Space is the foundation of life. The spaces we inhabit throughout our experience have however become a manuscript we are unlearning to decipher. Somehow, there is something more fundamental to the notion of space than there is to the self: we belong to the places that have forged us with the anvil of their soil, with their winds hammering us onto their hillsides or shores. Our feet take the shape of the ground we stand upon, melting like sand against the ancient necessity of having somewhere to be, somewhere to belong. Within this, when man begins to create stories of meaning for his places, rising walls and building fences, severing armies of forests and harbouring the wild sea, other things begin to happen. In these human spaces, the geometries of power begin to unfurl their shapes, and the horizontal bridges of cooperation begin to emerge. Our relationships to others, as well as ourselves, owe so much to the places we stand and dwell upon. With each step, we carry not only ourselves but also the environments that we cross and part with, the landscapes that begin to crush their waves against the little stone of identity that we wish to be defined by.
Space, as opposed to place, can be considered in a more objective, cartesian interpretation which has dominated the analytical imagination in the last centuries: in this sense, space is defined as an inertial frame of reference within which objects are distinguished by their dynamical properties. This is also combined with time, in order to measure uniform and accelerated motion of bodies. However, this definition is not able to contain the notion of an ever-changing space which is constantly moving with and transforming through its parts. The body of a mountain in fact, although living more unhurriedly than that of a human, is yet mutating each day. There is no such thing as a space that does not at least show the marks of change upon its surface, as it breathes and migrates away from itself.
Place can also be a controversial concept, representing a sense of collectivity, of belonging, of shared identity, but also a spirit of conflict, a wall of separation, a weapon of discrimination. To ‘belong’ can be as comforting as a roof, or as hostile as a barricade. It is not the place itself that takes on such nature, but what we decide to do with it, how we culturally decide to conceive of it. Our conceptualisation of space is implicit yet can lead to different consequences: the choice of viewing space as a surface transforms land questions into mere property issues, where the European coloniser is able to reach an unknown territory across the ocean and claim it as inferior, underdeveloped, thus his own to domesticate.
Even in the modern definitions of ‘underdeveloped’, ‘developing’ or ‘least developed’ countries, which are employed as technical idioms in the political sphere, such thoughts are implicit. When we are defining other places as such, we are fundamentally implying that they are short of what the ‘developed’ countries have defined as a successful journey of development, which each nation should aim for in its ripening. In this sense, they are backwards in a timely manner on the route towards progress, where space and time are merely conflated into one concept.
This lacking recognition of these ‘contemporaneous heterogeneities of space’, as Doreen Massey defines them, reflects a lack of attention and respect towards the multiplicity and diversity of trajectories that geography may take. This is a lack of political and spatial imagination. In the opening lines written above by the Gaelic poet Màiri Mhòr nan Òran, also known as ‘Big Mary of the Songs’, the land is seen as a contending space between the populace and the Highland landowners: the former cultivating meaning and ‘value’ upon it, the latter transforming it into a commodity through the ‘law’. Her poetic voice thus delivers not only a personal topography of her island Skye, but also the landscape of power relations at a time where the land reform movement was fermenting in Scotland. In this scene, two different interpretations inhabit the same land, at the same moment in time, and lead to two different outcomes: collective land ownership on the one hand, and private ownership on the other.
The need to reimagine space as a lived, but also living thing is crucial. Only through the recognition that land issues are not merely issues of property, but also wells of value, mountains of meaning, rivers of identity, we will be able to conceive of space as something beyond mere surface. We will be able to recognise alternative ways of employing our spatial imagination to create new moral and social landscapes, where in the words of Màiri Mhòr, ‘the truth will triumph, despite the ingenuity of the wicked’.
What is COP?
The COP that took place in Glasgow, in accordance with the pre-COP Summit and other preliminary events that took place in Italy, was postponed from 2020 after the Coronavirus pandemic broke out. According to COP26’s negotiation plans, the key goals were:
What does it mean?
What are the outcomes?
After two weeks dedicated to finding climate solutions in Glasgow, almost all countries have agreed to commitments in order to cut carbon emissions, phase out of coal and increase climate finance. Within this discussion, there has been a recognition of the role of the pandemic and the need to ensure a sustainable and resilient global recovery. Along with this, the need to address human rights such as those of indigenous communities, migrants, children, but also gender inequalities, the right to development and the right to a future for the coming generations have been acknowledged. Although this has been noted in the name of energy justice and science, the pact has proven to be insufficient for the world to remain on track and avoid global warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, as establish in the first binding agreement in Paris (2015), nonetheless some may argue this is a significant step on the way towards a more sustainable future.
Whatever the outcomes, in the words of the MSP Patrick Harvie, head of the Scottish Greens, it is essential to neither fall into complacency or abandon oneself to defeatism. If the outcome is deemed positive, one ought not to consider this pact as a solution, but as a first step towards a target that requires relentless effort and commitment. If the outcome, on the other hand, is regarded as detrimental, one ought not to be defeated either: whatever the case, the road is still long. Scotland has been the home of such essential debates and must now become the cradle of renewed hope. Now more than ever, we’ll have to grasp the thistle.
