“Making Peace with the Earth: A Vision for the Future”[i]
By William Soderberg
Montgomery College Peace and Justice Studies
Presented 19 September 2017
For International Peace Day
ABSTRACT: Hope for the human future may well lie in a better understanding of some of the main causes of violence directed at other humans and at nature itself. The followers of some worldviews and ways of life have viewed themselves as superior to others who subscribe to different worldviews and ways of life. Some people have favored an agricultural way of life over a nomadic lifestyle, and violence has occurred when these two ways of life came into conflict. Many people in industrial societies have preferred their lifestyle to both the agricultural and nomadic, and violence has also accompanied conflict between the different lifestyles. Some agriculturists and industrialists view themselves as rising above or improving upon nature in a “civilized state”; by contrast, they view nomadic peoples as living in a “state of nature”—that is, closer to nature or in a “natural state.” Those who hold a dualist worldview and follow an agricultural way of life tend to regard only some types of people as capable of governing a civilized society. Those who subscribe to a materialist worldview and an industrial way of life typically view nature as a passive resource to be exploited for monetary gain. The result is a war on nature that often includes wars on those viewed as living closer to nature. The agricultural and industrial practices that result in depletion of resources, degradation of the environment, and development of weaponry capable of destroying all living things force a critical examination of attitudes of superiority over nature and those said to be living closer to nature. These dangerous practices also require an exploration of alternative worldviews and lifestyles to reverse unjust and violent policies that stem from the attitudes of superiority.
We are facing crises today that call for a dramatic change in our way of life. These crises include a depletion of resources, degradation of the environment, and the existence of highly destructive modern weaponry. The very existence of humanity itself is threatened by these environmental insults as well as the existence of nuclear weapons. The deployment of nuclear weaponry would bring a devastating nuclear winter that could destroy all life on the planet.[ii] Elements essential to life are being poisoned or depleted—air, water, food, and fossil fuel sources of energy. These factors point to the harsh reality that the industrial way of life as we know it is not sustainable.
The prospect that humanity faces its own extinction or a non-sustainable way of life is so difficult to face that some people have denied that resources are being depleted or that the environment is being degraded through climate change. This denial is an echo of the first stage that individuals reach when they are diagnosed as terminal. The first stage is denial, the second anger, the third bargaining, the fourth depression, and the fifth acceptance (Kubler-Ross).
One response is represented by a group known as anti-natalists. This group essentially has given up any hope for humanity’s survival and makes the claim that humanity should hasten its own extinction (Benatar).
Hope for the future may be discovered in the history of ideas by understanding underlying causes that have contributed to environmental insults and the development of highly destructive weapons. Exploring the history of ideas and past ways of life can also shed light on sources of fears and outright hatred that lead to violence among different groups.
Some violence connected to changes of ways of life is defensive: defending one’s home (Islam, Zen Buddhism), but some is offensive (forcing one’s way of life on others through violent means –crusades, Indian wars in the Americas). Persons or groups perceived as threatening a way of life have sometimes been brutalized (inquisitions, genocides). However, some changes in colonial attitudes and practices have resulted from non-violent resistance (India’s liberation from British rule, South African ending of apartheid, U.S. civil rights movement).
Part of the fear of change from an industrial way of life is fed by false choices: either the industrial way or the nomadic way; or either the industrial way or the agricultural way. However, positive features can be drawn from each of the three ways of life. The growing shift toward an ecological way of life finds many people today retaining positive features of nomadic, agricultural, and industrial ways of life while also avoiding negative features. It is worth recalling that the nomadic and agricultural ways sustained people for millennia, while the industrial way has existed for only about two centuries.
Many who have reached the stage of accepting the likely prospect that humanity itself is threatened have begun to respond by asking how this grim prospect can be addressed. These responses search for a sustainable way of life, and hope for the future may be found by engaging the imagination and creating a vision of an ecological way of life that respects the strengths of nomadic, agricultural, and industrial ways of life.
