Politics and its Discontents: Are You A Supremacist?

Where I live, the summer has been, with just the occasional respite, unbearably hot. It has certainly interfered with one of my seasonal pleasures, sitting on the deck and reading the newspaper while watching various species of birds visit both my feeders and my bird bath. In those quiet moments, the wall that we humans far too frequently erect to separate us from nature seems to barely exist. The air, the sunlight, the perennials at the side and back of the yard are but a few of the things that I, the birds, squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits, butterflies and bees share. The illusion of Eden, however ephemeral, percolates into consciousness. All, for a few moments, is tranquil and holy.

But of course, the above is a very idealized version of reality; nature, in its more intrusive forms, elicits an entirely different response. For example, several years ago we awoke to find a bat in our bedroom. Let’s just say that its presence was a source of deep consternation culminating in its capture and ultimately, its death, as it had to be tested for rabies.

While few would blame me for the actions I took, the incident does underscore another truth. We enjoy nature, we want to recognize ourselves as simply part of a vast and powerful reality, but we want it only on our terms. In a recent column, Rick Salutin reminded us of that truth:

When I got home from the cottage Monday, there were signs of struggle in the kitchen, like scratched, torn packaging on rice cakes. Mice? But why didn’t the cat disperse them as he always does? Rats? Later I heard scuffling and went back in: a squirrel!

It’s shocking how menacing they look in there, versus through the backyard window. Panicked and dangerous — the squirrel that is, but me too.

There’s such a sharp separation involved: them out there, us inside. Panic looms if it breaks down.

Salutin goes on to talk about other aspects of nature that we are increasingly contending with: the forest fires, the coastal flooding, etc., all a response to the separation that we have allowed to evolve and culminate in the early stages of climate change. That reality, he says, stands in sharp contrast to the romanticized nature that urbanites maunder on about (‘I love Nature.’). (See opening paragraph.)

And, in the way that only Rick Salutin can, he offers us this insight:

There’s a reason why indigenous peoples everywhere have led on dealing intelligently with climate change: not because they’re wiser or nobler but because they haven’t experienced a rupture with the non-human world to the same degree as most of us. They remain aware of the ways we’re part of the natural realm, and how dangerous and menacing it can be if, like any relationship, that one is left unattended or gets misshapen by a power imbalance. If you live oblivious to something you’re intimately part of, the odds don’t favour you, ultimately.

He might just as well have added that, with the power we wield, it doesn’t favour nature either.

Indeed, Derrick Jensen, in a piece well-worth reading, has a name for what we do to the planet: human supremacism.

Here is human supremacism. Right now in Africa, humans are placing cyanide wastes from gold mines on salt licks and in ponds. This cyanide poisons all who come there, from elephants to lions to hyenas to the vultures who eat the dead. The humans do this in part to dump the mine wastes, but mainly so they can sell the ivory from the murdered elephants.

Right now a human is wrapping endangered ploughshares tortoises in cellophane and cramming them into roller bags to try to smuggle them out of Madagascar and into Asia for the pet trade. There are fewer than 400 of these tortoises left in the wild.

Right now in China, humans keep bears in tiny cages, iron vests around the bears’ abdomens to facilitate the extraction of bile from the bears’ gall bladders. The bears are painfully “milked” daily. The vests also serve to keep the bears from killing themselves by punching themselves in the chest.

And those are only a few dramatic examples of our ruptured relationship with the larger world. Every time we use our cars when we could have walked, every vehicle we buy that is bigger and more powerful than we need, every minute we spend idling our cars so we can stay cool or warm, every drop of water we waste when we let the tap run while brushing our teeth, all and so many more of our heedless daily decisions and actions reveal us for the human supremacists we are.

Our arrogance, our assumption of a natural superiority over nature, our insistence that we are separate from nature, continues apace. It is destroying our world and, of course, us along with it. All because of a perceived right to do what we will with the world around us.

A benighted and shameful view, but one that, despite all the indicators, sadly shows absolutely no signs of abatement.

Continue reading