, and he does so with some success. The argument is strongest when he discusses “indoctrinability,” weakest when he discusses “genetic decay.” His claim that the eight “sins” are pathological disorders is well made; his use of the word sin remains unsupported, for sin is not necessarily the same as disease. Nonetheless, Lorenz’s analysis coolly spotlights eight severe maladies; whether understood in the language of systems analysis or in the language of ethology, and whether it refers to “ills” or “sins,” it deserves a careful and critical audience.—Jay Martin Anderson, Chemistry, Bryn Mawr College


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