CONFLICTING WORLDVIEWS AND WAYS OF LIFE
People through the ages have searched for sustainable ways of life, and three major periods in which a particular lifestyle was dominant may be identified: the nomadic, agricultural, and industrial. Nomadic hunters, gatherers, and herdsmen regarded the earth as a sacred place that supplied their wants on land and in water. The land and water belonged to no particular persons but their bounty was available to all. Farmers in the agricultural period grew their food in preference to hunting or gathering. While some land was owned privately in the agricultural model, some land was reserved for what was known as the commons (communal land). All, including nomadic herdsmen, could bring their sheep or cattle to graze on the commons. Industrial society continued the practice of private ownership begun in the agricultural societies, but the owners with the greatest accumulation of wealth eventually became concentrated in corporations that, in our time, have been declared persons.
The nomadic and agricultural ways of life generally have been accompanied by communitarian or relation-based moral philosophies. The industrial way of life has typically been supported by moral liberal or principle-based moral philosophies. The liberal or principle-based philosophies that have accompanied and supported the industrial way of life include libertarian and utilitarian moral philosophies. While the theory of Locke aimed to address problems that arose in the agricultural period, it has been re-interpreted and employed by some philosophers to support the industrial society.
The nomadic, agricultural and industrial ways of life have generally placed a primary focus on the survival of different social units. The worldviews in nomadic societies, while centered on the sacredness of all life, focused on the survival of the family or tribe. Agricultural societies with mainly dualist worldviews sought to make the local agricultural community or village self-subsistent. Industrial societies have been built primarily on materialist worldviews and have aimed at the flourishing of the nation-state.
A dualist worldview accepts two worlds—a physical and a non-physical world. The mind commonly serves as evidence of a non-physical realm, and the body belongs to the physical realm. A materialist worldview denies the existence of a non-physical realm, including a non-physical mind. Everything can be explained in physical (chemical, physical, or biological) terms, according to those who hold a materialist worldview.
Changes in worldviews and ways of life can give rise to open conflict and violence. When Europeans were colonizing in the Americas and other parts of the world, violence took place when their mainly Christian dualist worldview and agricultural way of life came into conflict with nature-based worldviews of indigenous people. The Europeans often perceived the way of life of indigenous populations as nomadic and the original inhabitants as living in a state of nature. In the violent conflict known as the Civil War, the industrial way of life of the North came into conflict with the agricultural way of life of the South and its caste system that placed slaves at the bottom of the social hierarchy. The materialist worldviews of many Northern industrialists conflicted with the dualist worldviews of many Southerners, a conflict of ideas that contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War.
In our time, the industrial way of life has been a major contributor to the degradation of the environment and to the depletion of resources vital for human existence. The demand for resources has led the U.S. to become involved in wars, and concerns for the environment have led to confrontations.[iii] The conflicts in both the international and domestic settings may be traced in large measure to conflicts between the competing worldviews and different ways of life.
When war breaks out, a recurring pattern is that each side dehumanizes those on the other side. This takes the form of reducing the enemy to subhuman status, a status that may enable combatants to cope with the thought of killing another in war. Dehumanization in war continues a similar dehumanization that occurs whenever one group of people subjects another group to arbitrary, inhumane, and unjust treatment. Enslaved persons in the Americas were often victims of violence equivalent to the violence of war. To justify such treatment the perpetrators of these practices reduce the victims of injustice—whether members of a particular race, sex, ethnicity, religion, or nationality—to a subhuman status.
Discriminatory practices contribute to the perpetuation of attitudes of superiority, and war is a direct extension of practices of such practices and attitudes. Conflicts between ways of life and the worldviews that accompany the different ways of life become a major source of discrimination.
The judgment that one group is superior to another is tied to differences in ways of life. Agriculturalists tend to judge nomads as less civilized than citizens of an agricultural village.[iv] People who subscribe to an industrial way of life often perceive nomads and agriculturists as less advanced than themselves.[v] A school of thought known as Social Darwinism has claimed that only the “economically fittest” persons have a right to survive (Spencer). Access to health care is viewed as a privilege, not a basic right, from the Social Darwinist perspective.
