Resources and Anthropocentrism

Sun Tzu discussed resources as imperative to state power about 2,500 years ago in The Art of War. By the time Thomas Hobbes linked resources and anthropocentrism in his 1651 classic, Leviathan, resources were clearly accepted as human rights. Consider, for example, a single line from the latter text: “The ‘value’ or ‘worth’ of a man is, as of all other things, his price; that is to say, so much as would be given for the use of his power.” By 1651, humans had become feedstock for the wealth of other humans.

There was no open discussion of exploitation, a trend that continues today. Rather, the underlying assumption is one of the universe as fodder for the continued convenience of some humans. We refer to this phenomenon and the resulting set of living arrangements as “civilization.” It’s viewed as unimpeachably good by nearly all participants.

I’ve pasted below an essay I wrote for this space in October 2009, verbatim. I think it’s held up rather well, considering the radical changes in civilization and my own life during the intervening years. The current essay bears the same title as this essay from about six years ago.

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.

Comments 111

  • Thank you, tvt! Good to see you’re still in fine form! ☺

  • i place words in parenthesis basically to connote that their use in this particular context is somehow bogus/false. that’s what i think all ‘choices’ are for humans. genes and environment determine everything, which is to say they determine every ‘choice’ u or i or anyone has ever made and will ever make. repeating the critical point: u don’t get to choose your desires, they’re chosen for u. u ‘act’ on them (in this case, the word ‘act’ is in parenthesis to indicate such ‘action’ in many cases may be merely mental in that u’re aware of a desire, but for any number of possible reasons ‘choose’ to not scratch it’s itch, not indulge it, which of course, is stressful…)

    u do recognize, i hope, that contrary to what u may have been taught… sorry for rambling. i’m a little ‘high’ and tired, not the best combo. find it difficult to maintain a train of thought, sometimes. it doesn’t help either being a clumsy slow typist whose fingers can’t nearly match the speed of thought. i’m a flawed being, as are u and everyone. u may call that a copout. to me, it’s just surreality, and sometimes it sucks! many times sheeple can’t/don’t perceive the same surreality. it’s kind of like we all exist in separate universes, so vast is the gap in perception. (sigh) fuck it. i can’t recall at all now what the hell i was going to write when i began this paragraph. probably doesn’t matter. maybe nothing does in surreality (perceiving oneself as a puppet possessing only an illusion of freedom, perceiving everyone and everything so, is naturally nihilistic.) big sigh

  • still in fine form?! not compared to u, btd. but thanx for the thought/action, one who is gifted in more ways than one. talent, modesty and charm, now that’s one hell of a fine combo!

  • probably should have prefaced the ambrosia video by saying something like hope u enjoy this blast from the past. just a song i like. might bring back memories of the 70’s. can u believe that was 40 fucking years ago?! where did our youth go? another universe, perhaps?

  • @tvt, points on the social grooming (what I am indulging in now..)!

  • tvt,

    Well, we seem to have different catechisms. Extrapolating yours to an extreme degree leads me to the point of not being willing to prosecute Cheney or Bush for war crimes. How could we blame them for genetics or environment that they did not create?

    Maybe an important difference is that I believe that as people acquire power they begin to participate in creating the environment within which they exist and operate. Per Hunter Thompson, “Politics is the art of controlling your environment.”

    I have any number of examples that inform and illustrate my belief in (some) free will, as you must have that inform and illustrate your disbelief in it.
    So, I’ll pick Tuesday or Thursday to worship at our intellectual church, and it’d be wonderful if you select one of the other five days to do your thing. Pick anything but Tuesday or Thursday.

    In other news:
    If your typing can’t keep up with your thinking, you could try doing a handwritten summary or mind-map before you get to the keyboard. Or try thinking more slowly (although in that direction there may be dragons).

    Jeopardy trivia answer to the clue: He was a best-selling genre writer who when asked back in the 90s if he had moved on from a typewriter to a word processor answered that he had never even used a typewriter, preferring to write all of his material on yellow legal pads in pencil.
    Who was Elmore Leonard? Furreal.

    After visiting friends in the Seattle area for most of August, I am happy to inform you that the legal weed in the above-ground shops that sells for $17/gram is not noticeably stronger/better than the lowly $10/gram variety.
    One of the $10 varieties even had a slightly higher % of THC than the high-priced spread. Recommend you save your extra $7/gram and buy some high-class munchies.
    Courtesy of mystery shopper Thrifty McStone, adviser to the unhinged.

