In the beginning there was hydrogen. Churning for billions of years in the furnaces of the universe, all of the other elements emerged, mixed, and gave rise to the highest form of conscience we know of today: humans. Thanks to science, we are able to appreciate the long and complex evolutionary processes that have led to our species, even though the link between the evolution of the elements and the advent of life still eludes our understanding. The childish vision that the Earth is the center of the universe is behind us. We know how the Earth was formed. We no longer need to fill the gaps in our understanding with self-centered fantasies of superiority and intentional creation: reality is immense and complex enough to continue baffling our minds and humbling our egos for some time. I would like to suggest that the childish vision that Humans are the center of the universe must be surpassed.
Today, in 2018, we live as though all life on this planet, all of the “resources” of the world, are here to serve us. Nothing in the universe has any value outside of what it can provide to us: financially, culturally, or even spiritually. We do not recognise the absolute value of anything, including ourselves.
We still say “our planet”… “our oceans”… Even in the conservation arena, we speak of “ecosystem services”, which implies that nature has no value if it doesn’t serve us and therefore perpetuates a divide between humans and nature, linguistically and systematically. When we negate the intrinsic value of nature, by consequence, we negate our own intrinsic value as well, we accept that our lives have no other value than the sum of the goods and services we produce plus our consumption. Can we recognize, and perhaps even account for, the absolute value of Life, and of everything else?
Over and over again I have heard and read people saying that nature doesn’t need to be saved, the Earth doesn’t need to be saved, only WE need to be saved. While it is undeniable that our survival and well-being are intimately linked to the health of the planet’s ecosystems, I would like to argue that everything, yes everything, has an absolute value, independently from us. Surely, the great extinction that we are currently causing will leave the biosphere impoverished. “That does not matter” some will say, “life will continue and make new species in the next millions of years”. This reasoning is equivalent to blowing up a beautiful monument and saying: “it doesn’t matter, there are still bricks left around and with time something else will be built”.
Realizing the value of biodiversity for our own well-being is one important step. The next step is realizing the absolute value of life, regardless of the benefits it brings to us. This value cannot be monetary, since money only quantifies an abstract and contextually variable attribution of value. In short: I would pay more for food if I am hungry, but the absolute value of that food in the universe is unchanged by my desires. The idea here is not to suggest a replacement of money, which would be foolish and impossible, but to introduce a second metric, an absolute value of everything.
As far as we know today, this planet is the only one with life, and we are the only sentient creatures on it, capable of complex thoughts, of knowledge transmission, of art. For sure this comes with great pride. Can we realize that it comes with responsibility? If there is any other sentient life out there or down here, they would have every right to judge us based on how we treat each other and other life forms. It is a shift of mindset. Only with this shift can we enter the brotherhood of Life, and recognize the true value of all living beings and natural creations… including ourselves.
~ Pierre-Yves Cousteau
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9 thoughts on “The brotherhood of Life”
Beautifully conceived and echoes what many of us believe to be a natural and infallible truth. As a diver and naturalist in my own time, I have personally witnessed the devastation man has made piling up layer upon layer of plastic garbage on our beaches and coral reefs. I am deeply concerned with the attitude of the human race as a whole, the throwaway generation! If it no longer serves my needs then it is no longer relevant to my life, so throw it away. Let someone else clean up the mess. Nature is not able to clear up the mountains of waste we are producing, it’s our responsibility. I am always picking up plastic from the beaches I visit, what if we all picked up a handful every time we swam in the sea or sunbathed.
Even better what if the whole planet stopped producing garbage, this is unlikely to happen in my lifetime. Perhaps this Brotherhood of Life could become an organization for changing the mindset of mankind. I for one would be happy to sign up.
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j ai 55 ans je suis amoureux de la mer et depuis trente ans de plongee et apnées et chasse sous marine avec le respect de la nature des prélèvements responsables je constate aussi la régression de la faune marine … Et ce qui m alarme c est de découvrir des petits bouts de plastique dégradés assez souvent et moi aussi je ramasse ce,que je peus une goutte d eau dans un ocean c est un désastre les réserves c est une solution je pense à Albert Falco qui défendait la mer à Marseille et quand on a un Ministre qui laisse une usine déverser des boues rouges pleines de métaux lourds au large de Marseille c est écœurant ……..irresponsable..
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All of us, especially the “ignorants” have to develop gratitude towards the Earth. Feeling deep gratitude for the “gifts” we are receiving can change the thoughtless behavior. People have to become aware of the fact that the Earth doesn’t need us. Especially people living far away from the oceans and rainforests have to realize that their behaviors and consumer habits have a negative impact on the Earth.
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Thank you, Pierre-Yves, for this very cogent and thought-provoking essay. Humans’ sense of anthropocentrism seems limitless. If a non-human animal is capable of an ability similar to one that humans possess, but manifests it with a different set of organs or other type of physiological system, many humans smugly invalidate this capability. For example, the idiotic belief that fish (who possess nociceptors and other pain receptors) cannot feel pain. Here we are in the 21st century and we still cling to Descartes’ theory of animals as insensate automatons. What a disgrace.
Lastly, perhaps I am missing something, but would you please explain your definition of “sentient” in the sentence “… we are the only sentient creatures on it…” I may well be grossly misinterpreting things, but to me it sounds a bit like you have reserved sentience for humans. I cannot imagine this would be the case! I would be most grateful for your clarification. Many thanks again for what you have written. We surely need to hear it!
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Il est évident que les poissons ressentent la douleur nous sommes tous responsables
Wow, no punches pulled here. So refreshing to find a conservation group unafraid of speaking some hard truths with no fear for who it may upset. Well said! BTW we in the conservation arena use terms such as “our planet” and “our oceans” to instil in supporters a sense of ownership and therefore a responsibility to protect. However I do agree that the use of “our” in supporter messages is sometimes overdone. Great article!
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Good question! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
Investigate the absolute value of life…that’s a big deal. It isn’t our planet, however, unfortunately and fortunately, it is our life. Being proud of a sentient creature, we have the chance to be imperfect. On our journey, we start to learn how to love ourselves as we are (it isn’t easy!), and then improve ourselves as we can (or not), struggle for not being scare of leaping off cliffs into dark water: love the others! We may lost in the pink bubble of consuming society, but we are all looking for happiness. Maybe there hasn’t a absolute value of life, maybe the value of our life is just “looking for” and “Try again”. The life is a mystery to discover but not a problem to resolve. We have a chance to try it!
“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all” – Ecclesiastes 9:11
Looking forward to seeing your new post!
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