“Nature,” as a troubled thematic catch-all, is often sidelined in serious debates. When discussing and reflecting on moments of political crisis, environmental factors tend to be vaguely rather than directly referenced, even when their relevance is as great as a heavy mammal. If they’re not already dealing with a green agenda, politicians tend to rely on nature only when they have a strategic advantage: delaying decisions until winter cools the fervor of protesters; launching battles against a virus to drive control measures rather than developing responsible and holistic decision-making. From government or corporate led extractivism to global food security, industrial activity based on the consumption of natural “resources”, even if ultimately detrimental to human health, is considered a God-given right. and/or an evolving right.
Anthropocentrism in Rafi Youatt’s Public Seminar article, written in response to John Keane on ecological democide in slow motion, represents more than the dominance that humans have asserted over the non-human. Youatt identifies two key anthropocentric catastrophes: the territorial sovereignty of the state over nature, which, through international environmental law, enables “extractivism and geopolitics… shared by democratic, autocratic, socialist and postcolonial regimes » ; and the assumption that we know what the ‘anthrop’ norm is, negatively reflecting anyone forced into a less than human condition ‘like the animalized prisoners of Guantanamo, those in Auschwitz concentration camps who were returned as “bare life” or the state -of the natives of nature who appeared in the conquest of the New World.’
Described as “deep-rooted” and “hydra-headed,” Youatt recommends avoiding anthropocentrism when considering how political theory should approach ecology. Inferring from Keane’s writings, he warns that “this general turn towards an ecological demos could well be read as a particularly inverted anthropocentrism, which confuses the exclusion of nature from moral and political life with a maneuver to incorporate life non-human in human political circuits. ‘Democracy as it is, as a system at the service of man, is, according to Youatt, inappropriate for non-humans. “The way forward does not lie in a democracy in which greater representation and rights are extended to non-human nature… Rather, we must develop a broader conception and practice of politics, as a committed process with the non-human world, which in turn intersects with human aspirations to create more just political institutions.
A third way
As an alternative, he proposes “a third politics that seeks neither democracy within states, nor global scales of greening…or projects of inclusive cosmopolitan tolerance.” To be sure, there is confusion in the West, at the very least, about how action to manifest the worst impacts of the climate crisis can be truly decisive. Few believe that individual efforts to downsize and reuse will do more than provide a good example now that we have seen the “carbon footprint” hijacking tactics of big business. The change must happen at the industrial level. And by that, I don’t mean the multitude of companies that have already made a profit margin from green washing. Keane recognizes the value of what he calls “surveillance democracy”: “people and their chosen and trusted representatives ward off abusive power, protect their lives as equals against all forms of unequal power relations with the help of bodies such as independent courts, uncorrupted election commissions and civil society watchdogs”.
What could constitute this “Third Politics” which “calls for seeing contemporary projects of human democracy as simultaneously encountering and confronting a world of other political formations”? Is this a reference to the “third landscape”, which recognizes these environments that subsist without human intervention? Are we to read this “Third Way,” which normally describes anything other than right and left in political terms, as an attempt to provide an independent stance for nature outside of our human-centered obsessions?
Mobility as a challenge
“The mobility of nature,” writes Youatt, “is a challenge to democratic institutions,” which he then links to a questionable contrary human tendency “to live life in relatively entrenched paths and roads.” Although not often undertaken by choice, many people are currently migrating or being displaced around the world. In cases of forced displacement, chaos takes over, whether fleeing war or environmental collapse – and it may be time to drop divisions here, given that disaster is symptomatic on the other and vice versa (whether war leads to biome destruction or extractivism leading to civil wars). The turmoil caused by forced migration is often bizarrely subsumed by the more sedentary, disturbed by the thought of the newcomers rather than the recognition of the most serious situation.
Olga Bubich’s autobiographical article on finding ways to forge family ties across time and space while displaced offers valuable counterpoint. The author uses photography to physically connect with those she can no longer or has never been able to meet. Her account describes the ability to reach out in times of distress, to expand awareness, and to provide peace of mind despite obstacles—characteristics that can serve well elsewhere.
Nature at the table
In the face of a lack of connection to ecological concerns, even acknowledging that the human in the room is part of nature is a perceptual work in progress. Staying aware that all elements and materials even in our daily environments – sunlight, oxygenating plants, wooden beams, aluminum sutures, epoxy resin, the room itself – have a natural basis is a step additional. Extending this to biomes that we benefit from but don’t experience directly is another level yet. The care needed to recognize these seemingly abstract realities comes perhaps from a different view of the situation.
Keane proposes that democracy encompasses and accounts for a slowed ecological pace to avoid this shortsightedness. Youatt, on the other hand, concludes that “if democracy is to survive and evolve – and there is no reason to think that it cannot – it must be both less anthropocentric and more open to its ecological roots. “. Either way, that nature as ecology is now on or at the table of political theory is a comforting thought and an imperative.