I live in south Minneapolis. During the recent troubles, the police precinct that serves our area was destroyed, as was the post office and the public library. Our nearby Walgreens was looted, and across 46th Street from Walgreen’s, the Holiday gas station was torched. Lake Street, a mile away, is nearly destroyed. A few long nights were filled with the constant smell of smoke, the unnerving sound of loud booms (guns? smoke bombs? fire bombs?), whirring blades of helicopters passing low overhead, and endless sirens.
Protests continue, as they should, and peace has returned. Trucks haul loads of rubble away. At some point, rebuilding will commence. We hope, wait, and work for positive change in our community.
In the meantime, the universe conspired to bring back into my hands a copy of a book that I first read in 1993 and which had a great impact on me at the time. What follows is a true story. At some point, my copy of Respect for Nature disappeared. It’s importance was such that I wouldn’t have given it away, although it is possible that I loaned it out. Last week while walking through my neighborhood I stopped to check out a Little Library. Inside was a copy of Respect for Nature! My day was made and with a silent “thank you” I carried it home. The next day, I started paging through the heavily marked up book, and here’s the thing that I wouldn’t believe if it hadn’t happened. The book I found in the Little Library was MY COPY! Marginal notes in another hand had been added to mine, but there is no mistaking one’s own scrawl.
Respect for Nature by the late Paul W. Taylor, presents a well-expressed biocentric theory of environmental ethics. He places the well-being of all life forms on the same plane. There is no hierarchical system of value with humans on the top rung. He begins his book by discussing human ethics, before fully expounding his theory of biocentric ethics. Respect is the centerpiece of his theory. He refers to all humans as “persons”. Every person is a member of the human community, in which all others are members on equal terms. Further, Taylor proposes, the human community should be ordered so that each person has the ability to live self-directed lives, subject only to constraints required to give everyone the same opportunities. Other humans are seen as persons with no greater or lesser than value than oneself, and are all due respect.
Think of this. How would our world be different if we accorded equal value to every human being? And if we respected the right to life of non-human beings, making all our decisions on the basis of this value?
Place the obscene murder of George Floyd, along with so many others in the context of respect for and the equality of all persons. Place the destruction of businesses employing people and places offering essential services in the context of the right of all the pursue their own well-being.
There are those who are so blinded by fear and anger that they are incapable of seeing the value of others. There are the bullies, there are the greedy, there are the cruel. They must be stopped.
Every person of relatively sound mind can make the choice to live by higher values, reflected in compassion, generosity, and kindness. We can make the choice to toil tirelessly to make our community, our state, our nation, and our world better for all who live and breathe.