When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Green

Biophilia Or Bust? Ecology Is Not About Empathy For Other Living Creatures

When humans care about the natural world, it means revising our place in it and acting accordingly, not giving nature "rights and concessions" that are figments of our self-serving imagination.

Photo of a woman holding a dog's paw in Istanbul, Turkey

A good first step toward ecological change?

Brigitte LG Baptiste

-Essay-

BOGOTÁ — One of the most contradictory elements in the human condition is the dual ability to be moved by or remain indifferent to the suffering of creatures. The poverty starkly evident on city streets for as long as there have been cities prompted the creation of welfare systems just as soon as institutions emerged. Today, those systems fall short of the needs of our collective welfare, which we now recognize as vulnerable for depending on the state of natural ecosystems.

The structural inequities and injustice we see require political decisions, but also pose challenges of coexistence in our day-to-day lives. We must thus act on the basis of compassion and empathy, even if such concepts may be understood differently, as the histories of the great religions and their critics illustrate.

Talking of compassion from the scientific perspective (always said to be heartless) or from the perspective of social ideologies are not the same.


Ideologies have frameworks in which convictions are turned into acts of solidarity, equity or charity. And we know there is a gap between sympathy and action, or significant and meaningless action like changing governments to change nothing else. Has the self-defeating gap between empathy and action affected our ecological sense?

The problem with compassion

The problem with empathy is its tendency to be sucked into the vast business of sermonizing and publicity wherein we lose sight of the complexity of issues. We come to infantilize our relations with other creatures, and ultimately view the ecosystem in which we live as a friend. A motherly (but not feminine) Earth gives us its blessings if we want them, chastises the ill-behaved and can make us feel guilty.

Recognizing landscapes or rivers as sentient beings may elevate our conscience and sense of responsibility to them but also turns them into ineffective caricatures. Like the singing shrub shown on our television, Frailejón Ernesto Pérez. I admit he is lovable. If only he could encourage research into the highlands where the espeletia shrub grows, though in this land, he'll probably want to become a senator (and seeing some of our senators, frankly, why couldn't a shrub do the same job?).

Recognizing our responsibility in the world is more than discussing the rights of a bear.

Empathy for animals and rejection of their suffering, as components of biophilia, imply the ability to put ourselves in their place in the course of our regular or occasional interactions with creatures. This means enjoying our evolutionary kinship with all living beings to give meaning to our own existence.

Recognizing our responsibility in the world is more than shoddily humanizing our pets or discussing the rights of a bear (a neurotic, crowd-pleasing gesture, rather than empathetic). Domesticated animals have helped us reach our present, human stage, which, at the very least, demands that they be respected, as U.S. writer Donna Haraway observes.

What do compassion and empathy mean in the context of taking decisions on living with ecosystems? This is presently a debate distorted by emotions of urban dwellers, molded by schooling systems that rarely include the experience of living in anything resembling the woods. For we know that being what it is, nature would engulf us without further ado — or empathy.


You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Ideas

Orbán And Kaczynski, A Duet In The Key Of Fascism

As the populist leaders face sinking poll numbers and the nearby war in Ukraine, they turn to the tactics of racism and transphobia, which ultimately adds up to fascist tactics.

Caricature featuring Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Polish politician Jaroslaw Kaczynski

Wojciech Maziarski

-OpEd-

WARSAW — Soaring inflation, economic stagnation, pressure from Brussels and the blockade of European funds, war on the eastern front...

The autocratic governments of Viktor Orbán and Jaroslaw Kaczynski are facing a wave of adversity they have not faced before.

Their governed subjects are starting to get fed up, taking to the streets, blocking bridges (in Budapest), and chanting: "You will sit!". Poll ratings for Orbán's Fidesz party in Hungary and Kaczynski's PiS in Poland keep falling.

So the pair of autocrats are reaching for a tried-and-true method of distraction: inventing alleged "enemies of the nation" and pointing the blame at them.

Kaczynski has taken aim at transgender people to rouse the attention of the God-fearing masses — even if some voters from his party are forced to listen to the leader's stories with amazement and slight distaste.

Orbán, on the other hand, brought out an artillery of a heavier caliber. Last month, in his annual keynote speech he reached for arguments from the arsenal of 20th-century racism and — yes, let's not be afraid of the word — fascism.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in
Writing contest - My pandemic story
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