The Glesga Powerhouse
By the early XX century, the industrial revolution swept over Scotland. During these times, the Glaswegian population grew tenfold, following the surge of industry and welcoming many immigrants, particularly from Ireland (in fact, in 1851 20% of the population was of Irish birth), who helped fill the ranks of labour force in shipyards, factories and mines. Deindustrialisation was delayed by the Second World War, as the need to provide armies was fruitfully supporting the Scottish heavy industries. By the 1950s, the UK had consciously chosen to keep using steam locomotives rather than transitioning to electric and diesel, as in the rest of Europe, to maintain its railways. The economic predominance of the Clydeside was starting to decline, as it had remained unaltered in the face of worldwide changing technologies. Deindustrialisation was thus bringing forth a decline in production and profit, but also in employment, as the economy was becoming increasingly service and market-based. The distant administration of Thatcher’s government promoted an immorally unmanaged deindustrialisation, which was acutely felt by Scotland’s economy in particular as this was far more dependent on nationalised industrial jobs that the rest of the Kingdom. To this day, Glasgow still bears the scars of an industrial power which was never renovated in light of a changing economy. It’s industrial past remains the architect of its present, as the city was relatively small but crucial in driving major economic trends. The capitalist paradigm of production has thus had profound impacts on the local environment and public health (giving birth to the well-known phenomenon of the ‘Glasgow effect’, for instance), yet also created the space for a deep sense of collectiveness and solidarity.
Freedom Come All Ye!
This had a great impact on the thick layer of the working class which inhabited the banks of the river Clyde. As well as feeding into the rising economic machinery, workers were fervently active between 1910-1930 in a phenomenon which has been called the ‘Red Clydeside’: one of the most radical political movements in Scottish history. After protesting against the participation in the First World War, the long radical tradition of the land was exacerbated and brought back to its zenith by the Industrial Revolution and the struggle for workers’ rights. The deep poverty that inevitably follows from the unearthing of great economic wealth, was touching the political consciousness of Glaswegian inhabitants. As unions were betraying people’s trust, as the political class was distancing itself from its commitments, people were slowly moving away from the liberal government of the time and embracing socialist ideals. The success of industrialisation along the Clydeside led to declining working conditions and precariousness, intensifying the undying struggles of women and men who were leading protests and strike across the Central Belt, from Clydebank to Greenock, Paisley and Dumbarton. In 1915, the rent strikes were also led by women such as Mary Barbour and Helen Crawfurd, supported by the labour party (the first was in fact born in Scotland), by trade unions and by the suffragette movement.
The political and industrial identity of this city bears unmeasurable consequences on its shape today, as ‘the tears that made the Clyde’ incessantly flow across Glasgow with all their hope and impetus, ploughing the field for fresh seeds of change in the coming weeks.
In a time of deep uncertainty, where each person’s boundaries have been re-dimensioned, the mind of a child can be the clearest place to retreat to, in order to find some answers. As the pandemic restrictions have been moving between zones of different colour, from yellow to red (in Italy), this has profoundly impacted the relationship we regularly establish with our sense of space. In a child’s mind, this may translate into a secluded island of fear and danger that circumscribes one’s hometown, as the rest of the world basks in its usual wild freedom or perhaps remains safely on its tiptoes. Almost like an untouchable otherworld that lies at the opposite side of the borders, within which one identifies himself as the plagued. This dichotomy of confined and unrestricted, of stillness and motion, of the dreadfully known and the gladly unknown, creates a logical vocabulary of comfort in the imagined.
The distance, if allowed to breed, builds a dividing line of which we become the main interlocutors, softly pulling the strings of the marionettes responding to us in that language we ourselves have constructed. The perception of silence is not something that comes with life, where the rustle of touched skin resonates as loud as a pile of old leaves, where the murmur of a river can bring us the cleansing stories of someone else’s mud. There is blood in everything, but mostly in the silence.
As contained in the treatise of Rosinus:
‘’This stone is something which is fixed more in thee than elsewhere, created of God, and thou art its ore, and it is extracted form thee, and wheresoever thou art it remains inseparably with thee… And as man is made up of four elements, so also is the stone, and so it is dug out of man, and thou art its ore, namely by working; and from thee it is extracted, that is by division; and in thee it remains inseparably, namely by knowledge.’’
It appears that through this knowledge of the stone, implanted in man by God, man remains bound inseparably to the self, to the latent content of his unconsciousness.
In fact, if we did not have the knowledge of conscious concepts, according to Carl Jung, we would not be able to possibly conceive the unconscious. For this reason, he also believes that it is crucial to tell children fairy tales and legends, as these are symbols which can be used to shift the unconscious contents of the mind into consciousness, integrated into one’s being. The failure of this brings mental disturbances such as phobias, hypochondriac ideas and obsessions, as the already conscious contents become targeted with overflowing energy, thus giving attention to things that are not usually emphasised.
