Eastern Michigan University’s EcoJustice and Activism week featured a session titled “Justice for All: Exploring the Psychological Intersections of Social and Ecological Activism,” which discussed race, gender, class and wilderness oppression. David St. John from the Michigan School of Professional Psychology was the featured speaker at this session.
Volunteer and EMU student, Erica Mooney, said that the lectures provide interactive learning between people on what the community has to offer, especially when it comes to area growth and development and how people can contribute to helping each other.
“The planet is diverse with all kinds of natural landscapes,” St. John said, “from the very large to the very small.”
St. John discussed the issue of biological diversity and how it increases the chance that living things will adapt to survive changes in the world.
“Homo sapiens have been surrounded by nature for at least 200,000 years, and our minds have been evolving,” he said.
St. John said human civilization typically ends up dominating nature.
“Humans aren’t as physically capable as other animals,” he said. “We have an inferiority complex. We are bright, but death represented by nature should be considered.”
St. John also said the human domination of animals and nature dates back thousands of years.
“With cities, we started bringing animals in, more like zoos,” he said. “Roman emperors Nero and Caligula would bring in animals into the Coliseum and have people pay to kill them. Even exotic ones.”
St. John also said once humans began to domesticate animals, the process of domesticating people – like slavery – came into play. He addressed the idea of a master dominating his or her slave, relating it to the way men are expected to be dominant over women.
“Women are equated with nature, where the male is dominant over the female in mostly every civilization that has been created at least 99 percent of the time,” he said.
St. John also said when Christianity flourished, people began using animals to represent the appearance of demons and women were often targeted as witches. These Christian practices are actually a result of pagan influence, a religion rooted in nature, according to St. John.
“Once civilization started, dominance was key,” St. John said.
During the early Colonial era, Europeans viewed Native Americans as primitive and chose to dominate them, St. John said.
“The Natives represented nature that needed to be dominated in the eyes of the Colonists,” St. John said.
He added that the Native Americans’ connection to nature and ability to use the land to their advantage when escaping made them “bad” slaves.
He also talked about the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, and how the Native Americans were slaughtered out of pure fear of an “uprising.”
“Some would slaughter bison, just to interfere with the Native way of life,” St. John said of the Colonists.
He also used the example of the football team, the Washington Redskins, and how other teams are named after animals and the correlation between how Natives were viewed.
“It’s all about trying to tame nature because we fear it,” he said.
St. John also said that the Irish immigrants and Africans later in America’s history were also viewed as primitive. The two minorities were encouraged to stay away from each other for fear of a joint revolt.
In a 2003 study conducted by the United Nations, 48 percent of the world’s land mass was infiltrated with humans and manmade materials, St. John said.
He also discussed ecopsychology, which is an ideology that says humans are bonded with nature.
“We’ve been dissociating our relationship with nature,” he said. “But nature can be very healing. We are one step closer to embracing biodiversity.”
Erica Bloom of Ypsilanti attended the conference and said she is very active in the community.
Bloom works in Ann Arbor at the nonprofit Michigan League for Conservation Voters, which is a nonpartisan group that is involved with environmental politics. The organization also works within the state legislature to try and pass pro-environmental legislation.
“Social and ecological justice is something that I am interested in,” she said.