New Paradigms For Personhood

by Jun 10, 2021

Since the 1994 founding of The Biosynergy Institute, our theories and visions, research and innovations, achievements and ongoing programs have evolved in effects, vision, and potential. This year (2021) a new CSP Biosynergy Project will be launched to stand with the Center’s other Internet offerings. There you’ll find a large assortment of articles, essays, poetry and science, video and photos to document the scope of our efforts to enable biosynergy in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe. CSP’s Biosynergy Project will have programs that address Interspecies Bonding, Empathy Education, Compassionate Conservation, Organism Congruence, Synergy Science, Community-Based Biosynergy Management, and more. There will be worldwide possibilities for us to explore together.

In the preceding pages I’ve told the personal story of my involvement with Carl Rogers and the person-centered approach, emphasizing our shared view of the positive nature of humanity and of all living organisms. I’ve recounted my profound involvement with non-human primates whose personhood I am inviting you to support. And I’ve more than hinted at the importance of Biosynergy, and encouraged you to join the pursuit of a positive sustainable biosphere.

Now, I shall end at the beginning. I’ve updated my keynote speech for the primate ethics symposium in Bali. I’ll paste it below – “New Paradigms for Personhood” – is my gift to celebrate CSP’s second half-century and the coming quest for biosynergy.

… With Synergy for All – Tony Rose

Gorilla Orphan in Cameroon

Elephant Skull in Zimbabwe

Cheetah Rescued in Kenya

The leaders of every generation and every society have seen themselves as living at the pinnacle and the abyss of human history. We like to believe it is the best and the worst of times. This human aggrandizement is an artifact of our centricities – ego, ethno, and anthropo. It is what stirs the creation of tools, of cultures, of cosmologies. It is what fires the destruction of resources, life, faith.

While waves of selfishness rise and engulf the most common of men, a counter current of humility persists. The venerable Tao feeds the green movement. Ahimsa ignites animal rights. Quan Yin appears as Mother Theresa on the streets of Calcutta. In America we see ourselves on television as burglar and cop, wolf and woodcutter, Ishmael and Moby Dick. Slowly fragments become a mosaic, unity emerges from diversity, and the age of atonement (at-ONE-ment) appears.

Out of that age emerge new paradigms for personhood. Paradigms that take us beyond legal, moral, or psychosocial projections of human self-concern onto other organisms. Paradigms that recognize that all boundaries are permeable, no hierarchies are valid, all life forms are sentient and intelligent, no individuals are without culture, each earthling is a god force, and every being is a numinous intersection in the web of life. Personhood is imbued, then, in every ant and every ape. We can rule out no one. We can ignore no one. We must atone to all beings in accord with their definitions of our sins.

For our species, the new standard we must address first is: no hierarchies are valid.

By this I mean that there is no bit or amalgam of energy, matter, or spirit more important inherently than any other. Among the various forms and particles of life there is no better and worse, no supreme and ignoble, no higher and lower. We know this in astronomy, in physics, in elemental chemistry, in everything that has to do with what we have come to think of as inanimate matter. But when we invest things with life, we immediately begin inventing hierarchies. The reasons for this are many – because our societies teach us, because it makes us feel important and strong/safe, because we’re urbanized predators, because we’ve separated from nature and have constructed rationales to help us cope with our grief.

Truth is – everything is important, everything is noble, everything matters as much as everything else. We invent winners and losers because we are shortsighted, narrow-minded, or misguided. We strive for personal excellence because we don’t recognize the profound potential for interpersonal synergy. We toy with chaos because we’ve turned our backs on harmony. We slice off options with Occam’s razor; pretending simplicity is truth, rather than just another theoretical bias.

I admit to my biases and openly promote them — to replace chaos with harmony, conflict with interdependence, need with incentive, competition with cooperation, human biodomination with global biosynergy. I have devoted my life to these paradigm shifts in the human community. I now believe that we must make the same shifts in our consideration of life as a whole.

We must expand beyond the one-way “biophilia” that biologist E.O. Wilson calls “the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms.” We must celebrate the interactive power of affiliation: the biosynergy of all of nature. We need more than to affirm our human love of life. We need to declare that mutual love is the essence of life. Sociologist / psychotherapist Erich Fromm used the term biophilia in 1964 as an integrating and uniting force in all life processes:

“The tendency to preserve life and to fight against death is the most elementary form of the biophilia orientation, and is common to all living substance. Inasmuch as it is a tendency to preserve life, and to fight death, it represents only one aspect of the drive toward life. The other aspect is a more positive one: living-substance has the tendency to integrate and to unite; it tends to fuse with different and opposite entities, and to grow in a structural way. Unification and integrated growth are characteristic of all life processes, not only as far as cells are concerned, but also with regard to feeling and thinking.”

We must dismantle our false hierarchies and build new conceptual structures that support a harmonious biology of equally important and mutually loving creatures. This will require us to transcend faulty null hypotheses and decisively argue for a world that is more than those dull simplicities that scientific method has failed to reject. We must recognize that altruism and cooperation are not merely hypothetical constructs. They are real phenomena that we can and must make to work in a real world, because they enrich the diversity and quality of life. I have spent nearly three decades synergizing human relations in the workplace: I know this is true for humans. I also know it is true among all species whose infinite ancestors have lived together in harmonic biosynergy for millions of years.

It is time to channel our energies into applied research that stimulates collaborative action. It is time to foster humanity’s altruistic involvement in a natural world that stands ready to welcome and appreciate our mutual affinities. I support the call for positive action made by Michael Soule in the final chapter of Kellert & Wilson’s Biophilia Hypothesis when he states the need for a “religion-like movement…that…can create the political momentum required to overcome the greed…and the anthropocentrism that underlies the intentional abuse of nature.”

There are many who have suggested that science and humanism have become powerful religions. If so, then we must recognize that we are the priests without collars, the monks without robes, the demigods and demigoddesses who have a duty to become more than cool and objective, less than aloof and self-aggrandizing. Our children and the children of every ape and ant on planet earth are counting on us to bring Love and Nature back into focus. In so doing we will affirm the interdependence of all beings, races, species, nations, ecosystems, hemispheres. We will embrace crisis as opportunity, recognize ignorance as mystery, and revere the personhood of every seed and flower, each infant and elder, not only for its singular elegance, but for the wonder that can arise from its biosynergy4 with us and with all the kindred spirits of this remarkable planet Earth.

Anthony L. Rose, Ph.D.
Keynote Talk for Primatology Ethics Symposium
Ethical Challenges to Primate Research, Care & Conservation
XVth Congress, International Primatological Society
August 8th, 1994 – Kuta, Bali, Indonesia / rev-5-16-2021

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