Monday, June 13, 2011

When a hunter thinks like a vegan - Part II

It's been nearly a month since I wrote my incredibly depressed post about the hopelessness of mankind, and I've started to reach some helpful conclusions since then.

In case you missed that post, here's the short version: My admiration of hunter-gatherers for their balanced relationship with nature had been decimated by my realization that even when we were all hunter-gatherers, we as a species were constantly seeking more, more, more. The role model I had discovered when I started hunting was, it turns out, just an early version of our modern raping-and-pillaging selves.

Having been thinking like that for quite some time, I found myself desperate to get back on an even keel, because depressed self-loathing is ... well ... depressing.

One of the things that's been helpful is a book I bought a long time ago, but hadn't read yet: Adventures Among Ants.

I'd hoped to finish the whole book and review it here, but quite honestly, there are some days when the author loses me, so I'm not done yet. Reading it is like having a conversation with an incredibly nerdy scientist - he alternates between being really engaging with his passion for the topic and being so detailed that I lose interest.

Nonetheless, I have picked up some fascinating insights. For example: Marauder ants will kill other species of ants that dare to get in their way, but they will not eat them. Instead, they set the other ants' carcasses aside and cover them with dirt.

Sounds remarkably like a burial, doesn't it?

Another thing I know is in this book, though I haven't gotten to it yet, is that leaf cutter ants are farmers that have created monocultures, and they're starting to have problems, such as disease, associated with monocultures. This, of course, sounds a lot like a problem human farmers have.

See where I'm going with this?

I don't necessarily believe that ants are on a parallel course with humans. It seems clear to me that we have screwed up the planet far more than ants ever will, though I acknowledge that may be a function of my unavoidably human perspective.

Even so, reading this book has been a helpful reminder to me that we are not alone on this planet in terms of having organized societies and the problems (and quirks) that go with them.

And that notion got me thinking the other day: One of the things we talked about in the comment thread of that first post was the notion that perhaps we're doing what we're supposed to do - that our trajectory as a species that battles with nature, to nature's detriment, is inevitable.

I reluctantly believe that it is. But here's the thing: I've come to believe that any other animal species would do the same if it had the same staggering brainpower that humans have, relative to other species.

Think about it. Is there a single animal on earth that will not jump at the chance to exploit a resource to the fullest extent?

Example One: Hank loves to tell the story of a whitetail doe he killed in Wyoming. She was the fattest deer he'd ever seen, because she had found a farmer's alfalfa field and just plopped down in that field day after day, stuffing herself. (The farmer, by the way, was grateful that Hank put that to an end, and Hank was grateful to make a venison sausage that required no additional fat.)

Example Two: Our cat Harlequin loves hunting, but she can't resist the bowl of easy food that awaits her in our house - she'll eat everything we put out for her.

Example Three: A couple years ago I went pheasant hunting on a sheep farm and I was appalled at the destruction coyotes had wrought. A lot of sheep were giving birth to lambs at the time, and we came across a heart-rending sight: one day-old lamb draped across another, stashed away in the cattails. The farther we went on our hunt, the more carcasses of all sizes we found. Judging by how many were still encased in their own skin and wool, it was obvious the 'yotes weren't even hungry - they just couldn't resist the easy kill.

It is a basic fact of life that each and every one of us survives by taking advantage of resources around us, and the better we are at doing that, the more we will do it - even if it's unnecessary or even detrimental to ourselves.

Normally, nature's system of checks and balances does a pretty good job of limiting this behavior: Exhaust your food resource? You starve to death. Eat too much? You become a desirable food source for someone else.

The fact that other animals haven't exploited the earth as ruthlessly and selfishly as we have isn't a function of any sort of nobility or wisdom; it's a function of not having the brainpower to thwart nature's checks and balances as successfully as we have (so far).

Strangely, this line of thinking is starting to make me feel better. Why? It's partly because while our path as a species is destructive, it's actually entirely consistent with the biological mandate of every living thing on earth: Exploit your environment to the fullest extent, grow strong, and multiply. Or, die out and become nothing more than a fossilized memory.

