IN SHARP CONTRAST TO KINCENTRIC CULTURES ANCIENT AND ONGOING, our modern view of the world is based solely on the teachings of our fellow humans. From philosophers to prophets, priests to kings, scientists to seers, human teachers have entirely shaped our modern understanding and relationship to ‘the natural world’. Upon this way of knowing, we have established the means by which we discern good from bad and right from wrong— and, incidentally, centered our modern ideologies upon fulfilling human needs over those of all Earth's other inhabitants. However practical and successful this paradigm has been for the prosperity of humanity, it has wholly failed to achieve the ecological harmony we so long for today.
As we saw in our last chapter, kincentric cultures and cyclocentric civilizations were based on an altogether different way of knowing. Rather than learn solely from humans, these societies recognized the plants and animals around them as kin, elders, and teachers. Today, as we come to recognize the connection between their kincentric ontology and their pattern of ecological enrichment, we can glimpse the pattern of depletion within our own— and isolate the ontological error that distorts our modern view of the world.
From Greek stories of human-gods ruling the world, to Roman legends of humans dominating it, western society has put humans upon a pedestal. From early astronomers declaring that the sun spun around the earth, to biblical interpretations declaring man’s dominion over earth and all its creatures, humanity’s centrality and exceptionalism has become lodged in the depths of western collective consciousness. Over the centuries, as modern philosophy, religion, ethics and science have evolved they have built layer upon layer on top of this ancient foundation.
However, today, we know better.
After centuries of science, biologists have long dismissed that humans are at the top of life’s tree. Likewise, astronomers have long disproved that the Earth is the center of the cosmos. Here, contemporary science and ancient kincentricism align. Both agree that humans, plants and animals all share ancestry and origins, action and consequence, connection and dependence. Both concur that no organism is central or separate to the others: like a tapestry each and every one are inextricable parts of the whole.
However despite unequivocal dismissal, the axioms of man’s centrality and separateness have persisted, buried in the depths of our modern ideologies. Just as a building is often built upon the forgotten foundations of one that came long before, these ancient errors tilt and incline our modern intellectual edifices that continue to stand upon them.
Although our modern ideologies may claim vast differences and boast of scientific savvy, all too often they share this common foundation. From capitalism to communism, our modern views of the world remain anchored in the same archaic axiom of human exceptionalism.
Nowhere is this more clear than in the way our modern ideologies speak of the biosphere. From neoliberalism to socialism, from libertarianism to communism, the very way that they refer to ‘the natural world’ most reveals their deep moorings in antiquated human-centric assumption.
In fact, there is no word more imbued with the cumbersome weight of ancient metaphysical misconception than that of ‘nature’. This term, used so poetically by environmentalists and conservationists to protect and preserve ‘the natural’ world, is alas seeped in irredeemable dualistic fallacy: the ancient error of delineating man and nature, culture and ecology, the natural and the human.
Upon this stark division not only is modern society built, but so too our most fervent environmental attempts and endeavors. Derived from the Middle-English term environ, meaning to circle or surround, ‘the environment’ has come to mean, that which is around us humans, but not that which is us.⁴⁷
Over the last decades, feminists⁴⁸, theologians⁴⁹ and philosophers⁵⁰ have observed that the modern environmental ethics that results from this foundation (laws, sustainability guidelines, UN goals, etc.) are thus locked into a perspective of human-time, human-space and human-needs, and consequently: of human rights, interests and economy. From this view, ‘nature’ is inevitably objectified as something with which humanity is ever interacting: managing, dominating, stewarding. Our environmental endeavors that follow, thus strive to reduce their harm, to protect and to conserve the ‘natural’ world from human touch— which is understood a priori as contaminating, depleting and destructive.
Alas, from this reasoning, human ecological integration is an impossibility. And as such, the very notion of human ecological contribution has remained all but unimagined by environmentalists and industrialists alike.
Banayan and I observe that not only are the axioms of this logic flawed, its conclusions run contrary to the lived and ancestral experience of her people and that of countless other kincentric nations ancient and ongoing: cultures in which the concept of ‘nature’ is both absent and fundamentally antithetical.⁵¹
We also observe that the effort of preserving and protecting ‘nature’ is likewise doomed to the very fate it aims to avoid. Conserving and protecting one part of a system (i.e. an organism or ecosystem) at the exclusion of others, always fails. As the neighboring parts degrade, so too will the whole, and with it, inevitably, so too all its parts.
To move forward towards authentic green contributions, we must thus first thoroughly excise human exceptionalism and its crooked conclusions from our view of the world.
To do so, the concept of ‘nature’ must crumble like the ancient rusted chain that it is.
Only then, can we shatter the mind forged manacles of antiquated, anthropocentric cosmology and open the door to the ecological regeneration to which our moment so urgently calls.
Only then can we too see the plants and animals around us as kin, elders and masters of ecological integration– teachers from whom we can learn to vitalize our own contributive potential.
And only then can we see that the greatest teacher of all has been waiting for us all a long.