|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
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Ïã½¶ÊÓÆµappÍøÖ·ÏÂÔØIf there had been the restoration of a ‘power-sharing’ government at Stormont, the headline here would have been “Yes, but....”. Instead, with no agreement, it is “No, and.....” This piece will look briefly at some of the issues.
In the year plus since the fall of the last functioning executive government, Sinn Féin have compromised on the issue of Arlene Foster continuing in the First Minister position. She should have stood aside temporarily, early in 2017, over the RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) scandal because even if she “did nothing wrong” (as she attests), clearly she did nothing right on the issue either, and Northern Ireland can ill afford to lose hundreds of millions of pounds. Sinn Féin have quietly dropped their demand that she not be leader/First Minister.
However it would seem Sinn Féin supporters are adamant that there should be an Irish language Act. And so there should – for reasons which will be explored here below – a position supported by the SDLP, Alliance and Greens. It was also something which the British government agreed to in the St Andrews Agreement. Obviously the Irish language has been used by some people at times as a weapon in the Northern Ireland military and cultural war but then so has Ulster Scots.
However, as we are not party to the deliberations we cannot make the judgement call to put all the blame on the DUP and exonerate Sinn Féin. However it seems that the DUP judged that they could not sell the proposed deal to their supporters many of whom perhaps fall into the typical Northern Ireland trap of seeing everything as a zero sum them (“something for them is something against us”) whereas ‘something for them’ may be storing up credit for ‘you’ from ‘them’ for the future.
While the number of active Irish speakers is small, the vast majority of place names in Northern Ireland are of Irish origin, so objection to bilingual signs is rather flying in the face of history (that does not mean they should be placed where people are vehemently opposed, even where the name, as with the Shankill Road in Belfast, is of Irish origin). Irish was the language used by the vast majority of people in what are now the six counties of Northern Ireland when the Plantation took place in the seventeenth century but for all sorts of reasons, not least active undermining and suppression of the language, English became the dominant language in the whole island of Ireland. But that does not mean that Irish is unimportant culturally – and of course for those who do use Irish regularly or normally it is an essential part of their being and identity. An Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland could also be seen as an attempt at reparation for past suppression.
Ïã½¶ÊÓÆµappÍøÖ·ÏÂÔØFinding the right level of support for Irish in such a situation is a difficult question, to avoid simply providing ‘jobs for the (Irish speaking) boys and girls’. What was being tabled, but ditched, was relatively modest. An Irish language act would nevertheless be an official recognition of the cultural importance of the language, and an assurance of its future. DUP willingness to tolerate it should be, from their point of view, part of ‘killing a United Ireland with kindness’ by providing nationalists/Catholics in the North something which the vast majority of them, and some others, want. As we have argued before, most Catholics have been relatively happy with the post-Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland and it is Brexit (enthusiastically supported by the DUP) and petty slights which have driven many to think more seriously about a united Ireland.
When we will see the restoration of ‘power-sharing’ at Stormont therefore remains to be determined. But an ongoing problem is the nature of this power carve up which is entailed in the system. Even if there was a restored devolved administration, there would be no common vision for Northern Ireland, no vision of uniting people, and no real policy on an issue like education and educational transfer from primary to secondary education, so again the people would be left to perish, both figuratively and economically. British government research shows Northern Ireland will suffer considerably from Brexit economically; politically the situation may be even worse. Having the Stormont system back up and running would not encourage decision making in many areas even if it might ameliorate others, e.g. some of the worst effects of Brexit. However Brexit is going to continue being a very divisive issue in Northern Ireland, in a rather different way to how it is divisive in Britain.
Ïã½¶ÊÓÆµappÍøÖ·ÏÂÔØNorthern Ireland needs to move beyond the Good Friday Agreement’s structures and take another leap into the future. The 1998 Agreement was a leap forward but it was only one step in distance, and it has resulted in a system which is incapable of constructive decision making in many areas and of leaving sectarianism behind, even if it helped to put most political violence out of action. We would argue that adopting an inclusive, consensus decision making voting methodology like the Modified Borda Count g could be a way to not only make decisions but make them without the need for Petitions of Concern and other mechanisms to protect from sectarian decision making. However we should be clear (apropos of recent comments from both Labour and Tory figures in Britain) that the Good Friday Agreement is the best agreement in town until a better one is made. It needs to be built on. It is also a binding international treaty.
But whatever happens, we do need to move on or Northern Ireland will continue as an economic and sectarian basket case. Where there is no vision the people perish.
