18 January, 2011
Recent events such as the floods in Queensland, Australia, Sri Lanka, Brazil, and the Philippines have caused waves of destruction, and many lives have been lost. The great forces of nature can be capricious.
To understand life as precarious means accepting that the life we have may be taken away at any moment. To understand our very existence is precarious means that we accept that humans are animals positioned in the food chain – that we can be food for others, be they large carnivores, or bacteria.
It means accepting we are not masters of a tamed and malleable nature. It means accepting our ecological vulnerability – we are vulnerable to so many things, from a tick to a tsunami, from a carnivore to a car crash.
And in the current dislocated world of emergent crises, it seems our lives have never been more vulnerable.
And then I wonder: How do we respond to our vulnerability? What actions do we take?
The modern world seems to harbour notions that we stand outside of nature – that we are not embedded in an ecology. (Surely the recent natural disasters show the folly of this?) We seem to hold to the illusion that humans are invulnerable, with our magnificent creations, our cities, our technologies. But what if all of this, all of this human inventiveness and cleverness, is making us even more vulnerable, making our lives, and especially the lives of the poor, even more precarious?
How do we take corrective measures to a system that allows economic privilege and the short-sightedness of the economic sphere to overwhelm the ecological realities in which we all live?
Val Plumwood, the late Australian philosopher, stated it this way: Our ethical and spiritual failures are closely linked to our perceptual and prudential failures in situating ourselves as ecological beings.
As ecological realities start to bite hard, it is time to reassess our lives and our relationship to nature, and become sensitive to ecological limits and dependencies. In doing this we become even more aware of our precarious and precious lives.