Who Is the Most Marginalized of All?

Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.

November 21, 2014


" a conference on "Knowledge from the Margins," organized by my colleague Logan Williams, to be held at Michigan State University. The conference aims to examine knowledge produced by (or about) people and institutions who are marginalized in society (e.g. layperson, low-income, low-caste/class, indigenous, non-Western, non-Protestant, racial/ethnic minority, female gender, LGBTQ sexual orientation, disabled, etc.). Seems like a great opportunity for those working on environmental justice and a variety of other aspects of environmental philosophy!" Kevin Elliott


What does it mean to be "marginalized"? It seems to mean "considered unimportant". But if that is true, then there is no reason to restrict it to humans. In fact, the more distant an organism is from being human, the more it is marginalized. And how is such marginalization justified?: the "other" is perceived to be "different". That is the origin of xenophobia.


What rational justification is there for xenophobia? Are we really so different? Humans -- all humans -- are genetically extremely similar. The greatest diversity among humans is in Africa. But what about other species? We know that, genetically, chimpanzees are 98.6% identical to us. And why stop there? We share a sizable portion of our DNA with all living things.


Thus it is ludicrous to bewail the marginalization of certain groups of humans, when we think nothing of marginalizing all of our other close relatives. If marginalization is wrong, then remedying the marginalization of wildlife should obviously be our top priority. Humans, however marginalized, are still able to speak for themselves, demand attention, and request help; wildlife cannot.


As you sit down to dinner this Thanksgiving with your closest relatives, and give thanks for the good fortune that makes this possible, will you also invite to the table and share your bounty with the least privileged of your relatives? Do we really have a choice?




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