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This editorial essay is the first in a short series which will look at feminism, ecology, human rights, religion and secularism, democracy, and radicalism in general, and their relationship to nonviolence.
“It is no accident that patriarchy relates history as the history of war – that is precisely their history” – Barbara Zanotti (*1)
“Despite major theoretical commonalities, feminists are not necessarily nonviolent, and nonviolent activists are not necessarily feminist. This merger is our challenge. We are saying that feminism is crucial to pacifism, for we must dismantle the mental weaponry as well as the military.....” - Donna Warnock (*1)
“Feminism is an entire world view or gestalt, not just a laundry list of ‘women’s issues’.” – Charlotte Bunch (*2)
Whether we are witnessing the early stages of a new wave of feminism or not in the west, arising in reaction to sexual exploitation, it is clear that the struggle for women’s equality still has a long way to go. Feminism is about assertive and self confident women being able to achieve what they can achieve without being hindered by patriarchal structures or action. If there was any doubt in anyone’s minds, recent events clearly show ongoing power disparities between men and women.
Another way that feminism is defined is as the quest for equality of women with men. However this simple expression needs qualified as to whether, and how, there can or should be equality in everything. Many feminists, and all peace activists, for example, may resist an enhanced role for women in the national military forces, or, indeed, the extension of conscription to women where it already exists for men. Some feminists reject the ‘equality’ definition because they oppose ‘being equal’ to a gender that practises inequality. The definition of feminism as “the that women should be the same , , and as men and be in the same way, or the set of to this e” (*3) is a more dynamic definition than a desire for simple ‘equality’, although it too could be criticised.
Ïã½¶ÊÓÆµappÍøÖ·ÏÂÔØHowever this editorial essay is not about feminism alone but about the relationship between feminism and nonviolence. In what way do these overlap? What synchronicity is there? Do they diverge? How can the values of one help the other? This is intended as an overview rather than an exhaustive study.
Ïã½¶ÊÓÆµappÍøÖ·ÏÂÔØThe idea of women as ‘natural’ peacemakers, ‘natural’ as in “it’s in their genes”, is recognised to be a false one. Gender roles are culturally defined. However, partly because of their common position as carers and nurturers, and the perceptions which this brings to them, women can be accomplished peacemakers. They are also much, much less likely to be violent than men. These facts alone make for interesting overlaps with nonviolence.
Ïã½¶ÊÓÆµappÍøÖ·ÏÂÔØBut it is also true to say that women can be violent and they can be cheerleaders for male violence. The modern state is likely to want to engage women’s skills in existing power and violence structures such as the armed forces. For some women this may seem as recognition of women’s value and importance. For those with a more nonviolent or radical disposition this is likely to be seen as simple co-option to existing structures.
So there are some interesting choices to be made in relation to society. Does achieving equality with men mean women should behave in the same way? Or does it entail transforming society and its structures to mirror feminist and nonviolent values? There are choices, sometimes difficult choices, to be made.
The first thing to recognise is the deeply entrenched nature of male power or patriarchy. This is well illustrated in Mary Beard’s short book “Women and Power – A Manifesto” (*4). In this she traces patriarchy from ancient Greece, telling a story such as Penelope’s son Telemachus telling his mother to be quiet and return to her ‘womanly’ duties, that “Speech will be the business of men”. Male supremacy and claimed privilege date back this far and presumably rather further – though how far is also open to debate since it is possible that some earlier societies were both matriarchal and less violent (though this is not an issue explored in the book referred to).
The story of Lysistrata is also referred to in Mary Beard’s book, in the case of a women’s sex strike while their men were warring (p.65) - but Beard points out that the denouement of Aristophanes’ comic play is actually extremely misogynistic with a naked woman being carved up between the men of Athens and Sparta (p.68). So women’s action for peace is in the final analysis subjugated to patriarchal violence.
There is a strong commonality for feminism and nonviolence in opposition to violence and particularly male violence which, as already stated, covers most kinds. Feminism is best known for opposition to inter-personal violence, so-called ‘domestic’ violence, but many feminist thinkers and activists also oppose the macho militarist mentality which is as much the refuge of the politician as the practice of the soldier. Sometimes soldiers who know war may be less inclined to want or threaten bloody conflict than politicians or powerful men who do not (cf Donald Trump).