The worldviews of dualism and materialism allegedly give a firm foundation for answers to the question of what ultimately is real. When followers of these worldviews regard their views of humans and ultimate reality as well grounded, they frequently attach a high degree of certainty to their beliefs. Those who subscribe to dualist and materialist worldviews have been described as foundationalists.
Many who hold a dualist worldview place some people higher on a scale of being, and they regard those in such higher places as different in kind from those in lower positions (Plato). The dualist ranking of higher and lower in Plato’s case results from a search for qualified leaders in a society. Dualists typically regard the “higher beings” as more qualified to be the legislators for society.
An alleged higher status is applied to individuals as well as to groups of people. A follower of the Platonic philosophy in the Christian tradition was St. Augustine. Augustine subscribed to a dualist philosophy that placed the clergy in the position of fair-minded leaders at the top of Plato’s social pyramid. The fair-minded clergy, in the Augustinian tradition, were to direct the use of the state’s coercive power—namely, the military and police.
Many materialists reject the hierarchy supported by dualists, but they view the shift—from nomadic to agricultural to industrial society—as representing both material and moral progress. The shift indicates material progress since each new way of life reflects greater mastery over nature. In the materialist’s worldview, the ability to manipulate nature through applied science becomes the standard by which to measure material progress (Comte). The shift in ways of life also indicates moral progress since the balance of pleasure over pain has been increased by the application of the medical and other sciences (Bentham, Zola).
ECOLOGICAL WORLDVIEWS AND WAYS OF LIFE
The problems with resource depletion, environmental degradation, and weapons of mass destruction during the past half-century have prompted a search for different ways of life. These new ways of life may be described as ecological ways of life. Based on a more cosmopolitan worldview, the alternative ways of life are global in scope and aim at the survival of humanity. The narrower focus on the family, the agricultural village, or the nation now faces a challenge from those who view themselves as ecology-conscious citizens of the world—people with a global perspective and a concern for the biotic community. This perspective gives priority neither to materialism nor dualism as a supporting worldview, but rather focuses primarily on species survival.
In the emerging global perspective, each human—regardless of race, sex, ethnicity, religion, or country of origin—is considered the possessor of basic human rights and is entitled to survive and to the basic necessities for survival. This global perspective also seeks cooperation with nature rather than competition against nature as a hostile force to be subdued.
In the past, some ways of life have supplanted other ways of life. Today we are witnessing an industrial way of life that is being supplanted by ecological ways of life. Both non-violent methods and violent events accompany this change. Violent resistance to excesses of industrialization is widespread, and just as wars have sometimes accompanied past changes in ways of life, the wars and violent events taking place today repeat this pattern that heralds a change in a way of life. Non-violent resistance to excesses of industrialization has also been occurring and serves as another indication of dissatisfaction with a way of life.
Each way of life—nomadic, agricultural, and industrial—has positive and negative features. The positive features help to explain why some ways of life lasted so long. These features also make it difficult for those who follow a way of life to accept the demise or the death of their way of life. The negative aspects help to explain why some ways of life have died or have come into conflict with other ways of life. This conflict has occurred when one way of life is supplanted by another and is often accompanied by hatred of people that is mixed with a fear or disdain for their different way of life.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
Some people express concern over returning to nomadic or agricultural ways of life. They claim that we simply cannot do so. The false choice between industrial and agricultural (or industrial and nomadic) ways of life is present when people wholly dismiss a nomadic or agricultural way of life. While it is true that we cannot return wholesale to these ways of life, we can receive some guidance by examining the ways of life that sustained families and communities for millennia—or in the case of the industrial society for less than two centuries—as we face our present dilemmas. At the same time, the elements that have posed a threat to these ways of life may also guide us in learning what to avoid.
