Review of Exploring Wild Law edited by Peter Burdon

The great thing about an anthology like this one is the diversity of voices and ideas. Of the thirty or so essays, nearly half of are by women. And does change in law, in society, happen by evolution or revolution or both? Even a paradigm shift, such as the Scientific Revolution, takes hundreds of years, which is a blip glacially or geologically but seems like forever to us humans. The ‘new’ science, which has hardly reached mainstream yet, started in 1905, or even before that….

In seeking origins, some go back a few hundred years to Newton and Descartes; others as far back as the Agricultural Revolution; but all, male or female, evolutionist or revolutionist, say we’re in trouble now, and propose changes to laws now and in the future–especially property law and international law, which define relations between people and between nations and between people and nature.

Wild law is based on the idea that laws are derived from nature–or they should be. A premise is that because we think laws are ultimately a human (anthropocentric) creation, we suffer a dangerous illusion. The book makes it plainly clear otherwise. In spite of their diversity, the dangerous illusion of anthropocentricism is a theme common to all the essays.

The essays begin by introducing the language and concepts of wild law. Jules Cashford writes, ‘We need to learn again the language of nature–a language that is poetic, musical, symbolic, subjective, a language of feeling and intuition…. We can no longer learn from the literal, objective language of the old science, which reduces the world to human categories in the illusion that it explains reality to the human mind.’

Editor Peter Burdon notes that law ‘is a major articulation of a culture’s self-concept’, yet ‘there has been a growing chorus of voices who contend that their unique perspective has been excluded or marginalized from orthodox legal theory’ and maintains that society contains social and legal injustice that ‘can be undermined and ultimately eliminated. In some instances … an alternative’ is presented. ‘It contends that Western law and jurisprudence is anthropocentric … [and] no longer has any credibility in modern science and that human beings exist as one equal part of a broader Earth community,  … [part of a] shift to an Earth-centered, or ”ecocentric”, theory of law.’

That biocentric wisdom can be found in indigenous cultures, such as those in Australia or Africa. Cormac Cullinan writes of ‘African customary law’s concern with restorative justice rather than retribution. Wrongdoing is seen as a symptom of a breakdown in relationships within the wider community, and the elders seek to restore the damaged relationship rather than focusing on identifying and punishing the wrongdoer.’ Retribution doesn’t make sense in an ecosystem, where you can’t lock somebody away.

What’s next? What’s in store for the next century, the next millennium? The future of human law and humanity itself are the visions of the anthology’s final essays. Westra calls for ecological integrity to replace our notion of anthropomorphic sustainability. Historian RF Nash looks ahead to the next millennium and envisions an ‘Island Civilization’ where humanity can flourish, and the wild, which is now the majority, flourishes too, and where wild law is no longer necessary.

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