Within our very minds we create this geomancy, a ‘foresight by earth’, which contributes to shape the clay of our being. In this realm where human consciousness meets and dialogues with the spirit of the Earth, particularly in the times we are living, it is important to give space to the faerie world of our mythologies and feed our inner child in order not to fall prey of circumstances. By overthinking our idea of separateness, rather than oneness, we obtain an identity that stands on poor feet. The only ticket home we are allowed to get, in order to leave that place of isolated being, is the sacred touch of exchanged word, reaching us as a prayer. The sands of despair vanish in the grasp of shared existence and the stories that come with it.
In a time where the clouds seems to be sustaining our very grounds, all we can do is search for a mountain amongst them, shining the torch of faith until it hits a safe rock and hope it walks with us.
What are the origins of this? Private property is believed to have emerged in the state of nature. In ancient times, when the human population was driven by sheer necessity, by the brutal needs of its stomach and flesh, hunger was the driver of rivalry and violence. The natural desire for self-survival surpassed any premeditated evil that did not find fertile grounds in the famished mind. This was rather tempered by an equally natural sense of compassion, that enabled peaceful interaction amongst men and women. The noble savage stood on the edge, between the biological boundaries that tied him to the soil, and the empathetic instinct that slowly sedimented and allowed for the construction of civilisation as a whole.
According to some social contract thinkers, the origins of civility have perverted the wild flowers of the human sense of life, severing the innocence and humility of a young umbilical cord that connected these to the earth itself. In the words of Rousseau, “the first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, took it into his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him was the true founder of civil society'', and thus began the rushing motion towards inequality, bore by the need to abandon the whole. ''What miseries and horrors would the human race have been spared, had some one pulled up the stakes or filled in the ditch and cried out to his fellow men: "Do not listen to this imposter. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all and the earth to no one!” ''.
Private property was then brought into the world as civility developed with it. This human invention, more than all else, shapes a world which often seems to define success as a measure of what one possesses, rather than offers. Setting aside any plausible origins of private property, it is however implicit that this entails a separation, the drawing of a line, however symbolic, that lies between one man and another. Here, boundaries and limits rejoice in all their metaphysical power as they reshape the human understanding of the world. From this moment, the metamorphosis of our understanding also defines a new perception of space: the land is no longer an open plain of which we are part, but it becomes that which lies within established boundaries, carved by our imaginary lines as the markings of one's will on the ground.
The dangers of leaving these signs on the land, as it comes under the ownership of one person, have been at the root of history's unfolding, where the only unowned elements left in our natural reality are the open seas, as no country has jurisdiction over them. The Law of the Seas, in fact, was established as an international UN convention to essentially share responsibility for the world's oceans. As the approach on the land has taken a separate route, segregating rather than bringing together, history has brought forth much conflict over these invisible walls we have collectively built within the social mind. From the tragedy of the commons, to the ethnic removal of peoples from the land during the Highland Clearances, to the islands that today are struggling, as the ownership of properties is moving offshore and becoming unsustainable for local communities to survive: land expropriation keeps persisting and presenting itself as a quiet form of homelessness. We must retrieve and rediscover the idea that the removal of persons from their own land is as harmful and repugnant as the burning of a forest.
As the possession of a land by one person changes the situation of all others, the shifting of these imaginary boundaries also transforms the contours of freedom. Land and ethics, for this reason, can never come apart.
It is our turn to question all limits that surround us and upon which we build the structures of our lives. As well as this, it is our moral duty to make ourselves useful and contribute to refining the meaning of the human seed we let ferment upon our earth. In the words of Marilynne Robinson: "Say that we are a puff of warm breath in a very cold universe. By this kind of reckoning we are either immeasurably insignificant, or we are incalculably precious and interesting. I tend toward the second view. Scarcity is said to create value, after all.''
As we are told we are all debtors or sinners, lending what we can from this life, we must remember that, in truth, we are all free to give up the envy for our time. Only by doing so, we can cease to colonise the future and rather hand an unbroken earth, as one hands to the wind a timid bird who does not trust its wings, to those who are yet to be born. The point is not how long we still have to live, but how much is left to do as we find ourselves here having to deal with ourselves and with the lives of others. Rather than focusing on one's having, it is time to commit to one's gentle being.
The last polar bears are hiding in their grief, reef corals are dangerously under threat and sharks are being killed at the rate of 100 million per year. As scientists report five mass extinctions in geological history, it appears that we are approaching another. Extinction is a natural process, following the course of geological change; in fact, around 2-4% of species ever alive on this earth are believed to have survived to this day. Nonetheless, the rapid trends of the last centuries have been conditioned by human presence: today, habitat destruction, pollution, over-exploitation and global climate change are the major threats to biological diversity.
