This Is Not Our Planet

1405 words by attila written on 2012–11–27, last edit: 2012–11–28, tags: agro, rant, systemPrevious post: Dershowitz versus Gaza - Opinion - Al Jazeera EnglishNext post: Mahmoud Abbas’ real “accomplishment” was not the UN vote on Palestine - Opinion - Al Jazeera English

This is not our planet. It is A planet, and as far as we are concerned it is THE planet but it is not OUR planet. It is a planet that many other life-forms are unfortunate enough to share with us; unfortunate because we don’t see it that way. As far as we’re concerned it is OUR planet and THEY are in the way. Or they are also OURS. Whichever suits us best at the moment.

The planet in question may be singular in the whole universe in its suffrage of our peculiar meat-and-carbon-based form of life. It may not be singular at all. There may be millions just like it. We have absolutely no way of knowing. It doesn’t matter. THIS is the planet we are on.

As a species we are hell-bent on living ON this planet. In the antediluvian past there were sizable groups of people who saw things more the way I do: that we are another life-form living IN this planet, not ON it. Naturally such a point of view is directly contrary to the view that the planet is a giant piece of property and that the aim of human life is to own as much of it as possible. Thus all such groups have slowly been exterminated, marginalized or simply crushed under the weight of a plastic cup and a hamburger.

The justification for the view that this is our planet comes in two main flavors: biblical and scientific. The biblical justification is that some book, written by unknown but obviously human authors says that some Deity has given us this planet to be ours: that we have dominion over it because, well, because WE say so. The book is obviously a red herring in this line of argument but it seems to play well with the masses. The scientific justification claims that we are the highest form of life on this planet, judged against a scale that curiously rates our attributes highly and those of other creatures not so highly. Given that we come up with both the scale and the scores it seems that upon further inspection the biblical and scientific justifications both really come down to the same thing: it is our planet because we say so and there is nothing to stop us from acting like it.

Most people would not have any problem with my more naked characterization of the situation. Humans, individually and as a species have shown themselves to have a grossly, belligerently inflated sense of their worth. We think very highly of ourselves. We don’t have much reason to, but then given what passes for logical argument among most of us it isn’t difficult to see how this kind of thing makes the short journey from completely unsubstantiated opinion to common knowledge to fact. Biblical fact. Scientific fact. Pick your poison.

FACT: Humans are the most evolved beings on this planet (that we know of given that we came up with the idea of what it means to be most evolved).

FACT: Every other contender for the throne has died off and we are alone on the top of the hill (assuming of course that the entire notion that there IS some kind of contest for the king of the hill and that we couldn’t find some other way of conceptualizing our existence is beyond question).

This kind of stuff hardly raises an eyebrow in any circles. In fact this kind of thinking might be one of the few things that is truly common across all groups of people, in all places, in all epochs. WE ARE SPECIAL. Any definition of “we” will do.

Sadly, perhaps, we are delusional and wrong. We are not special. We are what happens between comets: that’s all. The universe, even by our pathetic reckoning, is so vast that any single element of it is insignificant. Completely insignificant.

ECCLESIASTES 12:8: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Everything is meaningless!”

A broken clock, of course, but that’s in one of their books, too. Much like Alice’s Restaurant you can find anything you want in there. Lies, damned lies, statistics and a holy book.

Ignoring our place in the universe and focusing only on this planet we also should find ourselves not so special. As individuals we might be quite nice, cultured, caring, frugal, kind, but in larger groups and as a whole we are anything but. Agent Smith sussed us properly when he called us a virus; as a species we consume and destroy our host with the blind abandon of an infection.

It is clear that we could behave otherwise. We COULD theoretically decide to come up with some way of organizing our lives that is in balance with the surrounding environment, that reacts to it and not the other way around. Our apparently natural inclination to predation over certain kinds of life does not have to lead to systematic butchery and annihilation of entire species. Knowing each for ourselves how changeable, teachable and open it is possible for us to be we can all easily imagine a much better world than the one we have made for ourselves. This is why we think we are special: because we COULD be better; at least that’s the best possible face I can put on it.

The other option is that we think we’re special because our mothers, our teachers or the voices in our heads tell us so. Studies have been done that claim self-confidence breeds success. I can see how this could be so on a small enough horizon. I can see how, in some limited context where the rules of the game, the players and the playing field are all known and largely controlled by us that delusional self-confidence would frequently lead to success.

The true playing field, however, is not under our control, and the rules of the game are barely known to us. It is a vast, violent, unpredictable universe. Delusional self-confidence has no effect whatsoever on the outcome of our interaction with an asteroid: the asteroid wins.

Delusional, in the grip of a religious fit or simply clueless and ignorant, it doesn’t matter: we do what we want because we can. We behave like this in every context, against all opposition and in the face of every fact contrary to what we believe. We have always been so. Human motivations have never changed. The buttons we can push might seem more advanced than those of our predecessors but the apes pushing the buttons are nearly identical. When viewed over a long enough time horizon our behavior loses its “special” flavor and looks just like that of many other species.

We are not special. This is not our planet. We should not do as we want if we wish to continue to inhabit it. There is no reconciling any of these facts with the situation on the ground, or in our minds, singular and collective. The only way to hold these truths to be self-evident and not find oneself a complete nihilist is to DO SOMETHING. Anyone who agrees with me must surely see that growing food is a serious form of political action. I don’t want this post to be about connecting the dots between Monsanto and Goldman Sachs and the governments of many countries, raging against the corporate machine. Lots of other people are doing all of that and have been at it for a while. I want the idea that this is not our planet, that we must stop thinking of it as our planet, that doing so is fundamentally harmful to everything on this planet to be taken up by people who are inclined to action, not words. Grow food. Shelter animals. Behave like someone who feels lucky to be in such beautiful environment instead of like someone who feels they can throw their garbage wherever they want.

We don’t have to be special. It’s a mirage. We could just be one of many forms of life on this planet that has its place; if that isn’t special enough for you then you really have a problem. Simply being worthy of our unbelievable good luck would make us far more special than anything we have ever done in our entire rotten history.

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