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Homo inflatabus

by on May 16, 2015

                                                    Homo inflatabus

                                                   by Marco M. Pardi

 

Note: All comments are appreciated, read, and responded to accordingly.  The comments sections for all previous articles have been opened for use.  I will certainly look forward to your comments.

 Joy in looking and comprehending is Nature’s most beautiful gift. ” Albert Einstein.

Most of us remember our primary school organic science classes and the introduction to Carl Linnaeus’ Binomial Nomenclature.  We were treated to a dyad of Plant Kingdom and Animal Kingdom.  Eager to find our place in the scheme of things, we discovered ourselves at the apex of the animal kingdom pyramid.  There being nowhere else to go, we were atop that kingdom.  At least, on the chart.  The chart clearly showed that.  And charts don’t lie.

But then something happened.  Yes, the delivery was different from one classroom to another, but the message was the same.  We, as in Homo (Man) sapiens (the wise) were set apart from all else in the animal kingdom. In fact, we were Homo sapiens sapiens, Man the wise the wise.  Oh yes, we are flesh and blood.  But we are different, specially created by some unknowable entity and, more telling still, given “dominion over” all else on this planet.  After all, we are intelligent.  

But what is intelligence? And how do we know only we have it?  The answers were not forthcoming in those early classes.  After all, the classes were geared to learning, not thinking.  Those of us who had the opportunity looked for the answers outside the classroom, away from the text book pages we had only to memorize.  Out in the real world we took every opportunity to become, without realizing it, budding ethologists – a field I did not formally hear of until in college years later.

And so, in class, we absorbed the glib dictums, the received wisdom which told us of the Law of the Jungle, the tooth and claw, the kill or be killed, the instincts which made of every other animal in the kingdom a mere automaton reacting unthinkingly and involuntarily to biological controls.  When we discussed animal life in class we learned, in one way or another, the term animal is reserved for non-humans; bad humans “acted like animals” and being accused of that was nothing to be proud of.  When speaking of instincts we learned that humans had instincts, such as “mother love”, but more often than not the term was reserved for behaviors that were somehow less than approved.  Approved behaviors were virtues, qualities, volitional processes arising from our “higher nature”.

The best ethological definition of instinct I have used is: A species specific complex behavior pattern that must be elicited given the appropriate stimulus. An exception disproves the rule, and there are plenty of exceptions if one only looks. Do humans or other Primates have instincts? No. Do they have reflexes? Yes, but thinking quickly takes over. Some readers may – reflexively – ask, “But what about…(fill in the blank)?” Hundreds of thousands of pages have been devoted to explaining this and I will not reprise them here.

Another unfortunate meme is, Fear of Man.  Again, ethology helps us to understand that, for example, hunters by definition are omnivores with a heavy intake of meat.  As they move about in search of prey they reek of digesting meat; they signal they are looking for meat to eat.  They often try to disguise themselves with ointments simulating the musk of the animals they seek, but the larger effect is simply the obscuring of their meat eating odor.  And, upright posture is seen almost universally among mammals as an aggressive posture. Even the best intentioned nature observer signals he is looking for a fight as he walks around. 

People who see the predator take a kill and ascribe it to the violence of Nature fail to see the symbiosis of populations being held in balance.  The predator takes the old, the sick, and the superfluous young, thus strengthening the prey population.  Yet there are those who say our ability to kill anything is proof of our superior intelligence.  I’ve seen people who were dumb as a box of nails (my apologies to naildom) and were excellent killers.  

Misunderstanding our signals is common. One of my dogs was super defensive of her household.  Any guest coming in had to be seated before I could let her out to examine him.  But I always cautioned, don’t stand up – some dogs bark or sniff, mine takes a blood test.  So, there are actions one must be mindful of. On a television segment of a nature oriented program a woman journalist was seated next to a cheetah.  All was going well, until she made the mistake of raising one arm to chest level, an aggressive gesture.  The cheetah instantly attacked.  This is a dangerous problem with children, as they tend to throw up their arms when engaging with a strange non-human animal.

I could easily spot a person who knew little or nothing about horses as they approached a horse to ride.  Horses evolved escaping predators by outrunning them, not by engaging in frontal fist fights. The corpus callosum, the bundle of nerve fibers connecting the two hemispheres of the brain, is different in animals that outrun their predators. Horses have excellent side and rear vision, with lesser frontal vision; they need to be able to run forward while keeping their predator clearly in sight behind or along side.  A person introducing herself to a horse must approach one side of the head and speak gently, then approach the other side of the head and do the same. This integrates the person into the mind of the horse – a wise thing to do before attempting to mount.  Someone with no understanding of horses, who see them only as objects, will walk up and attempt to mount.