But there is also a commonality in practice. Feminists believe in standing up for themselves and for other women and their rights. Nonviolent practitioners believe in the power of nonviolent action, of many different kinds, and being unafraid to use it but assessing what would be most productive. Both want systemic change. The extent to which nonviolent activists acknowledge the overwhelmingly male nature of violencevaries whereas for feminists there is no doubt.
However most feminists are not afraid to acknowledge the smaller amount of female-on-male or female-on-female violence but are clearly focused on where the far greatest source comes – men. Nonviolent activists who do not acknowledge the male nature of most violence are ignoring a blatant reality. The huge cultural change which it is necessary to undertake in relation to masculinity can only be undertaken using the experience and knowledge represented by feminism and women in general.
In the nature of nonviolent action and direct action there is a clear responsibility taken to accept the consequences of standing up and being counted. This is despite a different and perhaps more confrontational approach to power and injustice. That is not to say that feminists do not confront injustice but it tends to happen in a different way, and is often undertaken by simply speaking out on a matter. However feminism has not been afraid to demonstrate or act publicly as they feel the demand to do so.
There may also be divergences in how feminists and nonviolent activists understand the possibility of change but it is difficult to generalise since there are all sorts of different opinions within almost any social movement on this. Both however understand the deeply entrenched views and interests of the powerful and the need for both short and long term goals in moving forward – practical short term results and longer term strategic goals. Both recognise the need for long term cultural change for their goals to be achieved.
Both feminism and nonviolence recognise the need to change in male behaviour. Sometimes in the field of nonviolence this argument is not gendered in the way it should be since the overwhelming number of those bearing arms are men, as well as the perpetration of violence at an inter-personal level, and the argument may be couched in non-gendered language. However more perspicacious believers in nonviolence would not see the individual soldier or paramilitary as the problem but rather a system which supports their violence, and politicians and leaders who manipulate it for their own ends.
Feminists may also see men as potential allies rather than simply the problem. Feminism is about women standing up for their rights independent of men but it is a fact of life that men constitute around half of the population and in general wield more power. Legislation has of course changed many things for women, and most men have adapted to some of those changes, but if men remain even passively opposed to equality for women then a problem will remain.
Ïã½¶ÊÓÆµappÍøÖ·ÏÂÔØFor men to change, either in relation to women and feminism or violence and nonviolence, there has to be a carrot as well as the ‘stick’ of legislation. In relation to feminism men need to be shown that a pro-feminist society will bring about better relationships between women and men and also mean less pressure on men. In relation to violence and war, men need to be shown the other paths which exist to deal with conflict, and the alternatives to either being cannon fodder or causing death (the latter being most likely in the west as technological superiority tends to mean a much higher kill-to-be-killed ratio for rich countries, cf the Iraq war). Feminist women have already rewritten the role of women. Men need to rewrite the meaning of masculinity if they are to escape its violent and macho connotations.
Returning to Mary Beard (p. 86-87) she says “You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male. You have to change the structure. This means thinking about power differently. It means decoupling it from public prestige. It means thinking collaboratively, about the power of followers not just of leaders. It means, above all, thinking about power as an attribute or even a verb (‘to power’), not as a possession.” In talking about power here she could be writing about nonviolence instead of women and feminism. Changing structures to mirror our values, not trying to shoehorn in a few bits of positivity to a negative, patriarchal structure, would be a basic tenet of nonviolent politics. In this area there are possibilities for strong alliances between feminism and nonviolence.
Ïã½¶ÊÓÆµappÍøÖ·ÏÂÔØWomen may or may not use power that they have a bit differently. But the success of feminism cannot be measured simply by women breaking through glass ceilings in predominantly male structures. As the quote above states, the nature of power needs to change. Nonviolence has the same or a similar goal; to move from structures which are oppressive and encourage violence to ones which are more open and encourage cooperation, conflict transformation and peaceful resolution. Both propose a different ways of seeing and relating to the world, with an emphasis on common wellbeing rather than individual gain or the benefit of one group over another.
The extent to which either feminists or peace activists will get involved in interacting on ‘national’ or international politics and policies will vary greatly. United Nations Security Council Resolution/UNSCR 1325, dating from October 2000 (*5), and subsequent resolutions, on the involvement of women in peacemaking is useful in one regard but can also be used to increase the number of women in the military. However there is no excuse for not involving women from civil society fully in peacemaking and peacebuilding in post-conflict and divided societies, and not to do so is woefully and stupidly counterproductive. It would be good if the British government took note that this should apply within their own jurisdiction of Northern Ireland, particularly when they insist on this everywhere else on the globe, a policy gap which reeks of hypocrisy. This is even more so when the role of women in peacemaking in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and since is taken into account.
