Othering To Ouring – Man, Environment And Society

Photo by Neil Tackaberry
Photo by Neil Tackaberry

Does benefit for the people and the planet conflict with each other? This is the question which arises when one looks atcurrent state of debate between environment and people. An environmental program can have beneficial effects in addressing climate change. Plantation based climate change interventions aims to increase the tree coverage both within and outside forests, villages, roads and riverside. Theoretically, increase of tree coverage has beneficial effects on people. It contributes to carbon sequestration.  Increased tree coverage reduces the water run off. It increases moisture in the soil. Underground water aquifer’s get recharged.  The pace of increase of global temperatures is reduced. Potential threat to the planet – biodiverse species, small islands, and coastal locations are reduced.

Planet needs to be protected. Human life is a product of evolution of life on earth. Human life is not independent and separate from the planet but a part of it. The relationship of human species with nature and all life forms is that of interdependence, though man has come to assume their life to be superior to all other life forms. This sense of superiority has led to the thinking that exploitation of planet is quite fair. The natural sense of superiority of humans to nature and all other life forms has led to actions which are based on the assumption – that nature is just a material form which needs to serve the human needs. These need to be exploited, transformed in a manner which ultimately serves human materialistic desires. While ‘humans’ are materialistic in the sense they are by themselves a product of material and are a material themselves – ‘commodification’ process creates a consumption lifestyles and new challenges.

It is the process of ‘othering’ which leads one to assume a sense of superiority and exploit others. Man and Environment are considered different. Environment is considered as the ‘other’ from ‘people’. This provides a legitimacy to exploit environment. Nature destructive activities get undertaken. The sense of superiority is found in society too – whites against blacks, upper castes against lower castes, rich against poor. The same goes with nature. Assuming a sense of superiority leads to exploitation of nature by humans. Just like blacks are assumed to serve whites, lower castes are assumed to serve upper castes, poor are assumed to serve rich – in a similar manner nature is assumed to serve human beings.

Assuming a sense of superiority while has short term benefits for few life forms or human beings has long term destructive effects. The process of ‘othering’ and assuming that some are made superior than others, rejecting the idea of interdependence between people, between people and the environment leads to the belief that some are meant to serve and others to be served, the served need to subsume to those who serve. This sense of higher and lower, superior and inferior based on a certain identity leads to exploitation within society and the environment.

A counter process ‘our-ing’ instead of othering can create this process of change. This process can lead to the acceptance that both nature and society consists of diverse natural and social forms. In this diversity – none is superior or inferior to each other. Each is an independent and interdependent entity which needs to co-exist with a sense of cooperation in order to survive. Natural divisions need to be respected – but these are not division based on one against the other, but of each one cooperating in a sprit of ‘our’.

This process of ‘our-ing’ can occur through acceptance of a philosophy which believes that humans and nature are dependent on each other and so do humans. In this process of interdependence, none is superior or inferior to the other. Accepting this basic philosophy can prove to be a radical solution, challenging the humanity. Destruction of environment and natural life forms can end. Exploitation of man against man, man against nature can stop.

Hasn’t the time arrived for ‘human’ to give up the cultivated belief of his superiority over nature, accept the truth of inter-dependence, the need for cooperation in this process of rejecting ‘othering’ and accepting ‘ouring’? The same goes within ‘society’ where artificial creations of ‘superiority’ are ended.

T Navin works with an NGO as a Researcher. He did his M.Phil in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).


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