A vision for the future may be shaped by retaining what we can of the positives while also avoiding the negatives of the three conflicting ways of life. From nomadic hunters-gatherers or herders, we can accept the goal to respect and preserve nature, the view that nature is sacred, and a cyclic view of history. Many Native Americans described the “hunter of good heart,” who gave the following apology after killing an animal: “Thank you for giving your life and giving me food; in the next life, I may be the prey and you may be the hunter.” Cooperation with nature is another positive feature of the nomadic way of life that merits close attention, as well as the “seven generations” perspective when policies regarding treatment of the land and preservation of traditional practices arose. Since each individual could personally know seven generations (one’s own generation, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren), he or she had a vested interest in learning from the ancestors to preserve the land and the traditional ways for coming generations.
From the agricultural tradition, private property with controlled access to the commons is a positive feature, as is the selection of conscientious leaders. Only some people are capable of governing a society, according to the Platonic-Augustinian tradition. This feature of the agricultural period invites reflection on qualities of leaders, how they are selected, and their commitment to the survival of the community and its members.
From the scientific-industrial outlook, the concept of moral progress has merit. While the industrial society sought moral progress through material progress in which the pain of individuals would be reduced and the happiness increased, perhaps a broader notion than material progress deserves consideration in an ecological society. Moral progress, for example, is likely to occur when equality among people rather than superiority or supremacy of some people over others prevails. Attitudes of superiority lead to the arbitrary and tyrannical treatment of some people by other people—e.g., brutal colonialism, racism, sexism, genocide, slavery, including wage slavery.
We may also learn from the negatives or weaknesses of the three ways of life as we shape a vision for the future. One of the negatives common to all three ways of life may be described as the problem of limited perspectives. Among nomads, the focus was limited to the survival of the family or tribe, and the governing was patriarchal. Agriculturists limited their perspective to the village, which they saw as the basic economic unit that needed to cooperate for survival. The influence of western Christianity through much of the agricultural period supported a dualist, human-centered (or anthropocentric) view that humans are superior to nature, expressed in the biblical directive that humans exercise dominion over nature.[vi] The industrial model makes the nation-state the basic economic unit and the focal unit for survival. A nation’s success is measured in economic terms by an increase in the gross national product (GNP). Measuring economic success by growth implies endless resources.[vii] Resources, as this generation has painfully recognized, are limited.
The limited perspectives of the three ways of life are now giving way to the broader perspective of respect for the rights of all humans and the well-being and survival of other species. All humans—not merely those familiar (family), villagers, or the citizens of one’s nation—possess basic human rights and a right to survive. Aldo Leopold even extends rights to the land and nature itself (Leopold).
A negative or weakness found among two ways of life, the agricultural and industrial, is a linear view of history. In the dualist Christianity common among agriculturists, humans are viewed as perfecting an imperfect natural world. Industrialists who follow mainly a materialist perspective see history as progress from a primitive to an advanced state of civilization.
Other weaknesses of the industrial system include a shift from individual to corporate ownership, an unfettered commons, a materialist worldview, the need for an all-powerful leader (individual or nation), the creation of marginalized populations, a need to deny depletion of resources and climate change, and its non-sustainability.
A VISION FOR THE FUTURE
Some leaders today are denying the depletion of resources and the causes of degradation of the environment and climate change. Rather than deny the very real prospect that our way of life is non-sustainable and dying, we can go beyond denial and accept that the industrial way of life, humanity itself, and life on the planet are all threatened.
A student of mine once commented: “If we can invent cell phones, we can find the resources to save humanity.” This comment expresses hope, but such hope requires action. A danger to be avoided is blind trust in science or industry to “bail us out.” An informed trust is needed, and to inform ourselves we can turn to precedents in the history of ideas that help to inform our trust and evaluate the quality of leadership.
A threat to human survival may be traced to several contributing factors, including these beliefs: the economy must grow; privatizing water, food, communication systems and energy sources manages the threat; humanity can be liberated from nature; and the foundational claim that one way of life—the industrial—is superior to all others.
