The vivisection of oikeios: beyond the binary of nature and society

Nature and society are not divisible things. The two live inside each other. It is a state of reciprocal immanence, one in which the existence of humans is inexorably entwined with the existence of non-humans. We are mutually dependent unto extinction.

If we look at hunter-gatherer communities we see a common understanding of this reciprocal immanence. Amongst those peoples who live thus it is usually understood that their water is of the rivers, their shelter of the forests and their food of the plains. From this conception springs a rich culture of reciprocity; a deep respect for the non-human life which makes human life possible. The people who live off the salmon think of themselves as the salmon-people, their existence is inseparable from the existence of that which sustains them.

“Like Cherokee or Nishnaabeg peoples, Zapotecs have their own word to describe belonging as responsibility. The word guendaliza means that we all are relatives and as such we have reciprocal responsibilities. When we say thank you in Zapotec we say chux quixely, which means ‘I will reciprocate’. Reciprocity is not limited to human beings but extends to the land and other beings visible or not.”   – Isabel Altamirano-Jimenez3

However the coming of agriculture helped spark the notion of property, setting in progress millennia of violent accumulation and appropriation. New agricultural productivity also made possible large settlements, towns and cities of ever greater size, a concentration of humanity which in turn facilitated the birth of industry. With the power from our increasing development we turned our gaze towards that which was not-human, and wondered how we may develop that too. Thus we othered nature, no longer could we merely live in it, now we had to stand atop it. Peaceful co-existence gave way to dreams of mastery and domination. Western civilisation has been as much about defining what isn’t us as what is. From the parts we have cut from oikeios we have made allotrios, that which is alien.

Source: The vivisection of oikeios: beyond the binary of nature and society

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