The Species who would be King
Humans rule Planet Earth. Much like a King who is ‘master of all he surveys’, the human dominance of the third rock from the sun is complete.
And yet the human monarch is not content. His desire for control has yielded circumstances which now threaten the lives of all denizens, and the changes to the living system brought about by humanity have often not been benign. You may be opposed to the use of the male gender to typify humanity, but dominance is a typical male characteristic, as opposed to the inherent nurturance of the female of the species. There are exceptions on both sides, but the principle is sound as a rule of thumb, because when women do get into positions of power, they seem to behave much like men, almost like men have set the ideal. The need for control is part of the problem, a cancer deep inside the human condition, fraught with insecurities that drive human behaviour towards larger and larger security blankets, these provided at the expense of other humans and the living environment. By now, one would think that intelligent creatures would have learnt that dominance is not sustainable nor desirable in an interdependent living system, but the insecure ones seem unenlightened by what seems obvious to those who think even for a moment about these issues.
When scientists warn of the warming of the atmosphere, the destruction of the forests, the over fishing of the seas, or the chemical poisoning of our water and air, the lauding of our technological progress seems a little empty. Empty because just slightly more than 15% of the planet’s population are benefited by technology, and the advances are paid for by the rest of the planet’s population. The price, I am sure they would say, is too high.
But there is a further consequence that few humans seem to be mindful of – the effect the human species has had on the rest of the animal kingdom. I say ‘the rest of the animal kingdom’ a little tongue in cheek, because most humans see themselves as somehow ‘above’ the animals, more important, special. Merely by virtue of the expansion of human civilisation, the freedom of the plains and forests has been reduced to smaller and more constricted zones where animal existence has become tenuous due to scarcity of resources and their having become easier targets.
The injunction to ‘go forth and multiply’ should perhaps have included the rider, ‘but not so much that you cripple the planet’. Too late, it seems, to consider an addendum.
Some people believe that the demise of a species here and there is a function of the system, a necessary process that weeds out the weak, and therefore makes the whole stronger. Why then do we not apply the same rule to other humans? Why, when there is famine in yet another country, do we not say ‘the system sorts the wheat from the chaff’ and leave it at that? We do not leave them in their state, even if self-imposed, because they are human, and that, we say, is sufficient. This is nothing more than speciesism, the idea that one species should be favoured above another, the defence of one’s own species, wrong or right. Patriotism puts on a new hat, and still it looks shabby…
No other species has figured out how to tame and use fire and utilise heat in technology; yet we seem to think the best use of this ability is to hurt others in pursuit of domination. And it never occurs to us that the need to dominate is an insecurity; it is a property of weakness, not strength.
No other species has the capacity to understand global causes and effects, and measuring and the consequences of our utilisation of the resource base on the planet; yet we seem determined to destroy our own living environment. So much for our 'intelligence'...
No other species conceptualises and discusses ethics and yet we seem unable to work out ways of living at peace and harmony with each other. Which makes me wonder whether we know anything about ethics at all.
No other species writes poetry and composes music, but we seem to invest this ability mainly in celebrating how wonderful humans are or lamenting the human condition, making art a vehicle for self-indulgence. Curiously, little is written or performed about other species. Art that is self-absorbed is not only self-limiting, it is pitiful.
No other species has religion. We have imagined ourselves to be the 'raison d'etre' of existence, which is absurd given the scale of the universe, whether in terms of space or time, but also quite silly given the very short period we have been around. The Dinosaurs lived for about 135 Million years; in comparison our 200 000 years is hardly significant. There are more than 4000 religions in the world, and their believers all think their world view is 'right'. It's more likely that out gods and spirits and demons and all the other products of our imagination are not only wrong, but delusional.
No other species has language as sophisticated as humans. Yet for the most part humans seem incapable of communicating anything more than simplistic memes and packaged ideas.
Like all other species, humans are products of their genetics and environment. They are part of the whole we call a living system, not separate from it. It is perhaps this realisation that may save humanity from the consequences of its own ignorance and stupidity.
I am often appalled by those who film wildlife documentaries and adopt the attitude of the detached scientist, the laissez-faire perspective that separates them from the very real anxieties faced by the creature being viewed. We should be disgusted if the same approach was taken in observing humans in travail, but since it is ‘only an animal’, it is okay. Have we become so flattered by our self-importance that we fail to recognise that there is a sentient being involved in this struggle?
Sentience alone is not enough, for humans claim that they are ‘more so’, being conscious of self, as if that is such a boon, and having such faculties as imagination, an ability that is sadly lacking in the great majority of the species. Humans for the most part make claims for abilities based, not on their own, but by association with the capabilities of the excellent minority.
Of course, not all humans make the distinction between animals and humans on the basis of consciousness. Others argue that intelligence is the dividing line, that since we are clearly more intelligent, we have the right to exploit the animal kingdom as we wish. The ground given for the idea that we are more intelligent is that we have risen to the top of the food chain, we have achieved a position of dominance through our inventiveness – the obvious tautology in this reasoning surely evidence of its bankruptcy. What is even more questionable however is the broad generalisation of humankind as intelligent. Many fall spectacularly short of mediocrity, the greater majority being seriously challenged. Evidence? Watch the mass hysteria at football, wrestling, or any event where national pride is at stake, or the emotional fervour at a religious meeting, and the abiding image is of creatures that do not think, but follow blindly either the advocacy of others or do what everybody else is doing. You could call it instinct, I suppose. I have not even mentioned the slashing and burning when their anger is incensed. How exactly does this denote higher intelligence? We should not look to the masses for evidence of it. If Einstein was a 9 an a scale of 1 to 10, and the animals a 1, then the majority of humanity is a 1.5, better at survival but not much else.
