Resources and Anthropocentrism

As I indicated in a previous post, the word “resources” is problematic because it implies materials are placed on this planet for the use of humans. We see finite substances and the living planet as materials to be exploited for our comfort. Examples of intense anthropocentrism are so numerous in the English language it seems unfair to pick on this one word from among many. And, as with most other cases, we don’t even think about these examples, much less question them (cf. sustainability, civilization, economic growth). My only justifications for singling out “resources” are the preponderance with which the word appears in contemporary media, the uncritical acceptance of resources as divine gifts for Homo sapiens, and previous posts on a few of the other obvious examples.


I’ll start with definitions, straight from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Resource: 1 a: a source of supply or support : an available means –usually used in plural b: a natural source of wealth or revenue –often used in plural :c: a natural feature or phenomenon that enhances the quality of human life d: computable wealth –usually used in plural e: a source of information or expertise.
All these definitions imply an anthropogenic basis for resources, and c is particularly transparent on this point. Digging a little further, the etymology of “resource” brings us directly to lifelong bedfellows anthropocentrism and Christianity. “Resource” is derived from the Old French “resourdre” (literally, to rise again), which has its roots in the Latin “resurgere” (to rise from the dead; also see “resurrection”).
From this etymology, it’s a simple step back in time to Aristotle’s “final cause” (which followed his material cause, efficient cause, and formal cause). Aristotle posited that, ultimately, events occurred to serve life, particularly the life of humans. This anthropocentric take on causality grew directly from the philosophy of Aristotle’s teacher Plato, who focused his philosophy on separating humans from nature while popularizing the feel-good notion that humans have immortal souls. The idea that humans have souls, which was subsequently discredited by the (western) science that grew from humble Grecian roots, became the basis for Christianity, one of three Abrahamic religions that developed in the Mediterranean a few centuries after Plato learned from Socrates and then taught Aristotle.
Considering the history of western thought, it’s no surprise we view every element on Earth as feedstock for industrialization. The only question is when we exploit Earth’s bounty, not if. The logical progression, then, is to exploitation of humans to further feed the industrial machine.
Within the last few years, personnel departments at major institutions became departments of human resources. Thus, whereas these departments formerly dealt with persons, they now deal with resources. There’s a reason you feel like a cog in a grand imperial scheme: Not only are you are viewed as a cog by the machine, and also by those who run the machine, but any non-cog-like behavior on your part leads to rejection of you and your actions. Seems you’re either a tool of empire or you’re a saboteur (i.e., terrorist).
It’s time to invest in wooden shoes.
As if fifteen people are even willing to poke a stick in the eye of the corporations that run and ruin our lives. Why is that? Probably because we think we depend upon them, when in fact they depend upon us. And, to a certain extent — to the extent we allow — we do depend upon industrial culture for our lives. But only in the short term, and only as self-absorbed, comfortable individuals unwilling to make changes in our lives (even ones that are necessary to our own survival). Taking the longer, broader view, it is evident industrial culture is killing the living planet, and our own species. The cultural problem we face is not that we’re fish out of water. Rather, it’s that we’re fish in a river. We don’t even know there’s an ocean, much less a landbase.
Aye, there’s the rub. Evolution demands short-term thinking focused on individual survival. Most attempts to overcome our evolutionarily hardwired absorption with self are selected against. The Overman is dead, killed by a high-fat diet and unwillingness to exercise. Reflexively, we follow him into the grave.
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This post is permalinked at Energy Bulletin, Counter Currents, mostly water, and Eco Friendly Mag.

