Essay: Anthropocentrism v. Ecocentrism

 

Left - Ephemeral EarthWork created at Grand Canyon, 2001 by Sher Fick

When considering the effects of anthropocentrism versus ecocentrism one must reflect upon societies which based their communal existence on either and compare the two.  We know that originally, all humans were ecocentric in their manner of living in communion with the earth and, literally, worshiped the ground from whence they emerged.  Anthropologists note the major shift from the "earth mother" native cultures occurred when communities became tied to one piece of earth and to agricultural development.  The agriculturalist belief system spread and conquered surrounding societies to fulfill their need for food and shelter.

Continuing the agricultural movement has led to the now coined "techno-man" (see, philosopher Sam Keen) who seeks to conquer even the world in which we live.  The techno-men propose ways in which to prevent natural catastrophes (for example, proposing to hang a 2-mile wide mirror in space to reflect the sun onto the ocean surfaces to warm water to prevent hurricanes).  Maybe the hurricanes are Mother Nature's way of getting rid of fleas off her back, a type of population control.  It might be brutal, but so is birth and death, a natural life cycle.

While some advances are clearly beneficial to humankind (eradication of small pox and polio for example) and improve our quality of life, it is unknown what the ultimate outcome of technology shall be.  Considering the atomic bomb, which has killed thousands of people and destroyed acres of nature, to be a beneficial technology seems rather ludicrous as the technological aim is supposed to be improving upon nature, not destroying it.

It is the man-centered technologist who is making advances without due consideration to the world population as a whole.  It is a dreadful gift to create something which leads to ultimate destruction of any being.  This changes the creator into a destroyer.  If man's legacy upon this earth is measured only by his technical creations, we see that more has been destroyed than "created" in the last two hundred years.

An emotional wound is also left by this worship of technology over the natural world.  We view the phenomenon of serial killers and rapists in particular, most who profess a need to "overpower" the weaker individuals in an effort to prove their own superiority.  The belief systems have been inbred from childhood in the grand hierarchy of abuse - - - father abuses son, son abuses smaller children, smaller children abuse animals, so on and so forth, each generation increasing its abuse and victims evolving into abusers.  The grand pecking order of the anthropocentric belief system does not allow for empathy and compassion to any other individual, unless it serves one man's needs, let alone extending to women, animals, and the earth.

For thousands of years before techno/anthropocentric man, ecocentric humans inhabited our earth, communing with nature and surviving in a peaceable manner.  Communities moved with the seasons, gathered together when desired, yet left what they did not need.  The Kouri (Australian Aboriginal people) still live today the way they did for thousands of years.  The earliest art known is found in an Australian cave, dating back 14,000 years.  For millenniums the dreamtime tales have been passed down through verbal records, the same manner of building, harvesting and art making have continued unchanged.  Who has the right to say "This is not the right way," certainly not anyone outside of their culture.  Yet they have been dwindled in number down to only a few thousand, pushed time and time again from their ancient lands, forced to live on the outskirts of their sacred earth and ancestral dwelling places, to view in horror as "modern man" destroys the tundra and thousands of its species.  Native Americans have lived this same experience.

Anthropocentrism has all but killed out the ancient ecocentric way of life.  Only recently has the negative effects of anthropocentrism (war, bigotry, massive consumption of natural resources, etc.) become apparent to the general public and the positive effects of ecocentrism has made it to the forefront (complementary medicine, benefits of cultural diversity, conservation of nature, animal rights, etc.).  Not until the balance has been reached between the two will the outcome be known.

We have the power and technology with which to destroy ourselves and our planet, it is yet to be seen whether or not we have the power and technology to save ourselves and our planet.

written March 1999, Ethics Class with Dr. Dirk Dunbar, copyright Sher Fick