Biodiversity has been envisioned primarily in its aesthetical form, as the colourful range of feathers, skins and scales have enhanced external diversity. This idea of visual variety has persisted within the principles of racism or shallow environmentalism, for instance, where the colour or appearance of others have been taken into account before all else. However, biodiversity can and should be extended to a normative category, as a necessary taxonomy allowing for pluralism and democratic dialogue to survive. By recognising the physical, material diversity of other peoples, but also their societal, cultural and ethical distinctions we are able to add a further, enriching dimension to the concept. This is done by accepting not just the different forms of life, but also the different beliefs around how this live ought to be lived. This may come in the disparate forms that distinguish the Sami people in Sweden, the indigenous forest guardians of the Amazon or the traditional islanders in the Shetlands. However, this also comes in the very practices of daily life, in action and inaction, in the daunting void that separates opinions. Diversity, both between and within species, should become a bridge that links aesthetic to ethical acceptance of otherness. Only through the inclusion of this biocultural diversity, we will be able to enrich our moral landscapes and establish a social ecology of mutual listening and respect.
In this regard, the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) of the UN convention on Biological Diversity, known also as CBD, was planned for October 2020 but has been rescheduled to 2021, in Kunming, China. The convention was created in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro as an international treaty including 196 Parties, almost all nation-states. These have been further supplemented in 2003 by the Cartagena Protocol which seeks to protect biodiversity from genetically modified organisms due to modern biotechnology, and in 2014 by the Nagoya Protocol, on the fair access and benefit-sharing of genetic resources. The theme of the coming conference will be ‘Ecological Civilization: Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth’, aiming to address issues such as gender as a contribution to biodiversity progress, sustainable food systems and greening the urban fabric.
The politics of biodiversity have often employed ‘offsetting’ as a strategy aimed to promote biodiversity gains in order to compensate for development impacts. However, this may become meaningless if not supplemented by a choice on behalf of institutions to reduce damage altogether and take on the responsibility that comes with the adoption of specific discourses. Where these deeper changes fail to happen, a ‘light green’ idea of ecosystems is possible and compatible with voracious development, rather than advancing a transformative vision of human needs and economy that serve to bind different sorts of lives, experiences and species together.
At last, in the words of Antonio Gramsci, ‘’culture is not merely a deposit of knowledge, but our mind’s capacity to comprehend life, the place we have, our relations with others. Culture belongs to those who are conscious of themselves and the whole, who feel their relation to all other beings.’’ In this sense, it is within everybody’s reach to be cultured and foster the seed of hope that lies at the heart of our humanity. It is a matter of choice, even to hold that belief.
It runs, it pours, it spills into every instance of life, flowing through the bodies of both the earth and sky, clenching the thirst of each and every creature: water is the collective denominator of all living things.
The cascade of cultural, social and environmental challenges linked to water expose how essential this is for our basic biological lives. It can be a driver of migration, conflict or change, enabling many to live with dignity and making others tremendously vulnerable. In the climate crisis characterised by increasingly more floods, more droughts, more refugees, water lies like an open wound which exacerbates the growing inequalities and contradictions of our time. As the instrument binding together economy and ecology, water should become the very reason for change on a global dimension in our course towards a brighter future.
Along with ocean acidification, sea level rise and water management, many of the effects of climate change are slowly but inevitably modifying entire ecosystems connected to the sea and even eroding islands, particularly in the tropics. Consequently, as the traditional knowledge of islanders is becoming outdated in terms of agriculture and food supply, many are forced to migrate from their flooded homes as ‘climate refugees’. Islanders are also becoming part of those who are obliged to leave their lands for environmental reasons, in spite of the fact the word ‘refugee’ has never legally lent itself to include this category before. Nonetheless, due to the fact that this phenomenon is not voluntary and is significantly increasing, the terminology is now also used to define those who have been disadvantaged by climatic variations.
Malé, in the Maldives, is already surrounded by a sea wall to protect it from surrounding water. Without traveling too far, the fate of Venice, kept afloat by hydraulic expedients combined with astronomical tides, is dramatically changing as proved by the most recent acque alte (high water). In order to confront the impacts of climate change on islands, there are discussions about some time-bound solutions, such as regularly raising the land or pushing human settlement increasingly towards the heart of the land, as well as more innovative and radical suggestions such as building floating islands on waves. Rather than run from it, we should be drawn to water and the possibilities that come with its relentless hydrologic patterns, in order to make it a resource rather than an ever-present enemy.
It is therefore crucial that we do not focus on designing short-term solutions, which may in the future reveal further problems in our landscapes, but rather learn to adapt and coexist with the waves of change on the long term.