Comments 14

  • The other day I heard an interview with Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman on the National Public Radio San Francisco affiliates program “City Arts and Lectures”. He talked a bit about Buddhist cosmology (my term), which was not of great interest to me, but he did say some very savvy things in a practical sense. For instance, he discussed the importance of women of the world in making the world a better place and acknowledged that Buddhist countries of the world had fallen short in showing women the honor they deserve. But he also talked very frankly about the failures of capitalism, the catastrophic failure and noted that China has abandoned much of its Buddhist tradition in the emerging search for wealth by individuals and the State. He talked about the horrendouse pollution of land, air and water that accompanied the elusive, destructive goal of incessant economic growth and he pretty well depicted the collapse and failure of our western civilization.
    I found Robert Thurman to be a very bright, congenial and honest person and the hour long radio program was fun to listen to as I drove around last Sunday afternoon, if I remember correctly. He hoped that Obama would do better, but recognized patterns of deep concern.
    As Derrick Jensen said, we live in a culture of make believe. We have to convince ourselves that somehow natural rules of the universe do not apply to us. We can eat all we want and not be fat, especially if we take a little pill that burns fat from our bodies. We can depauperize the planet but not do without because we can substitute one “resource” for another. We have been getting away with make believe for a long time because the earth is a big place and can take a lot of punishment. But our colonization of the earth and gigantic footprint is making our impacts irreversible and our make believe will have to give way to reality.
    One man’s resource is another species’ life support system, and we are all interconnected. There are many strands on a strong rope, but if enough of them fray, the strongest rope will break. And we continue to watch the fraying and unraveling even as the weight on that rope increases and increases.
    Stan Moore

  • Guy
    your thoughts remind me of the work of Arne Naess
    and his book on ecosophy –
    ‘Ecology, Community and Lifestyle’ written in the mid
    seventies.
    High praise from me, if one can have a hero, he would be it.
    Matt
    ps. Still lurking, although I am trying to wean myself off the peak oil doom and gloom. The regular commentators here have become so
    familiar, it makes it hard to stay away from the site. Stan,
    as always doing the heavy lifting. Robert Thurman is an interesting
    character, first westerner to be ordained, and the first to return
    to the regular world.

  • Basically, what I am reading is vintage Jensen being rehashed, which makes me think impasse, stuck-in-the-mental-mud (not the same as stick in the mud, obviously) time. No doubt you’re on your way to a fresh breakthrough for yourself Dr Guy McPherson, and isn’t that exciting?
    If Our Stan Moore, revealingly vulnerable of late, is the heavy-lifter, than I may be your temporary pain in the neck, or at least one of them! I’m only passing through long enough to eventually read that the solar light has come on to guide your future associative adventures.
    That’s all that’s left, now. Action. Vintage Jensen, too, just not at all explored like the wacky world of the overly written word.
    Just say “No?”
    I am, Carlotta
    P.S. Yes, indeed, support your local Womyn-Women. Help counteract the negative bombarding messages about looking younger, looking thinner with ones that encourage us to simply be our mightily beautiful good selves. We don’t want to conquer the world. We want to make it a better place for all. Help us get there…..

  • Don’t forget about the capitalist extension of “resources” – “capital.” Read the reports of the World Bank or other high level managers of Empire and you’ll find that they view resources in aggregate as capital. It’s not enough to talk about the human resources of a company/institution/state. They are human capital – things to be exploited for wealth, the same as gold bars or lumps of coal.

