Anthropocentrism & The Anthropocene
Musings on humans, volunteering & neo-liberalism
Hey jo_bailey, thanks so much for these provocations. That was an excellent and insightful ramble ;) Let me try and pull out each point and address it…
It’s definitely an interesting insight that some of the most interesting experiments of regenerating biodiversity, have been when humans were taken out of the picture. It reminded me of a story I read about the eruption of Mount St. Helens, which decimated a National Park’s ecology, but was then turned into a ‘Living Lab’ scientific reserve which closely monitored the recovery and resurgence of life in the area. There’s a CBS article on it here.
As for the question of ‘nature’ needing humans to be absent for rewilding to take place, I’m a little on the fence.
I’m more of the opinion that we are a part of nature, not apart from it. We’ve co-evolved with all of these species around the world, so I think we need to deal with our relationship with nature, rather than excluding ourselves from it.
It reminds me of the antithesis of Anthropocentrism which was proposed by Robert Lanza in 2007 — Biocentrism, which is I feel is best described by this image:
There’s going to be 9 billion of us. We’re not going anywhere from what I can see. This is the Anthropocene after all.
The only reason I would see for us to create areas where rewilding can happen without humans in the mix, is to create an “educational buffer” time whilst we are transitioning ‘us humans’ to a level of awareness best characterised by “stop killing things and making decisions which put ourselves ahead of other Life”.
How is all this related to Design? Well, to me, Design is the pursuit of ‘what should be’. Therefore, implicit in the work of all people who are designing things (not just designers) are a range of ethical considerations which need to be thought through, as well as opportunities to look for shared value and win-wins.
If we were designing with biocentric values, we would be making a lot of very different decisions about products, services, policies, land use and the likes.
I’m not really aware of any biocentric design practice, so if you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them!
A quick search turned up this article from the Biomimicry crowd, but for me, it’s only just starting to push the envelope a little — suggesting “our solutions might start exhibiting a sense of care that extends beyond people”. This is still spoken from an anthropocentric viewpoint from what I can see, one which implies humans have the moral / ethical ‘duty’ to care for Life. Whilst I believe we do, I also feel like the intrinsic value of all our planet’s Life needs to be better recognised. My favourite quote from the article is:
Biomimicry “attenuates the sense of aliveness we feel when tapping one of our most primal identities — our biophilic, or life-loving, selves.” Have we, as designers, become too technophilic? Can we turn to our biophilia and to biomimicry to imagine new paradigms by which to create more sustainable solutions designed not only for people, but for all life?
I completely agree that paid Conservation Rangers are not the real acupuncture point, but in fact the “uber-engaged individuals with enough time in their lives to dedicate it to a great cause they are passionate about”.
I was over simplifying my language in an attempt to work with existing mental models most people may have about Conservation in Aotearoa New Zealand. My main thrust of Volunteer Impact to this date has focused closely on these unpaid, or part-paid coordinators who activate, coordinate and sustain project, often on minimal resources. You can see a little more about that at http://volunteerimpact.co
The Neo-liberal Agenda
This was a really interesting provocation:
“is unlocking volunteerism further a bit David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ — i.e. getting people to do for free what the State should be doing?”
I’d never really thought of the community-led conservation movement as a product of a neo-liberal agenda (which is what I would characterise Cameron’s “Big Society” concept to stem from).
Personally, I see environmental volunteering as a really important opportunity for people. It’s an opportunity to connect with other people. To connect with land and place. To connect with the spirit of kaitiakitanga. To learn, to grow, to explore, to be still, and so so so much more.
One of the reasons I proposed my MDes direction was about ‘improving social outcomes’ as well as environmental ones, was that there are huge wellbeing outcomes from ‘nature connection’ as well as the activities which happen around the volunteering experience — such as building social capital, acquiring new skills, building mindfulness practice, and more.
Do I think volunteering could be subverted for a neo-liberal agenda?
Well, yes of course everything can be spun and manipulated really. However, I guess it also depends on who is designing the volunteer experience (this is where participative design can mitigate those challenges), as well as how the value of volunteering is communicated and received (hence part of my MDes investigation being around impact stories, as well as interest in an open data platform which could support all sorts of uses — digital maker culture, activists, media etc.).
If this is the case, then supporting the community sector to build more capacity (in a range of areas) is a vital counter balance to enable them/us to better design the kind of future we need to see, to ensure that all life can flourish.
I’m also aware that I have relatively strong views about this area, and am very interested in alternative approaches, theories of change, creative responses to the challenge, etc. — perhaps part of my MDes project needs to be about co-creating possible ways of tackling this problem….
Thanks for the korero, I’d love to catch up and further explore sometime!!