Biocracy and the Salvation of Big Cats
with special thanks to On Being with Krista Tippett
for the interview and video
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We humans were born to live with our closest kin, the other animals. They are subjects of their own lives just as we are subjects of our lives. They have languages and cultures, wisdom and aims, which elicit our awe and wonder; and which, from the perspective of process theology, add immensely to the ongoing life of the universe. The planet belongs to them no less than to us, even as we now destroy so much of their habitat.
We cannot speak their languages, and yet some of us -- Alan Rabinowitz, for example -- are beckoned to help us hear their voices. He invites us not to romanticize the other animals but rather to respect them. And he reminds us that this respect can complement the healthy bonds that enrich our relations to one another. We need not choose between fellow humans and other creatures of the flesh; we can seek the well-being of humans and animals.
Those of us who are process theologians hope that, at some point in the not too distant future. our democracies can become biocracies. Indeed, one of the most important process thinkers, Les Muray, recently presented a paper called "Biocracy and the Rights of Nature" at the Ninth International Whitehead Conference in Krakow, Poland, September 9-12, 2013. His proposal, characteristic of many process theologians, is that, if we speak the language of human rights, we ought also speak speak of the rights of nature, big cats included.
As Muray explains, a biocracy is an eco-community whose members include other living beings and ecosystems as well as, of course, human beings. The other living beings and the ecosystems are represented in the human governance of the society by people who speak on their behalf. The aim of such a community is to become a place that is hospitable for all forms of life, humans included.
This does not mean human beings are neglected. The collective hope among humans is to develop forms of community that are creative, compassionate, participatory, culturally rich, and spiritually satisfying, with no one left behind. Sharp dichotomies between haves and have-nots are unacceptable. A biocracy embodies the spirit and practice of what the great American ethicist, Jane Addams, calls social democracy. But the humans in a genuine biocracy recognize that the other living beings in their biotic communities are participants as well; albeit, in the case of wild animals, from a distance. In short, as presented by Professor Muray, biocracies are societies in which two kinds of diversity are cherished: cultural diversity among humans and biological diversity among different forms of life.
It takes a special kind of prophet -- a bioprophet -- to represent the voices in ways that encourage us to create habitats that are hospitable to different kinds of animals and different cultures, without reducing the world to sameness. Muray explains that this kind of prophet is guided, not only by a biophilic sense for the value of all life, but also by a post-mechanistic worldview which sees the whole of the universe on the analogy of an organism in which all beings are becomings, all beings are unique, and all are part of a larger sacred whole: the Life of the universe itself.
The need in our time is for each of us and all of us to find our inner bioprophet and thus to live with a sense of respect and care for the entire community of life. And the need for us to do our best to extend the spirit of social democracy by developing biocracies.
Alan Rabinovits is a prophetic voice from whom we can all learn. And the organization which he helped start -- Panthera -- is indeed a leader in wild cat preservation. As it happens, Professor Muray is something of a cat lover himself, albeit of the domestic variety. But his vision of biocracy extends far beyond the domesticated into that biocratic hope for which even the biblical prophets yearned. They called it shalom: that state of affairs in which lions, if not lying down with lambs, are at least given their fair share of grace to live and enjoy freedom.
We are grateful to Professor Muray for his vision and to Alan Rabinovitz for his lifelong work in promoting biocracy. We are also grateful to On Being with Krista Tippett for giving permission to download the audio interview with Ragbinovitz, gallery of images, and the video below. And we encourage our readers to take full advantage of the many, compelling offerings on the On Being with Krista Tippett website.
-- Jay McDaniel
Some Quotations from Alan Rabinovitz
"And I'd just watch them [at the zoo] go back and forth, back and forth. And they'd stare at me and I'd stare at them. I felt more of a nonverbal communication with the big cats as a child than I did with any human being I knew at that time. Unfortunately, I can't say that the communication I felt was good. I empathized with this incredible frustration and anger and sadness. Maybe I was projecting, but I don't think so. And when I was a child, I repeatedly talked to the animals through the cages of the Great Cat House and I would repeatedly say to them, "I'll try to find a place for us." I didn't even know what I was saying."
"It is not earth-shattering news that animals and people must live together if there is to be any true wildness for future generations. I am among the majority of scientists and conservationists who have done little to effectively foster this relationship in a sustainable manner — until now, that is."
"I have never been to a remote area where the people don't want a better life. Where the people are not aware of the fact that many of their babies die and they have a lot of illnesses that the outside world doesn't have and they would rather have more than they have then. And I think it's wrong to try to hold that back from them. Where the balance has to occur is figuring out how to enable and empower local communities to live better, have a better life, have better medical care, have lower infant mortality, and yet at the same time, balance that with giving life, giving an area of the world to the wilderness and the wildlife that live with these people. And that can be done."