How did it happen – that’s my constant wondering – that humans separated ourselves out from the rest of the living (biotic) community? I have an idea about this, and I would love to be in conversation about it. I’m going to begin with an observation that will show up in other blog entries that a philosophy of human privilege or human entitlement over all non-human life forms of the planet (what I have elsewhere named dominion and rule) are so basic, so firmly embedded, and have formed us so deeply that we are hardly aware that they are working on us at all. The words of dominion and rule may be biblical, but they have spilled over into the culture, and they have formed all of us.
As I think about how this might have happened (and flourished) I can’t help but go to the cosmology operative in the five centuries before the birth of Jesus, and the several centuries that followed. The universe (cosmos) was ordered in a hierarchical way. There was the highest heaven, where God dwelt, the lower heavens of angels and other quasi divine beings. Then there was the earth, and below the earth were the various depths of Hades or hell. The many variations on this theme notwithstanding, the cosmos was ordered hierarchically. It makes perfect sense to me that the earth’s life forms would be ordered hierarchically as well, with humans at the top. free domain name . According to the first biblical story of creation, last is best. In case you are wondering how I can say that, think for a moment about church processions. The most important (priest or bishop) comes last.
So, given the first Creation story recorded in the biblical book of Genesis – God created the world and all who were to inhabit it in six days – the human family came last; ergo, the first family was the most important.
If we take that same hierarchical frame and drop it onto the organization of human society, we ought not be surprised that early cultures were organized in the same way. Men at the top, women and children, particularly daughters, ranked as property, kind of on a par with cattle and goats. Among the men themselves, royalty on top, tax collectors at the bottom.
Same with the moral code. The ten commandments written by God (as the story is told) on two tablets of stone, placed love and worship of God first, before they began to address cultural mores. The moral frame, like the known creational system, was organized hierarchically.
Here’s the problem. We know today, unequivocally, that the organization of the universe has little resemblance to the ancient understanding of the cosmos. We can and have described it with different words but are saying the same thing: a living web or web of life (Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Margaret Wheatley), a living, self-regulating organism (James Lovelock). Yet our creational organization, our cultural organization, and our ethics continue to derive from a first century and earlier hierarchical cosmology. How can this be?
We do know that the planet earth is a biocentric enterprise. Yet we behave as though we had progressed in our thinking and knowledge no further than a first or second century cosmology. If the patterns laid down in the earliest centuries of recorded history are to hold true, then we must ground our ethics, our cultural structures, our education, corporate life, and leadership in the operative contemporary pattern.
Given, then, that all life – human and non-human – is an interconnected, interdependent, networked web, what would it look like if we were to allow our personal, ethical, institutional, political, and spiritual lives to emerge from today’s understanding of the planet, emerging from within the web, rather than outside it? If this question for reflection interests you, my suggestion is that you take just one or two of the above named areas for exploration. You might find a conversation partner, pick up a drawing pad and pencils, write a poem, start a journal, or even take a walk. And if, upon reflection, you would be willing to offer your thoughts and ideas, the bigger conversation will begin.