So my issue is not whether non-human animals are qualitatively different from Man, whether they can communicate with each other, whether they make tools in advance of their need, whether they engage in conceptual thought.  They do all that. Again, hundreds of thousands of pages in ethology already explain these.         

My issue is with the mysterious process by which Man separated himself from the rest of Nature.  It is too easy to look at the garbled, out of order nonsense of the Genesis account and assign it the blame. Even taking it allegorically, which would be more appropriate culturally, it still fails the title of Myth That Screwed the World.  Written thousands of years after the transitional events giving rise to and more deserving of that title, it is simply the codified post hoc justification of the process of transitioning from symbiotic food procurement to parasitic food production; it is the fabricated Authorization of Man’s removal from Nature to a place of authority over Nature, a process which had long been underway with or without imaginary divine beings.

As Man transitioned from the symbiotic food adaptation of Gathering/Scavenging/Hunting to the parasitic food adaptation of  Controlling/Domesticating/Producing he objectified the entirety of his planetary context, his biosphere. He inflated himself to a position outside of and above all else.     

It is this cognitive separation which enables us to, without thinking, develop mechanized agriculture, “factory farms” of millions of sentient non-human animals crammed together into a manmade paradigm of feed input – meat output, gestation crates for pigs and calves straight from Medieval torture chambers, abattoirs for the live skinning of dogs and cats for leather and fur products, “science lab” providers so our children in those aforementioned biology classes can each have an animal to dissect before sitting down in the school cafeteria to a meal of hamburger alongside a carton of factory produced milk telling them Elsie the Cow loves them.  Of course, Elsie, who must be kept in a constant state of lactation until she is dragged out and slaughtered for hamburger, never gets to see her own children she has been forced to produce in order to keep lactating.

It is also this cognitive separation that enables us to drill deeply into the earth, poisoning millions of cubic miles of fresh and salt water, triggering earthquakes, and burning the extracted materials while poisoning millions of cubic miles of atmosphere and killing record numbers of species throughout the biosphere.

So, we stand atop and apart from Nature? We have all heard the joke about the man who grew so fat he hasn’t seen his feet in years. Our feet, as well as the rest of us, are firmly in Nature, not on Nature.

Pardon me if I don’t swell with pride at being a member of this species.

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12 Comments
  1. Marco, what an excellent blog. Some of your points are similar to those I often think about while walking Billie.

    All this week the nearby elementary school held its end of the school year outdoor “field days,” complete with teachers shouting over loudspeakers. As the children played their games and ran races, the teachers screamed instructions and cheered them on. As I walked along the first morning, enjoying bird songs and squirrel chatter, my ears were assaulted. I could detect the noise at least .25 miles away from the source. I immediately thought to myself, “I wonder if/how much non-human animals despise us?” Perhaps this is purely anthropomorphism. At the very least, they are forced to put up with us (sadly).

    We humans wreak so much havoc upon nature that you could blog solely about this and have an overabundance of material for a long, long time. The noise pollution alone astounds me, and let’s not forget light pollution. My last neighborhood was so brightly lit 24/7 that the poor birds would sing all night long. This is not natural or normal.

    I have never once regarded myself as separate from or somehow “above” nature or non-human animals. I am not my dog’s owner; I am his guardian and caregiver. And like you, I do not swell with pride at being a member of this species.

  2. Thank you so much, Dana. When I write these posts I think of you, me, and the many like us who so deeply see Nature and appreciate Nature, and are so saddened by the misery our species brings. I’m sure people want to read solutions, and I’m trying to think of those. But it is hard to resist the feeling that our species has done too much, too quickly, to repair damage which now seems to be moving so inexorably on the momentum we gave it.

  3. It makes no sense we evolved to be the species we have become. How is it not in our DNA to nurture each other and this place that gives us life? I would say you should share this piece with as many politicians as possible but I fear there is little hope left.

    • Thank you, Mary. Gadfly that I am, I do communicate with politicians each and every day. I wonder if some have set up dedicated servers just to respond to my petitions. But I hope, perhaps naively, that my posts will circulate broadly enough to get these politicians to reconsider their base.

