Complementing Perceptions Between Nature & Humans

by Virginia Craft

Changing our disposition toward nature from viewing it as a determinate object to acknowledging its intelligent and miraculous aspects may very well change how we, human beings, perceive and treat nature and nonhuman (as well as human) animals. Most of us in the Western world grow through a system of thinking and perceiving that is anthropocentric—that is, centered around values that favor human growth, development, well-being, etc. In a society where our vital needs and non-vital needs (or wants, rather) are met all too easily, and comfort is readily handed out and admired, we live through a notion of superiority: Anything nonhuman (whether animals or the natural environment) becomes a means to our own ends, regardless of the resulting ends faced by the ‘other’ nonhuman things. The comfort we experience is made more abundant if we use these ‘others’. The vast world of nonhuman things become manicured and fabricated for our own usage; ignorance becomes a means for maintaining the numb comfort we strive for relentlessly.

Since we do not know the desires or inclinations of nonhuman animals and nature, we assume that they are objective and determined inasmuch as we are capable of perceiving them. However, since we do know our own human desires and inclinations, and we are able to apply logical, mathematic systems and laws to these ‘others’, we build human life higher and higher and higher on the powerful (yet clumsy) throne in which we rest ourselves shamelessly. We use science increasingly as the tool that digs the graves deeper for nature. Obsessed with human progress, we insist on our reliances on science to make us a softer cushion and a stronger anesthetic to numb any awareness of our actual, more-than-objective experiences; that is, the experiences that bring us down off of our human-created throne and onto the same level of subjectivity as nonhuman animals and nature. It is obvious that science can be a useful tool for predicting natural disasters, curing diseases, etc., but the problem arises when we allow our minds to sink further into an ignorant comfort when we rape nature through science to fulfill our egocentric, excessive desires.

Another problem and cause of this drowning ecological mess we stirred up, is that we increasingly become preoccupied with not only our anthropocentric views as a whole, but our awareness of a sort of ‘individuality’ among ‘other’ human beings. As if it is not enough to have several whole societies with an anthropocentric world view, there is then each of those societies consisting of thousands of millions of people with a high sense of ‘individuality’—separate people with a sense of their own, single, individual desires and inclinations that become the center of their consciousness, action, and world. The society in which they live (more so if it is a Western society) does not discourage this selfish disposition either. Things like consumerism meshes dangerously with technological advances and speedy, massive production to form a giant blanket of overindulgence that ultimately suffocates human, nonhuman, and natural life. Not to mention, there are many more things to be said for the laborious means that become a necessity in the Western mind in order to achieve those coarsely comfortable ends which, notably, repeat tenfold when met. We can associate this with the resources needed to ‘feed’ our obese bellies with the greedy excesses we hunger for mindlessly, and come to the same problems we face today.

In David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous, he proposes a sort of reciprocal awareness between humans and nature that may shift our thinking and actions toward a more ecocentric disposition—ecocentrism stands for values that are more centered around nature; this differs from anthropocentrism, which has more human-centered values. Abram explains that humans and all ‘other’ nature should not be seen as separate from one another, but rather as one in the same thing. Instead of focusing on notions of the self (or individual) and labeling all else as “other” to it, he suggests that there is a reciprocity that ties everything together. Everything in the world is then perceived as having a shared “flesh” that is seen as all-encompassing and a shared essence among all things. In this way, there is ideally no hierarchical dominance and, therefore, no anthropocentric values—our “flesh” becomes the “flesh” of the world and perception is, likewise, reciprocated. This differs from the typical Western view because it acknowledges nature as sharing a consciousness similar to our own and a need for respect that is too often associated with only human cognition. Abram suggests that we take the awareness we feel for humans and project it toward (and with) nature: He says, “[…] this stranger who stands here before me and is an object for my gaze suddenly opens his mouth and speaks to me, forcing me to acknowledge that he is a sentient subject like myself, and that I, too, am an object for his gaze. Each of us, in relation to the other, is both subject and object, sensible and sentient. Why, then, might this not also be the case in relation to another, nonhuman entity […] ?” (67, Abram). A result of this is a fundamental uncovering of all things hidden to come out from underneath the suffocating blanket thrown on them by anthropocentric minds.

It is essential to guide our minds toward an awareness of nonhuman animals and nature that we caged underneath this blanket so that an ecocentric disposition can be reached more tangibly. However, not only do we trap nature for our own selfish usages, but we also trap ourselves and one another. The comfort we strive for individually leads us down an even narrower path congested with excesses—we do not just turn nature into an objective means for our own ends, but we also turn our fellow human beings into step-stools to reach the highest throne attainable. In this way, we are faced with two wars: Humans versus Nature, and Humans versus Humans. The former of these ends up being ‘rape’, while the latter becomes an anthropocentric bloodbath, pulling nature into the game to achieve even higher human ends.

By bringing the lens of our awareness into focus with the rest of the natural world, I believe we can perceive things in an ecocentric light that will allow for the significant change we need. Instead of seeing only human needs as valuable—our health, well-being, desires, development, etc.—we will see intrinsic value in the environment as a whole. This perceiving will, invariably, affect humans’ overall behavior if it is internalized and practiced accordingly. Like any excesses though, I think it is important to not fall too deeply into the excess of idealism. While I agree with majority of Abram’s disposition and ecocentric proposal, I feel that it may not be the best method to make a, more or less, universal change (if such a thing is even possible). Similar to determinism, idealism is capable of stalling change by not always implementing practical means. While it is nearly—if not totally—impossible to persuade the consciousness of all human beings toward an ecocentric disposition, I believe there is something worthy to hang onto regarding a conscious change in perception in favor of the environment that houses all “flesh”. However, I do not think that the whole of science should be dismissed. Perhaps nature (including our human selves) can benefit from some of the advances science has made—just so long as the vulnerable human mind sustains an ecocentric awareness, so as to not fall into the dizzying whirlpool we find ourselves in today.