When the right to private property emerged in the agricultural period, individuals were viewed as the rightful possessors of property. As Locke envisioned the right, those who “mixed their labor with the resource (land)” had a right to the resource (Locke). In the late twentieth century, corporations have been granted the legal status of persons. As such, they have assumed the right to life (to survive), liberty (freedom in the marketplace), and property (the right to accumulate wealth—which they have done without restraint).
Garrett Hardin wrote an article called “The Tragedy of the Commons” in the 1960s that described the tragic consequences of making the common property open to all (Hardin). He envisioned pastureland to which all would have access for grazing their flocks. The battles that would ensue when the population grew too large would result in the tragedy of the commons.[viii] Since Hardin’s initial article, privatization has become widely practice in many circles.
As privatization has become the order of the day in industrial society, corporations have grown into multi-national entities. The size of many corporations has shifted the focus of survival from the nation to the corporation.
Both agriculturalists and industrialists have pursued liberation from nature—perfecting nature in the dualist outlook commonly found among agriculturalists and subduing nature in the materialist view of many industrialists.
The claim that the industrial way of life is superior to all others is evident in a statement at the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Then President George H.W. Bush stated: “The American way of life is not up for negotiation. Period.”
ALTERNATIVES TO DUALIST AND MATERIALIST FOUNDATIONALISM
Alternatives to the dualist and materialist forms of foundationalism may be found. A morality of care associated mainly with feminist philosophy has emerged in our time. Nel Noddings, Annette Baier, Virginia Held and Sara Ruddick have been major voices in the development of a morality of care.[ix] Secondly, the existentialist movement addressed the horrors of war and genocide in the 20th century (Sartre). The pragmatic position of philosophers such as John Dewey is a third alternative. Dewey advocated that philosophers should abandon a search for certainty regarding foundational worldviews and focus instead on protecting humans against the ravages of nature (Dewey). Today we could add to Dewey’s proposal that the ravages of nature include human-induced ravages of nature. A fourth alternative may be found in the social contract theory of John Rawls. He avoids the pitfalls of interpreting the state of nature as a primitive actual state in which people are engaged in a war of each against all. Rawls proposes that by nature (or in a “state of nature”) people are fair-minded. He regards the social contract as a hypothetical agreement that explains the ability of humans to discover or create rights in the absence of a shared foundational worldview. A fifth alternative may be found in the work of Alasdair MacIntyre, who challenged the foundationalist claims concerning the different notions of progress with his proposal: “The purpose of the quest is to discover the purpose of the quest.” Finally, an alternative measure of economic success found in Buddhist economics offers much promise. Economic success is not measured by growth but by the ratio of result to resource. When resources are limited, the ratio of result to resource is a better measure of success since it encourages the efficient use of resources. This re-directs the focus away from growth in GNP (gross national product) and toward the preservation of resources (Schumacher).
Growth in the economy as a measure of economic success is tied to the use of interest. A barter economy was the general practice among nomads, while the agricultural economy introduced money as a more efficient means of barter. The use of interest was declared illegal by Christianity throughout most of the Christian era, with interest condemned as a way of making money. Christianity condemned interest until the rise of the industrial era. Many parts of the Islamic tradition continue into the present day to condemn the use of interest. Karl Marx continued the mistrust of interest: he had deep misgivings about finance capitalism that turned to interest and away from industrial capitalism as a way to make profit. While profit in industrial capitalism is made through the manufacture of products, in finance capitalism profit is made through the collection of interest on investments. Marx foresaw the profound divisions of classes that followed the use of interest to make money and warned against societal instability and the end of capitalism when these divisions deepened.
The enormous inequalities in the distribution of wealth today may be traced mainly to the use of interest. The drive to accumulate wealth has been exacerbated by the removal of limits on the legitimate collection of interest. Adam Smith, a major voice in the rise of capitalism, advocated a 5% per year limit on interest. The suspension of limits on interest feeds a greed for accumulation that contributes to the creation of a caste system and thereby threatens the stability of an industrial society.
