Equality and the Death of Nature

”The old anthropocentric model that binds our relationships with nature within the logic of the One and the Other prevents us from moving on to the new mutualistic and communicative models we now so urgently need to develop for both our own and nature’s survival in an age of ecological limits.” – Val Plumwood 

Equality is a misguided and dangerous ideal.

The bitterly contested US presidential election highlighted the divisions amongst us. That the eight richest people in the world own as much wealth as the poorest fifty percent of all other humans definitively shows how much inequality exists in our society.

Surely then equality should be a key goal?

No.

Why?

Because we are not equal.

I am not you, you are not me; we are different. We were raised in different places to different parents and different cultural environments; we’ve had different educations and read different books; we have different ideas and opinions and ways of seeing the world; we follow different religious or spiritual traditions.

We are not the same; we are not equal; why pretend that we are? Why Strive to be the same?

Of course, equality is not about conflating individuals, it’s about ensuring that everyone is playing by the same rules. But equality is often presented in a manner which suggests that the goal is a band of homogenous humans, and until we achieve that something is amiss.

I’m not a fan of equality.

I prefer the idea of recognizing and celebrating the differences amongst us. It’s precisely because you are not me that I’m interested in you; I want to know what you think and why; what lessons your parents and cultural background taught you; what stories put you to sleep as a child; and what you think the future of humanity will be. If you were me I would already know and would have nothing to learn, nothing to challenge me, and nothing to drive my sense of compassion, empathy and understanding.

But the idea of ‘otherness’ can be a double edged sword as we’ve seen during the race to the Whitehouse; recognizing that a person is from an-other culture or an-other race can also fuel the mentality of us versus them – the last thing the world needs right now.

That’s why recognizing differences is the start, but celebrating them is the key!

”The rationalist ideology of reason as an elite characteristic in opposition to Otherised characteristics such as emotion, animality and the body played a major role too in replicating the logic of Othering through different spheres of oppression.” – Val Plumwood

The Australian environmental philosopher Val Plumwood describes in vivid and compelling language how humans have subjugated nature to our will, justifying our actions by conveniently labelling nature as something ‘other’ – and by implication inferior – than ourselves. For Plumwood, colonialism, racism, gender inequality and ecocide are all manifestations of a mentality of otherness.

We struggle to find peace amongst ourselves, human to human. What hope then do we have of making peace with nature?

There is hope. But it requires us to look for the very things in nature that we cannot relate to; the grace and freedom of a bird in flight, life below the ocean waves, hunting with the pack, or having our survival determined by the presence or absence of the sun.

We should not dismiss these wonders of nature as belonging to an inferior species or as a spectacle put on for our entertainment, but for what they truly are – cogs in the vast and wonderful wheel of life on Earth of which we are also just a ‘’plain member’’ – as Aldo Leopold famously expressed it. These are also the wonders that often leave us spellbound at nature’s enchantment; but only when we pay attention to them and celebrate them for their own sake as well as the richness they add to our lives.

 ”A land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.” – Aldo Leopold

We are not equal. We are each unique. And discovering that in each other should be one of life’s great joys, not a source of fear and division. Life is diversity, change and adaptation. The diversity of the natural world is being diluted by a saddening wave of species loss. But the state of nature reflects the state of human society; if we want a flourishing and abundant world we must seek out and celebrate the dissimilarities between ourselves and with the wider world around us.

Peace will not arrive because we have become the same but when we accept that we are very much different.

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