It's also partly because of the last comment I got on the original post on this topic, which came from someone named Jessica:

I guess the only consolation I have is, at least you care. At least you feel the tension between who we are and what we've become. So what's underneath all our civilization - what is the real, true truth about us? That we're not meant to live out of harmony with nature?

If that's true, then every time you do something for the natural world, you're committing an act of beauty. And while it might not stop our human trajectory, it's still, well, beautiful. Maybe because it's so hopeful, and so selfless.

So you probably do beautiful things all the time, and encourage other people to think about who we really are as humans. And that's a good thing, right?

Jessica's words echoed some of the points made by other commenters on that post, but it came at a point in my thinking when it was exactly what I needed to hear.

Maybe her point is, in fact, the case. If it is, then there are a lot of us out committing such acts any way we can, from the vegans who want to minimize harm caused to other animals on their behalf, to the environmentalists who donate their time and money to fight environmental devastation, to the hunters who participate in a system that supports habitat for animals while providing an amazing alternative to factory-farmed meat.

These things may not change the outcome of humanity's impact on the earth and its inhabitants, but there is, at least, some nobility in the effort. It's certainly more than our biological mandate requires. Perhaps any species with comparable brainpower would do the same.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011


Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

"[T]here is, at least, some nobility in the effort." And that may be about the best any of us can do.

Josh said...

Holly, for me, you've hit the nail on the head. And if you haven't yet, read "A Sand County Almanac". And if you have, read it again (just because it's so good).

Leopold says (I'm paraphrasing) that there IS something new under the Sun: when the last dodo was killed, we didn't care a whit. But, by the time we got to the last passenger pigeon, we knew something horrible had just happened. We care, now.

The Biblical story of Adam also pops into my head from time to time: in addition to caring, we are meaning-makers. Just as God told Adam to name everything, we make meaning by observance (heck, on the quantum level we make REALITY by observing). Our place on this world is unique, it comes from the responsibility borne by consciousness.

We also have wild powers. Incredible powers. And we can use them.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Tovar: I think I can accept that.

Josh: I have read it, but it was the first hunting book I read, and I have no doubt I'd glean much, much more from a second reading. But first, I'm going to keep plugging away at Ants and probably plow through that religion book you recommended to me.

Ingrid said...

Question on the coyotes: Are you positive they weren't caching their food? Coyotes are known to store food for later eating. It's a common behavior in wild and captive coyotes.

Hil said...

You know Holly, I have never met another hunter who gave this much THOUGHT to everything. You fascinate me, lady. I come from an evangelical Christian perspective, so in my view I have little to agonize over. God told Adam he had dominion over the animals, and that's it for me. I don't question it or think too much beyond "well, we're humans and they're animals and we're in charge of managing them sensibly." So for me, coming in here and reading your explorations of things I never give second thought to is very eye-opening.

Totally with you on the exploitation thing. Nature is messy and downright savage, as you know. Look no further than the coyote example. There are also plenty of documented cases where wolves have been known to kill for pleasure. Not for food to eat or to store for later. Just killing because they're killers and that's what they do. Imagine how brutal THAT society would be if they had the brainpower that we do.

Anonymous said...

Since I read this post last night, Josh quoted the passage of a San
County Almanac that came to mind for me too. I believe Leopold and Josh are right, and we are the first species to reach a point when we conceive of restraint.

A group of whitetail deer on an island (such as Angel Island a few decades ago) will literally eat every morsel of food and procreate until they have utterly exhausted their resources and starve the entire herd. Coyotes released in the same population wouldn't think for a second of eating the last deer if they could.

We are, in our way, just following nature, but have reached a point of being too successful. The good news is, we seem to be realizing it. The conflict you are having within yourself is being played out, as you suggest, in millions of ways by people who want to make the next step. What that step is a matter of some debate. I do think that this represents an entirely new phase of evolution, and there is no single path forward, nor should there be.

Will this new found awareness take hold soon enough against the desires of the wealthy nations and the birth rate of the poorer ones? I don't know. But it gives me hope.

~Neil H.

Anonymous said...

Did I just post that to an English teacher without proofing it? Ouch. Sorry, in a hurry.


NorCal Cazadora said...

