Friday, March 07, 2008

Val Plumwood

Val Plumwood, an influential philosopher, ecofeminist, and activist died on February 28. Author of many articles and book chapters and four books, her latest was Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason (2001).

She will be remembered for her contributions to a distinctively feminist, anti-patriarchical and anti-hierarchical philosophy of environmental encounter. She argued that Western forms of reason--scientific, economic, and instrumental--are the root cause of an ecological destruction that will eventually end our species. Her philosophical views can be experienced through her personal retelling of her near-fatal encounter with a crocodile. This riveting story illustrates an understanding of humans as potential prey, and the attack caused her to review how she thought of humans' place in nature:
This concept of human identity [as separate from nature] positions humans outside and above the food chain, not as part of the feast in a chain of reciprocity but as external manipulators and masters of it: Animals can be our food, but we can never be their food. The outrage we experience at the idea of a human being eaten is certainly not what we experience at the idea of animals as food. The idea of human prey threatens the dualistic vision of human mastery in which we humans manipulate nature from outside, as predators but never prey. We may daily consume other animals by the billions, but we ourselves cannot be food for worms and certainly not meat for crocodiles. This is one reason why we now treat so inhumanely the animals we make our food, for we can not imagine ourselves similarly positioned as food. We act as if we live in a separate realm of culture in which we are never food, while other animals inhabit a different world of nature in which they are no more than food, and their lives can be utterly distorted in the service of this end.

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