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Jessica Stiles

ENGL 311
3 November 2015
Written Response #9
In The Discourse of the Birds, David Abram (who I am finding to be a very relatable
and inspired writer, based on what works of his I have read), says that any ethical
representation of the environment must include the acknowledgement that living, nonhuman beings are no less intelligent and alive than humans. We humans consider
ourselves to be highly evolved, and it is true that we are capable of very complex and
abstract lines of thought, along with the fact that we have developed sophisticated
technologies that make life more convenient. But it is irresponsible to believe that human
intelligence is the only form of intelligence. Non-human animals may not think the way
we do, but that does not mean they are not also engaged in the act of living; in fact,
Abram says that they are more strongly connected to their environments more acutely
attuned to their surroundings, and sharper in their responses than are humans. But, as
Abram puts it, It is a brilliance were ill equipped to notice if we associate smartness
only with our own very centralized or brainy style of cogitation (6). Beyond simply not
understanding their style of thinking, we go so far as to disparage, or to undermine what
intellectual and physiological feats are being performed. All the while, we ourselves are
blinded to our own disconnection from the living world; Abram describes the human
consciousness as being oddly independent of our materiality, a floating locus of
awareness situated somewhere within our heads (5). He argues, basically, that we have
somehow retreated into the realm of the abstract, and have determined that this plane of
thinking is the only one that counts. But discounting the non-human modes of
intelligence and communication is exactly the definition of an unethical representation of
nature. Non-human beings have their own minds and motives, neither of which we
should presume to understand, but we must nonetheless recognize them as valid and
important, even and especially when they seem foreign to us.
My own definition of an ethical representation of the environment is in some ways
similar to Abrams definition I, too, believe that the mysterious ways of animals are
in fact filled with purpose and vitality but my definition has more of a focus on
coexistence. The differences between ourselves and other animals are all too easy to point
out, but what is most important in establishing a world in which all species can coexist
and thrive is that we seek out common ground. What common goals do we have, and, on
a more philosophical level, what do we share as living beings? We all want to live on this
earth, that much is certain. We want to live happily and healthily; we want to breed
children, ensure the continuation of our bloodlines, and form intimate relationships with
other beings (to greater or lesser degrees); and, we have higher desires, like freedom,
fulfillment, knowledge/understanding, hope and love. Considering how many essential
qualities we share in common, it is amazing how basic physical differences in shape, size,
and color, and geographical and linguistic barriers, drive us to such extreme separation.
To be honest, we differentiate ourselves not only from other species, but also from other
members of our own species, in this way. We like to discriminate. An ethical

representation of the environment, however, must follow an ethic of inclusion, which can
be reached only when we recognize our similarities. Of course, we are not all the same,
and our differences ought to be accepted and celebrated. But an ethical representation of
the environment does not push all of natures creatures apart; it brings them together,
creating strong bonds of mutual respect and admiration. Recognizing the degree to which
we as creatures of the earth are mutually, and equally, dependent on each other is key to
maintaining these bonds. Any depiction of Nature that antagonizes, or even criminalizes,
its forces jeopardizes that carefully kept connection between human and nature. We must
cultivate an environmental ethic which encourages people across the globe to conceive of
neither nature nor human as being the Enemy we must be co-conspirators in our quest
to preserve the earth.
It is not because difference is bad that we must move our attention away from it, but
because we wield difference as a weapon, to prejudicial ends. The stigma of difference
must end. Size, shape, language, habitat are differences of a superficial nature. They
cannot keep us apart, humans and non-humans, if we truly want to survive.