Whenever a crime against humanity has taken place in human history, the perpetrators have inevitably justified their crimes by subordinating their victims into ‘lower’ social, cultural or ethnic groupings. If genocide is to be committed, the victims must first be deemed to be somehow ‘subhuman’. Their lack of morals or worth must first be established in the psyche of the people; once this is achieved, then otherwise good people will often carry on with their lives whilst their government builds mass graves. What is in reality a great evil, springing from a deep moral crisis, can seem entirely reasonable – at the time.
Today, such a moral crisis is found within our relationship to what we call ‘biodiversity’: the rich web of life on Earth. We are reducing the world to ashes without blinking: 50,000 species go extinct every year according to the UN. Biologists have declared this the age of the sixth mass extinction (the fifth was when the meteor struck and wiped out the dinosaurs.) Species fade away daily from the Tree of Life, and we justify it by denying life as a whole any sentience. Does a spider have what a human might consider ‘consciousness’? Not unless a human scientist can prove it. Until then, we are justified in wiping out life in the name of ‘resource extraction.’ This moral vacuum has prevailed I believe, because it has been advantageous to our material development.
It may sound audacious, but I’ve been thinking about how we can change our morals and ethics, especially in relation to the wild. When you look at a culture such as this one in the UK (I am not a UK national, so I am looking from outside in: please have mercy!), yuo may see that much of its moral driving force lies within the white men clad in bronze outside Westminster, and within the public ceremonies held a few times a year commemorating the sacrifices made during the two World Wars. There, through the grief of the soldiers and veterans, we begin to understand what sacrifices they made and what took place. It is clear to see that the ritual and unity of the political parties during this time acts to protect ourselves from the possibility of such horrors ever transpiring again. Ceremonies of this kind swing our moral pendulum, and they should not be underestimated.
Something told me, when I first realised this, that we need a similar public ritual and memorial for the natural world – that a monument needs to be raised for the sixth mass extinction.
This thought was what drove me to set up the Life Cairn memorial in 2011. The Life Cairn is a pile of stones on Mount Caburn in East Sussex, dedicated tp all species rendered extinct at human hands. Every stone on the Life Cairn represents an extinct species. It is a place of awareness, a place to reflect on what it means to be human, to discuss ethics and morality, and to begin to understand how we have allowed the River Dolphin of the Yangtze to never again give birth after millions of years of life.
The Life Cairn has caused a stir: some people want the pile of stones removed now, for a memorial like this upsets as it reveals. It has been vandalised, and threatened countless times. But the Life Cairn stands, humble, yet defiant, on a lonely English hill.
This summer, at the Uncivilisation festival, we will be building a new Life Cairn: a new, permanent memorial to the loss of the wild, which will remain at the Sustainability Centre long after we are all gone.If you would like to bring your own stone to the event, please do. if you’d like to bring a poem to read or some words to say – please do. A stone will also be taken from the original Life Cairn on Mount Caburn and walked, or bicycled, to the festival. If you are interested in being a stone carrier for one part of the journey between Lewes, East Sussex and the festival please get in touch: email firstname.lastname@example.org
The wild is caught in a fireblaze, the flames seem too high to stop. If we cannot grieve for all that is being lost in the wild, then it was never loved.
The Life Cairn ceremony will take place at 2pm on the Saturday of Uncivilisation 2013. The festival takes place from 15-19 August, 2013 at the Sustainability Centre, near Petersfield, Hampshire. Tickets are available at this page.