In the last 100 years, 70% of the world’s natural wetland has been lost, along with its freshwater biodiversity (United Nations, 2018). Lake Urmia in Iran is slowly dying, and with it the populations of shrimps and flamingos that populated the hypersaline waters. On the other hand, the glens, lagoons, floating islands and savannas of Iberá Wetlands in Argentina are a great example of how water can become the guardian of an incredible amount of animal and plant species living together. This area, which is one of the largest freshwater reservoirs in the world, is bursting with life and represents the incredible capacity of water to maintain biodiversity. As well as programmes of wildlife protection and rewilding, the local communities round the Iberá Wetlands have been economically developed through the promotion of nature-tourism, which allows for a healthy human-nature relationship and an alternative activity for tourists who are able to access conservation areas and spread awareness of environmental issues on their return. Nature has become the main source of economic income and job opportunity in the area, effectively working and sweeling the ranks due to the careful fostering and deep respect for the local ecosystem.
As well as our negative impact as cohabitants, the positive actions we inflict on our environments can have a dangerous impact. For instance, over 80% of wastewater is poured back into the environment without appropriate treatment (UNESCO, 2017). Our culture of consumption, rather than usage, make us the only creatures alive who create non-disposable waste. Plastic, micro-plastics and chemicals, which often inhabit wastewater, are not easily digestible for the earth and can produce a chain of inexorable harms. However as well as the ecological aspect, our relations to water can also create social and economic challenges in the ways we relate to each other.
Today 1 in 3 people on planet Earth lack safe drinking water (WHO, 2019). In 2010, access to safe and clean water was recognised as a human right by the UN General Assembly and the Human Right Council. In spite of this however, it is predicted by the UNCCD (United Nation Convention to Combat Desertification) that in less than 10 years from now, in 2030, the issue of water scarcity will displace between 24-700 million people, causing them to flee from their lands.
Water is not only slowly reshaping and furrowing our environment, but also the social relations and values upon which we survive. The fact that young girls have no access to water in schools, for instance, obliges them to drop out school when having their period each month. This creates an inevitable disadvantage and an obstacle for female emancipation, which is essentially reliant upon education. When children are obliged to spend hours every day carrying water due to lack of sanitation and water access, they are sacrificing time that should be spent in schools and with their communities.
Finally, with water also comes freedom. Having access to basic health and hygiene may be one of the formal human rights, but we are still distant from its substantial realisation. In the midst of a climate crisis, where paradoxically the distribution of risks mostly affects the already vulnerable, investing in water becomes the best way to ensure some hopeful development for those who most need it and to instil resilience in the most precarious systems. Rather than focusing on our usual politics of now, we should be aiming to create a new notion of profit which extends into the future, although we may not directly see any immediate returns.
Merely reacting to reactions is not the solution: rather than focusing exclusively on climate change, we should address the greater scope of how we decide to interact and inhabit this world. Only by reshaping not just our outer chambers, but also our moral landscapes, we will be able to forge the new economics of sustainability, which not only reset our egotistic idea of success and achievement, but also propose resilience and new values as means to survive and, more importantly, coexist with nature. By embracing our infinitely creative power to adapt, we should aim to redefine the relationship between humans and water in a sensitive and evenly distributed manner. Investing in water is the fundamental way of closing the open wound of inequalities and washing it with the light of a sustainable future.
The treatment of animals accompanies the mindless abuse of the earth. Starting from this physical negligence, in fact, the relationships we forge within our space with other creatures are also transformed and cruelty is fostered. Our actions, detached from the sensitivities of our environment, become deaf to the cries of so many beings who are confined to a life of mere productivity or objectification. We fail so clamorously to recognise the intrinsic value not only of interests that are dissimilar to our own, but also of lives which carry meanings and are led differently from how we believe they ought to be led. In a small human perspective, just as Ivan Sergeevič Turgenevwrote, ‘man is able to understand everything, how the aether vibrates or the sun works, but how any other man can blow his nose differently from him, that he's incapable of understanding’. Yet it is crucial to remember that, in our coexistence, we are not required to share values, and not even shape or form, in order to treat others with respect.
The matter can be viewed from an animal perspective, from a human perspective or in terms of relationship, concerning the meeting point between the two. To begin in the middle, the way we relate to each other is grounded in the very fact we are alive and share a common environment, which mankind has increasingly appropriated over time. However, what right should man have over other creatures, including plants, bees or wild weeds? What makes his life more valuable than others, other than his conception of himself in relation to them? The issue of animal treatment does not necessarily require that man sacrifices his fellowship to a species, in the name of sheer equality. Our structural ethic and biology require we make this category distinction between other species and our own, and privilege the one we belong to. However, when our persistence threats not only the wellbeing, but also the existence of other species, we should begin to consider the impact of our practical ethics.
Is there such thing as a right to life? And if so, what allocates the hegemony of interests to persons? Is this consistent with our treatment of human non-persons, such as babies or comatose beings? From these examples, it becomes clear that in our common moral framework, it is not necessary to be a person in order to hold rights. It is perfectly plausible and humanely natural that a parent seeks to protect and nurture their child, and in the case he was not able to do so, it would be considered as an abominable infringement of the child’s rights. As well as this, we would not think to skin, hunt or barbecue an intellectually incapable human being. Drawing from this shared assumption that rights do not require personal (or rational) agents in order to be held, it becomes evident that we must seek justification for animal treatment in the practical exercise of interests.