  • I would have to agree that there is a fair amount of rehashing of grand themes going on here all the time. But there are interesting subtle dynamics at play within the grand view and some tend to pay attention to details and others do not. That is only natural.
    If grand themes were all that mattered to people, we would not have had Dicaprio and Winslett as key characters in the movie story of the Titanic. They were insignficant in the grand scheme, and all that was really necessary to make a movie of the event was the ship the captain, and the iceberg. But who would pay to see the movie?
    Our civilization is crashing. We seem to be evolutionarily selected to crash and have been compared to yeast in a vat and called detrivores. If oen does not like being compared to yeast, then they may prefer to be thought of as like lemmings being mindlessly driven by their genes and their culture to blindly mass towards their fate. But even within the lemmings there are interesting things to observe. I don’t think Joe Bageant has spoken a word about Peak Oil, but his redneck observations of the system and its workings from his point of view are entertaining and enlightening, I believe. Robert Thurman spoke the other day of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, who used to be a warrior against colonialist oppression of his people, and who now is fleecing his people to maintain his own power and Thurman mentioned the absurdity of Mugabe spening loads lof looted money to buy weaponry for his own security .
    Rehashing can be interesting if one looks at the characters instead of the themes. But not everyone is the same; each has his/her own priorities and biases.
    I thought it was very interesting to see how Code Pink tried this week to explain that somehow America needed to excercise control over Afghan society even as we tried to simultaneously withdraw our forces from the country, so that the women of Afghanistan could be protected by us as we extricated ourselves. What a dilemma! I have not studied the women’s suffragette movement in the US beyond my elementary education, but I have no recollection of American women taking on powerful US men and interests by resorting to outside powers to change the equations at play. I think that the Afghan women will have to do the heavy lifting, with help of men within their society and outside sympathies/aid, and American military forces are not in a real position to make their world better without very undesirable side effects.
    By the way, I checked out a fairly recent DVD at the library called “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired”, which was filmed when he was 75 years ago, which must not have been very long ago. It recounted the crime and its dynamics, which were horrible and outrageous. Polanski was supposed to photograph a 13 year old girl as part of an international photo project of young women of the world. The girl’s mom, who was an actress with ambitions, sent the girl and allowed Polanski to take her girl for the day. Predictably, Polanski took the girl to a private location (which happened to be Jack Nicholson’s house while Nicholson was out of town) and started photographing the young girl partially and then fully nude, and in the Jacuzzi. He offered the girl drugs, which she took and then eventually he became aroused and overwhelmed the young girl, raping her violenty. There is absolutely no doubt that a crime was committed and Polanski himself admitted it, though at first he did not realize that sex with underage girls was illegal at all, but it was not consensual sex according to the girl. So, even if it was consensual as Polanski claimed, it was a crime.
    Anyways, the DVD tells the rest of the story, which included a County Court judge who liked to try celebrity cases and enjoyed the publicity too much for the good of justice. The attorneys for the girl did not want the case to go to trial, and they agreed to a plea bargain on a lesser charge. The victim was interviewed in the DVD and said she had just wanted the whole thing to go away even early on, as she sensed herself being used by law enforcement and the judicial system in ways that were almost as discomforting as what Polanski did to her. An agreement was reached between Polanski’s attorney and the District Attorney and the attorney for the victim, and the Judge agreed. It was a minimal sentence for a reduced crime, but it was agreed to by all the parties. For politial and publicity reasons, the judge backed out of the agreement unilaterally and created a situation in which Polanski felt he would not be treated fairly and possibly sent to additional time in prison after he had been released from prison, thinking he had served his time and the case would be closed. So now Polanski felt like a victim and fled the country. What was amazing to me, and not at all expected, was to see the District Attorney from the case and the attorney for the victim express sympathy for Polanski, despite the crime he had committed, because the Judge had broken certain laws himself and unfairly put Polanski at further risk. And the victim in her adulthood was interviewed and obviously satisfied with her civil agreement with Polanski (which no doubt included financial restitution). The victim, in her adulthood, wished for no further punishment of Polanski in the judicial system and said so quite comfortably on camera. But the DVD also included clips from throughout Polanski’s life, and what an amazing life of tragedy mixed with celebrity, wealth and murder, prison time and jetsetting, etc. A very interesting DVD and if one just simplified to a grand theme of crime/punishment based on the US law enforcement, one would not have any idea of all this fascinating stuff that completely changed the picture for me. It will be very interesting to see what happens to Polanski now and how he responds to it.
    And on we go…
    Stan Moore

  • Every ideology comes with its own baggage. Resurrection is a feature of the Judaic traditions and it places humans at center stage. Of the non-theistic traditions (Jainism, two of the six philosophic schools of Hinduism, and Buddhism) it is Buddhism that completely does away with the soul: no-soul / no-God results in a different set of baggage. One aspect of this is that the primacy of humans is no longer implicit.

  • Prof Em Guy:
    I must disagree with you.As previously stated you are the Ubermensch.And I don’t think that word can be adequately translated
    from the German.
    Frank

  • Not to be annoying, but I think Cartesian Dualism is generally rejected by the Catholic Church (not that I am really Catholic anymore, or that anyone would claim me as such) but from what I recall the thought is more that soul and physical body are two aspects of one whole entity. I understand this to mean that the soul cannot, in a sense, be cleaved away from the body and still be a whole entity.
    I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure Decartes’ version of the mind-body issue isn’t favored by religious scholars (at least of the Catholic or Anglican persuasion).
    Also, it is my understanding that certain Jewish sects through time are believed to have had faith in God (in the broadest sense) but held no version of afterlife as a reward for good works (or anything else for that matter).
    Maybe our resident DD can assist me in gaining clarity on this issue?
    I could be wrong, it certainly happens often enough that I’m used to it by now 🙂
    (Original Sin a la Eddie Izzard: “I poked a badger with a spoon!” “Oh my, well that is original!”)

