What do We Value?

What do We Value?

By:  SMSBF, Exec. Dir., Mike Shesterkin

The images we’ve seen and the experiences many of us have undergone during the last few weeks – the uprisings against police brutality and white supremacy – are more than what they appear to be: They are symptoms with a much more deeply rooted cause. That cause is the discontinuity between the value global capitalism places on things – private property and commodities – versus the value we place on the relationships we hold with each other and with Earth.

Deeply Rooted

Beginning with the Enlightenment, Europeans began to abandon their sense of the Earth system and their relationship to it. Prior to the Enlightenment, Westerners held a much deeper sense of the mystery of the cosmos. This was, for the most part, because they simply couldn’t explain things such as thunderstorms, earthquakes and other physical phenomenon. With the invention of the printing press, Newton’s calculus and particle physics, along with a host of other significant contributions, the Enlightenment ushered in hope that humanity could finally throw-off the shackles of what many viewed – and continue to view – as superstitious thinking. Because science held-out the promise of “explaining all things”, Westerners began to abandon their primordial sense of the sacred and the world around them. We looked to science as the means of unlocking the mysteries of the cosmos. And while much good has come of this trajectory, it’s also brought plenty we can do without. 

One thing we can do without is what is now called anthropocentrism, or the notion that human beings are in command of all things and can judge all things rightly. Simply put, anthropocentrism, as the word implies, is the notion that human beings are the central concern of the whole of the cosmos. Human beings are not its concern, but rather simply part of the cosmos. 

The central concern of the cosmos is the being who ignited the Big Bang, animates the expansion of the universe and came-up with the quantum physics explained by the equation E = mc2. To look through the Hubble telescope at a galaxy far away, or peer through a microscope and see the multitude of creatures living in a soil sample, ought to be enough to convince anyone that there’s much more to the cosmos than human beings who make stuff and then throw stuff away.

Unfortunately for us in this age, we suffer from a cold and misguided logic that’s born of anthropocentrism. This logic is manifest in the likes of Ayn Randian philosophies of rugged individualism, and the sort of thinking that drives the likes of Jeff Bezos and others who pledge fealty to the promise of artificial intelligence and “big data” to fix everything. While these things are tools, they cannot explain why human beings exist in the first place, and they certainly should not be used to decide things such as who receives medical treatment and who does not. Yet, in very rapid course, this is the direction into which we are headed. 

A Cold and Calculated Logic

Relying exclusively on anthropocentric logic begets a cold, calculating, and for the most part misguided value system that holds private property and the commodity form as being of greater value than all of life itself. This logic vomits forth neoliberalism, or the idea that measures of wealth and the market place ought to be the arbiters of what is valuable.

In the hands of corporate power, neoliberal thinking and the destructive tools that go with it, render human beings as nothing more than bits of data in a file, rather than highly evolved forms of consciousness endowed with “unalienable rights”. Our fight is not with implicit bias, a malady suffered by every human being on this planet, but rather with corporate power – the aggregation of anthropocentric thinking. 

We are all brothers and sisters, irrespective of skin pigmentation, national origin, creed or what have you, and we are equal. The relationships we hold with each other and the Earth system ought to be the predicate of our value system, not the almighty dollar and the power it buys. The entrenched power that goes with aggregated wealth is at the root of the unrest we see around us. Our work, as a community, here in this place, lies in deconstructing a system that values the commodity form over all of life, and replacing it with one that values all of life – human and Earth system – above everything else.


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