From domination to interaction with other living beings: a new way of imagining ecology

Anthropology is the science of anthropos (the human being), but also studies the ways in which various cultures relate to non-humans: animals, plants, fungi, etc. Some of these forms of relationship between species invite us to imagine ecology in a different way than the one that prevails in Western society.

Alternative examples can be found in our recent post Vitalities: ethnographies at the limits of the human. Although in the West we conceive of other organisms as beings-objects to which to dominatein this book we illustrate how other cultures (or unconventional sectors of our society) conceive the individuals of other species as subjects with whom interact.

When you move from the idea of ​​domination to that of interaction, not only does the way of understanding relationships between species change, but also ecology.

The uniqueness of “non-humans”

One of the things we observe is that, in many contexts, nonhumans are not representatives of a species to be dominated, but rather unique organisms that give rise to relationships (ie, societies and ecologies) that are also unique.

For example, one of the cases that we collect in our book is that of the Purhépecha peasantry (Mexico) and their maize crops. The authors of this chapter explain that, while transgenic maize (already present in the region) is a mere industrial product, the Purhépechas perceive their maicito traditional as something more than a plant: it is a vital companion to be listened to and cared for, since it has its own subjectivity, intentions and whims.

Another example is that of urban wild boars. In this case, wild animals, with all the danger they entail, are integrated into the daily life of the neighborhoods on the outskirts of Barcelona. Thus, many wild boars are recognized individually, as subjects, and some even receive their own names. As a consequence, a transformation of the urban ecology itself takes place.

In vitalities we show that it is not necessary to move to exotic contexts to find alternative forms of relationship between species. Some of these forms force us to pause the idea of ​​the domination of a nature-object to, instead, reimagine ecology from the paradigm of the interaction between organisms-subject.

We did not make the Anthropocene together

While it is important to attend to the particularities of animals or plants, the uniqueness of humans themselves is also a crucial aspect in understanding ecology. At this point, anthropology can play a central role in some current scientific debates.

In recent decades, everyone from geologists to climatologists to all kinds of social scientists have talked about the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene would come to define a time in which the impact of the human being on the planet is greater than that of the rest of the forces of nature as a whole.

The Anthropocene narrative recognizes that ecology is an anthropogenic product, that is, something that humans do. However, that narrative denies the uniqueness of the various human groups. In other words: it is completely wrong to attribute this new era and its consequences (such as the climate crisis) to anthropos as a whole. That is, to Homo sapiens as species.

Indeed, this situation has been created only by those sapiens that we live in the prosperous zones of global capitalism. Only in this context has the productive and exploitative drift been generated that points towards a rather dark ecological future for many.

In several chapters of our book we show that although only a few of us are responsible for the Anthropocene, the consequences of the current ecological degradation are already being felt on a planetary scale (and in fact, those who did not cause the problem suffer more).

Undo the supremacy of the human

in the book of Genesis (1:28), God gave a clear order to humans: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Luckily, there were many who ignored him.

Anthropology has long paid attention to cultures (or unconventional sectors of Western society) that distance themselves from the idea that humans should dominate and subjugate other species. Interaction is an alternative to domination. Although the mere idea is not going to solve our problems, it can be used to begin to imagine different ecologies, less hierarchical and perhaps more reasonable.

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