What is a Biocitizen?

A biocitizen is a person who is a citizen of the bios, ie. life.

Bios is not an abstract concept. It is the absolute, uncontrovertible basis of all human and non-human being. It is chemical, physical, and dynamic; and it is perceivable and knowable as one’s own, and all other’s, reality. Abstract concepts are projected upon bios—everything written constitutes that projection—but it remains our greatest perpetually unsolvable mystery.

Because it is the source of being and (ultimately) unknowable, “life is sacred.” It is safe to say that (despite inconsistent applications of the idea) all political and religious systems hold that life is sacred. I’m sure that you do, too. Bios is sacred if only because without it, there is nothing. As we look out into the galaxy, we find dead planet after dead planet; it is bios, and bios only, that makes our predicament possible.

The concept of biocitizen is rooted in political philosophy and in ecology. The Greeks used the word cosmopolitai to describe “the citizen of the world” and philosophers of the Enlightenment such as Rousseau and Jefferson employed the idea of the “citizen of nature” to describe an essential human being that transcends nationality. Thoreau is perhaps the most articulate purveyor of this concept of identity.

Grounded in, and arising from, these definitions, biocitizen assumes the findings of ecology, the branch of biology that consistently proves that each living being is not an isolated “island universe”; they are “part and parcel” participants in the superorganismic life of Gaia.

In particular, the concept of the biocitizen draws upon the scientific and ethical insights of Aldo Leopold , who is widely celebrated for conceiving the “land ethic“:

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

Leopold distinguished between two ways Americans relate to nature, one typical of pioneer culture and one newly emerging that is dedicated to inhabiting land sustainably. We “see repeated the same basic paradoxes: man the conqueror versus man the biotic citizen; science the sharpener of his sword versus science the searchlight on his universe; land the slave and the servant versus land the collective organism.”

His biotic citizen is our biocitizen, a person who enacts the land ethic in everyday life, behaving as a “plain member and citizen” of a biotic community that “include[s] soils, waters, plants, animals, or collectively: the land.”

To these political and scientific definitions, I’ll close by adding an existential one. A biocitizen is person who is aware that their identity is not entirely theirs; it has been shared by their ancestors with them, and can be shared by them with their own progeny. When a baby is born, it is common for friends and relatives to look at the baby’s features and say, “she’s got your mother’s chin” etc. As the baby matures into a child and then an adult, such associations are regularly made. Are you not surprised when you look in the mirror and make the same associations yourself? The fact is, our bodies are passed down from one generation to the next, and your face is the aggregate result of the survival of ancestors of which no records survive. In fact, your ancestors go back millions of years and all them shape who you are and enable your everyday existence.

You are more than you have ever been taught you are—

with all due respect I aver: you are a biocitizen.