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And Now For Some Motivation

July 1, 2012

Peter Singer, one of Australia’s most notable philosophers and professional awful person[1], argued that any privileging of human beings above animals is nothing more than irrational ‘speciesism’, in a way analogous to racism or sexism. To absolutely butcher his complex (and admittedly, not totally stupid) arguments, he said that humans aren’t all that special.

While such an extreme stance is rare, this message is often restated and supported in popular culture, and especially by environmentalist groups. Not trying to be overly political, but a common theme is that Mother Nature (or the simply ‘the environment’) is far older and more impressive than the human race. When humans damage the environment, they’re casually going against the very rhythm of life itself – they are acting unnaturally and immorally, because humans are not more special than nature as a whole. You can see this in countless films, from Avatar to Disney’s entire production history to even The Matrix.

And I, for one, will stand up and say, “that’s bullshit.” Humanity isn’t special. We’re the specialest. We’re King Special of the Special District of Specialvania, and that isn’t just because I happen to be a human. It is an objective fact.

Before I descend into crazed ranting, let me add the proviso that I am not a closet global-warming sympathizer. I am not a fan of killing the biosphere or pointlessly executing endangered species (except for pandas of course. Fuck pandas). But the idea that mankind isn’t particularly impressive to Mother Nature, or that our environmental rampages are somehow ‘unnatural’, is just plain wrong.

As a science fiction reader (and occasionally writer) since an early age, I’ve always had difficulty distinguishing between different human groups. Patriotism never made much sense to me – why are we concerned with these utterly arbitrary geographic divisions, when we are all one species, united against the hungry Tyranid hordes/encroaching Borg collective/Vogon Destructor Fleet? I’ve always thought of the universe as homo sapiens vs Everything Else. And so far, we aren’t so much winning that fight as fisting Everything Else’s wife over his decapitated, desecrated and amusingly decorated corpse.

First, we have the obvious advantage over every other being in the known universe – sapience. Discounting unproven entities, we’re the only ones who can think, talk, feel, make Youtube videos of Star Wars characters lip-synching to pop songs[2] and design aeroplanes. Our intellectual superiority – and from that our language, society-building, ethics and Simpsons episodes – is completely unique, and unquestionably vital. But I’m not actually going to talk about sapience. Partially because it’s been said better by smarter people, and partially because I want to finish this and watch Community, but mostly because that’s not the point I’m trying to make. Singer, and the general ‘Mother Nature is vast and ancient and good’ lobby, already know humans are smart. I just want to talk about how, culture and philosophies aside, we are the best animals.

We are the best animals. By that I mean that we are the ‘best’ at surviving, prospering and developing., per Darwin’s venerable thesis. Homo sapiens are, by the standards of natural selection itself, the best creatures in the known universe.

It’s common to think of us people as pathetic weaklings in comparison to the rest of the animal kingdom; that the only thing that keeps us alive is our mighty brains. Well, as several millennia of grunting cavemen would tell you, that’s not exactly true.

Humans are proof that ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ is not an insult. Ignoring our big craniums and sesquipedalian loquaciousness, we are probably the most versatile and adaptable beings on the planet. Sure, plenty of creatures can run, climb, swim and fight better than us, but is there a single one that can match us in all of those categories? Our endothermic nature means that we can live almost anywhere on the planet, even without the advantage of clothing. We can eat pretty much anything – mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, insects, fruit, figs and roots are all fair game to the human digestive system[3], while most animals are stuck with just one or two foods that they’re perfectly adapted to eat (anteaters, anyone? It’s in their name). In cases where we can’t outrun, outclimb or hide from a predator – which is pretty fucking rare – we aren’t too bad in a fight. Very few animals have human levels of agility, flexibility and adrenaline reserves. Hell, we have as much muscle tissue as a male Jaguar! Sure, a chimpanzee or great ape might be able to lift more than us, but they’re poor walkers, they can’t punch, and they can barely swim. Our various tendons are much looser than comparable primates, letting us throw things with great accuracy, keep our heads level while sprinting…

I could go on like this forever. The human body is a powerful, efficient, versatile self-repairing machine that makes traditionally ‘better’ animals, from cats to sharks, look like retarded paraplegic gerbils. Do you know what ‘persistence hunting’ is[4]? It’s how a lot of early humans probably hunted big prey, before the invention of flint-tipped spears and fire. A group of hunters would spot something big, herbivore or not, and chase it. And chase it. And chase it. They would track that wildebeest, at walking, jogging or running pace, for hours or even days. Because of our ability to sweat and our ridiculously efficient muscles, tribes like the Tarahumara[5] can chase big herbivores on and on through the Mexican desert, until the prey just couldn’t keep running. An easy kill. Horses are some of the only other animals that can sweat – nearly everything other mammal, from cheetahs to gazelles, need to stop and pant after a while. Boom. Caveman lunch.

