Val Plumwood 1939-2008

Val Plumwood 1939-2008

The noted Australian eco-feminist philosopher Val Plumwood implored us to “re-imagine the world in richer terms that will allow us to find ourselves in dialogue with and limited by other species’ needs, other kinds of minds”.

How could we imagine ourselves in dialogue with other species? How would we limit ourselves (such a radical concept today) as a result of the presence of other kinds of minds? What are these other kinds of non-human minds?

One key and important step is to understand how contemporary societies have become out of touch with our ecological world, and with ourselves as ecological beings. We have constructed an extreme opposition between humans and the non-human order. This is what Val Plumwood called the “human-nature dualism”, which she describes as “a western-based cultural formation going back thousands of years that sees the essentially human as part of a radically separate order of reason, mind, or consciousness, set apart from the lower order that comprises the body, the woman, the animal, and the pre-human.”

This human-nature dualism (falsely) conceives the human as not only superior to but different in kind from the non-human.

We have set humans up as being mindful beings (within a  human-centred self-referential system), and non-humans (including nature) as dead matter, as spiritless, all mind and intelligence having being contracted to humans.

A dualism is not just a simple dichotomy. A dualism has a hegemonic flavour, and allows the colonisation, domination and backgrounding of other peoples and the non-human world. By setting humans as above nature, we deny our embeddedness and dependency on nature. The driving force behind “progress” is the attempt to build a human society beyond the limits of nature (we just hate limits!). And just is case you didn’t realise it: This is actually impossible!

Rather than constructing a dualism, or trying to transcend them, we can hold a creative tension between pairs of opposites. Tension between opposites can be healthy, allowing for the emergence of a creative holding of the pairing in its intrinsic pattern, beauty and rhythms, without domination of one over the other. There is a tension between night and day, between ocean and land, between breathing in and breathing out.

We are often offered a false choice between saving nature or saving culture. Or we offered a choice that implies culture is more important than nature (it’s not). Don’t buy into this. We want both. We can’t have one without the other. We can’t just breathe in!

Instead, take part in the radical project of re-imagining the world in richer terms. Allow others, non-human others, and places, to have a voice. The reality of nature is re-emerging now asking desperately to be heard.

Pause. Listen carefully. The word is beckoning you, waiting for your participation.