Emerging Perspectives: Student Chapters

The Consequences of the Ego and the Potential of Unselfing

Etain Brunner

Consumption is one of the favorite pastimes of our developed society, but it is also the source of many environmental problems. As technology has advanced, our society and economy have developed into one dependent on the mass consumption of things. Our habits of mass consumption have acted as a vehicle of destruction by increasing the amount of resources we use and waste we produce, leaving parts of our environment severely degraded. As a result, the people who have more and seem to be successful make more environmental impact, while the environmental consequences of their actions tend to be felt by the have nots. Our symbols of success that we prop up seem to be part of the problem as they have serious environmental downsides, and even though we recognize these downsides we continue to glorify consumptive habits that are destructive. But have you ever considered the roots of our need to consume?

I would argue that one aspect of our need to consume is egocentric ideas that view the consumption of things as a way to satisfy a particular identity or sense of self. This is just one observation of how the ego fuels our desire to consume, and there are many other perspectives on this as well. For example, Buddhist scholar David Loy argues that our incomplete sense of self drives our desire to consume, as we seek things outside of our selves to fill the gaps of what we believe is missing. Or in the contemporary business atmosphere, where more money and more consumptions are symbols of status, thus propping up the ego, the ego may be one of the main forces driving consumption and resulting environmental degradation. Given the role the ego may play in this environmental issue, a deeper look into the ego may present helpful insights into the origins of our current relationship to the environment and how attention to the ego can help reshape this relationship…


Find the rest of this chapter in Emerging Perspectives on Religion and Environmental Values in America HERE.


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Religion and Environmental Values in America Copyright © 2019 by Etain Brunner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.