Is Earth Your Mother or Your Home?

Mother Earth signs protesting protection and respect.

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I recently attended Earth Day New York's green car fashion show. Picture a whole bunch of electric, hybrid and biofuel vehicles presented to a crowd of tourists many of whom had no idea what was going on but were drawn in by the all-electric Delorean conversion, complete with decade's old Back to the Future references. Personally I thought the eStar all electric delivery truck was more interesting. All in all it was a notch above last year's affair in audience engagement. But afterwards I noticed the slogan on a sign behind the podium. Earth Day: Because It's Our Home

On the 40-something-block trip uptown on the train I dove back into the deep waters of physicist/philosopher David Bohm's Wholeness and the Implicate Order, starting in on the second chapter. I didn't get too far.

Bohm writes (it's his emphasis),

In scientific inquiries a crucial step is to ask the right question. Indeed, each question contains presuppositions, largely implicit. If these presuppositions are wrong or confused, then the question itself is wrong, in the sense that to try to answer it has no meaning. One has thus to inquire into the appropriateness of the question.

Somehow the answer to a question I hadn't consciously asked myself earlier in the day, but was obviously there lurking below the surface, popped out in those italics.

What likely planted that seed question, unbeknownst to me, was a truly excellent segment I had watched over breakfast still earlier in the day on Democracy Now!. In it Amy Goodman interviewed Vandana Shiva and Maude Barlow, covering a lot of ground in a short period of time. The point of eco-philosophy that emerged strong, resonating with Bolivia's recent efforts to enshrine into law rights for Mother Earth --and take initial steps into doing something similar at the UN.

Reverence vs. Utility

Saying that bringing up the concepts of rights for Mother Earth, judged by comments when I've brought it up and the frothing opposition in international circles when Bolivia does so in climate negotiations, is highly contentious is extreme understatement.

Saying that the difference between viewing the planet as your mother (which is one that indigenous cultures largely held and hold in varying degrees of prominence and is also incorporated to a lesser but still significant degree in the Dharmic philosophies of Asia) and the dominant beliefs espoused in modern Western philosophy, enshrined in capitalism in its globalized free market fundamentalist form is vast, is also extreme understatement.

Recognizing this distinction and articulating it, acknowledging these deep philosophical differences, isn't done enough when talking about transitioning to a greener economy and greener personal lives. Part of the reason why we've had so much trouble making progress in building more ecologically just and socially sustainable societies, despite plenty of public lip service paid to the issue around the globe, is that different presuppositions are at play.

Even within the environmental community, we don't always acknowledge that while it may seem like we are working from a common base, there are real differences at play. How you treat your mother is different than you treat your home.

Earth as a Home

Climate change protestors holding signs.

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As much as home is different than house, both are different than mother. House is physical, is substitutable, can be constructed to varying degrees of finish and comfort. Home is ownership of house, is emotional attachment to house, but is still substitutable to some degree in that new houses and new homes can be built.

This planet is our home, no doubt. And you don't want to burn down your home, allow your home to flood, to be dirtied and polluted. You want it to be comfortable, safe, secure, pretty, inviting, reasonably spacious. It's not inaccurate to put that on a banner, from where it hopefully gets into people's minds and somehow motivates them to treat the space around them differently. But it stops short of mother.

Earth as a Mother

A woman with an afro hugging a tree holding a red heart.

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I'm talking about the concept of mother here, not the manifestation of mother; let's not get off track because there's no different word in English between the archetype of mother or mother writ large as a planet and the person who's your mother.

Without mother there is no life. The form may be different depending on the type of life involved, but without mother there is no life. You can do without a house or a home and life continues, even if that's not ideal, but you cannot exist without mother. There is no possible substitute for mother in life.

If you view the planet as your mother there is a greater degree of inherent respect, reverence and love than if you view it as your home. Acknowledging the planet as Mother Earth is rooted in love. Calling it your home, even if there is love lurking somewhere in there, is rooted primarily in practicality and utility.

How Should You Think of Earth?

A person holding up a cardboard sign about Earth Day.

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In the midst of trying to solve our environmental problems there are certainly enough similarities between Earth as Mother and Earth as home that it seems like we are talking about the same thing--and for many practical purposes, the type of things TreeHugger focuses on much of the time, that's fine.

But ultimately on the larger scale, on those issues which require national or international action, those issues which seem so intractable, these differences in perspective become clear--not even considering that also in the mix is a third view that doesn't even acknowledge Mother Earth as anything than inert, emotionless, economically substitutable matter.

Between this Earth Day and next, in addition to doing all, some or just a few of the practical things that benefit our planet by making our personal weight upon it lesser, please concentrate a while on whether this planet is your mother or home. How would that change your outlook and actions?