  • reference link = http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/5862
    Jerome Guillet is a finance banker from Paris, France. One of his specialities is arranging financing for wind energy projects in Europe. I ran into him originally when I got involved in the listserver of the Claverton Energy Group in Britain, which is an international forum of energy experts and others involved in working on energy problems specifically in Britain, but other countries are discussed and represented in the forum. I got involved to seek information on issues related to wind energy and sought expert opinion on some issues raised by anti-wind agitators that appeared on wildlife and raptor discussion groups.
    I found Jerome Guillet (known also as Jerome a Paris) to be a remarkably astute person, and a man with scruples. His view of wind energy impacts on raptors and wildlife from a financing point of view was that harming wildlife and raptors was a bad business and bad investment practice, because it could create uncertainty in the business model. So he recommended appropriate siting of wind energy facilities in order to reduce investment uncertainty and to benefit wildlife at the same time. A similar view is held by most of the world’s ornithological and wildlife conservation organizations.
    In today’s essay, Jerome examines the problems with recent efforts to deal with financial and economic issues around the world. He speaks like a banker with a conscience. How many bankers argue for higher wages, which would seem in conventional thinking to be an impediment to corporate profit? He points out that the problem with Big Government is not overregulation of the financial sector, but just the opposite — close ties to government out of short-term self interest, including the mechanisms for funding electoral campaigns. In short, democracy has been sold to the highest bidder, while the economic system has been completely gamed for the sake of the few at the expense of the many.
    Unfortunately, the complexity of these problems and the manipulations of the general public in the world’s so-called demogracies have rendered the masses misinformed, disinformed, inept, and often motivated to fight hard against their own self-interests, as in the so-called War on Terror, Bank Bailouts, and other frauds and bamboozlements of the end of the age of industry and petroleum.
    This is one of the subtleties of the Peak Oil era that I did not anticipate. The elite few in charge of the world’s economies and finance did not run the fiscal train till it ran out of fuel, as predicted by original Peak Oil Theory. Instead, the stopped and looted the train first, and then will restart it (apparently) and run it on reduced fuel until the tank runs dry. The elite have no bounds to their greed, no conscience, and are content to enrich themselves while arranging for their own survival will damning the masses to guaranteed suffering and uncertain survival.
    In short, the civilization cannot be saved — it programmed to crash and there is no possibility at this late stage of it not crashing. But to my thinking, Jerome’s comments provide an inverse look at how the civilization could have mitigated much of the suffering of Peak Oil if appropriate steps had been taken starting a few decades ago, as with the Arab Oil Embargo of the 1970’s. If we had developed alternative energy when the economy was booming, using cheap abundant energy, and had distributed wealth and profits equitably among the populace, we could have prepared for a softer crash, could have kept the rate of increase of population down, could have protected biodiversity and had a much better future.
    Stan Moore

  • Carlotta, I’ll take your comment as compliment, though I doubt it was intended as one. Since Derrick Jensen’s message is so good, and so necessary, I’m happy to play second fiddle to his logical, passionate message.
    Since it wasn’t intended as a compliment, though, I’ll not ask you to marry me, as I did the reader who favorably compared my writing to that of Kurt Vonnegut.

