Today, I learned a new word. As someone fascinated by words, finding this one gave a name to a notion that has become more acute in my recent years as an advocate and blogger, and it prompted thoughts that I’d like to share.
A love of life and the living world; the affinity of human beings for other life forms.
*The friend who introduced me to the word had learned it in a natural history class from a lecturing conservationist who explained, ‘It’s important because we save what we love.’ Astonishingly, this conservationist then demonstrated what might be considered an absence of affinity by proceeding to discuss other life forms in terms of ‘populations’ to be ‘managed’. This outlook contrasts starkly with Henry Beston (1888 – 1968), the American writer and naturalist, whose words seem to more accurately reflect the spirit of biophilia in the quote:
‘We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.’
As a vegan advocate, the main focus of my writing will always be upon the grave injustice we perpetrate upon billions of individuals each year, simply by not being vegan. The vast majority of these victims are used by us to indulge unnecessary dietary preferences, although such is our arrogant belief in the superiority of our species, that our use of them does not stop there. We wear them; we experiment on them; we ‘break’ them and ‘train’ them and are ‘entertained’ by their helpless acceptance of our strength and the implements we use to enforce their compliance. Yet as a species, we choose to remain oblivious to the unspeakable violence inherent in every aspect of our exploitation, frequently repeating the popular myth about how we all ‘love animals’. In this lie of staggering self-deception, we find a reassurance that feeds our continued support of practices so vile that to face them is deeply traumatic and life-changing.
The definition of biophilia includes the word ‘love’, a word which means different things to different people. Veganism does not require us to love our victims, it simply requires that we stop having victims. Hence although ‘love’ is not necessary for our victims, justice most certainly is. Nevertheless in the same way that we cannot claim to ‘love’ animals with their corpses on our plates and their skins on our feet, we cannot claim to embrace biophilia in these circumstances either.
My focus on the rights of our victims means I seldom refer to the fact that our own health is vastly improved once we cease to view the body parts and secretions of our fellow earthlings as ‘food’. I regard this truth as an unexpected benefit of doing what is simply the right thing. Similarly, my focus on our victims’ sentience means I seldom mention the environmental devastation that is the inevitable result of our use of them. It is, however, inescapable that in laying waste to our own environment, we destroy something irreplaceable, that belongs as much to our victims as it does to us.
I’m neither a scientist nor a medical expert. Although awareness of the environmental and health aspects of nonveganism goes with the territory of being vegan, I leave it to the many others more expert than I, to explain the science of health and environmental destruction; the epidemics of diet-related disease, the pollution, the melting icecaps and the changing climate that imperils us all.
Knowing our place
And of course, our global tapestry is part of a very much larger picture. Planet Earth is but a tiny speck in a mysterious universe where galaxies wheel and tilt, where suns are born and die, where worlds and moons collide and coalesce from stardust. Those who have skills to interpret the science, describe the impact of these forces on our little world; the dinosaurs that have come and gone; the slow drift of tectonic plates that meet and part inexorably; the ebb and flow of tides; land rising from the ocean floor, only to subside again on timescales that our short-lived species struggles to imagine.
Nature, the word we give to the rich tapestry of interdependence that comprises all life here on Earth, is the most perfect of mechanisms, maintaining exquisite equilibrium without our interference. How can we fail to marvel how each living species has evolved to fill a niche that suits its needs, with bodies perfectly designed to obtain whichever ideal sustenance nature has designed them to ingest, wonderfully adapted to survival in whatever climate that their necessary sustenance and shelter may be found, a myriad living entities with a breathtaking array of ways to reproduce and ensure the continuance of their genes.
In the same way that everyone claims to ‘love’ animals, even while actively supporting and promoting unnecessary harm towards them, I find myself pondering the way our species is so quick to declare their ‘love’ for the natural world. Because even as we do, that very same harm that we are causing to our fellow creatures is the direct cause of a systematic devastation that threatens to end life as we know it upon this small blue planet in the outer reaches of the galaxy we call the Milky Way.
