Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Peace and the deficiencies of anthropocentrism

I was struck by this painting by David Ward, a prisoner here in the State of Michigan, whose work Ode to a dying ideal was showcased along with the art and writing of many other prisoners in Michigan at one of the best events that comes through this University. The Prison Creative Arts Project does wonderful things.

I was struck so much that I put a bid on it (click on the photo to see the detail of the border), and won, without even thinking once about my "not buying anything" policy...different issue, one that we can talk about later. What I wanted to write about today was exactly what Ward is getting at with his painting. We cannot go a minute now without listening to people being killed, either people in Iraq or Afghanistan (where it is almost certain that more people have been killed than has been reported in the media here), or people that are being killed so that their voices can be silenced, i.e. in places like Yemen and Libya. People are being silenced here, too. 

I have written at length about peace and the environment, initially provoked by a discussion about Just War Theory with Professor Richard Tucker (more here, here, here), and then subsequently by a piece written by Hendrik Hertzberg about Gabrielle Giffords' shooting. I re-read what I wrote a few months ago, and my mind has not changed. 

It is interesting how all ecological degradation has stemmed from our anthropocentric ethical structure, which dictates that we will do whatever it takes in the interest of humans, more likely than not at the expense of the environment. There are a couple of deficiencies of this ethical framework that I can think of off the top of my head, which I want to discuss. Firstly, I find it amazing that we think humans are the greatest thing in the world, but when it comes down to our differences, we will resort to violence to make sure that power stays concentrated with certain people. There is a clear discrepancy, it seems then, between doing all that we can to keep humanity alive (anthropocentrism), and then resorting to violence to kill humans when we don't agree. Of course, someone that has power might say then that it is in the interest of the broader humanity that their power is being used as violence against others, but that is unjustifiable. In this case, we don't act anthropocentrically.

Secondly, although it may be more manageable for us to think that we should act in the best interest of humans, particularly from an "evolutionary" standpoint, we inevitable degrade what it is that sustains us. We want to protect our own, and if that means that we need to blow off the top of a mountain to get coal so that our homes can be heated in winter, so be it. But if we think about the longevity of humanity, certainly blowing off of the top of a mountain and consequently polluting streams and rivers is in no way protecting our ability to further ourselves. Anthropocentrism, in this case, just has the ability to cave in on itself, particularly when it comes down to an ever-burgeoning population and the struggle to keep ourselves alive in the future. The future that we have envisioned for ourselves, full of batteries and gizmos and computers, is no less violent toward nature than our present society.

The very act of war itself is unsustainable in the truest sense of the word, while at the same time flying in the face of anthropocentrism. Peace does seem to be a dying ideal.

1 comment:

  1. The time when PCAP showcased work was one of my favorite times of the academic year.