Ingrid: I thought that when I saw the lambs draped over one another, but there were literally 100 dead sheep scattered across an area of maybe 1-2 acres. Pretty sure they were thrill killing. Which gives me some comfort about the human hunters I don't understand - the ones who love the kill and the hunt and don't give a whit about, or even try to eat, the meat. I don't like it, but it's not without its parallels in the rest of the animal kingdom.

Hil: It's a combination of the raised-by-atheists thing and the coming-to-hunting-in-middle-age thing. While some people find both of those things horrifying (and I do wish I'd started hunting as a kid), I do really enjoy the journey.

I'm really interested in learning more about the dominion thing as well. My instincts tell me the concept is salve for our shame at having turned our kin into our slaves. But I also think it can promote a sense of stewardship for the animals we've made into our dependents. There's a pro-animal rights book called Dominion that's had a pretty powerful influence, and I want to read it, but I really need to get past my gut dislike of the hands-off-animals approach to life.

Neil: LOL, I don't know that I have THAT much hope. I still suspect we will eventually collapse under the weight of our own "success." But wouldn't it be awesome if we figured out how to check ourselves first? I think a huge obstacle, aside from the billions of people whose primary concern is living their own lives, is the intense debate over what constitutes more respectful living.

And good Lord, don't worry about the proofreading, especially in comments. I generally shut off my inner editor in this stuff.

Richard Mellott said...

As one who started hunting at a young age, I had many quarrels with myself, as I grew up, as to whether what I was doing was cool and correct. When I hunted as a teenager, I was the first hippie many of the people I'd hunted with had actually met. My long hair was off-putting for some, until I sat next to them in the blinds, or walked the fields.
I gave my dad my guns when I turned 15, got them back when I got to be sixteen, and was a vegetarian for a short time. Later, I went hunting with my Dad again, in my new home in Wyoming. I got my first deer. He left me my guns again. I also hunted with him in Utah a few years later.
Lots of time passed, and I ended up fishing first, then hunting again, with borrowed guns. I started back hunting in serious last summer, and have been replicating my original gun collection.
What I'm trying to show is that not all people take a straightforward path into hunting, and many take time to think about what they're doing, ethically and morally, when they take the life of a wild animal.
It's your fate to live an "examined life," and to constantly question your own actions. It isn't a slam dunk, strictly life of the father passed to the offspring. So, enjoy the thought process, and know that you aren't alone. There are plenty of us who worry about the path humans are on, and our part in the process. I'm just glad to be counted among those who make conscious choices about their lives.

Ingrid said...

On the coyotes again, you know I spend a lot of time with wildlife and am intimately aware of the harshness of predator-prey relationships. So, I don't shy away from those realities.

But I think it's important to defend coyotes, because they get such a bad rap to begin with. Honestly, that seems like an awful lot of killing for coyotes -- without eating any of the carcasses. Where were the wounds on the sheep? Were any of the stomach contents/abdomens eaten? Was there any coyote scat in the area?

In my experience, it would be unusual for coyotes to behave in this way, with this massive of a killing. Domestic dogs, however, DO kill for fun. And their trail of carnage is often blamed on coyotes or wolves . . . which further fuels the coyote/wolves hatred . . . which then leads to some of the atrocious and cruel things people do to wild canines.

Were there domestic dogs in the area, or was there the potential for free-roaming dogs? Are there coyote-hunting dogs in the area? Dogs will tend to leave the carcasses scattered, so it is still a possibility that these weren't coyotes doing the damage.

It seems the species we've domesticated in our image are by far the worst offenders when it comes to gratuitous killing. I just have a tough time thinking this was the work of coyotes as I've come to understand them.

I will, however, ask a few people I know in the wildlife field, if they've ever witnessed this type of destruction by coyotes -- without any sign of the prey being used for food by same coyotes.

Our behavior is not without its parallels in nature, obviously, we are animals of nature as well. But some of the correlations aren't necessarily equivalent. I'm leery of tenuous comparisons that justify our bad behavior when, in fact, we do have the capacity and consciousness to change some of those things quite easily.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Oh, don't get me wrong, Ingrid. I think sheep are famously stupid, and I have nothing against coyotes. I recently interviewed an author from Montana and we talked at some length about the bad rep coyotes get, and our distaste for coyote hunting. He lives on a ranch, and he said he's noticed that coyotes don't tend to become a problem until we choose to do battle with them.

