Friday, October 14, 2011

What makes us so special?

You know that feeling when things just really come together in your mind? When you've been trying to learn and comprehend for a long time, but some words and statements are read or heard that just act as the glue that binds the facts you know, your interpretation of them, and your consequent emotions? I am feeling a little bit of that right now, as I am part way through reading Daniel Quinn's Ishmael. (I am, of course, waiting for my mind to be completely blown by the end of the book. I will keep you posted :))

There is a righteous entitlement that humans feel about their lives, their rights, their wants. This is so, even in the face of overwhelming evidence of ecological degradation and human health degradation because of human activities. (Read for example, Mind Games, an essay by Sandra Steingraber in Orion, which talks about neuro-developmental disorders because of chemical loading in the environment.) There are of course many characteristics that make us different or special from other species on this planet, be it language, the way we modify the environment, the way we develop technologies, the way we think about the past, and so on. But, Ishmael's point is (to the point that I've read the book), these differences do not exempt us from the fundamental processes and laws that guide all life forms and communities. In thinking we are are god's gift to Earth, thinking that this Earth was meant for human domination, for our lives, we rape it unabated to the extent that we feel we are benefiting from it.

This is something we really need to think about. I see themes of this "special" thinking in the reactions of the elite to the Occupy Wall Street movement, in the responses of the investment bankers and financiers to reform, in the responses of oil and gas executives to stricter environmental regulations, and so on. These people think that they are entitled to the profits they reap, that they are being righteous in their efforts, to the point of benevolence. (See, for example, an eye-opening essay by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker, about Art Pope...a really rich man with a lot of influence in North Carolina.) I think that a major movement in environmentalism and sustainability must be founded on the acceptance and understanding that we are decidedly not special, that we cannot hold nature at bay, that we are subject to the ebbs and flows of it.

What do you think makes us special? How can we move away from it?

1 comment:

  1. Your comment about businesses believing they are entitled to the profits the reap is particularly timely. The CEO of Bank of America flat out claimed he had a right to make a profit in the course of announcing that consumers would be hit with a $5/month debit fee for using their cards.

    What businesses in particular forget is that they have been granted an entitlement to exist and to peddle their wares, but in no way are they entitled to a profit. Were that the case, no business would ever go bankrupt.

    Just some thoughts on the business aspect of your post.