Saturday, May 10, 2014

A little heresy indulged

"Humans have enormous power to affect
the world any way we choose."
~ Marc Bekoff, The Emotional Lives of Animals

Once upon a time I was an anthropology major. A quirky little field of study that to this day shapes the way I think. The most profound discovery early on in my studies was this simple statement from one of my professors: The study of humans makes clear that there is no one right way to solve the "problem of living."

There are, in fact, so many it's mind boggling.

His point continues to be the framework from which I see most everything. It was liberating to hold such a view, to be able to look at behavior and beliefs with as little judgement as possible, especially as a freshman college student! I could observe so much more without jumping to a right-or-wrong point of view. Instead, I saw "different," "original," "interesting" and maybe even"shocking, but fascinating."

I didn't end up opting for a profession in anthropology. Although a wonderful professor took me under his wing my freshman year to groom me for a future graduate student, I couldn't see myself narrowing my focus of study the way one must to get advanced degrees. Frankly, anthropology expanded my worldview so largely, I knew that breadth of knowledge would be my pursuit -- not the depth of it.

And that's why I became a journalist and, for all intents and purpose, a Generalist with the capital G.

The long and winding road of my career has taken me through the fields of news reporting, mental health, higher education, medicine (primary care, sports, orthopedics, obstetrics and gynecology, and geriatric), youth development, disaster preparedness and response, and emerging infectious diseases.

A year ago, I came across Marc Bekoff's thought-provoking book, The Emotional Lives of Animals, and it yanked into place threads from many fields I've dabbled in and studied, including my passion for dogs and mushing.

As I pondered Bekoff's point about the power of humans to affect the world any way we choose, I had to wonder how we got to this point, which is so far beyond the days when we had to worry about mastodons and being gobbled up by big hulking carnivores.

It's interesting to think that while humans are now at the top of the food chain in the grander scheme of things, having killed off or safely removed ourselves from environments with predators that can hurt us -- the large ones like bears, tigers, lions and such-- we have increasingly made ourselves vulnerable to the tiniest of predators.

I'm talking about viruses, bacteria, and insects like mosquitos and bedbugs. If we keep at our present pace of development and environmental destruction, we put our species at greater and greater risk of being preyed upon by the tiny predators.
Haven't read it but I plan to!

The human approach always seems to be first to wipe out our predators, rather than learning to live in balance with them. Why is that?

When you look at the natural world, it seems like nature finds a way to achieve balance and homeostasis. It's not as if plants and animals ponder how to reach this balance. It just happens. Or does it?

I know some of you will see this as heretical, but I've come to believe that humans are no more God-like than any other animal, and yet we, by virtue of our brain development over time, seem to have removed ourselves by and large from the natural order of things. In doing so, we've created damage. A LOT of it.

So, falling back on my original biological sciences/anthropological world view, I find myself with so many questions.

I have to ask whether this destruction is, in fact, the "natural order of things."

Is what we as a species choose to do simply part of the inevitable evolution of our planet?

How have we managed to drift so far away from our connectedness to all of creation, to the point of thinking we are the master creators.

How do we move ahead as a species?

Do we simply allow nature to take its course as we wreak havoc on our planet and ultimately on ourselves?

Is it arrogant to think any of us can stop this "progress" of humanity?

Is it really just incumbent on individuals to live their lives morally and hope we each regain connectedness to the natural world and make peace with it rather than trying to hold dominion over it?

Will the microbes and tiny creatures ultimately alter the course of human development? (They sure seem to be right now!)  Will it be that the tiniest of predators ultimately hold sway over the world, rather than the creatures whose brain development has led to a belief that their species has the God-given right of dominion over all life on this planet?

Ebola virus electron micrograph
What if the tiny predators already do? Is it possible that microbes are responsible for our aging, for the deterioration in our joints, our organs, our ability to reproduce, our brains. We think about aging as a cellular process with input from the environment. But if we accept the concept of connectedness and the predatory power of microbes, isn't it possible that more is going on here? Are cells really microbes that learned to organize and cooperate in such a way as to create this species called humans?