NorCal Cazadora said...

And Ingrid, I finally said something nice about vegans, and all you comment on is the coyote line? I'm hurt!

Jessica said...

Well, thanks. I think my thinking there probably came partly from a conversation I was having with some friends about Fahrenheit 451. (Which, yes, might be either phenomenally dorky or insufferably hipster-ish, depending on your perspective.) We kind of touched on how we might become so immersed in technology that we lose contact with nature, and simultaneously lose contact with part of ourselves. And after that, we don't feel anything anymore.

So we have these big brains and the ability to make all this technology to make life easier, but in the long run, our dependency on it can hurt us--and we see clearly that it hurts our environment. And even if that's somehow our biological--or biblical--mandate, I think there's still something tragic in it. You know?

Anyway, when we act against the destruction of nature, I agree, that's a noble and just thing to do.

Thanks! This has been really fascinating.

Ingrid said...

The truth is, even if you hadn't said this (about feeling hurt) I was going to re-post to apologize for focusing on the coyote thing. I don't know if your comment is laced with any sarcasm (hard to tell without those blasted emoticons!) But you're right: you don't owe it to me or to anyone to give up certain points. You could well hang on to your own point of view without ever entertaining other perspectives. And yet, you do and did (entertain them). And it appears to have gone entirely unappreciated by me. I'm very sorry about that.

You, more than almost anyone I know (especially in a field like hunting) have shown so much respect for my point of view. And you've entertained countless challenges when you could have -- as most bloggers seem to -- either censored dissent, or used ad hominem attacks to stifle opposition. You've actually reconsidered certain points based on your changing frame of reference. That's more than I've done from my end, resolute as I sometimes appear to be in my stance.

So, with utmost sincerity: sorry. I wouldn't be here if you were anything other than the person I describe above (yeah, your fairness could be a curse). And I'm truly remiss in not acknowledging that more.

Now, back to the coyotes . . . :)

NorCal Cazadora said...

Just giving you a hard time, Ingrid. This just cracked me up because I thought you'd see that vegan line and appreciate that I wasn't lumping y'all into the fantasy world I complain about. (I know, I really should use "animal rightist" in those discussions, but there are so many animal rightists who are total hypocrites - eating meat - so I focus on vegans, who at least try to walk the walk.)

As for the sheep: It was three years ago and I didn't look for other signs. I know domestic dogs can be bad too - my dad had a dog that got into the neighbor's sheep once, and without a word, Dad shot him and buried him. That's the only thing that makes me wonder about the dog thesis - there's an ethic in the country that demands that kind of reaction.

That said, if I were the farmer, I'd be sitting out at night armed with night vision scopes, kicking some ass. (I will kill to protect me and mine.) But then again, I'd never raise sheep. Goats are more useful, tougher, smarter and tastier.

Josh said...

One more vote for goats here!

Ingrid, I appreciate your comments, and yes, dogs can do a lot of damage and often get away with it. However, the point about coyotes, and all species besides people, isn't that they kill for sport (they do, sometimes), but that, if a coyote had seen one lamb out there, and it was the last lamb on Earth, it would have eaten it and thought nothing of it.

We, as a species, have something in us that finds that sad and, when humans do it, wrong. We even try to stop it when it is happening in nature.

For example, sea otters are not "allowed" in Southern California, in part because of the impacts they will have on endangered abalone species. Their presence would probably create something called a predator pit, where natural predation maintains an insustainably low prey population, leading eventually to extinction.

Ingrid said...

Holly, you still deserve those kudos. And Josh, great points. Here's what I wonder though -- something we can't know for sure. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Humans have thrown the balance off so dramatically, we don't know what the system would look like without us in it. For instance, I've been photographing a colony of Caspian Terns up here. I absolutely love terns, to me they are magical birds and I'm elated when I find some to photograph. But in many parts of the Northwest, they are not popular because, as you and Holly suggest, they are exploiting an available niche: salmon smolt. Almost every tern I've photographed, returning to the colony with food, is carrying a juvenile salmon. The Caspians are much studied for this reason.

