The social stupidity observed in the readings from this week was insane by any modern Western northern liberal standard. Whether it was Smuts’ hypothesis that, “earlier civilisations have largely failed because...civilising races [have been] rapidly submerged in the quicksands of African blood”, or Hitler’s perception of a “higher race” that should dominate the “inferior peoples”, today most of us perceive all of these genre of allegations as complete horseshit. We today have proof that these horseshitteries are in fact horseshitteries, as the president of the most powerful country on Earth is the male offspring of an English-German-Swiss-Scott-Irish-Welsh American and Luo-Kenyan. If genetic purity is a certain proxy for evolutionary success then must we discount either all of Darwin’s premises or the premise that said proxy is wrong?
But beyond this week’s eugenic arguments lies a notable elephant. I mention “male” above because a conversation that was entirely missing from all of the eugenic discussion of this past week was: what about the women! Incredibly, at this point the consideration of gender equality had yet to even enter the collective conscience, as indicated by its complete absence from any of these documents. In our country it was fifty years after black males acquired the right to vote (1870) that women of any race were given the same opportunity (1920). Prior to 1920 there were absolutely strong women figures, at least in this country (i.e. Abigail Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams, etc.), but the consideration of their political equality was yet to be discussed seriously by the nation. And, just like with the racial conversations prior, we think back now and consider those opposed to giving women the right to vote as complete bigots, misogynist, notable idiots. This pattern of decategorization - or rather changing certain assumptions about, or values placed on observed social categories - begs the perennial question: In another century, what categorization will our descendents find hugely appalling of us today? And, yes, I intend to explore one possible answer: our devaluation of other species.
Idealist, yes. Insane, maybe. Preached to minor applause already by deep ecologists and Pulitzer Prize winning poets alike, definitely, and perhaps another century will not get us there, but I think even so its worth revisiting for two reasons.
First, I deeply believe in its truth. I have personal buy-in here because it is ultimately how I see the world and thus would like to build vocabulary to defend its premises and value. But also, to explore many alternative ways of knowing we must first practice envisioning the world from this point of view. For instance, from a Potawatomi perspective, plant species are not plants, but distinct peoples. In a TED talk Robin Wall Kimmerer, a Potawatomi woman and graduate of UW-Madison’s Botany Ph.D program, mentions that wild strawberries are not berries, but the leaders of the berry people, autonomous beings with their own wills and desires. It is thus customary to ask permission to harvest strawberries or any wild plant (Kimmerer, 2012). I believe we must begin to broaden our ethics to incorporate other species as autonomous beings, while not losing perspective of our connection and interdependence with those autonomous peoples. We must begin to again realize that other species here on Earth have expectations of us too. We need to reimagine what could be discussed as an “ecological other”, in other words, the set of expectations we feel from other species here on Earth. Only then can we rediscover an “ecological me” of sorts. That is the good life. A long ways from eugenics perhaps, and maybe not the direction I ultimately intended on venturing, but we’re here.