A Vocabulary Lesson ~ Anthropocentric

(from an article submitted and just as quickly rejected by Mother Jones magazine)

We are an anthropocentric, or human centered, bunch. With few exceptions we believe that humans live outside the frame and laws of the natural world; that creation is the gift bestowed upon humans alone; and that said creation exists to serve humans who have been designated the planet’s overseers (stewards) with the biblically based license to dominate and rule, To subdue the earth, rule over the fish of the see, all the wild birds of heaven, and every living thing that moves upon the earth. The word which most aptly describes us as a species is anthropocentric; we insist on our place of human privilege and entitlement. What we have yet to acknowledge is the vast body of scientific evidence to the contrary, which states without apology that the biosphere is a complex and interconnected web of the living and the dead, and that humans live – not disconnected from it in any superior and overseer kind of way – but are intrinsic to it, of no more or no less value to the system itself than, say, a dung beetle or a coral reef. It follows, then, that all human behavior which harms the earth community, harms the humans whose proper place is within it and integral to it.

This is not new news, but our refusal to claim an appropriate human place within the greater earth community has had, and continues to have, disastrous impact. In the words of the late Thomas Berry:

The deepest cause of the present devastation is found in a mode of consciousness that has established a radical discontinuity between the human and other modes of being. . . the other-than-human modes of being have reality and value only through their use by the human.

In this context the other-than-human becomes totally vulnerable to exploitation by the human, an attitude that is shared by all four of the fundamental establishments that control the human realm – the political, economic, intellectual, and religious.

Until we know and can accept this, then reeducate ourselves as to the appropriate place of humans, not the biblical place but our place within the earth community, nothing we say or pledge to accomplish regarding the care of our natural world will have bite. Humans cannot care for the earth from the position of steward, or overseer, and the reason is simple. Growth in terms of human progress is valued more highly than the health of the ecosystem. We are not understanding that if the health of the ecosystem continues to deteriorate at our hands, there will be no growth in human progress. There is no way around this, and the state of the planet at present bears this out. In order to turn our attention to the healing of the planet, we have to redefine ourselves from a biocentric not an anthropocentric perspective.

For Reflection

Our sense of human privilege and entitlement blinds us to countless destructive aspects of our very ordinary behavior. Here’s a simple example: consider how our desire for green, weed and pest-free lawns leads to weed killers, bug killers, and lawn fertilizers, which then upset the very delicate balance of organic life, leech into waterways and contaminate them, and destroy habitat for many birds, small animals, etc.

Can you name – with specifics – the negative impact your own, often unconscious, sense of privilege and entitlement wreaks on the earth community?

This question might belong in the context of a group discussion, could be within a family,  although you certainly can tackle the question solo. As always, thoughtful commentary is not only appreciated, but enriches the ongoing conversation.


  1. hydorgen generator on May 19, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    I would love to read more about this topic.Don’t stop blogging! It’s nice to read a sane commentary for once.Excellent read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that.

  2. Caroline Fairless on May 31, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    Hmmm, okay, I will write more on this topic. It’s probably the most critical in terms of the collective change of the human heart. Thanks for writing. You encourage me!

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