Our place in the whole of life
Ethics in the dominant society are utilitarian and anthropocentric. That is: society’s ethics accepts the illusion that nature’s beings only have reason to exist to the degree they serve human beings, and that humans can dispose of them at will. Humans consider themselves the kings and queens of creation.
The Judeo-Christian tradition reinforced this idea with its “subdue the Earth and dominate all that lives and moves upon Her” (Gn 1,28).
Now we know that we humans were among the last beings to enter the scene of creation. When it was 99.98% complete, we appeared. The universe, the Earth and her eco-systems did not need us to organize themselves and to arrange their majestic complexity and beauty.
Each being has intrinsic value, independent of the use we make of it. Each being is a manifestation of that background Energy, as the cosmologists say, or of that Abyss generator of all beings. Each being has something to reveal that only that being, even the least adapted, can do, and after that, through natural selection, it will forever disappear. But it is important for us to listen to and celebrate the message which that being reveals to us.
Gravest, however, is the idea all modernity and much of the contemporary scientific community have about planet Earth and nature. They consider them a simple “res extensa”, something that can be measured, manipulated, and according to Francis Bacon’s rude language, «tortured as the inquisitor does to his victims, until he has forced out all their secrets». The prevailing scientific method largely maintains that aggressive and perverse logic.
Rene Descartes sets forth in his Discourse on Method something of a clamorous reductionism in understanding: «I do not understand for “nature” a goddess or any other type of imaginary power; instead, I use that word to mean matter». Descartes considers the planet as something inert, without purpose, as if human beings were not part of that nature.
The fact is that we entered the process of evolution when it had already reached a very high level of complexity. Then, human life arose, conscious and free, as a subchapter of life. Through us the universe gained consciousness of itself. And that occurred in the miniscule part of the universe that is the Earth. This is why we are that portion of the Earth who feels, loves, thinks, cares and venerates. As the Argentinean singer-songwriter Atahualpa Yupanqui says, “We are the Earth that walks”.
Our specific mission, our place in the whole of life, is to be those who can appreciate the grandeur of the universe, who can listen to the messages that every being articulates, and who can celebrate the diversity of beings and of life.
And as the carriers of sensibility and intelligence, we have an ethical mission: to care for creation and to be her guardians so that she may continue with vitality and integrity and under conditions allowing her to continue evolving as she has done for 4.4 billion years. Thanks be to God, the Biblical author, for correcting the text we quoted above, who says in the second chapter of Genesis: “The Lord took the human being and placed him in the Garden of Eden (the original Earth) for him to cultivate and care for it” (Gn 2,15).
Regrettably, we are not good at fulfilling this mission, because as biologist E. Wilson says «humanity is the first species of the history of life that has turned out to be a geophysical force; the human being, that biped being, such an air-brain, has already altered the atmosphere and the weather of the whole planet, diverting them far from their usual norms; spreading thousands of toxic chemical substances throughout the world, and leaving us on the verge of exhausting our drinking water” (A Criação: como salvar a vida na Terra, 2008, 38). Sorrowful at seeing this, and living under the threat of a nuclear apocalypse, Norberto Bobbio, the great Italian philosopher of the law and democracy, asked himself: «Does humanity deserve to be saved?» (Il Foglion. 409, 2014, 3).
If we do not want to be expelled from Earth by the Earth herself, as enemies of life, we must change our behavior towards nature, but above all, we must embrace the Earth as the United Nations did in April, 2009, as Mother Earth, to care for her as such, and to recognize and respect the history of every being, living or inert. They existed millions and millions of years before us, and without us. Therefore, they must be respected as we do the elderly, people we treat with respect and love. More than we, they have a right to the present and to the future, together with us. Otherwise, neither technology nor promises of unlimited progress can save us
Free translation from the Spanish by
Servicios Koinonia, http://www.servicioskoinonia.org.
Done at REFUGIO DEL RIO GRANDE, Texas, EE.UU.