Following the news about New Zealand declaring all animals sentient beings, I am doing a series of posts about my explorations in this beautiful and progressive (though not always so) part of the world. I lived there between 2003 and 2006, a bit over three, very intense, years.
There is nothing in this world I like more than exploring, so whenever I passed by the travel info centre in downtown Auckland, I would go through those automated doors and check out what was on offer (I still get a tingling down my spine as I write this). One day I discovered the ferry to the wildlife sanctuary of Tiritiri Matangi, and I decided to book the day tour for my birthday.
The island Tiritiri Matangi used to be an ecological disaster: due to the keeping of livestock there, the island had been overgrazed, and had become barren. It now benefits from the reintroduction of native trees and birds, which capture the interest of visitors on guided learning treks.
I am waking up to the fact that wildlife suffers from the enslaving of other species, too – so if we claim that helping wildlife is our goal, we cannot support animal agriculture at the same time. The latter has for centuries and millennia been used as a justification for destroying natural habitats and persecuting predators. Logically, these predators are only pushed to take out those creatures we enslave because we make the latter that much more vulnerable, and miserable at the same time. Ultimately, if you think about it, we are an island in Space… just as Tiritiri Matangi is an island off the coast of New Zealand.
Admitting to sentience in others who look different is more than just recognizing they can feel pain or pleasure. It means that we as a species are interconnected with all the others on an individual basis, and whatever we do to an animal we do to ourselves. The unique word “animal” means “souled living being” and the only reason we have become confused about this recognition is due to the false body-soul dualism plaguing modern thought. The idea that you “have” a soul is used to conceal how you generally act violently against your own human nature. Everything we’ve done to other species has been to assert our domination on this planet, rather than to help humanity. If this false idea of possession is changed to “I am a soul (animal)”, then it is easier to perceive how to make your behaviour gravitate towards the real human nature, which is associated with ideals like kindness and compassion. In other words, if you believe you are a human and therefore special, then act like one… it means you will have used your logic. This – as opposed to unconscious violence – is your real privilege.
In one of the pictures from the island adventure, you can spot a carving of a Maori ancestor expressing the Mana (spiritual power) with his tongue poked out, a concept common among Pacific Islanders. Beside other things, the Mana represents being charged with stewardship of Nature (although when the Maori first arrived in New Zealand, it took some time before they created their mythological links to the new land, and the environment suffered meanwhile) – but this is not the Western concept of “natural resource sustainability” or the 19th century approach of putting a fence around a “natural park”. These are still instrumentalizing approaches that lock Nature outside somewhere where it can be controlled. Stewardship, in my view, doesn’t refer to planning out the entire globe, but rather to showing humans a glimpse, an example of how to remain wild and free – participating in wildlife instead of watching it through binoculars.
I think it’s such a nuisance that these days, ignorant Western folks see Mana being promoted in popular culture and label such suggestions crazy, ignorant or evil – my argument would be that it’s the other way around: chronic disconnection and its effects are what’s totally bonkers right now in the world. But this misinformation is probably a result of the misguided anti-Pagan (i.e. anti-Zoroastrian) campaign that was prevalent in the media in the early 2000’s. It created such a scare that some people completely miss the point, even today. I was one of them for a short while, but I have since placed the information into perspective – and my experiences in New Zealand were quite decisive in that respect. (To be continued…)