The philosopher Leslie Stephen once wrote that of all arguments for Vegetarianism, the argument from humanity presents itself as the weakest, because ‘the pig has a stronger interest than anyone in the demand for bacon. If all the world were Jewish, there would be no pigs at all.’ The existence of a species in fact seems to transcend the single, individual existences of its members with no regard for the constant pain or brutal conditions they may be held in. The assignment of life, as an ultimately sacred thing, therefore seems to defend any existence regardless of whether this is good or bad. The fallacy that lies between comparing existence and non-existence cannot stand: it is evident that we are in fact doing something wrong if we decide to bring a miserable being into existence, although they have ‘never tasted life’s desire’. The unborn and impersonal can feel no death, according to the Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura. Murdering a self-conscious, living person and killing an uncreated being cannot stand with the same moral burden.
However, moving to the breathing creatures themselves, much recent research has been investigating the intellectual, sensorial and social capacities of animals, particularly those intensively farmed for food. Chicken, cows, pigs have been released by many scientists from the chains of inferiority our traditional beliefs have constrained them with. The Western tradition of anthropocentrism has however restricted the role of animals to that of mere producers of material goods, such as leather, milk, honey, or of entertainers and amusers. The logic that laid behind Aristotle’s claim that ‘Nature made nothing in vain’ enhanced the classification of plants, animals and other beings according to how useful they were to man. It is reflected in the origins of the word ‘environment’, first employed by the Scottish philosopher and writer Thomas Carlyle in 1828, referring to this limited notion of the world in function of man.
Yet at last, considering the issue of animal welfare in terms of virtuous humanity, the virtue of animal concern may help develop other environmental sensitivities as well as good intentions and character within humans themselves, as a principle of reflexivity. This may also fundamentally reflect onto how we treat each other within our species. To cite an example, in Australia until the 1960s Aboriginal Australians came under the Flora and Fauna Act and were classified as animals, not human beings. It becomes clear then that the struggle for human rights and animal rights are deeply interconnected, if not one and the same fight. The moment we realise that the problem lies within the actual boundaries of how we, actively or passively, decide and choose to treat others, it becomes clear that our regards of them are purely derivative from our selves. The treatment of other creatures should aim to reflect a profound and careful attempt to refine our own nature to its finest, by curating one’s faculty of thought and empathy. We are free to free ourselves from the incarceration of habit and the structures of pernicious tradition. Our rendition as human beings should always aim to the best possible representation of what we can achieve.
This blind industry of animal products that surrounds us casts the shadow of the modern homo economicuspopulating our society, who gives no intrinsic value to things but merely recognises their ability to produce profit, even through the veils of suffering. The fordism of life we are faced with, as observable in factory farming, lab testing or intensive pedigree breeding, leads us to events such as the recent extermination of millions of minks who had contracted COVID-19 in Denmark. The killing of such an enormous population not only is an unnatural failure in itself, but is also the consequence of a history of moral failures which have lead the path towards it. For this reason, we should not only revise our ways of dealing with other lives as a society, but also reconsider how we, personally and interpersonally, choose to relate to others and what conditions we set before our interactions. Cruelty is not constituted by the simple causing of pain, but rather by the wrong attitude towards it.
Finally, to supplement the invite to this moral picture with a touch of utilitarian persuasiveness, the environmental effects of animal cultivation have many deep implications on a biospheric dimension, for instance by releasing around 502 million tonnes of CO2 emissions only with European livestock (more than transportation!).
The moment we come to realise how fundamental the treatment of animal lives is, will perhaps be the moment we realise the spirituality and irreplaceability of otherness and the earth, as well as our fluid moral landscape, reconsidering the value of life and pain, wherever or in whichever body this may be found, as the piece of a unique, stretched skin covering us all together.
Nonostante le numerose generazioni appartenenti a questo inestinguibile continuum militante, le donne ancora oggi si ritrovano a dover affrontare gravi violazioni dei diritti fondamentali che le legano al proprio corpo. Un esempio di ciò è la protesta Polacca delle ultime settimane contro la restrizione di pratiche abortive da parte del partito conservatore PiS, limitate ulteriormente nei casi di gravi patologie.
