Owl of Athena
by Grant A. Mincy
The Owl of Athena awakes from her slumber to view a sea of ominous clouds stretching bleakly across the horizon. As dusk falls she contemplates the current era of human civilization. Her thoughts are tragic, questions abound.
Who are the masters of humankind? Who owns the Earth and all her wildness, order, breath, and water? Who will defend her and uphold the rights of nature? Will the masters of humankind continue their dominance and lay waste to the commons?
Impending environmental calamity and the prospects of state violence should be clear today to any rationale person. Climate continues to shift as greenhouse gases are continually pumped into the atmosphere to secure the economic interests of power. Global air pollution is responsible for one in eight total deaths across the Earth. Water resources are on the decline as carcinogens leech into the public water supply and as plastics fill the ocean. The soil is worn, acidic and over utilized by powerful industries. Entire species are going extinct, on par with the extinction rate that terminated the Mesozoic. These are just a few examples of environmental calamity, yet all expose the fact that human life and ecological communities are viewed as disposable. But, pay no attention — these environmental issues are non issues, environmental calamity is simply hyperbole.
Thus systems of power and domination continue their war on both households and the Earth. Aside from economic violence, systems of power command wartime violence. In wartime the environment is a silent casualty. Land resources are contaminated by pollution or vaporized by bombs, forests are laid to waste, states or warlords plunder the natural resources of occupied territories, management systems collapse, and entire ecological communities are lost. As widespread and devastating the environmental consequences of war are, the human connection is truly tragic. Human life, especially that of children, is lost thus denying humanity of innocence and the pursuit of happiness. Families must deal with unimaginable loss, terror and uncertainty. In a world of violence refugees are displaced. They are forced to migrate across Hell just to be pushed into national borders and subjected to regulation. Again, we see that human life and whole ecosystems are regarded as disposable. But, pay no attention — war is a necessary evil needed to protect the national interest.
All the while the Owl of Athena asks her questions. As we build systems of power with our vote the masters guide states as they see fit. Elections allow them to lay claim to their perceived right of domination. Even so, challenges to the legitimacy of such domination raise dissent against these masters of humankind.
Social movements, especially those organized by indigenous communities, labor for the protection of wilderness. As wilderness is protected authoritarian power is reduced. As a result there is habitat and thus refuge from centralized domination as the commons are protected. This refuge is important for the health of households and the Earth. The environment is protected when humanity owns a piece of it, meaning the commons are local. In the local, we do not look to our peers and observe a disposable being, nor do we do look to our natural heritage as waste. Human life and ecological systems are instead nurtured because all life is precious.
Today, more than ever, human civilization faces complex wicked problems. So ominous is the horizon, in fact, the intellectual community is beginning to ponder human extinction — another casualty of the hegemonic environmental crisis. As war rages in the very cradle of human civilization, as natural systems are continually subjected to economic interests, we are faced with a decision.
We can continue to place faith in, and labor for, the masters of humankind. We can continue to turn our backs on our neighbors as we legitimize systems of power and domination. Or, we can join our peers locally and enhance a worldwide struggle to protect human life and the commons from the ravages of natural plunder and war. We can face the world with resolve and push for decent human survival. We can protect both households and the Earth for they are our common possession to defend or let destroy.
May the owl stretch her wings and take flight so her wisdom shines through the clouds. May we realize our human potential.