In addition, any truly intelligent being must recognise that when the door is opened to discrimination on the basis of intelligence, as we have with animals, why then could I not exploit other humans, since I could demonstrate, purely through more successful adaptation strategies, that I am more intelligent than other people. It will do no good to argue that ‘more successful strategies’ are not necessarily a mark of intelligence, because that was the criterion that was used to justify the human superiority argument in the first place. But we do not apply the dominance/exploitation justification to humans, because they are exempt, because they are Special.
We apply this ‘Specialness’ to all humans, irrespective of colour or creed, although there are still cultures where beliefs are maintained that certain ‘races’ are inferior, and not worthy to be called ‘human’. History records many instances where this discrimination was used as a justification for slavery, genocide and a whole host of other practices like apartheid, which ‘seemed right’ to those who carried them out at the time. Humanists would argue that all humans should have equal rights, and would pat themselves on the back for having said so. Why is it that only the human species has rights? What is it that elevates humankind to this proprietary claim and denies it to any other denizen of Earth? Is humanity not making exactly the same mistake with animals as humans have with members of other cultures? Is it because our behaviours ‘seem right’ that we continue, because it is convenient?
The claim that humans are superior goes beyond the ideas of intelligence or sentience, however. It is an attribute at the very essence of being, the world of the Spirit, many will argue, that separates us from the ‘beasts’. The assertion is that we are spirits, who exist in this temporal state, this human form, but for a moment – that in essence, we are divine, or at the very least, have divine potential. It is also an assertion that denies what any biologist regards as self-evident, that we are animals.
Strange then that humans behave so much like animals. Strange then that feral children show no discernible difference to the animals they grew up with, that the species defends it’s ‘own’ with the ferocity of any beast, that the building blocks of the biology is the same at so fundamental a level as to be unquestionable, that the social dynamics of each are so similar that they are used as metaphors to explain each other. And stranger still the degree to which humans are capable of extreme cruelty, as if they have no sensitivity to the pain and suffering of other creatures. In that sense, humans are very much like animals, in fact beyond, since humans will cause pain to animals for sport, and yet claim to have a spiritual identity. In the search for evil, look no further than homo sapiens as the perfect example of the archetype. I find it disturbing that people who engage in sport fishing, for Blue Marlin, for example, when placing a creature into a heightened state of anxiety while fighting for it’s very life, to regard this as recreation, as fun! Even more disquieting are the idiots who believe it an achievement to assassinate a wild animal from a distance or from cover with a rifle. And then there is the use of animals for experimentation and testing, torturing animals in the name of ‘benefit to humans’, only a justification if in fact animals do not matter, or are mere means to an end. How would you like it if an elitist human group regarded you as a means to and end? You mean you’ve never heard of the Corporate Machine, which treats people as if they are numbers? You don’t like it, do you? Were it not for double standards, we would have none…
Humans are children of the Prime Mover, the Creator of the Universe, while animals are perhaps children of a lesser god, subject to humanity because that’s how the Creator willed it. Or so the humans believe. It’s difficult for me to have respect of any degree for a Supernatural Entity that places sentient beings at the disposal of selfish creatures like humans to do with them whatever they will, cannon fodder, if you like, for the Divine Plan. Such an entity I will resist with all I have within me.
All the evidence for the divinity of humans is, of course, written by other humans, which already makes the claim a little suspect. It’s like the pigs writing the story of Animal Farm – we might be a little dubious of their integrity. The reason why those people who wrote of the ‘Specialness’ of humanity are so highly regarded is that they reinforce the myth and the ego of the species at the same time, while those who question the assumptions of the ‘gurus’ and ‘prophets’ are quietly disregarded, even castigated, because they fail to reinforce humanity’s illusions. Fragile egos invariably avoid hearing anything that may disturb their self-worth.
And speaking of assumptions, humanity has made the granddaddy of them all – I call it the Arrogant Assumption, the notion that humans are The Reason Why Existence Exists. Humans are therefore the ‘measure of all things’, for without humans, Being would not Be.
Humanity just took a leap from being Top of the Food Chain to the Justification for Existence itself.
Copernicus tried to make the point that we were not even in the centre of the Solar System, certainly not our Galaxy, and not even imaginably the Universe. I’m trying to make the point that in denying our animal nature, for which there is an abundance of evidence, and substituting a divinity for which there is no evidence besides ‘hearsay’, we place ourselves back in the Centre, and then claim to be humble. And we don’t think this is inconsistent?
Were we to ask an independent observer to assess the role of humanity in the history of the planet, they might well call the human species a parasite, living off the host but offering no benefit in return. If the parasites become sufficiently numerous, the host can no longer survive, having become drained of resources in feeding it’s unwanted guest. Domination is once again exposed as a stupid strategy; the human species shows it’s inherent weakness in placing ambition before balance, so fundamental an ignorance as to refute the species’ claimed intelligence.
Perhaps there is hope. Perhaps the role of Dominator could be replaced by the role of Custodian. The Custodian nurtures and balances, and sees superior abilities, not as an advantage to be pressed home, but as an opportunity to bring value to the whole, not to distribute to itself as a selfish component, but to integrate with and make the whole sustainable, as a useful component.
Then perhaps we could claim superiority – not as the aloof Ruler, separate from and above the world, but as collaborative, co-operative, cohesive, working with the problem and altering our behaviours to create a better balance, sharing the planet rather than claiming ownership, surely the pettiest of mankind’s illusions.
Perhaps then we might be worthy of our own respect.