image credit: Brent Staplekamp
image credit: Brent Staplekamp

I imagine if you were to lay Homo sapiens out upon the anthropological slab and dissect him as a species you would come up with a number of anomalies. He is an ape, yet not – we can’t be sure. He has a large brain, yet not the largest. The brains of several less versatile species are larger. His opposable thumbs have been cited incessantly as explanation for his dominance, whilst that is as likely to be explained by his upright stance and his strong tribal leanings. In large measure these are traits shared by all the greater anthropoids – the chimpanzee, the orangutan, the gorilla, and so on.

I am not an anthropologist, and this first paragraph is merely stating the patently b****ing obvious. It needs to be said, though, because apparently it is not obvious – not to a substantial slice of our kind. That strange, developed brain of ours is capable of endless self-justifications and delusions; the most poisonous of which insists that none of that first paragraph is true.

Poisonous? Well, yes, because we put that argument, in most cases, to toxic use. If we say we did not evolve naturally into our present state, but were created somehow by a superior being who – guess what – looks just like us, we can justify slaughter without conscience. We can divorce ourselves from the rest of the inhabitants of this planet and plunder their species, torture them, then finally drive them to extinction without regard to morality. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ only refers to another one of our own, doesn’t it? Animals are ‘beasts’. They have no value.

Thus it is perfectly possible to reconcile religious and moral rectitude on Sunday with a hunting expedition on Monday which might involve shooting a lion, whether or not the shooter is hungry for its meat. We can self-justify, describing the process of slaughter as a pastime, even a ‘skill’, when all we are really doing is satisfying a primitive blood-lust. Some go further; they describe this barbaric trait as ‘Sport’.

We don’t seem able to rid ourselves of a ghoulish urge to destroy. In establishing our dominance we became omnivorous. We learned to eat animal flesh when fruit and berries failed us. That was reason enough to treat a hairy mammoth like a pin cushion to bring him down, before beating his brains out with rocks, but those times are long gone. We still eat our fellow species, we still treat them in an unforgivable way. We have made some improvements, even made token gestures towards mitigating their death agonies, although, intriguingly enough, we explain our reasons as ‘improving the quality of the meat’. In the interests of ‘Sport’ though, all rules are suspended.

‘Sport’ is unique, in that it has created its own societal structure. The social elevation of the blood-thirsty is enhanced by its kill tally. Apparently a perverted status attaches itself to the trophy, to the photograph of the killer standing triumphantly over the victim. It is often considered a rite of passage. The old need for self-justification creeps back in to insist there is some sort of equality in the battle with the lion, or the charging rhino, or the mighty buffalo. Equal battle? A battalion of beaters standing close by? All those guns against a set of claws and a sense of outraged privacy is hardly a fair fight, is it, especially since we picked it in the first place?

Long ago, we as a species became lords of the earth. Infestation though we are, only Nature can unseat us, and at the last she surely will, but while we stay here we have a duty to remember we share our world with its other rightful tenants, and we should respect them, because in a time to come we may need their mercy. They would be wholly justified in showing us none.

A curious apparatus, that Homo sapiens brain. Somewhere inside it there lurks a streak of supreme arrogance that will, eventually, provide the fuse for its own destruction.

 

17 Comments

  1. Excellent post, Frederick. I agree with every word! Our species is the worst and most destructive that has ever been on this earth I would say, even though it has the potential be its saviour. That wide streak of arrogance will certainly be its downfall.

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    1. I’m afraid so. At some level we have to deserve the privileges we enjoy, a balance we signally fail to achieve. We don’t seem to be able to divorce ourselves from the instinct to plunder. Thank you for reading the post.

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  2. Only nature–or ourselves–can unseat us. Well written. I wish I was a patient of that dentist so I could quit. There’s a lot that intelligent, wide-thinking Homo sapiens can debate about ‘humanity’ and ‘free-thinking’, but this to me crosses over. The pursuit of survival has too much nobility to be ended for this reason.

