The Peaceable Kingdom, 1833-34, Edward Hicks. Attrib: Wikipedia Loves Art, shootingbrooklyn, CC BY-SA 2.5.
Whose view of animals has more appeal? The ancient Jews or Henry Beston’s?
The Old Testament leads with (Genesis 1:26, KJV) These old thoughts still represent how a good part of how the world views animals. The emphasis is on a dominance hierarchy – animals exist to serve humans.
Regardless of which view you favor, humans are still animals that need other animals as a source for food and much else. Yet would we better protect our earth and its vast bestiary with the first attitude or the second? Would mining the earth’s living things for our survival be less fraught if we see other species as other nations, as beyond a human-dominated hierarchy?
Beston studied the natural world, and his attitudes are in the best way scholarly, open to all of the unknown possibilities of his subject. His thoughts echo many native cultures, which explicitly acknowledge the rightful place animals have in the world and the mystery of their existence, cultures who colonize and kill animals for their survival, but take care that the animals continue to exist as mystical beings in their own right.
With co-existence as a starting point, the need for humans to survive is coupled more directly with the need for us to acknowledge and understand the living world, the biosphere, and our place as part of it, not as the dominating power over it. Anyway, there is much more of our ecosystem that is out of our direct control – for example, we are colonized with huge numbers of microorganisms without which we cannot survive. A more humble human outlook regarding animals, a more co-operative view of other living organisms simply acknowledges the truth of human life – we do and must continue to co-exist with other life for our own best future. Explicit recognition of co-existence allows us to put away old, narrow and ultimately limiting ideas of dominion.