A River With Personality?

I hope they were only trying to make a point about our duty to the planet. When I read the news story I wondered. Maybe they had completely lost their mind. After all, we are talking about politicians here.

Legislators in New Zealand have bestowed personhood on a river. I have a few problems with that.

Persons have rights. This was something established in Canadian law years ago, where the courts were faced with the very real question as to whether women were considered persons under the law (they were and still are).

So now in New Zealand you have the Whanganui River, which has the same rights as any other New Zealander. Or so I assume – I doubt it is legal to confer some rights on one person and not another. It stands to reason that the river can own property, marry, vote and serve in the military if it so desires. But how to determine that desire?

The river can’t speak of course, and can’t make its wishes known, but the legislature has designated a couple of people to be its spokesperson. (I’m sure referring to the river as “its” might be an issue for some, but I don’t know what gender it prefers so I’ll keep things neutral.) I’m not sure how the spokespersons were chosen, but I already see a problem. How do they know what the river wants? What if the spokespersons have conflicting interpretations of what is best?

How long will it be before someone is in court arguing that they are more qualified/have the right to speak for the river? Seems a little ludicrous to me.

Was this a stunt to raise environmental awareness? I hope so. For me though it still raises some disturbing issues as to the worldview accepted by the New Zealand parliament.

If a river, or any other inanimate object, can be arbitrarily given personhood, then what does that say about personhood? That persons are unique, created in God’s image, would seem to be an important consideration. I understand the desire to protect the environment. But this is overkill. I would expect that there will be unintended consequences to this decision.

If a river is a “person” does the criminal law apply? Or civil? Should it flood its banks in the spring thaw, can it be held liable for damages? And if not, why not?

In the same vein, if someone throws trash into the current, can they be charged? Not with littering or pollution but attempted murder? Why not? Though it would be interesting to see how you prove the river is alive or dead.

Environmental regulations are a fact of life and for the most part a good thing. Giving a river personhood is just silly. In saying that do I run the risk of the river suing me for libel? ‎


One comment

  1. Animism (from Latin anima, “breath, spirit, life”)[1][2] is the world’s oldest religion. Animism teaches that objects, places, and creatures all possess distinctive spiritual qualities.[3][4][5][6] Potentially, animism perceives all things—animals, plants, rocks, rivers, weather systems, human handiwork, and perhaps even words—as animate and alive.

    Animism is the oldest known type of belief system in the world that even predates paganism. It is still practiced in a variety of forms in many traditional societies.[7] Animism is used in the anthropology of religion as a term for the belief system of many indigenous tribal peoples,[8] especially in contrast to the relatively more recent development of organized religions.[9] Although each culture has its own different mythologies and rituals, “animism” is said to describe the most common, foundational thread of indigenous peoples’ “spiritual” or “supernatural” perspectives. The animistic perspective is so widely held and inherent to most animistic indigenous peoples that they often do not even have a word in their languages that corresponds to “animism” (or even “religion”); the term is an anthropological construct.


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