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Earth Jurisprudence

Earth jurisprudence, in contrast, is a philosophy or approach to governance that embraces the reality that humans are an integral part of the whole living community that we call “Earth,” and that, in order to flourish, we must govern ourselves in ways that accord with the laws of that community. Logically, if humans are part of a larger ordered universe (or Earth) without which we cannot exist, it must follow that we cannot flourish over any extended period of time unless the systems that we establish to govern human behavior are consistent with those that order the system as whole.

A subsystem based on principles that are entirely incompatible with those on which the whole system is based cannot persist for long. More importantly, if the forces that give us life and that enhance our well-being flow through the web of relationships that connect all that has come into being, then alienating humans from nature and establishing mutually antagonistic or competitive relationships between humans and Earth is entirely self-defeating.

The governance systems of industrial and consumerist societies are designed to legitimize and facilitate the exploitation of Earth on the basis that this is the best way of ensuring human well-being. Earth jurisprudence, on the other hand, seeks to guide humans to pursue their own well-being by contributing to the health, beauty, and integrity of the Earth communities within which they live.

One of the central premises of the Earth jurisprudence approach is that long-term human well-being and survival (as with other species) depends on the extent to which we are adapted to our habitat. Thus, the primary goal of human governance systems should be to ensure that humans behave in a manner that enables them to thrive without degrading the Earth community that is essential to life. This means that human governance systems should be aligned with, rather than run counter to, the principles that we observe governing the ever-renewing communities of life.

From this perspective, the purpose of governance is to enhance our fitness to survive (in the Darwinian sense) by progressively fine-tuning our adaptation to Earth. This will require drawing on the best available understanding of how the universe orders itself to inspire the design of congruent human governance systems that regulate people in accordance with the reality that we are embedded within Earth communities. The purpose of legal, economic, and political systems would be to promote behavior that contributes to the ongoing evolution of a healthy Earth community and to discourage behavior that is “anti-social” from the perspective of the community of life.

Earth jurisprudence reflects a worldview that is profoundly different from the materialist worldview of most contemporary cultures. It therefore poses a significant challenge to contemporary governance systems. Earth jurisprudence is not simply another theory jostling with other jurisprudential approaches for attention with an agreed framework of reference. It challenges the framework itself and calls into question the very purpose of governance as currently understood. It is an aspect of a wider cultural shift in our understanding of the universe and our place within it.

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