January 20, 2012

Thomas Berry - Philosophy and Evolution

I was assigned to read Thomas Berry's The Viable Human, which was then a person/essay, I've never heard of so I wasn't sure what to expect. Well it didn't take me long into reading his essay before I could probably guess that I was going to disagree with almost everything he had to say, except for his overall conclusion. People should take a more active stance on how they see the environment and their place within it, but Berry gets there only through misunderstanding, mysticism and idealism.

It really comes from the first page of his essay and becomes more blatant further in. I agree with his first line that, "We need to move from our Human Centered- to an Earth-centered norm of reality and value." Yet, his second line starts the path to error and he begins to lose support and respectability. 

Berry qualifies the first sentence by saying that, "Only in this way [Changing from human-centered view to a earth-centered view] can we fulfill our human role within the functioning of the planet we live on." Which doesn't seem like such a big deal, but the 'role' isn't just something idealistic for Berry it's something real.

This subtle misunderstanding of evolution continues with something that most people might let slide, as Berry sums up his view of evolution, "As with every species, there was a need for humans to establish their niche, a sustainable position in the larger community of life, a way of obtaining food, shelter, and clothing." Yet, species don't get created and look for a niche, there are interacting factors and create subtle changes and create something different that is better adapted for the situation it is in, period. There is no talk of niche's or something having to fit in.

The community of life is, also a cover up for describing the struggle for life as it actually is.  Animals don't fit into a sustainable position and happily fill the web of life. If a cat can kill every bird/rodent on an island it will and has, despite whatever anyone thinks about the 'niceness' of cats or how the ecosystem strives towards balance.

Thomas, has attempted to slide in his view slowly with the two quotes above and then comes out and says more strongly that, "Human society in its beginnings would not have survived if it had not had some basic role to fulfill within the larger Earth community composed of all its geological as well as its biological elements." Animals don't exist and wait to be placed where it's role will be good and balanced. Birds didn't evolve wings and wait for a role of flight. The potential for flight was always there, but it isn't a role to be filled like a casting call for a script. Berry is putting the buggy in front of the horse. Human society wouldn't have evolved if there wasn't something to exploit in the first place.

Worse than that though is what he seems to be implying. That the Earth neatly fits together into something balanced and meant to be.  Evolution doesn't neatly fit something in with the geological and biological background, each animal is trying to be more successful than the next to the point that about 98% of all life that existed has become extinct.

He can argue the above because he knows that, "If we look back over the total course of Earth['s] development, we find that there was a consistent florescence [blooming] of the life process in the larger arc of the planet's development over some billions of years. Innumerable catastrophic events occurred in both the geological and biological realms but not of these could cause the forebodings such as we might experience at present." 

The earth is not in a steady state which, to Berry's credit, he seems to understand, but what he doesn't seem to get is that life isn't a fair and balanced game where everything works together to create a viable world. The earth may look like it has a balance and indeed many animals have found some long term stability, but it isn't supposed to be that way, just as the world isn't supposed to be any way in particular; it just happens to be the way it is now, which inherently shouldn't be viewed as anything special. There is no blooming just an unfolding ongoing struggle to which everything will eventually lose.

Moving a little away from Berry, you can say the would should be some way, but it should never be an appeal to how the earth 'naturally was' or 'ideally would be'. Those are conceptions that are anthropomorphic and idealized. The earth has no way 'it should be' expect in the subjective eyes of the person who is telling you. Take lessons from that, don't worry about what naturally is, or what has been in the past, those aren't limits for what the future can look like.

Human's are just starting to get the power to create the environment they want, and it can and should be un-natural. Schopenhauer see's the reality of the world, not viewable through Berry's rose coloured glasses,  and while it may need a little less pollution, it doesn't provide any roles or path that should be taken.

Thanks for reading,

1 comment:

  1. Maybe I should also try reading Thomas Berry's The Viable Human. I'm so confused that I think I need to read it.

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