Beyond the Bounds of Anthropologos

by Hugh M. Lewis


We have become bound by a world of our own making.


If we can find the anthropological unity of humankind on no other ground, then we can find it in terms of the common, contemporary global predicament that humankind faces today. If nothing more, we are united anthropologically by a common existential challenge and question of our own civilization--a common challenge for survival in a human-made world which threatens to rapidly undermine its own foundation in the natural order. Today a Bushman cannot hunt an elephant or a giraffe with the same sense of moral complacency that his grandfather may have had even a generation ago, for the Bushman now must share with the Spaceman the same global vision of a world of finite dimensions. In a world facing mass extinctions, the taking of any life must have major reverberations.

The common existential predicament of humankind today I will refer to as the human condition of earthboundness, an unavoidable horizon of our anthropological perspective which proceeds from the sudden realization of the finiteness and interrelatedness of life on earth, and which leads certain kinds of constraints which condition everything we are, know or do in the world. We can now no longer perform even minor tasks without having to take into consideration the earthbound implications of such actions. This has created for us an inescapable existential and moral imperative to know the possible consequences of our own actions on earth. Our earthboundness has created a new horizon upon our anthropological knowledge, and a new normative and cognitive need to come to terms with its implications and limitations for our life.

Our own earthboundness of perspective has been a relatively recent and sudden collective realization. Its fullest implications for our lives has not yet fully sunk in, and is not likely to until and unless its consequences, like our bad Dharma, come ringing at our doorstep. Local and individual actions have a critical, if indirect, consequence upon a whole field of relations. Acts may set in motion long chains of events reaching around the globe and the other end of which may end in our own or other's backyard.

Our earthboundness has created for us a new kind of dilemma that we must now resolve. Our earthboundness constrains and presents a common global horizon upon our world, we must seek somehow to satisfactorily transcend and emancipate ourselves from the boundaries it imposes upon our perspective and our lives, while at the same time learning how to live satisfactorily and successfuly beneath the aegis of its earthbound imperative.




We must construe our own earthboundness from an anthropological perspective. From such a point of view we must see that earthboundness is not a natural state of the world, but a human state, a state of our cultural construction of reality being bounded in all our thoughts and actions by the dimensionalities and proportionalities of the entire earth.

It begets a state of "earthmindedness"--a "whole earth" state of mind that regards the entire world as a single, solitary home for humankind and for life. It comprises a whole world-view and new trans-cultural orientation in relation to our new world environment. It is a new philosophy and way of relating to our world that is circumscribed in everyway by the earth's natural boundaries. It concerns principle the global ecology of human being on earth, the human ecology of the world. Its concern is one of human adaptation in a human constructed world.

In this regard we might refer to our earthbound epoch as a new age of humankind in which our earthboundness will increasingly constitute the common anthropological foundation for our sense of human reality, identity and humanity in the world. We can speak of our earthbound civilization as a kind of intrinsic boundary to the development of our trans-culturative processes. We can speak of our emerging earthbound environments as the many local, regional and global spheres and webs of interdependency in which we are all inextricably enmeshed. We can refer to our earthbound ecology as a total self-organized system of relations in human reality, of our "earthbound synergism" and our earthbound imperative for survival.




Within an Earthbound perspective, we must learn to see that our most pressing problems today are irreducibly human problems. Anthropology thus has a crucial role to play in the unfolding and elaboration of this perspective and the problems it presents for our world. These are the problems of over-development, conspicuous consumption, overpopulation and poverty, environmental pollution resource depletion and ecological degradation, global stratification social pathology, militarism and the threat of total war, the problems of the realization of peace and human rights. From an anthropological perspective, the complexity of these problems tells us that they are all inextricably interrelated with one another, and that their principle culprit, modern development, is part of the inevitable process of trans-culturation.




The realization of our earthboundness points up yet another boundary of our anthropological knowledge, the boundary presented by our own anthropocentrism. We have largely taken for granted that all language must necessarily be human language, all sentience human sentience, all culture, human in orientation. The likelihood of our reaching out into deep space to encounter other alien creatures with the intelligence, civilization and technology to journey to our world reminds us that we may believe in our anthropological truths in ways we have not thought to question, and that our anthropological science may thus be limited by our common "human sense" in ways which defy scientific sense.

We do not have to venture so far a field to run up against the fallacies and boundaries of our own anthropocentrism. Our daily interactions and encounters with other forms of life on earth, from primates to sea mammals to insects and plants, reveals to us our inability to be a Dr. Dolittle or to understand the communication systems or cultural patternings developed by other species. Even our encounters with other people's of very alien cultures has frequently brought to bear the point that our anthropological understanding of human reality was often as anthropocentric as it was "ethnocentric," and that therefore anthropocentrism has the same source of prejudice and hubris, and the same consequences of ignorance, as does ethnocentrism. Many groups have referred to themselves as human beings, and by implication, to other's as something less than human.

We must acknowledge our basic anthropological hubris that sees our needs and interests on earth as the exclusive or most important one's to consider. We must recognize our hubris when we recognize our sentience as something sacred, special and superior to the qualities and sentience of experience that is the condition of other forms of life on earth. We must recognize our hubris when we promote policies of our own development at the expense of the natural world. Our world is neither the only nor the best of all possible worlds.

Upon the boundaries of our anthropological knowledge, we come to a no-human's-land where different fields of inquiry and understanding interpenetrate and fuse into an indistinguishable whole. There upon the edge of the unknown, we meet the ultimate relativity of our deepest selves.


Blanket Copyright, Hugh M. Lewis, 2005. Use of this text governed by fair use policy--permission to make copies of this text is granted for purposes of research and non-profit instruction only.

Last Updated: 03/07/05