Per comprendere appieno le forze in gioco, è necessario volgere lo sguardo al contesto storico-sociale del dibattito. Dopo il 1989, con gli orrori della Polonia post-comunista, principalmente impegnata nell'estirpazione del precedente regime comunista, il fuoco fondamentale del discorso politico si oppose a quella che fu una delle più liberali politiche sull'aborto in Europa. La disputa fu costante e periodica, seguita da un'abolizione completa dell'aborto da parte del governo Polacco nel 1993, e dall'iscrizione costituzionale nel 1997. In questo contesto il discorso si stabilizzò su tre fronti ideologici che delineano considerazioni radicalmente divergenti non solo sulla questione femminile, ma anche democratica. La prima posizione prettamente Cattolica e conservatrice si oppone ferocemente all'aborto sulle premesse del diritto inalienabile alla vita dell'individuo nascituro; al contrario, una simile logica deontologica è abbracciata dal fronte liberale, focalizzando però su una visione negativa dei diritti, in difesa dell'autonomia individuale e della neutralità statale. La terza posizione infine include le ideologie femministe che sviluppano un discorso incentrato prettamente sui diritti delle donne. In quest'ultima visione è possibile trovare il cuore della questione, che utilizza un linguaggio non liberale, ma femminista, come luogo di riconsiderazione del ruolo femminile e della sua auto-definizione.
Il vero problema emerge perciò in questi termini, e come tale deve essere risolto. Infatti, i diritti sociali e politici delle donne perdono il loro significato se la questione dell'aborto è affrontata in una dimensione fetale o costituzionale-istituzionale. Il primato di una cellula fecondata sull'integrità umana di un individuo sviluppato nello spazio sociale ed identificato come tale dai suoi simili diviene un affronto alla sua dignità. Nessuna rivendicazione sulla sacralità della vita di un feto può sussistere se non accompagnata dalla ricognizione della sacralità femminile che conserva e garantisce la vita. Per questo, la predominanza dell'esperienza femminile dovrebbe essere accolta nella sua abilità di compiere decisioni e definirsi autonomamente.
Oltre a ciò, contro l'ideologia conservatrice, si possono considerare tesi non solo contro la pratica stessa, ma contro l'utilità sociale delle leggi che proibiscono l'aborto. Tuttavia, verrebbe a mancare il fuoco del discorso, che è propriamente l'offesa contro l'esperienza femminile e la sua legittimità. Infatti, dovremmo tentare di implementare questa rigida 'etica dei diritti', puramente legale e maschile, con quella che la filosofa femminista Carol Gilligan definisce 'etica di cura', abbracciando un concetto più femminile di relazioni umane non-gerarchiche e non-economiche.
La differenza fra le posizioni liberale e femminista, sebbene entrambe a favore dell'aborto, consiste nel fatto che la prima concerne un'emancipazione in termini di diritti e doveri, mentre la seconda punta ad una liberazione sostanziale, con lo scopo di comprendere le differenze sessuali anziché solamente formalizzarle. Nelle parole della psicoanalista Luce Irigaray, lo strumento di quest'ambizione non dovrebbe più essere uno specchio, alzato dalle donne perché gli uomini vi si riconoscano e definiscano, ma uno speculum, lo strumento di auto-esplorazione femminile. Solamente con questa conoscenza di se stesso, il genere femminile può comprendere che la sua diversità non è semplicemente una mancanza, una lacuna, un vuoto, ma una differenza positiva ed arricchente.
L'inquietudine ed il timore che sorgono con la mancata comprensione della diversità creano l'abominio della natura umana che si tradisce, come l'esempio dello stupro del Gennaio 2019 a Lima, Peru, dove il tribunale ha assolto il colpevole in quanto la vittima indossava biancheria di colore rosso. La nostra società è dominata da quello che Julia Kristeva chiama 'ordine simbolico', dominato dalla figura del padre e definito attraverso il linguaggio e l'ideologia; questo si oppone all' 'ordine semiotico' che include i segni e le gestualità della comunicazione che la madre instaura con il figlio sin dalla nascita. Impariamo ad abitare il mondo attraverso il secondo, e successivamente ci definiamo attraverso il primo nel campo sociale. L'atto semiotico, spontaneo della riproduzione femminile coinvolge anche l'aspetto creativo della generazione, che trascende ogni significato culturale. Infatti è possibile pensare la procreazione di ogni donna come puramente biologica, al di fuori delle limitazioni sociali. Tuttavia, nel nostro esistere sociale, la questione femminile è divenuta sempre più invischiata nella dimensione politica, creando una 'biopolitica' che tenta di amministrare e controllare le funzioni biologiche della nostra vita. In questo contesto che forma la base della politica costituzionale moderna, è necessario comprendere che la soluzione alla questione femminile appartiene e deve essere affrontata nello spazio politico; non vi può essere alcun tentativo plausibile di definirlo al di fuori di questa località. Solamente riconoscendo che la politica in verità non si limita solamente a forme costituzionali, e agendo con la consapevolezza di una realtà biopolitica, possiamo piantare i semi dell'equalità.
Dobbiamo ricordare la nostra appartenenza a questo 'eterno femminile', così definito da Goethe, come ciò che ci trae verso l'alto. Al femminile, proprio come alla terra, dobbiamo rendere grazie in quanto agente della forza creativa della vita, in quanto continuum che cuce assieme le nostre origini ed il futuro. Questa venerazione è il vero terreno fertile della vita.