  • Another GREAT article, Mr. McPherson. Kudos, too, to Mr. Stan Moore. Both of you have given me some small measure of ‘relief’ knowing that I am not ‘alone in the world.’ I have been trying, futilely, for nearly a decade to clue people into the FACT that our ‘captains of industry’ and ‘elected representatives’ are playing us all for fools and, by and large, we are letting them, much to our detriment. Alas, my reasoning has typically been met with deaf ears, blind eyes and an expression of ‘Don’t confuse me with the facts’ if not an outright STFU!
    My observations and experiences have convinced me, years ago, that the vast majority of the people living in the USA, if not worldwide, DO live in their own narrow ‘world of make-believe.’ Unfortunately, it is not just the ignorant and ‘uneducated’ masses entombed in their own refutable beliefs. In point of fact, as one progresses through our ‘system of education’ in this country toward Masters and Doctoral degrees, they are [too frequently?] co-opted into an ever narrowing focus. For example, when reading ‘predictions’ from climate science sites (e.g., NSIDC, NCAR, NOAA, USGS, etc.) and related blogs (e.g., RealClimate and ClimateProgress), all of whom do an outstanding and commendable job in their own [niche] right, incessantly fail to account for the political, psychological and sociological responses of the populations of the regions most affected. However, perhaps they DO calculate those factors but come to a result that is ‘just too horrendous to contemplate’ so don’t. Have we, as a species, ‘advanced’ to where we are by sticking our head in the sand so we don’t ‘have to’ think about the unthinkable? I’m convinced that this is a trend that has only ‘evolved’ over the past 4 or 5 decades. Could it be that television ‘programming’ does not relate to the scheduling of the content or the content itself but what effect that content has on the viewers? Regardless, as my father used to say, “It takes 2 to tango.” Al Gore’s most recent(?) book “The Assault on Reason” probably was not at all ‘incorrect’ (I haven’t read it so cannot be sure) but that ‘assault’ can only be successful if there is an equal ‘abdication of reason’ by those being targeted. Of course, to realize any of this requires reading, thinking, and reasoning but it is so much easier (and quicker) just to ‘believe’ what an ‘accepted authority figure’ says to expedite getting back to the next beer, joint or sexual foray.
    I was most disturbed when NAFTA was signed into law and, if memory serves, almost immediately GM stated it was closing a facility and moving that operation to Mexico. On the final day of its operation news teams were there to ‘interview’ those who were losing their jobs. I was stunned to witness that the vast majority of them were either angry with the US government or the Mexicans. I don’t recall that a single person was angry at GM. I’m certainly not an ‘expert’ on what was (or is) in the NAFTA agreement but I’m pretty certain that there was not a mandate that ANY US company ‘had to’ move operations out of the country, it merely facilitated the corporations’ ability to do so. If that isn’t a clear and profound example of programmed and unreasoned response, I don’t know what is. It appears that too many have indeed become Pavlov’s dog and that doesn’t bode well for any living creature.

  • Guy,I really enjoy your articles and comments regarding the plight of our planet and species. I have yet to meet anyone in my country of South Africa who shares my non-anthropocentrical viewpoint regarding environmental issues. Therefore it was somewhat of a relief when I stumbled across your website and discovered some likeminded people out there. I believe the “exploitation of resources” can be linked directly to humanities “deep-rooted” belief in stewardship/control and superiority of our species as taught in most mainstream religions of the world. I have met many environmentalists and conservationists and the subject always reverts to sustainibility, always avoiding that taboo subject”overpopulation”. In almost every case it always reverts back to religion and human rights. In other words anthropocentrism stems directly from religion. I would really appreciate your comments on this subject.

  • craig, thanks for your recent comments. I tend to agree that (contemporary) culture arose with agriculture coincident with the Abrahamic religions. Furthermore, those religions were busily creating God in the image of humans (not the converse). That is, they were dogmatically promoting the notion of anthropocentrism under the guise of worshiping invisible, human-like creatures in the sky. At the same time, they were promoting procreation of their own kind, for at least two reasons: (1) to assist future battles with heathens, and (2) promote the misguided belief that all humans — even the ones who don’t yet exist — are worth saving (“saving” can be interpreted at least two ways). Although this comment is too brief and cryptic for a thorough analysis, my scratch-at-the-surface, rudimentary assessment agrees that religion promotes an anthropocentric approach (humans are the only organisms with “souls,” after all), and also overpopulation.

  • Guy, I notice that no one almost ever refers to Ted Kaczynski’s “Industrial society and its future”. While I cannot condone his actions I certainly think his manifesto deserves more recognition than it gets by Anarcho-primitivists. Do you have any idea why it is so inconpicuous. Also, have you read any of Pentti Linkola’s work’s? If so I would really appreciate your opinion on his philosophy.