Trust in the leaders is critical to the stability of a society, but class or caste division undermines trust in the leaders. The Chinese tradition includes a warning against loss of trust in the leaders (Confucius). If a society is to remain stable, according to Confucius, trust in the leaders is even more important than the government’s providing military protection and food.
One may ask “Why care?” Is care about humanity and future life on the planet based on religion? Does care for humanity lead to a materialistist belief in inevitable scientific progress or the dualist hope in the perfectibility of humans? The anti-natalists have taken the threat to humanity to an extreme and claimed that we should accept the end of humanity (Benatar). Hope for the future rejects anti-natalism and the death of humanity.
A personal tragedy struck close when a friend of mine committed suicide. As I tried to cope with this tragic event, I realized that each day was a gift I was giving to myself—the gift of life that my friend could no longer give to himself. One result of a foundational framework is that the present world does not matter as much as a higher realm of spirit (in dualism) or a better future world (materialism). A person may conclude from these foundational views that this world really doesn’t matter. When life is viewed as a gift—that I receive from my ancestors and that I accept when I choose to continue my own life—this world really does matter. As I learn more about the hardships and misfortunes suffered by my ancestors, I take heart that despite their suffering they still cared enough continue their own lives and to pass life on as a gift to me. The world matters enough for me to care about my own future and the future of those I bring into the world. I took from my study of existentialism that the choice of life is the very core of morality and responsibility (Sartre).
If this account seems coherent to you, we may say that, on our watch, we should pursue a sustainable way of life that may be passed on to the children and to their children’s children. When we accept rather than deny a threat to humanity, we can commit ourselves to an ecological way of life and begin by addressing the issue of what belongs in the commons.
Having gone beyond the foundational views of dualism and materialism, we can approach issues by focusing directly on the threats to species survival. Among these issues is the question of what belongs in the commons.
While land and water were part of the commons in the agricultural period, voices are being raised today and many people are saying that the commons should be extended to include more than land and water. These voices are calling for the restoration of the commons as an alternative to the privatization of essential goods. Among the goods that have been brought under private or corporate control, in whole or in part, are the following. Items in parentheses provide examples for the list provided in Amster (2016): water (bottled water), the military (private military or mercenaries), food (corporate farms and distribution of food from distant sources), biodiversity (GMOs, or genetically modified organisms), DNA (patenting of life forms and methods of genetic modification), airwaves (radio, television and internet), health care (health insurance, pharmaceuticals, medical research, and for-profit hospitals), and education (charter schools). Richard Belzer adds fossil fuels, bridges, highways, power plants, parking meters, airports, toll roads, libraries, and shipping ports (Belzer). Even government itself has been privatized when wealthy private individuals or corporations control the means of government.
The voices calling for a restoration of the commons cite each of the following examples as areas in which some form of restraint and public control must be restored.[x] In addition to public land, the commons should include air (free of pollutants), water, food, public services (solar and wind energy, education, health care), airwaves (including the internet), biodiversity, and DNA (Amster, 2016).
The face of Social Darwinism has shown itself in our own time in the struggle to provide access to health care for everyone. The U.S. is the only developed country that does not insure all within its borders for health care. The Social Darwinist claim that only the economically fittest are entitled to survive is clearly evident in this situation, with access to health care based on what one can afford rather than what one needs. Single payer health insurance for all (paid for with taxes) is gaining momentum and holds out some promise that the arbitrary exclusion of twenty million people in this country from receiving health care may be reversed. Single-payer health insurance, or medicare for all (paid for with taxes) is one area that could help to reverse the harsh effects of Social Darwinism.