So, yes, the Caspian terns are doing this, and they would fish as long as they are hungry. But I just can't believe that absent the quality of greed, that any other predator would do what we've done in terms of upsetting ecosystems. When need drives behavior, the outcome is entirely different than when greed is the driving force. And I do think that for the most part, other animals operate out of need. Am I wrong about this?

Terns would not be having a significant effect on salmon were salmon stocks not overfished by humans and damaged by dams and habitat destruction to begin with. And, were terns allowed to nest in former habitat that no longer exists, instead of being forced into areas where predation on salmon is a natural for them, their impact might be less.

I mean, okay -- if a wolf were given human thought, power and motivation, would he do the same thing? Sure. Because then he'd be human! (lol) But I think there is something unique to the destructiveness of our species in its unchecked state. And simultaneously, I think it's worse because we do have the capacity for conscious thought, for culinary choices, and behavioral choices where I'm not sure, say, an Osprey does. His diet must be fish, as must a tern's.

Because these animals simply won't acquire those qualities we have as humans, I think it's fair to lay a disproportionate amount of blame on our species since we cause a disproportionate amount of damage.

NorCal Cazadora said...

I think you're making my point here, Ingrid. Yes, I think any species with the brainpower we have would exploit with the same level of detrimental outcome that we have. Our survival instincts demand that we do so, and our rational thought is VERY, VERY BAD at overriding instincts. (If thoughts could overcome instincts, AIDS would have never caught hold, because everyone would've slapped on condoms, every time they had sex, the minute we found out it was a sexually transmitted disease.)

But I don't think we can say that our destructiveness is unique given that we are the only ones on the planet at this moment - that we know of - who have the intellectual and physical capability to do what we've done. All we can say is that we're unique because we're unique, which is pretty circular.

And I totally agree that we can heap most blame on our species. I find it bitterly amusing that we raise plants and animals with an unnatural degree of protection that allows them to flourish unnaturally, then get pissed of when other wild things want a piece of that yum yum. We grow great crops and get angry when the insects come. We raise fat sheep and get mad when the coyotes come. Ridiculous!

Ingrid said...

Not quite the same point. I don't necessarily believe any species with the brainpower would do what we do. It would have to be a species with identical motivations, characteristics, too. But again, that would make them human -- not a distinct species that just happened to have equal brainpower.

The point you were making, I thought, is that if any species were given POWER to exploit the planet, they'd do exactly the same. That is, if humans were removed from the food web, that some other predator would fill the niche in the same way we have. I'm not sure. It would depend on their motivations (again, greed, etc.) I don't think you can say that any species that would acquire our brainpower would also be motivated by those negative qualities. I don't think one presupposes the other, even though we're talking in hypotheticals.

In fact, you can look at different human cultures, peaceful throughout history (certain tribes, for instance) where the brainpower is clearly identical and intact. But the drive to destroy isn't there. I don't believe that exploitation to the point of destruction is a natural state of affairs.

The thing I might argue is that our behavior is far more similar to pathological organisms. Cancers, viruses, bacteria will replicate and overtake unchecked the way we do. Perhaps that's the most accurate comparison. I think we're actually top level pathogens, not top level predators. I would agree that any pathogen would exploit a niche as furiously as we do.

Perhaps we are, in fact, mutating to adapt. Clearly, some of us have not adapted to the human-eat-human world as well as other. ;)

Anonymous said...

Josh, count another vote for the goat! I'm not a fan of cows, both eating them and what they do to a landscape. Goats are, by the way, the number one meat animal on the planet, and don't need a grain-heavy diet to do it.

Holly, Glad I could amuse you. Alas, I don't think everything's going to be kittens and sunshine for the human race. We have some major problems, the top three of which are population, population, and population. Try to address it in a real way and you will run into all sorts of cultural and political opposition on all sides. Add a system in the developed world largely predicated on constant expansion and you have a ship that's pretty hard to turn around. So I am afraid that the correction is likely to be the types of checks you can read about in the ecology section of your hunters' safety booklet.