It seems to me that humanity has lost sight of its place as a single thread in the tapestry of life. With technological advances that have spawned global industrialisation; we are a species fixated on self-interest, reluctant to weigh the moral obligations that accompany our abilities. Having long passed the point where, at the push of a button we could destroy our world and all its wonders, our ‘might makes right’ view assumes a licence to impose our collective will unilaterally upon our shared environment and upon the untold trillions of other life forms whose harmonious interdependence we disrupt and destroy by our arrogant assumption that we can improve on nature.
Delusions of entitlement
In so many ways we usurp the natural world with our urbanisation, with our fossil fuels and with the poisons we pour so liberally onto the land and into the oceans. Yet in terms of land/ water use and pollution, habitat and rainforest destruction, and the global warming that is its inevitable consequence, the impact of the animal use industries constitute the most sustained destructive force that has ever been unleashed on this world by mankind.
Although not necessary for our wellbeing, we have adopted lifestyles that exploit the reproductive systems of our fellow sentient beings. We adapt and manipulate their bodies, creating commercial environments in which to breed them, to accommodate the existence we force them to endure, to facilitate the premature deaths we inflict, and to carry out the processing of their body parts and substances derived from them. Without conscience, we optimise our own financial interests, interests that will always supersede the needs and interests of our victims, those countless annual billions whose sentience we deny and whose lives we mistakenly regard as having no value other than the level by which we profit from their exploitation.
Whilst my main focus is upon our sentient victims, it must be said that the natural world is rich in plant life, uncounted species whose home this also is, and without which the world’s dizzying array of ecosystems could not exist. Our obsession with the use and consumption of our fellow creatures impacts drastically upon plant life too, as we deplete vast swathes of their natural ecosystems to grow crops that we subsequently feed to our victims in a tragically inefficient conversion of vegetation to animal flesh. We destroy natural habitats, displacing the rightful occupants of ancient communities, obsessively ‘farming’ nonhuman species to obtain substances that damage our health. As our population increases, it’s an escalating and devastating cycle where there are only losers and nobody wins, a bleak backdrop against which all our protestations about ‘loving’ animals and the natural world, ring a hollow death knell.
The atrocity of speciesism
It is my firm conviction that all the harm our species inflicts upon others may be traced to a single prejudice by the name of speciesism. A form of oppression directed at other living individuals, speciesism is the practice of according or withholding the rights that are theirs by virtue of their birth, based solely upon their species. This insidious form of discrimination happens simply because they differ from us and cannot prevent our behaviour.
It is abundantly clear that because of speciesism, so many of us fail to respect and value our fellow travellers for the unique contribution each one makes to the harmony and equilibrium of the living marvel that is the world we share. As a species hell bent on self indulgence, we have come so far down the road to destroying this planet that many scientists now consider that we have passed a climatic tipping point which renders our extinction, along with uncounted other species, a grim inevitability with the only relevant point of discussion being the timescale.
Facing the uncertain future
However, even faced with the possibility that we may already be committed to an apocalyptic nightmare, nothing in life is ever guaranteed. Any one of us may be only moments from an unforeseen occurrence that may change our lives for ever. So whatever the future holds, as individuals we can do nothing more than go on living day by day, true to the values we believe in, respecting and valuing each other, our family and our friends of all species. And as we all claim to share a love of life and the living world; as we all claim an affinity for other life forms, living true to our beliefs means holding this value at our core.
So this Earth Day let’s remind ourselves of the biophilia that each of us is eager to embrace and acknowledge just how perilously close to destruction we have brought this planet on which we and each one of our fellow earthlings depend for our very existence.
Let’s renew our rejection of speciesism by refusing to participate in the injustice that regards our fellow travellers as our resources.
And let’s renew our commitment to veganism, the only way we can hope to protect this miraculous corner of the universe that we hold in trust for the uncertain future.
For those who wish to read more about the environmental impact of nonveganism, I’d like to share the following link by Truth or Drought:
- The friend who introduced me to the word ‘biophilia’ and inspired this essay, is the excellent writer and researcher Ashley Capps, whose own wonderful article for Earth Day, ‘We Save What We Love: Earth Day Thoughts On Biophilia and the Vegan Ethic is linked here.