Natural biodiversity exists in a state of perpetual flux, generating (and enduring) countless catastrophes and disruptions that radically reshape its own being. “Therefore centring respect on this idea of natural biodiversity is pure ideology. Human society is totally dependent on the exploitation of nature in some form or another. “ Ross Wolfe.
It is not ideological to centre respect on biodiversity, however, if respect is taken in the sense I’ve outlined in this blog, as a capacity to reflect. Then, the edges begin to dissolve and what is left is a sense of the dissipation of energy through systems of which we, as human individuals, are a part (and, potentially, a respecting part).
Neither a panda nor a pond, neither a slug nor a field of gentians, shows any species specific signs of being moved to attain anything that resembles a human avoidance of pain or pursuit of pleasure. Yet every system, every living cluster – struggles to avoid annihilation.
Being human is being part of a biological irruption which, in the blink of an eye in evolutionary time, has jumped from a population of one million 10,000 years ago to a population of around 7.5 billion now. Within this evolutionary space we have developed the capacity to reflect upon our own impact, and we have developed the capacity to reflect on the kinds of creatures we are. This has allowed us to develop a myth of segregation. It has the potential, however, to allow us to develop a more accurate picture of how we fit in: as a part of, not apart from, the whole of nature.
We don’t know much about the level of sentience of other beings. However, we can be sure that there is much more of a common thread between our experience and theirs, based on our being much more integrated systems that include bacteria and other microbes than was previously imagined. It is our microbial selves, according to Lynn Margulis, that actually drive our understanding of the world we inhabit (and hence, one might conjecture, our sentience). This, in turn, implies that we have to get rid of the illusion that our agency is somehow of a different quality to that of other creatures. We can rule out the idea of free will in the traditional sense for the reasons I’ve give elsewhere in this blog, and we can agree, instead, that this places us much closer to the rest of existence. Our only qualitative difference lies in the reflective nature of our self-awareness that, itself, gives us only the ability to reflectively monitor what state we are in (although, as I’ve argued elsewhere, this monitoring may feed back and allow different kinds of states to emerge).
We are totally dependent on the exploitation of nature if and only if we see ourselves as apart from nature. If we see ourselves and our activity within the context of the natural, then we can see that the only level at which our agency operates (if at all) is at the level of self-reflective awareness. I use ‘respect’ to describe this capacity to reflect with awareness on our current situation, physical, physiological (and since this is always changing) dynamic. When we respond to the situation respectfully, it opens up into different levels of potential activity. In Zen terms, it is realised, brought into reality. This realisation involves our relationships with one another and with the world around us, living and non-living. This is what it means to create self-respect, and this is the role self-respect plays in our response to the environmental crisis or, as I’ve called it elsewhere, the ecological emergency. We are both co-creators of our experience, and co-creators of what emerges around us. When we call this an ’emergency’, we mean that in the sense of a crisis, something that involves catastrophic change. Yet emergence is not in itself catastrophic, providing it brings with it increasing awareness, and developing understanding, and the response to it is contained in the potential that we have to hold our experience compassionately, but impartially, in the growing field of our reflection.