In spite of the many generations who belong to this eternally militant continuum, to this day women are faced with the infringement of the basic right to their own bodies. A recent example of this is represented by the protests that took place in Poland in the last weeks, after the conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) attempted to further restrict abortive practices when the foetus is diagnosed with an irreversible condition.
In order to fully understand the terms involved, it is crucial to look to the historical and societal context in which the dispute is happening. Amidst the horrors of post-communist Poland (1989), which was essentially committed to the extirpation of the previous communist regime, was the fight against what had been one of the most liberal abortion policies in Europe. The debate on abortion therefore has been focally recurring, with a ban introduced by the Polish Parliament in 1993, and the settling of this decision in Constitutional Law in 1997. Within this framework, the debate has taken on three major ideological positions, which reflect radically different approaches to women’s rights and democracy, in general. The first view is the profoundly Catholic conservatist which opposes abortion by arguing for the unconditional right to life and dignity of the unborn child; in opposition to this, the liberal pro-choice position takes on the same logic by adopting, on the contrary, a negative discourse on right, defending rights of non-interference and state neutrality. The third pro-choice discourse finally is that of feminist ideologies, developing in the pure language of women’s rights. This last view, in fact, is not merely contextual or structural, but seeks to put forth a view in which women are able to gain not only reproductive self-determination, but also autonomy and parity. Within this last strain of thought the debate sheds light on the real issues, that involve not the liberal but the feminist perspective as a main locality for the reconsideration of women, and how they are defined or define themselves.
Here the real problem arises, and must be solved, within feminist terms. In fact, the social and political rights granted to women lose meaning if the debate on abortion focuses firstly on a foetal dimension or an institutional/deontological stance. The preeminence of a fertilised cell over the integrity and autonomy of a living human, already embedded within society and possessing an identity, and publicly considered as a social being, clearly undermines their dignity. No universal claim for life could possibly overtake the claim for a good, or free life. The principle of sacrality of life which is so often wielded in defence of foetuses, is self-defeating if the sacrality of a woman’s life is not taken into account first, but rather is limited in its potential decision-making and autonomous self-defining capacities. As well as this, the moral implications involved in the killing of a foetus are not biologically comparable to those of infanticide, and therefore cannot be put in the same terms of ‘murder’. Therefore, against this conservative debate, the sacrality of womanhood should be preeminent. Furthermore, if we refer to the liberal pro-choice view, we could also consider arguments not against the view that abortion is wrong, but against the laws which prohibit abortion. However, this argument would flee from the point and not consider the real matter which is at stake, that is the undermining of female experience and its legitimacy. In fact, we should aim to implement this monolithic ethic of rights, of a purely legal nature, with what feminist philosopher Carol Gilligan defines as an ‘ethic of care’, embracing a more feminine concept of relationships which is non-hierarchical and non-economic, keeping in mind that our values are always carried outside the home.
The difference between what, in the Polish case, is defined as the liberal pro-choice and the feminist pro-choice view is that whilst the first is concerned with emancipation, in terms of rights and duties, the latter focuses on a holistic and substantial liberation, which aims to understand and comprehend sexual differences and not simply formalise them. In the words of contemporary psychoanalyst, Luce Irigaray, the instrument used in this struggle should no longer be a mirror, held up by women for men to define and assert themselves, but a speculum, the instrument of female self-exploration and redefinition. Only through the understanding of themselves, women will be able to realise that their diversity is not an absence, a hollow and empty deficiency, but a positive and enriching dissimilarity.
Being moved by the deep fear and uneasiness that comes with the incomprehension of difference leads to humanist catastrophes, such as the rape reported in January 2019 and uncharged in a criminal court in Lima, Peru, because the victim was wearing red underwear.
Our society in fact is dominated by what Julia Kristeva terms a ‘symbolic order’, in relation to the father, defined by language and dominant ideology, as opposed to the ‘semiotic order’ which includes all natural communication and signs that the mother enacts when interacting with her child. We learn to exist in this world through the latter, and then define ourselves according to the first, in society. The semiotic, unthinking act of female reproduction implies the creative act of generation which transcends any cultural significance. It is possible in fact to consider any woman’s generation as purely biological, and not socially determined. However, in our social living, the issues of femininity have become more and more embedded within the political order, becoming conditioned by a new ‘biopolitics’ which seeks to merge biology and politics by administering and controlling biological functions within a social body. In this framework, which lies at the core of our modern constitutional politics, we must realise that the key to this debate is that the feminine question truly belongs to and must be considered in the political space; there cannot be plausible attempts to define this outwith the boundaries of politics. Only by realising that politics is not, in truth, limited to solely constitutional terms, and by acting and aborting compliance to this fundamental biopolitics, we can bury the seeds of equality.
We must realise how far back we belong and owe to this ‘eternal feminine’, as defined by Goëthe. The feminine, just like the earth, must receive the reverence it deserves, as the true possessor of the creative force of life, as the continuum which sews together our origins and future. This veneration is the very soil upon which the whole of life rests.
TO CARE IS A POLITICAL ACT!