De-centering human beings

There are those who argue that sustainability will not come about without a cultural revolution.  The main element in this revolution is a ‘de-centering’ of the human being. 

The mainstream view is that human beings are the source and the measure of all value.  This view has it that the non-human natural world is no more and no less than a resource for the benefit of human beings. Of course it is a resource, but if we are to develop a sustainable relationship with the environment, we need to think of it as not just a resource. 

The historical moments, articles, books and events outlined below have all had an effect on how we see ourselves, as human beings, in relation to the rest of the world and even the universe.  In one way or another they de-centre us, either in terms of where we are in space and time, or in terms of the so-called ‘hierarchy of being’.  Traditionally, this hierarchy has human beings at the top and the rest of nature beneath them in descending order of worth and priority.  The ‘moments’ in the table all unsettle this hierarchy in one way or another. 

It is hard to say how much of a difference this move against human-centredness has made, and the jury is out even on whether it is a precondition for sustainability or not.  But for anyone who thinks that a dose of humility from humans in relation to the rest of the natural world would not go amiss, these way marks are surely of crucial importance.

January 2013

earth rise flikr commons 5052124921_eb5c68c99c_b.jpg

Earth rising, as seen from the moon
This incredible image of the Earth rise was taken during lunar orbit by the Apollo 11 mission crew in July of 1969: the first manned lunar mission
Credit: 
NASA

About the author

Keele, UK

Andrew Dobson is Professor of Politics at Keele University. He is the author of Green Political Thought (4th edition, 2006), and of... (Read more)

Andy Dobson | Timeline for 'De-centering human beings'