In the second episode of his 2021 documentary series Exterminate All the Brutes, in which he revisits the story of European dominion over the rest of the world and questions the dominant narrative around it, Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck makes the following statement: “I learned to favour the collective over the individual, to look for the we before indulging in the I, and to always place oneself within the world – not above.”
I start from Peck’s words to think about a broad definition of a civilized society, keeping in mind that the word ‘civilized’ has its etymological origin in the Latin civilis, ‘relating to public life’. In times of anthropocene crisis and climate disaster, our very survival as a species lies in learning the practice of coexistence and inclusion, as well as the mycelial ramification of our lives, as they invariably touch one another. Human exceptionalism has put us at war with the so-called ‘natural world’, with the catastrophic consequences we witness more and more every year, in increasingly idiosyncratic seasons, ‘with the animals dying around us’, as W. S. Merwin wrote in his poem Thanks.
I think of a civilized society as one in which the delirium of supremacy is abolished: not just of certain groups of human beings over others, on the basis of race, gender, nationality, belief etc, but of humankind over non-human species. Different forms of life are no longer subjected to human arrogance and domineering rage. In a rhizomatic system, we overthrow the figure of the master, ‘who has conceived nature as a wife or subordinate other’, in the words of ecofeminist Val Plumwood. A new way of understanding the phenomenon of alterity. The we before the indulgence of the I.