Putting down the self-hating human perspective
Seeing yourself as part of the Earth community of life, not a "cancer on the planet"
Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet.
Agent Smith, The Matrix
The perspective that humans are a “cancer on the planet” has been kicking around my subconscious for many years.
This perspective has kept me from enjoying life, both in little ways (guilt about the trash that I produce) and big ones (feeling guilty about wanting to have kids, or a pet, because of the environmental impact). I have habitually felt like I'm not doing enough for the environment. I have seen every life decision through the lens of an environmental ledger sheet.
This perspective has been stifling, and it has certainly not helped the earth in any significant way. In my view, all that this perspective produces is paralysis and guilt. In its most extreme form, it leads to contemplation of suicide. When you see yourself as a cancer cell, as the villain in your own story, self-compassion goes out the window. You might catch yourself wondering whether the world might be better off without you. If you are a cancer cell, then the solution, after all, is surgery, chemo, and radiation.
But what’s the alternative?
A better perspective is seeing humanity as part of the Earth community of life. In her book Active Hope, Joanna Macy discusses four levels of community:
the groups we feel at home in
the local community around us
the global community of humanity
the Earth community of life
We can engage with community on all of these levels. For example:
Level 1: We can spend time with our friends and family.
Level 2: We can start local community events, for example offering a yoga class for the apartment building you live in, or becoming a “regular” at local businesses.
Level 3: We can engage in political activism or connect with like-minded people online.
Level 4: We can spend intentional time connecting with nature (e.g. watching birds, hiking, feeding squirrels, hugging a tree) or even buying land for conservation purposes.
I think that level 4 is really where you put down the self-hating human perspective, because you see yourself not as a rogue cancer cell, but as a part of nature.
From one perspective, humanity is behaving like a cancer. But unlike cancer cells, we can learn. We can change our behavior.
I believe that our actions will be more beneficial if they are rooted in love, in the deep realization that we are part of the Earth community.
The self-hating human perspective is ultimately a trap. The best it can promise is depression. It can never inspire creative, loving action.
I’m ready to put it down. Are you?
I am a firm believer that the best internal work we can do is to spend time with nature, to understand that “I am nature” on a deep level. Then you’ll carry a mindset that caring for nature is caring for yourself, which will inform every decision you make. - Tim Falls