Anthropocentric and Biocentric Reasoning

I knew I contradicted myself when I was passing through our park right after I posted “A field trip to the Toronto zoo”. The spirit of the caterpillars flew to me to question me: “Why is it okay for us to be tamed, to be controlled, to be manipulated by humans’ children but not for a tiger?” I couldn’t ignore their question, very true question. It took me back to the chapter 2 in my dissertation … to the dilemma of an Anthropocentric and/or Biocentric reasoning when talking about, studying, manipulating,  managing ,  and discussing sustainability. Anthropocentric and/or Biocentric?! Two big terms. In an anthropocentric approach, people’s interests and wellbeing are situated at the center of human-nature interaction and inter-relatedness. For example, nature is valued, respected, and protected because it has the potential to satisfy our mental, physical, and spiritual needs and desires. In contrast, a biocentric approach attempts not to commodify nature as merely our possession but as something that has its own rights and values.

The line between these two approaches is not always clear-cut; rather, a definition of our relationship with nature often sits somewhere on a continuum between these two approaches. However, it seems to me that it is hard, or I may even say impossible, to distance ourselves from Anthropocentrism.

I was walking through that park thinking what has made me to think that to look, touch, and keep a caterpillar is less problematic than doing the same to a tiger.  Is that the size, the memories, or the way we, humans, romanticize nature? Or is it because one is considered being endangered and the other not? Are the dignity and rights of tigers different from those of the caterpillars? This question takes me to the novel of Animal Farm, where it say, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others!” Am I trapped in the same dilemma/contradiction too?

When I go to the talks about nature, some basic questions often come to me “Who defines what is a flower what is a weed? Who can decide if a mosquito can be killed but not a butterfly?” These questions are important to disrupt an instrumental idea of nature which considers nature as an object to be intellectually possessed and physically manipulated and exploited to satisfy someone’s version of human’s needs and wants. Human being is at the center of asking and then finding answers for these questions. Very difficult questions that I wish there was  some easy answers for them … So when we advocate for connection with nature or protecting nature, we must not forget that we are at the center of deciding what can be connected to and what needs to be protected …. The key questions remain: who’s protecting who from what?

This is of course not to deny the tight interconnection between humans and the rest of the nature. I still believe we need to think about our (including nature’s) physical and emotional health and well being rather than humans versus nature. It is us/we that I’m interested in learning more about.

So what do you think? Where do you position yourself in our connection to nature?

A Field Trip to the Toronto Zoo

What are these children looking at?

Yes, a tiger! The symbol of power, beauty, and independence. One of the fastest runners on our earth. But an endangered animal which only about 3000 of them are left in the world. I looked at his eyes and I felt a shiver. They told me to respect, to not forget who he is, or perhaps who he was… I remember how much my brother as a young boy loved them, how he knew everything about them, how their pictures were covered the wall of his bedroom … but he never saw one so close when he was a child … he read about them in books, he saw their pictures, and sometimes documentaries about them, in black-white … but he imagined them as wild, brave, and beautiful. In his fantasy they were not for  entertaining humans or raising their pity. Tigers were on our earth to be admired, to be dared to be one, and to hope never face one in a dark jungle …

But today, he’s in a cage in the Toronto Zoo right under the feet of these children. I wonder what they learn about him when seeing him so quiet, so bored, so under control, so inactive, …. To me, he’s just an illusion of what a free tiger is or should be …. What if the image that these children are building today is emphasized by the images that the Disney cartoons are building for them: images of funny, silly, pet-like and humanized tigers?

In my romanticized image of a tiger, I wish Rauz and these children would have never seen him so poor, disengaged, normalized, so un-tiger.

I wonder who is protecting who? Are we really worried about their endangered species? Or are we worried how our earth would be without them? What could then be the symbol of power, beauty, and speed for us? Who or what is replacing them?