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    1. It is an argument half as old as recorded time, and really no argument at all. Most creatures that kill do so for food; very few fight to the death for survival, and even fewer kill in the name of ‘sport’. To do so demeans us.

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  3. I agree for I have always thought present day ‘hunting’ heinous, and yet I enjoy eating meat. The logical conclusion would be for me to become vegetarian but I’m not ready for this step. Of course nature is cruel and difficult to understand even though we, as the dominant species, should give the others proper respect even when dog eats dog. Great piece and “food’ for thought!

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  4. First time ever I saw your space. And I think I just might stay around and have a good look. I taught – out of necessity – in a Pentecostal school. And I prepared a unit on the conservation of threatened species. And one sweet little darling (euphemism for obnoxious sod) quoted the Bible to me and said that God said we could use the animals for our own good and so if we ate all the Koalas into extinction that was God’s will. I must admit I didn’t like him much and I didn’t like his parents when they objected to the Principal about the “Fail” mark I gave him on his assignment.

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    1. It would be nice to think that those whose views are so narrowly and crudely defined might become themselves a threatened species, but it seems that with the gift of moral rectitude they can march through all life’s darkest alleys unmolested and untouched. I hope your little brat went on to even greater ignominy, I guess its more likely he’s president of a bank or something by now. Ay me!

      Thank you so much for dropping by.

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  5. Some might argue that homo sapiens are strangers in an alien world. Hard to know. No other creature goes through its existence with such universal disregard for its environment or other living beings. As I point this out, I am aware of my own contributions to that destruction — directly or indirectly.

    Historically not much has changed. We have merely improved our methodologies and technologies at reeking havoc since the Stone Age. We have become much more effective and efficient in our destructive behaviors.

    Did Swift not get it right? Is there something more to add? Was Clemens (Twain) too acerbic? Or perhaps not enough? Are the tongues and pens of a million poets, writers and philosophers any less relevant?

    As I critique my fellow “humans,” I also have to contend with the reality I am — at some level — similarly endowed in my day-to-day existence. Much of what I do I do out of rote, without so much as a thought as to how my personal footprint (carbon or otherwise) contributes to overall entropy.

    Whether endangered species, climate, or the issues closer to mind of prejudice and self-preservation (economically, politically, culturally), I, too, am a part of the problem.

    So, perhaps I am an alien. Perhaps I was spawned from seed from a billion light years away. The remnant of a civilization that has already doomed its own planets over and over again, and has never learned better. A spoiled child, sulking in the universe. Hopping from one solar system to another, looking for the next perfect place to inhabit and eventually destroy.

    Maybe, like Joni Mitchell sang out years ago, echoing the warnings and sentiments of voices long lost in the dust of time, we don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone. That we have taken Paradise and turned it into a hot flat slab of asphalt pavement.

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    1. Certainly there are some who might make that argument – you could consider it a humanist alternative to Creationism. It might even be supportable, if the differences in DNA between Homo sapiens and other species were not so small. In nature, however, disregard for environment and other living beings is the rule which ensures survival. Ants do not worry about the destruction they wreak, I have yet to hear of beavers planting new trees.

      Much that you do out of rote is merely following instinct, your own natural path towards establishing your’s as the dominant gene. It is the business of seeking justification for your actions that is unnatural; something that would not trouble other species in the least.

      In a world where the rivers of supply run free our idle brains have time to invent, and that process, so destructive in itself, has created layer upon layer of consciousness unessential to survival: prejudice, economics, politics, and culture are all sophistications of the tribal instinct that serve to make it yet more lethal.

      We are an earth-generated mechanism with no natural predator other than nature herself to control us. Thus, we are an infestation, and should we ever travel to other worlds where we are the alien intruders, we would infest those as well.

      The writing on the wall, therefore, is not good. We are destined to eat, burn and bomb our home planet into a lifeless desert unless something very real can stop us. Personally, I believe we will be stopped. The evidence seems to be that whenever in history a species has run riot after this fashion nature, or some external force like a bloody great meteor has come to the party.

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