First, I am sorry that this is late. It is hard to write on the weekends, and I didn’t get ahead of this project like I had hoped. This was a hard one to write, because the subject is both engaging and broad, and because my weekends are full to the brim with family. If I have complained at all about the imprecise language or the lack of explicit meaning in any of the other Principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association, please know that my dislike for the wording here is greater, even as (or perhaps because) I love the Principle its self for what it means to me.
Today, we ponder our respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part. This seems to me to be either far too simple, or worse, deliberate ambiguity. See, there is a web. A web of “existence”. We are part of that. *sigh*
This is a really important Principle, and one that stands the test of both ethics and science. The idea that humanity is a part of creation, and neither above it or below it in some grand plan of damnation or salvation, is crucial to the Unitarian Universalist message. It grounds us in the reality of both our reliance on the creatures, plants, and ecosystems of the planet, and our collective ability to alter those ecosystems, whether through intent or carelessness.
Some people view this Principle from a human-centric view, that all of humanity is one species that must find a way to live together to make the world more livable for future generations. Some people look it from an ecological view point, and will speak of human responsibility and stewardship of the greater web of life on Earth. Some will take an Earth-Centered view, where everything must be balanced and all life is deserving of respect. Each of these views is, in my opinion, lacking.
For one thing, you and I are not humans. Not entirely. There are as many cells in your body which do not carry your DNA as there are those that do. You have the host to a whole ecosystem of bacteria that are needed to regulate things in our bodies, thousands in your digestive tract alone. Many estimate that you cells make up as few as 10 percent of the cells in your body over all.
The web exists within us, and it is interdependent with us.
We must take our environment, the whole of the biosphere, seriously. We cannot predict all of the impact of the changes we make to the course of a river or the leveling of a hill, much less from the intentional splicing of genes. It isn’t wrong to use technology and to shape our world, but we have to be ever aware that these changes can have long reaching consequences. Technology must be used with care and deliberation.
We are, ultimately, not above or below the realm of nature, but a part of it, though one that has become partially aware of the ebb and flow and is figuring out how to change it. Beavers create dams that reshape rivers and valleys and even the lowly ant builds mounds and tunnels to house the hive, inadvertently aerating the soil and improving the dispersal of water. Our capacity to shape our environment is unique primarily in scope. When we alter the landscape, we reshape the very forces of wind, rain, and sunlight on the environment. Truly, when I think of the web of all existence, I know that it encompasses the whole of creation. That doesn’t make it unnatural to be a human. We simply have to be conscious and conscientious in the use of our technology and how it effects the other animals and plants with which we share the planet, our mutual home. In fact, so many of those advances have come from, or at least been inspired by, our fellow earthlings that we would not be the creatures we are today without agriculture, animal husbandry, and the medicines and engineering advances that we’ve gleaned from our studies of the rest of creation.
It is important to keep all of this in mind, because every species that passes away leaves us with fewer clues to the great mystery. Every bug exterminated destroys a link in a chain that we may not be able to predict. Again, this is not to say that we don’t sometimes have need to rid our homes or businesses of pests, but it should always been done with thought and, hopefully, a bit of remorse.
We live in a complex system that has grown ever more reliant on our exploration, our technology, our refuse, and most importantly now, on our discretion. Our willingness to shape the world for our own needs has been short-sighted in the past, and some of the choices we’ve made have been irreversibly detrimental. There are plants with medicinal value that will never bloom again. We allowed that of our fellow humans. We owe it to the future generations of every species to avoid that whenever possible.
There is a web, and through it we are connected, and interconnected, with all life on this planet. We have to respect that for our own good, as humanity is far from self-sustaining. We need the plants and animals, we need the rivers and the lakes. We need this rock full of biochemical reactions. Humanity evolved as part of this world, and we are a long way from leaving it behind. We have to make peace with our place in it, and we have to accept that we need it as intact as we can keep it in order to secure our own future.
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