And how can feminist analysis and perspective benefit those who believe in nonviolence? How can a nonviolent approach benefit feminists? Feminism can probably benefit from nonviolence’s use of a diversity of tactics and its emphasis on winning over opponents, as well as its broader analysis of the state and not being sucked into any military-industrial complex. Strong feminism, as in some of the suffragette movement, has not been afraid to act outside the bounds of legality and in this there would be another commonality with nonviolence.
Nonviolence can certainly benefit from feminism’s gendered analysis of society and of patriarchy. Without this, nonviolence is lost because it will continually be barking up the wrong tree. Nonviolence may already aim to be inclusivist but a feminist perspective is important in avoiding seeing nonviolence as a simple replacement for violent machismo as opposed to a different kind of approach looking for a different kind of power, as referred to in the Mary Beard quote above. If there is no way to peace, and peace is the way http://nbzjfc.comÏã½¶ÊÓÆµappÍøÖ·ÏÂÔØ then it has to be a gendered or gender-aware peace.
Whether men can be labelled, or label themselves, ‘feminist’ (as opposed to ‘pro-feminist’) is a debatable point. An INNATE poster http://nbzjfc.comÏã½¶ÊÓÆµappÍøÖ·ÏÂÔØ on Francis Sheehy Skeffington clearly labels him, among other things, as ‘feminist’. However this question does lead to an important aspect of thinking which relates to both men and nonviolence regarding feminism, the issue of being an ‘ally’.
Ïã½¶ÊÓÆµappÍøÖ·ÏÂÔØBeing an ally in relation to feminism means being supportive in all appropriate ways but taking the lead from women, and doing more listening than talking. Otherwise there is the danger of men continuing in their old dominant role in deciding what is appropriate for women. Of course men should take the lead in redefining masculinity (though it is also a relevant concern for women). And in all cases there should be dialogue and discussion of what is important to do, and who to do it. Both nonviolence and men in general should be allies for women and feminism.
Integrating feminism and nonviolence should be easy enough given the overlapping of goals and approaches but it is possible for male nonviolent activists to belittle or dismiss women’s or feminist concerns along the lines of the traditional stereotype “We will sort that out after the revolution.....”, i.e. be patronising that there are more important things to be done first and that attending to women’s concerns is somewhere down the list of priorities. And men, often through inertia as much as ill will, may not make the changes needed. Where there are feminists who see women as moving into male centres of power, as opposed to the transformation of society and power bases, then there can be problems. And there may also be some feminists who do not see some aspects of state violence as problematic, e.g. in increasing the number of women in the military.
It should also be said that pacifist feminism is alive and well if not very visible. “Women still do not have a room of their own or full equality, either, in the world of peace studies and peace practice. In other words, the invisibility of the role of women continues to be the statistical norm, even within the peace movement and the peace studies community ...... Women continue to be a majority at the grassroots level and a minority at the decision-making level. The essence of the problem, or rather the solution to the problem, is not a matter of will, but, as feminist theory has claimed all along, a matter of the rules of the game and the general social structures that are also reproduced – at least partially – in the realm of the commitment to peace despite explicit efforts to avoid it.” (*6)
There are pitfalls in any line of work. One here is how women and men can cooperate together for a pro-feminist or a peace agenda without falling into old traps of sexist ways of working. Consultation and clarity are key with space and time to deal with issues and discuss and communicate. Awareness of the dangers, and opportunities, is essential. (*7)
More generally the reality is also that feminist and nonviolent movements need all the friends they can get, and alliances are important in building any kind of change. We might even dare to say that while you can be a feminist without being into nonviolence, it is impossible to be an advocate of nonviolence without supporting feminism. Macho posturing and violence have had their day and all men need to recognise that as well as women. Moving forward peacefully can only be done through a gendered analysis of society and of the perils of masculine violence - that should not be to ignore women’s role in violence but this is certainly a more minor issue.
(*1) “Reweaving the web of life – Feminism and nonviolence”, edited by Pam McAlister, New Society Publishers, 1982 (out of print but you should be able to find a copy online). Barbara Zanotti quote is on page 17. Donna Warnock quote is on page 29.
One of the fascinating aspects of this book is the light it sheds on the common origins of feminism and nonviolence in the USA, see e.g. page 79 and considering someone like Lucretia Mott.
(*2) In “New Directions for Women”, September-October 1981, quoted in ”Like a fish needs a bicycle – and over 3,000 quotations by and about women”, ed. Anne Stibbs, Bloomsbury, 1992.