When some people encounter the view of indigenous peoples that nature is sacred, they may be inclined to back away from what appears to be a private religious perspective. However, there is a best side and a worst side of religion. People who envision a better way of life join a long tradition of groups that have fought for new moral frameworks. These groups formed movements that eventually flourished and developed into major religions—Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Confucianism, and Buddhism. Judaism had its origins in answering the injustices of slavery in Egypt. Christianity in its origins responded to the injustices inflicted by the brutal colonialism of Rome. Islam responded to the injustices of aggressive war among tribes on the Arabian Peninsula. Confucianism (although considered by many a philosophical movement) emerged and brought an end to a period of warring states in China. Buddhism addressed the injustices inflicted on groups oppressed by a caste system in India. As each of these movements has been accepted over time, each has also engaged in excesses of official religions or doctrines. However, in their original struggle against different forms of injustice each of these movements represents the best, not the worst, of religion.[xi]
People who fight against injustices do so with a sense of certainty. Is this any different from the certainty that dualists or materialists express? The certainty associated with the abstract doctrines of dualism and materialism can blind people to unjust and brutal treatment of some people—in crusades, inquisitions, colonization, pogroms and genocide. People committed to correcting injustice do indeed express a type of certainty, but it is born of response to the unjust treatment of living persons rather than adherence to abstract doctrines of the ultimate nature of reality.
The Native American perspective that nature is sacred serves today as a reminder of the suffering inflicted on indigenous people. The perspective of the Native Americans can remind the colonizers of the genocide they inflicted on Native Americans. It can further remind them that humans are not divine beings divided into mind and body (as many dualists maintain), nor are humans lumps of clay (as some materialists would say). Rather, humans are natural beings capable of fair-mindedness. The voices of those who have suffered invite all people who strive to be fair-minded to join in the struggle against injustices in our day.
An individual can choose among many avenues to oppose injustice in our time and the suffering that accompanies injustice. A short list of actions might include joining the struggle to eliminate nuclear weapons and thus reduce the prospect of extinction of the planet’s species, to pass a single-payer health care bill that allows everyone in the U.S. access to health care, and to promote solar and wind energy. And these are just a beginning.
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[i] “Making Peace with the Earth” is the title of an important book by Vandana Shiva that describes the urgency of several issues discussed in the present paper.
[ii] Roger Molander reported that he had a life-changing experience when he attended a meeting at the Pentagon and heard an official say that the media was exaggerating the effects of nuclear war in saying it posed a threat to all living things and humanity itself. The official said: “Only 500 million people would die.” Dr. Molander then left his position as staff chief of the National Security Council and founded the organization known as Ground Zero. http://www.nytimes.com/1982/04/17/us/new-look-at-stopping-nuclear-war.html
[iii] Most recently the confrontation in 2016 and 2017 between the Standing Rock Sioux and the Dakota Access Pipeline as well as the legal battles in recent decades over storage of nuclear waste on Yucca Mountain provide examples of conflicts to preserve the environment.
[iv] Immanuel Kant in Conjectural Beginning of Human History describes the conflict between Cain and Abel as a conflict between a farmer and a nomadic herdsman. The nomad had no tradition of private property and followed a different set of rules in such matters as theft. After a theft was discovered, the nomad could be long gone but an agricultural villager would still be nearby and subject to the laws concerning theft. The patriarchal nomads were incapable of living under the democratic, civilized rules of an agricultural village. The inevitable conflict resulted in Cain’s killing Abel.
Peter Katjavivi recounts the impact of the agriculturist vs. nomad framework of the German colonizers in German Southwest Africa (which became Namibia in the 1990s). The Germans coming into Namibia saw the native Herero people driving their cattle long distances, a feature that led the Germans to classify the Herero’s as nomads incapable of democracy. When the Herero’s resisted the German intrusion, the Germans with their guns killed three-quarters of the Herero people, who were equipped only with spears for their defense. This situation was replete with a tragic irony: the Herero people farmed on their private property and drove the cattle to water during the dry season. They also had regional representation in a democratic form of government.
[v] Charles Davenport of the Eugenics Records Office in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, gave testimony before the U.S. Congress prior to the passage of the 1924 Immigration Act. Davenport testified that eastern and southern Europeans [nomads and farmers] were biologically unfit for industrial society. Eastern and southern European immigration into the U.S. was virtually excluded in the Immigration Act of 1924. See Kenneth Ludmerer, Genetics and American Society.
