Why Ethics

The biosphere is not a collection of inert and determinate objects, but an ongoing communion of living subjects.

Although “ethics” is commonly equated with a set of rules or principles for right conduct, for us ethics has more to do with a simple humility toward others – an attentive openness not just toward other persons but toward the inexhaustible otherness of the manifold beings that compose this living world.

At this curious moment in our planet’s unfolding, when human violence toward other humans is matched only by our violence toward the breathing earth – with terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems rapidly collapsing under the weight of our steady assaults, and countless species tumbling into oblivion as a result of our callous disregard – it is now evident that our ownspecies must undergo a sea change if anything of beauty is to survive.

If we wish to bring humankind into a new reciprocity with the rest of the biosphere, then we will need to release ourselves from the tyranny of outmoded concepts. We’ll need to renew our felt experience of the land as a boisterous community of beings in which we are participant, and to which we are beholden.

While the rational intellect may view the world as a set of inert objects and mechanical processes, to our sensing and sentient bodies the earth presents itself less as a collection of inanimate objects than as a dynamic collective of animate subjects. Our full-bodied awareness encounters the world around us as a tangle of elemental powers – even as a complexly entwined society of beings, with each being exerting its own active influence upon those around it. Every entity – whether oak tree or thunder cloud, raven, river or rock – seems to have its own agency, its own spontaneity, its own enigmatic life. To our most direct, bodily experience, every aspect of the world is alive.

This primordial form of experience, which returns us from the pretense of disembodied detachment to our corporeal situation in the midst of the here and now, engenders a new respect and restraint in all our actions. Acknowledging the enigmatic otherness that things display when we meet them in the depths of the present moment enables an attentive and ethical comportment in all our endeavors, an empathic attunement to our surroundings and a compassionate intention to do least harm.

Such is the relational ethic that radiates from the Alliance for Wild Ethics. For too long we humans have withheld our allegiance from the sustaining earth, reserving our faith only for a transcendent mystery assumed to reside entirely beyond the sensuous. To return to our senses is to remember an older, indigenous faith that has never really been lost – our breathing body’s implicit faith in the solid ground underfoot and the renewal of light every dawn. Underneath all our abstractions there remains this simple, carnal faith in the mountains and the rivers and the cyclical return of the salmon, in the silent germination of seeds and in the unseen, imperturbable wind. It is this animal fidelity to the animate earth, so easily overlooked, that unites us with countless other species – and it remains the ground of every lasting ethic between persons, and between peoples. A faith in the wild and shadowed goodness of the Earth.