(*3) Cambridge Dictionary, online,
(*4) “Women and Power – A Manifesto”, by Mary Beard, Profile Books, 2017.
Ïã½¶ÊÓÆµappÍøÖ·ÏÂÔØ(*6) “Peace in Progress”, No.22, editorial, International Catalan Institute for Peace.
(*7) See e.g. “Recommendations for engaging men in women’s empowerment work” by José de Vries, in “Together for Transformation – Men, Masculinities and Peacebuilding” produced for International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament, May 2010, by the Women Peacemakers Program.
Ïã½¶ÊÓÆµappÍøÖ·ÏÂÔØ- This piece was written by the editor, who is a man, but incorporating suggestions and responses from the INNATE group which is mixed genders, and from other women.
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Book review by Miriam Turley
The PowerÏã½¶ÊÓÆµappÍøÖ·ÏÂÔØ by Naomi Alderman
The PowerÏã½¶ÊÓÆµappÍøÖ·ÏÂÔØ is a science fiction novel by Naomi Alderman about a world like ours where women and girls discover they have the power to emit electric shocks from their hands, and how having this power affects the gender power balance in society. One reviewer sums the book’s premise up as “what would the world look like if men were afraid of women, rather than women being afraid of men?”
The story follows a cast of characters and how they adapt to the shifting sands of their culture following the gradual discovery of this ability, which is eventually attributed to an environmental build-up of nerve agent that was released during the Second World War. One politician sees her career develop as she is able to take better advantage of public panic and confusion, while her daughter struggles to understand her ability to hurt people, and ends up having a broken relationship with her strength.
Another woman uses the years of hurt from abuse to synthesise a new female based religion, which secures her place in society and gains a worldwide following. One young woman with a natural confidence and cool headedness masters her new found power and assumes her rightful place at the head of her family’s organised crime operation. A young man finds a role as a journalist documenting the phenomenon, and rather than being intimidated is excited by assuming a submissive role in sexual relationships, but finds that he is not safe in all situations.
Ïã½¶ÊÓÆµappÍøÖ·ÏÂÔØIt was a strange and disturbingly pleasurable experience for me to read this book, as the first thing I felt was a weird, rising vindictive glee at the idea of women being more powerful than men. Each report of shifting balance in the book, from women no longer feeling they needed to raise their voice in the boardroom, as everyone knew where the power lay, to men starting to dress in a more sexualised way, gave me deep satisfying warmth in my stomach, and I almost felt a crackle in my fingertips.
The book is a thought experiment and does a really good job of presenting the myriad of ways in which the power to hurt can affect such a range of interactions in society. It stretches the mind and allows you to see many of the constructs in our own society for the absurdities that they are. For example, 20 years after the discovery that women have the power, mainstream society begins to adopt the idea that of course it is natural that women are more aggressive, as they have to protect themselves and their babies. The ease with which the author is able to fabricate evolutionary psychobabble brings into relief many of the arguments used in popular discourse today.
The book takes us through the way that in order for the dominance of women to be engrained into people’s conditioning, religion needs to be rewritten, with a female bias. It then takes us through the dark unfolding of power corrupting, of violence and subjugation being justified and accepted, and of what it is like for a man to live in constant fear. The darkness of this dystopia is even more disturbing in that it only mirrors our current society, with the gender roles reversed.
For me the main message here is in the final chapter, in which a male scholar tries to explain, in an apologetic way to a patronising female mentor, his theory that perhaps men’s submissive role and peaceful nature in this society is not biologically determined. Thus through metaphor the author suggests that perhaps matriarchal societies in the past were not peaceful because women are inherently peaceful, but because the kinds of societies that let women rise to power had value systems that prized qualities other than physical dominance. In this way the book is hopeful in the end, because it suggests that peaceful societies can be constructed, and our imaginations can help us find ways to do it. It is a dark book, though, and I would not recommend it for reading while menstruating.
Ïã½¶ÊÓÆµappÍøÖ·ÏÂÔØ(This book helped me imagine a world where writing that last sentence would be acceptable…)
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Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
Gazing into the existential mirror
“Why do sinners’ ways prosper?”
from: ‘Thou art indeed just, Lord’ (1889) by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Outside of a few critically reflective people who live ecologically sustainable lives (Michelle Nijhuis, New York Times, 13 February 2018) our species is emotionally and intellectually blind about its place in nonhuman nature. The evidence suggests that the cultural construct through which we live affords us little substantial connection with what sustains us, encouraging us to behave as if we are not flesh, blood and bones. We in fact treat the nonhuman world as an enemy, as something to be despised, an attitude that extends to how we manage death.