[vi] Lynn White, Jr. makes the case that the present-day ecological crisis has its roots in one of the most human-centered religions that has emerged in the course of history. This anthropocentric (human-centered) religion is Christianity with its roots in Judaism. When the culture that produced the bible assigned dominion over all other creatures, the stage was set for a treatment of nature that has persisted into the present day. Even Western science has come under the influence of the attitude of mastery over nature. The feature of Christianity that gave rise to the attitude of mastery was the assignment of spirit to humans only. Animals and other living things were denied a spirit or soul in mainstream Christianity. A minority voice within Christianity has been that of St. Francis. He rejected the narrow view that only humans possess a spirit or soul and considered all life as sacred. He in effect assigned a spirit to every living creature. The present-day environmental crisis, White argues, may be more adequately addressed if people—including Christians—turn to the themes advanced by St. Francis.
[vii] Karl Marx foresaw that endless resources were required by capitalism, which measured success by growth.
[viii] Hardin adopts the Hobbesian account of human motivation that people by nature are engaged in perpetual warfare and that life in a state of nature is “solitary, nasty, brutish, and short.” He does not accept an appeal to conscience to address the problem of overcrowding of the commons. Instead, he cites Nietzsche’s expression that a bad conscience is a kind of illness. A response to Hardin on the question of conscience may be seen in Rawls’ interpretation of the state of nature: Rawls regards people as fair-minded in a state of nature, capable of choosing basic principles from behind a veil of ignorance. When a unanimous vote is forthcoming from this “original position,” a basic right is created or discovered. A vote against the practice of slavery provides an example. “Conscience” in its etymology means “knowledge with [others].” A unanimous agreement from behind a veil of ignorance provides an illustration of knowledge with others.
[ix] Nel Noddings (Caring: A Relational Approach to Morality and Ethics, 2010, 2nd ed. 2013. The subtitle was changed from an earlier book by Noddings, Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education, 1984. The Maternal Factor: Two Paths to Morality, 2010, presents a morality grounded in relationship. She distinguishes natural care from ethical care, with ethical care arising from natural care. Natural care results from the experience of being cared for, and morality itself is grounded in this relational experience. Nodding contrasts a morality of care with a morality of contract.
Annette Baier maintains that morality begins in unchosen relationships, such as the relationship between a child and a parent. The child does not choose the relationship but is born into it. Baier draws support for this view from Hume’s moral theory (Baier, 1987, pp. 44-45) (Annette Baier, “What Do Women Want In a Moral Theory?” Nous 19 (March 1985); reprinted in Eva Feder Kittay, ed., Women and Moral Theory, 1987, pp. 37-60.)
Virginia Held presents an ethics of care as a moral theory and applies the theory to various contemporary issues. (Virginia Held, The Ethics of Care: Personal, Political, and Global, 2006.)
An advocate of a morality of care, Sara Ruddick, sees mothering as directed to the preservation of the child. The competitive, hierarchical society poses a threat to the child; the mother recognizes and tries to protect the child from the dangers of such a society. A virtue of parenting that stems from the parent’s recognition of the child’s fragility is clear-sighted cheerfulness. This attitude is present when one recognizes the harsh conditions that confront a child in the world but decides to nurture anyway. (“Maternal Thinking,” Feminist Studies, 6: Summer 1980, 342-367.) Ruddick sees three primary roles in care for a child: preservation, growth, and acceptability (Ruddick, 1989, pp. 65-123). (Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace, 1989.)
[x] Among the voices calling for an extension of the commons are Randall Amster and Vandana Shiva. Amster quotes Shiva on the effects of privatization, which include “the enclosure of ‘minds and imaginations’ by associating privatization with progress and privilege” (Amster 49).
[xi] Efforts are being made among religions today to address environmental issues. Examples may be found in Kim, ed., Making Peace with the Earth: Action and Advocacy for Climate Justice.