Why Can’t We Be a Better Species?
Of all the millions of fantastic species of animals on planet Earth we are the one that seemed to rise to the top and completely dominate by force. If you ask a biologist or anthropoligist what sets us apart from the others and gave us such an “advantage” you usually will hear about our brains and our opposable thumbs. Others will say something about God’s plan and conferring upon us a soul and the power of dominion. However, even these words were recorded and passed on by our brains and hands so its still very hard to prove that the Creator of galaxies, stars and planets actually said anything of the sort in any language a human could understand. And even if He exists and did say that, we are still left with a serious chain of custody issue of the writings that were modified, translated, spoken, interpreted and handed down through the millennia by men, not God.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
Regardless of how we got here, we are objectively terrible in almost every measure including:
- How we treat each other
- How we treat other species
- How we treat the environment
How We Treat Each Other
One only needs to look at the news for a few minutes to observe atrocious behavior of human-on-human interactions. History is so full of these awful daily and hourly things that it’s impossible to separate ourselves from the reality that this is who and what we are. We war. We steal. We rape. We murder. We injure and maim. We lie. We con. We swindle. We insult. We humiliate. We deceive. We want more than we need of everything. We regularly ruin each other’s lives and often the lives of those related too. We even do this on a massive scale in times of war and atrocity rises to unconscionable levels.
You don’t need the news to know this because we all experience it personally as well, whether it’s the teenaged kid undergoing brutal shaming and cliquish shunning or peer pressure, the working adult experiencing harassment or unfair treatment, the bills we pay with ever increasing fees and prices to deliver less and worse quality to actual violence and theft. Overall, we just aren’t nice. Of course, we often have no choice but to participate in some way ourselves, even unaware at times. We’ve all done things we’ve regretted later and that regret is a partially redeeming value. It shows that deep down we know or can learn what’s right and wrong.
Almost no one is awful all the time. Within each life are moments of kindness, caring, love and respect for others. Some people can even make these the rule and not the exception. There are many good people but I’m talking about us as a species and so individuals notwithstanding, we seem to collectively suck. This has been bothering me for a long time and I have even written on the topic of humanity as a Parasitic or Invasive species. What really bothers me is I know lots of wonderful people who are kind and caring in all sorts of ways that amaze me and I just wish there were a whole hell of a lot more of them.
I don’t need to go into particular examples of terrible human on human behavior because you, dear reader, know exactly what I mean because I know for a fact you have been bombarded your entire life with examples. What I want to know is why our brains and opposable thumbs make us so awful and how can we become better or are we simply doomed, making these “advantages” our fatal flaws? As a natural optimist, I feel there is a path for us but we have to start making a concerted effort to change course or I fear we may hit a point of no return and eventual extinction or at best, dystopia.
You could spend your entire life counting the creatures who have gone extinct in Earth’s long history and not nearly finish. The Earth doesn’t seem to blink as these tiny microbial beings do there things and try their best to survive against long odds. Survival is never guaranteed. We’re always one comet or maybe one small stray black hole away from being wiped out. Nevertheless, species are given ample chances to eke out a living and often remain for millions of years which to the Earth is the blink of an eye. When they fail, Mother Earth doesn’t stop to weep but tends to her remaining children, perhaps even promoting a new species to the top of the chain.
We need to learn some lessons from other species who seem to be much more in sync with the Earth and her ways. We too often place ourselves above and outside the web of life we came from, probably because of our technology and materials we’ve created with our science and ingenious minds. From these creatures we can learn to live within our means, taking only what we need. We can learn cooperation. We can learn peacefulness. We can learn simple joy. We can learn how to simply be nicer. We’d definitely be the first creature to willfully create a miserable dystopia or to kill ourselves with cleverness.
How We Treat Other Species
Yet, as much as we can learn from elephants, whales, dolphins, bears, dogs and birds, etc. we can’t learn from them while destroying and greatly harming them in the name of dominion. I won’t sugar coat it, other species are brutal too and even the word “brutish” refers to an animal-like behavior. Yes, they live on a different plane of existence where it’s eat or be eaten and they hunt each other and kill and forage for food. But they sort of fight fair, taking only what they need but in between they seem to actually enjoy a simple life.
Anybody who has had a pet dog knows the innate kindness of a dog. The way they wag their tails and look at us and snuggle up to us lets us know we are loved by them and many of them will do anything to protect their keepers. It’s these instances of interspecies friendship that let us know we have more in common than we may think. You don’t have to search YouTube very far before you find countless examples of not only human-to-animal friendships but all manner of species showing affection from cats and owls to lions and lambs. It shows us that when the circumstances are right almost any creature can become a friend.
But these species aren’t here for our amusement. They are here to live. They are full co-inhabitants of the Earth and have fought every bit as hard to be here as we have. They have fought so hard in fact that some have evolved from sea creatures to become land creatures and then to once again become sea creatures over many millions of years. That’s not an easy thing to do and it took billions of individual struggles for survival, countless births and deaths to achieve and we should respect that legacy.
