Towards a new ethics of co-existence with the non-human species which share our planet

Anthony Richard Henman

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Nobody doubts the fact that the current juncture is dramatic.  We live in a period where public health justifies −in the eyes of the Imperial Power− systematic police repression, more than one military invasion, and, paradoxically, the use pesticides which are highly dangerous for innumerable organisms. A wide sequel of biological, sociological and ideological wars threaten freedom and self-determination, leading to movements of total rejection (such as the one called "Fuck the USA"), even in countries with a tradition of moderation such as, in this case, Switzerland.


But behind these current issues, lies a process of using natural resources whose history does not merely date back to the beginning of the current cocaine cycle in the 1970s or to the historical error which resulted from the prohibition of certain drugs and plants at the beginning of the 20th century. The anthropocentric focus −that other species in this planet only exist to satisfy human needs−  is prior to economic liberalism, to the emergence of modern capitalism, and to the European conquest of the Americas. We can converge on the fact that man's tyranny over other forms of life dates back to ancient times, even if not always shared by all human societies and contrary to the perception of the world held by many American indigenous peoples.


The view of the societies described by the Brazilian anthropologists Eduardo Viveiros de Castro as “perspectivism” and “multinaturalism” implies a planet inhabited by multiple species each one conceiving itself as a subject; each one endowed with an autonomous intelligence; each one appreciating the world from a perspective which differs from that of the rest.


Here the categories and dichotomies so valued in the West −nature and culture, animality and humanity, determinism and free will− become confused. From a multinatural viewpoint, we can perceive the War on Drugs not only as an imperialist venture, or barely as a witchcraft projection of the evil within substances of plants which are innocent in themselves.  We can see it for what it truly is: the desire to lead the world to what an adviser of former President Reagan once called without the least qualm “species extinction”, defending said objective in the specific case of the Coca as something desirable for public order and human health.  I wonder how the Coca’s intelligence −not to mention that of the poppy, the cannabis, yagé or ayahuasca, peyote and wachuma, mushrooms, huilca, yekuana and of many other plants− how the intelligence of this plant –our  cocamama− views man’s mad rush to exterminate it.


It surely sees that the problem we have with her is essentially due to a lack of clear understanding on our part regarding the knowledge needed to take advantage of her virtues and benefits in an appropriate and respectful manner and establish a democratic relationship among species thus extending our concept of the political beyond the Homo Sapiens. The Coca might also see that we deny plants and animals the capability of intention assigned to those considered subjects; that we have forever condemned plants to the condition of mere objects of our consumption models. Lastly, it probably sees that our confusion arises from our fear of losing our utilitarian security in a world where everything is turned into something to be marketed; and, above all, as of the terror of going beyond and into the recognition of nonhuman subjectivity to attain a perception of psychoactive plants as true “masters”. The fear enclosed in the Plan Colombia is essentially this: that the Coca has by far more to teach us than all of Washington think-tanks put together.



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