THE NATURE OF ANTHROPOCENTRISM (HUMAN SUPREMACISM)

Introductory Remarks

In the previous chapter, I provided a detailed summary of the general formulation of leadership I developed in Following Reason, as well as an outline of the way in which the general formulation appears to open up a pathway for theorizing more specific modes of leading, such as rational leadership and environmental leadership. Now, in order for the theory to do its work, we require a thorough understanding of the two antithetical positions. Hence, this chapter is devoted to a thorough delineation of anthropocentrism, and the subsequent chapter attempts the same task regarding ecocentrism. By thoroughly understanding the two competing worldviews-practices, we shall then be able to determine whether given situations are more human-centered or more Earthcentered and then be able to identify the kinds of measures that might enable ecocentrically oriented situational change and preservation (some of these measures are discussed in the fourth chapter).

The term “anthropocentrism” brings together the concepts of anthropos (human) and kendros (the center). Before we investigate this relation, we first note that the word anthropos has a dual meaning, referring to the species and the individual person. How do we negotiate this dual signification when it comes to the meaning of “anthropocentrism”? The anthropos of anthropocentrism refers to humanity as a group, for we have other terms at our disposal that signify the “centrism” expressed by the individual for whom the self is the center or apex of existence, such as “egocentrism,” “self-centeredness,” and so on. Of course, it’s not unreasonable to claim that the two centrisms — anthropocentrism and egocentrism - are related (refer to, e.g., Bateson 1972: 485; Merchant 1992; Plumwood 1993; Purser, Park and Montuori 1995: 1062), but an analysis of their correlation exceeds the contours of this study. Returning to the obvious point that the word-concept “anthropocentrism” is comprised of two elements (the anthropos claimed to be the kendros), we repeat the aforementioned point that it does not simply have to do with distinguishing between humanity and its others but exploiting the distinction. The human lies at the center; the nonhuman is vanquished to the periphery.

When and how does the word “anthropocentrism” enter discourse? This particular term - and its synonyms (discussed shortly) — appears to be a relatively recent one, likely emerging in the nineteenth century (OED; Wolloch 2009: 46). It remains a relatively obscure term; nevertheless, the force it names powerfully pervades our lives and societies, fundamentally constituting our reality (Boddice 2009: 5; Moore 2017: 5). Indeed, as I aim to show, anthropocentrism is so ubiquitous and embedded that its familiarity conceals its nature (McLaughlin 1993: 153; on how the familiar obscures itself by virtue of its familiarity, refer to, e.g., Hegel 2003: 17-18; Wittgenstein 2009: 104). Our proximity to anthropocentrism undermines our awareness of it. Hence, the requirement to vigilantly identify it, critically analyze it, and seek to dislodge it.

When does the word “anthropocentrism” enter academic discourse? A pioneering short paper by historian Robert Livingston Schuyler, titled “Man’s Greatest Illusion” (1948), is a short discourse on anthropocentrism. The author succinctly defines this “greatest illusion” in terms of humanity’s purported occupation of “a central position in the universe” and that “we are at the apex of creation” (1948: 46-47). We may note here - as a kind of entry into our exploration of the meaning of anthropocentrism - that the terms “central/center” and “apex” are exactly the way I define the concept, i.e., anthropocentrism involves the set of attitudes and practices whereby humanity considers itself the center and apex of existence. Now, we further note that Schuyler also describes our anthropocentrism as “subconscious vanity”: we vainly (arrogantly) assume this position of superiority but it’s largely “subconscious” in the sense that (as noted earlier) it’s so pervasive and apparent that we are typically unaware of it. It should also be noted that Schuyler’s paper does not approach the problem from an ecological perspective (Moore 2017): the author’s aim is to critique anthropocentrism in terms of its epistemic arrogance; Schuyler attempts to show how a more modest understanding of our place in the cosmos will allow us to advance epistemically.

In the 1970s, synonymous terms for “anthropocentrism” were invented/ recollected. The pioneering animal-rights activist Richard Ryder coined the word “speciesism” (1974) (though, as will become clearer as we proceed, specie-sism remains within the confines of biocentric thinking). Prominent Australian eco-philosophers Richard Routley (later, Richard Sylvan) and Vai Routley (later, Vai Plumwood) foregrounded the phrase “human chauvinism” in a series of cutting-edge papers (1973, 1979, 1980). Given that “chauvinism” refers to a posture of superiority (whether in terms of one’s nationality, gender, etc.), then “human chauvinism” powerfully describes anthropocentrism. And by construing the other as inferior, we are able to abuse it and annihilate it (five key manifestations or expressions of human-centeredness are discussed in the next five sections). The Routleyan phrase has not subsequently gained much traction (either academically or publicly), perhaps at least partly because the word “chauvinism” (like the word “sexism”) might be considered a lexical relic of the 1970s. But given the phrase’s succinct and dynamic encapsulation of anthropocentrism’s meaning, I intermittently employ it here.