Yet here we are, the Apex Predator, using and abusing absolutely any creature we see fit for our own purposes often with not only disrespect but utter disregard of the creature’s ancient legacy, let alone its sentience and feelings. Because of our technical prowess, we have found countless ways to harm them, harass them, harvest them for food, fur and all manner of byproducts including:
- Factory farming and ranching
- Animal disassembly plants
- Factory fishing vessels
- Mega fishing nets
- Industrial habitat destruction
- Hunting (somewhat smaller scale)
- Poisoning and extermination
- Pest control
- Noise pollution
- Climate altering industries
- Animal testing and experimentation
- Genetic modification
- Food stealing
- Much more
In essence, we have turned many animals’ existence into a living hell. But there is a price to be paid for our behavior. Animals have all evolved together in a tapestry and a set of interconnected and interdependent ecosystems. In many cases they had reached a nearly perfect balance with Nature. A beautiful perfection so sublime and inspiring it is the subject of many poems and songs and other forms of expression. We too are in that web of life, whether we admit it or not and it’s like like a big Jenga tower we keep removing blocks from and already certain parts have collapsed. I believe there is a point at which the whole tower comes tumbling down and the tapestry become unraveled and irrecoverable, us included.
“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would have only four years to live.” — Albert Einstein
Whether this is true or not can be debated, but this great thinker understood well how something as small as the humble honey bee is deeply connected to our own destiny and that he was 100% right about. As we become even more industrious and powerful it is critical that we use a greater portion of our minds to understand our connections to our fellow Earthlings.
How We Treat the Environment
This is perhaps our most shameful behavior, the things we do to the environment, on a once perfect and completely sublime planet. If you’ve been lucky enough to get into a wilderness area and experience the peaceful beauty, the fragrances, the running brooks, the stunning vistas, then you have something to compare with the travesty of the human effects on the world. As part of our dominion, we seem to give ourselves a license to despoil and utterly uglify almost every nook and cranny, mountain, valley and dale humanity inhabits. No other creature even comes close.
Our species doesn’t operate with one set of rules like many others but we make them up as we go and always find ways to justify our actions against Nature, no matter how egregious. Justification, if it was even considered is followed by industrial scale actions that strip Nature of it’s prior perfection and replace it with our toxic, over the top imperfection. This is now happening on such a scale that we are actually changing the chemistry of the Biosphere we rely on in ways we don’t even fully understand and it leaves a mark of Nature-death and destruction wherever we go. This is perhaps the greatest manifestation of human hubris and one that will certainly be our undoing if not checked. What we are doing is completely unsustainable. I wrote on this topic I call Biosphere Trauma before.
These are just some of the things we do to the environment:
- Atmospheric dumping (pumping carbon, monoxide, ozone, and all manner of toxins into the air)
- Toxins and carcinogens everywhere (dumps, water and landfills)
- Uglification (turning what was once an aesthetically perfect world into a mish mash of terrible looking things in clashing colors)
- Plastification (microplastics are in every creature on Earth now)
- Overfishing (not allowing growing cycles to replenish and hurting food supplies for other creatures)
- Unsustainable farming (ruining topsoil, using pesticides and herbicides and fertilizers way too much)
- Deforestation (scraping away large swaths of oxygen produces and habitats for other species)
- Over-paving (killing swaths of land with dead zones)
- Loss of wilderness, wetlands and encroachment (not leaving large areas unspoiled by human tampering)
- Overpopulation (multiplying our numbers beyond what the Earth can sustain)
- Resource mismanagement (wasting materials that are not recycled)
- Loss of biodiversity (destroying the tapestry and web of life)
- Energy waste (inefficiently using the energy we create)
- Food waste (throwing away in some cases 1/2 of the food we use, including many “unsought” species caught up in our massive nets)
- Acidification (changing the Ph of water and soil making it harder for other species, including plants to survive)
- Mass extinction (the sum total of our actions are leading to an historical loss of many, many species every year)
This sort of behavior, so unique to our species, is truly our worst and most dangerous but all of the things I have mention are connected. How we treat ourselves is how we treat other species is how we treat the environment.
Because these are all connected to what and who we are as a species we need to then ask ourselves is this who we want to be? Can we change ourselves? What’s making us behave this way? I can only say if we don’t change ourselves not only will we deserve the fate that befalls us but we will in no way be able to stop it.
How we treat each other seems to be deeply ingrained and hasn’t changed much over the course of history. There have always been greedy, violent, mentally ill, conniving types who seem to mess it up for the good ones. Yet we have laws based on morals, mental healthcare and governmental abilities and so there is some concerted attempt to rein ourselves in and harness our better selves.
Truly, we have great potential and I can’t conclude without mentioning how great we can also be and are, at times. We have always had absolutely amazing examples of what humanity can achieve from our awesome thinkers, writers, artists, architects, mathematicians, scholars and inventors to ridiculously courageous and caring people who will risk their lives to help others or protect animals or fight for environmental justice. There are millions of these who are already actively trying to fulfill a better purpose and mission for humanity. We simply need to elevate them, support them and join them to make a turn for the better. We need to teach our children better.
However, my personal belief is that we need to start from the outside in. We need to first repair our relationship with Nature and create an environment conducive to proper civilization, in harmony with Nature and as stewards of the Earth instead of as exploiters. By doing this we will also come to a better relationship with our co-inhabitants of the Earth and look after them and all this will in turn teach us how to become better to ourselves and the whole system can come back into balance.
By doing this we would reap more rewards than all the gold in the Universe could give us because this could lead to a pleasant life of beauty and harmony from without and within. Mental health would greatly improve. Children would feel at home in the world and society would be much less fraught and obsessed with all the things going wrong and could simply enjoy all the things going right. Life as it was meant to be.