I sometimes feel that I should be more proactive in dealing with these issues from an organized, activist standpoint, but in reality I don't. I do try to live my life simply in a way that fits my values. Many others are doing the same in their own way. Is this enough? Ideally we can mitigate the effects of humanity on the natural world while this sorts itself out, and preserve as much of the wild as we can.

We're fortunate to be able to enjoy a corner of the world where we still have lots of options, and I do hope we use those options wisely.


Rabid Outdoorsman said...

You forgot about the fact that from REALLY high up in a building people look like ANTS! :)

Oh and your "taking advantage or resources" reminds me of how long it take my friends to clear out my beer fridge, despite the fact they have already had WAY to much.

Teasing, great stuff, very thought provoking and a nice read.

Josh said...

Ingrid, I love your comments! Yes, I agree we deserve a disproportionate amount of blame. Thank God we also have a vastly disproportionate amount of compassion and consciousness in the animal kingdom, too.

I will give you two examples of "predator" pits. Golden Eagles are the main cause for the possible extinction of the Santa Rosa kit fox. We started it, yes, but if left unchecked, the golden eagle will finish it.

Another example is deer and vegetation on Angel Island in San Francisco bay.

Species naturally go extinct every year by consumption or habitat impacts from non-human species, I'm sure. In other places, predation is kept in check by evasion & defense - mechanisms built through aeons of "relationship-building" among species. Starvation and disease run rampant through natural communities. Our compassion for ourselves pushes us to end these within our own system, and our compassion and curiosity draw us to understand and better manage the world around us.

It is not our animal selves that keep us from destroying the Earth, it is something greater than what other animals have been given: namely, as Leopold would call it, a land ethic. We do have powers (both ethical and physical) that transcend the animal kingdom in which we were raised.

burntloafer said...

Just an interesting aside; until less than 100 years ago, people who were agrarian tended to be both shorter and less healthy than hunter-gatherers.


Thanks Holly, for addressing these issues - it is not an easy task.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Ingrid: Then that is our difference of opinion on this subject. I believe any species that's programmed to exploit its niche would do the same - it is simply what happens when you thwart checks and balances (much like pigging out is a survival strategy that can kill us in our era of hyperabundant useless calories).

Also, sadly, while I still admire hunter-gatherers and appreciate the wisdom within their tribes and bands, they are still the same humans we are, vulnerable to the allure of the free lunch, even though we know there is no such thing. (And even if they're not falling for the Big Free Lunch Trick, they almost always lose to the agriculturalists anyway, by force or by habitat loss.)

Neil: Agreed. I believe we will be the makers of our own end, and I'm betting on a new, highly antibiotic-resistant superdisease. I'm hoping it will target the greedy and leave the wise to start over, but I'm not banking on it.

Rabid: Excellent metaphor on the beer!

Josh: Your optimism may be completely insane, but I like it anyway.

Burntloafer: The book that dragged me into hopelessness (the topic of the original "hunter thinks like a vegan" post) was "Health and the Rise of Civilization" by Mark Nathan Cohen, which is on exactly that topic. It wasn't the thesis that upset me - I'm quite convinced agriculture has been bad for us on the whole. Rather, it was the knowledge that our species has always been on a trajectory in which we create increasing numbers of means to thwart nature's controls.

Ingrid said...

No, Holly, you're right about an organism exploiting its niche. Will organisms other than humans exploit to the degree we do, beyond the point of satiation? That's what I question. I guess that depends on their reproductive success. The more organisms, the greater resources consumed for satiation. We are clearly over-consuming, to the point of gluttony, even for our numbers.

Josh discusses unchecked systems and I guess that's probably the core issue whether it's humans or others. We're, basically, a species unchecked by normal constraints. The natural world of predator-prey may just appear more sane and balanced to me (cruel though it may also be) because there are, indeed, checks in place. It's awful for me to watch a crow raid a nest (as much as I love and admire crows). But in the next instance, a Cooper's Hawk raids the crow's nest and the cycle maintains some equilibrium, usually, absent our intrusion.