And if we become lunch? Well, there’s a reason most of you are reading this with porn up in another tab. We make babies like they’re going out of style (they’re not), we don’t slow down even when there is literally not enough food to keep us all alive, and we unquestionably have the most fun while doing it[6]. Good work, random animal. You killed a couple of humans. There are billions of us, which is just a stupidly huge number. That’s part of what makes fictional apocalypses so unconvincing to me. I actually crunched the numbers on a Borg assimilation of Earth with one cube (because I am a level 100 nerd), and you know what? They can’t do it. Even if we offer almost no resistance (because it’s futile), ten thousand Borg assimilating is slower than six billion humans fucking. Same with a zombie virus – they can infect us as much as they like, but even if it takes ten humans to kill a single zombie (it doesn’t), they will lose the numbers game.

We are precisely forged, perfectly honed survival machines, and I’m sick of hearing that Mother Nature (or a fictional apocalypse) is more powerful or more perfect than us. You know what? That bitch made us, and we are much, much better than her.

And it did not work out for her when she tried to kill us.

That’s the trouble with labelling human expansionism and environmental destruction as ‘unnatural’. I should disclaim again that I don’t support irrational tree-clearing or emission-emitting. But the argument that it’s against the grain of nature is bullshit. Animals eat what they can, fuck like Keith Richards and kill anything that looks at them funny, and humans are the best at being animals. Nearly all of our destructive (and self-destructive) behaviour has an analogue in the animal kingdom. Beavers mess up ecosystems with their dams, overpowered predators like eagles can devastate food chains without competition, and a whole gamut of creatures, from termites to baboons, war with each other, rape each other and kill each other pointlessly[7]. It isn’t unnatural to be an abusive, inconsiderate shithead of an organism – that’s the most natural thing imaginable! We are just TOO DAMN GOOD at it.

We’re so good at being animals, we destroyed the balance. We broke the game. We’re the BFG-9000, noclip mode, we’re the accountant playing Monopoly with his toddlers. Normally when an animal messes with the balance, everything else adapts to compensate, through thousands of years of evolution. But homo sapiens didn’t give nature anywhere near enough time. We wiped out countless large herbivores across the globe, from mammoths to bison[8], and then learned how to plant crops and become totally independent. We moved out of Mother Nature’s house just as she tried to cut us off. Don’t even get me started on the other boons of sapience and technology. After a few thousand years of eat, fucking and killing, mankind isn’t so much on top of the food chain as making up whatever sort of chain we damn well please. We have created a world where it’s not just the fittest who survive – we’ve created a world where anyone, from the weak to the sick to the disabled, can often have a fighting chance to not just survive, but be happy for a significant portion of their lives. When you consider what happens to the weaklings of Mother Nature’s herd, you start to realize just how much of an improvement that is. We have created a world where, for some, happiness and emotional fulfilment are actually more pressing concerns than survival.

So, don’t kill the environment. Not because it’s unnatural or offensive to Gaia or because Eywa will send a horde of space rhinos to trample you, but because you’re better than that. You are a human with power and smarts and potential, and you are good enough to duck out of Mother Nature’s bloody, awful game and be nice.

One man (or woman) is a special, beautiful, and absurdly overpowered animal, and is either the only sapient being in light-years, the favoured child of a loving God, or a god himself.

Six billion humans are the endgame of Mother Nature, the wondrous repository of all philosophy, morality and superhero movies, and taken together, they have a good chance of surviving almost anything the universe can throw at them (jinx).

No matter what your belief system, be proud to be human. Every stranger you pass in the street is the evolutionary equivalent of the atomic bomb, and humans invented atomic bombs. Save the environment because logic or your conscience says that’s the right thing to do, not because nature is somehow better than us.

And if you accuse me of being speciesist, congratulations on being human, because we are the only beings smart enough to invent a concept as retarded as speciesism.

“Kingdom animalia, Phylum chordata

Class is mammalian, cuz boobies, we gotta

Order is primates, Family hominidae

Genus is homo, but you know you’re in to me

cuz I am the species, known as sapien

Dogs used to eat me, but now they bring the paper in.”

-Troy and Abed, delivering the rallying cry for mankind.

From → Thoughts

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