  • dude, i’ll ‘choose’ to post comments any damned day i care to! (the nerve of some sheeple!) (yawn) don’t like it, piss up a rope, or smoke a fattie, or blow your brains out, or perhaps ‘choose’ something different. u don’t own this effin blog, u don’t dictate to anyone what their ‘options’ are, understand? it’s called peaceful coexistence, getting along without agreeing on shit, and it’s what sheeple must do every fucking day to get by, as u must well fuckin’ know, mr. ‘i have limited free will’.

    if it makes u feel any better, i don’t begrudge anyone their desire to hold accountable those who harm others. i’m just saying i’d hope any such accountability is tempered by the knowledge that however ‘evil’ anyone may seem to be, they too lack ‘free will’, so listen to elvis and try not to be cruel:

  • TVT- You can’t blame infanttyrone for his post- he didn’t have a choice in writing it. Then again, you didn’t have a choice in how you responded. And while Bush and Cheney didn’t have a choice in whether or not they ruined the world, the rest of us didn’t have a choice in opposing it. And on and on and on… anyway, thanks for the Ambrosia. Reminded me of one of my “old-timey” favorites:

  • Dude?,
    Get a genetic upgrade will ya?
    One that includes the installed & debugged humor detection module.
    Or modify your environment to where there’s no bulls eye on your shirt.

    It was a joke, based on our both being here (the church, the one on this beach) but obviously operating with different beliefs…a jocular reference to what you call “…peaceful coexistence, getting along without agreeing on shit,…”…like so we wouldn’t be bumping heads and we could get along.

    If you’re that touchy & defensive, there’s probably a reason.
    I’m not especially interested in hearing about it or guessing what it is, but if genes and your environment somehow compel you to talk about it, well, I’m not here to stop you either.
    Do what thou wilt…or do what you feel you must.

    In the more recent thread you say to Sabine, “the ‘kicker’ u obstinately refuse to acknowledge is that u don’t get to choose your desires, they are chosen for u. u only get to act on them…”
    So, you have no agency in this world but, what, somewhere in your DNA there’s something that tells you to like/desire chocolate, or velvet, or whatever?

    Do you have anything remotely scientific on which to base your assertions?
    Preferably something that isn’t analogous to, “I watched the Wizard of Oz and then I had a dream and in it Dorothy told me there is a little man behind the blood-brain barrier named Gene…”

    The first time doesn’t count against you.

  • I don’t usually discuss free will or free choice, but I have for many years discussed and studied all things consciousness, including an education in the field of psychology, which deals with all things those things.

    I pretty much don’t listen to anyone who doesn’t discuss the known science of consciousness including neurobiology, dreams, lucid dreams, and varying levels of purposeful mastery in connection with these topics that are known, including subjects like my previous links to articles abput Buddhist monks, meditation and states of joy. Earlier studies regarding physical mastery over physical states that were previously believed to be purely autonomic and were found be under conscious control by some skilled yogis.

    Discussion of evolution may appear to be an answer, but from what I can tell most people who fall back on that as an explanation for human behavior usually don’t really know anymore about evolution than they do about consciousness.

    I hate to say it, really, but Shep, a good one, following another of Wester’s reliably insightful comments. I tend to agree. Science is the art of measuring things in an effort to create reliable models of reality, and in some ways, in particular technological ways, it is spectacularly successful. Unfortunately, it is also a religion for many of its devotees, a worldview, and one where those who promote science as something above the humans who understand it, and all other human endeavors, as well. In the religion of science it is verbotten to discuss the limitations of measuring things, or the people with the measuring sticks. There is a relentless effort to conflate the purity of science with the human application of it, and the humans themselves. More religious hierarchy, from what I can tell.

    And for truth, if those guys really knew how the world and the universe are, how come science has been the wherewithal for the current mess, as I keep asking? Why doesn’t anyone ever discuss the roles of engineering, chemistry, physics, etc., etc., in the demolition of the entire world in really the last sixty years?

    Where is all the purity of science in this? In people’s heads is the only place I can see, in a fantasy world where human beings eternally dissociate themselves from the reality of their actions and choices, the consequences, the costs, the narcissism and sociopathy that hides behind the illusion of sacred motives and knowledge that they think exists in a vacuum. Who cares that the whole world has enough nuclear weaponry to blow the place up thousands of times over? Some scientists were curious and it was good job with awesome benefits and retirement packages.

  • All religion is superstition. All superstition is psychology. Psychology is Neurology, Neurology is Biology, Biology is Chemistry, Chemistry is Physics, Physics is Mathematics. Mathematics is pre-determinate, indeterminate and chaotic.

    If, you had an inquiring mind you would have at least read alt.traditional.witchcraft

    That is before the early 2000’s – I would have enjoyed you posting what you wrote and observing the reactions. I really doubt you would have had the nerve – you would have been disemboweled.