Is it possible that these tiny cellular forms that have organized themselves for so long now grasp on some level that the organism they've collectively empowered to function homo sapien has drifted so far from the natural order of things that they've got to do their part to restore a universal balance, as in, take us down a notch or two? (I know, talk about the ultimate conspiracy theory!)

And here's where all this "unsupervised thinking" leads me: that, ultimately, the best thing any of us can do is to quiet our minds and bodies, in meditation or prayer, and try to plug into to that universal energy, balance, order of things, God, if you will, and try remember that we're all in this together, we're all connected, and that the only way out is through, together.

And so with that peachy-keen thought, I believe I'll take a stroll through the beauty of creation still available to me. And pet my dogs.

May you, too, find such beauty.

Easter Island by goccmm
Wooly Mammoth by Johnny Lightning
Book cover of Wicked Bugs
Ebola virus from CDC
Ginsberg by Kathleen Kimball-Baker


Tabor said...

A fascinating post and much of it I have known or felt, but you put it into the best words. I worry about pollution, and when discussing this with a 20-something,he said we will go extinct and the world will once again slowly evolve and repair itself. That is probably the best perspective in showing we are no more important than that fly.

Kathleen said...

Thank you, Tabor! I'm so honored you read this post. I've been leaning more and more toward the point of view that the 20-something you spoke with articulated. In some weird way, it's reassuring. But it is sad that this grand experiment called humanity hasn't been able to find its way through its ignorance and pull it together. Whatever happens, I'm just glad I got to spend some time on this planet and love and be loved. I'm not sure it gets any better than that! Cheers!

ellen abbott said...

great post and I oh so agree. How did we get this way, thinking ourselves separate from the rest of creation? Why do we think we can wipe out species after species, pollute the air, water, earth, food we need to survive? Did you see the video about how wolves affect their environment? after the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone, the environment changed dramatically for the better, from a sterile environment to a healthy ecosystem. I don't have any answers about the how and why we came to think we were a part from creation instead a part of it but I believe humanity will be a short lived experiment on this planet. It won't be a meteor that does us in, it will be our own arrogance.

Kathleen said...

I did see that video, Ellen. It was magnificent! I'm mostly quite skeptical about so-called wildlife "management," especially when it has to do with subtracting populations. But it sure looks like the Yellowstone reintroduction was a success. Not sure some ranchers would agree. And, yes ma'am, I couldn't agree with you more about arrogance being our achilles' heel. Maybe subsequent sentient beings will be wiser. One can hope.

Jinksy said...

we had to worry about mastodons and being gobbled up by big hulking carnivores.

Now it's big, hulking commercial giants!

A fascinating post, and I'm with you on the quiet mind/meditation approach to provide the best outcome.

Kathleen said...

Yes, Jinksy, those big, hulking commercial giants are indeed contemporary predators. At least the best of them donate to worthy causes. They simply aren't sustainable in the long haul. Maybe, if the human race is very very lucky, will shrink our woeful ways to the point we can live in more sustainable villages, but even so, I have my doubts.

Janie said...

We need more "unsupervised thinking" and more consideration that perhaps we humans will be more likely to fit into the universe long term if we consider ourselves not above nature, but an integral part of it.

Linda said...

"Interesting!" Enjoyed a Bekoff video of him talking about his dog studies and of his dogs playing.

Little buggers- Jim Brandenburg's twitter April 29, a chart says snails kill 1000x more people than wolves. And mosquito 725,000 to wolf 10.

Genesis- may rule/have dominion over fish, birds, and creatures. Other references say to be good stewards. And in Romans 12 "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world..." Just a few things I read this week and one a long time ago. I'm certainly no scholar.

Enjoy the beauty.

Kathleen said...

So true, Janie. Seems like the more we think we are above Nature, the more Nature impresses with how much we are a part of it and so not in control (eg, SuperStorm Sandy and wildfires!)

Kathleen said...

Linda- I'm going to have to track down that video. Sounds interesting! And thanks for sharing from Genesis and Romans-you are quite the sacred text scholar! Always enjoy hearing your comments!

Linda said...

is the link to Marc Bekoff Animal Behavior video that I watched


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