Part the first: Children with Toy Soldiers
For thousands of years we have found many ways to define humanity and its place in cosmology.
Whatever we might come up with, and no matter how complex the routes to get there,
we can always rest on the determination that in comparison to Nature, we are a little…
We have had a lot to celebrate in the last 12000 years. We developed advanced verbal, written, and gestural communication, our use of tools has grown at an exponential rate. We have used our dexterous hands and crafty ability to adapt to not only transform our environment and experience within it, but to command the very fabric of our template itself. From the theory of the four humors, to the integration of grown organs and gene therapy, we can see ourselves supplanting the Demiurge once and for all. And now in our modern age we can scream out a declaration of independence from natural law. Our wit being born of this elemental stuff has elevated to the greatest heights. Will we soon lack the need to breath? Could we finally conquer that greatest design flaw; death? We have survived our tests, we have faced our fears and let them pass through us. Here we are, the invincible species…
Of course from time to time something embarrassing might happen; A politician gets a pie in the face by a malcontent; or perhaps an earthquake levels a town. There are also the smaller individual or community events too; a pack of rowdy wolves, an ironically placed lighting strike, or even a squirrel on the tracks making you late to work. For natural cataclysms we temporarily impart to Nature’s verb an anthropomorphic pronoun in a somewhat subordinative, and slightly competitive manner.
“Mother Nature, what a fury she can be!”
Some accept the hand as it was dealt, understanding that we are but fleas on the backs of yaks, while others hide in the safety of a human cave. Muttering collectively, they work through an ill-conceived argument to condemn whomever it might be that caused such wrath from the Almighty Father. The conscious God must have reason, if we were built by God in its image, then we must have the ability to understand. We have two roads here; To understand the forces of nature to better survive it, or to understand Nature to better ascertain how it wishes us to behave. Do either of these methods produce lasting changes in us, or merely give us cause to engage in an indulging moment of contemplation in the same way we make our new year’s resolutions?
When faced with cataclysm we have an openness of self-reflection and vulnerability, the brief moment of fear and rage that initiates the “grief cycle” on a grand scale. Could a disaster transform us if we only had a chance to let the treatment take its course? I think its safe to say that the Chicago fire birthed the Worlds Fair of 1893, and consequently delivered the city into its present position of American importance. Will Katrina do the same to New Orleans? Not yet. Of course there is a big difference between those who live it, and those who revel in the spectacle. Short brief traumatic occasions that can cause a crack in the door, but the aftershock of survival tends to slam it shut again allowing us to keep a fair distance from a proper analysis of our place on earth as we argue about how we could have better tightened the bit on Nature.
We cant help but talk about ourselves. What do we collectively learn about natural disasters? Sadly as we humanize the storm we quickly turn focus to the humanities story about humans. The reaction of people to the event. George Bush hates black people? Contractors cant be trusted to spend money wisely? Being gay results in a hurricane? Our permission to contemplate living in a world that is out of our control is trampled by the need to survive, carry on, and most importantly; reassert control. Whether by blaming the responsible negligent parties who didn’t send out f16s to stop the storm or a how social liberalism was the last straw for God. In most cases we will find the fall guy at the top of some organization, but that’s the risk a leader takes. Accept the blame and the success, whether or not its warranted. Our champions and surrogate pack leaders (the famed entertainers) “raise awareness” to the suffering, and the pundits cleverly find ways in which to blend apples and oranges into a tasty intoxicating night cap to the whole ordeal. As the demisted beetles will always find a corpse, Bono will always find a fundraiser. It makes us feel as though we have control, control comes from power and power comes from… money. It is no surprise that we believe that if we can throw enough of it at a problem, the problem will be satiated and go away. Like throwing a damsel to a dragon. The need to help is a powerful thing, it justifies our continuing wars, and looks great on our taxes.
Human altering events of Nature erode our sense of dominion or stewardship. Our kick back is to protect our team spirit. We do this by insisting that we, because of consciousness, are the manifestation of universal order. This is why its so hard to accept that a hurricane is not “about us.” The Anthropic principal. Are we right? Wrong? Does it matter? “And God gave man the dominion of the earth and all the little critters within it to act as the playthings of man in the same way that man is a plaything for God” If we espouse the erroneous belief that God acts as a parent to us, and if we attribute some sort of moral lesson to the events that kill hundreds or thousands, is it such a surprise that we take these perceived punishments as tools we can use on the lessor beasts? Perhaps we were parented poorly… The funny thing is that we invented our parents. We shouldn’t be too surprised when our prayers to the heavens go unanswered. We must be content interpreting acts of God as actual God. So animals must do the same with us? Just as we cant understand divine intervention, a rabbit couldn’t possibly understand international borders.
If we were given a Cadillac and it gets wrapped around a poll, whether it was because of mechanical failure, poor judgment, or the poll just jumped out of nowhere, we make dad mad. So maybe dad decides to use some sort of logical consequence in the form of a natural one. (Our dad can do that because he is God.) This is the basic principal behind why we are so quick to take natural events and turn them into purposeful Great Flood like cleansings.
Keep in mind that this is not the sort of thing that we talk about over coffee, or even really consciously understand. These are parts of our civilization, which is pretty heavily based on the big 3 religions. Universal manifest destiny, and the Anthropic principal are born in some way or another by this ancient creation myth. One sounds good as a hero’s song, the other has fancy physics behind it. But of course that is the big picture, the one fills the universal frame. We have dual citizenship in this game. We are collective, we are individual, and we have a lot of grey in-between.
Our experiences are shared with those we have familiarity with and for most of us, barring certain abnormalities (dogs in sweaters for instance) that would be other humans. As humans, we think of the important questions of self:
What am I going to wear to the big dance?
Is this what I want to do with the rest of my life?
