I’ve been thinking about relationships lately. So many decisions we make as we live our lives are centered around “I”. It makes sense up to a point, but I think we tend to forget about the communities that we are part of when we have decisions to make.
Sometimes the communities are our families, sometimes the neighbors, towns, or countries. They are the animals we share our homes with, and the animals we share the earth with. The people selling us our produce and the people growing it. There is a bigger general community you can think of as your “moral community.”
I like the way Community Guy talks about community. This quote, pulled from his blog entry, is actually from Derek Powazek’s book Design for Community :
A community is a group of people who form relationships over time by interacting regularly around shared experiences, which are of interest to all of them for varying individual reasons.
Pretty simple – 2 or more people who have a relationship and interact regularly. I do think that community can be defined more broadly in some contexts.
Gary Francione talks about “moral community” often in his writings. Wiki says it pretty well:
In his Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog? (2000), Francione argues that a theory of abolition should not require that animals have any cognitive characteristic beyond sentience to be full members of the moral community, entitled to the basic, pre-legal right not to be the property of humans. He rejects the position that animals have to have humanlike cognitive characteristics, such as reflective self-awareness, language ability, or preference autonomy in order to have the right not to be used as human resources. Francione derives this right from the principle of equal consideration in that he maintains that if animals are property, their interests can never receive equal consideration.
As part of this discussion, Francione identifies what he calls our “moral schizophrenia” when it comes to nonhumans. On the one hand, we say that we take animal interests seriously. Francione points to the fact that many of us even live with nonhuman companions whom we regard as members of our families and whose personhood—their status as beings with intrinsic moral value—we do not doubt for a second. On the other hand, because animals are property, they remain things that have no value other than what we choose to accord them and whose interests we protect only when it provides a benefit—usually economic—to do so. According to Francione, if animals are going to matter morally and not be things, we cannot treat them as property.
I’m not sure where I’m going with all this. I’ve been thinking about capitol punishment, our justice system, wars, and government in general. I’ve been thinking about my friends, my family, my network of animal rights activists who are often also my friends. I have been thinking about racism, sexism, classism, speciesm. It is all connected.
On a larger scale, we are all, as residents of this planet, part of the same community, and this brings me to Earthlings, and again Francione’s “moral community”. Granted we can’t have personal interaction with every sentient being on the planet, but it doesn’t take much to be able to relate to the basic desires of every being to live, to hopefully be happy, to enjoy that life. When you think of all earthlings as part of your community, it is hard to ever see a justification for war, for slaughter, for ecological destruction.
I recently saw “V for Vendetta“, which (in much the same way as 1984) has me thinking hard about what we want to give our governments the power to affect in our lives. And this brings me to Utah Phillips, speaking to a graduating class:
You’re about to be told one more time that you’re America’s most valuable natural resource — Have you seen what they do to valuable natural resources?
I remember being told that bit about being a valuable natural resource, and I remember hating it. I didn’t understand what bothered me about it at the time. I wish Utah Phillips had given our commencement speech.