On Biocultural Diversity
Linking Language, Knowledge, and the Environment
Edited by Luisa Maffi

On the Meaning and Moral Imperative of Diversity

David Harmon

David HARMON
The George Wright Society, P.O. Box 65, Hancock, MI 49930-0065, USA.
phone: +1.906.4879722.
fax: +1.906.4879405.

E-mail: dharmon@georgewright.org

David Harmon is Executive Director of The George Wright Society, a nonprofit association of park and protected area professionals.

This chapter discusses the concept of diversity in both nature and culture, basing its argument on William James's psychological and philosophical analysis of diversity. James saw diversity as the basic condition of life and one to which humans, like all other species, are born---and which forms the very substance (or rather function) of human consciousness. James pointed to the way in which human consciousness is compelled to build sameness out of the existing diversity perceived by our senses. In agreement with James, the chapter argues that diversity is the means through which the human "consciousness function" operates, suggesting that, if consciousness is what makes us human, it then follows that diversity makes us human. The chapter explores how this process operates in various domains of human experience, from the conceptualization of biological species to that of languages and cultures. The author argues that this suggests an affinity between biological and cultural diversity, an affinity stemming from the long-range evolutionary processes that have shaped the diversity of life. This "deep" diversity can never be replaced by the superficial diversity promoted by market-based ideologies as an artificial substitute for the genuine diversity, both natural and cultural, now being wiped out by globalization processes. The chapter concludes that, if we acknowledge that humans, like all other species, are the products of evolutionary processes of which diversity is the quintessential expression, then we have the basis of a moral imperative for preserving diversity in both culture and nature that transcends the interests of humankind to affirm the dignity of all life on Earth.


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