Other synonyms for “anthropocentrism” that I utilize here include “human-centeredness” (e.g., Eckersley 1992; Plumwood 1999) and “homocentrism” (e.g., Rodman 1980; Rolston 1986; Gladwin, Kennelly and Krause 1995). But perhaps my favored synonym is “human supremacism”: it nimbly sums up the truest or “strongest” meaning of “anthropocentrism” (I'll shortly discuss the ways in which it has been diluted or softened). Pioneering ecological thinker, Lynn White Jr., who wrote the seminal 1967 article “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis” (referenced throughout this treatise) powerfully describes anthropocentrism according to this kind of terminology: “We are superior to nature, contemptuous of it, willing to use it for our slightest whim” (1967: 1206). Years later, Meyer-Abich will express the same/similar sentiment -albeit in a more diluted way: “Modern people tend to consider themselves as something better than nature” (1993: 66). Note, too, eco-law philosopher Ben Mylius’ excellent definition: “This worldview understands humans as independent from, and superior to, all else in the world” (2013: 106). Anthropocentrism can thus be construed as “superiority complex writ large.”

The present work thus construes this concept-practice in its profoundest sense, for certain scholars render the term in much “weaker” senses, e.g., as the unavoidable human perspective (Beckerman and Pasek 2010: 86); as “an acknowledgement of human ontological boundaries” (Boddice 2011: 1); that it is still consistent with environmentalism (Passmore 1974; Burchett 2014); that there is an “enlightened” form of it, so to speak (e.g., Thompson 1990; Hayward 1996; Wood 2019). This semantic dilution and splintering are perfectly epitomized by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), where the first rendering reflects the “soft” signification, and the subsequent one reflects the fullest meaning: “Primary or exclusive focus on humanity; the view or belief that humanity is the central or most important element of existence, esp. as opposed to God [sir] or the natural world” (2016: n.p.). As far as this book is concerned, the strong sense is the truest one, since the soft renderings may be more clearly expressed by other established terms or propositions, such as “perspective,” “focus,” etc.

We also note that the second OED formulation is still insufficiently strong, given that it specifies anthropocentrism as a “view or belief” rather than stipulating that it also includes actions, institutions, and systems. Anthropocentrism expresses itself in attitudes, behaviors, practices, organizations, and social structures. It’s not just an idea or ideology but a way of life - or more accurately: a way of destruction. Of course, the concept-phenomenon’s complexities and minutiae cannot be encapsulated in brief general definitions: the process of qualification and refinement unfolds as we proceed.

We may end this introductory section by very quickly noting some of the drivers of anthropocentrism’s emergence and intensification. Sufficient scholarly attention has been paid to the following forces: Hellenistic philosophy and modern philosophy and science (White 1967; Renehan 1981; Harrison 1999; Wolloch 2009; Steiner 2010; Kureethadam 2017); mainstream Christianity (Bible 1993, e.g., Genesis 1: 26, 28; White 1967; Santmire 1985; Harrison 1999; Marangudakis 2001); and modern democracy (White 1967; Kiley 2014). This last factor is often forgotten or ignored but White could not be any clearer in this regard: “Our écologie crisis is the product of an emerging, entirely novel, democratic culture” (1967: 1204). Another overlooked backgrounded factor is perhaps the most crucial (and certainly the most controversial): homocentrism appears to have emerged with the rise of agriculture (Sahlins 1967; Shepard 1982; Manes 1990: 225-234; McLaughlin 1993: 10; Purser, Park and Montuori 1995: 1057, n. 1; Mathews 1999a: 122; Ruddiman 2005; Morton 2013, 2016: esp. 38-52, 66-76; cf. White 1940, 1962, 1967; Passmore 1974: 1, 12). Unfortunately, due to the limits of the study, we cannot discuss this hypothesis here, but it appears to be quite a compelling one, and if/to the extent that it is true, then it confirms the antiquity, rootedness, ubiquity, and magnitude of human supremacism.

We now turn to the task of identifying and expounding some of the most significant and powerful ways in which homocentrism expresses itself in terms of contemporary social attitudes, practices, institutions, and structures. These “expressions” of anthropocentrism are mutually or dialectically related: they facilitate and are facilitated by each other; human-centeredness fosters these manifestations and is in turn strengthened by them. As we aim to show, they thrive as vicious circles/spirals. Now, one could propose that anthropocentrism pervades just about every aspect of our (especially Western) lives and societies, exhibiting itself in a multitude of ways - too many to be enumerated and treated in a relatively short treatise. Hence, I “limit” the exposition to the following five sets of attitudes-actions: hyper-instrumentalism, hyperconsumption, hyper-production, eco-colonization (the colonization of nature), and ecocide (mass ecological destruction). I will proceed in the following manner: first, each phenomenon is defined and described, and then I show how human-centeredness is a fundamental condition for its realization. We shall advance by proceeding from the more apparently innocuous attitudes-actions to the most blatantly disastrous ones. The discussion of each expression shall show how existing (especially Western) situations tend to be overwhelmingly anthropocentric. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a delineation of each of these five expressions will allow us to then line them up against their corresponding Earth-centered opposites (Chapter 4); the comparison will allow us to identify and discuss leaderly measures that would replace the anthropocentric expressions with the ecocentric ones, thereby leading to situational transformation, and the comparison will also allow us to identify and discuss leaderly measures that would preserve eco-centered situations from anthropocentric contestation - this dual action is the very process of the kind of Earth-centered leadership advanced in this study.

So I now turn to the task of identifying and analyzing various key ways human chauvinism exhibits or expresses itself, given that the logic of human supremacism manifests itself in/as various attitudes, behaviors, institutions, and systems. (The way human-centeredness manifests itself in these various logics and practices is akin to the way ideas or feelings express themselves in acts; for example, happiness may be expressed by the act of smiling or dancing: the feeling discloses itself via these materializations.)

 
Source
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >