Jane Bennett reasons in her preface that accepting the idea that things other than humans can have agency is necessary, if only to stop us from ruining the environment: “the image of dead or thoroughly instrumentalized matter feeds human hubris and our earth-destroying fantasies of conquest and consumption.” To consider this properly, a surprisingly enormous shift in mindset is required, which illustrates just how overwhelmingly important we sub-consciously consider our needs to be. It’s nigh on impossible to claim that we treat the natural world with respect, but to imbue objects which aren’t man-made with agency, we must overturn our most basic principles.
This is due to the fact that from a young age, we are socially indoctrinated into believing that events are only meaningful if humans or man-made constructions are affected. Defacing books or artworks, for instance, would inevitably result in a child being reprimanded, where as carving names into a tree is often perceived as romantic. This is especially true when it comes to natural phenomena, such as earlier this year, when fish and birds were dying in their thousands, often for unknown reasons. Instead of grieving for the animals’ untimely demises, people instead focused on whether these events formed a harbinger of doom for humans.
We detach ourselves as a society from non-human things in order to protect our emotions from the hurt that would be caused by recognition of our misdeeds against the environment. If something fails to exhibit human characteristics, we class it as inferior, and deny it any agency. This is perhaps clearest in our treatment of dogs and cats as pets, in contrast to cows and sheep, which are cultivated to eat. A leg of lamb forms a perfectly acceptable part of any meal, yet the idea of eating a creature which can, through its behaviour, affect our mood is considered barbaric. No hamster burger with a side of goldfish nuggets for us.
Anyone who subverts this cultural norm by displaying respect or even an emotional attachment to something which doesn’t have an anthropocentric purpose is considered either strange or childish. Thus, it’s expected that broken or obsolete objects will be disposed of, not as loved ones are disposed of when their bodies fail them, respectfully, but instead with uncaring abandon. However, even this piece is anthropocentric, for if the environment being destroyed didn’t affect humans negatively, I probably wouldn’t worry about it.