Genocide, Ecocide, Omnicide – Talking The Holocaust And Climate Action
I was delighted recently to be invited to speak at the conference of the Australian Academy of Jewish Studies, where I gave a presentation about Ecology, Citizenship and Jewish Identity, drawing together the ideas of Emma Goldman, Hannah Arendt and Murray Bookchin. I talked about how the fragile sense of privilege, the uprootedness, and the abhorrence of dominating power that many Jews like me feel lead us to a deeply ecological politics, appreciating the vital need for interdependence:
Our liberal system is, in some ways, based on separation, building walls between atomised individuals. It’s a somewhat pathological approach to difference, fetishising it yet disapproving of it. It leaves us the options of either hating or tolerating those who are different from us.
Ecology teaches us different way of thinking about difference based on interdependent diversity – everything in an ecosystem is both different and interdependent, and it’s the combination which creates resilience. For me, a politics based on these ideas embodies coexistence. Neither seeking to erase differences between people, nor tearing them apart on the basis of those differences, nor even encouraging “toleration” of difference, ecological politics appreciates diversity as a necessary and beautiful part of the complex natural world, as long as the diverse parts see themselves as part of the complex whole.
That’s the kind of world we need to cultivate if we’re to be safe – a world where we cherish our identity, and everyone else’s, as they cherish ours. Until then, our privilege is fragile.
The speech triggered some fantastic and useful conversations out of which, excitingly, I was invited to interview Professor Danielle Celermajer as part of the Jewish Writers’ Festival next week, on April 8, at 8pm on Zoom.
You can register for that conversation here.
You might have come across Danielle’s work featured often on the ABC, as well as in The Guardian and The Conversation, where she has talked about her work on the concept of “omnicide” – how we come to grips with a system which is literally killing everything. An environmental philosopher, she is the lead of the Multispecies Justice Project at Sydney University, as well as a member of the Sydney Environment Institute.
Most recently, Danielle has published a beautiful elegy of climate grief, Summertime, in which she writes of her own experiences of the horrific fires of 2019-20. Amongst many revelatory ideas, she translates the idea from holocaust memorial – that, rather than think about the number of 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis, we should consider it one murder committed 6 million times – into our contemplation of the billions of creatures killed in these fires. The enormity of it becomes both more comprehensible and more incomprehensible.
Please join us for what promises to be a challenging and stimulating conversation.
PS: Today is International Trans Day of Visibility and I want to also acknowledge the intense persecution of trans people and celebrate the wonderful diversity of gender, of human life, and of all life in this magnificently entangled world.