Much of anthropocentricism has its foundation in the idea that humans have a greater value than other species due to our intelligence, and in many cases, that we are seperate from them entirely (as being created in “god’s image.”)
While I am not particularly fond of the idea of undermining spirituality and various religious views, I can make an exception here. Many traditional notions of spirituality feature a respect for nature as a key aspect, and have a sort of pantheistic perspective to them. This can be seen, for example, in the creation legend of the Quileute tribe, in which the members of the tribe are desended from wolves that were turned into humans by Q’waeti’. Another example of this can be seen in the theriocephaly of certain ancient Egyptian deities, in which they are humanoids with some physical animal characteristics. The idea that humans and other animals are significant to one another, rely on each other, or are related has been a part of humanity since prehistory.
However, some religions and persectives put an end to this trend by claiming that humans are above the realm of the physical Earth and the rest of nature, and are completely seperate altogether. For example, in Christian mythology, mankind is created seperately and as superior to the rest of nature: Genesis 1:26 – “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Futhermore, evolution is still denied by many Christians (notably the Lutheran and Southern Baptist denominations), as well as by some secular individuals who are simply ignorant on the matter. But we know now, that humans not only share some of our DNA with other primates, but with every other organism as well. Every organism shares some amount of DNA with every other organism. Merely, the amount of DNA shared represents the closeness in relation: Humans are genetically closer to chimpanzees than to frogs, but a human is closer to its mother than a chimpanzee, and a twin is closer to its identical twin than anything.
Personally, I (unsurprisingly) struggled to find many ancestral religions and non-Christian persectives that denied a relation to other species, and did not revere nature in some facet.
When it comes to human superiority in the area of intelligence, it is another matter. We human beings have minds that are much more complex than those of other species, and possess many mental capabilities that are nearly unique to us (such as, the creation and enjoyment of the humanities.) But the questions are: Does this truly matter? Are we really at an advantage? Do we define intelligence in a way that specifically caters to humankind?
We are a complex, interesting species. However, we are but infants in comparison to “wisdom” of many other species. Oak trees evolved somewhere between 26-12 million years ago. The birds categorized as “corvids” date back to around 17 million years ago. And modern gray wolves have existed for around 700,000 years. These species are only a handful that are significant in many human cultures, who have existed in our modern form for only around 200,000 years. Every organism is related, and interacts at some point with another organism. To survive, species have adapted to the ecologies of their neighbors, and have some understanding of (whether consciously or not) one another to survive. Likewise, we humans have looked to other species and nature in general for guidance for much of our existence. And while there has never been a utopian, pristine human society, this predilection for the natural world around us has kept us in a relatively sustainable existence.
When we seperate ourselves from nature, we reveal how vacuous our actions and notions can be: We destroy our home for momentary luxuries, or comforts that we do not need. Anything that takes more away from the Earth than it has the ability to give back, or damages it knowingly, is inherently illogical.
It may seem like we are gifted with some divine intelligence, making us a superior lifeform, but without the rest of nature (the rest of our family, our home), we are virutally helpless.
(Header image of Werner Freund)