  4. Humans, as a general rule, suck! In the process of claiming dominion over the earth and the animals, fish and fowl upon it, we as a group have managed to destroy much of environment upon which these wonderful creatures abide. Shame on us! I keep hoping there is time to back it up, to at least slow down the ultimate destruction of our home. Mother Gaia would be most grateful, I’m sure, if the thinking part of the human population would do whatever we could to appreciate and protect her gifts to us instead of being the ungrateful brats that history has shown us to be.

    As for being superior to non-human animals, it has never occurred to me to feel superior to anything, much less a thinking, feeling being. My dog, in particular, has me trained quite well. If he wants a treat, for instance, he knows that a short walk to the corner to do his business will result in getting what he wants. He will bark or whine to be taken out, then stare at the treat container expectantly. Talk about conditioned responses!; Pavlov would be so proud.

    • Thank you, Rose. I know I come off as a pessimist, but I think the evidence supports my position that we have in fact passed the tipping point. One might say I will live long enough only to see the slide accelerate, but I am convinced that, as has happened in the past, mass extinction can and does occur in sudden spurts.

      • There’s a difference between a pessimist and a realist. Despite my Pollyanna attitude, I can see the damage already done. Mother Gaia is rebelling against the treatment she has been given by her human children, and it just keeps getting worse. The human population is already many times over more than this planet should have to support, and we can’t keep sucking out all the good stuff inside and not expect this big blue ball to deflate. That, in its simplest form, is what climate change and world pollution is all about.

        I wish you were a pessimist. That you are not makes this all the more frightening.

      • Thanks, Rose. I’ve always said there’s a fine line between depression and realism. I walk that line a lot.

  5. arev dyer permalink

    Hi Marco, I couldn’t agree more, why are the human species so determined to over rule and destroy out beautiful mother Ghia, it has only taken a short 100 years or so to get our earth to the state it is now.
    My question is “How do we change the course we are on now”?.. Governments are only interested in gaining money and control.
    Yes we can do the small but important things like recycle, plant trees…ect.ect
    But on a global scale where the majorities of people are at war, and religion is the only thing that they care about, seriously makes me so upset…I feel like screaming at the top of my lungs OPEN YOUR EYES, OPEN YOUR HEARTS, HOW CAN YOU JUSTIFY YOUR ACTIONS WITH YOUR BELIEFS.
    I try and teach my children compassion and tolerance so hopefully what they grow up in is so much better.
    My wish would be is if every parent in the world would teach there children compassion and tolorence and that spiritually is and love of self and each other is the way of the future, my god this earth and our species would change in a generation or few.

    • Thank you so much, Arev. I know I speak for all of us when I say we are so very glad you have joined in the conversation. I am in travel status now, so may be slow in responding. But I look forward to discussing solutions with you and am heartened by your message of communication with your children. Thank you again, Marco

  6. Mark Dohle permalink

    Thank you Marco, thought provoking as usual. Humans are jerks because we can be I would think. I like the questions you make conscious in me about the animal kingdom. I do think that we have the capacity for great compassion as well as cruelty. Compassion and empathy, for all of creation does need to be developed in a conscious manner. Cruelty, sad to say seems to flow without any-need to choose, it can often be mindless. For me the bottom line is how do we treat other creatures even if we may never know what goes on in their minds.

    I do think we are called to be stewards, only because of the harm we can do as a species with our ability to invent, build and to develop technology. I don’t agree with about blaming Genesis for the woe’s of the world. For me it is greed, the desire to use and not steward what we have. The will to power, our tribalism etc., causes a great deal of havoc. Animals have their own form of inner life, of intelligence, and we need to respect that.

    I doubt we will change soon Marco, but continue to speak your mind, it will cause others to think and ponder, you are planting seeds. Perhaps that is all we can do.

    I am pro-life, so I simply state what I believe about the rights of the fetus, and leave it at that. One day hopefully as a species we will grow and mature, if not, we will die because of it. We have no guarantees that we will continue on the course we are on.

    Peace
    mark

    • Thank you, Mark. I’m so glad you have time to contribute. I probably did not make clear that I do not blame Genesis for merely putting to words a process that had been ongoing for thousands of years prior. One of my central points was to illuminate our species centrism and the destruction it has wrought throughout all of Nature. I have often seen deep – and heartbreaking compassion among non-human animals. I think failure to see that is just another symptom of our centrism.

      We have evolved into parasites. And, as most parasites, will eventually either kill our host or degrade it beyond its ability to continue providing for us. I do grieve for the life, all life, that we destroy in our blindness.

      Thank you again, Mark.

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