Coupled with developing theories and thought on the value of nonhuman life and the wild has been a developing discourse on the fundamental relationship between environmental destruction, social inequality, alienation, identity and human civilization. Many thinkers have emerged from this movement “against civilization” and assert that the inequalities and injustices of the world can be sources from humanity’s historical break with the rest of nature at the dawn of civilization.
Critiques along these lines have existed for centuries and can be seen in the writings of such influential authors like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Henry David Thoreau.
The historical discourse critiquing civilization has ranged from many perspectives, perhaps one of the most prevalent being anthropocentric in nature. Thinkers such as Theodor Adorno, Chellis Glendinning, Sigmund Freud and even Theodore Kaczynski (“unabomber”) have brought to light the issues of alienation and meaninglessness that plague modern human society and psychosocial relations as a result of the pursuit of advancement and technology.
Publications from other contemporary writers such as Fredy Perlman, John Zerzan, Kirkpatrick Sale, Derrick Jensen and the poet Chrystos share themes of questioning the validity of civilization on ecological and sociopolitical grounds. Here, the roots of oppression, centralization of power, ecological devastation, colonization and imperialism, industrialization and the state can be traced to the advent of urbanization, agriculture, domestication and division of labor. John Zerzan takes it as far as to assert that symbolic thought, language (as opposed to communication), and the concepts of time and numerals are the precursors to a long and malicious history of civilization.
The merging of nature romanticism, psychosocial critical theories, and themes of decentralization, neo-luddism and social anarchism has resulted in a substantial theory. The dawn of human social organization is the foundation for the framework of alienation, hierarchy, subjugation and exploitation that not only is responsible for ecological destruction and simplification, but for the whole of oppressive systems throughout existence.
The Ideologies of Ecological Freedom
The concept of species is an arbitrary and artificial category. Prejudice, discrimination, subjugation, and power structures drawn along lines of species are unsound, unjustifiable, and immoral. The category of species is a social construction. Freedom does not deal with trivial and artificial categories; it deals with meaningful and relevant facts. Ethics is not concerned with categories, but instead the qualities possessed at an individual level.
Individual organisms are subjects of their own lives. By this it meant that living entities are subject to the conditions of existence. Individuals possess a welfare. That is, they may either be benefited or harmed by changing circumstances (i.e. weather, nutrition, competition). In essence, individuals possess interests. Having interests is not contingent upon being intelligent or sentient; individuals have interests regardless of whether they are aware of them or not.
All individual organisms share the capacity for freedom. The condition of having interests entails the capacity for individuals to exist in a state of deliverance, in the absence of interference and dominion. The possession of interests necessitates the existence of an individual’s purpose, goal, or end. The life history of individuals is oriented toward these ends. Thus, all individuals share the ability to exist as living organisms, free from interference or control of an outside force. This is freedom.
All individual organisms are equal in inherent worth. To say that an individual possesses inherent worth is to assert that the individual is deserving of moral consideration, regardless of instrumental value to any other individual. The moral consideration of an individual stems from the qualities that the individual inherently possesses. Simply by virtue of these qualities an individual is the subject of moral deliberation. Having interests and the capacity for freedom are the prerequisites for possessing inherent worth. Since all organisms possess these qualities in an equal manner (there are not inferior or superior interests or freedoms) all organisms are equals in inherent worth.
All individuals are equally deserving of justice. Equality in inherent worth translates into equal moral consideration. By being the beneficiaries of moral consideration and the duty of others, all individuals have an entitlement to justice. They possess this entitlement equally.
Human superiority must be denied. Humans do not possess any traits that provide them with more entitlement to moral consideration than any other living entity. Worth derives from the possession of interests and capacity for freedom, which humans share equally with other living things. In addition, the category of human beings is an arbitrary social construction without relevance to dealings of justice.
There is a system of oppression drawn along lines of arbitrary categories. There exists structures in human society that use categories of such as species, race, sex, gender, sexuality, class, or ethnicity to enforce social relationships that benefit existing power arrangements. Anthropocentrism, white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism are various manifestations of domination and ideology that exist in individual relationships and the institutions of civilization.
Human institutions wrongfully deny freedom to masses of individuals, both human and nonhuman. The mere existence of these power dynamics necessarily means the denial of freedom and autonomy to countless individuals. These individuals are subjugated by the current social relationships and structures and span across all various categories, including species.
Nonhumans are the subjugated and oppressed. Nonhumans as a category have an entitlement to justice. While it is important to emphasize that individuals of all species are oppressed, it is particularly important to emphasize that the shear numbers of individuals oppressed because they are not human is enormous. Although categories do not exist in reality, oppression nonetheless acts on categories constructed for the functionality of the system. Thus, these categories have a special entitlement to restitutive justice (in addition to being entitled to freedom) by virtue of being oppressed as a category. Nonhumans, like women and people of color, are entitled to justice in this way.
Nonhumans are due liberation. As individuals with their own interests and capacity for freedom, nonhumans are entitled to their liberation. They are entitled to be delivered from the bondage of human civilization and exist absent from the constraints and interference of humanity. Nonhumans should be free from all systems of agriculture, science, entertainment, fashion, domestication and property. Their absolute liberation is an obligation.
Nonhumans are due restitution. Nonhumans have been disadvantaged, subjugated, exploited, murdered, enslaved, controlled, interfered with, tortured, and disrespected for the entirety of human civilization. These problems have only magnified, organized, and become more institutionalized with the onset of agriculture, capitalism, industrialization and globalization. Like all oppressed groups, nonhumans are due prerogatives as compensation. This would translate into privileged consideration of interests.
Nonhumans are due land and communities. Nonhumans are due the wilderness. Individual nonhumans have been stripped of their environments, ecosystems, communities and populations that they need in order to fully experience their life history. They are due a restoration of the wilderness that has been inhibited and spoiled by human civilization. A state of wild deliverance is the only suitable alternative and compensation for millennia of domestication. Domestication is at its core a system of control. Wilderness is the restitution for it.
Institutions that oppress nonhumans and humans are to be abolished. Any institution that involves the subjugation, exploitation, constraint, or domestication of individuals has no merit. It does stand up to the scrutiny of morality and should be abolished.
The high priority of the obligations of liberation, restitution, and abolition entail the need for revolution. The prevailing power structure and its institutions of domination and control must be dissolved. These social relations of power, privilege, subjugation and stigma as they act of individuals and groups are the character of oppression. Reformation via conventional means of social change will fail because it is the system itself that is the foundation of injustice. Any form of action that leaves the system intact will not accomplish justice as defined by liberation, restitution, and abolition. The system will simply manifest itself again in familiar or new forms. Revolution is the only sufficient means of accomplishing liberation. Revolution aims to abolish the system at its roots.