We Don’t Share

rogue-primateLivingston has a problem with what he calls ‘zero-order humanism’. Sure, every individual struggles to live, and every group of one species or another refers to itself first, that’s only natural. But, though non-humans ‘are in the centre of their individual spotlights’, they ‘share their self-focused universes’ with other species. Humans don’t share.(137-138) Zero-order humanism (or humanism or human chauvinism–‘zero-order’ means ‘independent’ as in ‘humans are independent of Nature’) ‘dominates and governs whole societies, cultures, and civilizations. Thanks to our technology and reproductive accomplishments, humanism also determines the fate of all of Nature.'(139) He quotes David Ehrenfeld, who defines humanism as an ideology that rests on

a supreme faith in human reason–its ability to confront and solve the many problems that humans face, its ability to rearrange both the world of Nature and the affairs of men and women…. It rejects … the power of God, the power of supernatural forces, and even the undirected power of Nature in league with blind chance.(139-140)

Livingston writes that we reason away god/dess and supernatural forces, and control Nature with reasoning. He cautions that ‘hubris is rarely far away.'(143) We use science and technology, the pinnacle of our reasoning, to control other, ‘lesser’ beings, such as Jews, monkeys, and rats. ‘Like tongue depressors and Petri dishes, animals are materials to be used and garbaged as necessary.'(147) However, can we really control things, including ourselves, or are we subject to forces beyond our control? For example, Livingston maintains that ‘the AIDS epidemic is a natural response to human overpopulation and hyperdensity.’ But admitting this ‘reduces us to the level of animals, and that is not acceptable to zero-order humanism.’ To combat ‘recalcitrant’ nature, ‘no cost is too great to pay’. However, ‘salaries and hardware are factored in’, he writes, but ‘non-human terror and agony are not.'(147)

In addition to the use of non-human animals in the medical industry, Livingston reports examples of our use of them for fashion fur–sealing, for example (he could have picked others, he writes, such as sport killing, puppy mills, quack medicine, exotic pets, assembly line food, feed-lots, or horse racing). But ‘the role of Nature in the necessary subsidization of the human interest comes into sharpest focus in the use of animals for entertainment … in zoos [land and marine], menageries, circuses, and side-shows’, in hobby hunting and bullfights and rodeo, and as pets. I would add commercials.(148-157) He quotes Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence, with whom he attended a rodeo: ‘On its deepest level, rodeo is essentially a ritual addressing itself to the dilemma of man’s place in nature…. It deals with the major theme of human supremacy over nature.'(156) Our desires become wants become needs become rights… of humans only. We don’t share.


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