We've managed to battle and transcend so much of what would have thinned our own herds. So maybe my stance is moving closer to your original point. That is, would any other organism, given the capability to do so, fight for its own preservation the way we do? I'd have to answer, probably, yes (putting aside the real examples of natural altruism).

What changes the equation for me, and what makes it more difficult for me to rationalize this trajectory, is the fact that, along with this ostensible "brainpower," we have, as Josh says, ethics, or at least the capacity for them. We have morality, choice, and conscience. We're not sure how many of those qualities are inherent in a raptor's choices, for instance. I can only determine this for my own species. And, I can argue that our behavior actually goes against the natural order -- since the natural order of human cognition seems to be the capacity to behave differently. Is that a hopelessly obscure comment? What I mean is, perhaps "natural" for is us not behaving in the exploitative ways, precisely we were given the capacity to behave differently.

Kevin said...

Great post Holly, begs the question, do we call it greed because that's what it is, or is it simply a survival instinct that we've over analyzed and labelled as a result of our human linguistic abilities?
Whichever it is, the more evolved instinct seems to be the one that can proactively recognize that greed is unsustainable and must be put in check.
Thanks for the deep thoughts. ;-)

NorCal Cazadora said...

Ingrid, we're a species unchecked by normal constraints because we have the ability to thwart them. I think any species, given that ability, would take it.

Of course, none of this makes me happier about what we're doing here. It's bad, no doubt about it. But it does help me understand why we're doing it, and why we seem to have such a hard time stopping.

Kevin: Overanalyze? Me? No!!!! LOL

Josh said...

I think that the evolutionary tool that keeps people in check is ethics. It don't always work - but then again, the largest mass extinctions on this planet occurred aeons before our genetic line.

The balance of nature is an illusory description we've given to it, and that illusion is fed by our desire for things like symmetry and balance. Nature has no balance, except for that balance we enforce as the biggest brains on the block.

Ingrid said...

:: Holly said: we're a species unchecked by normal constraints because we have the ability to thwart them. I think any species, given that ability, would take it.

But, as Josh also said, we also have capacities in place to thwart our rapacious inclinations. And some of us appear to be able to use those faculties.

If we don't use the "natural" abilities we were given as a counterbalance to our power (ethics, etc.) I'm not sure we're actually acting as we're "supposed" to. A philosophical argument could be on that level.

I make this point only because, again, I think those types of justifications of our exploitative ways can be harmful. They seem to affirm that our one and only destiny is to be riding in the handbasket to hell we've created. I disagree with that. It's why I asked about a sustainability model at Tovar's blog -- because although we are clearly a species and planet in serious, shoulder-deep crap, I still think it's important to have a model one can compare against as an ideal -- something to work toward, even if we fall short.

I mean, 90 percent of San Francisco Bay's wetlands and estuaries are gone. But the amazing restoration going on of the parts that are left, salt ponds, etc., would not be happening if those involved just said, oh to hell with it, 90 percent is gone, we're effed. I share your pessimism but I don't share the resignation, I guess. I've worked on habitat parcels of a few acres that support an amazing diversity of wildlife. I think a lot of solutions to global calamity begin in such small packages.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Ingrid, I don't think I have tried to justify what we do, or to say we shouldn't try to correct our course, just because we're following a biological mandate. I think it's extremely clear that I believe it's important to have an honorable relationship with nature, both personally and as a species.

But I refuse to wallow in self-loathing. Sitting around self-flagellating because we are an imperfect species is a distraction. I will not succumb to it again, so please don't keep throwing it in my face.

Ingrid said...

Dear Holly, I'm very sorry. I didn't see that my comments were coming across this way, and I seem to have misread the tone of our discussion entirely. I apologize sincerely. I have respect for your position vis a vis nature. I honestly thought I was suggesting hope and optimism for our species. But I clearly mucked that up and, instead, came across as offensive. For that I am sorry. You've allowed me to challenge your views and your good graces on probably far too many occasions. I should have drawn a line before this point.

NorCal Cazadora said...

It's probably just me, Ingrid. I just don't want to go back to all that hopelessness.