|By Tench Phillips, co-owner Naro Cinema
Since the dawn of human culture, indigenous wisdom traditions have recognized and honored the spiritual powers within all nature. All animals are revered and considered nations unto themselves. They may be the deer people, the bear people, or the wolf people. Their voices are delegated to those who can speak up for them in tribal councils. In this way mankind has more or less maintained harmonious relations with the natural world and all the species that inhabit it.
That relationship has radically changed ever since the advent of the modern industrial age some two hundred years ago. Yes, science has cultivated the knowledge and technology to harness the forces of nature for the benefit of humans. But it has also justified the exploitation and abuse of nature through a dualistic Cartesian worldview that delegates consciousness only to humans. Western religions only reinforce the belief that only humans have an inner spiritual life. In turn, science strengthens the view that the universe is just mindless matter and energy.
But recently there has been new evidence provided by neurological and genetic biology along with recent research into animal behavior that is turning long held assumptions on their head. Intelligent animals such as chimpanzees, dolphins, and elephants are found to possess self-awareness, self-determination, and a sense of the past as well as of the future. Animals utilize complex social interaction and language to pass knowledge from one generation to the next. These are qualities previously thought to be uniquely human. It’s what distinguished us from non-human animals. These findings call into question the exploitation of animals for our food, fashion, entertainment, and research.
Animal protection groups have begun to petition the courts to gain the recognition of legal rights for nonhuman animals. The now famous trial in the documentary Blackfish was a lawsuit brought by PETA against Seaworld and that corporation’s enslavement of orca whales.
The Nonhuman Rights Project is an organization seeking to establish legal personhood rights for intelligent animals caged within inhumane conditions. This group of lawyers carefully selects jurisdictions represented by sympathetic circuit judges to present their cases in an attempt to accumulate judicial precedence. Even though they have yet to win their first case, they are in the battle for the long term.
Utilizing a separate tactic, organizations in other countries have been working to establish the rights of nature. Bolivia has already legislated these rights into law and Ecuador has written them into its recent constitution. The United Nations is now being petitioned to create a declaration that represents the rights of nature.
Most Americans are in agreement that natural systems should have some legal protections but feel that the granting of personhood rights goes too far. That would be the case if we had an ethical economic system along with effective government regulatory agencies. But the playing field is rigged.
Ever since the 1890s our democracy has been undermined by the legal precedence that grants personhood rights to corporations. Although these corporate beings exist only on paper, they have been given the same Constitutional rights as human beings. We have seen our government subverted by the illegitimate corporate power and money used to buy elections and to influence the passing of legislation that advances corporate interests over the interests of citizens and the biosphere.
A groundbreaking movement in this country includes the work of enlightened lawyers who work through CELDF (Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund). The organization represents communities that have been exploited by corporate activity. Toxic activities such as natural gas fracking, the polluting of waterways, and the dumping of animal waste from factory farms onto agricultural fields. Ordinances have been legislated by local government councils stating that the offending corporation does not have personhood rights within that community’s jurisdiction. The targeted companies have yet to bring any suits against these communities fearing that an unfavorable ruling could expose and bring down their house of cards. Instead they have turned to state legislatures to put an end to these acts of self-determination by local governments.
The insidious and persistent desecration of the natural world cannot be effectively addressed in this country until legal personhood rights are stripped from corporations and in turn awarded to nonhuman animals and biological systems. The only path possible for such a transformation is through the judicial system since the political will is not to be found in a legislative process corrupted by corporate power and money.
Our legal system and so-called free trade agreements prop up a system of international corporatism that benefits mainly the top one percent. This system justifies and makes possible worldwide pollution, militarism and arms sales, wars fought for natural resources, destruction of the rainforests, and climate destabilization.
Except for a few homegrown hybrid groups like The Pachamama Alliance, we must look outside of our own borders for vibrant democratic movements such as in South America. In the very countries long exploited by western colonialism can be found the last vestiges of the indigenous wisdom tradition.
Industrial capitalism is the head of a ravenous beast that doesn’t recognize its own body. It lives solely off of an ideological belief in economic growth and corporate profits. This beast has little use for sustaining the natural systems of the world. It will consume itself if it doesn’t soon wake up to the reality of the seamless, symbiotic, conscious web of life that is the gaian mind.
Upcoming Naro Film Events
GOOGLE AND THE WORLD BRAIN This is the story of the most ambitious project ever conceived on the Internet. In 2002 Google began to scan millions of books in an effort to create a giant global library, containing every book in existence. They had an even greater purpose - to create a higher form of intelligence, something that HG Wells had predicted in his 1937 essay "World Brain". But over half the books Google scanned were in copyright, and authors across the world launched a campaign to stop Google, which climaxed in a New York courtroom in 2011. (90 mins) Showing Wed, May 21 with discussion led by Dylan Wittkower from ODU and ODU library administrator George Fowler.
FED UP Upending the conventional wisdom of why we gain weight and how to lose it, Fed Up reveals a 30-year campaign by giant corporations, aided by the U.S. government, to mislead and confuse the American public. We have one of the largest health epidemics in history and the next generation of American children will now live shorter lives than their parents did. The many experts interviewed include Michael Pollan, Mark Hyman MD, David Kessler MD, and Robert Lustig MD. (92 mins) Showing Wed, June 11 with speakers and discussion.
GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINE Are non-human animals property to be owned and used, or are they sentient beings deserving of rights? Filmmaker Liz Marshall follows noted animal photographer Jo-Anne McArthur, author of "We Animals", over the course of a year as she documents important animal stories in parts of Canada, the U.S. and in Europe. Included are hopeful stories about animals rescued and protected by compassionate people and organizations. (93 mins) Showing Wed, June 18 with speakers and discussion.