Species Narcissism

Considering de-centering our anthropocentric worldviews

Species Narcissism
Photo by Niklas Weiss / Unsplash

I’ve been wondering recently about how much progress we can make on climate change from an anthropocentric worldview that regards humans as both set apart from nature and also having dominion over it. Anthropocentrism, or the belief that humans are the most important entity in the universe, has roots in Judeo-Christian texts (Genesis 1:26), in our capitalistic system, in the legal structures that cleave human rights from those of animals'.

It’s a kind of “species-level narcissism,” and like any narcissism, it blinds us to the truth. Our understanding of the intelligence and interconnectedness of trees is impeded by long-held convictions that our intelligence is supreme and conspicuous. Our embrace of the vast, peculiar world of fungi (which are more closely related to humans than plants are) is limited by stigma and fear.

Decarbonizing our economy is possible within an anthropocentric system, and it is both naive and despair-inducing to believe that our only hope for climate progress is pinned on a spiritual awakening where we miraculously realize we are nature. We certainly shouldn’t wait around for it. But maybe we are in the midst of an awakening of sorts where we’re connecting the dots between our food and our health, our policies and our wildfires, our industrial farming and our pandemics, our suburban sprawl and our loss of bumble-bees.

Ezra Klein once said that we reinforce what’s politically possible when we only discuss what’s politically realistic. By pollinating our conversations with radical ideas, we expand the aperture of what’s possible. We plant seeds that might slowly germinate. If we believe this to be true, then it might be worth seeking not only decarbonizing our economies, but de-centering our anthropocentric worldviews.