Should I really pay attention to expiration dates?
Where do we go when we die?
We have developed countless cultures and countless variations of the meaning behind this “self-awareness” that we have. We are but one species though, and not an example of an enumerated menagerie within a family . All of humanity is a slight variation on one theme. Because of this lonely position in Earthly life, we see ourselves as sole proprietors and benefactors of this planet. “The last one standing” complex. Is this because we have the power to enact drastic change individually? In essence, we have given ourselves, through the consent of a greater invented power, “stewardship” over all of Nature. But what have we really done with that stewardship? “I brought you into this world so I can take you right back out again!” Obviously our responsibility for the direction of Natures is highly inflated, but we can still use this misconception as a warrant to drastically overextend our self-god given rights.
This leads to guilt in some of us, and deification in others. Protagonist and Antagonist. When we developed a rudimentary understanding of the atom, we believed we would incinerate the atmosphere of earth. When we started dabbling in smashing particles many believed we would be the parents of planet sucking black holes that would not only destroy our own planet but possibly the universe itself. We should not neglect to consider; carbon footprints, strip mining, biological warfare, genetic manipulation, absolute 0, over harvesting of every kind, and of course, robots that will take over the Earth. For 12,000 years we have been driving ruts into the earth pacing and wringing our hands in a cautiously optimistic fret. Here we have the Anthropic principal playing out in justification for our own singular power, for better and for worse. We like scary movies, and we also like scary lives. The biggest justification for our “steward” badge is simply physical power. We are like children playing with toy soldiers, but kids rarely even begin to think about what plastic actually is, we are just manipulating an image of something we see as ourselves. At the end of the day, Western Civilization loves the adoration of its mother and father, but seeks to earn it by its potential for devastation. Ideas like freedom, liberty, and democracy hold no comparison to power, control, and agency. This is why weapons, as scarey as they are, thrill us to the point of sexual ecstasy.
We try to make up for our destructive nature by leaning heavily on that other great gift, compassion through empathy; whether it’s ours to assign or not. To counter what we see as bad within ourselves collectively we choose to champion equally ridiculous individual notions of “sustainability” or “going green.” Do your part! (because we know the Joneses won’t.) We choose buzz words like this because essentially they are completely noncommittal and make us feel good about the guilt. I am not advocating that we step up our logging efforts, rather I need to call attention to our unhealthy concept of dominion over nature has instituted an “us” and “them” dualism that leaves little room for a third party. It’s a sort of master/servant relationship that comes with all the wonderfully colorful trappings of our experiences enslaving ourselves. When we treat people like animals we also have to wonder why we treat animals like animals.
At the end of the day , first world nations are left with one question: Do we want to be benevolent or malevolent gods? The option that we are not gods at all rarely surfaces. This is a bi-polar arms race between perceived good and evil, another attribution of morality to a world that operates off of forces not good or ill intentions. In truth, no group actually sees itself as malevolent, but is rather forced to attribute that label to authors of an opposing movement. As soon as one evil corporation gears up to chop the top off of a mountain, a good organization will chain itself to the equipment pretending to be martyrs but really just hoping to “raise awareness” Voices are raised, angry words are said, and no biscuits are ever offered, because it has nothing to do with reaching a synthesis, it has to do with protecting the ego, and thereby protecting agency (or power). The argument is principal and community based, not individual. The drama of the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece and Rome tend to be much more accurate representations of our higher selves. The most indoctrinated, or the indoctrinators are the ones who handle negotiations, because where would we be if simple merchants discussed social conflict at Appomattox? When we see each other as people rather than advocates or team members, something strange happens.
The organizing activist and the foreman may have even exchanged a pleasant conversation about rutabaga at the grocery store down the hill only 30 minutes ago, having never known such deep dark divisive opinions were lurking in each other’s brains. Of course the role of social expectation and personal motives are hotly debated in academia, the labs of our far flung social future. Passions of ideology critical, but as many of us already have difficulty understanding the true difference between the Democrat and Republican parties, little hope can be held for reconciliation any time soon. Our fight or flight response activates and we will burn an unwitting city to the ground when our favorite team loses. (or wins in some cases.) Our greatest gift often props up our greatest flaw. As we sail down the pavement on the interstate, someone cuts in front of us to get to an off ramp, our emotions rise. Its an affront to common courtesy. Does the same thing happen once we get to our destination and out of the car? Will we meet up with the same person who made it to the store 45 seconds earlier, seeing us out of the corner of their eye will they wait patiently holding the door for us? Most likely yes. The same asshole that risks a fiery explosion on the highway will give up the time saved to help you in the door when your eyes meet. How often do you play that part? When we take contact away, we play by different rules.
These irrationally emotional responses are also heavily rooted in our willingness to take risks. Our psychological state has everything to do with who we are as a collection of people, but we often fail to see how natural the whole thing is. The difference between us and nature is not so easy to determine despite the efforts to define and categorize. In fact, the whole thing breaks down in classification, so we have to compare the animals to our higher functions. (the ones we don’t understand about ourselves at all, no wonder its so easy to be exclusionary.) It would be easier to argue that such a difference can’t exist and is strictly a psychological necessity for our own self worth, possibly even a survival instinct. Wolves pack up, we unpack consciousness. The overriding of instinct is our instinct, the paradoxical nature of this invariably produces rifts; even therapists can still trample a baby on black Friday in an effort to get some silly piece of shit at half off.
To aid in our advancement of social-instability and self-consciousness, we form arguments that require animals to serve our debates in the same way they serve the plow. Oh, and at any time, please feel free to replace the word “animal” with “slave” it’s a fun exercise, though watch out, it gets loaded at the end!
Next time we will take a peek at some of these arguments, and how we came to believe what we believe about the differences between animals and human.