Night Vigil 20140201


Night Vigil has been occupied with the issue of anthropocentrism. Of course anthropo– means human and –centric means center. So the term means to place humankind at the center of everything.

Knowing how -centric got the usage, however, is very enlightening. Arising through French from a Latin usage, the centrum originally was the fixed point of compass drafting pencil, i.e. where you affix the tool to draw the circle. So there is not only the picking of the centrum but deciding how wide of an area you will circumscribe by the opening of the hinge and the placing of the pencil.

It seems that the centrum determines a great deal about where things originate but the circumscribing pencil itself sets the limit of how much you are willing to consider.

Well, it is not so much where things originate as what is the focal point of your thinking, that to which all considerations will be hereafter related.

Again, the centrum is illuminating as we know it must be a sharp point, something which sticks in the plane on which we will circumscribe our area of consideration. The Greek word is kentron–a sharp point, goad, or the sting of a wasp.

Yet even as it is sharp enough to penetrate a plane and act as anchor, it is movable or changeable. A fixed and unchanging center might be the end or target of a contemplation, but sooner or later the needle retracts, the compass lifts away, and we consider the circle-at-hand. Afterward we forget or discard the exercise or we bring it forward again as basis for the next thought experiment.

At least, insofar as we are being contemplative, this is the case. But we are not always being contemplative.

This, per force, opens the door for why something like anthropocentrism can become a vicious circle: mistaking a convenience for a necessity, making-do with a particular way of thinking as though it is the universal rule.

But again: we forget the role of the sweeping arm–drawing the limit or periphery–at our peril when considering the viciousness of a reduction like anthropocentrism.

How much we are willing to consider the reasons for the narrowness/breadth of our circle contains key details for how to approach a critique of something like anthropocentrism. Some drew the circle with humankind at the center a while ago, but for all the uniformity of the concept, there has been no real uniformity in the application.

Most folks who may make-do with the notion have an even very narrower limit: the human beings that I know are the center of all things. That is, what is closest to me as the centrum determines the area of my existence. A good reason that the notion has an unfortunate hardiness centers on the very relativity of the circumscription.

Moreover, most in their everyday lives actually are not always thinking of their circumstances from the human center. There are many contemplative experiments put forward by philosophers, theologians, scientists, poets, etc. All these  subsequently get reused in make-do fashions without any substantial attempts to comprehend the handy map. Theocentric, kosmocentric, geocentric, ethnocentric, kinetocentric, hylecentric, somatocentric, egocentric… the average person makes-do with a cavalcade of notions throughout her/his daily life. We switch from one to another to meet the operational needs of our circumstances.

I am not saying because of this it is hopeless to critique anthropocentrism. Simply that our academic discussions of the problem of anthropocentrism’s lasting effects itself replaces the centrum and the circumscribing of a contemplative circle: anthropocentric-centrism.

Now, we can treat this as a hermeneutic circle that asks us to move the centrum or open up the hinge. Or we can fall into a vicious circle that keeps circumscribing the same field ad nauseam.

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