In much of the world, and it is certainly the case in Ireland, we place our dead in polythene-lined coffins to prevent the corpse, already filled with embalming fluids, from coming in touch with the earth while layering the face of the deceased with so much make-up it typically resembles that of a porcelain doll. Death means the end of consciousness, the oblivion of personality, the absence of presence and decay of the body whose nutrients feed other life-forms. Death speaks powerfully of the fact that we are as much a part of nonhuman nature as the microscopic life in soil which is what the theatre surrounding human death is designed to disguise.
Life is largely lived through a paradigm of fantasies and rituals, both religious and secular, in order to sustain the view of our place in nonhuman nature as a species apart from all others, superior by virtue of our imagined origin, purpose and destiny. The archaeological evidence suggests we have a long history of doing this. On this matter Viktor E. Frankl in his book, The Unheard cry For Meaning, (1978), writes:
“The uniqueness of man, his humanness, does not contradict the fact that in the psychological and biological dimensions he is still an animalÏã½¶ÊÓÆµappÍøÖ·ÏÂÔØ.” p.23
Three common but seemingly separate pivotal beliefs that help account for our ecologically unsustainable way of life are as follows. 1) We are other than the constituents of the biosphere with a different mortal fate from as all other life forms. 2) Nonhuman life has no intrinsic value and exists to be used as humankind sees fit. 3) The resources of the Earth are infinite. Together these constitute a coherent worldview enabling us to live the illusion that our technologically sophisticated way of life is inevitable in spite of the overwhelming evidence that we are utterly and rapidly destroying the biosphere.
Although much of the ecological destruction can be rightly attributed to the greed of large corporations, with the support and connivance of governments, this does not account for our casual irreverence towards nonhuman nature as illustrated by, among other things, people tossing plastic wrappers and various containers onto grass verges, into hedges and rivers. I cite littering as it is common practice, unnecessary and avoidable. Given this, littering can be considered akin to spitting with disgust on the face of creation.
Farmers cutting down trees and uprooting centuries old hedges in order to qualify for EU grant money mutilate the landscape, seriously compromising the survival chances of a host of species. The world renowned naturalist E.O. Wilson in his book Half Earth (2017) encapsulates our disparaging regard for the biosphere as follows:
“We thrash about, appallingly led, with no particular goal other than economic growth and unfettered consumption. As a result we’re extinguishing Earth’s biodiversity as though the species of the natural world are no better than weeds and kitchen vermin.”
John Gibbons in Village, February 2018, gives us a measure of our destructiveness.
“The sequestration, plunder and simplification of the entire biosphere by a single species is without parallel in a billion years of Earth, let alone human history. … In just the 50 years from 1970 to 2020, two thirds of the wildlife on Earth will have vanished, along with their habitats. Forever.”
Our lack of appreciation of the natural realm outside ourselves predates the digital age and the advent of the broadcasting media which saturates our private and public space with advertisements and subtle cultural messages designed to encourage us to buy or be judged old fashioned, out-of-touch or eccentric. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins spoke of our desecration of nonhuman nature in his 1887 poem God’s Grandeur:
“And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: The soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.”
Ïã½¶ÊÓÆµappÍøÖ·ÏÂÔØBy way of contrast we love ourselves, often in an unhealthy narcissistic way, love a few others and feel passionate about our tribe. Many cry when their national anthem is sung and sizable numbers in most countries are willing to use violence and spend treasure to protect self-proclaimed national interests. Yet we don’t love the essential and substantial as in the soil, fungi, insects, rain and all that sustains us. Although we sentimentalize and sometimes celebrate aspects of nonhuman nature in poetry, paintings, photography and other art forms we don’t at heart care enough about the wild not to undermine its wellbeing. Evidence of this is that when it comes to choosing between leaving an ecologically valuable habitat intact or building a road through it we more often than not chose the latter.
Ïã½¶ÊÓÆµappÍøÖ·ÏÂÔØThe pertinent question is, what will it take for humankind to overcome its loathing of nonhuman nature, for our warped existential view of our place within its intricate symbiotic network to align with the actuality of the eco-world? The good news is nothing is prescribed. We have the clear ability to make real much of what we imagine, learn what it means to be mortal and redefine what the good life means.